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This image is too faint to express the agonies of the Jews. The ignorance of Oedipus was invincible : that of the Jews was voluntary. St. Peter dissipated this ignorance. Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified, and slain. This charge excited ideas of a thousand distressing truths. The apostle reminded them of the holy rules of righteousness, which Jesus Christ had preached, and exemplified, and the holiness of him, whom they had crucified, filled them with a sense of their own depravity.
He reminded them of the benefits, which Jesus Christ had bountifully bestowed on their nation ; of the preference, which he had given them above all other people in the world ; and of the exercise of his ministry among the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matt. xv. 24. and his profusion of these blessings discovered their black ingratitude.
He reminded them of the grandeur of Jesus Christ. He shewed them, that the Jesus, who had appeared so very contemptible to them, upheld all things by the word of his power ; that the angels of God worshipped him ; that God had given him a name above every name, that at the name of Ješus every knee should bow, Heb. i. 3, 6. Phil. ii. 9, 10.
He reminded them of their unworthy treatment of Jesus Christ; of their eager outcries for his death; of their repeated shoutings, Away with him, away with him, crucify him, crucify him, Luke xxii. 18, 21. of their barbarous insults, He saved others, let him save himself, ver. 35. of the crown of thorns, the scarlet robe, the ridiculous sceptre, and all other cruel circumstances of his sufferings and death; and the whole taught them the guilt of their parricide. The whole was an ocean of terror, and each
reflection a wave, that overwhelmed, distorted, and distressed their souls.
V. In fine, we may remark in the sermon of St. Peter, denunciations of divine vengeance. The most effectual mean for the conversion of sinners, that, which St. Paul so successfully employed, is terror, 2 Cor. v. 11. St. Peter was too well acquainted with the obduracy of his auditors not to avail himself of this motive. People, who had imbrued their hands in the blood of a personage so august, wanted this mean. In order to attack them with any probability of success, it was necessary to shoot the arrows of the Almighty at them, and to set the terrors of God in array against them, Job. vi. 4. St. Peter described to these murderers that great and notable day of the Lord, ver. 21. so famous among their prophets, that day, in which God would avenge the death of his Son, punish the greatest of all crimes with the greatest of all miseries, and execute the sentence, which the Jews had denounced on themselves, His blood be on us, and our children, Matt. xxvii. 25.
St. Peter quoted a prophecy of Joel, which foretold that fatal day, and the prophecy was the nore terrible, because one part of it was accomplished; because the remarkable events, that were to precede it, were actually come to pass; for the spirit of God had begun to pour out his miraculous influences upon all flesh, young men had seen visions, and old men had dreamed dreams ; and the formidable preparations of approaching judgments were then before their eyes. Herod the Great had already put those to a cruel death, who had raised a sedition on account of his placing the Roman eagle on the gate of the temple. • Already Pilate had set up the Roman standard in Jerusalem, had threatened all, who opposed it, with death, and had made a dreadful havoc among them, who refused to agree to his making an aqueduct in that city. Twenty thousand Jews had been already massacred in Cesarea, thirteen thousand in Scythopolis, and fifty thousand in Alexandria. . Cestius Gallus had already overwhelmed Judea with a formidable army. Terrible harbingers of that great and notable day of the Lord ! Just grounds of fear and terror! The auditors of St. Peter, on hearing these predictions, and on perceiving their fulfilment, were pricked in their heart, and said to all the members of the apostolical college, Men and brethren, what'shall we do?
Such was the power of the sermon of St. Peter over the souls of his hearers ! Human eloquence hath sometimes done wonders worthy of immortal memory. Some of the ancient orators have governed the souls of the most invincible heroes, and the life of Cicero affords us an example. Ligarius had the audacity to make war on Cæsar. Cæsar was determined to make the rash adventurer a victim to his revenge. The friends of Ligarius durst not interpose, and Ligarius was on the point, either of being justly punished for his offence, or of being sacrificed to the unjust ambition of his enemy. What force could control the power of Cæsar? But Cæsar had an adversary, whose power was superior to his own. This adversary pleads for Ligarius against Cæsar, and Cæsar, all invincible as he is, yields to the eloquence of Cicero. Cicero pleads, Cæsar feels; in spite of himself, his wrath subsides, Iris hatred diminishes, his vengeance disappears. The fatal list of the crimes of Ligarius, which he is about to produce to the judges, falls from his hands, and he actually absolves
him at the close of the oration, whom, when he entered the court, he meant to condemn. But yield, ye orators of Athens and Rome! Yield to our fishermen and tent-makers. O how powerful is the sword of the Spirit in the hands of our apostles! See the executioners of Jesus Christ, yet foaming with rage and madness against him. See! they are as ready to shed the blood of the disciples, as they were to murder their master. But the voice of St. Peter quells all their rage, turns the current of it, and causes those to bow to the yoke of Jesus Christ, who had just before put him to death.
Allow, my brethren, that you cannot recollect the sermon of St. Peter without envying those happy primitive christians, who enjoyed the precious advantage of hearing such a preacher ; or without saying to yourselves, such exhortations would have found the way to our hearts, they would have aroused us from our security, touched our consciences, and produced effects, which the modern way of preaching is incapable of producing.
But, my brethren, will you permit us to ask you one question ? Would you choose to hear the apostles, and ministers like the apostles ? would you attend their sermons ? or, to say all in one word, Do you wish St. Peter was now in this pulpit? Think a little, before you answer this question. Compare the taste of this auditory with the genius of the preacher ; your delicacy with that liberty of speech, with which he reproved the vices of his own times. For our parts, we, who think we know you, we are persuaded, that no preacher would be less agreeable to you than St. Peter. Of all the sermons, that could be addressed to you, there could be none, that would be received less favorably than those, which should be composed on
the plan of that, which this apostle preached at Jerusalem.
One wants to find something new in every sermon; and, under pretence of satisfying this laudable desire of improvement in knowledge, would divert our attention from well known vices, that deserve to be censured. Another desires to be pleased, and would have us adorn our discourses, not that we may obtain an easier access to his heart; not that we may, by the innocent artifice of availing ourselves of his love of pleasure, oppose the love of pleasure itself: but that we may flatter a kind of concupisence, which is content to sport with a religious exercise, till, when divine service ends, it can plunge into more sensual joy. Almost all require to be lulled asleep in sin ; and although nobody is so gross as to say, flatter my wicked inclinations, stupify my conscience, praise my crimes, yet almost every body loves to have it so, Jer. v. 31. A principle of, I know not what, refined security, inakes us desire to be censured to a certain degree, so that the slight emotions, which we receive, may serve for a presumption that we repent, and may produce an assurance, which we could not enjoy under an apology for our sins. We consent to the touching of the wound: but we refuse to suffer any one to probe it. Lenitives may be applied : but the fire and the knife must not go to the bottom of the putrefaction to make a sound cure.
Ah! how disagreeable to you would the sermons of the apostles have been ! Realize them. Imagine one of those venerable men, ascending this pulpit, after he had been in the public places of your resort, after he had been familiarly acquainted with your domestic æconomy, after he had seen through the flimsy vails, that cover some criminal intrigues, after he had been informed of certain se