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the apostle assures us, “no man can say that | guides, whose reputation and interest are Jesus is the Lord” (1 Cor. xii. 3,) can per- more nearly concerned to maintain every ceive and acknowledge his inherent excel established error, and to stop up every avelence and authority, through the disgraceful nue by which truth and reformation might circunstances of his humiliation, “ but by the enter. The Jewish people, uninfluenced by Holy Ghost.” Hisenemies, therefore, thought the proud and selfish views of the priests and they sufficiently refuted his assertions by re- rulers, readily honoured the ministry of ferring to his supposed parents, and the re- Christ, and attended him in great multitudes. puted place of his nativity.
If they did not enter into the grand design Their envy and hatred were still more of his mission, they at least gave him testiinflamed, by observing the character of his monies of respect. When Jesus caused followers. These were chiefly poor and (Matth. xv. 31; Luke vii. 16) the dumb to illiterate persons, and many of them had been speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to notoriously wicked, or accounted so; publi- walk, and the blind to see, they glorified the cans and sinners, whose names and profes- God of Israel, saying, "A great prophet is sions were vile to a proverb. And for such risen up amongst us, God has visited his as these, and almost these only, to acknow- people.” Now, what was to be done in this ledge the person whom they refused, and by case? would the Scribes and Pharisees stand professing themselves his disciples (John vii
. unconcerned ? No; it is said in several places, 49; ix. 34,) to set up for being wiser than they were filled with indignation, and estheir teachers; this was a mortification to sayed every means to bring his person and their pride, which they could not bear, miracles into disrepute. The methods they especially when they found their number used are worthy of notice, having been often daily to increase, and therefore could not but repeated since (as to their substance) against fear their own influence would proportion- the servants of Christ. ably decline,
1. They availed themselves of a popular Once more: Mistaking the nature of his mistake concerning his birth. Jesus was born kingdom, which he often spoke of, they op- in Bethlehem, according to the scriptures; posed him from reasons of state. They feared, but being removed from thence in his infancy or pretended to fear, that if they suffered him to avoid Herod's cruelty, and his parents to go on, the increase of his disciples would afterwards living at Nazareth in Galilee, he give umbrage to the Romans, who would was supposed by many, to have been born come and take away both their places and there. Even Nathaniel was prejudiced by their nation, John xi. 49. Some perhaps this mistake, but happily yielded to Philip's really had this apprehension; but it was more advice to examine for himself. But it pregenerally a pretence, which the leaders made vented many from inquiring much about use of to alarm the ignorant. They were in Jesus, and therefore his enemies made the truth impatient of the Roman yoke, prone to most of it, and confidently appealed to the tumults, and ready to listen to every de- scripture, when it seemed to decide in their ceiver who promised them deliverance, under favour. Search and look (John vii. 42. 52) pretence of being their expected Messiah. for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet. It is But from enmity and opposition to Jesus, probable many were staggered with this obthey became loyal at once. So they might jection, and thought it sufficient to invalidate accomplish their designs against him, they all his discourses and miracles; since, let were content to forget other grievances, and him say and do what he would, he could not openly professed, they would have no other possibly be the Messiah, if he was born in king but Cæsar.
Galilee. These were some of the chief motives 2. They urged, that he could not be of which united the opposite interests, and jar- God, because he infringed the law of Moses, ring sentiments of the Jewish sects against and broke the Sabbath, John ix. 16. This, our blessed Lord. We are next to consider though it may seem a groundless objection the methods they employed to prejudice the to us, was not so to many at that time, who multitudes against him. The bulk of the knew not the spiritual design and meaning common people seldom think for themselves of the law, and perhaps had not the opporin religious concerns, but judge it sufficient tunity to hear our Lord vindicate himself. to give up their understandings and con- They urged this vehemently against the force sciences to their professed teachers.* They of a notorious miracle, and not without some are, however, for the most part, more un- colour, from the words of Moses himself prejudiced and open to conviction than their (Deut. xi. 2) who had warned them to be
ware of false teachers, though they should * This is much to he lamented; for if the blind lead
confirm their doctrine by signs and wonders. the blind, shall they not both fall into the ditch ? Matth.
3. They reproached the freedom of his xv. 14. When the blind lead the blind, how indeed can it be otherwise, if the former imagine they see, and the It is a strong rumptom of hypocrisy and enmity to latter are content to be led! Alas for the people that are the gospel. to be offended with any new and remarkable in such a case! alas for their guides
displays of divine grace.
conversation. Jesus was of easy access, and | vincing argument of violence and ill treatcondescended to converse and eat with any ment. Having the power in their hands they who invited him. He neither practised nor employed it against his followers, and made enjoined the austerities, which carry the air an agreement, that whoever confessed he of superior sanctity in the judgment of weak was Christ, should be put out of the synaand superstitious minds. They therefore gogue (John ix. 22,) that is, excommunicated. styled him a glutton and wine-bibber (Luke This decree seems to have been made by the vii. 34,) a friend of publicans and sinners; Sanhedrim, or great council, and to imply, that is, as they intended it, a companion with not merely an exclusion from the rights of them, and a conniver at their wickedness. public worship, but likewise a positive puNothing could be more false and slanderous nishment equivalent to an outlawry with us. than this charge, or more easily refuted, if The fear of incurring this penalty (John xii. the people would examine closely. But as it 42) restrained the parents of the man born came from teachers who were highly re-blind, and prevented many others who were verenced for mortification, and as Jesus was in their hearts convinced that he was the usually attended by many with whom it was Messiah, from owning him as such. They thought infamous to associate, it could not loved the world; they preferred the praise of but have great weight with the credulous men to the praise of God; and therefore reand indolent.
mained silent and neuter. 4. They laid much stress upon the mean From such motives, and by such methods, condition of his followers. They were mostly our Lord was resisted and opposed by the Galileans, a people of small estimation, and heads of the Jewish nation. The scribes and of the lowest rank, fishermen, or publicans; teachers, to whom the key of knowledge was while, on the other hand, few or none of the by authority committed, disdained to use it rulers or Pharisees, who were presumed to themselves, and those who were willing they be best qualified (John vii. 48) to judge of hindered. Had they been wise and faithful, his pretensions, had believed on him. Those they would have directed the people to Christ; who are acquainted with human nature, can-but, on the contrary, they darkened the not but know how strongly this appeal to the plainest scriptures, and perverted the clearest judgment of persons eminent for their learn- facts, to prevent, if possible, his reception. ing or station, operates upon minds who have In vain he spoke as never man spoke, and no better criterion of truth. How could a multiplied the wonders of his power and love Jew, who had been from his infancy super- in their presence. In vain to them. They stitiously attached to the Pharisees, suppose, pursued him with unwearied subtlety and that these eminently devout men, who spent malice,* traduced him to the people and to their lives in the study of the law, would the government, and would be satisfied with have rejected Jesus, if he had been a good nothing less than his death; so obstinate and man!
wicked is the heart of man, so fatal are the 5. When, notwithstanding all their sur- prejudices of pride and worldly interest. For mises, multitudes still professed high thoughts as we observed before, these tempers were of Jesus, beholding his wonderful works, not peculiar to the Jews; they are essential they proceeded with the most blasphemous to depraved nature, and operate universally, effrontery to defame the miracles they could where the grace of God does not make a difnot deny, and maliciously ascribed them to ference. To this hour the gospel of Christ is the agency of the devil, Matth. xii. 14. This opposed upon the same grounds, and by the pertinacious resistance to the conviction, like artifices, as were once employed against both of their senses and consciences, was the his person. highest stage of impiety, and constituted The doctrines which his faithful ministers their sin, as our Lord assured them, unpar- deduce and enforce from the written word, donable. Not that any sin, considered in are no other than what he himself taught, itself, is too great for the blood of Jesus to namely, a declaration of his personal honours expiate; but as they utterly renounced and and authority, of the insufficiency of formal scorned his mediation, there remained no worship, in which the heart is not concerned, other sacrifice, but they were judicially given of the extent and spirituality of the law of up to incurable impenitence and hardness of God, and of salvation, freely proclaimed to heart. Yet it is probable, that even this black the miserable, through faith in his name. assertion was not without influence upon The self-righteous, the self-wise, and all who some, who were wedded to their sins, and are devoted to the pleasures and honours of therefore glad of any pretext, how unrea- the world, have each their particular excepsonable soever, to refuse the testimony of truth.
* Mark xii. 13. They sent unto him certain of the 6. Another means they made use of, the assiduity of sportsmen, in the various methods they uee
Pharisees to catch him. Agpaow expresses the art and last we shall enumerate, and not the least to ensnare, entangle. or destroy their game. It well effectual to intimidate the minds of the peo suits the spirit and design
of our Lord's enemies in the ple from acknowledging Jesus, was the con- | ness and wisdom of his answer.
tions to these truths. The wisdom of God
CHAPTER IV. they account foolishness; and the language Observations on the calling and character of their hearts is, We will not have this man to reign over us. And the success of these
of our Lord's apostles and disciples previ
ous to his ascension. doctrines, which is chiefly visible among such as they have been accustomed to despise, is From what has been observed in the preequally offensive; yet so inconsistent are ceding chapters, it is evident, that those who they, that if here and there a few persons, assert a principle of free-will in man, sufwho were before eminent for their rank, ficiently enabling him to choose and deterattainments, or morality, are prevailed on to mine for himself, when the truths of the account all things but loss and dung, for the gospel are plainly laid before him, do thereby excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus (as far as in them lies) render the salvation their Lord, this, instead of removing their of mankind highly precarious, if not utterly first objection, excites their rage and con- hopeless and impracticable. Notwithstanding tempt still more.
God was pleased to send his own Son with a And as the motives of their hatred, so their gracious message; notwithstanding his whole methods of expressing it, are the same. They life was a series of wonders, and all his acare not ashamed to adopt and exaggerate the tions discovered a wisdom, power, and goodmost vulgar misconceptions; they set the ness answerable to his high character, notscripture at variance with itself; and while withstanding the time, manner, and design they pass over the plainest and most im- of his appearance and sufferings had been portant passages unnoticed, they dwell upon clearly foretold; yet, so far as a judgment à few texts of more dubious import, and can be made from the event, he would certherefore more easily accommodated to their tainly have lived and died in vain, without sense. With these they flourish and triumph, influence or honour, without leaving a single and affect a high zeal in defence of the word disciple, if the same grace that provided the of God. They reproach the pure gospel as means of redemption, had not engaged to licentious, because it exposes the vanity of make them effectual, by preparing and distheir singularities and will-worship, and are posing the hearts of sinners to receive him. desirous to bind heavier burdens upon men's In the account given us by the evangelists shoulders, which few of themselves will of those who professed themselves his discitouch with one of their fingers. They en- ples, we may discern, as in miniature, the large on the weakness and ignorance of those general methods of his grace; and, comparing who mostly receive the new doctrine, and his personal ministry with the effects of his entrench themselves under the sanction of gospel in all succeeding times, we may be learned and dignified names. They even assured that the work and the power are venture to explode and vilify the evident still the same. The choice he made of his effects of God's grace, and ascribe the agency disciples, the manner of their calling, their of his Spirit to enthusiasm, infatuation, and characters, and even their defects, and failmadness, if not expressly to diabolical in- ings; in a word, all that is recorded concernfluence. And, lastly, so far as Divine Provi- ing them, is written for our instruction, and dence permits, they show themselves actuated is particularly useful to teach us the true by the primitive spirit of oppression and vio- meaning of what passes within our own oblence, in pursuing the faithful followers of servation. the truth with censures and penalties.
1. Several things are worthy our notice, But let who will rage and imagine vain in this view, with respect to the choice of things, Jesus is the King in Zion. He is the his disciples. same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. There 1st, They were comparatively very few. were a happy few in the days of his flesh, He was, indeed, usually attended by multiwho beheld his glory, trusted on him for sal- tudes in the different places where he preachvation, and attended him amidst the many ed, because he spoke with a power they had reproaches and sufferings he endured from never met with before, and because he healed sinners. Of these his first witnesses, we are the sick, fed the hungry, and did good to all. to speak in the following chapter. His gos- But he had very few constant followers. pel likewise, though opposed by many, and Those who assembled at Jerusalem after his slighted by more, is never preached in vain. ascension, are said to have been but about To some it will always be the power and one hundred and twenty (Acts i. 15;) and wisdom of God; they know in whom they when he appointed his disciples a solemn have believed, and therefore are not ashamed meeting in Galilee, informing them beforeto appear in his cause against all disadvan- hand of the time and place where he would tages. Supported and encouraged by his come to them, the number that then met Spirit, they go on from strength to strength, here is expressed by the apostle to have been and are successively made more than con- more than five hundred, 1 Cor. xv. 6.* We querors, by his blood and the word of his testimony.
none but men were present at that time, any more than
* The word brethren here used does not prove that
can hardly suppose, that any who loved him, 4thly, But this was not universally the and were able to travel, would have been case. Though not many wise, rich, or noabsent upon so interesting an occasion; but ble were called, there were some even of how small a company was this, compared these. His grace triumphed over every cirwith the many thousands among whom he cumstance of life. Zaccheus was a rich had conversed in all the cities and villages man,* Nicodemus a ruler of the Jews, Jo through which he had passed, preaching the seph an honourable counsellor. We also gospel, and performing innumerable miracles, read of a nobleman or who believed, for more than three years! Well might the with all his house. In every age, likewise, prophet say, foreseeing the small success he there have been some persons of distinguishwould meet with, “Who hath believed our ed eminence for birth, honours, and abilities, report, and to whom hath the arm of the who have cheerfully engaged in the profesLord been revealed ?" But since he, in whom sion of a despised gospel, though they have the fulness of grace resided, had so few dis- thereby incurred a double share of opposition ciples, it may lessen our surprise, that his from the men of the world, especially from gospel, though in itself the power and wis- those of their own rank. The number of dom of God, should meet with so cold a re- these has been always sufficient to confute ception amongst men, as it has in fact always those who would insinuate that the gospel is done.
only suited to the taste of the vulgar and ig2dly, Of those few who professed a more norant; yet it has always been so small as to entire attachment to his person, a consider- make it evident, that the truth is not supable part, after attending him for some time, ported by the wisdom or influence of men, went back, and walked no more with him. but by the power and providence of God. They were but superficially convinced, and 5thly, It was farther observable, that serather struck with the power of his words veral of our Lord's few disciples were under and works, than deeply sensible of their own previous connections amongst themselves. Deed of him. When, therefore, upon a cer- Peter and Andrew were brothers (John i. tain occasion, he spake of the more inward 40,) as likewise James and John; and these, and experimental part of religion, the life of together with Philip, and perhaps Nathaniel, faith, and the necessity of eating his flesh, seem to have been all of one town. The and drinking his blood, so many were offended other James and Jude were also brethren. at his doctrine, and forsook him (John vi. So it is said, Jesus loved Mary, and her sis66, 67,) that he said unto the twelve, “Will ter, and Lazarus, three in one house, when ye also go away!" which seems to imply, that perhaps the whole place hardly afforded a there were few but these remaining. There-fourth; and more in a single village than fore, though we see at present that where were to be found in many larger cities taken the sound of the gospel brings multitudes together. This circumstance more strongly together, many, who for a season appeared marked the discrimination of his grace, in in earnest, gradually decline in their pro- making the means effectual where and to fession, and at length wholly return to their whom he pleased. Such has been the usual former ways, we have the less reason to event of his gospel since. It is proclaimed wonder or be discouraged, remembering that to all, but accepted by few; and of these it was thus from the beginning.
several are often found in one family, while 3dly, Those who believed in Christ then, their next-door neighbours account it a burwere chiefly (as we had occasion to observe den and offence. It flourishes here and there before) persons of low condition, and many in a few places (Amos iv. 7,) while those of of them had been formerly vile and obnoxious the adjacent country are buried in more in their conduct. While the wise and learn- than Egyptian darkness, and resist the ened rejected him, his more immediate follow- deavours of those who would invite them to ers were Galileans, fishormen, publicans, and sinners. This was observed, and urged to * Zaccheus was a chief or principal publican, to his reproach and theirs; and the like offence whom the rest were accountable ; a commissioner of has always attended his gospel. But what more expressive, And this was a rich man, Luke xix. 2, enraged his enemies, fills the hearts and perhaps alluding to what had passed a little before, months of his poor people with praise. They that what is impossible with men, is easy to him who adore bis condescension (Luke i. 52, 53) in can speak to the heart, and turn it as he will. taking notice of the most unworthy, and ad- 43: These six, and more than these, were fishermen mire the efficacy of his grace in making (John xxi. 2.) and such they continued, only their netthose who were once wretched slaves to success and capture were so much changed that it be.
came a new calling: he made them fishers of men. In Satan, a free and willing people in the day the fishermen's calling there is required a certain dex:
terity, much patience, and a readiness to bear hard
shipa. Perhaps many observations they made in their that, because the apostles, in their public preaching, former business were useful to them afterwards. And addened their hearers as men and brethren, there were the Lord still brings up his servants so, that the re. therefore no women amongst them, or that the women membrance of former year: (the years of ignorance) were not enosidered as having any interest or concern becomes a rule and encouragement in future and differ. Lo the gospel ministry
And he was rich. The Greek is
of his power.
ent scenes of lite.
partake of the same benefits. Thus the Lord The attention of some is drawn by what is pleased to display his own sovereignty, in they see and hear around them. They form raising and sending forth his ministers, when a favourable opinion of the gospel from the and where he sees fit, and in determining remarkable effects it produces; but their first the subjects and measure of their success. If inquiries are damped by difficulties which others dispute and cavil against this pro- they cannot easily get over, and they are cedure,* those who believe have cause to ready to say, How can these things be? Their adore his goodness to themselves. And a day interests and connections in life are a farther is at hand, when every mouth shall be stop- hinderance; the fear of man, which bringeth ped that would contend with the just Judge a snare, is a great restraint upon their inof all the earth. The impenitent and unbe- quiries; but now and then when they can lieving will not then dare to charge him with venture without being noticed, they seek injustice for dealing with them according to farther instruction. Now, though this hesitheir own counsels and desires, inasmuch as tating spirit, which pays so much deference when the light of truth was ready to break to worldly regards in the search of truth, is upon them, they chose darkness rather than highly blameable; yet the Lord who is rich light, because their deeds were evil. În mercy, is often pleased to produce a happy
2. In the calling of our Lord's disciples, and abiding change from such imperfect beand the manner in which they were brought ginnings. As they increase in knowledge, to know and serve him, we may discover the they gain more courage, and in time arrive same variety as at this day appears in the to a comfortable experience and open profes conversion of sinners by the preaching of the sion of the truth. Thus it was with Nicodegospel.
mus: he was at first ignorant and fearful ; Some, from a religious education, an early but his interview with Jesus by night, had acquaintance with the scriptures, and the se- a good effect. He afterwards ventured to cret influence of the Spirit of God upon their speak more publicly (John vii. 50) in his hearts, are gradually prepared for the recep- favour, though still he did not join himself to tion of the truth. They read, and strive, and the disciples: but the circumstances of pray; they feel an uneasiness, and a want, Christ's death freed him from all fear, and which they know not how to remedy; they inspired him to attempt the most obnoxious are sincerely desirous to know and do the service, when the apostles themselves were will of God; and yet, through misapprehen- afraid to be seen, John xix. 39. sion, and the influence of popular prejudice, Others are first prompted to hear the gosthey are for a season, withheld from the pel from no higher motive than curiosity ; means that would relieve them. But at length but going as mere spectators, they find themthe preaching of the gospel explains to them selves retained as parties unawares. The the meaning of their former exercises, ex- word of God, powerful and penetrating as a actly answers to the state of their minds, and two-edged sword, discovers the thoughts and thereby brings its own evidence. Similar to intents of their hearts, presses upon their this was the case of Nathaniel. When our consciences, and seems addressed to themLord referred him to what had passed under selves alone. The sentiments they carry the fig-tree, where he had thought himself away with them are far different from those alone and unobserved, his doubts and scruples they brought; and a change in their whole vanished in an instant. There is little doubt deportment immediately takes place. Such but Nathaniel had been praying under the was the case of Zaccheus (Luke xix. 5:) he fig-tree, and probably desiring a farther had heard much of Jesus, and desired to see knowledge of the prophecies, and their ac- him; for this end, he ran before, and climbed complishment in the Messiah. He had heard a tree, from whence he purposed to behold of Jesus, but could not fully clear up the ob- him unobserved. But how great must his jections made against him; but now he was surprise and emotion have been, when Jesus, convinced and satisfied in a moment. whom he had considered as a stranger, looked
* See Rom. xi. 23. There are but few who dispute up, called him by his name, and invited himupon the subject of the divine decrees with that rever. self to his house. ence and caution St. Paul expresses. In chap. ix. when Some are drawn by the report of others, an objection was started, he cuts it short with, " But who art thou, o man, that repliest against God ?" freely declaring what the Lord has done for And here he breaks off abruptly, with “Ö the depth!" their souls. The relation awakens in them &c. He seems to have followed the narrow winding desires after him which are not disappointed; streams of human reasoning, till be finds himself unawares upon the brink of an ocean that has neither for he is rich enough to satisfy all who seek bounds nor bottom. And every word expresses the re. to him. So the Samaritans, whose expectayerence and astonishment with which his mind was filled; the wisdom of the divine councils in their first tions were first raised by the woman's deplan: the knowledge of their extensive consequences in claration, “Come and see a man which told this world, in all worlds, in time, and in eternity; the riches of that wisdom and knowledge; the depth of
me all things that ever I did ; is not this the those riches; his counsels inaccessible, his proceedings Christ !" (John iv. 43) had soon a more conuntraceable: all is wonderful in St. Paul's view. How vincing testimony, and could say, " Now we different this from the trifling arrogant spirit of too iany upon this topic !
I believe, not because of thy word, but we