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the office of a divine herald, and proclaims to his countrymen the approach of that Messiah, who had been so long promised to their fathers. And what opinion were a blind and superstitious people likely to entertain of such a harbinger as this! His life indeed was holy, and his manners were strict and exemplary: but his appearance was mean, and unaccompanied with any display of divine power and greatness. He proclaimed indeed to them the coming of that Messiah, whom they had so long and impatiently waited for to deliver them from the burden of the Roman yoke, under which they groaned: but then the Deliverer he pointed out to them was a person of obscure parentage, and unattended with any marks of regal greatness or divine authority; and what was worst of all, he also told them, that they could not even partake of the blessings which he came to offer, without the hard task of relinquishing their sins, and bringing forth fruits meet for repentance. So that though we find all Jerusalem and all Judæa confessing their sins to this divine messenger, and submitting to the initiatory, rite of baptism, yet there is but too much reason to believe that they did this rather out of curiosity and novelty, than with any sincere design of abandoning their sins, or through a firm persuasion that he was indeed the messenger of the Son of God:
for, as a learned writer has well observed, "at “ the most this baptism only amounted to a de“ claration of the belief of the near approach of " the Messias; but certainly not that Jesus was " that Messias *.” And if they had, even at that time, their doubts, how must these doubts have been heightened and increased, when they saw this very messenger, in a very short time, first ignominiously cast into prison, and afterwards barbarously murdered by a capricious tyrant, without any mark of divine interposition in his favour.
Thus far the tidings of the Gospel seem to have little to recommend themselves, to the acceptance and approbation of those to whom they were offered. Let us see then, whether He who was to come after him, even the Son of God himself, appeared to the world under more, advantageous circumstances, or was likely to meet with a more favourable reception than his short-lived antecessor.
· I need not here remark that the first thirty years of our Saviour's life were spent in privacy and retirement; in the practice, we may imagine, of all those heavenly virtues, which he
* Vid. Burnet on Art. XXVII.
came came to teach mankind. But what his particular employment was, we cannot pretend to say, unless we were weak and credulous enough to give heed to fables, not even “ cunningly “ devised.” From that time he intirely devoted himself to the accomplishment of the great work for which he came into the world. By every argument and method of persuasion he incessantly laboured to convince the Jews of the reality of his divine commişsion, and to induce them to embrace the easy terms of salvation which were offered to them. By a life of the most unsullied purity and universal benevolence, by an address the most engaging and in offensive, by a series of miracles the most astonishing and incontestible, he did indeed, beyond the power of contradiction, demonstrate to every reasonable man, that he was the very Christ.
But yet, to say nothing of the unreasonable prejudices of those to whom he addressed himself, which alone were sufficient to obstruct the progress of his doctrine, we are at the same time to consider, that the ministry of our Saviour was confined to the Jews only, and that his religion could not otherwise be known even to many of them, than by uncertain report or precarious tradition. And, what was the most unfavourable circumstance of all, in appearance; to the B 3
promulgation of his doctrines, scarcely had he taught them for little more than the short space of three years, before he was dragged before a huinan tribunal, arraigned, condemned and exe-, cuted as a vile and dangerous malefactor. :
This then might justly seem a fatal blow to the cause of Christianity, and more than sufficient to have put a stop to its farther progress in the world. For if the Jews, to whom the Gospel was first addressed, were shocked to behold him, whom they looked for as an earthly king, arrayed in splendor and surrounded with power, born among the lowest of the people, friendless, poor, and undignified; how much more must they have been shocked to see him, whom they looked for as a deliverer, a Saviour, a God, as a criminal arraigned, condemned, and disgracefully dying upon the cross ? These were appearances hard to be reconciled to their prejudiced expectations; these were events hard to : be explained ; little likely to conquer the hearts of an obstinate people; little adapted to gain converts to the cause of Christianity. And indeed nothing could be more hopeless and unpromising than its present appearance, in every other respect. Deprived of the presence and support of its divine Author; opposed by the rooted prejudices of Jewish bigotry; in contra-'. .
diction to the lucrative superstitions of gentile idolatry; at enmity with the vicės and corruptions of the world ; traduced by the bitterest misrepresentations of calumny; prohibited by the power of the civil sword; devoid of every temporal advantage that could allure, and surrounded with every misery that could terrify and discourage; what human sagacity could think of its breaking through all these black clouds of obstruction, and of its becoming “a “ light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory “ of the people Israel ?”
Yet had it, even under these discouraging circumstances, been supported by men of distinguished rank and eminence, by men of superior abilities and genius, by men of singular address and long practised in the arts and subtilties of the world, the contest might not have seemed so very unequal, the success not so totally out of the reach of time and perseverance. But this was very far from being the case. The guardians to whom this infant orphan was committed, were a few indigent, unlettered fishermen and mechanics, unconnected with the wealthy or the powerful, unskilled in the arts of persuasion, unpractised in the subtilties of philosophical disquisition and the distinctions of logical argumentation. Nay, what was more, they had - B4