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pose a plurality of Supreme Beings, and that to prove there is one is thereby to prove that there is but one: another says, that the Divine Nature, being infinite, can communicate itself to many to an infinity, and form many infinites, all really per'fect in their kind, Moreover, among men, who seem to agree in the essential points of religion, among christians, who bear the same denomination, assemble in the same places of worship, and subscribe the same creeds, ideas of the same articles very different, sometimes diametrically opposite, are discovered. As there are numerous opinions on matters of speculation, so there are endless notions about practice. One contents himself with half a system, containing only some general duties, which belong to worldly decency : Another insists, on uniting virtue with every circumstance, every transaction, every instant, and, if I may be allowed to speak so, every indivisible point of life. One thinks it lawful to associate the pleasures of the world with the practice of piety; and he pretends that good people differ from the wicked only in some enormities, in which the latter seem to forget they are men, and to transform themselves into wild beasts: another condemns himself to perpetual penances and mortifications, and if, at any time, he allow himself recreations, they are never such as savor of the spirit of the times, because they are the livery of the world.
I said, my brethren, that if any prejudices make deep impressions on the mind of a rational man, they are those which are produced by a variety of opinions. They sometimes drive men into a state of uncertainty and scepticism, the worst disposi. tion of mind, the most opposite to that persuasion, without which there is no pleasure, and the most contrary to the grand design of religion, which is
to establish our consciences, and to enable us to reply to every inquirer on these great subjects, I know and am persuaded, Rom. xiv. 14.
Against this temptation Jesus Christ guarded his disciples. Never was a question more important, never were the minds of men more divided about any question, than that, which related to the person of our Saviour. Some considered him as a politician, who under a veil of humility, hid the most ambitious designs : others took him for an enthusiast. Some thought him an emissary of the devil: others an envoy from God. Even among them, who agreed in the latter, some said that he was Elias, some John the Baptist, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. The faith of the apostles was in danger of being shaken by these divers opinions. Jesus Christ comes to their assistance, and, having required their opinions on a question, which divided all Judea, having received from Peter the answer of the whole apostolical college, he praiseth their faith, and, by praising it, gave it a firmer establishment.
My brethren, may the words of Jesus Christ make everlasting impressions on you! May those of you, who, because you have acted rationally by embracing the belief
, and by obeying the precepts of the gospel, are sometimes taxed with superstition, sometimes with infatuation, and sometimes with melancholy, learn from the reflections, that we shall make on the text, to rise above the opinions of men, to be firm and immovable amidst temptations of this kind, always faithfully to adhere to truth and virtue, and to be the disciples only of them. Grant, O Lord! that they, who like St. Peter have said to Jesus Christ, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, may experience such pleasure as the answer of the divine Saviour gave to the apostle's soul, when he said, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona ; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven, Amen.
The questions and the answers, which are related in the text, will be our only divisions of this discourse.
Jesus Christ was travelling from Bethany to Cesarea, not to that Cesarea, which was situated on the Mediterranean sea, at first called the tower of Strato, and afterwards Cesarea, by Herod the Great, in honor of the emperor Augustus : but to that which was situated at the foot of mount Lebanon, and which had been repaired and embellished, in honor of Tiberius, by Philip the Tetrach, the son of Herod.
Jesus Christ, in his way to this city, put this question to his disciples, Who, do men say, that I, the son of man amor, as it may be rendered, Who, do men say, I am ? Do they say, I am the son of man?
We will not enter into a particular examination of the reasons, which determined the Jews of our Saviour's time, and the inspired writers with them, to distinguish the Messiah by the title son of man. Were we to determine any thing on this subject, we should give the preference to the opinion of those, who think the phrase son of man means man by excellence. The Jews say son of man to signify а тап. . Witness, among many other passages, this well-known saying of Balaam : God is not a man, that he should lie, neither the son of man, that he should repent, Numb. xxiii. 19. The Messiah is called the man, or the son of man, that is, the man, of whom the prophecies had spoken, the man, whose coming was the object of the desires and prayers of the whole church.
It is more important to enquire the design of Jesus Christ, in putting this question to his disciples, Who, do men say, that I am ? It is one of those questions, the meaning of which can be determined only by the character of him, who proposeth it; for it may be put from many different motives.
Sometimes pride puts this question. There are some people, who think of nothing but themselves, and who imagine all the world think about them too: they suppose, they are the subject of every conversation : and fancy every wheel, which moves in society, hath some relation to them, if they be not the principal spring of it. People of this sort are very desirous of knowing what is said about them, and, as they have no conception that any but glorious things are said of them, they are extremely solicitous to know them, and often put this question, Who, do men say, that I am ? Would you know what they say of you ? Nothing at all. They do not know you exist, and, except a few of your relations, nobody in the world knows you are in it.
The question is sometimes put by curiosity, and this motive deserves commendation, if it be accompanied with a desire of reformation. The judgment of the public is respectable, and, to a certain degree, it ought to be a rule of action to us. It is necessary sometimes to go abroad, to quit our relations, and acquaintances, who are prejudiced in our favor, and to inform ourselves of the opinions of those, 'who are more impartial, on our conduct. I wish some people would often put this question, Who, do men say, that I am ? The answers they would receive would teach them to entertain less flattering, and more just notions of themselves. Who, do men say, that I am ? They say, you are haughty, and proud of your prosperity ; that you use your influence only to oppress the weak; that your success is a public calamity; and that you are a tyrant whom every one abhors. Who, do men say, that I am ? They say, you have a serpent's tongue, that the poison of adders is under your lips, Psal. cxl. 3. that you inflame a whole city, a whole province, by the scandalous tales you forge, and which having forged, you industriously propagate ; they say, you are infernally diligent in sowing discord between wife and husband, friend and friend, subject and prince, pastor and flock. Who do men say, that I am ? They say, you are a did covetous wretch; that mammon is the God
you adore; that, provided your coffers fill, it is a matter of indifference to you, whether it be by extortion, or by just acquisition, whether it be by a lawful inheritance or by an accursed patrimony.
Revenge, may put the question, Who, do men say, that I am? We cannot but know that some reports, which are spread about us, are disadvantageous to our reputation. We are afraid, justice should not be done to us, we therefore wish to know our revilers in order to mark them out for vengeance. The inquiry in this disposition is certainly blameable. Let us live uprightly, and let us give ourselves no trouble about what people say of us. If there be some cases in which it is useful to know the popular opinion, there are others in which it is best to be ignorant of it. If religion forbids us to avenge ourselves, prudence requires us not to expose ourselves to the temptation of doing it. A heathen hath given us an illustrious example of this prudent conduct, which I am recommending to
I speak of Pompey the Great. He had defeated Perpenna, and the traitor offered to deliver to him the papers of Sertorius, among which were