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The Mysteries of Christianity.-Conclusion of the Gospel of St.
IT being my intention to give from this place, on the Fridays during Lent, a course of Lectures explanaory and practical on such parts of Scripture as seem to me best calculated to inform the understandings and affect the hearts of those that hear me, I shall proceed, without further preface, to the execution of a design, in which edification, not entertainment, usefulness, not novelty, are the objects I have in view; and in which therefore I may sometimes perhaps avail myself of the labours of others, when they appear to me better calculated to answer my purpose than any thing I am myself capable of producing.
Although my observations will for the present be confined entirely to the Gospel of St. Matthew, and only to certain select parts even of that, yet it may not be improper or unprofitable to introduce these Lectures by a compendious view of the principal contents of those writings which go under the general name of the HOLY SCRIPTURES.
That book which we call THE BIBLE (that is, THE Book, by way of eminence) although it is comprized in one volume, yet in fact comprehends a great number of different narratives and compositions, written at different times, by different persons, in different languages, and on different subjects. And taking the whole of the collection together, it is an unquestionable truth that there is no one book extant, in any language, or in any country, which can in any degree be compared with it for antiquity, for authority, for the importance, the
dignity, the variety, and the curiosity of the matter it
It begins with that great and stupendous event, of all others the earliest and most interesting to the human race, the creation of this world, of the heavens and the earth, of the herbs of the field, the sea and its inhabitants. All this it describes with a brevity and sublimity well suited to the magnitude of the subject, to the dignity of the Almighty Artificer, and unequalled by any other writer. The same wonderful scene is represented by a Roman poet,* who has evidently drawn his materials from the narrative of Moses. But though his description is finely imagined and elegantly wrought up, and embellished with much poetical ornament, yet in true simplicity and grandeur, both of sentiment and of diction, he falls far short of the sacred historian. LET THERE BE LIGHT AND THERE WAS LIGHT; is an instance of the sublime, which stands to this day unrivalled in any human composition.
But what is of infinitely greater moment, his history of the creation has settled forever that most important question, which the ancient sages were never able to decide; from whence and from what causes this world, with all its inhabitants and appendages, drew its origin; whether from some inexplicable necessity, from a fortuitous concourse of atoms, from an eternal series of causes and effects, or from one supreme, intelligent, self-existing Being, the Author of all things, himself without beginning and without end. To this last cause the inspired historian has ascribed the formation of this system; and by so doing has established that great principle and foundation of all religion and all morality, and the great source of comfort to every human being, the existence of one God, the Creator and Preserver of the world, and the watchful Superintendent of all the creatures that he has made.
The Sacred History next sets before us, the primæval happiness of our first parents in Paradise; their fall from this blissful state by the wilful transgression of their Maker's command; the fatal effects of this origi
nal violation of duty; the universal wickedness and corruption it gradually introduced among mankind; and the signal and tremendous punishment of that wickedness by the deluge; the certainty of which is acknowledged by the most ancient writers, and very evident traces of which are to be found at this day in various parts of the globe. It then relates the peopling of the world again by the family of Noah; the covenant entered into by God with that patriarch, the relapse of mankind into wickedness; the calling of Abraham; and the choice of one family and people, the Israelites (or, as they were afterwards called, the Jews) who were separated from the rest of the world to preserve the knowledge and the worship of a Supreme Being, and the great fundamental doctrine of THE UNITY; while all the rest of mankind, even the wisest and most learned, were devoted to polytheism and idolatry, and the grossest and most abominable superstitions. It then gives us the history of this people, with their various migrations, revolutions, and principal transactions. It recounts their removal from the land of Canaan, and their establishment in Egypt under Joseph; whose history is related in a manner so natural, so interesting and affecting, that it is impossible for any man of common sensibility to read it without the strongest emotions of tenderness and delight.
In the book of Exodus we have the deliverance of this people from their bondage in Egypt, by a series of the most astonishing miracles; and their travels through the wilderness for forty years under the conduct of Moses; during which time (besides many other rules and directions for their moral conduct) they received the Ten Commandments, written on two tables of stone by the finger of God himself, and delivered by him to Moses with the most awful and tremendous solemnity; containing a code of moral law infinitely superior to any thing known to the rest of mankind in those rude and barbarous ages.
The books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, are chiefly occupied with the various other laws,