Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

who shall descend into the deep? The word is nigh thee *... To read controversial books may,


many cases, be useful : but seldom, when it is done with a view to decide the great question, What is the right way to everlasting life? A book, as well as a sermon, may be the means of affording such direction. But when the mind is in a state of suspense, it is, beyond all comparison, the safest to consult the oracles of God. To launch into controversy, without having obtained satisfaction on the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, is to put to sea in a storm, without a rudder. One great reason why men are carried about with divers and strange doctrines," is, their“ hearts are not established with grace.”+ They have no principles of their own, and therefore are carried away with any thing that wears the appearance of plausibility.

But one of the worst inferences that are drawn fromi the discordant doctrines which abound in the world, is, that doctrine itself is of little or no account. As intolerance and bigotry, under the specious name of zeal, distinguished former ages; so sceptical indifference, under the specious names of candour, liberality, and moderation, distinguishes this. This is the grand temptation, perhaps, of the present times. It would seem as if men must either fight for truth with carnal weapons, or make peace with error; either our religious principles must be cognizable by human lagislators, or they are neither good nor evil, and God himself must not call us to account for them; either we must call men masters upon earth, or deny that we have any master, even in heaven.

It is a favourite principle with unbelievers, and with many professing christians who verge towards them, that error not only has its seat in the mind, but that it is purely intellectual, and therefore innocent. Hence they plead against all church censures, and every degree of unfavourable opinion, on account of doctrinal sentiments, as though it were a species of persecution. But if the causes of error be principally D

* Rom. x. 6-9. + Heb. xiii. 9.

moral, it will follow that such conclusions are as contrary to reason as they are to scripture.

The above remarks are far from being designed to cherish a spirit of bitterness against one another as men, or as christians. There is a way of viewing the corruption and depravity of mankind, so as to excite bitterness and wrath, and every species of evil temper; and there is a way of viewing them, 'that, without approving or conniving at what is wrong, shall excite the tear of compassion. It does not become us to declaim against the wickedness of the wicked in a manner as if we expected grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles : but, while we prove ourselves the decided friends of God, to bear good-will to men. It becomes those who may be the most firinly established in the truth as it is in Jesus, to consider that a portion of the errors of the age, in all probability, attaches to them; and though it were otherwise, yet they are directed to carry it benevolently towards others who may err : “ In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God, peradventure, will give them repentance, to the acknowledging of the truth."*

Finally: There is an important difference between rasing the foundation, and building upon that foundation a portion of wood, and hay, and stubble. It becomes us not to make light of either : but the latter may be an object of forbearance, whereas the former is not. With the enemies of Christ, we ought, in religious matters, to make no terms; but towards his friends, though in some respects erroneons, it behoves us to come as near as it is possible to do, without a dereliction of principle. A truly christian spirit will feel the force of such language as the following, and will act upon it: “ All that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours, grace be unto them, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ-Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity !”

· A, F. * 2 Tim. ii. 25.








WHEN Jesus Christ made his appearance on earth, a great part of the world was subject to the Roman empire. This empire was much the largest temporal monarchy that had ever existed : so that it was called, “all the world.” (Luke ii. 1.) The time when the Romans first subjugated the land of Judea, was between sixty and seventy years before Christ was born ; and soon after this the Roman empire rose to its greatest extent and splendour. To this government the world continued subject till Christ came, and many hundred years afterwards. The remoter nations who had submitted to the yoke of this mighty empire, were ruled either by Roman governors, invested with temporary commissions, or by their own princes and laws, in subordination to the republic, whose sovereignty was acknowledged, and to which the conquered kings, who were conținued in their own dominions, owed their borrowed majesty. At the same time the Roman people and their venerable senate, though they had not lost all shadow of liberty, were yet in reality reduced to a state of servile submission to Augustus Cæsar; who by artifice, perfidy, and bloodshed, attained an enormous degree of power, and united in his own person the pompous titles of Emperor, Pontiff, Censor, Tribune of the People : in a word, all the great offices of the state. *

At this period the Romans, according to Daniel's prophetic description, had trodden down the kingdoms, and by their exceeding strength devoured the whole earth. However, by enslaving the world, they civilized it; and whilst they oppressed mankind, they united them together. The same laws were every where established, and the same languages understood. Men approached nearer to one another in sentiments and manners; and the intercourse between the most distant regions of the earth was rendered secure and agreeable. Hence the benign influence of letters and philosophy was spread abroad in countries which had been before enveloped in the darkest ignorance.t

Just before Christ was born the Roman empire not only rose to its greatest height, but was also settled in peace. Augustus Cæsar had been for many years establishing the state of the Roman empire, and subduing his enemies, till the very year that Christ was born : then, all his enemies being reduced to subjection, his dominion over the world appeared to be settled in its greatest glory. This remarkable peace, after so many ages of tumult and war, was a fit pre\ude to the ushering of the glorious Prince of Peace

* Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, vol. i. p. 16. Robertson's Sermon on the Situation of the World at

the time of Christ's appearance,

a few

into the world. The tranquillity which then reigned was necessary to enable the ministers of Christ to execute with success their sublime commission to the human race. In the situation into which the providence of God had brought the world, the gospel in years

reached those remote corners of the earth into which it could not otherwise have penetrated for many ages.

All the heathen nations, at the time of Christ's appearance on earth, worshipped a multiplicity of gods and demons, whose favour they courted by obscene and ridiculous ceremonies, and whose anger they endeavoured to appease by the most abominable cruel

ties. *

Every nation had its respective gods, over which one more excellent than the rest presided; yet in such a manner that the supreme deity was himself controlled by the rigid decrees of fate, or by what the philosophers called eternal necessity. The gods of the east were different from those of the Gauls, the Germans, and other northern nations. The Grecian divinities differed from those of the Egyptians, who deified plants, and a great variety of the productions both of nature and art. Each people had also their peculiar manner of worshipping and appeasing its respective deities. In process of time, however, the Greeks and Romans grew as ambitious in their religious pretensions as in their political claims. They maintained that their gods, though under different appellations, were the objects of religious worship in all nations; and therefore they gave the names of their deities to those of other countries.

The deities of almost all nations were either ancient heroes, renowned for noble exploits and worthy deeds, or kings and generals who had founded empires, or women who had become illustrious by remarkable actions or useful in ventions. The merit of those emi.

See Mosheim and Robertson.

† Mosheim, vol. i. p. 18.

« PreviousContinue »