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The same may
be said of the greater part Ecclesiastes. of the Book of Ecclesiastes, which also teaches us to form a just estimate of this world, and its seeming advantages of wealth, 30. honor, power, pleasure, and science, which after all, says the author, he has found by experience to be but vanity, and that no happiness was equal to that of loving God and keeping his commandments.
The prophetical books were written by Prophets. persons, whom God inspired at different times to instruct his people. They contain the history of their times, of the menaces and promises made to the people of Israel. They are generally divided into four greater, and 31. 32. twelve minor prophets, and these prophecies were delivered, some to the people of Israel, others to the people of Judah.* Ezekiel and Daniel prophesied at Babylon during the 33. captivity. These writings present us with 34. the worthiest and most exalted ideas of the Almighty, the purest and justest notions of piety and virtue. The most awful denunciations against wickedness of every kind, public and private; the most affectionate expostu
* For the period when the separation of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah took place, see Part II.
lations, the most inviting promises, and the warmest concern for the public good. And besides all this, they contain a series of predictions relating to our blessed Lord, in which all the remarkable circumstances of his birth, life, ministry, miracles, doctrines, sufferings, and death, are foretold in so minute and exact a manner, (more particularly in the prophecy of Isaiah,) that you would almost think they were describing these things after they had happened, if you did not know that these prophecies were confessedly written many hundred years before Christ came into the world, and were all that time in the possession of the Jews, who were the mortal enemies of the Christians, and therefore would not go about to forge prophecies, which would evidently prove him to be what he professed, and what they denied him to be, the Messiah, the Son of God. It is to this part of Scripture that our Lord particularly directs our attention when he says, “Search the Scriptures, for they testify of me.” The testimony he alludes to, is that of the prophets, than which no evidence can be more satisfactory and convincing to any one that reads them with care and impartiality, and compares
their predictions concerning our Saviour, with the history of his life, given to us by them who constantly lived and conversed with him.
The New Testament (which follows the New Testaprophets) embraces the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, and the Revelation of St. John. That part of it which goes by the name of the Gospels, contains the history of Jesus Christ, and is so called, from the good tidings which it reveals to mankind. The word Gospel and the original Greek “Evangellion,” both bearing 36. the same meaning. The four gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the first and last of whom were disciples of our Saviour. They all agree in the essential facts they relate, though they differ in some of the minor details of those facts.
(1“) They recount, generally speaking, those wonderful and important events, with which the Christian religion, and the divine Author 38. of it, were introduced into the world, and which have produced so great a change in the principles, the morals, the manners, and the temporal as well as the spiritual condition of mankind. (29) They relate the first appear
ance of Christ upon earth, his extraordinary and miraculous birth, the testimony borne to him by his forerunner, John the Baptist, his temptation in the wilderness, the opening of his divine command, the pure, the perfect, the sublime morality which he taught, especially in his inimitable sermon from the mount; (3) the infinite superiority which he showed to any other moral teacher, both in the matter and manner of his discourse ; more especially by crushing vice in its very cradle, in the first risings of wicked desires and propensities in the heart, by showing a decided preference of the mild, gentle, passive, conciliating virtues, to that violent, vindictive, unforgiving, temper, which has been the favourite character of the world ; by requiring us to forgive our enemies, and to do good to them that hate us; by excluding from our devotions, our alms, and all our other virtues, all regard to fame, reputation, and applause; by laying down two great general principles of morality, love for God, and love for man, and by deducing from them every other duty; (4") by conveying his instructions under the easy, familiar, and impressive form of parables; by expressing himself in a tone of dignity and authority unknown before; by exemplifying every virtue that He taught, in his own unblemished and perfect life and conversation, and, above all, by adding those awful sanctions, which He alone, of all moral instructors, had the power to hold out, eternal rewards to the virtuous, and eternal punishments to the wicked. (59) The sacred narration then represents to us the high character He assumed, the claim He made to a divine original, the wonderful miracles He wrought in proof of his divinity, the various prophecies which plainly marked him out as the Messiah, the great deliverer of the Jews; (6°) the declarations He made, that He came to offer himself a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind; the cruel indignities, sufferings, and persecutions, to which, in consequence of his great design, He was exposed; the accomplishment of it, by the painful and ignominious death to which He submitted, by his resurrection after three days from the grave, by his ascension into heaven, by his sitting at the right hand of God, and (7) performing there the office of a mediator, and an intercessor for the sinful sons of men, till He shall come a second time in his glory, to sit in