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MATTHEW vii. 28, 29.
" AND IT CAME TO PASS, WHEN JESUS HAD ENDED THESE
SAYINGS, THE PEOPLE WERE ASTONISHED AT HIS DOC-
We are now come to the concluding discourse of this series of meditations, and which I shall particularly apply to your personal improvement under the word. The sermon of our Lord closed with the verse before my text, and the passage now under consideration is added by the evangelist, to describe the effects of this divine address on the minds of the multitude. The terms which he employs satisfactorily prove that the whole was delivered at one time, and that it was not a collection of the sayings of Christ, spoken on several occasions, composed by the historian of his life, and put together as one discourse. It is evident, indeed, from passages in other evangelists, that He frequently repeated many of the precepts which are here expressed, and their immense importance rendered it perfectly reasonable that this should be the case. It is also
equally clear, that the whole respects mankind, without exception; and that no one of the human family should consider himself exempt from obligation to believe and obey it. “And it came to pass, when Jesus bad ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes."
In the illustration of this subject, I shall consider,
THB EFFECT PRODUCED,
- THE CAUSB TO WHICH
IT IS ASCRIBED, AND THE APPLICATION OF THE WHOLE TO OURSELVES.
I. THE IMPRESSION OF THIS SERMON ON THB MINDS OF THE PEOPLE. THEY WERE ASTONISHED AT HIS DOCTRINE.”
The precise amount of good denoted by the expression, cannot be accurately determined : that is one of those “ secret things which belong to God," and which the last day must disclose. Admiration, however, of the discourse is evidently intended by the phrase. Whether it was an admiration which results from the excitement of the passions, without the love of the truth itself, or whether it was from a cordial attachment to the sentiments of the Divine Preacher, we are unable to ascertain. In some, probably, it was only the former : in others, it is likely to have been the latter. There can be no doubt but the Saviour, on this occasion at least, was to the people, as the Lord said of the prophet: “And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument:" perhaps it might with equal truth be added, "they hear thy words, but they do them not.” Now, also, the following prediction was fully verified : “And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them."* When this “Son of Righteousness arose with healing in his wings," over this diseased and benighted people, multitudes enslaved by sin, and immersed in the grossest ignorance, beheld his light, and felt a thousand tender sympathies unknown before. But, like as it is now, many who applauded the preacher, were never sanctified by the truth. From events which the four evangelists have separately related, there is reason to fear, that the larger number of the present audience was never converted by the instructions they admired. Impressed, as they generally were, the impression was momentary, and did not lead to the all-important question of the jailor, “What must I do to be saved ?" A man may be delighted by a sermon, but if he be not brought to such an awful enquiry as this, he is still destitute of “ godly sorrow," and genuine humiliation before his offended Maker. If he be not thus subdued, all his hopes are like the house on the sand, and will experience a fearful and final overthrow in the desolating storm. Ab! how many in this sermonhearing age, will compass sea and land to hear some gifted advocate of the truth, or even some popular preacher of error! while there is ground for serious apprehension that the gratification of an unworthy curiosity is the principal motive of inducement. To have the enmity of the carnal mind destroyed, and to be so imbued with the love of truth, as to delight in its publication, are hopeful appearances, but it would be inferring too much to conclude that this is the case with every individual of the multitude that crowds the sanctuary. Turn away, therefore, my beloved friends, your attention from the dress of the discourse, to the vital truths it contains, and labour to feel their influence upon your own heart.
But admiration is not all the description intimates that some of the audience were penetrated with the importance of the word, and became “ renewed in the spirit of their mind.” We should depreciate the amount of permanent and immediate good which was now effected, were we to suppose that it reached no farther than a worthless and unmeaning applause. Thus we read, that " when he came down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him." From these multitudes, it appears probable, He selected the seventy who were shortly afterwards sent “ forth to preach that men should repent.” Nor is the supposition without the colour of probability, that from the same crowds the “five hundred brethren, who saw the Lord after his resurrection," were also taken. I cannot remember any observation made by the biographers of the Redeemer, on any subsequent occasion, as to the usefulness of his ministry, but rather the reverse. There was an evident want of success in his labours, the causes of which I shall not at present attempt to develop. One thing, however, I would distinctly state on this part of my subject, namely, that true religion has just as much success, and no more, as there are souls converted; not to a sect or party, or from one denomination to another, but to God. The great and noble purpose of the Christian ministry is "to call sinners to repentance;" and where it fails to do this, it virtually fails in every thing else. This, therefore, is the end which every one who ministers the word, and every one who hears it, should propose to accomplish. It is not so mueh information as vital impression which the mass of mankind, accustomed to hear the gospel, require. They know the truth, but they do not apply it. And it is, therefore, the more necessary to endeavour, by every rousing and affecting consideration, to engage their hearts along with their understandings to its faithful observance and discharge. Consider,
II. THE CAUSE TO WHICH IT IS ASCRIBED. “ For HE TAUGHT THEM AS ONB HAVING AUTHORITY, AND NOT AS THE SCRIBES."
A few words will explain this observation. The first cause of their astonishment is attributed to his doctrine. It was not a sermon about certain rites and ceremonies of the law, but one that reached the thoughts and intents of the heart. It “ laid the axe at the root” of all the sturdy errors which overspread their minds. Every sentiment is important, and all its illustrations luminous and convincing. His rebukes were necessary; his corrections proper; and his counsels admirably adapted to the circumstances of the audience to whom they were addressed. Their judgments had been abused by their authorised instructors; now they heard one who came to disabuse and set them free. To men long immured in darkness the sudden light of day is overpowering. When a celebrated nobleman was liberated from his dark and gloomy dungeon, by the revolution in France, at the close of the last century, overwhelmed by the beams of the sun, from which he had been excluded for twenty-five years, he fell down, in an ecstacy of joy, and embraced the ground on which he stood.
And is not the doctrine of this Divine Prophet calculated to produce the most blessed effects ?
Does it not present us with the offer of inconceivable felicity? Ah! my beloved brethren, how admirably it suits our moral condition! It finds us wretched, poor, blind, and miserable ; depraved in our appetites, and deluded in our pursuits. It finds us exposed to the inflictions of the divine wrath; and it brings to our trembling hearts the happy tidings of mercy and salvation, through the gracious mediation of the Son of God. It assures us that, however deserted by the world, and injured by a fellow-being, we have a father in heaven, who “knoweth what we need before we ask him;" and that, notwithstanding all our provocations and