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THE GOSPEL FOR THE POOR.
LUKE VII. 22.
To the Poor the Gospel is Preached.
The Old Testament closes with a remarkable prediction concerning Messiah and his forerunner. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. Accordingly, at the appointed time, came John the Baptist, in the spirit and power of Elias, saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. In his great work of preparing the way of the Lord, he challenged sin without respect of persons. The attempt was hazardous; but, feeling the majesty of his character, he was not to be moved by considerations which divert or intimidate the ordinary man. Name, sect, station, were alike to him.
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Not even the imperial purple, when it harbored a crime, afforded protection from his rebuke. His fidelity in this point cost him his life. For having reproved Herod, for Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, he was thrown into prison, and at length sacrificed to the most implacable of all resentments, the resentment of an abandoned woman.
It was in the interval between his arrest and execution, that he sent to Jesus the message on which my text is grounded. As his office gave him no security against the workings of unbelief in the hour of temptation, it is not strange, if, in a dungeon and in chains, his mind was invaded by an occasional doubt. The question by two of his disciples, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another ? has all the air of an inquiry for personal satisfaction; and so his Lord's reply seems to treat it. Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame, walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. The answer is clear and convincing. It enumerates the very signs by which the church was to know her God, for whom she had waited ; and they were enough to remove the suspicions, and confirm the soul, of his servant John. .
Admitting that Jesus Christ actually wrought the works here ascribed to him, every sober man will conclude with Nicodemus, We know that thou art a teacher from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. It is not, however, my intention to dwell on the miraculous evidence of Christianity. The article which I select as exhibiting it in a plain but interesting view, is, THE PREACHING OF GOSPEL TO THE POOR.
In scriptural language, “the poor,” who are most exposed to suffering and least able to encounter it, represent all who are destitute of good necessary to their perfection and happiness; especially those who feel their want, and are disconsolate; especially those who are anxiously waiting for the consolation of Israel. Thus in Ps. xl. 17: I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon me. Thus in Is. xli. 17: When the poor and needy seek water and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst ; I, the Lord will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. Thus also, ch. lxi. 1: The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the MEEK; the same word with that rendered “poor;” and so it is translated by Luke, ch. iv. 18, to preach the gospel to the POOR; which is connected, both in the prophet and evangelist, with healing the BROKEN-HEARTED. Our Lord, therefore, refers John, as he did the
Jews in the synagogue at Nazareth, to this very prediction as fulfilled in himself. So that his own definition of his own religion is, a system of consolation for the wretched. This is so far from excluding the literal poor, that the success of the gospel with them is the pledge of its success with all others : for they not only form the majority of the human race, but they also bear the chief burden of its calamities. Moreover, as the sources of pleasure and pain are substantially the same in all men ; and as affliction, by suspending the influence of their artificial distinctions, reduces them to the level of their common nature; whatever, by appealing to the principles of that nature, promotes the happiness of the multitude, must equally promote the happiness of the residue ; and whatever consoles the one, must, in like circumstances console the other also. As we cannot, therefore, maintain the suitableness of the gospel to the literal poor, who are the mass of mankind, without maintaining its prerogative of comforting the afflicted; nor, on the contrary, its prerogative of comforting, separately from its suitableness to the mass of mankind; I shall consider these two ideas as involving each other.
With this explanation, the first thing which