Page images

their respect for their lawgiver, and under the pretence of his authority would refuse to hearken to one greater than Moses, who taught amongst them. Christ would retort upon them, that there was one that accused their unbelief-even Moses in whom they trusted ;-since had they believed Moses, they would have believed Christ; for he wrote of him 3.

In all these respects his province would rather be to show what the Jewish law was not, and what the prophet of the Gospel was not, than to expound in all their various ramifications the doctrines and duties of Christianity, and carry the new disciple through the several bearings of the system. The simple declaration of himself as the way, the truth, and the life, sufficed to overthrow the main principle on which the Mosaic covenant rested; and it will, therefore, appear to have been rarely our Lord's practice to dwell on any thing more than the general outline of his religion, which he left to be filled up at leisure by other hands, though still guided in every touch by his own practical teaching, and informed throughout by the never-failing aid of his inspiring spirit.

3 John, v. 45, 46.

It was owing to these circumstances that the refutation of the prominent errors of his hearers was generally selected as the channel for communicating a knowledge of the truth.

If that hearer were a Pharisee, our Lord's discourses would commonly tend to lead him to a more spiritual apprehension of the promises of the Gospel by an exposure of the formal and hypocritical services of his sect.

If a Sadducee were to be converted, the mode of address would be changed, and a previous argument to convince him of the existence of a future state of retribution, would pave the way to his knowledge respecting our Lord's heavenly kingdom, and the way by which admission into it was offered.

With a Gentile, on the contrary, the first step would be to teach him to believe in the extension of Jewish privileges to the heathen world, and to look for the dawn of the sun of righteousness on the benighted nations of Paganism, before he could sit as a disciple at the feet of Jesus, and acknowledge him in faith as the Lamb of God through whom was granted also to the Gentiles repentance unto life. Thus wisely did the ministry of Christ vary with circumstances, and receive a peculiar tone from its adaptation to the errors of the time, which must not be overlooked when it is taken as a pattern for imitation.

And here a question arises, how far the situation of the Christian world at any time since the introduction of the Gospel, has resembled the state of things which prevailed at the advent of our Lord. Or, in other words, whether the Christian preacher, like our Saviour, has to combat error before he can establish truth - to destroy the bulwarks of Satan, before he can set up the ensign of Christ.

4 Acts, ii. 18.

A retrospective glance at the eighteen centuries which have elapsed since the birth of Christ, will, it is to be feared, afford abundant proof that no essential difference exists in this respect between the task of the founder of the church, and that of his stewards and ininisters in succeeding ages. Human nature, allowing for the modifications arising from the change of times, the progress of civilization, or the influence of a purer creed, is fundamentally the same under all circumstances. The resistance which the heart opposes to the doctrines of the Gospel, whether it be preoccupied or not with opinions contrary to the truth, is due as much to its natural tendency, as to disturbing causes of an accidental and temporary kind.

Doubtless this tendency derived additional strength in Judea, owing to the religious principles of the nation, which, from the nature of the Mosaic covenant, were little calculated to counteract it ;-but so long as man is not of himself inclined to yield a spontaneous acquiescence to the humbling doctrines of Christianity, - so long as there is a law in our members warring against the law of our mind,- -so long as the flesh and the spirit have different sympathies, different desires, different objects of enjoyment and ultimate pursuit,---so long will it be necessary to begin the work of Christian teaching in the eradication of error, and to lay a foundation for the elements of the faith in its scriptural purity by expelling from the strongholds of the heart the spirit of practical unbelief which is inherent in our nature. Experience shows that even in a Christian land there is a necessity for continual watchfulness lest opinions should be imbibed inconsistent with the truth of the Gospel, or lest the corruptions of the world should debase the standard of spiritual holiness. The character of Christ as a sanctifier through the Holy Spirit from the power of sin, as well as a redeemer from its penalty, and the inapplicability of any other mode of salvation to the circumstances of man's case, must always be as prominent topics in addresses to the nominally Christian world, as they were in our Lord's discourses to his Jewish or Gentile hearers. The

« PreviousContinue »