« PreviousContinue »
This was observed, and urged to his reproach and theirs; and the like offence has always attended his Gospel. But what enrages his enemies, fills the hearts and mouths of his poor people with praise. They adore his condescension in taking notice of the most unworthy, and admire the efficacy of his grace in making those who were once wretched slaves to Satan, a free and willing people in the day of his power.
4. But this was not universally the case. Though not many wise, rich, or noble, were called, there were some even of these. His grace triumphed over every circumstance of life. Zaccheus was a rich man†; Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; Joseph, an honourable counsellor. We also read of a nobleman or courtier who believed, with all his house. In every age, likewise, there have been some persons of distinguished eminence for birth, honours, and abilities, who have cheerfully engaged in the profession of a despised Gospel, though they have thereby incurred a double share of opposition from the men of the world, especially from those of their own rank. The number of these has been always sufficient to confute those who would insinuate, that the Gospel is only suited to the taste of the vulgar and ignorant; yet it has always been so small, as to make it evident that the truth is not supported
Luke i. 52, 53.
† Zaccheus was a chief or principal publican, to whom the rest were accountable; a commissioner of the revenue. "And he "was rich." The Greek is more expressive, " And this was a
rich man ;" Luke xix. 2.: perhaps alluding to what had past a little before; chap. xviii. 25. This remark is added, to remind us, that what is impossible with men, is easy to him who can speak to the heart, and turn it as he will.
ance with the Scriptures, and the secret influence of the Spirit of God upon their hearts, are gradually prepared for the reception of the truth. They read, and strive, and pray; they feel an uneasiness and a want, which they know not how to remedy. They are sincerely desirous to know and do the will of God; and yet, through misapprehension, and the influence of pular prejudice, they are for a season withheld from the means that would relieve them. But at length, the preaching of the Gospel explains to them the meaning of their former exercises, exactly answers to the state of their minds, and thereby brings its own evidence. Similar to this was the case of Nathanael : when our Lord referred him to what had passed under the fig-tree, where he had thought himself alone and unobserved, his doubts and scruples vanished in an instant. There is little doubt but Nathanael had been praying under the fig-tree, and probably desiring a further knowledge of the prophecies, and their accomplishment in the Messiah. He had heard of Jesus, but could not fully clear up the objections made against him; but now he was convinced and satisfied in a moment.
The attention of some is drawn by what they see and hear around them. They form a favourable opinion of the Gospel from the remarkable effects it produces; but their first inquiries are damped by difficulties which they cannot get over, and they are ready to say, "How "can these things be?" Their interests and connexions in life are a further hindrance; the fear of man, which bringeth a snare, is a great restraint upon their inquiries; but now and then, when they can venture without being noticed, they seek further instruction. Now, though this hesitating spirit, which pays so much de
ference to worldly regards in the search of truth, is highly blameable; yet the Lord, who is rich in mercy, is often pleased to produce a happy and abiding change from such imperfect beginnings. As they increase in knowledge they gain more courage, and, in time, arrive to a comfortable experience and open profession of the truth. Thus it was with Nicodemus; he was at first ignorant and fearful; but his interview with Jesus, by night had a good effect. He afterwards ventured to speak more publicly* in his favour, though still he did not join himself to the disciples. But the circumstances of Christ's death freed him from all fear, and inspired him to attempt the most obnoxious service, when the apostles themselves were afraid to be seen †.
Others are first prompted to hear the Gospel from no higher motive than curiosity; but going as mere spectators, they find themselves retained as parties unawares. The word of God, powerful and penetrating as a two-edged sword, discovers the thoughts and intents of their hearts, presses upon their consciences, and seems addressed to themselves alone. The sentiments they carry away with them are far different from those they brought; and a change in their whole deportment immediately takes place. Such was the case of Zaccheus he had heard much of Jesus, and desired to see him; for this end he ran before, and climbed a tree, from whence he proposed to behold him unobserved. But how great must his surprise and emotion have been, when Jesus, whom he had considered as a stranger, looked up, called him by his name, and invited himself to his house.
Some are drawn by the report of others freely de
Luke xix. 5,
* John vii. 50.
John xix. 39.
by the wisdom or influence of men, but by the power and providence of God.
5. It is further observable, that several of our Lord's few disciples were under previous connexions amongst themselves. Peter * and Andrew were brothers, as likewise James and John; and these, together with Philip, and, perhaps, Nathanael, seem to have been all of ones† The other James and Jude were also brethren. So it is said, Jesus loved Mary, and her sister, and Lazarus, three in one house; when, perhaps, the whole place hardly afforded a fourth; and more in a single village than were to be found in many larger cities taken together. This circumstance more strongly marked the discrimination of his grace, in making the means effectual where, and to whom he pleased. Such has been the usual event of his Gospel since. It is proclaimed to all, but accepted by few; and of these several are often found in one family, while their nextdoor neighbours account it a burden and offence. It flourishes here and there † in a few places, while those of the adjacent country are buried in more than Egyptian darkness, and resist the endeavours of those who
* John i. 40.
† Comp. Mark i. 16. Luke v. 10, with John i. 44, 45. These six, and more than these, were fishermen, John xxi. 2.; and such they continued; only their net success and capture were so much changed, that it became a new calling: he made them fishers of men. In the fisherman's calling, there is required a certain dexterity, much patience, and a readiness to bear hardships. Perhaps many observations they made in their former business were useful to them afterwards. And the Lord still brings up his servants so that the remembrance of former years, (the years of ignorance,) becomes a rule and encouragement in future and different scenes of life.
Amos iv. 7.
would invite them to partake of the same benefits. Thus the Lord is pleased to display his own sovereignty, in raising and sending forth his ministers when and where he sees fit, and in determining the subjects and measure of their success. If others dispute and * cavil against this procedure, those who believe have cause to adore his goodness to themselves; and a day is at hand, when every mouth shall be stopped that would contend with the just Judge of all the earth. The impenitent and unbelieving will not then dare to charge him with injustice, for dealing with them according to their own counsels and desires, inasmuch as when the light of truth was ready to break upon them, they chose darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Secondly. In the calling of our Lord's disciples, and the manner in which they were brought to know and serve him, we may discover the same variety as, at this day, appears in the conversion of sinners by the preaching of the Gospel.
Some, from a religious education, and early acquaint
See Rom. xi. 23. There are but few who dispute upon the subject of the Divine Decrees with that reverence and caution St. Paul expresses. In chap ix.; when an objection was started, he cuts it short with, "But who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?" And here he breaks off abruptly, with, "O the depth!" He seems to have followed the narrow winding streams of human reasoning, till he finds himself, unawares, upon the brink of an ocean that has neither bounds nor bottom. And every word expresses the reverence and astonishment with which his mind was filled. The wisdom of the divine counsels in their first plan; the knowledge of their exten. sive consequences in this world, in all worlds, in time, and in eter nity; the riches of that wisdom and knowledge; the depth of those riches; his counsels inaccessible; his proceedings untraceable; all is wonderful in St. Paul's view. How different this from the trifling arrogant spirit of too many upon this topic!