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I THESSALONIANS, CHAP. 1.---VERSES 9. 10.
For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had
unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
In the verse before the text the Apostle tells the Thessalonians, that not only the word of the Lord had sounded out from them in Macedonia and Achaia, but their faith also towards God was spread abroad in every place; so that there is no occasion, adds the Apostle, for me to say any thing of the doctrines delivered by me, and received by you: the thing is well known, and notorious to all the world : • They themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you.'
It is evident from hence what notion the world entertained of the Christian religion, and the principal doctrines of it, in the earliest days. All who had heard of our Apostle's teaching, knew his business to be to turn men from idols to serve the living God, to give evidence of the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and to establish a certain expectation of his coming again with power and glory to judge the world. This common report St. Paul allows to be so just and adequate an account of his doctrine, as to leave no room to enlarge or correct it : • In every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.'
If we consider this early account of the Christian religion, so universally received, and so well approved by the Apostle, we shall find it to consist of two principal parts: the first relating to the service owing to the living God; the second to our faith in Christ, and our hope and expectation grounded on that faith.
Religion, considered under the notion of a service we owe to God, can be no other than natural religion, or true uncorrupted Deism. This was the old original religion of mankind, but had been so corrupted and abused, that there was hardly any sign of it left when our Saviour appeared in the world. However rightly some few might think, yet they found themselves obliged to follow the world, and practise with the vulgar. Not many attempted, and none succeeded in a reformation of the public religion. No antiquity affords an instance of any people, great or small, who served God on the principles of natural religion. The only general and effectual reformation of the world was brought about by the preaching of the gospel ; which revived and introduced the true ancient religion of nature, and prepared men for the reception of it; and has, by the additional supports of revelation, maintained it for many ages, and probably will maintain it to the end and consummation of all things.
These additional supports make the second great branch of Christian doctrine : they are revived on the authority of revelation, and stand on the evidence of external proofs. That we ought to turn from idols and serve the living God; that we ought to serve him in holiness and purity, in conforming ourselves to the example of his justice, equity, and goodness, are truths which every man may feel to be such, who has any reason or natural feeling about him : but that we have been de- , livered from the wrath to come by Jesus the Son of God; that God raised him from the dead, and hath appointed him to be judge both of the dead and of the living, are articles which no man's reason can suggest; which, when suggested, reason cannot receive on any internal evidence, but must take them on an authority sufficiently confirmed and established on external evidence.
This distinction, constantly attended to, will go a great way in showing us the true temper and genius of the Christian religion, and the end proposed by its divine author. Consider the gospel in its precepts and morality; and is there any doctrine advanced, any duty required, but what reason must admit and
approve, or which it can reject without doing violence to itself? Is there in this respect any objection against the Christian religion, but what is and must be equally an objection against all natural religion ? Consider the gospel with respect to its new doctrines, its articles of belief: you will find them all assigned to support and encourage true religion, and to preserve the world from falling again into that confusion of idolatry and superstition, which for many ages held it in dark
This might be shown in the several particulars of the gospel dispensation : but I shall confine myself to those specified in the text.
St. Paul teaches us to wait for the Son of God from beaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.'
• To wait for the Son of God from heaven,' signifies to continue with patience and well-doing, in expectation of the coming of our Saviour and Judge; which sense is completely expressed, Philip. iii. · Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so, as ye have us for an ensample --for our conversation is in heaven ; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.'
The expectation of Christ coming to judge the world is peculiar to Christians; and it is supported by the belief of the resurrection of Christ, that great and main point of faith which the Apostles were commissioned to teach and establish in the church of God: for which reason, when an Apostle was to be chosen in the room of Judas, the qualification required in the person to succeed was, that he should be one capable of bearing testimony of the resurrection of Christ. Take the account in St. Peter's own words: • Of these which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out amongst us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection : Acts i. 21. 22. And in the next chapter St. Peter, vindicating to the Jews the miraculous gift of tongues bestowed on the day of Pentecost,
renders this account of the work and ministry of the apostleship: “Ye men of Israel, hear these words ; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did, by him, in the midst of youHim, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowlege of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain :'ver, 22. 23. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses :' ver. 32. To the same purpose again, in the third chapter, 'Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead: whereof we are witnesses :'ver. 14. 15. In the fourth chapter an account is given of the courage and boldness of the Apostles in preaching Christ to the rulers, and of the success of their ministry among the people : the sum of it we have in these words : · With great power gave the Apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and great grace was on them all :'ver. 33. In the fifth chapter the Apostles are called again before the council : the high priest charges them with disobeying the injunctions given them not to preach in Christ's name : St. Peter and the rest answer him and the council, by opening to them the commission and authority by which they acted, and the doctrine which they taught : We ought,' say they, to obey God rather than man. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree : bim hath God exalted with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him :' ver. 29. 30. 31. 32. From these passages of Scripture, taken together, it plainly appears how much the Christian religion, considered as a distinct system from natural religion, depends on the belief of the resurrection of Christ. The Apostles were ordained to be witnesses of this article : this article is the foundation on which they build all the hopes and expectations peculiar to Christians : if they preach repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins, it is in his name, whom God raised from the dead : if they turn to the Gentiles with offers of peace and reconciliation, it is still in his name, whom God raised from the dead, and ordained to be the Judge of quick and dead.
When St. Paul preached at Athens, they thought him an introducer of some new deities, he talked so much of · Jesus and the resurrection :' Acts xvii. 18. Which doctrine of a resurrection he afterwards fully expounded to them, together with the consequents belonging to it: 'Now,' says the Apostle, • God commandeth all men every where to repent, because he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead : v. 30. 31. This passage of St. Paul gives a very plain account of the concern to propa. gate and establish the article of Christ's resurrection. The resurrection of Christ was designed to be an evidence and assurance to the world of God's intention to judge the world in righteousness. This new article was introduced to be a new evidence of a future state of rewards and punishments, and to support the sinner's hopes of pardon and reconciliation through the promises of Christ, whom God had appointed to be his Judge.
You see then the use of this great article of Christian faith. Let us consider now whether we are beholden to the gospel, and how much, for this new ev ence of a life to come; and what there is in this article, and the doctrines grounded on it, that any sober Deist, or professor of natural religion, can justly blame.
Natural religion pretends to support itself on the expectation of future rewards and punishments: it considers God as Governor and Judge of the world. Christian religion stands on the same foundation, and admits for genuine all these hopes and fears of nature. Thus far there is no difference. The question is, which brings the best proof, and most fitted to persuade the world of this great truth ? Natural religion appeals to conscience, and that sense which all men have of their being accountable for their actions. The Christian religion embraces all this evidence, and whatever else can be suggested by reason to render the hopes of futurity probable or certain : to these evidences it adds the express testimony and assurance of