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THE former part of the fourth chapter of
1 St. Matthew, which contains the history of our Saviour's temptation, having been explained to you in the preceding Lecture, I shall now proceed to the latter part of the chapter, in which an account is given of the first opening of our blessed Lord's ministry, by his preaching, by his chusing a few companions to attend him, and by his beginning to work miracles; all which things are stated very briefly, without any attempt to expatiate on the importance and magnitude of the subject, which was nevertheless the noblest and most interesting that is to be found in history; an enterprize the most stupendous and astonishing that ever before entered into the mind of man, nothing less than the conversion
of a whole world from wickedness and idolatry to virtue and true religion.
On this vast undertaking our Lord now entered ; and we are informed by St. Matthew, in the 17th verse of this chapter, in what manner he first announced himself and his religion to the world. His first address to the people was similar to that of the Baptist, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The very first qualification he required of those who aspired to be his disciples was repentance, a sincere contrition for all past offences, and a resolution to renounce in future every species of sin ; for sin, he well knew, would be the grand obstacle to the reception of his Gospel. • What a noble idea does this present to us of the dignity and sanctity of our divine religion! It cannot even be approached by the unhallowed and the profane. Before they can be admitted even into the outward courts of its sanctuary, they must leave their corrupt appetites and their sinful practices behind them. “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet," said God to Moses from the burning bush,
“ for the place whereon thou standest is holy “ ground *.”. Put off all thy vicious habits, says Christ to every one that aspires to be his disciple, for the religion thou art to embrace is a holy religion, and the God thou art to serve is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot even look upon iniquity. In some of the ancient sects of philosophy, before any one could be admitted into their schools, or initiated in their mysteries, he was obliged to undergo a certain course of preparation, a certain term of trial and probation, which however consisted of little more than a few superstitious ceremonies, or some acts of external discipline and purification. But the preparation for receiving the Christian religion is the preparation of the heart. The discipline required for a participation of its privileges, is the mortification of sin, the sacrifice of every guilty propensity and desire.
This sacrifice however the great founder of our religion did not require for nothing. He promised his followers a recompence infinitely beyond the indulgences they were to renounce; he promised them a place in his * Exod. iii. 5.
KINGDOM, a kingdom of which he was the sovereign ; a kingdom of righteousness here, and of glory hereafter. Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand *.
He then proceeds to select and associate to himself a certain number of persons, who were to be his assistants and coadjutors in the establishment and the administration of his
And here it was natural to expect, that in making this choice he should look to men of influence, authority, and weight; that being himself destitute of all the advantages of rank, power, wealth, and learning, he should endeavour to compensate for those defects in his own person by the contrary qualities of his associates, by connecting himself with some of the most powerful, most opulent, most learned, and most eloquent men of his time.
And this most undoubtedly would have been his mode of proceeding, had his object been to establish his religion by mere human means, by influence or by force, by the charms of eloquence, by the powers of reason, by the example, by the authority, by the fashion of * Matth. iv: 17.
"the great. But these were not the instruments which Christ meant to make use of. He meant to shew that he was above them all; that he had far other resources, far different auxiliaries, to call in to his support, in comparison of which all the wealth and magnificence and power and wisdom of the world were trivial and contemptible things. We find therefore that not the wise, not the mighty, not the noble, were called * to cooperate with him ; but men of the meanest birth, of the lowest occupations, of the humblest talents, and most uncultivated minds. “As he was walking by the sea of Galilee, St. Matthew tells us, he saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men; and they straightway left their nets (that is in fact all their subsistence, all the little property they had in the world) and followed him. And going from thence he saw other two brethren, Jantes the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father mending their nets; and he called * 1 Cor. i. 26.