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John vii. 5. For neither did his brethren believe in him. It was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, that the Messiah should be " despised and rejected of men." And when we consider the many evidences he gave of his divine commission, and the gracious errand on which he came, it is very surprisinothat any of those, who were acquainted with his doctrine and miracles, should reject him ; especially that his brethren should do it. This circumstance, which the evangelist mentions in the text, is so extraordinary, that it deserves to be considered : and it affords so much instruction, that it demands your serious regard. We are told (v. 2) that the Jewish feast of tabernacles was at hand ; one of the feasts at which all the males were required to go to Jerusalem. Our Lord's brethren therefore said unto him, " Depart hence from Galilee and go into Judea, that thy disciples there may see the works that thou doest : for there is no man that doeth any thing of this kind in secret, while he himself seeketh to be known openly." " If thou doest these things," that is, by a divine connnission, " show thyself to the world ;" to the Jews, and especially to the oreat
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men assembled at Jerusalem from this and the neighbouring countries. And the reason why they said this was, because
" they did not believe in him." They did not believe that he was the Messiah; or at least such a Messiah as the prophets foretold. They had no right apprehension of the design of his teaching and miracles. They did not follow him as his disciples. Or if they professed any particular regard to him as a teacher, it was for worldly ends. By " brethren" we are here (as in many other places of the evangelists) to understand his cousins or near kinsmen. For it doth not appear that the Virgin Mary had any other child but Christ. It seems he had many cousins : some of the apostles were of that number. But there is a distinction made between his " brethren" and his " disciples" by St. John; " He went down to Capernaum, he and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples," John ii. 1 2 ; which intimates, that some of his brethren were not then his disciples and stated attendants. And these were the persons who gave him this advice, and concerning whom the text is spoken. — I shall, I. Show how strange it was that they did not believe. II. How it may be accounted for — and then consider what instructive lessons we may draw from this circumstance. I am, 1. To show how strange it was, that Christ's brethren should not believe. And this will appear if we consider that they had heard his doctrine — seen his miracles — and known the circumstances and manner of his life. 1. They had heard his doctrine; both publicly and privately; and probably received many personal admonitions from him. They were not strangers, nor mere neighbours, who had heard him once or twice; but his near relations, who lived in the same town, and some of them at least in the same house. Before he appeared as a public preacher, and travelled about, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, they had undoubtedly heard many excellent discourses from him ; adapted to enlighten their understandings, to awaken and edify their hearts, and so prepare them for the reception of those truths which he
was at length to publish to the world. He, who took every opportunity to introduce religious discourse, would not neglect it at home, amongst his kinsmen. o doubt he gave them many private admonitions, suited to their cases; for he not only saw their behaviour, but knew their hearts, and addressed (as he often did in the case of the Scribes and Pharisees) to their secret reasonings, cavils, and objections; and reproved their lusts and passions which did not appear to others. When he entered upon his ministry, they had often heard him preach in his own city. They had gone in company with him to several
DIS. VI.] U BELIEF OF CHRIST's BRETHRE . 45 feasts at Jerusalem, as near relations used to go together. They had conversed with him by the way, and had heard him, with all plainness, tenderness, and seriousness, address his countrymen there. Many gracious words had proceeded out of his mouth in their hearing; coming with all the force and advantage which united dignity, wisdom, and love, could give them. Further, 2. They had seen his miracles ; yea, many of them. Had they only seen one, namely, his first miracle at Cana, where they were present — his turning the water into wine, one would have thought, that one alone should have engaged their belief, as it did that of some of his disciples, John ii. 11, 12. They had seen many other of his miracles in their own town and neighbourhood ; in their journeys to Jerusalem, and some which he performed there at the feasts. They had seen him restoring sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, hearing to the deaf, and health and soundness to the sick, the paralytic, and the lunatic : miracles, the most beneficent in themselves, and performed with the greatest modesty : miracles of such a nature, that there was not the least room to suspect any artifice or collusion in them. ay, in the advice they gave him in the preceding verses (v. 3, 4), they plainly acknowledge that he had -^performed " mayiy miracles ;" so that they had clear evidence of his divine mission.
3. They had also known the circumstances and manner of his life. They had, no doubt, often heard of the miraculous conception both of Christ and of John the Baptist, his forerunner, who was also their relation. They had heard from their aunt Mary, an account of the angel's appearing to Zacharias and to her; the vision of the shepherds; the wise men coming to Bethlehem ; the destruction of the children there ; the flight into Egypt ; the testimony that Zacharias, Simeon, and Anna, had borne to Christ, as the Messiah ; and the assurance John the Baptist had given, that Jesus was he. These circumstances would often be talked of in the family, and they could not be strangers to them. They had likewise seen our Lord's manner of life. Had he been one of those, who " say and do not," to have disregarded his doctrine would have been folly; yet it would have admitted some excuse. But they had known him from his childhood ; seen daily proofs of his early piety, obedience to his parents, and diligence in his business. They had seen in how holy, just, and unblameable a manner he had behaved through his whole hfe; and thereby he had shown how practicable and how lovely his precepts were. One would have imagined, that his holy life should have added an irresistible weight to every thing he said, and have made them willing and obedient hearers. Let me just observe, that it was not at the beginning of his ministry that his brethren did not believe : or
46 orton's phactical works. else they might have been in suspense, waiting for further proofs of liis divine mission. But it appears from the sacred story, that he had preached and wrought miracles at least three years, probably more, before this time ; as well as had shone in a private station among them for thirty years before. These circumstances, that they had often heard his doctrine — seen his miracles — and been intimately acquainted with the circumstances of his birth and early years and manner of life, make it very surprising that his brethren should not believe in him. Let us consider,
II. How it may he accounted for, or whence it happened, that they continued in their unbelief, notwithstanding all these evidences. And this is the more necessary to be considered, because the modern Jews, and some infidels of our own, have argued from the text, that our Lord really performed no miracles : that all he did of the miraculous kind was a cheat ; or else his brethren would have believed. They can hardly think that his relations would have been more incredulous than others, and therefore they suspect that all was a fraud. If this was the case, and our evangelist was in the secret, he did not act with his usual cunning, in putting this circumstance into the history, that his brethren did not believe. In answer to this objection, it might be observed, that it is no uncommon thing for men not to believe, when they have the strongest evidence. Thus, to the objecting Jews one might reply, the Israelites did not believe in the Lord and in Moses, though they could not deny the many miracles wrought by him, nor even subsist without them. Thus to the deist one might reply, that many deny, or pretend to deny, the immortality of the soul and the being of a God, amidst such a variety of incontestable arguments proving both. But I think the difficulty may be easily solved by considering, that they had strong prejudices against Christ, and very bad dispositions of mind. They had very strong prejudices against Christ. There were some, common to them as sinful men ; arising from the purity of his doctrine, and that self denial, mortification, and contempt of the vvorld, which he required. They had ])rejudice3 against him, likewise, as Jews. They expected their J Iessiah to appear on earth in great pomp and sjilendour, as a temporal jirince ; to rescue them from the yoke of the Romans, and make them lords of the world. This notion of the Messiah their teachers had inculcated; and these teacher^ they looked upon as infallible. They misunderstood the ancient prophecies ; fixed their eyes only on that part of the Messiah's character, which suited tiieir carnal desires and the present state of the nation. They did not contest his miracles j nay, they acknowledged them.
DIS. VI.] U BELIEF OF CHRISt's BRETHRE . 47 But they thought that, by continuing so much in Galilee, he did not consult his own credit and advancement as he ought to have done. Therefore they advise him to go to Judea ; to appear at Jerusalem, the seat of dignity and power, and perform his miracles before the rich, the great, and the learned ; whose decision in his favour would be an honour to him, and bring him in many followers. They intimate, that he set up for the leader of a party, and yet did not take the most prudent methods to strengthen his interest, and increase the number of his followers (v. 4). They thought his privacy inconsistent with the character of the Messiah, and wanted him to show himself to the world. He had not, in express words, professed himself the Messiah, nor raised a party to support the claim and the monarchy which they expected. Therefore, though they owned his miracles, and looked upon him as an extraordinary person, they would not believe him to be the Messiah. Having laid this down as a first principle, that the Messiah must be a glorious, triumphant prince, and seeing Christ taking no steps to appear as such, but rather manifesting an aversion to pomp and power, they would yield to no other proofs that he was the Lord's anointed. They did not understand the prophecies, that Christ was first to suffer and then rise to glory, and have an exalted kingdom, different from that which they had conceived ; and therefore they did not believe. But their being the relations of Christ made their prejudices stronger than those of other Jews. For, expecting him to appear as a temporal prince, they imagined they had reason to hope for the first honours in his kingdom ; as it hath been in all ages usual for princes, ministers of state, and other dignitaries, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to promote their relations and aggrandize their own families ; and too often without considering their merit and qualifications. The story of the mother of James and John will throw a considerable light upon their temper. She came to our Lord, desiring that her two sons might " sit on his right and left hand in his kingdom ;" that is, be his chief ministers of
state, and have the first posts of profit and dignity under him. In like manner, his brethren had carved out all the great places of this kingdom which they expected among themselves : and when they saw our Lord taking no steps for his own advancement and theirs, and thus disappointing all their sanguine hopes, they concluded that he was not the Messiah. Again, They had bad dispositions of mind, from whence their prejudices in a great measure arose, and not merely from their teachers. They were under the influence of an ambitious, worldly spirit; entirely governed by secular views : and whatever they might pretend, our Lord, who knew their hearts, saw that their principles and affections were covetous and sensual. So he tells them in the verse following the text, "Your time is always ready,
48 orton's practical works. I cannot go to the feast now" without danger : you may go at any time : you are in no clanger from the Jews : your temper and manners too much resemble those of my enemies, for you to fear any thing from them. " The world cannot hate you" (v. 7), for you are like them, will neither testify against their works nor decline practising them, whereas I do both, and therefore " it hateth me." These remarks, I hope, sufficiently account for the unbelief of Christ's brethren. Undoubtedly our Lord could, by his mighty energy, have made them believers, disciples, and obedient : but that would have been inconsistent with the freedom of rational creatures, and the character of his people, who are a willing people. Their unbelief was the consequence of their own unjust prejudices and worldly views. And God in his infinite wisdom permitted it, as it turns out to the honour of Christianity. It shows that our Lord did not aim at a worldly interest. Had all his brethren believed in him, cried him up, and followed him, it might have been reckoned a plot amongst his relations to serve their own ends by joining in an imposture. This circumstance removes all suspicion of any family contrivance, or that the se-
cular interest of any particular place or party of men was purposed by our Lord's undertaking. Besides, had they from the first believed, we had not enjoyed those useful instructions, which their unbelief suggests to us, and which I am now to consider, as the application to the subject. APPLICATIO , L Let us not wonder if some, who have enjoyed the greatest religious advantages, do not believe. The blessed Jesus had, no doubt, a natural love of his relations as such, and left no method untried to convince them and make them his disciples, without putting a force upon their minds. And yet the advantages they had enjoyed, perhaps superior to any other of the Jews, were lost upon them. All the excellency of his doctrine, the purity of his character, and the lustre of his miracles, had no effect upon them. And will you wonder. Christian parents, after this, that some of your children perhaps, are not so serious and regular as you could wish ? That after all your care and concern to form their minds and manners, you have the grief to see them tiioughtless, disorderly, and irreligious ? Shall we be surprised that there are melancholy instances of this kind in some most pious and regular families, which we have known : and where their parents have, as it were, " travailed in birth again that Christ might be formed in tljem ?" Let us not be surprised if some of our servants are untractable, disobedient, and without the fear of God ; though they have been instructed in the word of God and prayed with every day ; though they have been obliged regularly to attend the house of God, and never suffered to waste
DIS. VI.] U BELIEF OF CHRISt's BRETHRE . 49 their sacred time : though they have had useful books put into their hands and been often admonished to serve God and mind religion. Let not good men be dejected, if their near relations prove bad and a dishonour to religion, though they have often exhorted and warned them, and tried every method to awaken, convert, and save them. It hath been the lot of some of the best men
to be disappointed in their best and most favourite schemes ; those which they had formed, and indefatigably pursued, for the salvation of others. Shall I wonder that it hath been in many instances my own case ? that, after so many studious hours, earnest prayers, and as animated addresses as I could utter ; after some pains have been taken by private as well as public admonition, I should have reason to say, with regard to some, " I have laboured in vain," worn out my constitution and " spent my strength for nought and in vain." But peace, O my soul ! dare not complain ; for even Christ's brethren did not believe ; though never man spake, and lived, and wrought miracles as he did. He converted few ; he provoked and irritated many. Be thankful that some good is done. It was thy Master's joy, and let it be thine, that " surely thy judgment is with the Lord, and thy work, or reward, with thy God," Isa. xlix. 4. Let us not be discouraged, brethren, nor decline any attempts to do good, because former attempts have not been successful. Christ went on preaching and teaching, though he was despised and rejected by his countrymen and brethren. Good may be done hereafter. Some circumstances in life may, through divine grace, awaken those to thought and seriousness, who have been for many years sermonproof. Let not ministers say, it signifies nothing to preach, or private Christians, that it is in vain to advise and exhort any more. Still let us do our duty, and wait upon God with more earnest supplication for success. And for your encouragement and my own, let me desire you to remember and consider, that Christ's brethren, most of them at least, did, after his ascension, believe in him. For we read that after that event, the apostles were assembled at Jerusalem, " and continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his hrethren," Acts i. 14. And in the next verse they are reckoned among his disciples. Those who do not believe now, may believe hereafter. Some worldly disappointments and afflictions may awaken them, as they did Christ's brethren, when they saw no hopes of grandeur and wealth from him. Perhaps this may not be the case, till after we are dead : and we may meet those in heaven, whose neglect of religion was our greatest grief upon earth, and gave us most concern in our dying moments.
2. See what an enemy to religion a worldly spirit is. Our Lord's brethren laid it down as a first principle, that the Messiah was to be a rich, powerfiil, and victorious prince, and that he VOL. I. E
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would make them all great men. They were so full of" this expectation, that not all the strong evidences he gave of" his being the Messiah, could convince them, while no steps were taken to gratify their ambitious views. A proud, covetous, worldly disposition hinders some from believing Christianity, and multitudes from obeying it. When men have laid it down as a maxim, that wealth and grandeur are necessary to happiness ; when they are set upon being very rich ; aggrandizing their families, making a figure in the world and out-shining all their neighbours, how can the love of God and goodness possibly reign in their hearts ? They will indeed compliment Christ as their Lord and master, profess to believe in him and pay some regard to his institutions ; but their hearts are not with him. They dislike many of his precepts, and disobey some of his plainest commands. They do not approve his doctrines of self-denial, of being mortified to the world and human applause, of doing as they would be done by, and dealing not only justly but honourably and kindly with all. He saith too much of charity and being rich in good works, for them to relish his maxims. They have no true faith in unseen things. They think it folly and needless preciseness to be strict in keeping the sabbath, attending public worship, and observing his commands ; and to be scrupulous about ways and means, where their worldly interest is concerned. This temper alienated Christ's brethren from him : and every
heart in which it prevails, is not, and cannot be, a heart in whicli Christ and religion dwell. The spirit of the world and the spirit of the gospel are quite opposite and contradictory. o man can serve two such different masters as God and mammon. Till the love of the world be subdued in the lieart, there will be no relish for the doctrines and precepts of the gospel. While men are principally intent on laying up treasure on earth, they will not be solicitous to lay up treasure in heaven. Seek not therefore great things for yourselves. Let not ambition cheat your fancy, and disturb your repose; but watch against the world, as one of your worst enemies, and earnestly pray that God would mortify your hearts to it. For a worldly spirit blinds the eyes, stops the ears, sears the conscience, and leads men to reject Christ and make light of salvation, till all their hopes are disappointed and they sink into irrecoverable ruin. We learn, 3. Hoio mvch better is a relation to Christ hy faith, than hy natvrc. It was indeed a great honour to these brethren of Christ to be related to him according to the flesh. But we see it was of no avail to their acceptance and salvation. And had they not afterwards believed, it would have ended in their greater shame and misery. Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, "who loveth righteousness and whose countenance beholdeth the upright." He regards men only for their real worth, the
DIS. VI,] U BELIEF OF CHRISt's BRETHRE , 51 holiness of their temper and character. That we may be sensible of this, and not led to envy those who were his brethren in the flesh, he hath told us, that real piety and obedience will alone recommend persons to his esteem and friendship. As he was once addressing the people, a woman, charmed with his discourse, said, " Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the breasts that gave thee suck. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they which hear the word of God and keep it," And we are told, that " his mother and brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him ; but he said, Who is my mother and who are
my brethren ? And he stretched out his hand towards his disciples, and said. Behold my mother and my brethren ! For whoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother," Matt, xii, 48, He will own such as his nearest kindred; love them more tenderly and affectionately than relations can love one another. He will acknowledge them, as the fruit of his labours, and the purchase of his blood. He will consult their best interest; do as nmch for them, as one relation can do for another, and infinitely more. His regard to them is founded on their being renewed and sanctified, and bearing his image ; and he will employ all his power and authority to make them completely and eternally happy. To be related to the great and the noble, about which vain men make so much ado, is really nothing. To be related to the human nature of Christ himself is comparatively nothing. But to be united to him by faith; to be joined to the Lord, and so to become one spirit, is the greatest honour that any can possess. Death will soon dissolve all earthly relations ; but this relation to Christ will never be dissolved. othing can separate true believers from his love. He will own them as his brethren in the great day. " He will say, Forasmuch as ye have shown kindness unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me," Matt. XXV. 40. Let it be our ambition, my friends, to obtain such vital union with Christ, by beheving in his name, receiving him as our Saviour, with a full consent of soul to his terms ; and from a regard to his authority, and through the influence of his love, let us persevere in doing the will of his Father which is in heaven. To conclude ; it is my earnest wish and prayer, that Christ may be formed in you ; that he may dwell in your hearts by faith; and that the fruits of this faith, the effects of this union, may daily appear in your temper and lives. Then, whatever be your earthly connexions and relations, he will acknowledge you as his brethren, and conduct you to the presence and everlasting enjoyment of his Father and your Father, of his God and your God. Amen.
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