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experience the severest marks of divine displeasure. The world indeed, treats them with more indulgence. They are excused and palliated, and even defended on the ground of human frailty, of natural constitution, of strong passions, and invincible temptations; and they are generally considered and represented in various popular performances (especially in those imported from foreign countries) as associated with many amiable virtues, with goodness of heart, with high principles of honour, with benevolence, compassion, humanity, and generosity. But whatever gentle names may be given to sensuality and licentiousness, whatever specious apologies may be made for them, whatever wit or talents may be employed in rendering them popular and fashionable, whatever numbers, whatever examples may sanction or authorize them, it is impossible that any thing can do away their natural turpitude and deformity, or avert those punishments which the Gospel has denounced against them. They are represented there as things that ought not even to be named among Christians, as defiling the man, as warring against the soul, as grieving the Spirit of God, as rendering men incapable of inheriting the kingdom of heaven, as exposing them to the indignation of Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.* And as if men had endeavoured in those days as well as in our own, to soften and to extenuate and explain away the guilt of licentiousness, the apostle adds, with great solemnity and great earnestness, “ Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”+
Let every man then that pretends to be a Christian, and lives in the habitual practice of the vices here condemned, weigh well these tremendous words. If there be any truth in the Gospel, they will not be vain words ; nor will offences of this nature ever pass unnoticed or unpunished by the righteous Governor of the world.
These remarks are not introduced here without reason. It is the peculiar prevalence of these very vices at this moment which demands such animadversions as these ; a prevalence which I infer not merely from an imaginary estimate of the low state of morals amongst us, founded on rumour, on conjècture, or misconstruction, but from facts too well ascertained, and which obtrude themselves on the notice of every observing mind. I mean those daring violations of the nuptial
* Ephes. v. 3. Matth. xv. 18. Habak, i, 13 + Ephes. v. 6.
1 Pet. ii. 11. 1 Cor. vi. 9. 10. In the Spring of the year 1800.. * Jer. v. 9.
contract, and the frequent divorces resulting from them, which seem daily gaining ground in this kingdom.
This is a most melancholy and incontrovertible proof of increasing depravity amongst us, and I am sorry to add, of depravity of the very deepest dye ; for instances have not long since occurred, in which the guilt of the parties too nearly resembled that of Herod, combining the two atrocious crimes of adultery and incest! Surely such enormities as these are enough to make us tremble, and loudly call for the interposition of the legislature, lest they bring down upon us the just vengeance of an offended God. “ Shall I not visit for these things, saith the Lord! Shail not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this ?»!*
Another reflection arising from this short history of Herod and John the Baptist, is this : that although, in the ordinary course of divine administration, the punishment of the wicked does not always overtake them here, but is reserved for the last awful day of account; yet it sometimes happens (as I observed in my last Lecture) that their crimes draw after them their just recompence, even in the present life. This was eminently the case of the flagitious Herod ; for besides those terrors of conscience, which, as we have seen, perpetually haunted him, which raised up before him terrific forms and agonizing apprehensions, and represented John the Baptist as risen from the dead to avenge his crimes ; we are informed by the historian, that his marriage with Herodias drew upon him the resentment of Aretas, king of Arabia Petræa, the father of his first wife, who declared war against him, and, in an engagement with Herod's army, defeated it with great slaughter. This, says the historian, the Jews considered as a just judgment of God upon Herod for his murder of John the Baptist. And not long after this, both he and Herodias were deprived of their kingdom by the Roman emperor, and sent into perpetual banishment. And it is added by another historian, that their daughter Salome met with a violent and untimely death. Instances like this are intended to show, that the Governor of the universe, though he has appointed a distant period for the general distribution of his rewards and punishments, yet, in extraordinary cases, he will sometimes interpose to chastise the bold offender, to assert his superintending providence and supreme dominion over all his creatures, and to give them the most awful proofs that, from his all-searching eye, no wickedness can be concealed.
t Jos. Ant. L. xviii. c. 5. 8. 1. 2. | Nicephori. Hist. Eccles. L. l. p. 89.
The remaining part of this chapter is occupied with the recital of two miracles, on which I have only to observe, that they have both of them a spiritual as well as a literal meaning, are both of a very extraordinary nature, as calculated to make, as they did, a most powerful impression on the minds of the spectators; these were, the feeding above five thousand persons with five loaves and two fishes, and our Saviour's walking on the sea. The first of these had a reference to that spiritual food, that celestial manna, that bread of life, which our Lord was then dispensing in such abundance to those that hungered and thirsted after righteousness. The other was meant to encourage the great principle of faith ; of trust and reliance upon God, in opposition to that self-confidence, that high opinion of our own strength, which we are too apt to entertain, and to which St. Peter, above all the other apostles, was peculiarly liable. When, therefore, in consequence of his own request, he was permitted to go to Jesus on the water, and forgetting immediately who was his guide and support, began to be afraid and to sink, and called out to his divine master to save him, our Lord graciously stretched forth his hand and caught him, and said unto him, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt ?” A reproof well calculated to convince him that it was not in proportion to his own natural strength, but according to the degree of his faith, that he must rise or sink. And what he says to Peter, he says to all who waver in their belief: “O ye of little faith, why do
But there is another circumstance belonging to these miracles, which is of great importance; they are very extraordinary and astonishing instances of our Lord's power over nature, and of such a kind as to admit of no possibility of being counterfeited. And accordingly we find that although some cheats have pretended to cure diseases miraculously, and some have even attempted to raise the dead, yet no impostor, I believe, has ever yet been so bold as to undertake to feed five thousand people at once with five loaves and two fishes, or to walk upon the sea.
And the reason is plain. It would not be very easy to persuade five thousand people that they had been plentifully fed, when in fact they had received no nourishment at all; and it would be rather too dangerous an experiment for any man, not really supported by the hand of God, to attempt walking on the sea, when he cannot but know that the loss of life must be the inevitable consequence of it. Indeed this act has always been considered as utterly beyond all human power to achieve; accordingly two feet walking upon water, was an Egyptian hieroglyphic to denote impossibility. And Job represents the power of treading on the waves of the sea, as a distinguishing mark and attribute of the Deity.* Yet this did Jesus do; this impossibility did he accomplish: a most incontestible proof that God was with him. And in fact, this miracle seems to have made a stronger impression on the minds of his disciples than any other recorded in the gospels, even than that of raising the dead; for we are told in St. Mark,t that when our Lord went up into the ship from walking on the sea, the disciples were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. The words in the original are still stronger; and indeed so strong, that it is impossible for the English language to express all their force. In comparison of his miracle, even that of the loaves and the fishes seems to have appeared nothing in the eyes of the disciples ; for St. Mark tells us, that they considered not the miracle of the loaves, for their heart was hardened; but at the act of walking on the sea they were amazed beyond measure ; they were overwhelmed and overcome with this astonishing display of divine power; they fell instantly at the feet of Jesus, and worshipped him ; and exclaimed, as every one who considers this stupendous miracle must do, “Of a truth thou art the Son of God!"
I SHALL now request your attention to a very remarkable part of our Saviour's history, that which is called by the evan. gelist his transfiguration, and which is related in the seventeenth chapter of St. Matthew. It so happens, that many years ago I turned my thoughts very much to this particular subject in the sacred writings, and ventured (though without my name) to lay my sentiment concerning it before the public. I could have wished therefore to have excused myself from repeating here any part of what I have said elsewhere, and to have passed over this incident unnoticed. But when I considered that this transaction is of a very peculiar and extraordinary nature ; that there are circumstances attending it which cannot fail to excite the curiosity of an inquisitive mind ; that there are difficulties in it which stand in need of a solution, and conclusions to be drawn from it of considerable utility and importance; when I considered further, tinat much the greatest part of this audience had probably never seen or even heard of what I had formerly written on this subject; I determined not to omit so material a part of the task I am engaged in, but to give you what I conceive to be a true explanation of this interesting event. And I now feel the less difficulty in doing this, because, upon a careful review of that interpretation, after an interval of twelve years, I am still convinced of its truth, and have had the additional satisfaction of finding it confirmed by the authority of some learned and judicious commentators, whose opinions on one or two leading principles coincide with my own; but whose observations I had not seen (having consulted but very few expositors on the subject) when my essay went to the press.
The relation of this singular transaction is given us by three out of four evangelists. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and alluded to in the writings of the fourth. They all agree in the main points. There is no material variation, and not the least contradiction between them. But, as is very natural, where different persons relate the same fact (and as indeed must ge