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grief, he hath seen of the travail of his soul which was poured out unto death, and justified many. The everlasting gospel goes forth conquering and to conquer, fulfilling the prophecy of the royal Psalmist, “ The heathen: shall be given him for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession' till his kingdom shall
, by bringing the hearts of men to a conformity with the Divine image, prevail universally, and all nations fall down and worship him.
Clothed with human nature, Jesus Christ has established a kingdom over the minds of millions of the human race, which from the smallest beginnings, and founded in apparent weakness, continues to enlarge itself on every side.
side. After overturning Pagan idolatry enthroned in the Capital by the side of the Cæsars ; defying the rage of persecution, and the arguments of phi. losophy, all combined, but in vain, to destroy it in its birth, it effects a revolution in the Roman empire the most singular recorded in history. Wholly unaided by, and in direct opposition to the civil power, the ban. ner of the cross, in the short space of three hundred years, flies triumphant from the shores of Africa to the Baltic Sea, and from Asia Minor to the British Isles. An.'' cient prophecies are fully and literally accomplished ; and while states and empires pass away with incredible celerity, and the human race, intent only upon the present scene, are drawn, one generation after another, into the vortex of eternity without perceiving it, God is establishing an order and disposition of things in the world, and setting up a kingdom diverse from all other kingdoms, and that shall stand for ever.
The historical part of the New Testament is contained in the four gospels, and deservedly claims our high esteem, as conveying to us the blessed tidings of our recovering that happy state forfeited by our first purents in Paradise. All those excellencies which in general belong to the Old Testament, may in a more peculiar manner be claimed by the New ; for as St. Augustin says, l. 1. de Consens. Évang. c. 1. “ What the law and “the prophets, only foretold, the gospel plainly demon
“strates to have been completed.” If therefore good and holy men under the dispensation of the law, which was but a shadow of what has since come to pass, were encouraged to undergo the severest persecutions, in hopes of a reward to come, what greater encouragement had the saints under the gospel to suffer, when the reward was gone before them? From hence the church in all ages has derived advantage ; and hence the martyrs in the midst of their agonies took courage, looking up to the Author of their hope. Thus the protomartyr, St. Ste. phen, when stoned to death, was comforted with a sight of the Son of God. Hence the holy apostles, and the rest of our Saviour's followers, enforced the doctrines of their Lord, not from the distant relations of others, but from the more immediate dictates of his mouth, whence by a sacred and certain tradition they have been handed down to these times. From hence in times of persecution and infidelity, we are secure in the establishment of our faith, and completely furnished with arguments and instructions against the most plausible errors. From our Saviour's more immediate example, we learn humility and meekness, who, though the Son of God, condescend. ed to the low condition of humanity. From him we learn patience in adversity, and equanimity in the most elevated state of life : and whatever blemishes by the corruptions of nature may stain our profession, his word is our rule and guide to set us right again, and restore religion to its primitive purity. For this reason our blessed Lord expressly calls himself the Light of the World; of which his holy gospel is the happy vehicle to convey it to mankind, which, till his incarnation, sat in darkness. And hence the royal prophet Isaiah, foretelling his coming, says, " The people that walked in darkness “ have seen a great light, and they that dwelt in the land of “ the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined, “ Isa. ix. 2." Which is literally completed in the deliver. ance of the world by Christ, through the preaching of the gospel.
From the superior excellence, therefore, of this light which the gospel conveys to us, the Scriptures of the New Testament have acquired such reverence and veneration, that the masters of the world, in the earliest ages of the church, thought them worthy their highest care and esteem. Constantine the Great, had the gospels bound up in a cover of gold, set with most valuable jewels. Theodosius the emperor, transcribed the gospels with his own hand, and spent great part of every night in reading them. The general councils of Nice, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, placed the book of the gospels in the midst of their assemblies, as Nicephorus tells us, l. 4. 6. 3, and Cyril of Alexandria, who lived in the begin. ning of the fifth century, tells us, It was by synodical sanction ordained, that in all solemn attestations they were to lay their hand on the book of the gospels, and invoke the help of God; which solemnity is continued to this day, when any one is obliged to take an oath. Nor was this only observed among the orthodox, but when through neglect of discipline and the depravity of morals, error crept into the church, even hereticks paid the same respect to the gospels, who, though they expunged some books out of the canon of Scripture, and mutilated others, never offered by any sacrilegious attempt to touch or violate the gospels; nay, in so great an esteem were they among the heathens, that St. Augustin affirms de Civitate Dei, 1. 10, c. 29, that he had seen the beginning of St. John's gospel among the writings of the Platonists. Hence theologians of all ages have deservedly, and with a general consent, styled this part of the Holy Scripture most necessary and useful; and truly, if we have repect to the subject matter, authors, and method or manner of them, we shall see those epithets justly appropriated to the writings of the New Testament, and to the gospels particularly,
As to the subject matter, it is from God himself; for the Evangelists fully relate to us the discourses and actions of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath clearly directed us what man is to believe, and what we are to practise; who hath set before us eternal life, and shewn us how we may certainly obtain it; who hath instructed us into the nature of faith, hope and love; the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity, and the observation of the holy sacraments; painting virtue to us in its most amiable aspect, and describing vice in its most horrid appearances and consequences; so that St. Jerome very aptly calls the gospels, the Compendium of Theology, and of christian life and learning.
The author is no other than the Divine Wisdom who chiefly speaks and acts in all the grand occurrences of the gospel : for before, as the apostle to the Hebrews says, ch. i. ver. 1, 2, “ God, who spake to our fathers by " the prophets, hath in these latter days spoken unto us
by his Son, whom he hath made heir of all things, and " by whom he made the world.” So that not Moses or the prophets, but the only begotten Son of God, hath by the divine mind of the Father discovered to us the secrets of the eternal wisdom, and communicated them to us in the holy gospels ; in which those sacred mysteries, conccaled from ancient times, and barely shadowed out in the typical expressions of the law and the prophets, are plainly manifested.
The method or manner of speaking and reasoning in the Holy Gospels is truly admirable ; for the elegance of the metaphors, the aptness of the similitudes, and significancy of the parables are such, as evince their superiority to every human writer, and are worthy of the Son of God. At one time he compares himself to a king, celebrating the nuptials of his son; at another time to a great man calling his servants to an account; now to a general waging war, then to a master of a family, a husbandman, a shepherd, a fisherman, or a merchant. In all which, the comparisons are so proper, that in the gospel we may be said to be instructed as much by the acts, as by the words of Christ: and St. Gregory observes, that every action of Christ is for our instruction; but the Evangelical History claims another excellency : for it is so disposed by the Holy Ghost, that the most simple and ignorant are not destitute of advantage in reading it; and at the same time there are depths and mysteries sufficient to exercise the powers of the greatest mind. It is indeed plain and easy to the sincere, humble, and teachable; but to the confident,
proud, and indolent, difficult and obscure. “I thank
thee, says our blessed Lord to the Father, because thou “ hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and “ hast revealed them to babes, Matt. xi. 25.” But the excellence of the gospel will yet appear more conspi. cuously, if we draw a parallel between it and the law.
I. The promulgator of the law was Moscs, à mere man; but the author of the gospel was Jesus Christ, both God and man. The law indeed was ordained by the ministry of angels in the hand of a mediator, who was Mo. ses, the mediator between God and the Israelites ; but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulged the gospel with his own mouth. The apostle to the Hebrews, ch. i. ver. 2, &c. shews the disparity between Christ and Moses: “ Christ being the brightness of his glory, and the express
image of God's person, and sustaining all things by the “ word of his power, sitteth at the right hand of the ma. “jesty on high; and is made so much more excellent “ than they : for unto which of the angels said he “ at any time, Thou art my son, this day have I begot“ ten thee?” And to shew how much inferior Moses was to Christ, chap. iii. ver. 3, “ He is counted worthy of “ greater glory than Moses, as the builder of a house is “ more honoured than the house." And ver. 5, 6, “ Mo. “ses truly was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a “ witness of those things which should be done hereafter ; " but Christ as the Son of God in his own house.” The angels indeed, as ministering spirits, were the first publishers of the gospel, in the messages of Gabriel the archangel to the Virgin Mary, and to Zacharias, the father of John Baptist; but Christ himself was the founder of it: wherefore he clothed his divinity with our flesh, through which he dictated to us the words of his gospel. “ The law, says St. John, “ chap. i. ver. 17, was
given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus “ Christ.” So that all authorities both of the Old and New Testament do agree, that Christ being the author of the gospel, it is justly entitled his gospel, and may not be improperly called the Book of Christ, in which