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1. Though they had the Scriptures among them, they misunderstood them. You find, John, 7: 52, how they reason with Nicodemus against Christ; "Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and see: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." Here is a double mistake: they supposed Christ to arise out of Galilee, whereas he was of Bethlehem, though much conversant in the parts of Galilee; and they thought, because they could find no prophet had arisen out of Galilee, therefore none should.
Another mistake that blinded them about Christ, was from their belief that Christ should not die, but live for ever: "We have heard out of the law, that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, the Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?" John, 12: 34. This they probably gathered from such passages as Isa. 9: 7, "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David." In like manner we find them in another mistake; "We know this man whence he is; but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is." John, 7:27. This, likely, proceeded from their misunderstanding of Micah, 5: 2, "His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." Thus were they blinded about the person of Christ, by the misinterpretation of scripture prophecies.
2. Another thing occasioning their mistake of Christ, was the outward meanness of his condition. They expected a pompous Messiah, one that should come with state and glory, as the king of Israel. But when they saw him in the form of a servant, coming in poverty, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, they utterly rejected him: "We hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." Isa. 53: 3. Nor is it any great wonder these should be scandalized at his poverty, when the disciples themselves had such carnal apprehensions of his kingdom. Mark, 10:37, 38.
3. Add to this, their implicit faith in the learned rab
bies and doctors, who utterly misled them in this matter, and greatly prejudiced them against Christ. "Lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing to him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ ?" They drew their faith from their rulers, and followed wherever they led.
III. Let us see how this ignorance disposed them to such enmity against Christ.
Ignorance disposes men to enmity and opposition to Christ, by removing those checks and rebukes of conscience by which they are restrained from evil. As conscience binds and reproves by the authority and vir tue of the law of God, where that law is not known, there can be no reproofs; and therefore we truly say that ignorance is virtually every sr...
Ignorance enslaves and subjects the soul to the lusts of Satan; he is the ruler of the darkness of this world." Eph. 6: 12. There is no work so base and vile, but an ignorant man will undertake it.
Nay, if a man be ignorant of Christ, his truth, or people, he will not only oppose and persecute, but think it his duty so to do. John, 16:3. Before the Lord opened Paul's eyes, "he verily thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Christ."
INFERENCE 1. How falsely is the Gospel charged as the cause of discord and trouble in the world! It is not light, but darkness, that makes men fierce and cruel. As light increases, so doth peace: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.' ." Isa. 11: 6,-9. What a sad condition would the world be in without Gospel light! all places would be dens of rapine, and mountains of prey
Certainly we owe much of our civil liberty and outward tranquillity to Gospel light. If a sword, or variance, at any time, follow the Gospel, it is but an accidental, not a direct and proper effect of it.
2. How dreadful is it to oppose Christ and his truths knowingly! Christ pleads their ignorance as an argument to procure their pardon. Paul himself was once filled with rage and madness against Christ and his truth: it was well for him that he did it ignorantly: had he gone against his light and knowledge, there had been little hope of him: "I was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly, in unbelief." 1 Tim. 1:13. I do not say, it is utterly impossible for one that knowingly and maliciously opposes and persecutes Christ and his people to be forgiven, but it is not usual. Heb. 6:4, 5. There are few instances of it.
3. What an awful majesty sits upon the brow of holiness, that so few, who see it, dare to oppose it! Few are so daringly wicked as to fight against it with open eyes: "Who will harm you whilst ye are followers of that which is good?" 1 Pet. 3:13. Who dare be so hardy as to attack known godliness, or afflict and wrong the known friends of it? The true reason why many christians suffer, is not because they are godly, but because they do not manifest the power of godliness more than they do: their lives are so like the lives of others, that they are often mistaken for others. For holiness, manifested in its power, is so awfully glorious, that the consciences of the vilest cannot but honor it. "Herod feared John,
for he was a just man." Mark, 6 : 4. The enemies of Christ are objects of pity. Alas, they are blind, and know not what they do. Nor should any other affection than pity stir in our hearts towards them. Were their eyes but open, they would never do as they do; we should look upon them as the physician
doth upon his diseased patient. Did they but see with the same light you do, they would be as far from hating Christ, or his ways, as you are. As soon as they cease to be ignorant, they cease to hate, saith Tertullian.
5. How needful is it before we engage against any person or way, to be well satisfied that it is wickedness we oppose! You see the world generally mistakes in this matter. Oh beware of doing you know not what! for Satan will know what he is doing by you: he blinds your eyes, and then sets you to work. You may eternally reflect on and lament what you have done. Oh beware what you now do!
Proposition 2. There is forgiveness with God, for
such as oppose Christ through ignorance.
If "all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men," Matt. 12: 31, even those whose wicked nands crucified Christ may receive remission by that blood they shed. Compare Acts, 2: 23, 38. And here I must show what forgiveness is, and the possibility of it, for such as ignorantly oppose Christ.
I. Forgiveness is God's gracious discharge of a believing penitent sinner from the guilt of all his sin, for Christ's sake.
It is God's discharge. None can forgive sin but God only. Mark, 2:7. The primary and principal wrong is done to him: "Against thee, thee only," that is, thee mainly or especially, "have I sinned." Psalm 51: 4. Sins are called debts, debts to God, Matt. 6: 12; and as pecuniary debts oblige him that owes them to the penalty, if not discharged, so do our sins. And who can discharge the debtor but the creditor?
It is a gracious act of discharge. "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake." Isa. 43: 25. And yet sin is not so forgiven, that God expects no satisfaction at all; but none from us, because God hath provided a surety for us, by whom he is satis
fied: "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." Eph. 1: 7.
It is a gracious discharge from the guilt of sin. Guilt is that which pardon properly deals with, involving obligation to punishment. Pardon is the dissolving of that obligation. The pardoned soul is a discharged soul: "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died." Rom. 8: 33.
It is God's discharge of a believing penitent sinner. Infidelity and impenitence are not only sins in themselves, but such as bind all other sins upon the soul. "By him, all that believe are justified from all things." Acts, 10 43. So Acts, 3: 19, "Repent therefore, that your sins may be blotted out :" this is the method in which God dispenses pardon to sinners.
It is for Christ's sake we are discharged; he is the meritorious cause of our remission: "As God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you." Eph. 4: 32. It is his blood alone that meritoriously procures our discharge. This is a brief and true account of the nature of forgiveness.
II. Now to evince the possibility of forgiveness for such as ignorantly oppose Christ, let these things be weighed :
1. Why should any poor soul, now humbled for its enmity to Christ in the days of ignorance, question the possibility of forgiveness, when there is more efficacy in the blood of Christ, the meritorious cause, than is requisite to the forgiveness of the most aggravated sins? There is power enough in that blood, not only to pardon thy sins, but the sins of the whole world, were it actually applied. 1 John, 2: 2. There is not only a sufficiency, but a redundancy of merit, in that precious blood.