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The subject of Ecclesiastical History, which has never been devoid of interest to the friends of Divine Truth, has lately acquired an unusual degree of importance from the extraordinary occurrences that are transpiring on the theatre of Europe. In these occurrences may be found the accomplishment of prophecies that were delivered and committed to writing seventeen or eighteen hundred years ago, and some a much longer period. The sceptic may turn this assertion to ridicule, and even statesmen and philosophers, who are too much absorbed in their speculations to regard “ the work of the Lord, or consider the operation of his hands,” may be perplexed and confounded by passing events ; yet to the humble Christian, who is attentive to the signs of the times, and whose daily prayer is, “ Thy kingdom come,” no subject can be more consolatory and cheering. The fact is, that the period allotted for the reign of Antichrist, in the mysterious plans of Providence, and not obscurely pointed out in the sacred records, is now rapidly approaching its consummation, and the present convulsion of the nations is the harbinger of the triumphis of the kingdom of Christ over every opposing power, and of the accomplishment of the grand things that are recorded concerning it.
To draw the attention of men to this all-important subject was the author's motive in commencing this Course of Lectures, and with the same object in view
they are now issued from the press. He is well aware that his sentiments respecting the nature of the Redeemer's kingdom, as an economy entirely spiritual and heavenly—the impossibility of amalgamating it with national establishments of Christianity-and its hostility to every scheme of church-government devised by the wit or wisdom of man-cannot fail to expose him to the contemptuous sneer and indignant frown of high-churchmen of every class, whether Papist, Episcopalian, or Presbyterian ; but treatment such as that will neither surprise nor move him. His appeal is to the Law and the Testimony, to the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles, which he considers to be the alone rule of religion since Christ left the earth. By that unerring standard he is desirous, that whatever he has advanced may be tried; and, as imperfection is the lot of man, whatever he may have said that is at variance with it, on being apprised thereof, he shall be most ready to expunge.
May He who is head over all things to the Church, and who is the only legitimate Head, condescend to smile on this humble effort to expose the wicked devices of men in all ages, in adulterating his religion, usurping his authority, changing his laws, and rendering his precepts void, by their own traditions,— May he make it instrumental in freeing the minds of his own disciples from the doctrines and commandments of men, and leading them to distinguish between Christianity and its numerous corruptions, thus enabling them to separate the chaff from the wheat, and to his name be all the praise !
Critchill Place, Hoxton,
March 25th, 1831.
A VIEW OF THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST, THE SAVIOUR OF
The truth of the Gospel history, and, consequently, the divine origin of Christianity, are so intimately connected with the character of the Lord Jesus Christ, that an attempt to exhibit that character in its true light seems necessary to lay a proper foundation for a history of his church or kingdom in the world. The materials for such an enquiry are to be found in the writings of the four Evangelists, the Acts of the Apostles, and the apostolic Epistles, which collectively form the book of the New Testament; from this source alone our information must be derived, and the present attempt will be restricted to a simple statement of what these inspired writers have left upon record regarding this most important subject, accompanied by such remarks and reflections as appear adapted to present it to the reader in a just point of view.
I enter upon this task by observing that the appearance of the Messiah in this world, and the setting up of his kingdom, formed a prominent article in the writings of the ancient prophets.* Accordingly the Jewish nation, who had in those writings the means of calculating the time of his advent, were anxiously expecting his appearance about the period of 4000 years from the date of the creation; and, if history may be credited, even the heathens had a notion about that time - a notion probably
* Ps. ii. 8, and xxii. 27, and lxxii. passim, and lxxxix. 19-36.; Is. ix, 6, 7, and xi. 1-9; Dan. ii. 44, and vii, 14.
derived from the Jewish Scriptures--that a prince of unparalleled glory was about to make his appearance on the theatre of this world and found a kind of universal monarchy.*
The evangelists who have narrated the life and actions of Jesus of Nazareth have particularly specified the time of his birth, as being under the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus, and when Herod the Great was king of Judæa.t At this period the Roman empire comprehended the greatest part of the then known world; and Judæa, once so renowned as the country over which David and Solomon had reigned, was then subject to the Roman arms. The place and circumstances of the birth of Jesus are particularly specified by his historians. He was not born according to the ordinary laws of generation ; for his introduction into the world was by miracle. He was conceived, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of a virgin; and this is assigned as a reason why “that holy thing which was born of her was to be called the Son of God.”I His birth took place at Bethlehem, in the land of Judæa,ş and was announced by an angel from heaven to a company of shepherds who were watching their flocks by night, around whom a ray of celestial splendour shone, and it was announced with circumstances of peculiar interest to the human race. “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people: for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”| Such were the circumstances of his Nativity; we shall next enquire what account the inspired writers give us of his character.
The angel Gabriel, who was sent from God to announce his conception in the womb of the Virgin, declared his character to be that of the Son of God—the Son of the Highest; and this title Jesus adopted as his own. John the Baptist, his illustrious forerunner, who invariably ascribed to him divine honours, terms him “the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father.” The evangelist John also thus speaks of him: “In the beginning was the WORD, and the Word was with God, and the Word
* Suetonius, in Vita Vespas. ch. i. Tacit. Hist. lib. v. cap. 13. + Luke ii, 1; Matt, ii, 1. Luke i. 35. Matt. ii. 1. || Luke ii, 10-14.