Изображения страниц

change. But we say that what is divine and infinite is united to what is human and finite, in such a manner that the divine nature has lost none of its glories and perfections. This is wonderful; this we cannot precisely explain; but it is not contradictory. It would be a contradiction, if we said that the humanity of the Saviour received the incommunicable attributes of the divinity. But we say that the properties of the divinity have not been communicated to the humanity; that if this humanity has been elevat

r ed to a high degree of glory, it is a glory capable of being enjoyed by a creature, and inferior to that of the divinity. Here there is not the shadow of contradiction.

If I have detained you a long time on this point, attribute it, my brethren, to the importance and difficulty of the subject; and bear.with me a little longer, while I more briefly consider the time of the Saviour's advent.

The time of this wonderful event was fixed by ancient prophecy. It was to take place while the sccond temple still stood, at the expiration of the seventy weeks of Daniel, and before the sceptre had departed from Judah. These marks all coincided at the precise period when Jesus was born. A very little reflection will cause us to admire the wisdom of God in selecting this particular time for the mission of his Son. It was proper that he should not come into the world immediately after the fall; that his appearance should be deferred till mankind were able properly to appreciate, and duly to receive so great a blessing. Since such an infinite display of divine goodness and mercy could be made but once, (for otherwise, as the apostle remarks, Christ must often have suffered from the foundation of the world)

it was fit that suitable provisions should be made for the reception and continuance of the gospel in the world, and proper preparations made to show its evidence, to display its worth, and make men sensible of the richness of the blessing. But could this preparation have been made, had the Saviour appeared in the earlier ages of the world? Could the Jews have been trained up for his coming by prophecies, by types, by their law? Could the Gentiles have been made sensible of the inadequacy of unassisted reason to discover these truths connected with their dearest interests, and the corruption of their nature in not being able to perform those duties which they did discover? Besides, had Christ appeared in the earliest ages of the world, we could not at the present day have had sufficient reasons to assure us of the divinity of his religion. The two firm pillars upon which it rests are, prophecy and miracles. Had Christ appeared immediately after the fall, few prophecies concerning him could have been accomplished, and it would have been difficult for us who live now to prove that those few had been made before the event. And as to his miracles, he should be but little influenced by them if they had been wrought (as on such a supposition they would have been) among people ignorant, inexperienced, credulous, and incapable of conveying down with certainty to posterity the events which occurred among them. It was then necessary that some time should elapse before the advent of Christ, that men might feel their need of a Saviour, and instructer, and be disposed to receive him; and that his religion might be accompanied by such evidence as to satisfy every rational mind. And that no previous period would have been so proper for the Saviour's coming




as that which he chose, may be shown from the following considerations :

1. In no previous period was he needed so much to reform both the morals and the religion of the world. As to the Jews, both the magistracy and ministry were in the lowest state of depravity ; the most sacred offices publicly exposed to sale; the temple converted into a place of merchandise; and the whole people so debased, that Josephus, their own historian, speaking of them a few years after, says, that if the Romans had delayed taking vengeance on them, he believes their city must either have been swallowed up by an earthquake or a deluge, or destroyed by fire from heaven, as Sodom was, since it produced a much more impious generation. The Gentiles were not less corrupt, though they could scarcely be more so. Human nature could not be sunk lower than it was in every species of vice and sensuality. Of this the description given of them by St. Paul, which is confirmed by their own writers, is a sufficient proof. Religion was in no less deplorable a state thạn morals. The ceremonial law of the Jews, from the numberless additions made to it, had become a heavy and insupportable yoke ; the moral was degraded by their loose casuistry, and almost made void by their traditions. The

prophecies had been darkened by corrupt glosses, and the key of knowledge taken from the nation. Among the Gentiles, philosophy had been so far cultivated as to show its own insufficiency, and the absurdity of the popular fables and superstitions. Philosophers were left in absolute uncertainty; laughing at omens and portents, the Elysian fields and Pluto's kingdom, but unable to discover any system to substitute in the place of the common fables. The wor

ship of the populace had attained to its highest point of absurdity and impiety, and all who made any pretensions to wisdom laughed at and derided it. The world was then fully ripe for the appearance of him who taught a pure system of morals and a rational religion.

2. It was proper that Christ should appear in the age when he did, because it was, more than any that had preceded it, able to examine the evidence of his revelation, to confirm its truth, and convey it to posterity. It was an inquisitive and skeptical age, and therefore not likely to be imposed upon, or to receive a new religion without thoroughly examining it. It was an age that had sufficient knowledge of nature to enable it to judge of miracles, and distinguish them from any uncommon appearance, or effect of art. It was an age when prophecy had ceased among the Jews, and when they would therefore cau-: tiously investigate any new claims to inspiration ; when oracles and divinations were despised, and all revelation looked upon as a cheat by most of the Gentiles; and when therefore they were guarded against any new imposition. The character of the age then was such as to give a stronger confirmation to the religion of Christ than could have been given in any previous age.

This age too was the best qualified to hand religion down to posterity. The Roman empire had been just settled, and the minds of its chief members turned from arms and action to works of genius and speculation; their chronology had just been reformed and adjusted ; exact reviews taken of the most distant provinces; and all remarkable occurrences transmitted to Rome, the capital of the world. In such a state of affairs no great event could be long

concealed. Was it not highly proper that at such a time Christ should appear, when the period of his incarnation should be fixed beyond controversy ? Had he come in an obscure, fabulous age, we might perhaps by this time have doubted whether there was ever any such person; at least, whether any of the relations concerning him could be depended on.

3. Finally, the universal expectation that prevailed at the time that Christ appeared, of some great deliverer who was to arise, rendered it a most proper period for his advent. The Jews, directed by the prophecies of the Old Testament, were anxiously looking for Messiah. Of this we have the fullest proofs in every page of the Gospels, in Josephus their own historian, and in their Talmuds. The Samaritans, notwithstanding their hatred of the Jews, united with them in this expectation, and in consequence of their hope, listened to the pretences of Dositheus, Simon Magus, and Menander, who pretended to the title of deliverer. Both Tacitus and Suetonius assure us that the same hopes prevailed among the Gentiles. Was there not then a peculiar propriety in selecting this time for the birth of the Saviour, when the expectations and desires of mankind had prepared them to receive him.

Such are probably some of the reasons which induced God to send his Son into the world at this

peculiar period. He may have had many other and more important reasons which we cannot discern: but these are sufficient to show us that in this, as in all other cases, his conduct was infinitely wise and proper.

My brethren, we have found difficulties in the doctrine of the incarnation: we can find none however in the consequences to be deduced from it. Let me

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »