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Matthew xi. 2, &c. John the Baptist had now for a long time been confined in prison, in consequence of the boldness and freedom with which he had reproved the vices of Herod. His disciples, however, had access to him, and related to him the election of the twelve apostles, and the numerous miracles wrought by Jesus. On hearing this intelligence, he sent two of his disciples to the Redeemer to ask him, " Art thou he who should come" the promised and long-ex-
pected Messiah, " or do we look for another?" Perhaps the Baptist, who, though a great and illustrious man, was not divested of the frailties of humanity, had become impatient that Jesus, who had wrought so many miracles for others, had wrought none for him ; and had chosen twelve illiterate fishermen to preach the gospel while he was suffered to lie idle and useless in prison. If these were his feelings, the message which he sends is to be considered as an expostulation and complaint, rather than an expression of doubt. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but he was filled with wonder that Messiah did not rescue his forerunner. Perhaps, however, it is more probable that this message was sent more for the satisfaction of his disciples than of himself. These disciples, on several occasions, shewed a jealousy of the followers of Jesus, and appeared hurt that the glory of their master w r as obscured by the superior splendour of the Redeemer. Perhaps they may have expressed these sentiments on the
present occasion, and from an undue attachment to John, entertained doubts whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah. If so, it was from an anxious and pious solicitude to remove these scruples from their minds, that John sent them to converse with Jesus himself. Upon their asking the questions, Jesus wrought a variety of miracles in their presence, and bade them return and tell John what things they had seen; particularly that " the blind saw, the lame walked, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, and the poor had the gospel preached to them." These were foretold by the prophets as the marks of the Messiah, and the view of them was a far more convincing answer to their question than any express declaration couM have been. The Saviour adds, " Blessed is fie who-
260 SERMO L. soever shall not be offended in me," ' shall not be ashamed of my doctrine, nor discouraged by any temporal evils from embracing it.' Lest the people who heard John's message should be offended at him, because of it, Jesus, so soon as the messengers had departed, spoke to the multitude concerning him. " What went ye out into the wilderness to see ?" When John preached in the desert many of you crowded to hear him, and were baptized by him. Why did you go to him ? Wliat did you expect to behold ? Did you think to see " a reed shaken by the wind?" a man of an unstable disposition, of wavering doctrine, and a cowardly behaviour? Such was not John, whose constancy remained unshaken, whose testimony was uniform, whose courage was invincible. Did ye go out to see " a man in soft raiment? Behold they which wear soft raiment are in king's houses." The life of the Baptist was austere and mortified ; he resembled not those who throng
the courts of earthly princes. Did ye then go out to see " a prophet ?" This was your intention, and ye saw indeed " more than a prophet :" one greater than all those prophets who have preceded him. Several considerations show this superiority. He was the harbinger of Messiah ; was prophesied of in this character, and had long been expected by the people of God, under the name of Elias, as he was called by Malachi, because he was to possess the spirit and power of Elias. " This is he of whom it is written" '' Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee" " If ye will receive it, this is that Elias which was to come." It was also John the Baptist who first declared openly the advent of Messiah ; " all the prophets and the law prophesied till John" spoke of the blessings of the Redeemer's kingdom as
LIFE OF CHRIS i. 2(jl things future, while he pointed them out as present. From his time the gospel began to be declared, and through his preaching many were excited to seek salvation with the utmost vehemence and earnestness; even the greatest sinners were induced to press with eager desire alter the blessings of the gospel, and to lay hold of them, as it were, by force. " From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent [|8t*s-*«] take it by force. The forerunner was also distinguished by the wonders attending his birth ; by a clearer knowledge of the gospel mysteries than the ancient prophets enjoyed; and by his illustrious testimony to the Messiah. For these, and similar reasons, Jesus declares, « Among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist : evertheless," he adds, " he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" ' The meanest person belonging to that kingdom of grace and glory,
which I have come to establish, is, in various respects, superior to John ; he receives superior supplies of the Spirit, and knows many important truths relative to the gospel of which the forerunner was ignorant.' Such was the eulogium given to the baptist by the Saviour; by him who could unerringly judge of the true character of men, and whose approbation secures eternal felicity. Let Herod then rage, let the executioner approach, let death advance to John, he is still happy, since he is commended by Jesus. Jesus, commending John while he was in prison, teaches us that we must not judge of his affection for us, by the external blessings of his providence. Frequently he confers earthly pleasures, riches, enjoyments, on those whom he will at last sentence to
262 SERMO L. perdition ; and suffers those whom he loves to be assailed with distress, to languish in poverty and confinement. But an assurance of his love can divest affliction of its sting, and convert a prison into a paradise. Are the privileges of those who live in gospel times so great? Do our ears hear the sound of salvation ? Do we even enjoy a degree of light superior to that of John ? Let us improve these advantages, or they will prove a curse to us. Let us walk as children of the light, or we shall hereafter wish we had been left in pagan darkness. The Saviour proceeds to reprove the perverseness of the Jews, and especially of the pharisees. In Judea (as you see in many parts of the Scriptures) it
was customary at feasts, to have cheerful music, accompanied with dancing; and at funerals, melancholy airs, to which were joined the lamentations of persons hired for that purpose. The children in that country imitating these things in their diversions, it often happened that while one band performed the musical part, the other, being froward. would not answer them by dancing, or lamenting. This naturally gave occasion to the complaint, which at last became a proverbial mode of speech ; " We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced ; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented." This proverb our Lord applies to the pharisees, to show that the divine wisdom had in vain employed every means for their conversion. The mourning airs naturally represent the severe austerity of the Baptist's manners, the stern dignity of his character, and the disagreeableness of the doctrine of repentance, which he preached. But instead of being led by these circumstances to reverence him, they as-
LIFE OF CHRIST. 263 sorted that his severities were the effects of diabolic possession of madness, or religious melancholy. On the other hand, the cheerful airs in the proverb beautifully represent our Lord's benevolent disposition, affable conversation, engaging condescension, and familiar manner of instructing all. But instead of being attracted by so lovely a character, they load him with reproach, and esteem him a fit companion for the worst of men. But whatever their malice and envy can suggest, those who are truly wise and religious, approve and admire this beautiful variety in the dispensations of providence, and in the mode of announcing divine truths. " Whereunto shall I liken this generation ? It is like unto children sitting in the markets and calling unto their fellows, We have
piped unto you, and ye have not danced: we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For Jolrn came, neither eating nor drinking ; and they say, He hath a deviL The Son of man came eating and drinking ; and they say, Behold a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber ; a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.'''' My brethren, how many of you are there who imitate this conduct of the Jews ; who disregard and neglect the truth of God; who, though professing to believe in Christ, and approve his religion, are not suitably affected by it ; who rejoice not in its promises ; who are not humbled by its threatenings ? Seek not excuses for this neglect of the doctrines and duties of religion, but acknowledge that it proceeds from the perverseness and obstinacy of your heart. We, at this distance of time, perceive plainly that this was the case with the Jews, in their treatment of Christ and his apostles. But we are not aware that the same principle operates in ourselves, while
"213 1 SERMO L. we disregard the gospel. This gospel proposes humiliating doctrines, which we are too proud to receive ; and self-denying rules of conduct, which we cannot endure to follow. This was the real cause of its rejection by the Jews, and it is the real cause of its rejection by so many of us. They quieted their conscience by assigning other motives for their neglect ; imitate not their example, lest you share their destiny; show yourselves the children of wisdom, by embracing and improving the divine instructions. Having thus reproved the neglectors of the gospel in general, Jesus proceeded to denounce heavy judgments against those cities which he had particularly
blessed with his presence ; in which he had delivered many excellent discourses, and wrought the most stupendous miracles. He denounces against them woes more awful than those with which God visited Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, cities infamous for their impiety, pride, luxury, and debauchery. " Wo unto. thee, Chorazin ; wo unto thee, Bcthsaida : for if the mighty ivorks which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, in the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be brought down to hell ; for if the mighty ivorks which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it ¦would have remained unto this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for you.'''' How deep is the guilt ! how awful will be the condemnation of those who enjoy the means of grace, the ordinances of God's worship, the light of the gospel, and yet despise them ! The word of God returneth not empty; it produces always some effect; it
LIFE OP CHRIST. 265 ripens our graces or our sins. If it prove not " a savour of life unto life," it becomes "a savour of death unto death." Every means of grace that you have ever enjoyed, every sermon that you have heard, every opportunity of spiritual improvement with which you have been blessed, are recorded in the book of God's remembrance, and will be produced to you at the judgment day. If they have not inspired you with holy principles, if you, imitating the conduct, must share the doom of these cities. With what anguish will you look back upon neglected sabbaths and wasted opportunities. Brethren, there
is thunder and lightning in the word of God; if the one do not break the heart, the other will blast it. Jesus, having thus reproved the impenitence of these cities, blessed God that although the gospel was rejected by many who were esteemed for wisdom and prudence, such as the scribes and pharisees, yet it was cordially embraced by those who were humble, modest, meek, and docile ; for this is the sense that is very frequently annexed to the term babes in scripture. " / thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these thing from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight" Had it been otherwise; had the great, the learned, and the wise, at first received the gospel, it would have been said, and with some plausibility, that it owed its reception among the nations to their influence. But when such weak instruments established the religion of Jesus, in every part of the habitable world, against the combined wisdom, power, and malice of devils and men, we cannot rationally avoid acknowledging that it was supported by the arm of the Almighty. vol, ii. 34
266 SERMO L. My brethren, though the great body of those most, venerable for their wisdom and science, have been warmly attached to Christianity, and have joyfully laid all their honours at the foot of the cross, yet there are still to be found some of the wise and prudent of the world to whom " the gospel is hidden." Let us pity them, and pray for them. When they boast of their reason, let us say to them, in the words of one of our sacred poets :
" Wrong not the Christian ; think not reason yours : 'Tis leason our great Master holds so dear ; 'Tis reason's injur'd rights his wrath resents ; 'Tis reason's voice obey'd, his glories crown ; To give lost reason life, he pour'd his own. Believe, and show the wisdom of a man — Believe, and taste the pleasure of a God — Believe, and look with triumph on the tomb — Thro' reason's wounds alone thy faith can die." Lest the example of these unbelievers should influence the multitude, Jesus says to them, " All things are delivered unto me of my Father." He hath committed to my care every thing relating to the salvation of the world : " And no one knoweth the Son but the Father:'''' He alone knoweth the dignity of the Son. what he hath done, and what he will do for the salvation of the world : " either knoweth any one the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.'''' I alone perfectly know his nature and perfections, and it is my great business on earth to reveal them to the unhappy children of men. Warmed with the sincerest love to our race, he then exclaims. " Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" Listen to this voice of grace, you that are bowed down with either temporal or spiritual afflictions. If you are drinking of the
LIFE OF CHRIST. 267 cup of sorrow, or groaning under the sense of sin, he invites you to him. Go to him in faith, believing him able and willing to relieve you. Go to him with hope, let your expectations be large and comprehensive : ye are not straitened in him, be not straitened in yourselves. Go to him with love ; approach not like those driven by necessity, but let his love attract
you, and his excellence warm your heart. Be not discouraged by a sense of your unworthiness ; he offers his blessings freely, " without money and without price." He promises you rest ; and were his promises ever falsified, did his faithfulness ever fail ? If your troubles are of a temporal nature, the anguish of your spirits shall be soothed, your tears shall be dried, or changed into tears of joy. If your sorrows are spiritual, you shall find in the sufficiency of his blood, and in the efficacy of his grace, a firm and stable foundation of pardon and peace, of holiness and glory. Jesus adds, " Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall f?id rest to your soids." 4 Put yourselves under my instruction. I will impose nothing upon you but what I myself practise. You will not find me an austere instructed You will find me gentle and condescends ing, ready to condescend to your ignorance, and to encourage your feeblest efforts. You shall, by learning of me, obtain for your souls rest from the uncertainty of conjecture, from the accusations of conscience, from the turbulence of passion, from the fear of death. " My yoke is easy and my burden light." 1 impose no unnecessary restraints, my service is per* feet freedom, and my commands are not grievous. If in them you find some difficulty, such assistance^
268 SERMO LI. and encouragements shall be given you, as will enable you with ease to surmount it.' Blessed Jesus ! may we all listen to this gracious invitation, and experience the fulfilment of this pro-
mise in the sacred calm and tranquillity of soul, which thou givest thy followers on earth, and in the unclouded and undisturbed serenity of heaven.
1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books
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