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THE LITTLE SUCCESS OF CHRIST'S MINISTRY.
: 2!!...- - - - Romans x. 21..
All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and
HE object, that St. Paul presents to our view
in the text, makes very different impressions on the mind, according to the different sides on which it is viewed. If we consider it in itself, it is a prodigy, a prodigy which confounds reason, and shakes faith. Yes, when we read the history of Christ's ministry ; when the truth of the narrations of the evangelists is proved beyond a doubt ; when we transport ourselves back to the primitive ages of the church, and see, with our own eyes, the vir: tues, and the miracles, of Jesus Christ : we cannot believe, that the holy Spirit puts the words of the text into the mouth of the Saviour of the world: All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. It should seem, if Jesus Christ had displayed so many virtues, and operated so many miracles, there could not have been one infidel; not one Jew, who could have refused to embrace christianity, nor one libertine who could have refused to have become a good man: one would think, all the synagogue must have fallen at the foot of Jesus Christ, and have desired an admission into his church.
But when, after we have considered the unsuccessfulness of Christ's ministry in itself, we consider it in relation to the ordinary conduct of mankind, we find nothing striking, nothing astonishing, nothing contrary to the common course of events. An obstinate resistance of the strongest motives, the tenderest invitations, interests the most important, and demonstrations the most evident, is not, we perceive, an unheard of thing: and, instead of breaking out into vain exclamations, crying, O times ! O manners ! We say with the wise man, That, which is done, is that, which shall be donie; and there is no new thing under the sun, Eccles. i. 9.
I have insensibly laid out, my brethren, the plan of this discourse. I design first, to shew you the unsuccessfulness of Christ's ministry as a prodigy, as an eternal opprobrium to the nation, in which he exercised it. And I intend, secondly, to remove your astonishment, after I have excited it; and, by making a few reflections on you, yourselves, to produce in you a conviction, yea perhaps a preservation, of a certain uniformity of corruption, which we cannot help attributing to all places, and to all times.
O God! by my description of the infidelity of the ancient Jews to day, confirm us in the faith! May the portraits of the depravity of our times, which I shall be obliged to exhibit to this people, in order to verify the sacred history of the past, inspire us with as much contrition on account of our own disorders, as astonishment at the disorders of the rest of mankind! Great God! animate our meditations to this end with thy holy Spirit. May this people, whom thou dost cultivate in the tenderest manner, be an exception to the too general corruption of the rest of the world! Amen.
I. Let us consider the unbelief of the Jews as a prodigy of hardness of heart, an eternal shame and opprobium to the Jewish nation, and let us spend a few moments in lamenting it. We have supposed, that the text speaks of their infidelity. Christians who regard the authority of St. Paul, will not dispute it; for the apostle employs three whole chapters of his epistle to the Romans, the ninth, the tenth, and the eleventh, to remove the objections, which the casting off of the Jews might raise against christianity, among those of that nation, who had embraced the gospel.
One of the most weighty arguments which he useth to remove this stumbling block, is the prediction of their unbelief in their prophecies, and among other prophecies, which he alledgeth, is my text, quoted from the sixty-fifth of Isaiah.
It is worthy of observation, that all the other passages which the apostle cites on this occasion from the prophets, were taken by the ancient Jews in the same sense that the apostles gives them. This may be proved from the Talmud. I do not know a more absurd book than the Talmud : but one is, in some sort, repaid for the fatigue of turning it over by an important discovery, so to speak, which every page of that book makes ; that is, that whatever pains the Jews have been at to enervate the arguments which we have taken from the theology of their ancestors, they themselves cannot help preserving proofs of their truth. I would compare, on this article, the Talmud of the Jews with the mass-book of the church of Rome. Nothing can be more opposite to the doctrine of the gospel, and to that of the reformation, than the Romish missal : yet we discover in it some traces of the doctrine of the primitive church ; and although a false turn is given to much of the ancient phraseology, yet it is easy to discover the primitive divinity in this book, so that some authors have thought the missal the most eligible refutation of the worship prescribed by the missal itself. We consider the Talmud, and other writings of the modern Jews, in the same light. The ancient Jews, we see, took the prophecies which St. Paul alledgeth, in the three chapters that I have quoted, in the same sense in which the apostle took them, and like him, understood them of the infidelity of the Jews in the time of the Messiah. 4
St. Paul in Rom. ix. 25. quotes a prophecy from Hosea, I will call them my people which were not my people. The antient Jews took this prophecy in the apostle's sense, and we have this gloss on the words of Hosea, still in the Talmud : The time shall come, wherein they, who were not my people shall turn unto the Lord, and shall become my people, chap. ii. 23.
St. Paul in Rom. ix, 23. cites a prophecy from Isaiah ! Behold! I lay in Sion a stumbling-stone, chap. viii. 14. The ancient Jews took this prophecy in the same sense, and we have still this gloss in the Talmud : When the son of David shall come, that is to say, in the time of the Messiah, the two houses of the fathers, that is, the kingdom of Israel, and that of Judah, (these two kingdoms included the whole nation of the Jews) the two houses of the fathers shall be cast off, according as it is zuritten, Behold! I lay in Sion a stumbling-stone.
The apostle, in Rom. x. 19. alledgeth a passage from Deuteronomy; I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, chap. xxxii. 21. The Jews, both ancient and modern, take this prophecy in the same sense, and one of their books entitled, The book by excellence, explains the whole chapter of the time of the Messiah.
Our text is taken by St. Paul from Isaiah's prophecy, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. The ancient Jews took the words in the same sense, as we can prove by the writings of the modern Jews. Aben Ezra quotes an ancient Rabbi, who explains the prophecy more like a christian than a Jew. These are his words: I have found the nations which called not on me : but as for my people, in vain have I stretched out my hands unto them. St. Paul proves that the hardness of heart of the Jewish nation was foretold by the prophets, and the Jews, in like manner, have preserved a tradition of the infidelity of their nation in the time of the Messiah: hence this saying of a Rabbi: God abode three years and a half on Mount Olivet in vain, in vain he cried, Seek ye the Lord ! and therefore am I found of them who sought me not.
We have, then, a right to say, that my text speaks of the unbelief of the Jews in the time of the Messiah. This we were to prove, and to prove this infidelity is to exhibit a prodigy of hardness of heart, the eternal opprobrium and shame of the Jewish nation. This is the first point of light, in which we are to consider unbelief, and the smallest attention is sufficient to discover its turpitude.
Consider the pains that Jesus Christ took to convince, and to reform the Jews. To them he consecrated the first functions of his ministry; he never went out of their towns and provinces; he seemed to have come only for them, and to have brought a gospel formed on the plan of the law, and restrained to the Jewish nation alone. The evangelists have remarked these things, and he himself said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matt. xv. 24. When he sent his apostles, he expressly commanded them not to go