Page images

not see.

the fears of many well-meaning persons. When it is said in our translation—“In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which said, this people's heart is waxed gross, lest at any time, they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them”—a critical attention to the original words will shew us, that there is nothing incompatible with the justice and mercy of God. For the true meaning of the words is this ; the hearts of men were so hardened by a long course of voluntary sin, that according to the regular and stated operation of the human mind, they hearing, in fact did not understand; they seeing, in fact did

Now the difference of our interpretation from the sense, which offers itself to a hasty and superficial reader is of great moment both in respect to the passage just quoted, and to the text; and also it seems to me, that each expression elucidates and confirms our method of explaining the other, so as to form a general principle for the removal of all similar difficulties. In the sense which at first strikes us, we are at a loss to justify the attributes of God, if he, as it were, mocks his creatures with offering instruction, whilst he had by arbitrary decrees doomed them to an incapacity of comprehending. We should also, in the same manner, be compelled by our moral feelings to condemn the declaration of Christ, if he in reality preached his Gospel with a view to send variance on earth. But according to our explanation, which is most satisfactory to the learned, and most comfortable to the pious, the whole blame of obduracy among the Jews, and of discord among Christians, remains with man only. The instruction of prophets was sent to enlighten the Jews, who were prevented from forming a right idea of that instruction by the obstinacy of their prejudices. A religion is vouchsafed to Christians in order to make them happy, which, however, in the event becomes to some of them a source of misery, through the violence of their passions, and the corruption of their hearts.

As I wish to fix upon your minds both the clearest apprehension and the most settled satisfaction about the real meaning of our Saviour, I shall close these remarks by shewing that the context agrees most obviously and most exactly with the interpretation I have adopted. In some of the preceding verses Christ, in a very copious and solemn manner, had laid before his Disciples the difficulties they were to endure, and the dangers they were to encounter in the promulgation of the Gospel. He informed them, that their integrity would be brought to a most severe test; and he holds out at once the most animating encouragement to those who should support their trial, and the most awful menaces against those who shrunk from it. Whosoever will confess me before men, him will I confess; but whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my father which is in heaven. Then the text immediately follows-think not I am come to send peace on earth ; I caine not to send peace, but a sword. From this assertion he descends to a particular detail of the manner, in which it would be accomplished; for I am come, saith he, to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother. Then he carries back his hearers to the point, on which he had before insisted, and which indeed was the leading object of his whole discourse—he that loveth father or mother, son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.

In the course of God's righteous but unsearchable providence, the fiercest resistance was to be expected by Christians, as well from their nearest relations, as from their bitterest enemies. But though they could not prevent these evils, they were not to sink under their pressure; for no relation was to be so far loved, nor any enemy so far dreaded, as to induce the disciples to forsake their master, by whom they were redeemed, or to renounce the truths of which they were persuaded. In the whole, therefore, of our Lord's address in the passages preceding the text, and those that follow it, Christ is actuated by a temper widely different indeed from violence and malevolence. He speaks of the mischiefs his true followers were to suffer, not to inflict; instead of inciting them to commit injury, he teaches them to bear, and forbids them to retaliate. He instructs them in the duties of patience and fortitude ; the first of which is unquestionably friendly to the quiet of society, and the last was indispensibly necessary for the establishment of his religion. He encourages them, not to kill the body, but to be fearless of those who were able and willing to kill it--not to hate all men for the name of Christ, but to bear up against the hatred of those who were

enemies to that name-not to attack the lives of their fellow-creatures, but to sacrifice their own.

In respect therefore to our Lord's immediate disciples, he acted a fair part in informing them of the evils which hung over them. He acted a wise part in preparing them for the shock. He acted a generous part in curbing their resentments, and in teaching them, by the brightest example, as well as the most solemn injunctions, to count it all joy when they were thought worthy to suffer for the sake of truth. But if we may judge of our Lord's meaning from the extent in which it seems to have been realized-if similar facts will warrant a similar application of this passage to them, we may with great propriety suppose him to have had in view many distant as well as present obstacles, not merely to the external propagation of his Gospel, but to its proper efficacy on the lives of its professors. He probably directed his expression, not only to the cruel disasters which awaited his disciples, when they were persecuted by the Jews and Gentiles, but to those also which disturbed the repose and corrupted the innocency of Christians, when they began to persecute each other. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that he designed or approved of persecution in either case; and therefore the only inference that we can draw from the text is, that Christ foresaw, and meant to foretell, and implicitly to condemn, the unhappy disputes and calamities that would arise after his return to his Father. In foreseeing them, he gave a decisive proof of that wisdom which discerned the most improbable and discordant causes working together for the same great end, and ultimately contributing to diffuse and confirm the religion which at first they might be supposed to obstruct. In foretelling them, he puts his sincere followers upon their guard against the influence of every headstrong and malignant passion. In condemning them, he designed to shelter, and, in the estimation of all impartial judges, effectually has sheltered his religion from the infamy incurred by those who have neither the good sense to understand its letter, nor the generosity to catch its spirit, nor the honesty to observe its injunctions.

I shall conclude the present discourse with these plain, but interesting observations. An impostor would have been willing to colour over the dark side of things, and would have ostentatiously described the auspicious effects of his doctrines, and the prosperous state of his followers. But Christ, you see, most forcibly and most copiously dwells on the evils that would arise from his doctrines, and treats with equal severity the crimes of those who admitted, and those who disbelieved them. We are therefore authorized by the words of my text to suspect the sincerity, and to censure the inconsistency of all persons who would use their Christian liberty as a cloak for maliciousness—who employ the sacred name of religion for a sanction to the most impious actions—and while they intentionally disturb the happiness of mankind, pretend to be solicitous for the honour of God.

The honour of God arises from the happiness of his creatures; and that happiness is effectually pro

« PreviousContinue »