Robert Morehead.

A series of discourses on the principles of religious belief as connected with human happiness and improvement (Volume 2) online

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ed against those errors, which have sinee
been built upon the Gospel that, before
one doctrine of revealed truth had been
explained, he proclaimed the eternal doc-
trine of the necessity of moral goodness,
and assured his followers that, if they
were not prepared to enter upon the path
of duty, they could never find " the way
"of the Lord."

While the preaching of John thus op-
posed that vulgar corruption of Religion,
by which an inexplicable principle of faith
is substituted for morality, it no less
opposed the prejudice of Philosophy,
which supposes that the efforts of man
are sufficient for himself. This great
Teacher, whose office it was to fix deep
in the human heart the principles of
virtue, to shew that no other principles
of action were from that hour to be
tolerated, that " the axe was now laid
" unto the root of the trees, and that

VOL. II. 1)


" every tree which brought not forth good
" fruit, was to be hewn down and cast into
" the fire," this high and holy Preacher,
at the same moment, affirmed, that one
was coming after him, " mightier than he,
" the latchet of whose shoes he was not
" worthy to stoop down and unloose ;"
and that, while he was able only to make
men feel the wretchedness and degrada-
tion of sin, and to give them hope of for-
giveness, if they strove to return into the
paths of duty, another doctrine was about
to be proclaimed, which would inspire
them with the utmost faith and confi-
dence, when they were anxious to regain
the way which they had lost, and would
animate all their virtuous efforts with the
fire of a celestial spirit. " Behold," said
he, "the Lamb of God, which taketh away
" the sins of the world," and, " I indeed
" baptize you with water unto repent-
. .(".'-.. :. i In :c..r : .-jii . . O;JTSF;


" ance, but he shall baptize you with the
" Holy Ghost and with fire."

The defects which John here professes
to be inherent in his baptism are, that it
was not sufficiently powerful to bring the
repentant sinner a perfect assurance of
the divine forgiveness and that it could
never give the requisite energy to the ex-
ertions of virtue. It was the duty of
man, he could shew, to repent of his of-
fences but could he shew that repent-
ance ** would take away the sins of the
" world ?" It was the duty ofman to " bring
** forth fruits meet for repentance" but
where was that fire and that breath of
Heaven, which could alone support the
principle of life in the decaying tree ?

If we will candidly examine, my bre-
thren, we shall find that all the views of
mortal wisdom on this great subject, alike
labour under these deficiencies. They
either confine themselves solely to the


obvious duties between man and man,
without any reference to the purity of
religious obedience ; or, if they establish
a high scale of perfection to be aimed at,
they leave man afflicted with the consci-
ousness of his many failures, and un-
certain whether he will be forgiven by
one who is " of purer eyes than to be-
" hold iniquity" hopeless, too, of any bet-
ter success in his future exertions : or,
on the contrary, they render him pre-
sumptuous, by inspiring him with the
notion, that he has already attained that
excellence which they require. There is
thus, in every attempt of mere human
instruction, something incomplete or dis-
spiriting, or overweening; and the disco-
very of truths, which God alone can re-
veal, is necessary for supplying the de-
fects of all such schemes.

The Baptist felt, and confessed this ne-
cessity ; and it would have been wise if,


in imitation of his humility, the moral
instructors of mankind had everywhere
been equally candid, if they had every-
where acknowledged, that all the cover-
ing which they could provide against the
storm, was only the coarse " camels'
" hair," and " the leathern girdle" of hu-
man imperfection ; and that all the food
of wisdom with which they could nourish
the soul, was only the rude production
of the wilderness of nature.

Many of them, indeed, have felt the
sublimity of Virtue, and have gloried in
the thought that she could exalt man
above the stars ; but few have anticipat-
ed the far more glorious discovery that, if
Virtue were feeble, " Heaven itself would
" stoop to her." It is our blessedness to
know, my brethren, that Heaven has
stooped to her ; and not only to the
feebleness of virtue, but to the faint and
trembling hopes of penitent sin ! It is


our blessedness to be informed, that " it
" came to pass in those days, that Jesus
" came from Nazareth of Galilee, and
" was baptized of John in Jordan j and
" straightway coming up out of the water,
" he saw the heavens opened, and the
" Spirit, like a dove, descending upon
" him. And there came a voice from
" Heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved
" Son, in whom I am well pleased I"




MARK, i. 11.

*' -4wd /^ere came a vozce y*rw Heaven,
" saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in
6( whom I am well pleased."

I HAVE already examined the nature of
that preparation, which had been made
by the preaching of John, for the intro-
duction of the Gospel. Its chief object
wasi to clear away all false conceptions of
religion ; and to shew that, unless the
heart were alive to the impressions of mo-

* Preached on the last Sunday in Advent.


ral duty, it could not be awakened to the
higher sentiments of religious faith. Yet
it pointed to the incompleteness of mo-
rality, when unaided by loftier views ;
and affirmed that a divine Teacher was
at hand, who should instruct men, not
only in the letter, but in the spirit of obe-
dience, and inspire them with those
hopes and consolations, which could ne-
ver be derived from the wisdom of the
present world.

In the text, and in the verses immedi-
ately preceding, this heavenly Instructor
comes, for the first time, into view. We
see him come, in all the humility of his
character, " to be baptized of John in Jor-
" dan." But his real dignity is immedi-
ately made known by the heavens open-
ing, and the Spirit descending upon him,
and the voice from Heaven, saying, " Thou
" art my beloved Son, in whom I am
" well pleased." These are expressions of


a very high import, and they lead us na-
turally to form conceptions of this mes-
senger from Heaven, of a kind quite dis-
tinct from those with which we regard
any of the other inspired teachers who
are introduced to us in Holy Scripture.
There are many expressions of a similar
nature throughout the New Testament,
from which we may perceive, that the
writers of these sacred books entertained
notions of the great author of Christia-
nity, as of a Being, superior in one as-
pect of his nature, not only to man, but
to every created intelligence. " Unto
" which of the angels," says the apostle
to the Hebrews, " said he at any time,
" Thou art my Son, this day have I be-
" gotten thee ?" And again, " I will be
" to him a Father, and he shall be to me
a Son."

I need not tell you that attempts have
been made, in the present age, to weaken


the force of such expressions, and that
these attempts have frequently proceed-
ed from a sincere love of truth, I am not
at all disposed to call in question. What
advantage, however, is to be derived
from them, I must confess, I am quite at
a loss to discover. I can see no advan-
tage in removing from religion those fine
chains, which connect the truths imme-
diately apparent to us, with an higher
order of things above our present com-
prehension ; or, in endeavouring to re-
duce all the possibilities of existence
within the limited range of the under-
standing of man. There are those who
entertain a vehement dislike to what
are called mysteries in religion ; and if
by mysteries be meant a collection of
contradictory circumstances, classed to-
gether apparently with no other view
than that of perplexing the human mind,
(a form, perhaps, which they too often


assume in the pretended expositions of
men) in this form I am ready to admit
their mischievous tendency ; but there is
no mystery, as it is brought before us in
the simple sublimity of Scripture, which
does not exalt our thoughts in the midst
of its obscurity. What more ennobling to
all our conceptions, than the intima-
tion conveyed to us of that indivisible
tie, which connects our once lowly in-
structor and friend with the mighty Lord
and Governor of the universe an union
expressed by the beautiful and familiar
image of a son and a father ; of a Son,
who is ONE with the Father ! What ad-
vantage can be attained by reducing these
elevated views within the bounds of this
" visible, diurnal sphere," or, apply ing to
the flight and the fervour of Revelation, the
chilling touch of a minute Philosophy ?

No sooner was the Messiah announced
in these lofty terms to the expecting


multitude, than he was again withdrawn
for a time from their eyes, and " driven,"
as it is strongly expressed in the verse
immediately following the text, into
the solitude and meditations of the wil-
derness, by the powerful influences of
the Holy Spirit ; " and he was there,"
we are told, " in the wilderness forty
" days, tempted of Satan, and was with
" the wild beasts, and the angels mini-
" stered unto him." 'A fuller account of
this circumstance is given, as you know,
by St Matthew, yet no small obscurity
hangs over it. The fact is, that it is
with the detail of our Saviour's public
life only that we are particularly interest-
ed, and that, with respect to this trans-
action, it is sufficient for us to know,
that there were conflicts and agitations
of mind necessary to be met and com-
bated by the great Captain of human
Salvation before he entered upon his ar-


duous undertaking. In this mighty trial
he seems to have fortified himself against
all the temptations which might after-
wards assail him in the course of his mi-
nistry, and might have a tendency to
mislead him, by private considerations,
from the extensive benevolence of the
objects which he had in view.

It is an idle curiosity which prompts
us frequently, in the illustration of Scrip-
ture, to examine circumstances which are,
evidently, very imperfectly explained,
and of which the explanation would, pro-
bably, serve no useful purpose. In their
present state of obscurity, these circum-
stances leave an impression on the mind
of something great and awful connected
with the invisible world, which man is
not permitted to investigate, but the im-
pression of which may yet be salutary.
Of this kind are those dark intimations
of the existence of a powerful Evil


Spirit, the enemy of God and of good-
ness, who fell from an exalted state of
obedience and of happiness into guilt
and misery, and who has ever since
sought to gain associates in his ruin.
Just enough is made known to us of the
operations of this terrible agent, to in-
spire us with caution and distrust of our-
selves, but not enough to give the slight-
est colour of plausibility to the supersti-
tions of ignorance and of childhood. In-
stead of its affording any argument, as
some may think, against the truth of
Scripture, that a Being of this nature ap-
pears among the agents whom it intro-
duces, the covert and cautious use which
is made of his appearance is, on the con-
trary, a strong proof that a higher Spirit
than that of man guided the pens of the
Sacred Historians, since it has ever been
found, that, where human imagination
has been let loose upon this subject, the


utmost extravagance and folly have been
the invariable result.

From the retirement and conflicts of
the wilderness, Jesus now came forward
into public view. It was time for him
to begin his ministry ; John was now in
prison, and his office was at an end ; to
the preaching of repentance and of right-
eousness was at length to be added the
knowledge of" the Gospel of the kingdom
of God." " The time," said he, as lie
advanced, " is now fulfilled, and the king-
" dom of God is at hand ; repent ye,
" and believe the Gospel." Thus, in the
opening of his instruction, he proclaim-
ed, no less than John, the necessity of
forsaking sin, and of acquiring purity of
character ; but, besides this, he taught
that there is a " kingdom of God" corre-
sponding to all the excellencies of the
sanctified spirit, a " kingdom not of this
" world," but from which blessed influen-


ces and consolations descend upon those
who are studying to acquire the graces
which belong to it ; a kingdom in which
the humble and " poor in spirit" shall
" be blessed," in which they " that
" mourn shall be comforted," in which
" the meek" shall obtain that inheritance
which is too often on earth the portion
of the violent, in which they " that
" hunger and thirst after righteousness
" shall be filled," -in which " the mer-
" ciful shall obtain mercy," in which
" the pure in heart shall see God !" Such
was the new kingdom, the reality of
which this Divine Instructor came to an-
nounce to the wandering race of men,
to those who were losing themselves in
the false principles and deceiving seduc-
tions of the world, and who could not
steadily pursue a better path till they
were well assured of the happiness to
which it led. To effect this conviction



was to be his great and arduous aim, for
which he was to spare no exertion of
toil, and no suffering of body or of mind.
This was the Gospel which, by all means,
he was to call upon men to believe, " in
" all things approving himself the mi-
" nister of God, in much patience, in af-
" flictions, in necessities, in distresses, in
" stripes, in labours, in watchings, in
" fastings ; by pureness, by knowledge,
" by long-suffering, by kindness, by the
" Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned !"

Nothing, indeed, can be more striking,
than the self-devotion with which Jesus
immediately applied himself to the great
object of his mission upon earth, and his
seeming forgetfulness and abandonment
of his true and inherent dignity. There
appears not in any part of his demeanour
the slightest trace of the weakness of hu-
man vanity ; that weakness, of which
even the greatest minds are selcjom en-
voi. II. F-


tirely divested, but which, whenever It
is found in them, is but too evident a
proof of their real littleness. It was, per-
haps, the hope of finding this infirmity
lurking in the human character of Jesus,
which actuated the tempter, in that re-
markable transaction already alluded to.
The circumstance which he laid hold of
was the stupendous declaration of the
text, made by a voice from heaven-<
" Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I
" am well pleased." Such a declaration,
he seemed to think, that human nature
was incapable of bearing with a calm and
equal spirit his temptations, according-
ly, constantly turn upon this theme, " If
" thou be the Son of God,' 1 and one of
the chief advantages which our Saviour,
as a man, acquired from his forty days
retirement, and temptation in the wilder-
ness, may have been the attainment of
that balance and composure of mind,


which qualified him, although conscious
of the Divinity stirring within him, to en-
ter, with the utmost simplicity and alacri-
ty, into the humblest situations which it
was his destiny to fill.

In this unostentatious spirit we imme-
diately find him selecting the companions
of his labours. " As he walked by the
" sea of Galilee," says the Evangelist,
" he saw Simon, and Andrew his brother,
" casting a net into the sea, (for they
" were fishers) ; and Jesus said unto them,
" Come ye after me, and I will make you
" fishers of men : and straightway they
" forsook their nets and followed him.
" And when he had gone a little further
" thence, he saw James the son of Zebe-
" dee, and John his brother, who also
" were in the ship mending their nets,
'* and straightway he called them ; and
" they left their father Zebedee in the
w ship, with the hired servants, and went


" after him." Such were the compa-
nions of the Son of God, men, upon
whose poor and homely occupations, the
pride of the world would have disdained
to cast an eye, and whose ignorant and
untutored minds, the vanity of science
would have rejected with scorn yet these
were the men, who, under the guidance
of him who chose them, were destined to
bring mankind to wisdom and salvation ;
to build up a Faith which has stood firm
amidst all the corruptions of worldly prin-
ciples, and against all the attacks of misguid-
ed philosophy, which, day after day, is
ever advancing, " by the word of truth,
" by the power of God, by the armour of
" righteousness on the right hand and on
" the left, by honour and dishonour, by
" evil report and good report, as deceiv-
" ing and yet true, as unknown and yet
" well-known, as dying, and behold it
" lives, as chastened and not killed, a*


" sorrowful yet alway rejoicing, as poor
" yet making many rich, as having no-
" thing and yet possessing all things :" so
it has proceeded, my brethren, and so it
will continue to go on, nor " shall the
" gates of hell ever prevail against it !"

When we contemplate the progress
which the Gospel has already made, and
the increasing prospect of its universal
prevalence, can any thing be more inte-
resting, than to look back upon the slight
and apparently insignificant incident in
which all this magnificent train of events
seemed to originate, " As he walked by
" the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon, and
" Andrew his brother, casting a net into
" the sea ;" if it is not, perhaps, still
more interesting to confine our attention
to the easy and unaffected intercourse
between our Lord and these his lowly
friends, so unlike every thing else that
we meet with in this busy and ambitious


world? In this simple society, we see
him throwing aside entirely all the un-
approachable majesty of a superior na-
ture. Yet, while he was thus gentle and
unpretending, he never for a moment
intermitted the work which his Father
had given him to do, but, with the zeal
which became his mission, went, we
are told, throughout Galilee, preaching
in the synagogues " the Gospel of the
" kingdom of God :" and the people, it
is added, " were astonished at his doc-
" trine, for he taught them as one that had
" authority, and not as the Scribes." What
were the particulars of this holy doctrine,
will appear more fully as we proceed in
these inquiries in the meantime, the cha-
racter of authority with which it was deli-
vered, is a circumstance of no slight in~
terest even to us, who live in this distant
age. The words of the Divine Instructor
are still before us, and in the midst of


their simplicity, and the unconnected
form in which they are often presented
to us they come upon every attentive
mind, with a weight and an impression
which no other form of doctrine can in any
respect equal, however harmonious and

vitf Come unto me, all ye that labour,
" and are heavy laden, and I will give
" you rest. Take my yoke upon you,
" and learn of me, for I am meek and
" lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest
" unto your souls for my yoke is easy,
" and my burden is light." Here is one,
among many instances of the authorita-
tive language of the Son of God. Can
we, my brethren, in these hours, resist
its influence, and do we not, when he is
once more coming to us, as in the first
dawn of his Gospel, feel ourselves called
upon to come unto him, to throw every
burden of worldly delusion aside, and to


take upon us the easy yoke of a holy and

well-regulated spirit ? Yes ! blessed

Lord ! thou yet vouchsafest to meet thy
people on that auspicious day, which re-
news the remembrance of thy birth, and
amid the symbols of thy body and blood ;
and in the words of anxious love, in
which of old thou didst address thy dis-
ciples, thou now askest us, " if we also
" will go away?" Shall not we, too, reply
with the affectionate ardour of Peter,
" Lord, to whom shall we go ? Thou hast
" the words of eternal life. And we be-
" lieve, and are sure, that thou art that
". .Christ, the Son of the living God :"
" The beloved Son," whom the voice of
our hearts, in unison with the " voice
" from heaven," pronounces to be, Him
" in whom" alone " the Father is well

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MARK, i. 27.
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were all amazed, insomuch that
" they questioned among themselves, say-
" ing, What thing is this ? What new
" doctrine is this? -For with authority
" commandeth he even the unclean spirits,
"and they do obey him"
'iflr/v ,mirf ') .. AHO Mfrffvj off ,'/>ki^ fji.oi ;> -
IN the conclusion of my former dis-
course, I took notice of that character of
authority, which distinguished our Savi-
our's instructions, and which immediate-
ly struck the people as quite dissimilar


from any thing they had hitherto met
with. " He taught them," says the Evan-
gelist, " as one that had authority, and
" not as the Scribes." Immediately fol-
lows the account of a very remarkable
transaction, which is related in these
words : " There was in their synagogue a
"man with an unclean spirit, and he
" cried out, saying, Let us alone, what
" have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of
(f Nazareth ? Art thou come to destroy
"us? I know thee who thou art, the
" holy one of God. And Jesus rebuked
" him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come
" out of him. And when the unclean
"spirit had torn him, and cried with a
" loud voice, he came out of him. And
" they were all amazed, insomuch that
" they questioned among themselves, say-
'Mng,, What thing is this ? What new doc-
^ trine is this? For with authority com-


"'mandeth he even the unclean spirits.
" and they do obey him."

There is no necessity, my brethren,
to make any inquiry into the particular
nature of that calamity here mentioned,
and of which we hear so much in the Sa-
cred Historians. To all outward appear-
ance, it seems to have borne a close resem-
blance to insanity ; and the wicked spirits,
who are described as being the agents in it,
might only, on particular occasions, be
permitted to manifest their presence. It
is enough for us to know that it was a
disease, which could not be removed in the
manner represented in the text, without
the exercise of a miraculous power ; and
it was the unexpected display of this
power which struck the people with
amazement, and immediately occasioned,
we are told, " the fame of Jesus to be
" spread abroad throughout all the re-
f gion round about Galilee."


Various other instances of miracles fol-
low in this, and in the immediately suc-
ceeding chapters ; and to these, and to
the other miraculous incidents recorded
in the Gospels, it has always been cus-
tomary to appeal, as to undeniable proofs,
of the divine mission of our Lord. It is
at the same time remarkable, that even
this evidence, nowever striking it appears,
has, in every age, been eluded by those
who were unwilling to become his dis-
ciple,s. In the age in which these mira-
cles were performed, and for some time
afterwards, as long as their publicity made
it impossible to deny their reality, they
were ascribed by the enemies of the Gos-
pel to the power of evil spirits ; in mo-
dern times it has been thought more con-
venient to deny that they ever took place ;
and it has even been ingeniously, though
whimsically, argued, that, supposing they
were performed, it is yet not in the power


of human testimony to establish the proof
of incidents so contradictory to all expe-

I mean not, my brethren, to enter into
this argument ; the controversies of the
schools have but little connection with
divine truth ; and I cannot but suspect

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Online LibraryRobert MoreheadA series of discourses on the principles of religious belief as connected with human happiness and improvement (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 18)