"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."
IN the prosecution of the important subject which hath requested your attention, I come now to those manifestations of GODHEAD which distinguished the person of Jesus during his incarnation.
The result of our inquiry in the preceding discourse, concerning the testimony of the prophets in their predictions of the Messiah, was found to be altogether descriptive of a great, but humble Saviour. Though it was the "God of Israel" that was to come and save them, when "the eyes of the blind were to be opened, and the tongue of the dumb to sing," (Isaiah xxxv. 4, 5, 6;) yet was he to be at the same time "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," (Isaiah liii.) Though the "Gentiles were to come to his light, and kings to the brightness of his rising," (Isaiah Ix. 3. ;) yet it was said of him, with no less truth, that "he should give his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, and hide not his face from shame and spitting," Isaiah 1. 6. This enigmatical prophecy, so apparently irreconcilable to the apprehensions of the human mind, was nevertheless literally fulfilled when Christ appeared upon the earth.
The mysterious union of our Lord's two natures, which the Evangelist declares in the words of the text, fully reconciles the seeming contradiction. Hence his description of the person of Jesus. After having ascribed to him all the great and distinguishing characters of divinity; that he was "the Word which was from the beginning with God, and was God; that all things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made which was made," (John i. 1, 2, 3;) he next subjoins the testimony of his incarnation: "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld his glory; the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
With this description of the Messiah in our hand, we are now to enter upon that era, in which our blessed Lord made his appearance, when the minds of men were raised to the highest pitch in expectation of the coming Saviour.
The first object of my present discourse will be to examine (as was proposed) what correspondence the character of Jesus bears to the promised prediction, and whether our Lord brought with him those criteria by which the Messiah should be known.
At this season (the precise time the prophets had foretold) the angel Gabriel was sent to the city of Nazareth, to announce to a virgin called Mary, tidings of the miraculous conception; thus confirming and illustrating the remarkable prophecy of Isaiah, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel," God with us, Isaiah vii. 14.
The particulars of this wonderful embassy are thus related by the Evangelist: "And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God: and behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered, and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore, also, that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her," Luke i. 28-38. An event of so singular a nature requires somewhat more than ordinary proof to procure the conviction and belief of mankind. It is not by the testimony of the virgin herself, nor even the authority of the sacred historian, (though coming with all the evidences of divine inspiration) alone considered, that we can expect an hearty assent from the pride of the human understanding. There must be somewhat more than these to satisfy scrupulous minds. But when we find concurrent circumstances, and in such instances as defeat all suspicions of collusion or deceit; the correspondence of ancient prophecy with the accomplishment of the fact itself; the message of an angel, attested by the Spirit of God guiding the pen of the evangelist, and the whole illustrated by all the subsequent acts of the Redeemer's life; surely there ought to be no hesitation, with all modest and impartial persons, in receiving the truth of the miraculous conception as an article of religious belief.
As this, however, is so very important a point, in ascertaining the real dignity and character of our blessed Lord and will best help us to form a true idea of the wonderful events with which his ministry was distinguished; you will not think it foreign to my present purpose, if I enter somewhat more particularly into the evidences of the miraculous conception.
The first circumstance worthy observation in proof of it, ariseth from the prediction of ancient prophecy. It was the express language of the prophet Isaiah, when predicting the advent of the Messiah, that he should be born of a virgin. "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son;" which words evidently implied a miraculous concept on, even if the evangelist, who declares the incarnation of Jesus, had not noticed it. And that no possible misapprehension might arise from the application of this prophecy to the person of our Lord, we find that not only an angel was sent to the Virgin, to give her notice of this supernatural impregnation; but also a visional intimation was delivered to Joseph, her intended husband, in a dream, applying this very passage of the prophecy to the case of the Virgin, and declaring that "all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet," (Matthew i. 22.)
The second proof of the miraculous conception is the testimony of the sacred historian, who hath so circumstantially related it. The evangelist, St. Luke, independently of his inspired authority, deserves our attention the more from several weighty particulars with which he has prefaced his narration. He wrote the gospel, he says, purposely because he had a more "perfeet understanding of all things from the very first," (relating to the person and ministry of Jesus Christ;) and forasmuch as many had taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which were most surely believed among them, even those who were eye witnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to him also to write of the same," (Luke i. 1, 4.) And in this very chapter, in which he hath related the circumstances of the wonderful conception of Mary, he speaks of another angelic embassy to Zacharias, together with the event and completion of that mission: all which, had any of the facts mentioned been thought questionable, would have invalidated the rest, and rendered the whole history liable to contradiction; and the more so, as this is the first instance upon record of an immediate revelation, for more than three hundred years from the time of the spirit of prophecy ceased with the last of the prophets, Malachi. So that in the relation of this sacred writer we have the strongest human testimony to prove the correspondence of the fact itself with the things predicted.
But, thirdly, The miraculous conception of Jesus derives its certainty, not only from the prediction of prophecy, and the corresponding event assured to us in the testimony of the sacred historian, but the necessity of the thing itself implies it, in order that Christ might answer the great end of his mission and character.
Notwithstanding some professors of Christianity are so exceedingly anxious to strip the gospel of its principal doctrine of atonement through the blood of Jesus; yet nothing can be more plain and evident than that the prophets, in their declarations of the future Saviour, foretold of a suffering Messiah, who should make his soul "an offering for sin," who was to be "wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities; by whose stripes we should be healed, and on whom the Lord would lay the iniquity of us (Isaiah liii.) That when "the weeks were determined to anoint the Most Holy, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, the Messiah should be cut off, but not for himself," (Dan. ix. 24 ) These plain predictions of the great objects to be accomplished by the sacrificial merits, and death of the Messiah, loudly proclaimed the expediency of a miraculous conception; for had this not been the case; had our Lord been born by the ordinary course of things in consequence of Mary's marriage with her husband, partaking then of the common nature, which was universally corrupt and fallen, the offering of himself as a pure and unblemished sacrifice for sin, would have been impossible; and hence the character of Christ, according, to the predictions of the prophets, would have been defective in one of the most important offices of the Messiah: whereas, now, the sufferings and death of Jesus, so exactly corresponding to the Spirit of prophecy, become an additional evidence of our Lord's wonderful incarnation, and both confirm and illustrate each other.
But, lastly, What gives the finishing proof of the miraculous conception, is the wonderful events which followed in the Redeemer's life; for upon no other consideration can we reconcile many of the actions displayed by our Lord, but upon the supposition that he derived his being, in a way different from the ordinary means of generation among men.
It would be a digression, in some sort, from the main object now before us, to enter into the detail of those actions of Christ, in order to establish this doctrine. And, indeed, the observations I have to make on them will more properly meet us in another part of this discourse, when I come to prove the GODHEAD of Jesus from his illustrious deeds, which every where proclaimed it. But all I would wish to remark at present is this - that when we find the account of the evangelist of the supernatural pregnancy of Mary, so minutely verifying the predictions of the prophets concerning the birth of the Messiah; and, again, this very circumstance leading to the accomplishment of an event, foretold as one of the distinguishing offices of the Messiah, by which alone the promised Saviour could become a proper sacrifice for sin; and, lastly, when we behold, in the subsequent acts of our Lord's life, such a series of conduct as clearly and decidedly prove a nature superior to every former prophet or teacher; it is but reasonable to conclude, that his birth must have been miraculous which was produced from the overshadowing power of the Highest, and evidently without the intervention of an human father.
Nor is there any thing incredible in the thing itself to those who will admit, what the angel declared to be the case, the interposition of divine energy in the operation of the Holy Ghost. And the very idea of a miracle pre-supposes this agency, let us imagine only, what the most presumptuous sceptic cannot deny, that the same great power which created the first man from nothing, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, possesses the same ability to produce another man, without the natural means he hath appointed for the continuation of the species: on this supposition it will not appear more surprising that Christ should be born of a virgin, without an human father, than that Adam should be at first formed out of the dust of the ground. In both cases it is the exertion of a supernatural agency; and the very embassy of an angel, in the case of Mary's conception, implied some very important purpose, wherefore this singular event was to be accomplished. Those who are not already converts to the atheistical creed of the world's eternity, or ready to join the scoffers the apostle speaks of, who deride the promise of Christ's future coming to judgment, because they conceive "all things to continue as they were from the beginning of the creation," (2 Peter iii. 4,) must admit there was a time when man began to be: the birth of Jesus, therefore, is not the first instance of an immediate existence without the usual means.
Such are the evidences of the incarnation of our Lord; and I hope they will appear sufficiently conclusive and satisfactory, to establish your hearts in the firm belief of this fundamental principle of the gospel, on the truth of which depend those important doctrines which peculiarly distinguish the Christian religion. Give up this article of your creed; say that Jesus is the son of Joseph, and you give up with it, at once, all the hopes of true believers. Then the great doctrine of atonement, and the cross of Christ, fall to the ground. That cross, which the apostle Paul so much gloried in, (Gal. vi. 14,) and concerning which be "determined to know nothing" beside, (I Cor. ii. 2:) that cross which is the very seal and bridge of our profession: that cross is rendered trifling and nugatory "our faith is vain, we are yet in our sins," (Cor. xv. 17.)
It is not paying Christ the officious empty compliment that he was the greatest of all teachers and of prophets; this is but a poor recompence for robbing him of his most endearing character, the Redeemer of the world. That Christ was a teacher, come from God, and infinitely surpassing all that were before him, is too plain to be denied. We feel conviction of the divinity of his religion, by the purity of his doctrine. But, were these all the ends the Son of God came upon earth to accomplish, wretched would be still the hopes of fallen man. What more eminently recommends his gospel to our hearts, is the provision it makes for the most material wants of our nature, in "redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins," (Ephes. i. 7;) that he "made our peace through the blood of his cross," (Coloss. i. 20:) and that "if any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins," (I John ii. 1,2.) These are the grand and essential points in our holy faith, and therefore let me beg of you, in terms equal to their importance, to pray for grace that you may remain firm and unshaken in the belief of them. Review, again and again, the evidence of the miraculous incarnation of Jesus. Behold the Spirit of prophecy, declaring, ages before it came to pass, the conception of the Virgin, and the birth of the Messiah. See the event exactly fulfilled at the time predicted, in the person of our Lord: and when you have fully impressed your mind with the proper conviction due to these undeniable testimonies, then go on, and attend to that wonderful train of conduct which followed in the life of Christ, discriminating him from every other being merely human; and then determine whether such an happy concurrence of circumstances does not clearly ascertain the real dignity and character of our blessed Master. You cannot but conclude with the prophet, that he was "Emmanuel, God with us;" or as the apostle emphatically called him, " God manifest in the flesh," (I Tim. iii. 16.)
Convinced, then, that the birth of Jesus was miraculous, we no longer wonder when we hear him asserting his relationship with the Father, and behold events in his life every way demonstrable of the GODHEAD of his person. Nor from being equally assured, at the same time, that he was of the "seed of the woman," (Gal. iv. 4,) are we astonished to find actions suitable to such an offspring. This union of our nature in the person of our Lord, serves to explain what otherwise would be unaccountable, and even contradictory. The prophets which described the Messiah under the greatest and most lofty distinctions, foretold also that "he should grow up as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground; that he had no form or comeliness, and when we should see him there was no beauty that we should desire him," (Isa. liii. 2.) Hence, therefore, when we read in the history of Jesus, that "the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit: that he increased in wisdom and in stature, (Luke ii. 52.); that he was subject to all the wants and infirmities of our nature; of hunger, and thirst, and cold, and weariness; was afflicted and troubled in the spirit; was open to impressions of joy and sorrow: in short, that he was a man, and felt as a man upon all occasions; let not these things stagger your faith in the GODHEAD of Jesus. Recollect that these are the very circumstances the prophets taught us to expect. The proofs of our Lord's humanity, when connected with the testimony of his divinity also, are no less proofs of his being the Messiah. This union of two natures is the very criterion of his character. Had Christ wanted this evidence, though coming in all the power of the Highest, and bringing with him every other credential of his being the Son of God, yet would he not have answered the description the prophets had given of the Messiah, unless, at the same time, he came as the Son of man.
The want of attending to those discriminating characters by which the Messiah was to be known, is the great, and perhaps the only cause of all that unhappy dissension in the church of Christ, concerning the real dignity of our blessed Redeemer. Alas! that ever Christians should have read the Scriptures with so little discernment, after Jesus "hath sent his angel to testify unto the churches, that he is both the root and the offspring of David," (Rev. xxii. 16.) As the root, his preexistence proves his GODHEAD, and as the offspring, it effectually shews his humanity: and both together form the united qualities which were to constitute the Messiah. Whatever we meet with in the expressions of Christ or his apostles, when speaking of our Lord as a man, so far from lessening the Redeemer's character in our esteem, ought to confirm our faith the more; for it clearly and unequivocally proves him to be the Messiah, of whom these things are said. Did the sacred writers indeed represent him as a man only, and no more, the case would be different. He would then be deficient in one part of the character predicted, and consequently could not be the Messiah. But we have already seen how amply the servants, of our Lord have borne testimony to his Godhead; and we as readily, and as cheerfully receive their testimony also to the proofs they give of his humanity; for it is from both we derive our assurance that Jesus is the Christ.
How mysterious soever this unity may appear in one and the same person, it is evident that the great end of our Redeemer's mission could not have been accomplished without it. And the question why so awful a dispensation became necessary for the purpose of our redemption as the incarnation of the Son of God, will only give rise to others of the like nature, which are easier asked than explained. In short, in this, as well as many other cases we perceive that "God's thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his way's our ways," (Isa. lv. 8.) The "preaching of the cross," and "Christ crucified, was to the Jews of old a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness;" and so it will ever appear to the wisdom of this world; but as an apostle assures us, to "them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, it is Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God."
The events which followed in the life of Jesus, correspond with his miraculous incarnation. The mysterious volume opens with "God manifest in the flesh," (Tim. iii. 16,) and every page in the sacred history carries with it some evidences of the same mysterious subject. Did it come within the limits or design of my present plan, it would be easy to bring forward a great variety of circumstances of this kind, which occur in the evangelists. But this would necessarily lead me to be too diffuse, and particular. I must, therefore, adopt a method more comprehensive. And as I persuade myself I am now addressing a body of Christians, who are no strangers to our Lord's history, it will be sufficient to select such passages only in the life of Christ, as may be demonstrative of the great point in question.
It will answer every purpose, therefore, to shew, that there are certain particulars in the person of Christ, which set him at an infinite distance from the highest and most exalted characters among the sons of men, whether prophets, or teachers, which have ever appeared in the world. That from the first moment of his entrance on his public character, when a voice from heaven proclaimed the dignity of his person, to the last hour of his beneficial ministry; the miracles he performed; the language he assumed; the attributes he possessed the titles by which he is every where distinguished in Scripture; that great and awful sacrifice of his death, which he himself declared to be the immediate purpose of his mission; the concluding scenes of his life; the solemn and magnificent events which followed his death; his glorious resurrection and ascension; the fulfilment of the promise he made to his followers before his departure, of sending down the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon their hearts, and which he faithfully did; the assurance of his turn again at the last day to judgment; and the expectation he taught mankind to entertain of a future and invisible world: such views of Christ (and they are but the mere outlines of a portrait which the evangelists have drawn, under divine assistance, of the Son of God) impress the mind with an awful idea of the greatness and sanctity of his character whom they represent, and justly render him the object of gratitude, adoration, and praise, to all generations of the Christian church.
To enter into a minute description of these particulars would require a separate discourse, or rather a series of discourses: either of which is inadmissible in the present work. I shalt only beg your attention to such of the more prominent features of them, which appear in the life of Jesus, as may the best enable us to ascertain his real character. And among the evidences of this kind which I conceive necessary to bring forward in proof of his GODHEAD, the first place is due to that large and extensive chain of miracles which he performed; because our blessed Lord himself, upon all occasions, particularly referred to them, as carrying with them the fullest proof of a divine power in the unity he possessed with the Father.
Miracles, in confirmation of a doctrine, and as a sanction to the truth of what they are intended to testify, are not peculiar to the ministry of Jesus. Under the Old Testament, many servants of the Lord brought the same credentials with them. Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Elijah, and others, are instances of this kind: they frequently appealed to the wonderful works they wrought, as proofs that what they said and did was by divine apointment. Hence, therefore, the miracles which our Lord performed, considered abstractedly, though surpassing both in greatness and in number whatever had preceded them, do not prove his divinity: but it is the manner the declarations which accompanied them, and the personal authority by which they were performed; these are the circumstances which so eminently separate the works of Jesus from any former prophet, and draw a most striking distinction between them. Such, indeed, as might reasonably be supposed to form a line of discrimination between the actions of the Lord and those of his servants. They wrought wonders to display the glory of God; "Jesus (it is said) to manifest his own." Let us examine, in one or two particulars, the Scripture account of miracles, under this idea, for proof of what I am asserting.
The prophets and servants of the Lord invariably declared by whose authority, and in whose name they acted; and generally addressed God in a short and expressive prayer, suitable to the moment, when about to perform some supernatural operation. This is visible, more or less, through the whole Jewish history. But with Christ matters were very differently conducted. It appears, that in all his mighty works, he was influenced by his own immediate will and authority. " Lord, (says a leper to him) if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. I will; (says Jesus) be thou clean," (Matt.viii.2.) Here was no previous application to heaven, but the disposition in our Lord was immediate, and the deed instantly followed. Of the same kind is the miracle of Christ raising the widow of Nain's son. It is said, that "when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier, and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak." All this was done without any intimation that he wrought this by any other authority than his own, (Luke vii.)
And among those who had faith to be healed of their diseases, (which Christ was pleased sometimes to make the condition on which they should receive the benefit of his mercy) it should seem they entertained the belief that Christ possessed this ability inherent in himself. Hence the poor woman in the throng said, "If I may but touch the hem of his garment, I shall be whole," (Mark v. 28.) And to the same purport the Centurian "Speak the word only (says he to Christ,) and my servant shall be healed," (Matt. viii. 8.) In these and numberless instances of the same kind, we bear not a word of Jesus acting by the power of his Father only; but from his own personal authority in conjunction with it.
In the case of the resurrection of Lazarus from the grave, our blessed Lord, indeed, used a short prayer, addressed to his Father, before he called him from the dead. But wherefore? Christ gave an immediate reason for it: "Because (says he) of the people which stand by, I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me," (John xi. 41.42); that is, by this evident communication, in the very moment of performing so illustrious an act as the raising of the dead, they might believe, what Christ had before asserted, that all he did was in perfect unity with God; that what things soever the Father doeth, "these also doeth the Son likewise. The Father is in me (says Christ), and I in him; I and my Father are one." In the resurrection of Lazarus there is something so truly unequalled in our Lord's manner, both before he wrought the miracle, and at the time of performing it, that it hardly needs a reference to any other event in his history for the proof of his GODHEAD.
The solemn and authoritative discourse in which he reclaimed himself to be "the resurrection and the life;" and the miracle which immediately followed, an evidence, as it were, of the truth of his declaration; what criteria less than divinity could these be? We read in Scripture that prophets and messengers from God have occasionally been invested with ability to work events, truly miraculous, as the test of their commission. But what servant of Jehovah ever said of himself, "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in me, shall never die. I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand?" Can it be possible for eternal life to be the gift of any but an eternal Being? There is something surely in these expressions, totally different from the words of any former prophet, and extremely difficult to be accounted for, on the presumption that Jesus, upon all these occasions, though speaking personally, meant nothing more than a derived power from his Father. Would Christ (supposing him to be no more than man) have distinguished himself by such eternal attributes, and spoken so confidently of his own power, without continually qualifying the expression with a proper caution in what sense it was to be understood; that the whole was derivative, and that he himself was no more than the instrument of his Father? When we behold Christ, therefore, in this striking instance now under consideration, taking a title unknown before, calling himself "the resurrection and the life;" and immediately, in proof of it, bringing back a dead man from the grave, stopping the very principles of corruption in a lifeless mass, and causing him to re-assume animation: I cannot conceive such a manifestation of divine power to imply less than a divine agent; and as we justly infer omnipotence from the works of creation, so we may equally, in this instance, conclude it could only be the exertion of the same power in a resurrection: and both, we find, were wrought by the Son of GOD.
Compare now the actions of the most favoured servants of God, with the wonderful miracles of our divine whether, in a single instance, any of them Lord, and see were distinguished in this manner. Did ever any prophet assume a language like that of Jesus, or give the least reason to suppose, as Christ hath done, that it was by virtue of an intimate union with the Father his mighty works were all accomplished? Nay, do they not all of them expressly declare, that every thing they said or wrought was in the name of the Lord? This circumstance, I conceive to be particularly striking, and proper to be well attended to in our comparison of the miracles of Christ with those of the prophets; for it forms a manifest distinction between them, and such (as I before observed), as may justly be supposed to discriminate the words and actions of the Lord from those of his servants.
But, besides this discrimination in the manner by which our Lord wrought his miracles, some of them were of that nature also, that they carry with them no possible resemblance to those of his servants.
When we read that "Jesus went about doing good, healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people, (Matt. iv. 23;) that wheresoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch, if it were but the border of his garment; and as many as touched him were made perfectly whole," (Mark vi. 56.) Wonderful as this description is, it gives but an imperfect idea of the greatness of Christ's character. But to have seen him casting out devils, bringing demoniacs instantly from a state of phrensy to perfect calmness and composure, the dead resuming life at his command, and the waves of the sea becoming still at his voice. Oh! could an infidel have been present at scenes of this nature, which the Son of God daily performed, or could any of those who allow the religion of Jesus to be a revelation from heaven, but yet deny the GODHEAD of him who gave it to us: could they, I say, but have belield our glorious God thus continually exercising his power and authority, what irresistible conviction would have taken place in every mind! How admirably were the words of the Psalmist verified upon, many of those occasions! "The waters saw thee, O God; the waters saw thee, and were afraid, the depths also were troubled," (Psalm lxxvii. 16.) "He ruleth both the raging of the sea, and the noise of his waves, and the madness of the people," (Psalm lxv. 7.)
But chiefly, what raises Christ above all parallel, are the wonderful events which attended the concluding scenes of our Lord's ministry; for these are evidently to be classed among the miracles of Jesus. What unspeakable dignity must have appeared in the person of our Lord, when his presence struck to the ground the band of men and officers which came to apprehend him! What awful circumstances of a superior nature did his agony in the garden intimate! Above all, what unheard-of events were those which attended his death, when they wrought such an instantaneous conviction upon the most obdurate breasts! The prodigies which solemnized his last moments, darkness covering the whole land, the rending of the vail of the temple, the quaking of the earth, the opening of graves, even the bodies of men arising from their tombs, and appearing unto many; such convulsions of nature surely imply a superior dignity in his person, whose death they witnessed: and when viewed in connection with the magnificent scenes which followed his glorious resurrection and ascension, and the sending down the gifts of the Holy Ghost; these astonishing, events altogether exalt our Lord above all comparison, and leave at an infinite distance, every worker of miracles, when mentioned with the Son of God.
And still further, as a discriminating mark in the miracles of Jesus, we find they were sometimes accompanied with the exertion of another proof of divine authority, namely, the forgiveness of sins. A power which our Lord's most inveterate enemies acknowledge could only be the prerogative of God; but which Christ assumed, and exercised repeatedly.
He pardoned the Sinner which washed his feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee, (Luke vii. 34, et seq.) He forgave the Woman who was taken in adultery, (John viii.) He cancelled the sins of the penitent Thief on the cross, in the moment of departure, and assured him of happiness, (Luke xxiii." And the sins of the Paralytic, who was brought to him to be healed of his infirmity, he declared to be forgiven; and immediately wrought the cure on his body, as a confirmation of the mercy he had granted to his soul, (Mark ii.) Are these the deeds of a mere man? Was it ever known or ever heard that any prophet, any servant, or messenger from God, spake or acted in this manner? Would the meek and unassuming temper of Jesus have done this? Nay, would God himself have given a sanction to such usuration? Surely that great and jealous Lord, who hath left upon everlasting record the most awful examples of his anger at the least encroachment upon his name or authority would have checked the daring attempt, if Jesus had been no more than man, and thus made himself equal with God. He who caused the earth to open her mouth, and swallow up "Korah and his company," for presuming only to enter upon the priestly office, (Numb. xvi.) who made the hand of Jeroboam to wither for speaking rashly, (I Kings xiii.) and struck Uzzah instantly dead for touching the ark, (2 Sam. vi.) would never have suffered such repeated instances of blasphemy to have escaped unpunished, much less have justified, and given the most decided approbation to the whole, by honouring our Lord's cause with the continual operation of miracles. No thing can more fully demonstrate the GODHEAD of our divine LORD: and the proof which Christ proposed to try it by, in the evidence of the cure he wrought on the cripple, was the clearest and most incontestable that could be desired. When therefore, you find that the paralytic instantly arose at the command of Jesus took up the bed whereon he lay, and went forth glorifying God, you will not hesitate to cry out with the centurian, who received his conviction at the foot of the cross, "Doubtless this is the Son of God."
But, lastly, the highest and finishing distinction of all, between Christ, and every other instructor of mankind, who performed miracles in confirmation of his commission, is the power which Jesus possessed and actually employed, of conferring on his disciples the ability of producing effects similar to those which be himself had wrought, as so many proofs that they derived their authority from him.
Even in the life-time of Christ, and before the Holy Ghost was imparted) this power was given to them. They were sent "to preach the gospel, and to heal the sick; to cleanse the lepers, to raise the dead, and cast out devils," (Matt. x. 8.) And when they returned with an account of the success of their embassy, they ascribed the whole to his personal name and authority. "Even the devils (they said) are subject to us through thy name." Upon which our blessed Lord made use of these remarkable expressions; "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven: Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents, and scorpions) and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you," (Luke x. 17-19.) And after our Lord's ascension, and the descent of the divine Spirit, the commission was enlarged to a still further extent of power, according to the promise of Jesus that "not only the works which he himself had done should they do, but greater works than these," (John xiv. 12.) But the same authority of the master was still preserved. "In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with now tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover," (Mark xvi. 18.) Thus the whole was to be accomplished in the name, and by the power of Christ. Hence we find, upon every occasion, the apostles working signs and wonders under this authority, which they had received from their Master. "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk," said Peter to the cripple, at the gate of the temple, (Acts iii. 6.) "Eneas (saith the same apostle), Jesus Christ maketh thee whole," (Acts ix. 34.) "Brother Saul (said Ananias), the Lord, even Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost," (Acts ix. 17.) "I command thee, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to come out of her," said Paul to the damsel possessed with a spirit of divination, (Acts xvi. 18.) From all which instances it is evident the apostles considered the ability they possessed, to be derived immediately from him in whose name, and by whose authority they acted. And "his name, through faith in his name," (Acts iii. 16,) was the universal charm by which all their miracles were wrought.
Indeed, Peter, for himself and his brethren, solemnly declared, that the wonderful deeds which were performed by them were wholly to be ascribed to the power of Christ. "Why look ye (says he to the people, who were struck with admiration at the cure of the cripple in Solomon's porch), why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this to walk?" (Acts iii. 12.) "Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him, doth this man stand here before you whole," (Acts iv. 10.)
Now, then, review the whole of the argument in favour of our Lord's GODHEAD, as it arises from the miracles of Christ, and those of his apostles wrought in his name. Examine with the most rigid strictness the many instances of a supernatural power with which Jesus performed his mighty works, totally different from every servant of God, both in the manner by which they were accomplished, and in the nature of the miracles themselves. Consider also the additional testimony in the ability Jesus imparted to his disciples of doing the same wonderful deeds as he himself had wrought. And to the whole subjoin the peculiar evidence of the supreme power and authority Christ exercised in the forgiveness of sins, with which his miracles were not unfrequently accompanied, and which is, without all doubt) the highest and most finished proof of divinity; and then question whether it be possible to believe that any being, merely human, could possess such properties! Surely, if we would but view things coolly and dispassionately, there arises from hence such a strength of testimony, to prove the divinity of Jesus, as ought to carry conviction to every candid mind.
But the miracles of Jesus, and those wrought in his name by his servants the apostles, though they afford such incontestable evidences of his divinity, yet are they by no means the only proofs we meet with in the life of Christ of this important doctrine. The blessed Redeemer manifested others equally great and convincing. The language he assumed, and the authoritative manner in which he discoursed with his disciples upon many occasions; these are another species of testimony which clearly prove his nature to have been more than human. And when we discover also in his life, that be possessed divine attributes, and is distinguished by the sacred writing under divine titles, which are the well-known in-communicable distinctions of the GODHEAD: when we behold these properties all uniting in the formation of his character, they cannot leave the mind in a moment's suspense whether he be not God, "in whom (as the apostle expresses it) are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," (Colos. ii. 5.)
But the consideration of these, and other particulars yet remaining to be noticed in our Lord's character, would necessarily lead me beyond the usual limits. And it would be proper at present to relieve your attention. I desire, therefore, to leave you to the full impression of what hath been already said, with an humble supplication to the throne of grace, that the light of God's Holy Spirit may precede our steps in the paths of truth, and lead us to the full discovery of that knowledge which may make us wise unto salvation, through Jesus Christ our 'Lord.
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