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velation and providence, previous to the birth of Christ, we may conclude, that the time fixed on from before the foundation of the world for his actual exhibition amongst men was not an arbitrary, but a wise and gracious appointment; a determination admirably suited to place the most important truths in the strongest light. In this way, the depravity, misery, and helplessness of man, the mercy of God, and the truth of the Scriptures, were unquestionably proved to all succeeding times. The necessity of a Saviour was felt and acknowledged; and the suitableness, all-sufficiency, and condescension of Jesus, when he undertook and accomplished the great designs in which his love engaged him, were more strongly illustrated by the preceding contrast. He knew the whole human race were sinners, rebels, enemies against God: he knew the terms, the price of our redemption; that he must obey, suffer, weep, and die. Yet he came. He emptied himself of his glory and honour, and took on him the form of a servant, to bring the glad tidings of salvation In effect, the Gospel of Christ soon appeared to be the great desideratum, and completely redressed the evils which philosophy had given up as desperate. The genius and characteristic marks of this Gospel will be considered in the following chapter.
The Character and Genius of the Gospel, as taught and exemplified by Christ.
A SUCCINCT history of the life of our Lord and
Saviour is no part of our plan. This the inspired
evangelists have performed with the highest advantage and authority; and their writings, (through the mercy of God,) are generally known and read in our own tongue. It will be sufficient for me to select a few passages from them, to explain and confirm the several points I have proposed to treat of in this book, as principles whereon to ground our observations on the spirit and conduct. of after-times.
At present I propose to state the true character and genius of his doctrine. This may seem a digression from my main design; but, as I shall often have occasion to speak of the Gospel, and the opposition it has met with, it will not be improper, in the first place, to exhibit a general idea of what we mean by the Gospel ; especially as the professed followers of Christ have been, and still are, not a little divided upon the point.
We may describe the Gospel to be—A divine revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, discovering the misery of fallen man by sin, and the means of his complete recovery by the free grace of God, through faith, unto holiness and happiness. The explication and proof of these particulars from our Lord's express declarations, and the tenour of his conduct, will sufficiently point out the principal marks and characters of his Gospel. But before we enter upon this, two things may be premised.
1. Though I confine myself to the writings of the evangelists in this disquisition, yet it should be remembered, that whilst our Lord was visibly conversant with men, he did not ordinarily discover the whole system of his doctrine in express terms. He spoke to the multitude, for the most part, in parables*, and was not forward to proclaim himself the Messiah upon every †occa-.
* Matt. xiii. 10, 11.
† Ch. xvi. 20.
sion. And, even in his more intimate discourses with his disciples, he taught them with a wise and gracious accommodation to their circumstances and weakness*. The full explanation of many things, he referred to the time when, having accomplished his wish, and returned victorious and triumphant into heaven, he should send down, according to his promise, the Holy Spirit, to enlighten and comfort his people. Thent, and not before, they fully understood the meaning of all they had seen and heard while he was with them.
2. The doctrine of the Gospel is not like a mathematical problem, which conveys precisely the same degree of truth and certainty to every one that understands the terms. If so, all believers would be equally enlightened, who enjoy the common privilege of the written word. But there is, in fact, an amazing variety in this respect. Where this doctrine is truly understood, though in the lowest degree, it inspires the soul with a supreme love to Jesus, and a trust in him for salvation. And those who understand it best have not yet received all the evidence, comfort, and influence from it which it is capable of affording. The riches of grace and wisdom in this dispensation are unsearchable and immense, imparted in different measures, and increased from time to time, according to the good pleasure of
* John xvi. 12. 25. Our Lord taught his disciples gradually; their knowledge advanced as the light, or, (according to his own beautiful simile,) first the blade, then the ear; first green corn, then fully ripe. He considered their difficulties, he made allowance for their infirmities. It is to be wished his example was followed by all who teach in his name. Some are so hasty, they expect to teach to others in one discourse or interview, all that they have attained themselves by the study and experience of
Mark ix. 10.; John ii. 22. Ephes. iii. 8. § 1 Cor. xii. 11.
the Spirit of God, who furnishes his people with light and strength proportioned to their exigencies, situation, and the services or trials he calls them to; not without respect to the degree of their diligence, obedience, and simplicity in waiting upon him. For these reasons, it is not to be expected that every one who serves God with his spirit in the Gospel of his Son, should have exactly the same views of this sublime subject. Neither do I presume to think myself capable of displaying it in its full light and beauty. I desire, therefore, to write with candour, and entreat a candid perusal, as conscious of my infirmities, and the imperfections necessarily attending the human mind, in this present state of things. Yet I am not afraid to express my just confidence, that I shall advance no principle, as a part of the Gospel doctrine, which does not assuredly belong to it.
I now proceed to explain and confirm the definition I have given of the Gospel.
J. It is a divine revelation, a discovery of truths which, though of the highest moment, could have been known no other way. That God will forgive sin, is beyond the power of unassisted reason to prove. The prevailing custom of sacrifices is, indeed, founded upon such a hope; but this practice was, without doubt, derived from revelation, for reason could not have suggested such an expedient. And those among the heathens, whether priests or philosophers, who spoke of forgiveness of sin, knew but little what sin was. Revelation was needful, to discover sin in its true nature and demerit: and where this is known, the awakened and wounded conscience is not easily persuaded that a just and holy God will pardon iniquity. So likewise the immortality of the soul, after all the fine things said upon the subject, remained a problematical
point among the heathen. Their best arguments, though conclusive to us, were not so to themselves*. When they laid aside their books, and returned to the common affairs of life, they forgot the force of their own demonstrations. But the Gospel of Christ is an express, complete, and infallible revelation, as he himself often assured his hearerst.
And as the subject-matter of the Gospel contained in the New Testament is a revelation from God, so it is only by a divine revelation, that what is there read or heard can be truly understood. This is an offensive assertion, but must not be omitted, when the question is concerning the marks and characters of Christ's doctrine. Thus when Peter made that noble confession, "Thou art Christ the Son of the living God," our Lord answers, "Blessed art thou, Simon, for flesh and blood "hath not revealed this to thee, but my Father which " is in heaven." If Peter could read, and had the Scriptures to peruse, these were advantages derived from flesh and blood, from his birth, parents, and teachers; advantages which the Scribes and Pharisees, our Lord's most inveterate enemies, enjoyed in common with him. The difference lay in a revelation of the truth to his heart. As it is said in another places, "Thou
* Cicero frankly confesses this. Nescio quomodo, dum lego, assentior; cum posui librum, et mecum ipse de immortalitate animorum cœpi cogitare, assentio omnis illa clabitur. Tusc. Quest. Lib. i.
John vii. 16.; viii. 26.
Matth. xvi. 16, 17.
That babes should be admitted to this knowledge, and express a certainty, where the wise are all perplexity and darkness, is extremely mortifying to human pride. But are not these the words of Christ? How arrogant, how dangerous must it be, to be displeased with that dispensation at which he rejoiced!