« PreviousContinue »
ation; even the professed admirers of candour and charity will not hesitate to put the worst construction upon all he says or does; for they are seeking occasion to wound the Gospel through his misconduct. They are sensible that he is generally above them, and therefore rejoice to find, or pretend, a flaw, on which they may expatiate, to reduce him as near as possible to their own -level. Though, if their censures are extended to their just consequence, they will (as we have seen) fall hard upon the apostles themselves.
I hope that what I have said upon this subject will neither be misunderstood nor perverted. We do not defend even the infirmities of the best men; much less would we provide a plea for persecution or ambition. Let not the man who supposes gain to be godliness, who makes the Gospel a ladder whereby to climb the heights of worldly preferment, whose heart, like the insatiable fire, is craving more, and practising every art to accumulate wealth and honour in the church;-let not the proud man, who would lord it over conscience, and, though unable to command fire from heaven, would gladly prepare fire and slaughter upon earth for all who will not venture their souls upon his faith ;-let not these avail themselves of the examples of James and John: but rather let them tremble at the reflection, that, while they manifest no part of the apostles' graces, they are entirely possessed of those tempers, the smallest traces of which our Lord so severely rebuked in his disciples.
The first believers, though not faultless, were sincere. The natural disposition of their hearts was changed; they believed in Jesus, they loved him, they devoted themselves to his service, they submitted to his instructions, shared in his reproach, and could not be either enticed or intimidated to leave him. Their gra
cious Master was their guide and guard, their advocate and counsellor; when they were in want, in danger, in trouble, or in doubt, they applied to him, and found relief; hence they learned, by degrees, to cast all their care upon him. He corrected every wrong disposition; he pardoned their failings, and enabled them to do better. His precepts taught them true wisdom; and his own example, which, to those who loved him, had the force of a thousand precepts, was at once the model and the motive of their obedience. To make them ashamed of aspiring to be chief, he himself, though Lord of all, conversed among them as a servant, and condescended to wash their feet. To teach them forbearance and gentleness to their opposers, they saw him weep over his bitterest enemies, and heard him pray for his actual murderers,
Thus they gradually advanced in faith, love, and holiness, as the experience of every day disclosed to them some new discovery of the treasures of wisdom, grace, and power, residing in their Lord and Saviour. He explained to them in private the difficulties which occurred in his more public discourses; by his observations on the common occurrences of life, he opened to them the mysterious volumes of creation and providence, which none but those whom he vouchsafes to teach can understand aright; he prayed for them, and with them, and taught them to pray for themselves; he revealed unto them the unseen realities of the eternal world, and supported them under the prospect of approaching trials; particularly of his departure from them, by assuring them that he was going on their behalf, to prepare them a place in his kingdom, and that, in a little time, he would return to receive them to himself, that they might dwell with him for ever,
What he personally spoke to them, and acted in their presence, was recorded by his direction, and has been preserved by his providence for the use and comfort of his church though his enemies have raged horribly, they have not been able to suppress the divine volume; and, though invisible to mortal eyes, he is still near to all that seek him, and so supplies the want of his bodily presence by the secret communications of his Spirit, that his people have no reason to complain of any disadvantage. Though they see him not, they believe, love, rejoice, and obey; their attention and dependence are fixed upon him; they intrust him with all their concerns; they rely upon his promises; they behold him as their high priest, advocate, and shepherd; they live upon his fulness, and plead his righteousness, and they find and feel that their reliance is not in vain.
The disciples were content, for his sake, to bear the scorn and injurious treatment of the world; they expected no better usage, nor desired a higher honour, than to be fellow-sufferers with their Lord. When he proposed returning to Judea, at a time they thought dangerous, and they could not alter his purpose, they did not wish to be left behind; "Let us go," says one of them to the rest, "that we may die with him." It is true, when he was actually apprehended, the first shock of the trial was too strong; they forsook him and fled. He permitted this, both to exempt them from danger, and to let them know, that of themselves they could do nothing. But, it seems, they did not go far. When Thomas afterwards said, Except I shall see "in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger "into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his "side, I will not believe," he spoke like one who had been an eye-witness to his sufferings, and expresses an
earnestness, as if he still saw him wounded and bleeding. This catastrophe, indeed, almost disconcerted them; they had trusted it was he that should deliver Israel; but they saw him oppressed and slain by wicked men. From that time to his resurrection was a mournful interval, the darkest and most distressing period his church ever knew.
But the third day dispelled their grief; he returned victorious from the grave, proclaimed peace by the blood of the cross; he declared (and his appearance proved it) that the ransom was paid and accepted, and that, having now overcome the sharpness of death, he had opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Then he spoke peace to their hearts, he opened their understandings to know the Scriptures, and breathed upon them his Holy Spirit; he conversed frequently with them during forty days, gave them a large commission to preach his Gospel, and an invaluable promise of his presence with them to the end of the world.
When he had thus confirmed them by those instructions and assurances which his wisdom saw necessary, he was received up to heaven. They followed him with their hearts and eyes awhile, and then returned to Jerusalem rejoicing. They were not ashamed of their crucified Lord, or unwilling to bear the contemptuous names of Galileans or Nazarenes for his sake.. They were not afraid, as if left like sheep without a shepherd in the midst of their enemies. They knew that, though they could see him no more, his eye would be always upon them, and his ear open to their prayer. They waited, according to his command, for a farther supply of his Spirit, to qualify them for the important and difficult services which were before them. Nor did they wait long: a few days after his ascension,
while they were praying with one heart and mind, the place where they were assembled was shaken as with a mighty wind; the Spirit of power and wisdom was abundantly communicated to them; they spoke with new tongues, and immediately began to preach boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus.
With this solemn and memorable event, I shall open the second book, and take up the thread of the Gospel History from that glorious day of Divine Power. The contents of this first book, namely, a brief view of the necessity and nature of the Gospel dispensation, the causes why it is and has been opposed, and the circumstances of the first believers, I have premised, as general principles, for my own and the reader's assist ance in the progress of this work.
It is much to be wished, that every reader might be impressed with the importance of our subject. It is not point of curiosity, but of universal concern, and that in the highest and most interesting sense. Most of the researches and disquisitions which employ the time and talents of men, are of a trivial or indifferent nature, We may range on different sides concerning them; we may give, or refuse, or retract our assent, when and as often as we please. We may be totally ignorant of them without loss, or be skilled in them all without deriving any solid comfort or advantage from them. But the Gospel of Christ is not like the dry uninteresting theories of human wisdom; it will either wound or heal, be a savour of life or of death, a source of endless comfort, or the occasion of aggravated condemnation to all that hear of it. To receive it, is to receive the earnest and assurance of eternal happiness; to reject it, or remain wilfully ignorant of its characters and properties, will leave the soul oppressed with guilt, and