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ISAIAH xl. 1, 2.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your Chod. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for
she hath received at the Lord's hand double for all her sins. THE particulars of the great mystery of godliness, as enumerated by the apostle Paul, constitute the grand and inexhaustible theme of the Gospel Ministry, "God “ manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of
angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the " world, received up into glory*.” It is my wish and purpose to know nothing among you but this subject; to preach nothing to you but what has a real connexion with the doctrine of Jesus Christ and him crucified, and with the causes and effects of his obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. But a regard to the satisfaction and advantage of my stated hearers, has often made me desirous of adopting some plan, which might lead me to exhibit the principal outlines of the Saviour's character and mediation in a regular series of discourses ; so as to form, if not a picture, at least a
slight sketch, of those features of his glory and of his grace, which endear him to the hearts of his people. Such a plan has lately, and rather unexpectedly, occurred to me.
Conversation in almost every company, for some time past, has much turned upon the commemoration of Handel ; the grand musical entertainments, and particularly his Oratorio of the Messiah, which have been repeatedly performed on that occasion in Westminster Abbey. If it could be reasonably hoped that the performers and the company assembled to hear the music, or the greater part, or even a very considerable part of them, were capable of entering into the spirit of the subject; I will readily allow that the Messiah, executed in so masterly a manner, by persons whose hearts, as well as their voices and instruments, were tuned to the Redeemer's praise; accompanied with the grateful emotions of an audience duly affected with a sense of their obligations to his love; might afford one of the highest and noblest gratifications, of which we are capable in the present life. But they who love the Redeemer, and therefore delight to join in his praise, if they did not find it convenient, or think it expedient, to hear the Messiah at Westminster, may comfort themselves with the thought, that, in a little time, they shall be still more abundantly gratified. Ere long, death shall rend the vail which hides eternal things from their view, and introduce them to that unceasing song and universal chorus, which are even now performing before the throne of God and the Lamb. Till then, I apprehend, that true Christians, without the assistance of either vocal or instrumental music, may find greater pleasure in a humble contemplation on the words of the Messiah, than they can derive from the utmost efforts of musical genius. This therefore is the plan I spoke of. I mean to lead your meditations to the language of the Oratorio, and to consider in their order, (if the Lord, on whom our breath depends, shall be pleased to afford life, ability, and opportunity,) the several sublime and interesting passages of Scripture, which are the basis of that admired composition.
If he shall condescend to smile upon the attempt, pleasure and profit will go hand in hand. There is no harmony to a heaven-born soul like that which is the result of the combination and coincidence of all the Divine Attributes and Perfections, manifested in the work of redemption ; mercy and truth meeting together, inflexible righteousness corresponding with the peace of offenders, God glorious, and sinners saved. There is no melody upon earth to be compared with the voice of the blood of Jesus speaking peace to a guilty conscience, or with the voice of the Holy Spirit applying the promises to the heart, and sweetly inspiring a temper of confidence and adoption. These are joys which the world can neither give nor take away, which never pall upon the mind by continuance or repetition ; the sense of them is always new, the recollection of them is always pleasant. Nor do they only satisfy, but sanctify the soul. They strengthen faith, animate hope, add fervency to love, and both dispose and enable the Christian to run in all the paths of holy obedience with an enlarged heart.
The Messiah of Handel consists of three parts. The first, contains prophecies of his advent and the happy consequences, together with the angel's message to the shepherds, informing them of his birth, as related by St. Luke. The second part describes his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension; his taking possession of his kingdom of glory, the commencement of his kingdom of grace upon the earth, and the certain disappointment and ruin of all who persist in opposition to his will. The third part expresses the blessed fruit and consummation of his undertaking, in the deliverance of his people from sin, sorrow, and death, and in making them finally victorious over all their enemies. The triumphant song of the redeemed, to the praise of the Lamb, who bought them with his own blood, closes the whole. The arrangement or series of these passages is so judiciously disposed, so well connected, and so fully comprehends all the principal truths of the Gospel, that I shall not attempt either to alter or to enlarge it. The exordium or introduction which I have read to you from the prophecy of Isaiah, is very happily chosen.
If, as some eminent commentators suppose, the prophet had any reference, in this passage, to the return of Israel from Babylon into their own land, his principal object was undoubtedly of much greater importance. Indeed their deliverance from captivity, and their state afterwards as a nation, do not appear to correspond with the magnificent images employed in the following
For though they rebuilt their city and temple, they met with many insults and much opposition, and continued to be a tributary and dependant people. I shall therefore waive the consideration of this sense.
The eye of the prophet's mind seems to be chiefly fixed upon one august Personage, who was approaching to enlighten and bless a miserable world; and before he describes the circumstances of his appearance, he is directed to comfort the mourners in Zion, with an assurance, that this great event would fully compensate them for all their sorrows. The state of Jerusalem, the representative name of the people of God, was very low in Isaiah's time. The people, who in the days of