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publications that ever disgraced any Christian country.* To resist these wicked attempts is the duty of every minister of the Gospel; and as I have strongly exhorted all those who are under my superintendence, to exert themselves with zeal and with rigour in defence of their insulted religion, I think it incumbent on me to take my share in this important contest, and to shew that I wish not to throw burthens on others of which I am not willing to bear my full portion. As long therefore as my health, and the various duties of an extensive and populous diocese, will permit, and the exigencies of the times require such exertions, I propose to continue annually these Lectures. And I shall think it no unbecoming conclusion of my life, if these labours of my declining years should tend in any degree to render the Holy Scriptures more clear and intelligible, more useful and delightful; if they shall confirm the faith, reform the manners, console and revive the hearts of those who hear me ; and vindicate the honour of our divine Master from those gross indignities and insults, which have of late been so indecently and impiously thrown on him and his religion.
* About this time, and for some years before, The Age of Reason and other pestilent writings of the same nature, were disseminated through almost every diserict of this country with incredible industry.
HAVING in the preceding Lecture taken a short comprehensive view of the several books of the sacred volume, I now proceed to the Gospel of St. Matthew; and shall in this Lecture confine myself to the two first chapters of that book.*
* For some very valuable observations in some parts of this, and the third and thirteenth Lecture, I am indebted to my late excellent friend and patron, Arch-bishop Secker.
The history of our Saviour's birth, life, doctrines, precepts, and miracles, is contained in four books or narratives called Gospels, written at different times, and by four different persons, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who were among the first converts to Christianity, and perfectly well acquainted with the facts they relate; to which two of them were eye-witnesses, and the other two constant companions of those who were so, from whom they received immediately every thing they relate. This is better authority for the truth of these histories than we have for the greater part of the histories now extant, the fidelity of which we do not in the least question. For few of our best histories, either ancient or modern, were written by persons who were eye-witnesses of all the transactions which they relate; and there is scarce any instance of the history of the same person being written by four different contemporary historians, all perfectly agreeing in the main articles, and differing only in a few minute pariculars of no moment. This however we find actually done in the life of Jesus, which has been written by each of the four evangelists, and it is a very strong proof of their veracity. For let us consider what the case is, at this very day, in the affairs of common life. When four different persons are called upon in a court of justice to prove the reality of any particular fact that happened twenty or thirty years ago, what is the sort of evidence which they usually give? Why, in all the great leading circumstances which tend to establish the fact in question, they in general perfectly agree. In a few other points perhaps they differ. But then these are points which do not at all affect the main question, which were too trifling to make much impression at the time on the memory of the observers, and which therefore they would all relate with some little variation in their account. This is precisely the case with the writers of the four Gospels; and this substantial coincidence and accidental variation has much more. the air and garb of truth, than where there is a perfect
agreement in every the minutest article; which has too much the appearance of a concerted story.
That the books, which we now have under the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were written by the persons whose names they bear, cannot admit the smallest doubt with any unprejudiced mind. They have been acknowledged as such by every Christian church in every age, from the time of our Saviour to this moment. There are allusions to them, or quotations from them, in the earliest writers, as far back as the age of the apostles, and continued down in a regular succession to the present hour; a proof of authenticity, which scarce any other ancient book in the world can produce. They were received as genuine histories, not only by the first Christians, but by the first enemies of Christianity, and their authority was never questioned either by the ancient heathens or Jews.*
The first of these Gospels is that of St. Matthew. It was written probably at the latest not more than fifteen years, some think only eight years, after our Lord's ascension. The author of it was an apostle and constant companion of Jesus, and of course an eye-witness of every thing he relates. He was called by our blessed Lord from a most lucrative occupation, that of a collector of the public revenue, to be one of his disciples and friends: a call which he immediately obeyed, relinquishing every thing that was dear and valuable to him in the present life. This is a sacrifice which few people have made for the sake of religion, and had St. Matthew's object been the applause of men, he might have displayed the merits of this sacrifice in a light very favourable to himself. But the apostle, conscious of much nobler views, describes this transaction in the simplest and most artless words. " As Jesus," says he, "passed forth from thence, he saw a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom,
* Whoever wishes for further satisfaction on this most important subject, will not fail of finding it in Dr. Lardner's learned work, The Credibility of the Gospel History, where this question has been very ably treated, and the authenticity of the Gospels established on the most solid grounds.
and he saith unto him, Follow me: and he arose and followed him.”
The first thing that occurs in the Gospel of St. Matthew, is the genealogy of Christ, in order to prove that he was descended from the house and family of David, as the prophets foretold he should be.
In this genealogy there are confessedly some difficulties, at which we cannot be much surprised, when we consider of what prodigious antiquity this genealogy is, going back some thousands of years; and when we know too that several Jewish persons had the same name, and that the same person had different names, (especially under the Babylonish captivity) which is still the case in India, and other parts of Asia. This must necessarily create some perplexity, especially at such a distance as we are from the first sources of information. But to the Jews themselves at the time, there were probably no difficulties at all; and it does not appear that they (who were certainly the best judges of the question) made any objection to this genealogy of Christ, or denied him to be descended from the family of David. We may therefore reasonably conclude, that his descent was originally admitted to be fairly made out by the evangelists, whatever obscurities may have arisen since. Indeed it is highly probable, that this genealogy was taken from some public records or registers of the ancient Jewish families, which it is very evident from Josephus that the Jews had, especially with regard to the lineage of David, and which were universally known and acknowledged to be authentic documents. I shall therefore only observe further on this head, that St. Matthew gives the pedigree of Joseph, and St. Luke that of Mary. But they both come to the same thing, because among the Jews the pedigree of the husband was considered as the legal pedigree of the wife; and as Mary and Joseph were nearly related, and were of the same tribe and family, their genealogies of course must run nearly in the same line.
After the genealogy of Christ, follows an account of his birth, which, as we may easily suppose of so extra.
ordinary a person, had something in it very extraordinary. Accordingly the evangelist tells us, "that the angel of the Lord appeared unto Joseph in a dream," saying," Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost: and she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus (that is a Saviour;) for he shall save his people from their sins."*
This undoubtedly was a most wonderful, and singu. lar, and unexampled event. But it was natural to imagine that when the Son of God was to appear upon the scene, he would enter upon it in a way somewhat dif ferent from the sons of men. And in fact we find him appearing upon earth in a manner perfectly new, and peculiar to himself; in a manner which united in itself at once the evidence of prophecy and of miracle. He was born of a virgin, and what is no less wonderful, it was predicted of him seven hundred years before that he should be so born. "Behold," says Isaiah, "a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel; "+ a Hebrew word, signifying, God with us. What man, but a prophet, inspired of God, could have foreseen an event so completely improbable, and apparently impossible? What impostor would have hazarded such a prediction as this? and, what is still of more importance, what impostor could have fulfilled it? What less than the power of God could have enabled Jesus to fulfil it? By that power he did fulfil it. He only, of the whole human race, did fulfil it, and thus proved himself to be at the very moment of his birth, what the whole course of his future life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension into heaven, further declared him to be, THE SON of God.
And as such he was soon acknowledged, and due homage paid to his divinity by a very singular embassy, and in a very singular manner. For the evangelist proceeds to tell us in the beginning of the second chapter, that when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying,
* Matt. i. 20.
† Isaiah, vii. 14.