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and level before us, and that we are never at a loss how to act, what opinion to form, or what course to take? There are few, I fancy, here present, whose experience has not taught them, to their cost, the very reverse of all this. If then, even in the ordinary affairs of life, there is so much difficulty, doubt, and obscurity, how can we wonder to find it in religion also, in those en-. quiries that relate to an invisible world and an invisible Being, "to the high and lofty One that inhabitetheternity ?*
And let it never by forgotten that mysteries are not (as is often insinuated, and often taken for granted) pe-s culiar to the Christian religion. They belong to allre ligions, even to that which is generally supposed to be of all others the least incumbered with difficulties, pure deism; or, as it is sometimes called, the religion of na ture, of reason, or of philosophy.
Who, for instance, can grasp with the utmost stretch of his understanding, the idea of an eternal Being; of a Being whose existence never had any beginning, and never will have an end? Where is the man, whose thoughts are not lost and confounded in contemplating the immensity ofa God, who is intimately present to every part of the universe; who sees, with equal clearness, a kingdom perish and a sparrow fall, and to whom every thought of our hearts is perfectly well known ?†
"So far is it from being true (as some one has said) that where mystery begins religion ends; that religion, even natural religion, begins with a myste-. ry, with the greatest of all mysteries, the self-existence and eternity of God.Let any one tell us how an eternity can be past, unless it was once present, and how that can be once present which never had a beginning." Seed's Sermons. v. 2. S. 7. 459.
"J'appercois Dieu partout dans ses oeuvres. Je le sens en moi, je le vois tout autour de moi; mais sitot que je veux le contempler en lui meme, sitot que je veux chercher ou il est, ce qu'il est, quelle est sa substance, il m'echappe, & mon esprit trouble n' appercoit plus rien. Rousseau, v. 8. p. 32. Enfin plus je m'efforce de contempler son essence infinie, moins je la concois; mais elle est, cela me suffit; moins je la concois plus je l'adore."
I have cited these fine passages from the eloquent Rosseau in his own language (for no translation can do justice to them) because no arguments are so convincing as those which are drawn from the concessions of sceptics themselves, which fall from them incidentally and undesignedly; and because the sentiments here quoted stand in direct contradiction to that writer's cavils in other places against the Christian mysteries. For if notwithstanding the difficulties which attend the contemplation of the Deity himself, he firmly be lieves his existence, on what ground can he make his Savoiard vicar doubt the truth of the Gospel on account of its mysteries? V. viii. p. 93.
Who can reconcile that foreknowledge of future and contingent events, which is an unquestionable attribute of the Almighty, with that free-will and free-agency, which are no less unquestionable properties of man ?— Who, in fine, can account, on the principles of mere natural religion, for the introduction of natural and moral evil into the works of a benevolent Creator, whose infinite goodness must necessarily incline him to intend the happiness of all his creatures?
These considerations may serve to shew, and it might be shewn in various other cases, that it is in vain to expect an exemption from difficulty and mystery in any religion whatever. The real truth is, that not only the religion of nature, but the philosophy of nature, the works of nature, the whole face of nature, are full of mystery; we live and move in the midst of mystery,* And if, to avoid this, we have recourse to atheism itself, even that will be found to be more incumbered with difficulties, and to require a greater degree of faith, than all the religions in the world put together.
Let not then the mysteries of the Gospel ever be a rock of offence to you, or in any degree shake the con. stancy of your faith. They are inseparable from any religion that is suited to the nature, to the wants, and to the fallen state of such a creature as man. When once we are convinced that the Scriptures are the word of God, we are then bound to receive with implicit submission, on the sole authority of that word, those sublime truths, which are far beyond the reach of any finite understanding, but which it was natural and reasonable to expect in a revelation pertaining to that incomprehensible Being, whose "greatness is unsearchable, and whose ways are past finding out." Let us not, in short, "exercise ourselves too much and too curiously in great matters, which are too high for us, but refrain
*This M. Voltaire himself acknowledges, and it is a complete answer to all the objections he has made in various parts of his works to the mysteries of revelation. See Questions sur L'Encyclopedie. Article Ame.
"The whole intellectual world is full of truths incomprehensible, and yet incontestible. Such is the doctrine of the existence of God, and such are the mysteries admitted in Protestant communions." Rousseau, v. 2. p. 15.
our souls, and keep them low.* Laying aside all the superfluity of learning, and all the pride of human wisdom, let us hold fast to the profession of our faith, without wavering and without cavilling at what we cannot comprehend. Let us put ourselves, without reserve, into the hands of our heavenly guide, and submit, with boundless confidence, to his direction, who, as he died to save us, will certainly never mislead us. Since we know in whom we believe; since we know that the author of our religion is the Son of God, let us never forget that this gives him a right, a divine right to the obedience of our understandings, as well as to the obedience of our will. Let us therefore resolutely beat down every bold imagination, every high thing that exalteth itself against the mysterious truths of the Gospel; bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, and receiving with meekness the ingrafted word, which is able to save our souls."†
Yet, however firmly we may believe all the great essential doctrines of the Gospel, this alone will not ensuré our salvation, unless to our faith we add obedience to all the laws of Christ. This we are expressly told in the concluding verse of this chapter. After our Lord had prescribed to his disciples the form of words to be used in baptism, he adds, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." As this is the parting direction, the farewel injunction which Jesus left with his disciples just before he ascended into heaven, it shows what peculiar stress he laid upon it. It shows that by making it the conclusion, the winding up as it were, of his Gospel, he meant to express in the strongest manner, the indispensable necessity of a holy life resulting from a vital faith. He meant to intimate to his own disciples, and to the ministers of his Gospel in every future age, that it was to be one principal object of their instructions, and exhortations, to inculcate all the virtues of a Christian life, and an unreserved obedience to all the precepts of their divine Master. And whoever neglects this branch of † James i. 21.
* Psalm cxxxi. 2, 3.
his duty, is guilty of manifesting a marked contempt of the very last command that fell from the lips of his departing Lord.
The few words that follow this command, and which conclude the Gospel of St. Matthew contains a promise full of consolation, not only to the apostles themselves, but to all the ministers of the Gospel in every succeeding age. "And, lo, says our blessed Lord, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." That is, although I am now about to leave you and ascend into heaven, and can no longer be personally present with you, yet the Holy Spirit, whom I have repeatedly promised to send unto you, shall certainly come to supply my place, shall constantly abide with you, and shall enlighten, guide, assist, support, and comfort you to the
end of the world.
Here ends the Gospel of St. Matthew. But it must be observed, that in this last part of our Saviour's history, he has been much more concise than the other evangelists, and has passed over several circumstances which they have recorded, and of which it may be proper to take some notice here, before we close this Lecture. It appears from the other evangelists, and from the Acts of the Apostles, that Jesus continued among his disciples for forty days after his resurrection, giving them repeated and infallible proofs of his being actually raised from the dead, and "speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God."*
In one of these discourses, he took occasion to advert more particularly to those things that were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning him. He showed how exactly and minutely all the predictions respecting him contained in those sacred books were accomplished in his birth, his life, his doctrines, his sufferings, his death, and his reaurrection.
This stamps at once a divine authority on those books, and gives a sanction to the interpretation of the passages alluded to, and the application of them to our
* Luke xxiv. 44. Acts i. 3.
blessed Lord, by our best and most learned expositors.
It is added, that on this occasion he opened their understandings, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name amongst all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."
He entered, we see, at large into the great evangelical doctrines of the atonement, of the redemption of mankind by his death, of the resurrection, of repentance, and the remission of sins through faith in his name. These are most important topics, and his illustration of them to his disciples must have opened to them an invaluable treasure of divine knowledge. And as these doctrines are but briefly touched upon in the Gospels, and more fully unfolded and explained in the Acts and the Epistles, it is highly probable that a very considerable part, if not the whole of what passed in these discourses of our Lord to his disciples after his resurrection, is faithfully preserved and detailed in those inspired writings. This places in a very strong light the high importance of those writings, and the high rank they ought to hold in our estimation, as forming an essential part of the Christian system, and completing the code of doctrines and of duties contained in that divine revelation.
It is remarkable also, that St. Matthew has made no mention of the concluding act of our Lord's life on earth, his ascension into heaven. The reason of this omission it is not perhaps very easy to assign, nor is it necessary. We know, that in several other instances various circumstances are omitted by one evangelist: which are supplied by the rest, and others passed over by those which are noticed by the former; a plain proof by the way that they did not write in concert with each other, but each related his own story, and selected such facts and events as appeared to him most deserving of notice.