holiest works for the sanctification of the soul
"His name was called Jesus, which was called by the angel"
Luke, ii. 21.
THIS, my beloved, is the sacred name given to the great Messiah the Saviour of the human race: this is the name, which God himself hath chosen for his only Son: this is the name, at the sound of which every knee shall bend, of those that are in Heaven, on Earth, and in Hell (Phil., ii. 10). This sacred name you all revere; and from your infancy you have confessed that Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father (Phil., ii. 11). Jesus the Son of God, has always been the object of your adoration, the Author and Finisher of your faith (Heb., xii. 2) and the completion of your hope even to the end (Heb., vi. 11). In him have been centred all your desires, all your expectation*. From him you have sought consolation in distress, refreshment in labour, patience in sufferings, and joy in afflictions. From his bountiful hand you acknowledge that you have received all the blessings and comforts of your life: and that your crosses and adversities have proceeded from no other source than his merciful justice. Your morning sighs have been all wafted before his throne; and your evening lamentations have been poured forth at the foot of his cross. His sacred wounds have preserved you from the horrors of despair; and his austere doctrine and example have repressed in your bosom the pleasing, but delusive dreams of presumption. In him, and for him, you have lived and moved, and in his embraces and through his merits you continue to look for ward with joyful hope to a blissful immortality. In a word, you have always considered Jesus as truly God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, made man for your redemption. These are your grounded sentiments. This has always been your creed.
If, therefore, I pursue the subject of my last discourse, let it not be supposed that I am actuated by the senseless desire of convincing you of a truth, of which I acknowledge you are already convinced; or that I undertake to resolve doubts, which I know have never existed in your minds. No; the real motive which induces me to lay before you the arguments in proof of the divinity of Jesus, is no other than the desire of consoling your faith, of displaying before your eyes the great blessings which are insured to you by the incarnation of a God, and of arming you against the insidious and sophistical arguments of modern infidelity.
In my discourse on the late festival, I deduced my proofs from the doctrine of Jesus; I will now apply to another source, namely, the benefits which Jesus conferred on mankind by his personal ministry on Earth, and the magnificent promises which he held out, of still greater blessings after his ascension into Heaven.
1. The benefits which Jesus was appointed to impart to the world form one of the most incontrovertible proofs of his divinity. He was sent to deliver men from eternal death: he was sent to blot out the hand-writing that was against them, to reverse the sentence of malediction, and to make them children of God: he was sent to open for them the gates of Heaven, and to admit them into a partnership of glory with the angels in the bosom of the Divinity. These ineffable gifts he was to dispense not to one generation only, but to every succeeding generation to the end of the world. We, as well as our forefathers, are to find in him the remedy for all our evils: his sacred body is to be our food, and the application of his precious blood is to wash away all our defilements, and to restore peace and innocence to our souls. It is he who continues to appoint and consecrate pastors for our guidance in the paths of virtue: it is he who inspires teachers, by whose ministry we are instructed in the secrets of salvation: it is he who raises up, from time to time, living models of perfection, whose example is intended to animate us to fight with determined resolution against our spiritual enemies. He is always present with us (Matt., xxviii. 20), for our comfort and support in this place of banishment: he is our way, our truth, and our life (John, xiv. 6): he is our justification, our redemption, and our light (John, viii. 12). This is the doctrine of the scriptures respecting the Messiah.
Now, my beloved brethren, would it have been consistent with the wisdom of God to have conferred such power, such authority on any being that was merely human? Would his jealousy have permitted that a mortal man should be the author and the source of so many gifts and graces, and that he should assume a character of such independence and self-existence? Would not his omniscience have foreseen that the great Messiah, so far from effecting the redemption of the world, would plunge it deeper into the horrors of idolatry, and shut up every remaining avenue to the light of Heaven? Yes, my beloved! God foresaw all this; he knew that man would prostrate himself, and pay divine honours to the author of such inestimable blessings; he, therefore, sent his only Word, the second Person of the adorable Trinity.
There are many, I presume, of my present hearers, who have but an imperfect idea of the nature and the extent of paganism. For their instruction, therefore, it will not be foreign to my subject to state, that, before the coming of Christ, the greater part of mankind were ignorant of the true God. The voice of nature loudly proclaimed to all, that there existed a Supreme Being: but what this Supreme Being was, human nature, unassisted by revelation, could not discover. The secrets of Heaven were involved in impenetrable darkness, and man was left to follow the dictates of his own mind. He knew that he himself was dependent, and that submission was due to him on whom he depended. From this great Being he knew must be derived whatever might befall him ultimately of good or evil, and he rightly supposed that gratitude for the past was the only way of insuring the continuance of a favourable interposition in future, and of averting the calamities which he imagined would otherwise be his unhappy portion. When, therefore, he perceived that any visible thing, whether inanimate, animate, or human, was the channel through which great blessings were conveyed to him, he concluded that the Deity assumed that shape in order to communicate his gifts: hence, by a natural transition, he represented and adored him under that shape. It was this that induced some nations to adore the sun; others the moon and stars; others, the Earth from which they received their nourishment; others, the cow, the ass, the dog. Others supposed that great and good princes and the inventors of useful arts were gods, and for this reason adored Jupiter, Hercules, Cybele, Vulcan, Mars, Mercury, &c. In a word during those dark times of ignorance and blindness, man seemed to sigh after the knowledge of the true God; and, even while the Author of his existence was unknown to him, he did not forget the sentiments of gratitude and dependence which the voice of nature suggested towards him. Thus we see that the origin of the false gods of idolatry was gratitude on the part of man; and that his ignorance of the true and living God was the only reason why he did not worship him.
From this short account, my argument to you is simply as follows. No man ever conferred such inestimable blessings on mankind as Jesus. He has purchased for us an eternal peace: he has imparted to us happiness, justice, and truth: he has renewed the face of the whole Earth: his favours are not confined to one people or to one generation; they are extended to every nation and to every age; and, what is more, these inestimable blessings he purchased for us at no less a price than that of his precious blood. If, therefore, gratitude exalted the mere instruments of the mercies of God to the rank of divinities, surely no one was more entitled to that distinction than Jesus. Ah! my beloved, if Jesus be no more than man, could God have seriously intended to redeem the world, at the time that he exposed it to the most imminent danger of idolatry?
If, indeed, Jesus had admonished his disciples before his death that they were indebted to the great God alone for so many benefits; that he himself was not the author and source, but only the minister employed for the distribution of these graces; that no extraordinary honours were due to him, but that the glory and honour and gratitude were due to God alone; then I allow, there would have been no danger of our falling into error. But Christ does not terminate his prodigies and ministry by any such admonitions. On the contrary, he not only commands his disciples to remember him, and even place their hopes in him after his de cease; but at the moment that he is about to take his final leave, he declares that he will be present with them all days, even to the consummation of the world (Matt., xxviii. 20), he promises them greater blessings than any he had hitherto imparted, and unites them to him still more strongly by indissoluble and eternal bands.
2. Reflect an instant, my beloved, on the wonderful promises which he made to his disciples, and you will see that they portend greater blessings than any that he had imparted to them during his mortal existence.
In the first place, he promises that he will send to them the a l a l the Comforter, whom he calls the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive (John, xiv.); the Spirit of fortitude, which would animate his followers to suffer martyrdom for his sake; the Spirit of understanding, which had enlightened the prophets; the Spirit of wisdom, which would lead his church into all truth; the Spirit of peace and charity, which would unite all hearts, and establish the bands of fraternal love between all the faithful. What a promise was this! Could man pretend to dispose of the Spirit of God, unless he him self likewise were God, and the Spirit were his Spirit? The promise, however, is immediately fulfilled. No sooner is Jesus ascended into Heaven than the Spirit of God descends on his disciples. Simple and ignorant men in an instant acquire a wisdom that is superior to the wisdom of the wisest of men: the weak display a courage that is proof against all the tortures of the most cruel tyrants. New men animated with a new spirit, appear on Earth: they draw all people after them: they change the face of the whole universe.
In the second place, Jesus promises to his disciples the power of remitting sins, of opening the gates of Heaven to the just man, and of shutting them against the sinner. Surely, my brethren, this is the work of Omnipotence itself. Who but God can forgive sins? And who but God can give power to weak man to exert such authority? But this is not all. He promises to his disciples the gift of miracles, the power of raising the dead to life, of giving sight to the blind, health to the sick, speech to the dumb, and of exercising an unlimited command over nature. This promise likewise is immediately fulfilled. The disciples wrought every wonder which he had enumerated; and they wrought them, not in the name of the Father, but in the name of Jesus who was crucified.
To all these promises he adds another of still greater magnitude. He assures them that the conversion of the world and the complete triumph of the cross shall be effected by their preaching: he declares that at his name the knee shall bend of all that are great or proudly eminent on Earth; and that his gospel shall be received by the whole universe. Pause awhile, my brethren, and consider the extent of this promise. Who but a God can exercise dominion over the hearts of all mankind, and foretell that an universal change of sentiment would take place a change, of which no example had ever before been known? The unbeliever perhaps may say, that this great event was revealed to him by God, after the same manner as future events were revealed to the prophets. But no: for, if he is no God, he certainly is no prophet. The truth of his predictions rests entirely on the truth of his divinity. He foretold, that all people sitting in the shades of death would open their eyes to the light: this prediction is false, if he be not God; for the people from the beginning made him the object of their adoration, and thus fell into a more criminal darkness. He foretold that his Father would be glorified, and that his gospel would form a society of believers out of every nation and tongue, who would adore him in spirit and truth: this prediction, likewise, is false; for the whole Christian world have dishonoured the Father by prostituting their adoration to the prophet, and will continue to dishonour him even to the end. foretold that the idols would be thrown down: and ought he not to have foreseen that he himself would be exalted in their stead? He foretold that he would form a holy people out of every tribe and nation under the sun: but if he were a prophet, and nothing more than a prophet, ought he not to have foreseen that, by his coming, he would only form a new sect of idolaters? Ought he not to have foreseen that the innumerable multitudes in every age, who would be converted by the preaching and miracles of his disciples, would place him on the throne of the living God; would refer all their actions and their homages to him; would have his glory continually in view; would wish to live only in him and for him; would depend on him alone; would look up to him for power, strength, and motion; in a word, would adore and love him more spiritually, more universally, and more intimately, than the pagans ever adored and loved their idols? Ah! my beloved, if Jesus be not God, he is not even a prophet: and if he be no prophet, he is deserving of all the opprobrious epithets which have been lavished on him by the worst of those who are, or who ever were in the list of his opponents.
These are the extremes to which incredulity leads its unhappy votaries. If you destroy the foundation, or remove the corner stone, which is Jesus Christ the eternal Son of the living God, the whole edifice falls to the ground. If you reject the doctrine of a God made man, you deprive faith of its merit, hope of its consolation, and charity of its motives. The first disciples clearly foresaw all these dismal consequences; and therefore they exerted every power of eloquence against the impious wretches who dared to call in question the divinity of their Master. They knew that the doctrine of an Ebionand Cerinthus tended to destroy the very spirit of their religion, to deprive them of their only consolation under persecutions and sufferings, to do away their assurance of a future recompense, and in the end to reduce their exalted pretensions to a mere nothing. They knew that, if this grand article of their belief namely, the divinity of Jesus were rejected, their religion would be vain, and that it would be no more than a human doctrine; the work of a man, who, like other founders of sects, would have left no other inheritance to his disciples than the honour of being distinguished by his name.
So great was their zeal in defence of this doctrine, that the pagans themselves made it the subject of their reproaches. Pliny, a Roman proconsul and a celebrated writer (Pliny., Ep. i. 1), in an account which he transmitted to the Emperor Trajan concerning the morals and doctrine of Christians, readily allows that they were just, innocent, and upright men; that they assembled together before sunrise, not to form plans of depredation or of civil commotion, but for the purpose of living piously and justly, of exciting each other to mutual detestation of frauds, adulteries, arid desires of other men's goods. The only pretended fault of which he accuses them is, that they sung hymns and canticles in honour of Jesus Christ, and paid to him the same homage as to God himself.
If the first Christians had not given divine honour to Jesus Christ, they would undoubtedly have refuted this calumny: they would have removed from their religion every appearance of the kind: they would have discontinued a practice which they knew to be the greatest if not the only circumstance, that could operate as a scandal to the Jews and a stumbling-block to the Gen tiles: they would have proclaimed aloud: "We do not adore Jesus Christ; far be it from us to give to creatures the honour which is due to God alone". But they were silent: they did not attempt to exculpate themselves. Their apologists refuted every other calumny which the pagans had thrown upon their doctrine: they justified themselves on every other point: they explained, they refuted the most trivial accusations; and by their public addresses delivered to the senate imposed silence on all their other enemies. But they say nothing respecting their idolatry towards the person of Christ; they are not moved by the reproach of adoring a crucified man a reproach which must have been most severely felt by men who were so holy, such declared enemies to idolatry, and so jealous of the glory of God. They not only do not vindicate themselves, but they justify the accusation by 'their silence. But why do I say, by their silence? They publicly declare their belief by the most unequivocal testimonies: they suffer for his name: they die for his name: they confess him before tyrants and persecutors: they expire with joy on racks and gibbets, in the consoling expectation of being hereafter united to him, and of receiving from him a life of greater glory and happiness, than the one which they sacrificed for his name. When these truly virtuous men were required to bend their knees before the statues of Caesar, when even, out of a mistaken compassion, their friends proposed to give false testimony before the magistrates, asserting that they had offered sacrifice to idols, they declared that they were ready to suffer every species of torture and death, rather than commit or mislead the people into a supposition that they had committed such a crime. And shall it be believed that men like these would have suffered themselves to be accused of paying divine honours to Jesus without endeavouring to refute the calumny? Let the enemies of our religion fancy what they will, not a corner of the universe, I am very sure, but would have resounded with their protests and protestations against the infamy of so detestable a charge. No torment can be thought of, no sort of death, in any of its most formidable shapes and frightful appearances, can be imagined, to which they would not most willingly have exposed themselves, rather than give occasion to so odious, so execrable a suspicion.
What can incredulity oppose to this? Yes, my beloved, it is an incontrovertible truth, that the belief in the divinity of Jesus began with the Church, that it raised the whole edifice of Christianity, that it formed the whole host of martyrs, and that it renewed the face of the universe.
Now that I have displayed the proofs of this great principle of our religion before your eyes, I will conclude with this only reflection. Jesus Christ being the grand object of the piety of Christians, it is the indispensable duty of every one of you to be familiar with his doctrine and obedient to his precepts. You ought to meditate frequently arid attentively on his holy law, to have recourse to him in all your necessities, to nourish your souls with his holy sacraments, and to place your whole reliance on the merits of his death and passion. This is clean religion; this is knowing Jesus; this is simple and sincere piety; nothing is firm and solid but what is built on this foundation.
Reflect, therefore, dear Christians, that the principal homage which Jesus requires of you is, that you be like unto him, and that his life be the model of yours: and be assured that, if you be thus conformable to his likeness in this life, you will be of the number of those who are to be partakers of his glory in the next.