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CHRIST A PROPHET.-HIS PERSONAL PREACHING.
LUKE XXIV. 19.—And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet, mighty in deed and word, before God, and all the people.
IN the preceding discourse I considered, at some length, the Covenant of Redemption. In the terms of this covenant, I observed, was contained the substance of Christ's employment, as the Mediator between God and man, and the reward, which He was to receive in this character. By the substance of his employment, I intend the things, which he did, and suffered, alike, while in the execution of the Mediatorial office. These things naturally follow the covenant of Redemption, in a system of Theology, and therefore, naturally demand our next examination.
In the Scriptures, Christ is frequently spoken of, as the Prophet, Priest, and King, of mankind. This distribution of his Mediatorial character into three great and distinguishing parts is, undoubtedly, the most proper, which can be made; and is amply authorized by the Spirit of God: it will, therefore, be followed in these discourses. The first, and at the same time the most remarkable, designation of the Redeemer, as a Prophet, is found in the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy. In the 15th verse, Moses says to the Israelites: The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him shall hearken. This promise, we learn from the verses immediately following, was given to the Israelites, in answer to their petition, at the foot of Mount Horeb: Let us not hear again the voice of the Lord, our God; neither let us see this great fire any more; that we die not. In answer to this petition, the Lord said unto Moses: They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words, which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
In this very remarkable prediction we are taught,
1st. That a Prophet should, at some subsequent period, be raised up, in the Jewish Church; and of that nation; who should be like unto Moses; that is, one who, like Moses, introduced a new dispensation, to stand in the place of the Mosaic; as that, at the time of this prophecy, was introduced into the place of the Patriarchal Dispensation. In the last chapter of Deuteronomy written, not improbably, by several hands, and closed, perhaps, by Ezra, it is
said: There arose not a Prophet since in Israel, like unto Moses. If this was really written by Ezra, it is a direct testimony, that the Prophet, marked out in this prediction, did not arise until after the captivity. In John i. 19-21, we are informed, that the Jews, to wit, the Sanhedrim, to whom belonged the right of inquiring into the authority and commissions of Prophets, sent a solemn delegation to John the Baptist, to demand of him an account of his character. They first asked him, particularly, Art thou Elias? and, upon his answering in the negative, asked him again, Art thou that Prophet?-orgonrns: THE Prophet by way of eminence. In John vi. 14, the five thousand Jews, whom Christ fed with five loaves and two fishes, under the strong impression of that wonderful miracle said concerning Christ, This is of a truth that Prophet, that should come into the world. In John vii. 40, we are told, that the multitude of the Jews in the temple, after hearing the discourses of Christ, recorded in this chapter, said, Of a truth, this is THE Prophet.
The first of these passages assures us, that in the judgment of the Sanhedrim, the Prophet, foretold by Moses, who was to be like unto him, had not arisen, when John the Baptist began to preach: and the two last assure us of the same fact, according to the judgment of the People at large. Of course, it is fairly presumed to have been the belief of every preceding age. The two last passages also teach us, that Christ appeared in a character so like that of the expected Prophet, as to be repeatedly acknowledged in this character by the Jewish people.
2dly. This Prophet was to appear with a divine commission, as an inspired teacher from GOD. I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I command him.
3dly. His appearance was to be such, as not to alarm, or terrify, the People of the Jews.
This is evident from the fact, that he was promised in answer to a petition of that people, in which they requested, that they might no more hear the awful voice of GOD, nor see the fire, by which Mount Sinai was surrounded. GoD, approving of the request, answers, that he will raise them up a Prophet from the midst of them, One, who should be of their brethren; One, of course, who was to be like themselves; a man, conversing with them, as friend with friend, who should not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets ;* but who should be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord to preach good tidings to the meek; and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, with the still, small voice of wisdom, truth, and righteousness.
From these things it is evident, that no other prophet sustained all these characteristics, but Christ; even his enemies themselves being the judges. That Christ sustained them all is unanswerably
Isaiah xlii. 2,
† Isaiah lxi. 1, 2.
certain; particularly, that he wrought mighty signs, and wonders, and that he was known of God face to face. St. Peter in his sermon to the Jews, Acts iii. has, by directly applying this prophecy to Christ, assured us, that he was the prophet intended; and, therefore, precluded the necessity of any further inquiry.
In the text, the same character is attributed to him by Cleophas: as he himself decisively informs us, by adding in a following verse, We trusted, that it had been he, who should have redeemed Israel. At the same time, the text furnishes us with a summary account of the manner, in which the Redeemer discharged his prophetical office, by declaring, that he was a prophet mighty in deed and word, before God and all the people. To discuss this subject, is the design of the following discourse.
Prophecy may naturally be divided into two parts: The communication of the will of God to mankind, concerning their duty and salvation; and the prediction of future events.
The power, by which both these were done, was no other than Inspiration for Man is as unable to divine the will of God, as to foresee future events. Both these parts of the prophetical character, Christ sustained in the most perfect degree: But the revelation of the will of God to mankind, the original, and far the most important, part of the business of a Prophet, and that which is alike pointed out in the text, and in the prediction of Moses, is the characteristic of the Redeemer, especially intended to be, at this time, the subject of consideration.
In Newton's dissertations on the prophecies may be found an ample illustration of the nature, and extent, of Christ's predictions. The prophetical Instruction, or preaching, of Christ, is in the Scriptures distributed into that, which he communicated in his own person: and that, which he communicated by his Apostles. The former of these shall be first considered.
In an examination of the Personal Preaching of Christ, the following things demand our attention:
1. The Necessity of his executing the office of a preacher. II. The things which he taught.
III. The Manner, in which he taught: and,
IV. The Consequence of his Preaching.
I. I shall consider the necessity of Christ's assuming the office of a Preacher.
It is obvious to every man, that Christ might have appeared in the world in the humble character, in which he actually appeared; have wrought the miracles, recorded of him; suffered the death of the cross; and generally, have done every thing recorded of him, either as an act or a suffering; and then, instead of teaching mankind the way of life and salvation with his own mouth, might have. taught it to his Apostles by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and commissioned them to publish it to mankind.
This course, however, he did not pursue. On the contrary,
he has chosen to teach it extensively in his own person. For this conduct of his there were, doubtless, very substantial reasons. Some of them were probably withholden from mankind. Others are discernible with sufficient clearness. Even these are not, indeed, very often called up to view; and by most men are probably unknown and unthought of. Yet, so far as they can be known, they are capable of being highly useful, and means of no small satisfaction to a serious mind. Among them the following may, I think, be mentioned, as possessing a real, and sufficiently obvious, importance.
1. Christ may be fairly believed to have assumed the office of Preacher; (or that branch of the prophetical office, which I have specified as the subject of discourse) that the Gospel might appear plainly, and undeniably, to be His.
Christ is, and from everlasting was designed to be, the great, and visible, agent in all things, pertaining to the present world. In Col. i. 14, &c. we have the following account of his character: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. Who is the image of the invisible God; the firstborn of every creature. For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things; and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father, that in him should all fulness dwell. In this passage Christ is declared to be the Image, or manifest Representative of the invisible God; the First-born, or Head, of the whole creation; the Creator of all things, existing before all things; the Upholder of all things; and the First-born from the dead; a character, which he is said to hold, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence: because, as the Apostle adds, It was well-pleasing* to the FATHER that in him all fulness should dwell. Now it is evident, that it was a necessary, as well as proper, part of this great design, not only that he should be the Author of the Gospel; but that this fact should be completely proved, and perfectly known. The publication of the Gospel to mankind is evidently one of the chief dispensations of divine providence in the present world. As, therefore, it was the good pleasure of the Father that in all things he should have the pre-eminence; so it was peculiarly proper that he should be pre-eminent in a thing, so important, and glorious, as the publication of the Gospel.
St. James, in the 4th chapter and 10th verse of his Epistle, informs us, that in the Church of God there is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy; that is Christ. Christ, then, being
the only Lawgiver in his Church, it seems to be indispensable, that the Gospel, which contains his Laws, should be seen to be his; that all, who read it, may know his pleasure with certainty; and never be left to doubt whether any given doctrine, or precept, was given by him, or was derived from the comments of others, The difference between these two cases cannot, I suppose, need any explanation.
But if Christ, instead of preaching the Gospel in person, had left it to be published by the Apostles only; the question, whether it was his Gospel, would have instantly been raised up against its acceptance by mankind. Infidels would have boldly denied it to be his; and Christians would have been perplexed, not only concerning the proper answer to this denial, but also concerning their own Faith and Duty. Even now, Unitarians, as well as Infidels, hold out a distinction between the Gospel; that is, as they intend, the personal Instructions of Christ; and the Epistles, which they consider as the mere Comments of Christ's followers. Thus Lord Bolingbroke declares the system of religion, both Natural and Revealed, to be excellent, and plainly taught; as it was taught by Christ, and recorded by his Evangelists: "a complete system to all the purposes of Religion."* Nay, he speaks of it directly, as revealed by God himself. "Christianity, genuine Christianity," he says again," is contained in the Gospel, it is the Word of God." t At the same time, Lord Bolingbroke declares, that St. Paul has preached another Gospel; and that the New Testament contains two Gospels. In the same manner Mr. Chubb declares, that St. Paul preached another Gospel, which was contradictory to that of Christ. Unitarians, also, are plainly unwilling to allow the same respect, and confidence, to be due to the Apostolic writings, which they appear to consider as due to the words of Christ; and, like the Infidels above mentioned, admit, that the Gospels possess a higher character than the Epistles.
To what a length this scheme of thought would have been carried, had Christ never preached at all, and how far the character of the New Testament, as an undoubted Revelation, would have been acknowledged, if the doctrines and precepts, which it contains, had been declared by the Apostles only, it is difficult to divine. From the nature of the subject, the facts just recited, and others like them, it may be easily believed, that the character of the New Testament as inspired, would have been seriously affected; and, with respect to multitudes who now admit it unconditionally, overthrown; and that the character of Christ, as the Lawgiver of the Church, would have been obscured. In some instances it would have been doubted, and in others denied; and his pre-eminence in this important particular would, to a great extent, have been unseen, and unregarded.
· Leland, Vol. 2, p. 163, 164.
t p. 169.