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wrath came upon them to the uttermost; they saw the temple in which they had trusted, and which they liad profaned, destroyed by fire, and the greater part of them perished. But a remnant of them was purified. We read, that after his ascension, a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.* And his aposựles and disciples were sent forth with a new spirit, and in new character, to offer and to serve in righteousness. The purport of this passage has been repeatedly exemplified under the Christian dispensation. A declension from the simplicity and purity of worship, principles, and morals, was visible very early in the church. The progress of it was rapid, especially from the time of Constantine. When persecution ceased, and a tide of wealth and worldly honours flowed in upon those who, by their profession, were bound to be patterns of humility and selfdenial to others; from that period till the Reformation, ecclesiastical history affords us little more than a detail of such instances of pride, intrigue, oppression, and cruelty, under the pretext of religion, as had not been known among the Heathens. And the nations which were relieved from the chains and darkness of Popery at the Reformation, did not long preserve much more zhan a name and a form to distinguish them. In most countries the state became the idol of the church, and the church the creature of the state. How it is with us in this nation, I need vot say. Facts speak for themselves. It is a mournful fact that the ministry is become contemptible ; nor is it difficult to assign the cause. But we are favoured with the Gospel, and are eye-witnesses of its purifying power. It still produces the effects which marked its progress when it was preached by the apostles. It enlightens the dark mind, softens the hard beart, heals the wounded spirit; and many persons who before were burdensome to society, are rendered by it ornamental and useful. When every other argument and motive has failed of success, the consideration of the mercies of God in Christ, revealed by the Gospel, constrains the believing sinner to present bimself a living, willing, holy sacrifice unto God. Thus, being purified by the blood of Jesus, he offers to the Lord a sacrifice in righteousness. Such principles and aims are essential to a Christian minister. He knows the terrors of the Lord, and has tasted his goodness. He is constrained by love, the love of Christ, and the love of souls. He preaches, as the apostle did, Jesus Christ, and him crucified ; a subject which, though despised and reproached by the formal Jew and the sceptical Greek, is evidenced, by its efficacy, to be the wisdom and power of God.
Such ministers may be, and frequently are,
* Acts, vi. 5.
depreciated and disregarded ; but they cannot be contemptible until integrity, benevolence, and usefulness, are the proper objects of contempt.
IsAlAy vii. 14.
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name,
IMMANUEL, God with US.
THERE is a signature of wisdom and power impressed upon the works of God, which evidently distinguishes them from the feeble imitations of men. Not only the splendour of the sun, but the gliminering light of the glow-worm, proclaims his glory. The structure and growth of a blade of grass are the effects of the same power which produced the fabric of the heavens and the earth. In his word, likewise, he is inimitable. He has a style and manner peculiarly his own. What he is pleased to declare of himself by the prophet, may be prefixed as a proper motto to the whole revelation of his will in the Bible. My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.'* This superiority of his thoughts to ours, causes a proportionable difference in his manner of operation. His ways are above our conceptions, and often contrary to them. He sometimes produces great effects, by means which, to us, appear unsuitable and weak. Thus he gave Gideon a complete victory, not by providing him an army equal to that of the enemy, but by three hundred men furnished with earthen pitchers and lamps. At other times the greatness of his preparations, intimates that there are difficulties in the case, insuperable to any power but his own, where our narrow apprehensions, until enlightened and enlarged by his teaching, can scarcely perceive any difficulty. It is eminently so with respect to the restoration of fallen man to bis favour. We have but slight thoughts of his holiness, and, therefore, are but slightly affected by the evil of sin. But
* Isa. lv. 8, 9.
Judges, vii. 19,20.
though he be rich in mercy, no wisdom but his own could have proposed an expedient, whereby the exercise of his mercy toward siuners might be made to correspond with his justice and truth, and with the honour of his moral government. His Gospel reveals this expedient, and points out a way in which mercy and truth meet together ; and his inflexible righteousness is displayed in perfect harmony with the peace of sinners who submit to his appointment; and thus God appears, not only gracious, but just, in receiving them to favour. This is the greatest of all bis works, and exhibits the most glorious discovery of his character and perfections. The means are answerable to the grandeur of the design, and are summarily expressed in my text.
I shall not take up your time with attempting to clear the difficulties which have been observed in the context. suffice for my purpose to affirm, that this passage expressly and exclusively refers to Messias ; for which my warrant is, the authority of the evangelists Matthew and Luke,* who directly apply it to him, and assure us that it was accomplished in him. If sinners are to be saved, without injury to the honour of his law and government, (and otherwise they must perish,) two things are necessary.
I. That 'a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a son.'
. II. That this son of the virgin shall have a just right to be called Immanuel, God with us.
1. “A virgin sball conceive, and bring forth a son.' The Mediator, the surety for sinful men, must himself be a man.
Because those whom he came to redeem were partakers of flesh and blood, he therefore took part of the same. Had not Messiah engaged for us, and appeared in our nature, a case would have occurred, which I thiok we may warrantably deem incongruous to the Divine Wisdom. I mean, that while fire and hail, snow and vapour, and the stormy wind fulfil the will of God; while the brutes are faithful to the instincts implanted in them by their Maker ; a whole species of intelligent beings would have fallen short of the original law and design of their creation, and, indeed, have acted in direct and continual opposition to it. For the duty of man, to love, serve, and trust God with all his heart and mind, and to love his neighbour as himself, is founded in the very nature and constitution of things, and necessarily results from bis relation to God, and his absolute dependence on him as a creature. Such a disposition must undoubtedly have been natural to man before his fall, as it is for a bird to Ay, or a fish to swim. The prohibitory form of the law delivered to Israel from Mount Sinai,
* Matth. j. 23. Luke, i. 31, 32.
is a sufficient intimation that it was designed for sinners. Surely our first parents, while in a state of innocence, could not stand in need of warnings and threatenings to restrain them from worshipping idols, or profaning the name of the Great God wbom they loved. Nor would it have been necessary to forbid murder, adultery, or injustices, if his posterity had continued under the law of their creation, the law of love. But the first act of disobedience degraded and disabled man, detached him from his proper centre, if I may so speak, and incapacitated him both for his duty and his happiness. After his fall it became impossible for either Adam or bis posterity to obey the law of God. But Messiau fulfilled it exactly as a man, and the principles of it are renewed, by the power of his grace, in all who believe on bim. And though their best endeavours fall short, his obedience to it is accepted on their behalf ; and he will at length perfectly restore them to their primitive order and honour. When they shall see him as he is, they will be like him, and ali their powers and faculties will be perfectly conformed to his image.
Again, Messiah must not only be a man, but a partaker of our very nature. It had been equally easy to the power of God to have formed the body of the second Adam, as be formed the first, out of the dust of the earth. But though, in this way he would have been a true and perfect man, he would not have been more nearly related to us than to the angels. Therefore, when • God sent forth his Son to be made under the law, to redeem us from the curse of the law, that we inight receive the adoption of children,'* and be re-admitted into his happy family, he was made of a woman.' Thus he became our Goel, our near kinsman, with whom the right of redemption lay.
But further, if he bad derived his human nature altogether in the ordinary way, from sinful parents, we see not how he could have avoided a participation in that defilement and depravity which the fall of Adam had entailed upon all his posterity. But his body, that holy thing conceived and born of a virgin, was the immediate production of God. Therefore he was perfectly pure and spotless, and qualified to be such a high priest as became ns, boly, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners :'t who needed not, as the typical high priest of Israel, 'to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sin, and then for the sins of the people.'I These difficulties were obviated by a virgin's conceiving and bearing a son. His obedience was without defect, bis nature without blemish, and having no sin of his own, when lie voluntarily offered himself to make an atonement for the sins of his peo
* Gal. iv. 4, 5.
# IIeb. vii. 26.
* Heb. vii. 27.
ple, his sacrifice was, so far, answerable to the strict and extensive demands of the law and justice of God.
Let us make a solemn pause, and call upon our souls to admire and adore the wisdom and power of God in this appointment. Thus, 'the Lord created a new thing upon the earth!
II. But surely our admiration and gratitude will be raised still higher, if we rightly understand the latter part of my text. This son of the virgin shall be called . Immanuel, God with us.' Though the human nature of Christ was absolutely perfect, his obedience commensurate to the utmost extent of the law, and his substitution and sufferings for sinners voluntary ; yet, had he been no more than a man, he would not have been equal to the great undertaking of saving sinners. A due consideration of the majesty, holiness, authority, and goodness of God, will make sin appear to be, as the apostle expresses it 'exceedingly sinful.'* Whoever has a right sense of the nature and effects of that rebellion against the Most High, which the Scripture intends by the term Sin, will not need many arguments to convince him, that the Mediator between God and man, must be possessed of such dignity and power, as cannot be attributed to a creature, without destroying the idea of a created and dependent being, by ascribing to him those perfections which are incommunicably divine.
If Messiah had been a sinless and perfect man, and no more, he might bave yielded a complete obedience to the will of God, but it could have been only for bimself. The most excellent and exalted creature cannot exceed the law of his creation. As a creature, he is bound to serve God with his all, and his obligations will always be equal to his ability. But an obedience acceptable and available for others, for thousands and millions, for all who are willing to plead it, must be connected with a nature which is not thus necessarily bound. A sinner, truly convinced of his obnoxiousness to the displeasure of God, must sink into despair, notwithstanding the intimation of a Saviour, if he were not assured by the Scripture, that it was a divine person in the human nature who engaged for us. It is this alone affords a solid ground for hope, to know that he who was before all, by whom all things were made, and by whom they consist, assumed the nature of man ; that the great Lawgiver himself submitted to be under bis own law. This wonderful condescension gave an immense value and dignity to all that he did, to all that he suffered ; thus be pot only satisfied but honoured the law. So that we may, without hesitation, affirm, that the law of God was more honoured by Messiah, in his obedience to it, during the few
* Rom. vii. 13.