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The lineal Descent of Jesus of Nazareth from David by his blessed Mother the Virgin Mary:
ON REV. XXII. 16.
I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
THE words here pitched upon by me are the words of Christ now glorified in heaven, and seem, as it were, by the union of a double festival, to represent to us both the Nativity and Epiphany, while they lead us to the birth of Christ by the direction of a star; though with this difference, I confess, that both the means directing, and the term directed to, do in this place coincide; and Christ the person speaking, as well as spoken of, is here the only star to direct us to himself. The nativity of Christ is certainly a compendium of the whole gospel, in that it thus both begins and ends it, reaching from the first chapter of St. Matthew to this last of the Revelation; which latter, though it be confessedly a book of mysteries, and a system of occult divinity, yet surely it can contain nothing more mysterious and stupendous than the mystery here wrapt up in the text; where we have Christ declaring himself both the root and the offspring of David. For that any one should be both father and son to the same person, produce himself, because and effect too, and so the copy give being to its original, seems at first sight so very strange and unaccountable, that, were it not to be adored as a mystery, it would be exploded as a contradiction. But since the gospel has lifted us above our reason, and taught us one of the great arcana of heaven, by assuring us that divinity and humanity may cohabit in one subsistence, that two natures may concur in the same person, and heaven and earth mingle with out confusion; we being thus taught and persuaded, shall here endeavour to exhibit the whole economy of Christ’s glorious person, and to shew what a miracle he was, as well as what miracles he did, by considering him under these three several respects.
First, as the root; secondly, as the offspring of David; and thirdly, as he is here termed, the bright and morning star.
And first for the first of these:
Christ was the root of David; but how? Certainly in respect of something in him which had a being before David. But his humanity had not so, being of a much later date, and therefore, as a mere man, he could not be the root of David; whereupon it follows that he must have been so in respect of some other nature: but what that nature was will be the question. The Arians, who denied his divinity, but granted his preexistence to his humanity, (which the Socinians absolutely deny,) held him to be the first-born of the creation; the first and most glorious creature which God made, a spiritual substance produced by him long before the foundation of the world, and afterwards, in the fulness of time, sent into a body, and so made incarnate. This is what they hold; whereby it appears how much they differ from the school of Socinus, though some with great impertinence confound them. Arius taught that Christ had a spiritual subsistence before the world began: Socinus held that he was a mere man, and had no subsistence or being at all, till such time as he was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary. I shall not much concern my self about these two opinions, as they stand in opposition to one another; but only remark this of them, that Socinus asserts a thing, considered barely in it self, more agreeable to reason, which can much better conceive of Christ as a man naturally consisting of soul and body, than as such an heterogeneous composition of a body and (I know not what) strange spiritual substance existing before the creation, as the Arians represent him: but then, on the other side, the opinion of Arius is, of the two, much more difficult to be confuted by scripture: for as to Socinus, the chief arguments brought from thence against him, are not such as are taken from the name or actions of God, attributed to Christ; which he thinks he easily answers by asserting that God is a name, not of nature, but of power and dominion; and that Christ is called God, because of the power and government of all things put into his hands; as earthly kings also, in their proportion, have in scripture the same title upon the same account. But the arguments which bear hardest upon Socinus are such as are taken from those scriptures, which, beyond all possibility of rational contradiction, declare the preexistence and precedent being of Christ to his conception; such as John viii. 58. Before Abraham was, I am; and in John xvii. 5. Glorify me, O Father, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was; which all the Socinians in the world could never yet give any clear, proper, and natural exposition of; but unnaturally and illogically pervert and distort them, in defiance of sense and reason, and all the received ways of interpretation. But now, as for Arius, the allegation of these and the like scriptures prejudice not his hypothesis at all; who grants Christ to have been a glorious spiritual substance, of an existence not only before Abraham, but also before Adam, and the angels themselves, and the whole host of the creation. But what? Was Christ then the root of David only in respect of this spiritual, preexisting, created substance, first found out and set up by Arius? No, certainly; for the scripture, and (the best comment upon the scripture) a general council, and that also the first and most famous, even the council of Nice, have condemned this. And all those scriptures which make Christ either one with or equal to the Father, clearly confute and overthrow so absurd as well as blasphemous an assertion. Let this therefore be fixed upon, that Christ was the root, or original of David, as he was of all mankind besides; namely, in respect of his divinity; of that infinite, eternal power, which displayed itself in the works of the creation: for by him all things were made, as the evangelist tells us, John i. 3. But how ready natural reason will be to rise up against this assertion, I am not ignorant; and how [that Jesus of Nazareth, a man like ourselves, should be accounted by nature God, the Creator of the world, omniscient, omnipotent, and eternal,] is looked upon by many as a proposition, not only false, but foolish, and fitter to be laughed than disputed out of the world; this also is no surprise to us. But then, on the other side, that this is a thing not to be founded upon, or to take its rise from the bare discourses of reason, he must be very much a stranger to reason himself, who shall venture to deny; for if it may be proved by reason, (as I doubt not but it may,) that the scripture is the word of God, addressed to men, and consequently ought to be understood and interpreted according to the familiar natural way of construction proper to human writings; then I affirm, that to deny Christ to be naturally God is irrational; when his being so is so frequently asserted throughout the whole scripture, and that in as clear terms as it is possible for one man to express his mind by to another, if it were his purpose to declare this very thing to him.
And therefore I have often wondered at the preposterous tenets of Socinus, and that, not so much
for his denying the natural deity of our Saviour, as
that he should do it after he had wrote a book for
the authority of the scripture. For upon the same
reasons that he and his sect deny the deity of Christ,
I should rather deny the scripture to be of divine
authority. They say, for Christ to be God is a thing
absurd and impossible: from which I should argue,
that that writing or doctrine which affirms a thing
absurd and impossible, cannot be true, and much
less the word of God. And that the gospel affirms
so much of Christ, we may appeal to the judgment
of any impartial heathen, who understands the language in which it is written. But he who first denies the deity of Christ as absurd and impossible,
and thereupon rejects the divine authority of the
scripture for affirming it, may be presumed, upon
the supposal of the former, to do the latter very rationally. So that he who would take the most proper and direct way to
convince such an one of his
heresy, (if there be any convincing of one who first
takes up his opinion, and then seeks for reasons for
it,) must not, I conceive, endeavour in the first place
to convince him out of scripture, [that Jesus Christ
is God,] but turn the whole force and stress of his
disputation to the proof of this, [that the Scripture
is the word of God to mankind, and upon that account ought to be interpreted as the writings of men
use and ought to be;] and if so, he who will make
sense of them must grant the divinity of Christ to
be clearly asserted in them, and irrefragably inferred
from them. In short, if the adversaries of Christ’s divinity can prove Christ not to be God, they must
by consequence prove that the scriptures, naturally
and grammatically interpreted, are not the word of
God: but, on the contrary, the church being assured
that the scriptures, so interpreted, are the word of
God, is consequently assured also, that Christ is and
must be God. Nevertheless, if, according to the unreasonable demands of the men of this sect, this and
all other mysteries of our religion should be put to
answer for themselves at the bar of human reason, I
would fain know, wherein consists the paradox of
asserting Christ to be God? For no man says that
his human nature is his divine, or that he is God as
he is man. But we assert, that he who is God is
also man, by having two natures united into one and the same subsistence. And if the soul, which is an
immaterial substance, is united to the body, which
is a material; though the case is not altogether the
same, yet it is so very near, that we may well ask,
what repugnancy there is, but that the divine nature
may as well be united to the human? I believe, if
we reduce things to our way of conception, we shall
find it altogether as hard to conceive the conjunction of the two former, as of the two latter: and
this, notwithstanding that other difference also of
finite and infinite between them: for why a finite
and an infinite being may not be united to one an
other by an intimate and inseparable relation, and an
assumption of the finite into the personal subsistence
of the infinite, I believe it will be hard for any one
to give a solid and demonstrative reason: for scoffs
and raillery (the usual arguments brought against
it) I am sure are not so. But I forget myself; for
the persons here disputed against believe not the
soul to be either immaterial or 99 Tantum id mihi videtur statui posse, post hanc vitam, hominis animam sive animum non ita per se subsistere,
ut tilla praemia poenasve sentiat, vel etiam illa sentiendi sit capax.
And again: In ipso primo homine totius immortalitatis rationem uni gratiae Dei tribuo; nec in ipsa creatione quicquam immortalis vitae in homine agnosco. Socin. Ep. 5. ad Joh. Volkelium. See more of the like nature, cited by the learned Dr. Ashwell, in his Dissertation de Socino et Socinianismo, p. 187, 188, 189, &c.naturally immortal; but are much the same with the Sadducees, and upon that account fitter to be crushed by the civil magistrate, as destructive to government and society, than to be confuted as merely heretics in religion.
I conclude, therefore, against the scoffs of the heathens, the disputations of the Jews, the impiety of Arius, and the bold, blasphemous assertions of Socinus, that the man Christ Jesus, born at Bethlem, of the Virgin Mary, is God, God by nature, the maker of all things, the fountain of being, the Ancient of Days, the First and the Last, of whose being there was no beginning, and of whose kingdom there shall be no end. And in this one proposition the very life and heart of Christianity does consist. For as, that there is a God, is the great foundation of religion in general: so, that Jesus Christ is God, is the foundation of the Christian religion: and I believe it will one day be found, that he who will not acknowledge Christ for his Creator, shall never have him for his Redeemer.
Having thus shewn how Christ was the root and original of David, pass we now to the next thing proposed, which is to shew,
Secondly, That he was his offspring too, and so, having asserted his divinity, to clear also his humanity. That the Christian religion be true, is the eternal concernment of all those who believe it, and look to be saved by it: and that it be so, depends upon Jesus Christ’s being the true promised Messias; (the grand and chief thing asserted by him in his gospel;) and lastly, Christ’s being the true Messias depends upon his being the son of David, and king of the Jews. So that unless this be evinced, the whole foundation of Christianity must totter and fall, as being a cheat, and an imposture upon the world. And therefore let us undertake to clear this great important truth, and to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth was the true seed of David, and rightful king of the Jews.
First, That these two evangelists disagree in deducing of his pedigree.
Secondly, That supposing they were proved to agree, yet both of their pedigrees terminate in Joseph, and therefore belong not to Jesus, who was not indeed the son of Joseph, but of Mary.
In answer to which we are to observe, that concerning this whole matter there are two opinions.
First, That both in St. Matthew and St. Luke only the pedigree of Joseph is recounted; in the first his natural, in the other his legal: for it being a known custom among the Jews, that a man dying without issue, his brother should marry his widow, and raise up seed to him, Eli hereupon dying with out any child, Jacob took his wife, and of her begat Joseph; who by this means was naturally the son of Jacob, as St. Matthew deduces it, and legally or reputedly the son of Eli, as St. Luke. And then to make Jacob and Eli brothers, who are there set down in different lines, it is said that Matthan, of the line of Solomon, and Melchi, of the line of Na than, successively married the same woman, (Estha by name,) of whom Matthan begat Jacob, and Melchi begat Eli: whereupon Jacob and Eli being brothers by the mother, though of different fathers, Eli dying without issue, Jacob was obliged by law to marry his relict, and so to raise up seed to his brother Eli.
Now all this is grounded upon an ancient story of one Julius Africanus, recorded by Eusebius, in his first book and seventh chapter. And of late Faustus Socinus; (who, having denied Christ’s divine nature, was resolved to cut him short both root and branch, and to deny his human too, at least as to the most considerable circumstance of it, which concerned the credit of his being the true Messias;) he, I say, catches at this forlorn story, and ascribes much to it in that book of his called his Lectiones Sacrae; and though generally a professed despiser of antiquity, yet when he thinks it may make any thing for his purpose, he can catch at every fabulous scrap of it, and thereupon vouches this as authentic, even for its antiquity. From which opinion it follows, that Christ was only the reputed son of David, that is to say, because his mother was married to one who was really of David’s line. And this the whole sect of Socinus affirms to be sufficient to denominate and make Christ the son of David, and accordingly allow him so to be upon no other or nearer account.
But of the authors and assertors of this opinion we may well demand, that admitting Christ might upon this account be called the son of David, in the large and loose way of that denomination, yet how could he for this only reason be called the seed of David? nay, and, what is yet more full and express, be said to be made of the seed of David, as it is in Romans i. 3. and further, to be the fruit of his loins, as it is in Acts ii. 30. I say, with what propriety, or accord with the common use of speaking, could one man be said to be another man’s seed, and the fruit of his loins, when he had no other relation to him in the world, than that his mother only married with a person who stood so related to that other? I believe the Jews would desire no greater a concession from us than this, whereby to conclude and argue Jesus of Nazareth not to have been the true Messiah. Let us therefore leave this opinion to itself, as destructive to the main foundation of our religion, and fit to be owned by none but the mortal enemies of Christ and Christianity, the Jews and the Socinians; and so pass to the
Second opinion, which is, that both Joseph and Mary came from David by true and real descent, and that, as Joseph’s genealogy and pedigree is set down in that line which St. Matthew gives an account of, so the Virgin Mary’s lineage is recited in that which is recorded by St. Luke; which opinion, as it has been generally received by divines of the greatest note, and best answers those difficulties and objections which the other is beset with; so I shall endeavour fully to clear and set it down in these following propositions.
1. The first proposition is this, That the designs of the two evangelists, in their respective deductions of our Saviour’s pedigree, are very different. For St. Matthew intends only to set down his political or royal pedigree, by which he had right to the crown of the Jews; but St. Luke shews his natural descent through the several successions of those from whom he took flesh and blood. And that this is so, besides that natural reason taken from the impossibility of one and the same person’s having two several fathers, as St. Matthew and St. Luke seem at first sight to import; we have these farther arguments for the said assertion; as, first, that St. Matthew begins his reckoning only from Abraham, to whom the first promise of the kingdom was made. Gen. xvii. 6. But St. Luke runs his line up to Adam, the first head and fountain of human nature; which fairly shews that one deduced only his title to the crown, the other the natural descent of his humanity. And then, in the second place, that St. Matthew used the word [begat] only in a political sense, is further clear from this, that he applies it to him who had no child, even to Jeconiah, of whom it is expressly said in Jeremiah xxii. 30, that God wrote him childless. Whereupon, being deposed by the king of Babylon, Zedekiah his uncle was made king, and afterwards, upon the removal of him also for his rebellion, (there remaining no more of the line of Solomon,) Salathiel, being next of kin, was declared king of the Jews; which Salathiel, upon that account, is said to be begot by Jeconiah, in St. Matthew; not because he was naturally his son, but legally and politically so, as succeeding him in the in heritance of the crown. For though in 1 Chron. iii. 17. there is mention of Assir and of Salathiel, as it were of two sons of Jeconiah;1010 As it stands rectified by Junius and Tremellius, who place the comma after Assir, and not between Jeconiah and that. yet, in truth, Assir there is not the proper name of a person, nor of any son of Jeconiah, but is only an appellative of Jeconiah himself, signifying one under captivity, or in bonds, as Jeconiah then was in Babylon, when Salathiel was declared king. And that Salathiel is not there set down as his son in a natural sense, is evident from the 16th verse of the same chapter, where Zedekiah is likewise said to be his son, though naturally he was his uncle; yet because Zedekiah first succeeded him in the kingdom, and Salathiel next, Jeconiah still surviving, therefore both of them, in that political sense I spoke of, are said to be his sons, whom, in the natural sense, the prophet Jeremy, as has been shewn, declares to have been childless.
2. 1111 Note that those four sons of David by Bathsheba, mentioned in 1 Chron. iii. 5. are not there set down according to the order of their birth. For Solomon, though last named, was certainly born first; and Nathan (as he is generally reckoned) immediately next.The second proposition is this, That as David had several sons by former wives, so by Bathsheba also he had three, besides Solomon, of which the eldest next to him was Nathan; and that Christ descended naturally from David, not by Solomon, but by Nathan. And accordingly, that St. Luke deduces only Nathan’s line; upon which account it is, that the Jews at this day, in opposition to the Christians, make it one main article of their creed, that the Messias was to descend naturally from Solomon; and accordingly pronounce a curse upon all those who assert the contrary: though to this very hour they have not been able to assign who was the son of Jeconiah, whom God wrote childless; nor to shew any solid reason why, if Jeconiah had any natural issue of his own, the crown and sceptre of Judah came to be devolved upon the line of Nathan, as it actually was in Salathiel and his successors. Add to this, (which is a thing well worth observing,) that although it is frequently said in scripture, that the Messias should descend from David, yet it is never said that he should descend from Solomon. For though in 1 Chron. xxii. 10. it is said of Solomon, that God would establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel for ever, yet it is not said that he would establish it in his seed or line; and besides, the kingdom here spoken of and intended, was the spiritual kingdom over the church of God, typified in that temporal one of Solomon; which spiritual kingdom was established only in the person of the Messias, whom we believe to have been Jesus of Nazareth, the great king and head of the church, God blessed for ever.
3. The third proposition is this, That the crown of Judah being now come into the line of Nathan in Salathiel, (whose immediate son was Pedaiah, (though not mentioned in the succession, because he died before his father’s assumption to the crown,) and next to Salathiel, the great and renowned Zorobabel,) forasmuch as St. Matthew and Luke agree from Jeconiah to Zorobabel; (after whom they divide, each ascribing to him a different successor, viz. one of them Abiud, and the other Rhesa;) we are rationally to suppose, that these two were the sons of Zorobabel; and that from Abiud, the elder brother, (who only had right to the crown and kingdom,) lineally descended Joseph, according to the calculation of St. Matthew; and that from Rhesa, the younger brother, descended Mary, of whom Jesus was born, according to St. Luke’s description: for though in the above-mentioned third chapter of 1 Chron. (where there is an account given of Zorobabel’s sons,) there occur not the names of Abiud and Rhesa; yet it being common with the Jews for one man sometimes to have two names, there is ground enough for us, without any presumption, to believe and conclude that it so happened here.
4. The fourth proposition is this, That it was the custom of the Jews not to reckon the woman by name in her pedigree, but to reckon the husband in right of his wife. For which reason Joseph is twice reckoned, viz. first in his own right by St. Matthew; and secondly in his wife Mary’s right by St. Luke. For Mary was properly the daughter of Eli; and Joseph, who is there reckoned after him, is so reckoned, not as his natural son, but as his son-in-law, instead of his wife Mary, according to that custom of the Jews: whereupon it is noted by Chemnitius, that St. Luke doth not say that Joseph was the son of Eli, or Eli begat Joseph, as St. Matthew precisely doth, that Jacob begat Joseph, but τοῦ Ἠλὶ, who was of Eli, that is, was related to him, and belonged to his family, viz. as his son-in-law. Nor ought any to object against Mary’s being the daughter of Eli, that ancient and received tradition, which reports her the daughter of Joachim and Anna; for, as the learned bishop Mountague observes, Eli and Joachim, however they are two words, (and very different,) are yet but one name, and signify but one person; Eli being but ύποκοριστικὸν, a diminutive of Eliakim, and Eliakim the same with Jehoiachim or Joachim, as appears from 2 Kings xxiii. 34. and 2 Chron. xxxvi. 4. quoting withal two noted Jewish rabbies,1212 Acts and Monuments of the Church, p. 522. viz. Macana Ben Nehemiae, and rabbi Hacadosh, in confirmation of the same, and with particular application of it to the father of the blessed Virgin, there pointed out by them as the mother of the Messias.
5. The fifth and last proposition is this, That although Jesus of Nazareth naturally descended only from Mary, yet he derives not his title to the crown and kingdom of the Jews originally by the line of Mary, (forasmuch as she sprang from the line of Rhesa, the younger son of Zorobabel,) but received that from Joseph, who was of the elder line by Abiud; which line of Abiud failing in Joseph, as having no issue, the right of inheritance devolved upon one of the younger line, vi%. upon Mary, and consequently upon Jesus her son and legal heir. From whence there rises this unanswerable argument, both against the opinion of those who affirm Joseph to have had other children by a former wife; as also against that old heresy of Helvidius, who, against the general and constant sense of the church, denied the perpetual virginity of Mary, affirming that Joseph had other children by her after the birth of Jesus. Spanhemius, in his Dubia Evangelica, concludes against the opinion of Helvidius (which I much marvel at) merely upon the account of decency and congruity, as judging it more suitable and agreeable to that honour able esteem we ought to have of our blessed Saviour’s mother, to hold that after his birth she remained a perpetual virgin. But I add, that to assert so, seems not only decent, but of as absolute necessity, as that Jesus Christ the Messias was to be of right king of the Jews. For had Joseph had any children, either by Mary or any other wife, they, as coming from the elder line of Abiud by Joseph their father, must have claimed the inheritance of the kingdom in his right, and not Jesus the son of Mary, who descended from a younger line, and so could not legally inherit, but upon default of issue from Joseph, the only remaining heir of the elder: for this was the law of Moses, which in this case would have barred Jesus from a title to the kingdom of the Jews. But we know Jesus came to fulfil the law in every part and tittle of it; and therefore would never have owned himself king of the Jews, contrary to the express injunctions and tenor of it. For though it must be confessed that the gospel makes mention of the brothers and sisters of Jesus, yet it is known to be most usual in the Jewish language to call any collateral kindred, as cousins and cousin-germans, by that name. And antiquity reports the Virgin Mary to have had two sisters, the children of which might very well be called the brethren of Jesus. So that from hence there can be no necessity of granting that Jesus had any brother or sister, either by his mother Mary, or his reputed and legal father Joseph.
And thus I have endeavoured to make out our blessed Saviour’s descent from the line of David. But as for that opinion which asserts him to have been of the tribe of Levi, because his mother Mary was cousin to Elizabeth who was of that tribe, it is very weak and groundless. For no man asserts Jesus to have been so of the house of David, as to exclude all relation to other tribes and families, with which by mutual marriages he might well contract a kindred; it being prohibited to none but heiresses to marry out of their own family. And as for an other opinion, which (in order to the making of Christ a priest) affirms Nathan the son of David, from whom Christ descended, to have been a priest, as Solomon was a king, and so to have founded a sacerdotal line as Solomon did a royal; this being a conceit both so groundless in itself, and withal so expressly contradicted by the scripture, which in Heb. vii. 13. so positively affirms, that no man of the tribe of Judah ever gave attendance at the altar; I say, upon this account it deserves no further thought, and much less confutation.
Now to sum up all that has been delivered, it briefly amounts to thus much, that the royal line of David by Solomon being extinct in Jeconiah, the crown and kingdom passed into the immediately younger line of Nathan (another son of David) in Salathiel and Zorobabel; which Zorobabel having two sons, Abiud and Rhesa, the royal dignity descended of right upon the line of Abiud, of which Joseph was the last, who marrying the Virgin Mary, which sprung from the line of Rhesa the younger son of Zorobabel, and withal having no issue himself, his right passes into the line of Mary, being the next of kin, and by that means upon Jesus her son. Whereupon he was both naturally the son of David, and also legally the king of the Jews; which latter is accounted to us by St. Matthew, as the former is by St. Luke; who delivers down the pedigree of Mary the mother of Jesus and daughter of Eli: though Joseph her husband only stands there named according to the known way of the Jews computing their genealogies.
And this to me seems a most clear, full, and manifest deduction of our Saviour’s pedigree from David, which yet I shall further confirm with this one consideration; that whatsoever cavils the modern Jews and others make nowadays against the genealogies recorded by the evangelists; yet the Jews their contemporaries, who were most nice and exactly skilful in things of this nature, and withal most maliciously bent against Christ and Christianity, never offered to quarrel against or invalidate the accounts they have given us of this particular; which, had they been faulty, the Jews would most certainly have done; this giving them so vast an advantage against us. And this consideration alone, were we now not able particularly to clear these matters, is of that weight and substance, that, so far as terms of moral certainty can demonstrate a thing, it ought with every sober and judicious person to have even the force of a demonstration. But the discussion which has already passed upon this subject, will afford us ground firm enough for the most rational and impartial belief to stand upon. However, if any one knows some other way of clearing this great article of our faith, which may better accord all difficulties, and lie open to fewer and lesser exceptions, he will do a worthy service to the Christian religion to produce it, and none shall be more thankful to him for it than myself.
Having thus finished the second part of my text, which speaks Christ the offspring of David, according to his human nature, as the first declared him the root of David in respect of his divine, I shall descend now to that
Third and last part of the text, which represents him to us under the glorious denomination of the bright and morning star.
Three things there are considerable in a star.
First, The nature of its substance.
Secondly, The manner of its appearance.
Thirdly, The quality of its operation.
In every one of which respects Christ bears a lively resemblance to it.
First, and first for the nature of its substance. It is commonly defined in philosophy the purest and most refined part of its orb; by which it is distinguished from all those meteors and shining nothings that ascend no further than the air, how high soever the mistake and ignorance of vulgar eyes may place them, as also from the other parts of the celestial sphere or orb in which it is. In like manner was not Christ the purest and the noblest part of the world, which was the sphere and orb wherein, during his humiliation, he was pleased to move? He was the very flower, the extract and quintessence of man kind, uniting all the perfections of it in his person, without any alloy or mixture of imperfection. Upon which account David, by the spirit of prophecy, calls him fairer than the sons of men, as being anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows: that is, the graces of the Spirit descended not upon him in those minute portions and stinted measures that they do upon other mortals. Their drop was nothing to his ocean.
And to shew yet further of how pure a make he was, we know him to have been wholly untouched with any thing of that original stain, which has universally sunk into the nature of all men besides. He was a second Adam without any of the guilt contracted by the first; he was born a man without any human imperfections; a rose without thorns. He was nothing but purity itself; virtue clothed in a body, and innocence incarnate. So blameless and free from all shadow of guilt, that the very Jews, his bitter enemies, gave him this testimony, that he had done all things well; Mark vii. 37. And even Pilate, his unjust judge, though he took from him his life, yet left him his innocence, declaring openly, that he found in him no fault at all, John xviii. 38.
There are spots, they say, not in the moon only, but also in the face of the sun itself: but this star was of a greater and more unblemished lustre; for not the least spot was ever discovered in it; though malice and envy itself were the perspectives through which most of the world beheld it. And as it is the privilege of the celestial luminaries to receive no tincture, sulliage, or defilement from the most noisome sinks and dunghills here below, but to maintain a pure, untainted, virgin light, in spite of all their exhalations; so our Saviour shined in the world with such an invincible light of holiness, as suffered nothing of the corrupt manners and depraved converse of men to rub the least filth or pollution upon him. He was not capable of receiving any impression from all the sin and villainy which like a contagion fastened upon every soul round about him. In a word, he was pure, righteous, and undefiled, not only above the world, but, what is more, in the midst of it.
Secondly. The next thing considerable in a star is the manner of its appearance. It appears but small, and of a little compass: so that although our reason assures us that it is bigger than the whole earth, yet our sight would seem to persuade us that it is not much bigger than a diamond sparkling upon the circle of a little ring. And now how appositely does this consideration also suit the condition of our Saviour! who both in his rising and shining upon the world seemed in the eyes of all men but a small and a contemptible thing; a poor helpless man; first living upon a trade, and then upon something that was much meaner, namely, upon alms. Whereupon, what slight thoughts had they of his person! as if he had been no more than an ordinary soul, joined to an ordinary body; and so sent into the world to take his course in the common lot of mortality. They little dreamed of a Deity, and of something greater than the world, lodged in that little tabernacle of his flesh. So that notwithstanding his being the great and almighty God, the Lord of hosts, and King of kings, yet the generality of men took him for but a mean person, and such another living piece of clay as themselves. And what could be the cause of his being thought so, but the same that makes stars to be thought little things, even their height and vast distance from poor earthly spectators? So the glories of Christ’s person were by the very transcendency of their height placed above the reach and ken of a mortal apprehension. And God must yet elevate our reason by revelation, or the Son of God himself will still seem but a small thing in our eyes. For carnal reason measures the greatest things by all the disadvantages of their outward appearance, just as little children judge of the proportion of the sun and moon, reckoning that to be the smallness of the object which is only the distance of the beholder, or the weakness of the organ.
Thirdly. The third and last thing to be considered in a star is, the quality of its operation, which is two fold. First, open and visible, by its light. Secondly, secret and invisible, by its influence. And,
First, This morning star operates by its brightness and lustre; in respect of which it is the first fruits of light, and, as it were, day in its minority; clearing the heavenly stage, and chasing away all other stars, till it reigns in the firmament alone. And now to make good the comparison between Christ and this, we shall shew how he by his appearance chased away many things much admired and gazed at by the world, and particularly these three.
First, Much of the heathenish worship and superstition, which not only like a cloud, but like a black and a dark night, had for a long time covered the face of the whole earth, and made such triumphs over the reason of mankind, that in nothing more appeared the ruins and decays of our nature. And it was unquestionably the greatest and severest in stance of the divine wrath upon man for his original apostasy from God, thus to leave him confounded and uncertain in the management of the greatest affair and concernment of his soul, his religion: so that, as it was then ordered, it was nothing else but a strange, confused compound of absurdity and impiety. For as to the object of their worship, the apostle tells us, that they worshipped devils, 1 Cor. x. 20. and elsewhere they worshipped men like themselves. Nay, birds and beasts, and creeping things; and, as historians tell us, roots and herbs, leeks and onions; yea, and their own base desires and affections; deifying and building temples to lust, anger, revenge, and the like. In sum, they worshipped all things but God, who only of all things was to have been worshipped.
Now upon the coming of Christ, very much, though not all, of this idolatrous trumpery and superstition was driven out of the world: so that many of the oracles (those great instruments of delusion) ceased about the time of our Saviour’s nativity. The divine powder then dispossessing the devil of his greater temples, as well as of his lesser, the bodies of men; and so casting down the throne of fallacy and superstition, by which he had so long enslaved the vassal world, and led it captive at his pleasure.
Secondly, As the heathenish false worship, so also the Jewish imperfect worship began to be done away by the coming of Christ. The Jews indeed drew their religion from a purer fountain than the gentiles; God himself being the author of it, and so both ennobling and warranting it with the stamp of divine authority. Yet God was pleased to limit his operations in this particular to the narrowness and small capacities of the subject which he had to deal with; and therefore the Jews, being naturally of a gross and sensual apprehension of things, had the economy of their religion, in many parts of it, brought down to their temper, and were trained to spirituals by the ministry of carnal ordinances. Which yet God was pleased to advance in their signification, by making them types and shadows of that glorious archetype that was to come into the world, his own Son; both in person and office by admirable mystery and contrivance fitted to be the great redeemer of mankind. He therefore being the person to whom all the prophets bore witness, to whom all ceremonies pointed, and whom all the various types prefigured; it was but reason, that, when he actually appeared in the world, all that previous pomp and apparatus should go off the stage, and, like shadows, vanish before the substance. And accordingly we look upon the whole Mosaical institution as having received its period by Christ, as defunct and ceased, and the church now grown up to that virility and stature, as to be above the discipline of beggarly rudiments, and, like an adult heir passing from the pedagogy of tutors, to assume its full liberty and inheritance: for those whom Christ makes free are free indeed.
Thirdly and lastly, All pretended false Messiahs vanished upon the appearance of Christ the true one. A crown will not want pretenders to claim it, nor usurpers, if their power serves them to possess it: and hereupon the messiahship was pretended to by several impostors: but fallacy and falsehood being naturally weak, they still sunk, and came to nothing. It must be confessed indeed, that there rose up such counterfeits after Christ, as well as before him; yet still, I think, their defeat ought to be ascribed to his coming: because as a light scatters the darkness on all sides of it; so there was such a demonstration and evidence given of Jesus’s being the true Messias by his coming in the flesh, that it cast its discovering influence both backwards and forwards; and equally baffled and confuted the pretences of those who went before, and of those who rose up after him: so potent and victorious is truth, especially when it comes upon such an errand from heaven, as to save the world.
Amongst those several false Messias’s, it is remark able that one called himself Barchocab, or the son of a star: but by his fall he quickly shewed himself of a nature far differing from this glorious morning star mentioned in the text, which even then was fixed in heaven while it shone upon the earth. It was not the transitory light of a comet, which shines and glares for a while, and then presently vanishes into nothing; but a light durable and immortal, and such an one as shall outlive the sun, and shine and burn when heaven and earth and the whole world shall be reduced to cinders.
Having thus shewn how Christ resembled a star in respect of his external visible shinings to the world, by which he drove away much of the heathenish idolatry, all the Jewish ceremonies, together with the pretences of all counterfeit Messias’s, as the light dispels and chases away the darkness; come we now, in the
Second place, to see how he resembles a star also in respect of its internal, secret operation and influence upon all sublunary inferior beings. And indeed this is the noblest and the greatest part of the resemblance. Stars are thought to operate power fully even then when they do not appear; and are felt by their effects, when they are not seen by their light. In like manner, Christ often strikes the soul, and darts a secret beam into the heart, without alarming either the eye or ear of the person wrought upon. And this is called, both properly and elegantly, by St. Peter, 2 Ephes. i. 19, the day star’s arising in our hearts; that is, by the secret silent workings of his Spirit he illuminates the judgment, bends the will and the affections, and at last changes the whole man: and this is that powerful but still voice by which he speaks eternal peace to the souls of his elect, in the admirable but mysterious work of their conversion. So that our great concern and inquiry should be, whether those heavenly beams have reached us inwardly, and pierced into our minds, as well as shone in our faces; and whether the influence of this star upon us has been such as to govern and draw us after it, as it did the wise men, and thereby both make and prove us wise unto salvation. For light is operative as well as beautiful, and by working upon the spirits, affects the heart as well as pleases the eye. Above all things, therefore, let us be strict and impartial in this search, where the thing searched for is of such consequence. For since there are false lights, light itself should be tried; and if we would know infallibly whether it be the light from above, by which we are led and live; and whether this morning star has had its full efficacy upon, or rather within us; let us see whether or no it has scattered the clouds and darkness of our spiritual ignorance, and the noisome fogs of our lusts and vile affections. Do we live as the sons of light? Do we walk as in the day, without stumbling into the mire of our old sins? These are the only sure evidences that Christ is not only a star in himself, but such an one also to us. For when the dayspring from on high visits us truly and effectually, it first takes us out of these shadows of death, and then guides our feet into the ways of peace.
To which God of his mercy vouchsafe to bring us all; to whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all honour, &c.
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