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This, therefore, is the truth to be illustrated in the present discourse,
That God exhibits Christ before the minds of men, in order to try their hearts and fix their future state.
This subject naturally divides itself into two branches, which require a distinct consideration.
1. Let us consider, that God exhibits Christ before the minds of men, in order to try their hearts.
1. The truth of this observation appears from what the prophets foretold concerning the feelings and conduct of men towards the Messiah, when he should make his appearance in the flesh, and perform his mediatorial work among them. David predicted, that he would alarm the fears, and awaken the enmity and opposition of the world against him. “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” After this, he foretold the language and feelings of Christ under the cruel hands of his implacable enemies. In the name of the suffering Saviour he said, “Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. The assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture." This was a plain prediction of the feelings and conduct of the crucifiers of Christ, who were highly incensed against him, on account of the - doctrines which he taught, and the claims which he made to equality with the Father. Isaiah also foretold the contempt and cruelty with which Christ would be treated, in the days of his humanity. “He shall grow up as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness: and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our face from him: he was despised, and we esteemed him not. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” The prophets were inspired to foretel these effects of Christ's appearance in the flesh, because God intended, by bringing him into the world, to try the hearts of men, and draw forth those feelings which they really possessed, but were unwilling to acknowledge.
2. It appears from the history of Christ, that he fulfilled the predictions which went before concerning him, and tried the hearts of all, who either heard him preach, or saw his miracles, or were any way acquainted with him. He was a sign universally spoken against. Herod and all Jerusalem were alarmed at the news of his birth, and began to speak and act against him, even before they saw him. When he appeared as a preacher, he tried the hearts of all who attended his public or private discourses. Some said, he spake as never man spake; but others said, he deceived the people. Some heard him gladly; but others heard him with disgust and indignation. Some admired his miracles; but others despised and blasphemed them. Some said, God was with him; but others said, he was assisted by Satan. He tried multitudes by his crucifixion, as well as by his miracles and
preaching. Then, like a sword, he pierced the heart of his mother, and of his peculiar friends and followers. Then, he tried the hearts of the two malefactors, who suffered and died by his side. Then, he tried the hearts of his murderers, and made it appear,
that they were more cruel than the savage beasts of prey. Then, he tried the hearts of all the spectators of that solemn scene, who were very differently affected by the awful spectacle of his death. He constrained them all to express their real feelings on that extraordinary occasion. While some railed and some mocked, the centurion glorified God, saying, certainly this was a righteous man. And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things that were done, smote their breasts, and returned. Christ was like a fuller's
and a refiner's fire. He tried the hearts of thousands, both while he lived and when he died. He was always saying, or doing something, which had a direct tendency to try the hearts of all his friends and foes.
3. The exhibition of Christ after his death through the medium of the gospel, tried the hearts of the whole Jewish nation. When the day of Pentecost was fully come, and the apostles were properly prepared to exhibit a crucified Saviour, his character impressed the minds and tried the hearts of all who heard them preach. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were universally affected. While thousands believed and rejoiced, fear came upon every soul, who despised and rejected the offers of mercy in the name of Christ. While some rose and some fell; while some were enlightened and some blinded; while some praised and some blasphemed the divine Redeemer, every heart in Jerusalem was tried. After this, the gospel was carried to Samaria, and to all parts of Judea, where it produced the same different effects, which it had pro. duced in Jerusalem. It tried the hearts of believers and of unbelievers, and completely prepared the nation in general to be cut off and dispersed through the world. The exhibition of Christ, by the gospel, disclosed the secrets of their hearts, demonstrated their blindness, stupidity, and unbelief, which justified God in taking the gospel from them, and sending it to other nations, who would give it a better reception. And when the apostles carried the gospel to other nations, and exhibited the character of Christ before them, he was precious to those who believed; but to those who disbelieved, he was a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence. So that he was for the falling and rising of many among the Gentiles, as well as among the Jews.
4. Ever since the days of the Apostles, the character of Christ displayed in the gospel, has tried the hearts of the whole Christian world. Though many nations and kingdoms have been gospelized, yet only a few individuals have sincerely embraced the Saviour. Myriads and myriads of mankind, in the course of near two thousand years, have been invited to believe in Christ, but yet have despised him, and practically judged themselves unworthy of eternal life. The hearts of all these have been tried, and proved to be totally corrupt, by exhibiting Christ crucified before their eyes. How many have risen by looking to Christ? and how many have fallen, by looking from him? But none have believed nor disbelieved, and none have risen nor fallen, differently from what God intended, by the exhibition of Christ through the gospel
5. Itappe ars' from the very character of Christ, that he cannot be exhibited to the minds of men, with
out trying their hearts. His character, above all others, is adapted to draw forth the feelings of the human heart. It is not only supremely excellent, but infinitely interesting to all intelligent beings, and especially to mankind. None of the human race can view it with indifference. The child that was born in Bethlehem, that was consecrated to God in the temple, that came to manhood in Nazareth, that preached in Judea, that died without the gates of Jerusalem, that arose from the dead, and ascended up to heaven; that very same person was the mighty God, the Prince of peace, the Lord of glory, the Governour of the universe, and the supreme Judge of all intelligent and accountable creatures. Every human heart must be for, or against this great and illustrious Personage. Wherever he is exhibited in all his excellencies, offices, and designs, he must necessarily try the hearts of men in some very important respects.
And, first, in regard to God. In Christ dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. He is the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his
person. Though united with humanity, he necessarily possesses and displays all the perfections of his Father. This justified him in saying to his disciples, “If ye
had known me, ye should have known my Father also.” Wherever Christ is exhibited, he reveals the character and counsels of God. “The Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, hath declared him." God, therefore, by exhibiting Christ in the gospel, tries the hearts of men in respect to himself. He certainly made it appear, that the Jews were his enemies, by: the instrumentality of Christ. They had long professed to be the friends of God, and to desire the coming of the promised Messiah; but when he came and displayed his Father's character, they fully mani