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ticular circumstance to which I mean to draw your attention at present, is the last clause of the text, in which we are told, that “ to the poor the Gospel is preached.”
That our Lord should appeal to the miracles which he had wrought before the eyes of the two disciples, as an incontestable proof that he was the Messiah, will be thought very natural and proper; but that he should immediately subjoin to this, as an additional proof; and a proof on which he seems to lay as much stress as on the other, that “ to the poor the Gospel was “ preached,” may appear, at the first view, a little extraordinary. We shall, however, soon be satisfied that in this as well as in every other instance, our Divine Master acted with consummate wisdom. He was speaking to Jews. His object was to convince them, that he was the MESSIAH. The obvious way of doing this was to show, that he corresponded to the description which their own prophets gave of that great personage. Now they speak of him as one, who should not only give eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, feet to the lame, and speech
to the dumb, but should also “ preach good “ tidings to the meek and the poor.”* These were two distinct and separate marks by which he was to be known, and it was therefore as proper and necessary for our Saviour to refer to the one as to the other. Whoever pretended to be the Messiah, must unite in himself these two great discriminating peculiarities, which, taken together, form one of the most illustrious and beneficent characters that can be imagined ; a character distinguished by the communication of the greatest of all earthly blessings to two descriptions of men, who stood most in need of assistance, the diseased, and the poor. To the former, the promised Saviour of the world was to give health ; to the latter, spiritual instruction. In this manner was the great Redeemer marked out by the prophets, and this glorious distinction did Christ display and support in his own person throughout the whole course of his ministry.
That he was infinitely superior to every other teacher of religion, in the number, and
* Isaiah xxix, 18, 19.; xxxv. 5, 6.; Ixi. 1 VOL. II.
the benevolent nature of his miracles, is well known ; and that he was no less distinguished by the circumstance of “ preaching " to the poor;” that there was no one either before or after him, who made it so much his peculiar business to instruct them, and paid such constant and condescending attention to them as he did, is equally certain. The ancient prophets were usually sent to kings and princes, to the rich and the great, and many of their prophecies were couched in sublime figurative language, beyond the comprehension of the vulgar. There were, indeed, other parts of the Jewish scriptures sufficiently plain and intelligible, and adapted to all capacities; but even these the rabbies and the scribes, the great expounders of the law among the Jews, contrived to perplex and darken, and render almost useless by their vain traditions, their absurd glosses, and childish interpretations. So far were they from showing any particular regard or tenderness to the common people, that they held them in the utmost contempt ; they considered them as accursed *,
* John vii, 48, 49.
because they knew not that law, which they themselves took care to render impenetrably obscure to them. “ They took away the “ key of knowledge ; they entered not in " themselves, and those that were entering “ in they hindered.” * It was even a proverbial saying among them, “ that the Spirit “ of God did not rest but upon a rich “ man.” † So different were the maxims of the great Jewish teachers from the sentiments and conduct of that heavenly Instructor, who openly declared, and gloried in the declaration, that he came “to preach " the Gospel to the poor.” |
Nor did the lower ranks of mankind meet with better treatment in the heathen world. There were among the ancient Pagans, at different periods, and in different countries, many excellent moral writers of fine talents and profound knowledge ; but their compositions were calculated not for toc illiterate and the indigent, but for men of ability and erudition like themselves. They thought the poor below their notice or regard; they could not stoop so low as to accommodate themselves to the understanding of the vulgar. Their ambition, even in their ethical treatises, was to please the learned few. To these the dialogues of Plato, the Ethics of Aristotle, the Offices of Cicero, the Morals of Seneca and of Plutarch, might afford both entertainment and information ; but had they been read to a Grecian or a Roman peasant, he would not, I conceive, have found himself either much enlightened or much improved by them. How should he get wisdom from such sources, “that holdeth “ the plough, and that glorieth in the goad; “ that driveth oxen, and is occupied in their “ labours ; that giveth his mind to make “ furrows, and is diligent to give the kine “ fodder ?” * Very different occupations these from the studies of the philosopher or
* Luke xi. 52.
† Grotius on Matt. xi. 5. # It may be alleged, that by the poor, to whom our Lord preached the Gospel, the sacred writers meant not the poor in circumstances, but the poor in spirit. The truth is, they meant both; by our Saviour's conduct both senses were cqually verified; and these two sorts of poverty are so frequently found united, that it is scarce necessary, at least in the present instance, to distinguish between them. For more complete satisfaction on this and some other points (of which but a very imperfect view is given here) see Bishop Hurd's admirable sermon on Matt. v. 3. s. 8.