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honours and authority, of the insufficiency of formal worship, in which the heart is not concerned, of the extent and spirituality of the law of God, and of salvation, freely proclaimed to the miserable, through faith in his name. The self-righteous, the self-wise, and all who are devoted to the pleasures and honours of the world, have each their particular exceptions to these truths. The wisdom of God they account foolishness, and the language of their hearts is, "We will not have "this man to reign over us." And the success of these doctrines, which is chiefly visible among such as they have been accustomed to despise, is equally offensive; yet so inconsistent are they, that if, here and there, a few persons who were before eminent for their rank, attainments, or morality, are prevailed on to "account "all things but loss and dung for the excellency of the "knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord;" this, instead of removing their first objection, excites their rage and contempt still more.
And as the motives of their hatred, so their methods of expressing it, are the same. They are not ashamed to adopt and exaggerate the most vulgar misconceptions: they set the Scripture at variance with itself; and, while they pass over the plainest and most important passages unnoticed, they dwell upon a few texts of more dubious import, and therefore more easily accommodated to their sense; with these they flourish and triumph, and affect a high zeal in defence of the word of God. They reproach the pure Gospel as licentious, because it exposes the vanity of their singularities and will-worship; and are desirous to bind heavier burdens upon men's shoulders, which few of themselves will touch with one of their fingers. They enlarge on the weakness and ignorance of those who mostly receive
the new doctrine, and intrench themselves under the sanction of learned and dignified names. They even venture to explode and vilify the evident effects of God's grace, and ascribe the agency of his Spirit to enthusiasm, infatuation, and madness, if not expressly to diabolical influence. And, lastly, so far as Divine Providence permits, they show themselves actuated by the primitive spirit of oppression and violence, in pursuing the faithful followers of the truth with censures and penalties.
But let who will rage, and imagine vain things, Jesus is the King in Zion. He is "the same yesterday, today, and for ever." There were a happy few in the days of his flesh who beheld his glory, trusted on him for salvation, and attended him amidst the many reproaches and sufferings he endured from sinners. Of these, his first witnesses, we are to speak in the following chapter. His Gospel likewise, though opposed by many, and slighted by more, is never preached in vain. To some, it will always be the power and wisdom of God; they know in whom they have believed, and therefore are not ashamed to appear in his cause against all disadvantages. Supported and encouraged by his Spirit, they go on from strength to strength, and are successively made more than conquerors, by his blood, and the word of his testimony.
Observations on the calling and characters of our Lord's Apostles and Disciples, previous to his Ascension.
FROM what has been observed in the preceding chapters, it is evident, that those who assert a principle of free-will in man, sufficiently enabling him to choose and determine for himself when the truths of the Gospel are plainly laid before him, do thereby (so far as in them lies) render the salvation of mankind highly precarious, if not utterly hopeless and impracticable. Notwithstanding God was pleased to send his own Son with a gracious message; notwithstanding his whole life was a series of wonders, and all his actions discovered a wis dom, power, and goodness answerable to his high character; notwithstanding the time, manner, and design of his appearance and sufferings had been clearly foretold; yet, so far as a judgement can be made from the event, he would certainly have lived and died in vain, without influence or honour, without leaving a single disciple, if the same grace that provided the means of redemption had not engaged to make them effectual, by preparing and disposing the hearts of sinners to receive him.
In the account given us by the evangelists of those who professed themselves his disciples, we may discern, as in miniature, the general methods of his grace; and, comparing his personal ministry with the effects of his Gospel in all succeeding times, we may be assured that the work and the power are still the same. The choice he made of his disciples, the manner of their calling, their characters, and even their defects and
failings, in a word, all that is recorded concerning them is written for our instruction, and is particularly useful, to teach us the true meaning of what passes within our own observation.
First. Several things are worthy our notice in this view, with respect to the choice of his disciples.
1. They were comparatively very few. He was, indeed, usually attended by multitudes in the different places where he preached, because he spoke with a power they had never met with before, and because he healed the sick, fed the hungry, and did good to all; but he had very few constant followers. Those who assembled at Jerusalem, after his ascension, are said to have been but about one hundred and twenty *; and when he appointed his disciples a solemn meeting in Galilee, informing them before-hand of the time and place where he would come to them, the number that then met here is expressed by the apostle to have been more than five hundred. We can hardly suppose that any who loved him, and were able to travel, would have been absent upon so interesting an occasion; but how small a company was this, compared with the many thousands among whom he had conversed in all the cities and villages through which he had passed, preaching the Gospel, and performing innumerable miracles, for more than three years! Well might the prophet say, foreseeing the small success he would meet with,
* Acts, i. 15.
b 1 Cor. xv. 6. The word brethren there used does not prove that none but men were present at that time, any more than that, because the apostles, in their public preaching, addressed their hearers as "men and brethren," there were therefore no women amongst them, or the women were not considered as having any interest or concern in the Gospel Ministry.
"Who hath believed our report, and to whom hath the
arm of the Lord been revealed?" But since he, in whom the fulness of grace resided, had so few disciples, it may lessen our surprise, that his Gospel, though in itself the power and wisdom of God, should meet with so cold a reception amongst men as it has in fact always done..
2. Of those few who professed a more entire attachment to his person, a considerable part, after attending him for some time, went back and walked no more with him. They were but superficially convinced, and rather struck with the power of his words and works, than deeply sensible of their own need of him. When, therefore, upon a certain occasion, he spoke of the more inward and experimental part of religion, the life of faith, and the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, so many were offended at his doctrine, and forsook him, that he said unto the twelve, "Will ye "also go away?" which seems to imply, that there were few but these remaining. Therefore, though we see at present that, where the sound of the Gospel brings multitudes together, many, who for a season appeared in earnest, gradually decline in their profession, and, at length, wholly return to their former ways, we have the less reason to wonder or be discouraged, remembering that it was thus from the beginning.
3. Those who believed on Christ then, were chiefly (as we had occasion to observe before) persons of low condition, and many of them had been formerly vile and obnoxious in their conduct. While the wise and learned rejected him, his more immediate followers were Galileans, fishermen, publicans, and sinners.