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May Almighty God help my infirmities, supply my deficiencies, and compensate my failures by his especial blessing! May the Holy Spirit excite in me and in you those sentiments which are indispensable to the due improvement of a solemnity like this;-sentiments of humiliation, and seriousness, and dependence; of prayerful anxiety for our own eternal interests; and of deep concern to be found, when our change shall come, in peace, without spot, and blameless!
It is one of the highest excellencies of the Christian Revelation, that it brings “life and immortality to light." And it is the peculiar and crowning glory of Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, that while he finishes the transgression, makes an end of sin and reconciliation for iniquity, and brings in everlasting righteousness, he also abolishes death, through death destroys, or deposes, him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil, and thus delivers them who must otherwise have been all their lifetime subject to bondage.
This joyous truth, so often asserted by the apostles of our Lord, is in the text emphatically announced and inculcated by himself:—“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” A doctrine so full of comfort to dying creatures in a dying world, deserves at all times our best attention; and I trust that it will not be found wholly unsuitable to the particular purpose for which we are now assembled, if we consider, FIRST, THE CHARACTER DESCRIBED IN THE TEXT,—THAT OF A MAN WHO “ KEEPS THE SAYING OF CHRIST;" and, SECONDLY, THE PRIVILEGE ATTACHED TO THIS CHARACTER,--" HE SHALL NEVER SEE DEATH.'
1. The CHARACTER described is that of a man who keeps the saying of Christ.”
The saying, or word, of Christ is a general phrase, which comprehends the whole of that system of religious truth, which Christ has, directly or indirectly, made known by revelation to mankind. It includes, in the first place,
All those doctrines and precepts' which were publicly taught by Christ himself, during his residence in our world. For “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” Among other offices which our blessed Saviour assumed, and other characters which he sustained, one was that of a prophet-a public teacher of religion, divinely commissioned and inspired. He proclaimed himself to be the apostle or ambassador of JEHOVAH, the messenger of the covenant of peace; and “the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, anointing him to preach the Gospel to the poor,-to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind,—to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” We find, accordingly, that the four evangelists, his historians, have given us an account, not only of his personal travels, transactions, and sufferings, but of his public teachings; and it is impossible to peruse those summaries of his most remarkable discourses, and those details of his most striking and useful sayings, with which we are thus favoured, without wondering, like some of old, at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. How kind and affectionate, yet bold and faithful, was the spirit of bis instructions; how simple and intelligible were his style and language; how weighty and important was his matter; and how clear and comprehensive the revelation which he made of things most necessary
for man to know!
“ Never man spake like this man.” But the “saying” of Christ must be understood as comprehending, likewise,
All those doctrines and precepts which were privately delivered by him to his apostles, or with which they were made acquainted, after his departure from our world, by the plenary inspiration of his Holy Spirit ; and which they, in his name and by his appointment, officially communicated to mankind, and left on record for the benefit of the Church in succeeding ages. For the “great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, was confirmed unto us
by them that heard him;" and not merely confirmed, ' but, also, further illustrated, and more minutely developed and unfolded. It was necessary to the full accomplishment of the design of our Saviour's incarnation, that he should maintain, in the general course of his personal and public ministry, a prudential reserve, with respect to some important points of religious doctrine. If, for instance, he had, explicitly and at once, wherever he went, avowed his own divine character and supreme dignity, accompanying that avowal by unequivocal displays of his infinite power and glory, in their full compass and extent; it is not easy to conceive how those ancient prophecies could ever have been fulfilled, which described the Messiah as “despised and rejected of men,a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” and which foretold his sufferings and death. His atoning sacrifice, that essential part of his mediatorial task and purpose, must, humanly speaking, have been prevented by a premature disclosure of his heavenly rank, or by a too luminous and overwhelming manifestation of his divine perfections, while yet the minds of his disciples themselves were in a great measure “carnal," and ill-prepared for the entire splendour of such discoveries. He did not therefore, to use his own expression, "put new wine into old bottles." He judged it best to introduce the full blaze of that light, which he intended ultimately to impart, not suddenly, but by degrees. The darkness began to be dispersed under the preaching of John the Baptist :--this was the twilight which preceded the dawn of the evangelical day. By the personal ministry of Jesus, a still greater degree of light was poured on the moral world; and that light continued to shine with increasing lustre, till it brightened into the perfect day, in consequence of the Pentecostal effusion of the Holy Ghost upon the assembled apostles, which completed their qualification for the great work to which they were called, as inspired instructers of mankind. Then they received the promised Spirit, who was to “guide them into all truth," to render them“ wise master-builders” of the Church, and to make them perfectly
acquainted with everything which they were called as Christians to believe, experience, and practice, or as Apostles to teach, establish, and enjoin. These objects, doubtless, our Saviour had materially promoted, by his previous communications with them, especially during that invaluable season of free and confidential intercourse with him which they were permitted to enjoy, in the interval between his resurrection and ascension. For he was seen of them forty days, speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God,” (the doctrines, duties, discipline, and institutions of the Christian dispensation,)“ being assembled together with them,” and directing his attention very principally, it would seem, to the one end of preparing them for their official labours and functions. It was probably at the close of this memorable period of divine tuition, that he gave them their great commission, “Go ye, and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: And lo! I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” Now, when with this commission, and with these solemn and careful instructions as to the mode of executing it, we connect the fact of their extraordinary baptism with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, as before recited, can we for a moment hesitate to admit that the inspired sayings and directions of Christ's apostles, whether doctrinal, preceptive, or disciplinary, are virtually, and in point of authority and obligation, the saying of Christ himself? The book called “ Acts of the Apostles,” and the various apostolical “Epistles," contain the record of these sayings and directions; and have claims on our veneration and implicit obedience, equal to those which are advanced by the Four Gospels themselves. It may be said,--I know that it has been said, by those who would supersede apostolical authority in the Church, under the pretence of exalting the authority of the Divine Prophet himself,--that St. Paul was not present at those apostolical assemblies which have been mentioned, and that he did not partake of the Holy
Spirit’s Pentecostal effusion. This is true; but let it be remembered that the want of these advantages was abundantly supplied to him, and he was amply and equally qualified for every apostolic function, by the extraordinary revelations with which he was subsequently favoured, and of which he gave miraculous attestations to the church. “ The signs of an apostle” were with him and upon him ; and he, like the other apostles was authorized to say, (as he does in his Epistles to the Thessalonians and to the Corinthians,) “He that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath given unto us his Holy Spirit. We (that is, we apostles,) have the mind of Christ. The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord."
I may now add, that, in a large and general sensez
The whole canon of Holy Scripture may be considered as included in this phrase. That all the doctrines and precepts of the New Testament possess indubitable claims to be regarded as Christ's own “saying," has been already evinced. And we know that the Scriptures of the Old Testament were written under the teaching and direction of the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of Christ, and that they are “ able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul speaks of “all Scripture,” meaning primarily the Jewish Canon, which only was extant at the period to which he refers, as “given by inspiration of God." St. Peter, describes a large and important portion of the Old Testament, when he says 6. We have a more sure word of
prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” And our blessed Saviour did, in fact, adopt and acknowledge, as his own “saying,” every doctrine revealed in the Old Testament, and every moral precept there enjoined, (that is, in fact, every precept which was not essen