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2. A second character is, that they be done publicly and in the face of the world, that there may be no room to suspect artifice and collusion. And such were the wonders, to which our Lord appealed.—' Go tell John again,' says he, ' those things which ye do hear and see; which are done here before your eyes, and in the midst of a great multitude.'
3. A third thing requisite is, that the doctrine which they are brought to vouch, be every way worthy of God, and fit thus to be sealed and attested by him. 'The Gospel is preached,' says our Lord; the most perfect scheme of morality that ever mankind was acquainted with.
4. It is yet a further recommendation of such miracles, if they carry in them marks not only of an astonishing power, but of good will also, and beneficence to men;—as the healing of the blind, the lepers, and the lame, here in the text, manifestly did.
5. If the very doing of them was foretold, and the time and person declared by the spirit of prophecy; for so I have shown that our Saviour, in his account of the mighty works here done, referred himself to the predictions of Isaiah.
6. If there be no appearances of self-interest and design in the worker of such miracles: and this objection our Lord also Temoves, where he says, that the 'poor had the Gospel preached unto them': the poor, to whom no man would apply, who proposed to himself temporal views and aims, which they could no ways forward.
Thus have I endeavoured to open to you the significancy of each word in this important passage; and particularly the wonderful address of our Lord, in applying himself to those who resorted to him for instruction, and in reasoning them into conviction by arguments and suggestions, peculiarly accommodated to the notions and apprehensions they were under.
Every way, we see the answer of our blessed Redeemer was so wisely and graciously contrived, as to meet with all the prejudices and dispel all the doubts of these enquirers, and to lead them into an acknowledgment that they had found the Messiah whom they sought, 'Him who was to come, and were no longer to look for another.'
FOURTH SUNDAY JN ADVENT.
Phil. iv. 4.—Rejoice ii> the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. [Text taken from the Epistle for the Day."] Christianity is, by its enemies, represented as a stern and gloomy religion, adverse to all the innocent enjoyments of life: and in proof of this, we are referred to those injunctions of mortification and self-denial, of penitence, contrition, and re-' morse, of abstinence from pleasure and enmity to the world, which sometimes occur in the sacred writings. The Gospel does most certainly require us to renounce some things, which the man of the world may not be very willing to part with. But what are these things? They are those lusts which war against the soul; they are those selfish desires which contract and harden the heart; they are those hateful and turbulent passions, which fill the mind with disquiet, and the world with disorder; they are those predominant vices and follies, those dangerous and destructive amusements, which destroy all composure of mind, all purity of sentiment and dignity of conduct, and plunge us in dissipation and ruin. But Christianity excludes us from no rational, no harmless enjoyment. It does not spread before us a delicious banquet, and then come with a 'touch not, taste not, handle not.' All it requires is, that our festivity degenerate not into intemperance; our amusements, into dissipation; our freedom, into licentiousness. Though it bids us 'not to love the world' extravagantly, nor ' to conform to it' criminally, yet it no where enjoins us to flee from it; but rather, after the example of our blessed Lord, to live in it, and to overcome it.
Consider its precepts, consider the example of Him who taught it, and you will find that the predominant quality in both is an uniform, unremitted cheerfulness. The Saviour of the world came (as he himself is pleased to express it) ' eating and drinking.' He came with all the marks of good-humour and good-will to men. He went to marriage-feasts. The very first miracle he worked, was to promote their cheerfulness; and he mingled in those happy meetings with so much ease and freedom, with so little affectation of moroseness or reserve, that his enemies gave him the name (a name which he treated with the most sovereign contempt) ' of a gluttonous man, and a wine-hibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.' Every mark of respect and attention that was shown him, he accepted with the most engaging and graceful condescension; nor did he even disdain the rich perfume, which the liberal hand of Mary poured upon him, notwithstanding the ill-timed murmurs of his more fastidious followers. Although he himself, by his own example, plainly countenanced the practice of fasting at proper times, and under proper restrictions, yet he would not suffer his disciples to fast, while he was with them. The time would come, he told them, when they would have abundant occasion to fast. But when the bridegroom was with them, they ought to know nothing but joy; and that joy should not be interrupted by unseasonable severities and anticipated sorrows. He reproved the hypocritical Pharisees for the ostentatious sadness of their countenances on such occasions; and enjoined his own followers, whenever they did practise an extraordinary abstemiousness, to preserve, even in the midst of their humiliations, their wonted neatness of attire and cheerfulness of appearance. 'The hypocrites,' says he, 'disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast: but thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face: that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.' His discourses were of a piece with his deportment: they were soothing, comfortable, refreshing. The form of words which he made use of generally, when he cured diseases, was, 'Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.' He was constantly endeavouring to support the drooping spirits of his disciples by the most encouraging expressions; and when he found himself at length obliged to explain to them the hardships they were to undergo for his sake, the conclusion was, ' In the world, ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.'
The same spirit diffused itself to the apostles, evangelists, and disciples, who maintained, throughout the whole course of their ministry, a certain vigour and vivacity of mind, which no calamity could depress. Their writings are full of exhortationt 'to rejoice evermore; to show mercy with cheerfulness; to count it all joy, even when we fall into temptation.' The language of the text, the language of the whole Gospel, is, 'Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.' But the Gospel does not stop here. It not only commands us to he cheerful; but what is of still more importance, it assists us in becoming so.
I. The first assistance of this kind it gives us, is that constant and enlivening employment which it finds for our thoughts. The human mind, we all know, is restless and active; and if not otherwise engaged, will turn its activity inward, will prey upon and devour itself, and become the destroyer of its own happiness. A very large proportion of the evils which press the heaviest upon us, are purely imaginary,—are- the creation of our own hands, and arise from no other cause than the having nothing else to do, but to sit down and make ourselves as miserable as we possibly can. One great means, therefore, of promoting cheerfulness is, to keep our thoughts constantly and usefully employed. The pursuit of any important and worthy object is in itself enlivening. Every advance we make in it, is a new accession of pleasure; we feel ourselves animated with a growing delight; and go on with increasing ardour and alacrity to the attainment of the end we have in view. A succession of worldly pleasures and occupations may, for a time, engage our attention; but that delusion is soon over, and they leave a void behind which nothing can fill up, but those great and noble purposes of action which the Gospel presents to our minds; the conquest of our passions; the improvement of our nature; the exaltation of our affections; the diffusion of happiness to every human being within our reach; the attainment of God's favour and protection here, and of everlasting glory and happiness hereafter. These arc objects worthy of a rational and immortal being; these will find ample employment for all the faculties and powers of his mind; and the higher his rank and abilities are, the more will his duties multiply upon him, and the sphere of his activity enlarge itself. Whoever, in short, engages in earnest in the Christian warfare,—*• whoever presses on, with zeal and ardour, towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, and •forgetting those things that are behind, reaches forth to those that are before,' will never find either his attention or his
spirits droop. He will be continually animated with new prospects, elated with new acquisitions, rewarded with new triumphs; and will know nothing of that languor and flatness, that gloom and melancholy, which are so apt to seize upon unoccupied minds.
II. Whoever suffers himself to be brought under the dominion of any malignant passion, envy, malice, hatred, jealousy, or revenge, must, from that moment, bid adieu to peace and cheerfulness. These odious tyrants are all most fatal to our repose. They throw the mind into a perpetual ferment and agitation; they harass it with a succession of malevolent sentiments and vindictive designs; they keep it in a constant fever of resentment, and allow it no rest. The man, possessed by these wicked spirits, * sleeps not, except he has done mischief: his sleep is taken away, unless he cause some to fall.' [Prov. iv. 16.] Every one must see, that a state of mind like this must exclude all enjoyment of life; must produce a sullen gloominess of disposition, which no ray of cheerfulness can penetrate or enliven.
When, therefore, Christianity exhorts us to put away 'all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, evil-speaking, and malice,' it prescribes one most effectual remedy against disquietude and dejection of mind. And when it further recommends, in the room of these passions, to substitute sentiments of mercy, kindness, meekness, gentleness, compassion, brotherly affection, charity; when it commands us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and pour oil into the wounds of the afflicted and distressed, it points out to us the most effectual means, not only to make others happy, but ourselves also.
In fact, true Christian charity, in all its extent, is a neverfailing fund of pleasure to the soul. The joy, resulting from the diffusion of blessings to all around us, is the purest and sublimest that can enter the human mind, and can be conceived only by those who have experienced it. Next to the consolations of divine grace, it is the most sovereign balm to the miseries of life, both in him who is the object of it, and in him who exercises it; and it will not only soothe and tranquillize a troubled spirit, but inspire a constant flow of good humour, content, and gaiety of heart.
III. Another source of cheerfulness to be found in the Gos