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lieve them are infinitely greater: and that whilst the latter may lead to very serious consequences, the former must be at least harmless, if not eminently beneficial. The Christian religion exists, and has long existed. No other explanation of its origin has ever been attempted, than that which the Gospels afford; namely, the miracles of its Founder. On them alone, he rested the truth of his pretensions; and on them we may safely rely for the foundation of our faith, the assurance of our hope; and the reward of that charity, which comprehends in itself every Christian grace and virtue, and can alone ensure our final salvation.
MATTHEW Xi. 5.
The Poor have the Gospel preached to them.
Ir appears at first sight rather remarkable, that our Saviour after alleging his miracles as proofs of his Messiahship to the disciples of the Baptist, should add these words: which do not immediately strike us as affording any peculiar evidence of that fact. But there can be no doubt that he referred to this prediction of Isaiah, which not at that moment only, but throughout the whole course of his ministry he was anxious to fulfil. The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me: upon me: because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, (that is unto the poor, it is the same word in the original, which is sometimes translated poor and sometimes meek); he hath
sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. That he considered this passage as applicable to his office, is confirmed by St. Luke, who relates that he read it in the synagogue-and that the eyes of all who were present were fastened upon him, and that he declared this day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.
There is nothing that more strongly distinguishes Christianity from Judaism, than this circumstance, that it was preached to the poor; that their welfare temporal and eternal formed so considerable a part of it: that they were not only the objects peculiarly benefited by it, but were also the chosen instruments of its propagation in the world. There is every reason to think from the general tenor of the Gospel, that the neglect and contempt, and even the oppression of the poor, were very prevalent vices amongst the higher classes of the Jews. St. James in his Epistle to the twelve Tribes scattered abroad thus addresses them: Hearken my beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But
ye have despised the poor: addressing whom he says-Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment-seat? Do they not blaspheme that worthy Name by the which ye are called? This solicitude for the poor might then (independent of the prophecy) be a reason why the Baptist who had called so earnestly upon his countrymen to repent, and to practise mutual charity, should believe that Jesus was the expected Messiah. From its first introduction to the present hour it has formed a most important part of Christianity. It has grown with its growth and strengthened with its strength. It has subsisted under all the various circumstances in which the religion has been placed. Ardent and enthusiastic but perhaps injudicious and impracticable in its infancy; beneficial even in the period of its greatest corruption; more enlightened as brighter days shone upon it, and gradually advancing and improving in its spirit and character, as the genuine doctrines of the Gospel were more clearly developed and understood. The community of goods which undoubtedly to some extent and for a short time subsisted in the church, is a strong proof of the deep root which the benevolent maxims
of our Saviour had taken in the minds of the first converts. Nor did they cease to operate extensively during the best ages of the church. It is admitted by an author to whom I have lately had frequent occasion to refer, and who if he had been as unprejudiced, as he was diligent, in his investigation into the history of Christianity, would probably have been numbered amongst its believers, that " a generous intercourse of charity united the most distant provinces, and the smaller congregations were cheerfully assisted by the alms of their more opulent brethren. Such an institution (he adds) which paid less regard to the merit than to the distress of the object, very materially conduced to the progress of Christianity'." In a subsequent period, when for many ages the church was debased by the grossest superstition, the same author observes, that "Monastic principles and institutions counterbalanced all its temporal advantages." But even at this time it cannot be affirmed that the neglect of the poor was one of their vices. On the contrary, we have reason to think that by a pernicious liberality, they encouraged
1 Gibbon's Decline and Fall, c. xv.