« AnteriorContinuar »
ways which now imputes to fraud and collusion those miracles which the Jews ascribed to Beelzebub; which now rejects all human testimony, as it formerly did even the perceptions of sense.
Such were the distinguished virtues of this excellent centurion, the contemplation of whose character suggests to us a variety of important remarks.
The first is, that the miracles of our Lord had the fullest credit given to them, not only (as is sometimes asserted) by low, obscure, ignorant, and illiterate men, but by men of rank and character, by men of the world, by men perfectly competent to ascertain the truth of any facts presented to their observation, and not likely to be imposed upon by false pretences. Of this de scription was the centurion here mentioned, the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus, Dionysius a member of the supreme court of Areopagus at Athens, and several others of equal dignity and consequence. 3,:,
Secondly, the history of the centurion teaches us, that there is no situation of life, no occupation, no pro fession, however unfavourable it may appear to the cul tivation of religion, which precludes the possibility or exempts us from the obligation of acquiring those good dispositions, and exercising those Christian virtues which the Gospel requires. Men of the world are apt to imagine that religion was not made for them; that it was intended only for those who pass their days in obscurity, retirement, and solitude, where they meet with nothing to interrupt their devout contemplation, no allurements to divert their attention, and seduce their af fections from heaven and heavenly things. But as to those whose lot is cast in the busy and the tumultuous scenes of life, who are engaged in various occupations and professions, or surrounded with gaieties, with pleasures and temptations, it cannot be expected that amidst all these impediments, interruptions, and attractions, they can give up much of their time and thoughts to another and a distant world, when they have so many things that press upon them and arrest their attention in this.
These, I am persuaded, are the real sentiments, and they are perfectly conformable to the actual practice of a large part of mankind. But to all these pretences the instance of the centurion is a direct, complete, and satisfactory answer. He was by his situation in life a man of the world. His profession was that, which of all others, is generally considered as most adverse to religious sentiments and habits, most contrary to the peaceful, humane, and gentle spirit of the Gospel, and most exposed to the fascination of gaiety, pleasure, thoughtlessness, and dissipation. Yet amidst all these obstructions to purity of heart, to mildness of disposition and sanctity of manners, we see this illustrious CENTURION rising above all the disadvantages of his situation, and instead of sinking into vice and irreligion, becoming a model of piety and humility, and all those virtues which necessarily spring from such principles. This is an unanswerable proof, that whenever men abandon themselves to impiety, infidelity, and profligacy, the fault is not in the situation but in the heart; and that there is no mode of life, no employment or profession, which may not, if we please, be made consistent with a sincere belief in the Gospel, and with the practice of every duty we owe to our Maker, our Redeemer, our fellow-creatures, and ourselves.
Nor is this the only instance in point; for it is extremely remarkable, and well worthy our attention, that among all the various characters we meet with in the New Testament, there are few represented in a more amiable light, or spoken of in stronger terms of approbation, than those of certain military men. Besides the centurion who is the subject of this Lecture, it was a centurion, who at our Saviour's crucifixion gave that voluntary, honest, and unprejudiced testimony in his favour, "Truly this was the Son of God."* It was a centurion who generously preserved the life of St. Paul, when a proposition was made to destroy him after his shipwreck on the island of Melitat. It was a centurion to whom Saint Peter was sent by the express * Matth. xxvii. 54.
Acts xxvii. 43.
appointment of God, to make him the first convert among the Gentiles: a distinction of which he seemed, in every respect, worthy; being, as we are told, "a just and a devout man, one that feared God with all his house, that gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway."*
We see then that our centurion was not the only military man celebrated in the Gospel for his piety and virtue; nor are there wanting, thank God, distinguished instances of the same kind in our own age, in our own nation, among our own commanders, and in the recent memory of every one here present. All which examples tend to confirm the observation already made, of the perfect consistency of a military, and every other mode of life, with a firm belief in the doctrines and a conscientious obedience to the precepts of religion.
Thirdly, there is still another reflection arising from this circumstance, with which I shall conclude the present Lecture; and this is, that when we observe men bred up in arms repeatedly spoken of in scripture in such strong terms of commendation as those we have mentioned, we are authorized to conclude, that the profession they are engaged in is not, as a mistaken sect of Christians amongst us professes to think, an unlawful one. On the contrary, it seems to be studiously placed by the sacred writers in a favourable and an honourable light; and in this light it always has been and always ought to be considered. He who undertakes an occupation of great toil and great danger, for the purpose of serving, defending, and protecting his country, is a most valuable and respectable member of society; and if he conducts himself with valour, fidelity, and humanity, and amidst the horrors of war cultivates the gentle manners of peace, and the virtues of a devout and holy life, he most amply deserves, and will assuredly receive the esteem, the admiration, and the applause of his grateful country, and what is of still greater im portance, the approbation of his God.
* Acts x. 2.
I NOW proceed to the consideration of the 10th Chapter of St. Matthew.
In the preceding chapter we find our Saviour working a great variety of miracles. He healed the man that was sick of the palsy, and forgave his sins; a plain proof of his divinity, because none but God has the power and the prerogative of forgiving sins; and therefore the Jews accused him of blasphemy for pretending to this power. He also cured the woman who touched the hem of his garment. He raised to life the deceased daughter of the ruler of the synagogue. He restored to sight the two blind men that followed him; and he cast out from a dumb man the devil with which he was possessed, and restored him to his speech. These miracles are particularly recorded: but besides these there must have been a prodigious number wrought by him, of which no distinct mention is made; for we are informed in the 31st verse that he went about all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.
These continued miracles must necessarily have produced a great number of converts. And accordingly we find the multitude of his followers was now so great, that he found it necessary to appoint some coadjutors to himself in this great work. The harvest truly is plenteous, says he to his disciples, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest."
These labourers he now determined to send forth; and in pursuance of this resolution we find him in the beginning of this chapter calling together his disciples, out of whom he selected twelve, called by St. Matthew
*Matth. ix. 37, 38.
apostles or messengers, whom he sent forth to preach the gospel, and furnished them with ample powers for that purpose; powers such as nothing less than Omnipotence could bestow. The names of these apostles were as follows; Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, another James, Thaddeus or Jude, Simon, Judas Iscariot. These twelve persons, St. Matthew tells us, Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any cities of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; and as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand."* This was the business which they were sent to accomplish; they were to go about the country of Judea, and to preach to the Jews in the first place the holy religion which their divine master had just began to teach. Then follow their powers; "heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils."
After this come their instructions, and a variety of directions how to conduct themselves in the discharge of their arduous and important mission, of which I shall take notice hereafter; but must first offer to your consideration a few remarks on this extraordinary designation of the apostles to their important office.
And in the first place, who were the men singled out by our blessed Lord for the purpose of diffusing his religion through the world; that is, for the very singular purpose of persuading men to relinquish the religion of their ancestors, the principles they had imbibed from their infancy, the customs, the prejudices, the habits, the ways of thinking which they had for a long course of years indulged, and to adopt in their room a system of thinking and acting in many respects directly opposite to them; a religion exposing them to many present hardships and severe trials, and referring them for their reward to a distant period of time, and an invisible world. Was it to be expected that such a change as this, such a sudden and violent revolution in the minds
Matth. x. 2-3.