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He has noticed, also, as a circumstance unfavourable to Christianity, that its first apologists, "when they would demonstrate its divine origin, insisted much more strongly on the predictions which announced, than on the miracles which accompanied the appearance of the Messiah '." But surely they were well justified in so doing. Miracles are the best evidence of a divine revelation to eye-witnesses, and perhaps to their contemporaries. But when a considerable time has elapsed, they rest entirely upon the credit due to the veracity of their relators. But a prediction, and its alleged accomplishment, is a matter of which every man may judge for himself; it loses nothing by the lapse of time, and when he is satisfied of its truth, it has all the force of a miracle, submitted to his own observation.
That the power of foretelling the advent of the Messiah should have been confided to the Jews, who as a nation have not yet profited by it, may also to some persons appear strange. But it should be recollected, that the prophecies relating to that event, date from the com
1 Gibbon, as before.
mencement of that dispensation of the Almighty, of which they were the sole depositaries. That from them they might, and in fact did, spread generally throughout the world. That their rejection of our Saviour, so far from being inconsistent with these predictions, is (as I have already observed) not obscurely intimated by them; and that it can only be attributed to their possession of that free will, without which they could not be accountable creatures. Nor is it unreasonable to think that the rejection of Christianity by the Jews, aided its reception by the Gentiles. And that at this day it is more extensively professed on that account, than it would otherwise have been. And that as all things are foreknown in the counsels of God, or rather, perhaps we should say, seen as present; and that his decrees are concurrent with his foreknowledge, rather than dependent upon it, he has ordained, that as they were the first to reject his religion, so they should be the last to profit by it; but that after it shall have gradually triumphed over all other erroneous systems of faith, they also shall be converted by it, so that, in the language of our Saviour, there shall be one fold and one
shepherd and in that of Isaiah, The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
But not only is the history of the advent of our Saviour distinguished from other histories by being foretold; it is also confirmed, as perhaps no other history of equal antiquity is, by the evidence of present facts. The existence of Christians by name at this day is almost a proof that Christ came into the world, and performed and suffered those things which are related in the Scriptures. For we read in the Acts of the Apostles, that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. And from that time to the present, there is an unbroken chain of evidence, that that appellation has continued to describe the believers in Jesus. I have not entered into these considerations so much for the purpose of establishing the mere fact of our Saviour's first advent, of which I do not know that any doubt has ever been entertained, as to shew the connection of that event with the ancient Jewish prophecies, which is one of the main pillars upon which the truth of our holy religion rests; and to prepare for the elucidation of the next point contained in the text:
namely, the object of his coming, which is distinctly stated to have been To put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. But before we proceed with this matter I must just notice a preceding expression, which seems to require some explanation. Christ is stated to have appeared once in the end of the world. The original literally translated would be, at the conclusion of the ages, which some commentators understand to signify, the conclusion of the Mosaic dispensation; and others to mean the last of the dispensations which God intended to give to mankind; that is to say, the Christian revelation, both of which, as they were coincident, in point of time, amount to the same thing. That what is commonly understood by the end of the world, could not be intended, is obvious; but to enter into it now would be to anticipate what I shall have to offer in a future discourse upon the latter part of the text.
I come then to the consideration of the great object of Christ's first advent, which the Apostle here declares, in conformity with many passages of the Gospels, to have been to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. A subject than which one more diffi
cult to comprehend is certainly not to be found in the whole compass of our religion: which seems indeed to be so repugnant to the understandings of many, who profess to be, nevertheless, sincere Christians (whom it would be very uncharitable not to believe to be good men, and very absurd to deny to be able men), that they "explode (as their phrase is) the doctrine altogether, as irrational, unscriptural, and derogatory from the divine perfections; and contend that Christ died only as a martyr to the truth, and as a necessary preliminary to his resurrection'." How they can reconcile this opinion with the unequivocal language of the text, and the tenor of the whole argument of the Epistle from which it is taken, with the exclamation of St. John, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, or with our Saviour's own assertion, that He came to give his life a ransom for many, I profess not to know. Probably in the same way to which they are compelled to have recourse, when they would evade or deny the doctrine of his divinity: namely, by distorting every text in
Belsham's Calm Enquiry, page 450.