網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

ed with the subject, should ever have thought of writing against Christianity.

Among the charges which the author of “ Not Paul but Jesus," whom for the sake of brevity I shall call Gamaliel, alleges against Paul, one is, that he tyrannized over the other apostles and taught a doctrine different from the gospel which they had received from Jesus. To prove the futility of this charge, it is necessary to show briefly what it is that our Lord has taught, and what was that anti-apostolic doctrine called antichrist, which his accuser imputes to the apostle.

The system of moral and religious instruction which Christ has revealed or sanctioned, may be comprehended under the following heads :

1. That there exists but one God, the creator and governor of the universe, perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness. This doctrine was not new; it was the fundamental principle of the religion of Moses and the prophets. But Jesus improved and perfected it by representing the Great Supreme under the character of Father, not confining his care and providence to one peo. ple, but extending his love and protection, without distinction and without partiality, to all mankind.

2. That man, being endued with reason, is an accountable being; that every individual shall hereafter appear before the tribunal of his Maker and moral Governor to account for the use of the talents with which he is intrusted.

This doctrine, if not entirely new, was a vast improvement on the vague notions which had hitherto prevailed on this important subject. The Gentiles hoped to appease their gods by ablutions, by superstitious rites and sacrifices in which those divinities were thought to share; while the Jews, at the tribunal of their Judge expected to find favour as the descendants of Abraham, or to be acquitted on the great day of trial for a strict compli. ance with those external ordinances, which, because they were ordained by the law, were pompously called works of the law, though, contrary to their original intention, they were separated from the great duties of morality. These abuses, which were pushed to the utmost extent by the priests and Pharisees in the days of our Saviour, are swept away in the Gospel; and every member, whether high or low in the scale of society, is taught to expect that he shall be tried according to his works ; that

every man who worketh righteousness is to be accepted of his final Judge; while indignation and wrath await the impenitent, whether Jew or Greek. Accordingly, piety to God, resignation to his will, benevolence, purity of heart, and the regulation of our thoughts; patience under sufferings, the restraining of the angry passions, envy and revenge ; forgiveness of injuries, humility, and superiority to the world, with a readiness to do all the good in our power, especially to those in difficulty and distress ;-these virtues are held forth in the preaching and example of Christ as the only terms of salvation, and the only solid grounds of hope for acceptance in the great day of universal retribution.' Jesus, aware of the propensity of the Jews on the one hand to substitute the form of godliness for piety and benevolence; and anticipating on the other the introduction of creeds and articles of faith under a corrupt state of his religion, appears to have been extremely anxious to define and illustrate the terms on which men may hope to be saved. This anxiety pressed closer to his heart, as he drew nearer to the termination of his ministry; and we owe to it his reply to the question on the part of a rich Pharisee, “What shall I do to be saved ?" the beautiful parables of the Virgins, and of the Talents, and more especially his simple yet magnificent representation of the last judgment, in which the righteous are rewarded, not because they profess any particular tenets, or belong to any particular church, but solely because they fulfill. ed as men the duties of humanity; while, on the contra

[ocr errors]

ry, the wicked are sent to a place of punishment only for the neglect of them.

3. The doctrine of a future state, founded on the supposed immortality of the soul, generally prevailed among mankind in Gentile countries as well as in Judea. The best and wisest among the heathen philosophers argued and wrote in support of it. Legislators and magistrates inculcated it as useful and even necessary to the order and prosperity of the community. The priests of every description enjoined it as a fundamental article of their religion; nor did the Epicureans refuse an outward submission to the popular notion, however they might deride or argue against it among themselves. This doctrine must appear to have been highly favourable to the propagation of the gospel, if Christ and his apostles thought fit to avail themselves of it. When arraigned or opposed in their disputes with the heathens, they might have cited with great effect the authority of Pythagoras or of Socrates: they might have appealed to the writings of Plato, of Aristotle, and of Cicero, as teaching tenets essentially the same with their own. But it is a remarkable fact, that the preachers of the new faith, notwithstanding the overwhelming difficulties they had to encounter, scrupulously abstained from a line of conduct, which could not have failed to prove advantageous to their cause. Their Divine Master knew, that if they held forth to man a future state of existence, because the soul of man is immaterial and immortal; the sacrifices which they made, however great, in the fulfilment of their commission, would prove only the sincerity, not the truth, of their belief. Discarding therefore the popular notion of the immortality of the human soul, as unworthy of their attention, he directed their views to his own resurrection, (a fact on which, when fulfilled, they could not have been mistaken,) as a proof and a pledge of the resurrection of all mankind. Our blessed Lord did not indeed discover the doctrine of a future state, but he placed it on a new and

solid foundation ; and hence he is emphatically said to have brought life and immortality to light. Hence the death and resurrection of Jesus are to be considered as the peculiar and fundamental doctrine of the gospel. Resting on the testimony of the senses, and enforced withal by a collective mass of evidence, to which there is nothing parallel in the history of the world; these facts became in the hands of the apostles an efficacious principle of conduct. They called upon all men to repent and reform by the most animating and powerful motives. To the penitent they held forth the placability of God, the forgiveness of those sins that are forsaken, and the sure and certain hope of glory, honour, and immortality, as the reward of moral obedience, while indignation and wrath await the obstinately incorrigible. So powerful were these calls, connected as they were with matters of fact, that they reached the hearts of those who were dead in trespasses and sins; and after, as it were, a long and dreary slumber, rose to a new life of virtue with the beauty and mildness of the returning spring.

4. After the advent of Christ, Judaism was considered under the figure of a living being, having a body or soul, flesh or spirit. A literal interpretation of Moses and the Prophets formed the body of this religion, while the metaphorical introduced by Jesus constituted its spirit. On the former interpretation were grounded the expectation of a temporal prince, the establishment of an universal empire over the nations of the earth under the banners of a victorious Messiah, the perpetuity of the temple with all its splendid and costly worship. Judaism, in this respect, Jesus completely abolished ; and he substituted a refined and spiritual Judaism, which supposed not a temporal but a spiritual prince reigning in the understandings and hearts of his subjects; which held forth a Saviour sent not to destroy but to save the world; and which invited the Gentiles to share on

equal terms in the privileges of the Jews, without even adopting the rites and institutions of Moses. “This doctrine,” says Paley, “was equally harsh and novel. The extending of the kingdom of God to those who did not conform to the law of Moses, was a notion that had never before entered into the thought of a Jew.” This doctrine was not merely harsh and novel, but it divided the whole Jewish nation into two parties : and when the priests and rulers of Judea saw their fondest hopes thus likely to be frustrated by a new construction put upon their sacred writings, they persecuted and branded the authors not only as heretics but as blasphemers of God and his temple.

5. When Jesus commissioned his apostles to preach the gospel, he seems to have made them sensible of the propriety of confining their discourses to the doctrine which they had received from him, without entering into dispute with their adversaries about the objects of their worship. Thus he instructed them to inculcate on their hearers, the existence and government of one true God; the certainty of a future state; the necessity of repentance and reformation as preparatory to final retribution. His own example had already illustrated the wisdom and utility of this precaution. Our Lord had no object nearer his heart than the destruction of idolatry, and of the immoral practices which it entailed on its votaries; yet during the whole of his ministry, he never gave a hint that this was his ultimate end, until the time was ripe for its accomplishment; and even then his commission to the apostles was “to go, not to destroy the gods of the nations, but to initiate the nations in the knowledge of one common Father-to bless and reform them with the gospel of his Son, and finally to sanctify and confirm them by the gift of the Holy Spirit. In a word, his advice to them seems to have been to communicate to the people whom they addressed, a few momentous truths, which when received could not fail to undermine

« 上一頁繼續 »