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heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place." And the Apostle then enlarges upon the right principle of the interpretation of prophecy, and its divine original.
By thus considering, singly, the first clause of our text, and also by connecting it with the preceding words, we have, I think, ascertained its true purport. The remaining clauses will strengthen us in the same opinion, and will present themselves for consideration in a subsequent part of this Lecture.
It will be expedient, therefore, now to direct our attention to the remarkable incident specially referred to, and to the two other occasions on which the Father, in the same way, bore witness to Jesus. We may, I think, even extend our view still further. For there were several other occasions, on which Jesus was exhibited to us as the subject of miracles, as well as the worker of them; not, indeed, receiving a divine attestation by means of the audible voice of the Father from heaven, as in the three instances just specified; yet in a manner, which is decidedly distinguishable from his own miracles, and which, equally with the former instances, bespeaks the interposition and approbation of the Father. Each of these facts tends to establish the justice of the claim which
b 2 Pet. i. 16-19.
Jesus advanced to the dignity and knowledge, the power and authority, of the Son of God. And when all are considered in connexion, they furnish a distinct and important body of evidence.
As the instance, specially referred to in the text, occurred at the commencement of our Lord's public ministry, so the first occurrence of a similar character accompanied his first introduction into the world.-The miraculous conception of our Lord in the womb of a virgin, is of the highest importance, whether we consider it with reference to the doctrines of the Gospel, or to its evidences. If we consider it with reference to the divinity of our Lord, we shall find that it is no easy task to reconcile it with any other supposition, than that he, who was thus born of a pure virgin by an unprecedented and supernatural generation, was our Emmanuel, "God with us;" and that it was the divine, pre-existent, and eternal Word, who "was thus made flesh." And we shall therefore confess the propriety and evidence with which the Angel, after having announced to the Virgin the approaching overshadowing of the power of the Highest, added these words, "Therefore also that holy thing, which shall be born of thee, shall be called (or rather, shall be acknowledged to be) the Son of God"."
a Luke i. 35.—κληθήσεται υἱός Θεοῦ.
It will appear, in the sequel of this Lecture, that Jesus, by the three declarations from heaven, received a divine attestation of his investiture with the three offices of priest, prophet, and king. And if the fact of his miraculous conception, and the attendant circumstances of his birth, be established upon sufficient evidence, we are thereby also, as we shall immediately shew, assured of a previous divine interposition. These will likewise evince, by the nature of the facts themselves, by the circumstances connected with them, and by the angelic declarations which then explained their design, that Jesus was both qualified to undertake those offices on our behalf, and that he was actually invested with them.
We find in the evangelical records, an ample and perspicuous detail of these incidents, resting upon the same authority as the rest of the narrative. Two Evangelists, indeed, have not touched upon the subject of the birth of Jesus; but St. Matthew and St. Luke, who have done so, both concur in the same general statement, though St. Luke specifies some incidents which are omitted by St. Matthew, and omits others which the latter has related.—But we are told by the Unitarian, for reasons as well known to us as to himself, that we are not to consider the two intro
b Matt. i. and ii. Luke i. and ii,
ductory chapters of St. Matthew and St. Luke, as either genuine, or authentic. The writings, in which that opinion is espoused, you can compare at your leisure with the full and satisfactory answers which they have called forth. But if it occur to you, as it has done more than once to myself, to hear such opinions broached in ordinary conversation, you may answer, that such a mutilation is sanctioned by no one single manuscript or version; that the early reception of these parts of the Gospel is proved by the sentiments of the early Christian writers, and by their actual citations of them; and that the only countenance for such a curtailment of the Gospels is derived from the extravagant procedure of two heretical sects, who, not by the sanction of any rules of criticism, or historical testimony, but in consequence of their pre-conceived heretical opinions, rejected these chapters, and with them the larger portion both of the Old and New Testaments. But admitting, as by every rule of just criticism we are bound to do, the genuineness and credibility of these chapters, an examination and comparison of the events recorded in them, will shew them to be such, so numerous, and so connected with each other, that the supposition of imposture and concert, and indeed of any other principle, than that they happened by the wonderful providence, and signal interposition of God, is both untenable and unreasonable.
That the Virgin could have no doubt, either of the visit of the Angel, or of her conception according to his annunciation, if they really took place, it were absurd to suppose. If these circumstances were fictitious, they were certainly only a small portion of an imposture, which had many and strange ramifications. Then were Zacharias, and Elizabeth, and Joseph, and the Shepherds, and the Magi, and Simeon, and Anna, all concerned in it; and Herod and the Sanhedrim were incautiously brought into connexion with the scheme. But consider the parts which they respectively acted, and the number, situation, and circumstances, of all concerned; for all these effectually tend to evince the reality of the events, and to remove, at every step, the supposition of imposture. Zacharias must have begun to carry it into execution in the sanctuary of the temple; on the only day, perhaps during his whole life, when he burnt incense in the order of his course"; acting indeed in a manner which made all the congregation witnesses of his state. Coincident with this, was the preternatural conception of the aged Elizabeth; and then the visit of Mary to her, after an angelic annunciation, and supernatural conception. Remember that the whole imposture,
* It seldom, if ever, happened, that the burning of incense fell twice to the lot of the same priest.