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things, the greatest attainments in piety will usually have the best portion of comfort in the life that now is, as well as the greatest reward in the life which is to come.
5. Let us not then, having begun well, be ever induced by any means to forsake the practice of piety. Let us not take offence at the troubles and afflictions which may for a while fie upon us, or upon some others, who are sincerely devoted to the service of God. For it is a certain truth, that godliness is profitable unto all things. If we persevere and advance therein, we shall be more and more convinced of this truth, that light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart." Let us not then be imposed upon by some specious appearances, or put in for a portion with every one, who makes a show of mirth and gaiety. Let not any thing transport us beyond the bounds of serious thought and consideration. If we weigh things carefully in an equal balance, piety will have the preference in our judgment above irreligion and wickedness. And knowing the inconstancy of our tempers, and the dangerous tendency of some worldly temptations, we shall be earnest with God to establish the good and wise purposes of our heart once seriously formed: to turn away our eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken us in his precepts.
The just sentiments of the apostle in this text and context deserve our notice. He speaks lightly of bodily exercise, as a small matter: whilst he highly prizes, and earnestly recommends sincere piety. And he censures such as should forbid to marry, and require men to abstain from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving. It is the same which our Saviour said and taught in the hearing of all the people: "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man: but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man," Matt. xv. 11. The Christian religion, which is true religion only, insists not upon grievous austerities, and severe and unnecessary mortifications of the body. Christians, if they understand their religion, are free from all such yokes of bondage or slavery, which are below ingenuous minds. And it certainly is no small advantage to be freed from burdensome impositions, and needless restraints of this kind; and to be able without scandal to partake of all the innocent enjoyments of life: provided men do not set up some other sort of orthodoxy, as vain and insignificant; equally unprofitable to those who pride themselves in it, and equally troublesome to the world around. them.
6. Finally, let us exercise ourselves unto godliness. Bodily exercise profiteth little. It has no divine gospel promise of any good thing whatever. But godliness is profitable unto all things :: and has promises of life and happiness hereafter, and of peace, joy and comfort here. Let us exercise and improve ourselves in this true excellence, by meditation and prayer, watchfulness and circumspection; restraining irregular appetites, purifying ourselves more and more, and adding one virtue to another, being ready to every good word and every good work, and growing daily more perfect in sobriety, meekness, patience, and every other part of true real piety.
INTERNAL MARKS OF CREDIBILITY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.
Moreover, I will endeavour that you may be able, after my decease, to have these things always in remembrance. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty.— 2 Peter i. 15, 16.
We are setting before you the grounds upon which we receive the Christian religion as true and divine. No religion can come from God which contains principles or rules of life unworthy of him; part of this design therefore is, to show the excellency of the principles of our religion, and the goodness of its precepts: that they are suitable to the divine perfections, and such as. may proceed from him, without any derogation to him; if not such as could come from none
but God himself. Another part of the design is, to consider the miracles supposed to be wrought by our Saviour, and his apostles, and the predictions of uncertain events, as attestations of a divine commission for giving these religious instructions to mankind.
But it is needful we have some satisfactory proof of the truth and reality of these. They who were eye-witnesses of any wonderful works, are satisfied by their own senses: but for us, who live many ages after the promulgation, and supposed attestation of this religion, it is necessary we consider what evidence there is of the account we have of them. There being no miracles wrought before us for the confirmation of our religion, we ought to be convinced of the truth of those that were done in the first ages of it. If it be made appear that many extraordinary works were done as proofs of a commission from heaven, that predictions were made of distant and uncertain events, which were afterwards accomplished, this will prove the divine original of the Christian religion. What lies before me therefore is to show, that the account we have of these things in the history of the gospel, and particularly in the books of the New Testament is credible, and such as may be received by impartial and unprejudiced persons: that Jesus Christ dwelt in Judea, and, in the name of God, taught the most pure and excellent principles of religion, worked many miracles, healing all kinds of distempers by his word, raising the dead, and the like: that he foretold many uncertain events, which afterwards came to pass;-his own death, resurrection, the pouring out of the Holy Ghost on his followers, with power to do the like, or greater works than he had done himself; the conversion of the world to his doctrine, and the destruction of the Jewish state: that he was crucified, rose from the dead, and ascended up to heaven: that his apostles and others, after this, did work many miracles by powers they received from him, and propagated in a great part of the world the doctrine he taught.
The particular consideration of the miracles and predictions of our Saviour and his apostles is in other hands. What lies before us at present is, the credibility of the account we have of them, and of the rise of our religion. That it is not a forged and invented story, but a faithful narrative of matters of fact; for we have not followed cunningly devised fables, as the apostle here says, but have delivered to you only an account of what we saw done before our eyes: and he says it when he was in expectation of leaving this world in a very short time: " Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me, 2 Pet. i. 14. St. Luke likewise avers in the beginning of his gospel, that he had perfect understanding from the first, of the things concerning which he was about to write: and St. John says, in the beginning of his first epistle, "that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you," chap. i. 2, 3.
I propose to set before you the internal marks and characters there are of truth and probability in the account itself, the history of the New Testament.
1. I would just observe, that the books we receive this history from have the names of particular persons; and this is an argument they are genuine, when there is no particular reason to the contrary. The positive proofs which there are of their being really written by the persons whose names they bear, belong to another argument. All that I insist upon now is, that they were handed down to us in the names of the persons who take upon them this character of living at the time the things they relate were transacted.
As for the four gospels, the names of their several authors are not indeed inserted in them. Two of them, Matthew and John, were of the twelve disciples, and followers of Christ: Mark was a companion of Peter in his travels and preaching: and Luke was a companion of Paul. Some have supposed they were both of them of the seventy-two that were sent forth by our Saviour in his lifetime. In the epistles the name of the writer is inserted in the salutation of the person to whom they are sent, excepting that one of the epistle to the Hebrews, which, if written by Paul, as is generally supposed, might be omitted for special reasons.
2. These books are written in a language and in a style suitable to the character of the persons whose names they bear. The language is Greek, which obtained very much in thatcountry, in Syria and Judea, and in Egypt, after the conquest of Alexander, and the division. of the countries he had subdued amongst his generals. The language is Greek, but some words are used in a different sense from what they have in the ancient writers that dwelt in Greece and its colonies, and there are some few Syriac words, and some borrowed from the Roman language, and there are phrases that have somewhat of the Syriac or Chaldee idiom..
3. Here are many characters of time inserted, which are arguments that it is a real history of facts. There was, saith St. Luke, "in the days of Herod the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia," Luke i. 5. The time of our Saviour's birth is set down with particular characters by the same evangelist. "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed;" not only the city of Rome, but all the provinces of the empire: " and this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria," Luke ii. 1, 2. or, as the words ought to be rendered, according to the judgment of the best critics; this taxing was before that, made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria,' to distinguish it from that which was really made ten years after, and which proved very fatal to the Jewish nation, by the sedition raised upon the occasion of it by Judas Gaulonites, and which gave rise to the troubles that lasted a long time. St. Matthew says likewise, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king," Matt. ii. 1. The first preaching of John the baptist has likewise very particular characters of time specified. "Now in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea, and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests; the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness," Luke iii. 1, 2. "At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus," Matt. xiv. 1. And in the Acts of the apostles we have an account of the opposition raised by the Jews against Paul at Jerusalem; of his being taken out of their hands by Claudius Lysias the chief captain; of his being sent by him to Felix at Cesarea; and, of his being delivered up by him to Portius Festus his successor. All these are such marks of time, as give some appearance of a true history of facts.-But to proceed:
4. The great design of this history, and of the first preaching of the gospel, has nothing in it that should tempt men to forgery and invention. The design evidently pursued is, the rectifying the conceptions of men relating to the nature of God, and the way of worshipping him; to convince them of their sins, and to turn them from them. Men are informed of their duty, exhorted to repentance. The Jews are admonished not to depend upon external privileges, but to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. Gentiles are exhorted to turn from idols, and all abominable vices. The strictest regimen of thoughts and affections, of words and actions, is enjoined upon the sole consideration of a regard to God and a future account. Had it been an attempt to erect a civil government, or an ecclesiastical polity, there might have been some ground of suspicion of the miracles urged in its favour; though a bare suspicion must have given way to plain proofs. And, indeed, the gospel has this advantage of the Mosaic dispensation. His commission was manifestly proved by the wonderful things he wrought. But he formed a numerous people into political government, and settled an honourable priesthood in his family upon his brother, and his descendants. But the gospel design, as represented in the New Testament, will not suggest any suspicions to them that observe it. This is all I urge at present, that the great design promoted in this history, does not seem to carry in it any temptation to forgery and invention.
5. We have in this history, in the books of the New Testament, a very natural representation of things, with all the appearances of likelihood and probability. The chief subject of the four gospels are our Saviour's discourses and miracles, his history and resurrection, the reception he met with, the reflections the people made upon him, the exceptions of the people and pharisees against him, all which are suitable to the character of the persons, and the principles that obtained among them. When they had heard some of his discourses, the people soon apprehended a difference between his doctrine, and that they had been wont to hear from their Rabbies. "When Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine; for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes," Matt. vii. 28, 29. After he is said to have cured divers infirmities, restored sight to the blind, and speech to the dumb, and delivered some that were possessed with evil spirits. After he had wrought some cures, it is highly reasonable to suppose he should have a concourse of people flock to him, to reap benefit from his hands. "And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet, and he healed them: insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of
Israel," Matt. xv. 30, 31. "The multitude marvelled, saying, it was never so seen in Israel: but the pharisees said, he casteth out the devils through the prince of the devils," Matt. ix. 33, 34. Some were offended at the meanness of his parentage and education. "Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? and his sisters, are they not all with us? whence then hath this man all these things? and they were offended at him,' Matt. xiii. 54-57. "The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven: and they said, is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven," John vi. 41, 42. Again: "And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: (viz. at Jerusasalem) for some said he is a good man; others said, nay, but he deceiveth the people. Howbeit, no man spake openly of him (i. e. in favour of him) for fear of the Jews. Now about the midst of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple and taught: and the Jews marvelled, saying, how knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" John vii. 12-15. "And many of the people believed on him, and said, when Christ cometh will he do more miracles than this man hath done?" ver. 31. "Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, of a truth, this is the prophet: others said, this is the Christ: but some said, shall Christ come out of Galilee?" ver. 40, 41.
The ninth chapter of St. John's gospel is an account of the miracle wrought upon a blind man whom he restored to sight; the scruples of divers of the people; the inquisitiveness of the pharisees about it; the shyness of the parents of the blind man to answer all their questions; the reflections of the pharisees, the reply of the blind man are altogether so natural, that the story can be nothing else but a bare representation of a real matter of fact: the chapter cannot be abridged, but may be read at your leisure, with the view for which I refer to it with great satisfaction. "There was a division, [or argument,] among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, he hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, these are not the words of one that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?" John x. 19-21. And, at some times, great numbers of people were so moved by the sight of his miracles, and the new and surprising nature of his discourses, that they entertained a very strong persuasion he must be the deliverer they expected, and therefore invited him to take the authority and state of a king, and undertake to deliver them from the Roman government, particularly after he had fed five thousand with five loaves and a few small fishes, "When they had seen the miracle which Jesus had done, said, this is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world." So that perceiving they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he was obliged to depart "into a mountain alone," John vi. 14, 15. to frustrate this their design, so contrary to all his intentions. At another time, great numbers are said to have conducted him in triumph into Jerusalem: "And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way, others cut down branches from the trees and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest," Matt. xxi. 8, 9. Nevertheless, as the multitude are variable in their affections, and as the Jewish people were in great subjection to the pharisees, and their rulers the inveterate enemies of our Saviour, and being, it is likely, tired out with his delays to take upon him temporal authority, and make some change in the government, as they expected he should, they at last cried out, Crucify him! crucify him!' Matt. xxvii. 20. desired the life of Barabbas, and that Jesus should be destroyed. But though the common people were divided in their opinion concerning him, and varied at times in their affection for him, the pharisees are represented as steadily opposing him with the greatest malice from the first to the last. He had with great freedom corrected their misrepresentations of the law; censured their additions to it, which were such as to subvert and make void the main branches of it; rebuked them for their pride and ambition, and hypocrisy. It is very likely therefore they should be implacable to him, as they are represented, and seek all opportunities to defame and destroy him. When some of their officers, whom they had sent out to apprehend him, returned without executing their orders, and expressed some approbation of his discourses, they answered, saying, "Are ye also deceived? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? But this people, who know not the law, are cursed," John vii. 47, 48. And they were continually making those exceptions against him, which might have a tendency
to make him odious to the people.
"Then came to Jesus, scribes and Pharisees, which were
at Jerusalem, saying, why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread," Matt. xv. 1, 2. They reflected upon him for his free conversation, in that he eat with publicans and sinners. Matt. ix. 11. They objected against him, that his disciples did not fast, and practise other austerities in much esteem at that time. Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast: but thy disciples fast not?" Mark ii. 18. It was a very great objection against him, with which they endeavoured to scandalise him, that he wrought cures upon infirm people even on the sabbath day, and because his disciples, as they went through the corn fields, plucked some ears of corn on the sabbath day. Mark ii. 23. They charged him with blasphemy, and assuming to himself the prerogatives of God himself, in that healing an infirm person, he says unto him, "thy sins are forgiven thee," ver. 5, another time they affixed this odious charge upon him for styling God his father, thereby making himself as they inferred, equal with God. John v. 18.
The representation of the apprehensions of the disciples concerning our Saviour are extremely natural: from the words they had heard him speak; from the manner in which he taught; from the many wonderful works they had seen him perform; thence they entertained a strong persuasion he must be the Messias: and when he inquired what thoughts they had of him, they readily replied that he was Jesus the Son of the living God. But when he spoke to them of his sufferings, that the Son of man should be delivered into the hands of men, and they should kill him, and after that he was killed, he should rise again the third day; they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him. Mark ix. 31, 32. And in divers other places. They were possessed with the common prejudices of their countrymen, and were in continual expectation of seeing him in the highest splendour and power. This was the thing that was twice the foundation of the hopes they had of authority and power themselves as his favourites, since they were his intimate acquaintance and constant companions. This was the reason of their abandoning him at the last, under his disgrace and sufferings; and by this we may account for Peter's denial of his master, when he saw him submit to trouble he had no expectation of. This was likewise the reason of the great difficulty there was of convincing them it was really he, when he came among them after his resurrection. I might refer to the moving scene that passed between our Saviour and his disciples the night before his being apprehended. The sorrow they all manifested upon the declaration he made of the near approach of his death; the consolations he suggested to them; the prayer he put up for them; the professions they made of affection for him; the warnings he gave them; the promises they made of fidelity to him, and that they would rather die with him than deny him are all such as none can read, I should think, but must be persuaded it is no other than a faithful narrative of a real transaction. The declaration likewise that Peter made, though all should be offended he would not, Mark xiv. 29. was agreeable to the forwardness and zeal he had shewn upon divers other occasions. And are not the scoffs of the people, and the triumphs of the Pharisees, said to be delivered by them against our Saviour when hanging upon the cross, just such as might be expected upon the occasion from the cruel insolence of one and the malicious satisfaction of the other? "And they that passed by, reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself: if thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, he saved others, himself he cannot save: if he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God: let him deliver him now if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God," Matt. xxvii. 39-42. And though I pass over many particulars, I must not omit to refer you to his compassionate lamentation of the miseries of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, when the prediction of their destruction by him is related, which could proceed from no other but one who was really the person the evangelists have represented our Saviour to be. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not," Matt. xxiii. 37. "And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, if thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes," Luke xix. 41, 42.
If we proceed to the history of the acts of the apostles, we shall find still the same just an