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Christian religion, or that Jesus is the Christ, and his doctrine from heaven. This we could have been assured of from our Lord's character, the excellence of his principles, his miracles, his resurrection, and other particulars, well known, and formerly mentioned.
But yet this argument, from the being and afflictive circumstances of the Jewish people, was expedient, and is very useful; as abundantly appears from the considerations which have been insisted on in the discourses upon this subject.
2. We may likewise observe, that some evidences of the truth of the Christian religion are not weakened, but do rather gain force by length of time.
A history of facts may be thought to lose some degree of credibility in a long tract of time: and therefore it might be feared, that the evangelical history might some time suffer upon that account: but indeed it is so circumstanced, and has in it so many internal characters of truth, and is so supported by external testimonies of various kinds, that its credit must remain to the latest ages inviolable.
However it is sufficient that this kind of evidence remains as it is; but then some other eyi. dence advances and gains strength by time.
Christ assured Peter that he would build his church upon a rock, and “ that the gates of hell should not prevail against it,” Matt. xvi. 18. The longer Christianity has a being in the world, the fulfilment of that promise is the more remarkable, and the foreknowledge of Christ the more conspicuous; especially considering what oppositions of various kinds, in all ages, are made against this doctrine; some by force, and some by art and sophistry: and considering likewise the weakness and inconstancy of mankind, and that some, who in name are friends, weaken the interest they profess to uphold.
When a certain woman, not long before our Lord's removal out of this world, opened a very precious vessel of ointment, and poured it upon his head, some had indignation, and seemed to think it too great and expensive a mark of respect: but he answered them: “ Verily I say unto you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also that which this woman has done be told for a memorial of her,” Matt. xxvi. 6—13. And every time this portion of scripture is read, especially in late ages, it establishes the belief of our Lord's great character.
Jesus often spoke of many coming “ from the east and the west, and from the north and the south, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. viii. 11; that is, to partake of the privileges of the gospel, and the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom. So long therefore as there are Gentiles in the world, who thankfully embrace the gospel, this declaration is fulfilled. And the longer it is since these words were spoken, the more are they verified. And every accession to the church of Christ from among ignorant and darkened Gentiles is a fresh confirmation of the truth of his doctrine.
The dispersion of the Jews, the longer it lasts, still more and more does it strengthen the evidences of the Christian religion; it is the more remarkable: it is a plainer and a more affecting token of divine displeasure against them. The greater assurance does it afford that the Messiah is already come: and the more impossible is it rendered for any man to prove himself of the tribe of Judah, and the family of David, whence the Messiah was to arise. For these reasons their present dispersion is prolonged, and may be duly attended to by all to whom the consideration of it may be of use!
3. These things ought also to be considered as warnings to us.
Paul, the apostle more especially of the Gentiles, fails not to make this use of the argument he is upon: “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou being a wild olive, wast grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree, boast not against the branches: but if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then: the branches were broken off
, that I might be grafted in. Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear : for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed, lest he spare not thee,” Rom. xi. 17-23.
In the subject we have been treating of there is not only an argument for the truth of our religion, but likewise an admonition to us to take heed to ourselves : for from us too the glory may depart, if we improve not our privileges. The seven churches of Asia, in the Revelation, were warned, and most of them threatened with the removal of their candlestick; unless they speedily repented, and did the first works. Many Christian churches, planted by apostles of Jesus, and watered by their fellow-labourers, have fallen to decay and ruin. The name and title of Christian will not save particular persons in the day of judgment. Nor will the name of Jesus, or Christian alone, secure churches and societies in this world. There should be not only the leaves of a fair profession, but also fruits of love and peace, and all the branches of righteousness and true holiness. Christians should have heavenly minds, and their lives should be adorned with acts of meekness, patience, self-denial, and zeal for each other's welfare. With such Christ will dwell. They honour him, and he will honour them with a distinguished care and protection.
a See Whitby upon Matt. viii. 11, 12.
4. From this argument we may be able to form some judgment concerning the general conversion of the Jews. It is not a likely thing: if ever it is to be, there does not appear good reason to think it nigh.
It is not a likely - thing, considering that their prejudices are still very great and strong, and have been so all along from the beginning; notwithstanding the great care of the apostles of Jesus, and other zealous preachers of the gospel, to remove them.
If ever there is to be a general conversion of the Jews, there is no good reason to think it near at hand. The advantages afforded to believers in Jesus as the Christ, from the dispersion and afflictive circumstances of the Jewish people, in their argument for the truth of their religion, lead us to this apprehension. So long as there remain great numbers of Gentile people unconverted to the faith of Jesus, who are strangers to God, and his Christ: so long as there is, and is likely to be, a strenuous opposition made by many, several ways, against the Christian doc. trine : so long, it is likely, the Jews will remain, and continue to be a distinct people, scattered abroad upon the face of the earth : forasmuch as their subsistence in that manner tends mightily to awaken men, and to confirm and strengthen divers arguments for the truth of the Christian religion.
Nor is there any injustice done them herein: as they at first generally rejected Jesus, they were justly rejected and cast off as a people: but still by the faith and reception of the Gentiles, they are called upon and excited to believe in Jesus: and whenever any of them are awakened, convinced, and converted, they shall be accepted.
St. Paul's argument in this context leads us into this way of thinking: “ Have they stumbled, that they should fall? By no means. But rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
And his words at the twenty-fifth verse of the chapter may be reckoned strong to this purpose: “ For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceit: that blindness in part is happened unto Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in:” that is, as an admired expositor paraphraseth the verse : · For to * prevent your being conceited of yourselves, my brethren, let me make known unto you what • has been yet undiscovered to the world; that the blindness, which has fallen upon a part of • Israel, shall remain upon them but till the time come, wherein the whole Gentile world shall · enter into the church, and make profession of Christianity.'
This may be the thing intended by our Lord, when he says: “ And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled,” Luke xxi. 24.
As for St. Paul's words at the twenty-sixth verse, they are understood by some in this manner : “ And so all Israel shall be saved:" And so all Israel shall be converted to the • Christian faith, and the whole nation become the children of God:' that is, when the fulness of the Gentiles is come in.
But I rather think the meaning to be: “In this way, according to this method of Divine • Providence, all good and well-disposed men, both Jews and Gentiles, will be saved; that is, • will be brought into the way of salvation, taught by the gospel; or will embrace the means of • salvation proposed therein; the Jews being all along provoked to emulation by the Gentiles, • and the Gentiles being confirmed in their faith by the circumstances of the Jewish people.'
a See Lightfoot's Works, vol. I. p. 375, 376.
Locke upon the place. « Locke as before. * Πανία δε Ισραηλ καλεί τες ειςευονίας, ειτε εξ ιεδαιων
ειεν, την φυσικης συγγενειαν προς τον Ισραηλ εχοντες, ειτε εξ εθνων, κατα την της τιςεως ευγενειαν αυτω συναπτομενοι. Theodoret in loc. T. 3. p. 91. D.
However this seems evident, that as in past ages the Jews had been of great service in upholding religion in the world, and from them at length it was brought to the Gentiles; so, if in the end the Jews are converted to the faith of Christ, it will be through the Gentiles: and probably, upon some more general conversion of them than has yet been. So says St. Paul : “ For as ye, Gentiles, “ in time past have not believed in God, yet now have obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy,” Rom. xi. 30, 31.
And possibly we may now perceive, that some notions concerning the conversion of the Jews are false and groundless, or at best doubtful and uncertain. For some imagine, that upon their general conversion to the Christian faith, they will be established again in the hand of Judea, and that Jerusalem, with its temple, will be rebuilt with great splendour and magnificence.
But that supposition is liable to many difficulties and objections. Should their ancient polity be restored, and they be a distinct people in the land of Israel, separate from all the other people of the earth? The gospel revelation does not encourage such a state of things : and therefore it is not reasonable to expect it should be brought in by extraordinary interpositions of Providence, under the dispensation of the Messiah.
Should they sacrifice again, as in times past? The law of Moses is no longer in force, and the sacrifices appointed therein are below the dignity of the gospel institution.
Moreover our Lord plainly declared, that all distinctions of places should cease under the gospel : and that worship would no longer be peculiarly acceptable at Jerusalem, or any other city.
The continued subsistence of a large body of the Jewish people in several parts of the world, and the present desolation of their country, or the small number of inhabitants therein, are thought by some to amount to a strong argument that they shall themselves return thither, and take possession of it again. But from what has been now said it appears that the fore-mentioned state of things answers very valuable ends and purposes: though the Jewish people should never be reinstated in their ancient inheritance.
It is likely therefore, that whenever there is a general conversion of the Jews to the faith of Jesus, they will become Christians indeed, and their fondness for the rites of the Mosaic law will cease: that they and the Gentiles may become one people, and one sheepfold under Christ, the universal Lord of the church, the Saviour, and the Bishop of souls.
Such an event we have good reason to wish and pray for, that the fulness of the Gentiles may be brought in, and that then the blindness, which in part has long happened to the Jewish people, may be entirely removed.
În the mean time we should both labour for the conversion of ignorant Gentiles, and do what lies in our power to provoke the people of the Jews to jealousy by the simplicity of our worship, the purity of our faith, and the goodness of our lives.
5. We must be hence induced to admire the exceeding riches of the wisdom and goodness of God, who has graciously afforded mankind in all ages, helps for knowing the great truths of religion.
God ever spoke to all in the voice of reason. When that was not duly attended to, and the
* See the sentiments of Origen and Chrysostom, and often does the gospel gainsay such distinctiveness and pecuothers, in Grotius upon Luke xxi. 24. And see Lightfoot's liarity?' Lightfoot, vol. I. p. 377. The same author says, Works, vol. I. p. 375–377. and p. 737, 738. What was • That the calling of the Jews shall be in the places of their Eusebius's sentiment upon this point, may be seen in his Com- • residence among Christians ; and that their calling shall not mentaries upon the Psalms, not published till since the time cause them to change place, but condition.' p. 738. of Grotius, Διδασκονlαι ευχεσθαι τυχειν της απο των εθνων • I have not denied that there will be a general conversion συναγωγης, ιν' ηδη ποτε της διασπορας απαλλαγενίες επι το of the Jewish people. Nor would I be understood to be αυτο συναχθευσιν· οπεριεδαιοι μεν φανταζονται μελλειν εσεσθαι positive, that they shall never return to the land of Canaan : εν τω παλι βιω, επισαν7G- αυτοις τα ηλειμμενε. ημεις δε κ.λ. ihough I have mentioned some difficulties attending the supEuseb. in Psalm 105. al. 106. ver. 47, 48, p. 690. edit. position. And if indeed they are some time not only to bę Montf.
converied, but also restored; I am persuaded that ibeir restob. Not that Jerusalem should be built again, when the ration will be accomplished in a manner becoming the divine • fulness of the Gentiles is come in, which the Jews conceit: majesty, and that all people will rejoice therein. I am more* nor that then the Jews should be unblindfolded, and become over of opinio!), that if ever this be brought about, their • a gospel-church, as the Gentiles had been. For wbat a worship thenceforward will be entirely spiritual and evanstrange world does such a supposal imagine ? And how gelical. .
danger of universal ignorance became great, he separated a family, that of Abraham, from the rest of the world : and of a part of it he made a great nation, to whom he gave a law : who thereby were set up as a lamp upon a hill, to lighten the world around them: and among them, by frequent interpositions of his wise and powerful providence, religion was maintained, and they were kept a distinct nation, enjoying many privileges, until the Messiah came, and religion was spread far and wide in the nations of the earth, according to promises inade long before. And then, the Jews generally rejecting that blessing, God cast them off from being his people, as they had been, and poured down upon them tokens of his displeasure : yet not destroying them utterly, and making use of them, even under afflictions, to support the truth of his Son's mission and authority, whom they had crucified.
Nor is there herein any injustice or unkindness, as has been often observed in these discourses: for still they are provoked to jealousy by those who are taken in their room: and in this respect they now enjoy an advantage, with regard to religion, beyond what the Gentiles had formerly. For then it was the nation of the Jews only to whom God was known, and many of the nations of the earth was remote from them. But the unbelieving Jews for the most part live among, or near the followers of Jesus, and have better opportunities to inform themselves of the principles of their religion, than the Gentiles had of old to know that of the Israelites.
And the wisdom of Divine Providence in the former and latter dispensation is admirable, though above our full comprehension: as the apostle observes at the end of this chapter, addressing himself to Gentile Christians: “ For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet now have obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they may obtain mercy: for God has concluded all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor ? or who has given unto him, and it shall be recompensed to him again ? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. To whom be glory for ever.”
6. We may hence conclude, that “ known unto God are all his works from the beginning." Acts xv. 18. It is an observation of St. James at the council of Jerusalem. We may
infer from the event that God foresaw from the beginning the general apostacy of mankind. And when he called Abraham, and separated him to himself from the rest of the world, he foresaw all the consequences of that gracious purpose and choice; that religion would be in some measure upheld in the world till the Messiah came: and that when he was come, after the space of many ages from the time of the first promise concerning him, the various ordinances of positive appointment, delivered to the Jews by Moses, which had been of use to preserve them in the land of Judea from mixing with their idolatrous neighbours, till he came, would likewise serve to keep them a separate people, wherever they lived, for a long succession of ages, to bear testimony to his ancient covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and themselves : whilst still they would have opportunities of knowing the religion of the Messiah, and whenever their hearts should be touched, they might be again received, and partake in all the blessings of his kingdom.
7. It may be reasonably supposed, that it will be delightful in the heavenly state to know and observe the various methods of Divine Providence, relating to his creatures, in the world where we have lived : particularly to observe the manifold designs of wisdom and goodness with regard to the concerns of religion.
A wise and discerning person has now great delight and profitable entertainment in reviewing these works of Divine Providence, as recorded in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament: but the discoveries in a future state may be much more full and complete, and consequently more delightful. We may then see the overspreading deluge of ignorance in some places and ages, the wonderful steps by which light was restored, and all the virtue of the instruments raised up by God, and employed by him; the faithful and disinterested zeal with which they served God, and promoted the welfare of their fellow-creatures ;. and how even afflictive events subserved beneficial designs.
But this review of things will not be pleasing and comfortable, except in a state of ease and happiness : for supposing any such extensive knowledge in regions of despair and misery, it could not alleviate, but must aggravate the distress. It would not be satisfaction, but vexation
50 The Circumstances of the Jews an Argument for the Truth of the Christian Religion.
But though such extensive knowledge should not be the portion of those who are finally separated from God, there will be remembrance of things past; what men have done, or neglected to do, what means of knowledge were afforded them in this world, what convictions they had of duty, what helps they enjoyed in securing a virtuous conduct, and strengthening them against temptations; and how they failed to improve those many advantages.
How piercing must it be in the place of torment for a descendant of Abraham, who lived in the time of our Lord, to recollect the gracious words he heard from his mouth: that though Jesus taught in the streets of his city, and in the most winning manner promised everlasting life to such as believed in him, and obeyed him: and though he performed numerous miracles, healing and beneficial, suited to the goodness of his doctrine, and tokens of inexpressible mild. ness and benevolence: yet he despised and abused this amiable person! And though he knew the prophets had spoken of a great deliverer to arise among them; and it was the prevailing opinion that was the very time prefixed for his coming; he would not hearken to him, nor regard him, because of some groundless prejudices, and too strong an affection for worldly possessions and enjoyments.
In like manner, for certain, to others also the recollection of religious privileges, not improved, will be matter of torment and vexation.
Children of pious parents, who “set at nought all their counsel, and will none of their reproof!” Prov. i. 25. 30.
Servants, who are averse to the order and restraint of religious families, and offended at daily devotions, and frequent readings of the scriptures, or books of piety; and choose the habitations of the wicked, where there is not so much as a form of godliness, or an appearance of religion; and prefer the company and manners of the dissolute, who are a reproach to human nature!
Â Christian, partaking in all the ordinances of the gospel, yet acting contrary to the obligations he is under!
A minister in God's house, shewing to others the way of salvation, but not walking in it himself!
How grievous must the recollection of such advantages be hereafter, if finally abused and disregarded! No consolation can be given to men then. The sad reflection on their own folly will be unavoidable and incurable.
May we therefore be wise to know and mind the things of our peace now, in this our day. Let us secure time for serious reflections on our conduct and our advantages: let us compare our light and knowledge with our actions and purposes : for between these there ought to be an agreement: where much is given, much may be expected: “ And the servant, who knew his Lord's will, and did it not, will be beaten with many stripes.” Luke xii. 47.
These are certain truths: and these things will some time afford a pleasing and comfortable, or an afflicting and sorrowful recollection and remembrance. It is an awful and awakening observation of our Lord: “ This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world: and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” John iii. 19. If any of us should perish, have we not reason to dread this aggravated condemnation ? For we must be sensible we have had sufficient instruction to assure us, that things above are preferable to things on this earth: and that nothing ought so to divert or engage us, as to prevent our laying up to ourselves treasures in heaven, Col. iii. 2, and that we ought so to order all our present concerns, and the whole of our conversation, as may best promote our most important interest, the everlasting salvation and happiness of our souls.