My help is in the Name of the Lord
8 June 1784
The great mystery of godliness is the great comprehensive inexhaustible theme of the Gospel ministry – God manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit etc; 1 Timothy 3:16. It is my desire and aim to know nothing among you but this, to preach nothing to you but what is immediately connected with the doctrine of Jesus Christ and him crucified, including what the Scripture teaches us concerning the causes and the effects of his obedience unto death, even the death of the Cross. But I have often wished, for the satisfaction of my stated hearers, to be able to adopt some plan which might lead me in a regular succession of subjects, to exhibit the principal outlines of the Saviour’s character and mediation so as to form if not a picture, at least a slight sketch of those features of his glory and of his grace, which endear him to the hearts of his people, and to comprise, according to the little measure of my light and experience, a summary or system of evangelical divinity. Such a plan has lately occurred to me, and in an unexpected manner. Conversation in almost every company for two or three weeks past, has much turned upon what is called the Commemoration of Handel, and the grand musical performances at the Abbey on that occasion, and particularly the Messiah. I can easily conceive that when the Messiah was performed with such unusual advantages, if any person present of a sound spiritual judgement, could have hoped that the greatest part or a very considerable part of the performers and audience were capable of entering into the spirit of the subject, he might enjoy one of the highest and noblest gratifications this life is capable of. But they who love the Redeemer and to join in his praise, if they did not find it convenient, or think it expedient to hear the Messiah at Westminster, may comfort themselves that in a little time they shall be still more abundantly gratified. Ere long death shall rend the veil, which hides eternal things from our view and introduce them to that unceasing song and universal chorus, which are even now performing before the throne of God. In the meantime I have thought, that true Christians may without the assistance of vocal or instrumental music, find a higher joy in a humble contemplate [contemplation] of the words of the Messiah than they can derive from the utmost efforts of musical genius. This therefore is the plan I spoke of. I mean to lead your meditations to the language of the Messiah, to consider in their order, if the Lord is pleased to afford life, ability and opportunity, the several sublime and interesting passages of Scripture which are the basis of that admired composition. If the Lord the Spirit is pleased to smile upon the attempt, pleasure and profit will go hand in hand. There is no harmony to a heaven-born soul like that which is the result of a perception of the combination and coincidence of all the divine attributes and perfections, manifested in the work of redemption. Mercy and truth meeting together, inflexible righteousness corresponding with the peace of offenders, God glorious and sinners saved. There is no melody like the voice of the blood of Jesus speaking peace to a guilty conscience, or like the voice of the Spirit, applying the promises to the heart, and sweetly inspiring a temper [state of mind] of confidence and adoption. These are joys which the world cannot give – nor take away. These never pall upon the mind by continuance or repetition. The sense of them is always new, the recollection of them is always pleasant. Nor are they satisfying only, but sanctifying. They strengthen faith, animate hope, add fervency to love, and both dispose and enable the Christian to run in all the paths of holy obedience with an enlarged heart.
The Messiah is divided into three parts. The first contains prophecies concerning his advent, and their accomplishment in his birth. The second part, describes his passion, death, resurrection, ascension, his taking possession of his glorious kingdom, and the commencement of his kingdom of grace upon earth. The third part, expresses the blessed fruits and consummation of his undertaking, in the deliverance of his people from sin, death and sorrow, and making them victorious over all their enemies; and closes with the song of the redeemed to the Lamb who bought them with his blood. Revelation 5.