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In the present case it is sufficient for our satisfaction that the ascension is related by two of the evangelists, St. Mark and St. Luke. The latter of these tells us in his Gospel, and in the Acts, "that Jesus led out his apostles (and the disciples that were with them) to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands and blessed them. And it came to pass while he blessed them he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven, and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly towards heaven, as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God."*
The last observation I have to make is, that neither St. Matthew, nor any other of the evangelists, have given us a full and complete history of every thing that our Saviour did during the whole course of his ministry; but have only recorded the most important and the most remarkable of his transactions and his miracles. Besides, therefore, the many irresistible proofs we already possess of his divine wisdom and almighty power, there are many others still remaining behind which might have been produced, but which the evangelists did not think it necessary to specify; for St, John, in the 20th chapter of his Gospel, makes this remarkable declaration:" Many other signs truly (says he) did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name." God grant that this effect may be produced on all who now hear me; otherwise my la. bours, and their attendance, will have been in vain!
* Luke, xxiv. 50-58
I have now brought these Lectures to a conclusion, and must here take my final leave of you. It was my original intention and my wish to have proceeded next to the Acts of the Apostles, which contain the history of the first propagation of the Christian religion, and the astonishing progress it made through a large part of the world, by the preaching of the apostles and their coadjutors, after our Lord's departure into heaven: but I must not now venture into so large a field. Circumstanced as I am, it would be presumption in me to expect either that God would grant me time to accomplish so arduous a work, or that you would have perseverance to bear with me to the conclusion. I must here, therefore close my labours, at least in this place; and must now, for the last time, implore you to think and to meditate again and again on the important and interesting truths which have been unfolded to you in the course of these Lectures, and to form them into principles of action, and rules of conduct, for the regulation and direction of the remaining part of your lives.
In the history of our Lord, as given by St. Matthew, of which I have detailed the most essential parts, such a scene has been presented to your observation, as cannot but have excited sensations of a very serious and very awful nature in your minds. You cannot but have seen that the divine Author of our religion, is beyond comparison, the most extraordinary and most important personage, that ever appeared on this habitable globe. His birth, his life, his doctrines, his precepts, his miracles, his sufferings, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, are all without a parallel in the history of mankind. He called himself the Son of God, the Messiah predicted in the prophets, the great Redeemer and Deliverer of mankind, promised in the sacred writings, through successive ages, almost from the foundation of the world. He supported these great characters with uniformity, with consistence, and with dignity, throughout the whole course of his ministry. The work he undertook was the greatest and most astonish
ing that can be conceived, and such as before never entered into the imagination of man. It was nothing less than the conversion of a whole world from the grossest ignorance, the most abandoned wickedness, and the most sottish idolatry, to the knowledge of the true God, to a pure and holy religion, and to faith in him, who was THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. He proved himself to have a commission from heaven, for those great purposes, by such demonstrations of divine wisdom, power, and goodness, as it is impossible for any fair and ingenuous, and unprejudiced mind to resist. Of all this you have seen abundant instances in the course of these Lectures: and when all these circumstances are collected into one point of view, they present such a body of evidence, as must overpower by its weight all the trivial difficulties and objections that the wit of man can raise against the divine authority of the Gospel.
Consider in the first place, the transcendent excellence of our Lord's character, so infinitely beyond that of every other moral teacher; the gentleness, the calmness, the composure, the dignity, the integrity, the spotless sanctity of his manners, so utterly inconsistent wirh every idea of enthusiasm or imposture; the compassion, the kindness, the tenderness he expressed for the whole human race, even for the worst of sinners, and the bitterest of his enemies; the perfect command he had over his own passions; the temper he preserved under the severest provocations; the patience, the meekness with which he endured the cruellest insults, and the grossest indignities; the fortitude he displayed under the most excruciating torments; the sublimity and importance of his doctrines; the consummate wisdom and purity of his moral precepts, far exceeding the natural powers of a man born in the humblest situation, and in a remote and obscure corner of the world, without learning, education, languages, or books. Consider further the minute description of all the most material circumstances of his birth, life, sufferings, death, and resurrection, given by the ancient prophets, many
hundred years before he was born, and exactly fulfilled in him, and him only; the many astonishing miracles wrought by him in the open face of day, before thousands of spectators, the reality of which is proved by multitudes of the most unexceptionable witnesses, who sealed their testimony with their blood, and was even acknowledged by the earliest and most inveterate enemies of the Gospel. Above all, consider those two most remarkable occurrences in the history of our Lord, which have been particularly enlarged upon in these Leciures, and are alone sufficient to establish the divinity of his person and of his religion; I mean his wonderful prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, with every minute circumstance attending it; and that astonishing and well authenticated miracle of his resurrection from the grave, which was in the last Lecture set before you: and when you lay all these things together, and weigh them deliberately and impartially, your minds must be formed in a very peculiar manner indeed, if they are not most thorough ly impressed with faith in the Son of God, and the Gospel which he taught.
Taking it then for granted, that you firmly believe the Scripture to be the Word of God, that of course they contain those heavenly doctrines and rules of life by which you are to be guided here and saved hereafter; that the present scene is nothing more than a state of trial and probation for another world; that all mankind must rise from the grave, and stand before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive from his lips their final doom that there is NO OTHER NAME GIVEN UNDER HEAVEN BY WHICH YOU CAN BE SAVED, BUT THAT
OF JESUS ONLY; no other possible way of escaping the punishments, or obtaining the rewards of the Christian covenant, but faith in Christ, reliance on his merits, and an earnest endeavor to practise every virtue and fulfil every duty prescribed in his Gospel; taking it for granted that you believe all these things to be true, let me then ask you, what is the course oflife which every wise man, which every man of common sense, must
feel himself irresistibly called upon to pursue? Is it possible that with such awful, such divine truths as these, deeply impressed upon your souls, you can allow yourselves to be so entirely occupied with the various pursuits of this life, as to exclude I will not say all thought (for that is impossible) but all serious solicitude concerning your future and eternal destiny? Are there any delights that this world has to offer, that can compensate for the loss of heaven? Some of you have perhaps run your career of power, of pleasure, of gaiety, of luxury, of glory, and of fame, and can tell the true amount, the real value of these enjoyments. Say then honestly, whether any one of them has answered your expectations: whether they have left your minds perfectly content and satisfied; whether they have proved so solid, so durable, so perfect, as to be worth purchasing at the expence of eter nal happiness? I will venture to abide by your answer, trust then to your own experience, and be no longer the dupes of illusions which have so long misled you. And if you have any feeling, any pity for the young, the thoughtless, and the inexperienced, let them profit by the instructions the salutary lessons you are so well qualified to give them; let your warning voice restrain them from rushing headlong into those errors, into which you have perhaps been unfortunately betrayed. Tell them (for you know it to be true,) that whatever flattering prospects the world may present to their ardent imaginations at their first entrance into life, there is no solid ground for permanent comfort and content of mind, but a conscientious discharge of their duty to God and man, an anxious endeavor to recommend themselves to the favor of the Almighty, and a hope of pardon and acceptance through the merits of their Redeemer. These alone can smooth the path of life and the bed of death; these alone can bring a man peace at the last.
Reflections such as these must, in all times, and under all circumstances, operate most powerfully on every considerate mind; but they receive tenfold weight from the peculiar complexion of the present period, and the awful situation into which, by the dispen