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It is in effect therefore the birthday of the world ; the beginning of a new, better, eternal life to men, (offered to all, and effectually bestowed on those who will embrace it,) which we now do celebrate. All reason therefore we have to rejoice most heartily and most abundantly: as the goods thence accruing to us are in multitude innumerable, in quality inestimable, in duration immense; so in some correspondence should our joy be very intense, very effuse, very stable ; the contemplation of them should infuse somewhat of that unspeakable joy, whereof St. Peter speaketh; we should “be filled,’ according to St. Paul's expression, “with all joy and peace in believing” them; we should ‘hold fast,' as the Apostle to the Hebrews adviseth, “the confidence and rejoicing of hope,' grounded on them, ‘ firm to the end."
Having so many, so great causes of joy, are we not very stupid, are we not strangely cross and perverse, if we neglect so pleasant a duty ?
To conclude: of all the days that rise on us, this undoubtedly is the queen, crowned by God's own hand with sovereign blessings; God hath avowed it to be the day of his peculiar making, and therefore of our special rejoicing; for thus of old the inspired psalmist did teach and exhort us to keep Christmas: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad therein.'
SUMMARY OF SERMON LXXVI.
Acts, ch AP. III.-VERSE 18.
There are many good arguments, of different kinds, which conspire to persuade the truth of our religion; but on no other ground do the Scriptures so much build its truth and our obligation to embrace it, as on the exact conformity thereof to all the ancient Scriptures, which foreshowed and foretold it. To this our Lord, in his discourses with incredulous persons, referred them. (Joh. v. 39.) By this he instructed and convinced his disciples. (Luke xxiv. 27. &c.) This the Apostles in all their preaching chiefly insisted on : instances quoted. It is no wonder that the founders of our religion laid such a stress on this probation; as it has some peculiar uses and advantages. Future contingencies being secrets, which no creature can dive into, the prediction of them cannot proceed otherwise than from God's pleasure; neither would he yield it, but for a cause that was true and good: this point enlarged on. It had also a peculiar aptitude to convert the Jews, who were possessed with a full persuasion of the veracity and sanctity of their ancient prophets, and could not doubt concerning the truth of that which appeared conformable to what they had foretold should be dispensed for their benefit. This probation has also another advantage; that, taken singly, it suffices to convince : this topic enlarged on. This way of discourse therefore our Lord and his Apostles did especially use, as generally in respect of all things concerning him, so particularly of his passion : instances quoted: and this is the point referred to in the text by St. Peter, who affirms that it had been predicted by an universal consent of all the prophets. Object of the discourse, to illustrate and confirm this assertion. That the Messias was to come in an humble and lowly manner; to live therein; to cause offences and find oppositions; to be despised and rejected; and at last to be condemned and executed as a malefactor, is a truth indeed which the Jews, (though they firmly believed in and expected the coming of a Messias) did not, and were hardly able to entertain; it being one repugnant to the whole frame of their conceptions: this point fully shown. Even the disciples themselves were deeply imbued with these national prejudices: this enlarged on. Hence of all things notifying the Messias, this seems to be the only one which in general the Jews did not, or would not, see and acknowlege; and this caused them to overlook all other glorious marks which shone about his person : this, as St. Paul says, was the main scandal, which obstructed their embracing the gospel: this led them to persecute our Lord, and to retain an obstinate hatred of his name and memory. We cannot therefore here, as in other particulars, allege the general consent of God's people in expounding the prophets according to our sense; yet notwithstanding their affected and culpable blindness, there is no particular concerning the Messias in the ancient Scriptures, either more frequently glanced at in the way of mystical insinuation and adumbration; or which is expressed in more clear and direct language; or which by reasonable deduction may be more strongly inferred. I. On the first point, of mystical adumbration, some things are to be premised. 1. That the all-wise God, (who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,) having before eternal times, as St. Paul speaks, determined in due time to send the Messias, to accomplish his great and wonderful design, did by his incomprehensible providence so order things, that all the special dispensations preceding it should have a fit tendency and reference thereto; so that when it came on the stage, it might appear that the main plot consisted therein: this topic enlarged on and illustrated. 2. It is to be observed that because certain eminent servants of God were representatives of Christ, many things are ascribed to them, which only or chiefly were intended of him, their names being used as veils to cover divers things concerning him, which divine wisdom did not think fit to declare more openly : this explained. Neither is this said only according to suppositions assumed in the New Testament; but it agrees with the sense of the ancient Jews, who conceived such mysterious references often to lie under the letter of their Scriptures, in which they every where supposed a Midrash, or mystical sense: this enlarged on. Why God should choose thus to express matters, we need not determine: some probable reasons offered. These things being premised, we come to our particular case, and say, that according to what our Lord and his Apostles teach, the Messiah's sufferings were in divers passages of the ancient Scriptures prefigured. Peculiar reasons why they should be so, supposing the thing itself determined to be : on the same supposition it is plain that the passages about Abel, Isaac, Josias, Jeremiah, and the like, may congruously be applied thereto; also the elevation of the brazen serpent, the paschal lamb, the Jewish priests and sacrifices, &c.; but still more the afflictions of King David. Which being admitted, on a comparison of the passages with what befel Jesus, we may observe an admirable harmony; there being scarcely any part of his affliction during life, or any circumstance thereof at his death, which is not in express and emphatical terms there set out: this fully shown by quotations. II. But farther, there are not only such oblique intimations of this matter, shrouded under the coverture of other persons and names; but very direct and immediate predictions concerning the Messiah's being to suffer, most clearly expressed. That whole famous chapter of Isaiah, the 53rd, specified; wherein the kind, manner, causes, ends, and consequences of his sufferings, together with his behaviour under them, are graphically represented. More passages brought forward from the other prophets; from which we may well conclude with our Lord, That thus it was written, and thus (according to prophecy) it was to happen, that the Christ should suffer.’ III. That it was to fall out thus might also well be inferred from reasons grounded on the qualities of the Messiah's person, and on the nature of his performances, such as they are described in prophetical Scripture; as that he was to be really, and plainly to appear, a person of the most admirable virtue and goodness; but there never was nor can be such, without the trial of great affliction : that he was to be an universal pattern to all men (especially to the poor and afflicted) of all righteousness; to exemplify the most difficult pieces of duty, humility, self-denial, resignation to the divine will, &c.: which he could not have had the opportunity of doing, had he been prosperous and splendid in worldly affairs. This topic enlarged on. Now that Jesus did thoroughly correspond to whatever is thus predicted concerning the Messias, need not be declared : it is notorious; and no adversary can deny it. Conclusion.