« PreviousContinue »
A strong additional proof of the truth, now under consideration, is furnished by the circumstances in which Christ was born, and liva ed. He was born, and educated, as has been observed before, in the humblest circumstances, and continued in them throughout his life. With plain and ignorant men only did he spend almost the whole of his days; men, whom he instructed, but from whom he could never receive instruction. At the same time, the learned men of his age and country had wandered, in their doctrines, far from truth and righteousness. Their opinions, grounded partly on a perverted revelation, and partly on a wretched and debasing collection of traditions, were, to a great extent, false, foolish, and stupid, beyond all easy conception. Their worship was a vain and miserable round of external rites. Their morals, also, were licentious, and polluted by all the dictates of lust, pride, and avarice; and their whole character was a gross and dreadful mixture of bigotry, hypocrisy, oppression, violence, and impurity.
In such an age, in such circumstances, among such men, and in the midst of such errors and sins, Christ was born and educated, lived and died. Let every honest, every sober, man now say, whence it arose, that he was an exception to the character of all his countrymen, and to that of mankind; that his wisdom transcended that of all other men; and that his life left that of every child of Adam out of comparison, and out of sight: a Sun of rightcousness, at whose presence every star disappears from the firmament.
2dly. These Observations strongly evince the Inspiration of the Apostles.
This perfect character of Christ they have left on record. It is perfectly delineated; not by general description, or loose, unmeaning panegyric; but by filling up a plain, simple, natural history with characteristical actions and discourses; and tracing features, distinct in themselves, and yet harmonious; blending into one complete whole, totally distinguished from every other character, bitherto drawn by man: as unlike, nay much more unlike, any other person, ever seen or heard of, in this world, than that of Hamlet, Lear, Achilles, or Hector.
Attempts to form such a character, as should be acknowledged to be perfect, have been often made; but they have invariably failed of success. The efforts of the heathen philosophers, and poets, to paint their wise and perfect men, are well known to be miserably imperfect. The Æneas of Virgil is a picture of this kind; but, notwithstanding the genius of the writer, is so far from perfection, as not to be even amiable; but gross, vicious, and hateful. The Wise Man of Philosophy is little better: for he is impious, proud, impure, false, and unfeeling. Infidels have succeeded no better; and even Christians have been compelled to derive all, that is good and commendable, in the characters drawn Vol. II.
by them, from the very record left by the Apostles; the life, precepts, and doctrines, of Christ.
Whence, then, were these men able to perform a task, too hard for all the rest of their fellow-men ? Plainly not from learning; for they had none : not from genius; for in this most of them were evidently excelled by many others : not from the examples, furnished to them in their own Scriptures. Abraham, the most perfect example of this nature, exhibited at length, is wonderfully inferior to the character of Christ; although wonderfully superior to the best men of heathen antiquity. All the saints of the Old Testament could not, were their excellencies united, supply the most ingenious mind with materials, out of which the life of Christ could be formed, even by such a mind. Nor could all the doctrines, contained in that invaluable book, enable such a mind to originate, hy its own powers, the instructions of Christ. The character is not only superior, but singular. The wisdom is not only greater, more various, and more satisfactory; but is wrought into forms, communicated in discourses, and started by incidents, all of which are too particular, too natural, and too appropriate, to admit, not the belief merely, but the possibility, of their having been compiled. The character is perfectly new and original; like nothing which preceded, and nothing which has succeeded, it. At the same time it is all of a piece; every part being suited exactly to every other part, and all the parts to the whole. As this character could not have been formed by the Apostles, without an actual example; it was equally impossible, that it should have been formed, at the time when they wrote, with the aid of such an example. The Gospel of St. Matthew was, according to the earliest computation, written, as I formerly observed, eight years after the death of Christ. How plainly impossible was it, that he should have remembered Christ's Sermon on the Mount; his Parabolical Sermon; or his discourses concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the final judgment! How evidently impossible is it, that he should have made them! Who could make them now? Compare them with the noblest efforts of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. Who, now, what peasant, what beggar, what child of twelve years of age, would take their discourses as his creed; as the directory of his conscience; as the law of his life? But the discourses of Christ were the creed, the wisdom, the boast, the glory, of Bacon, Locke, Newton, Butler, Boyle, Berkley, Addison, and Johnson. Can it be imagined, thai this Jewish publican possessed a mind sufficiently sublime and capacious, sufficiently discerning and pure, to command the admiration, belief, and obedience, of these great men? Can it be believed, that, with all the wisdom of the world before them, and their own superior understanding to direct their choice, they, and ten thousand other enlightened men, should bow, with a single heart and voice, to precepts and instructions, devised by the mere native abilities of this uneducated inhabitant of Judea ?
But if Matthew could not have devised, nor remembered, the life and discourses of Christ; what shall be said of John ? His Gospel was written about fifty years after the death of the Saviour; and contains more, and more wonderful, discourses of this glorious Person. All these, also, are exhibited, as springing out of appropriate occasions, minutely specified; and are exactly fitted to each occasion. The writer, it is to be remembered, was a fisherman on the lake of Gennesaret; and followed this business, some time after he arrived at manhood. A mere fisherman, therefore, wrote the Gospel of St. John. Suppose the experiment were now to be made. Suppose an American fisherman, who had read the Bible from his childhood, were to be employed to form a new Gospel, and to delineate anew, as particularly as John has done, the life and discourses of such a person as Christ; both of them to be drawn wholly from the stores of his own mind. What must we, what must all men, be obliged to believe, would be the result of his efforts ? Undoubtedly, the same narrow-minded, gross, and contemptible compound, which we now and then behold in a pamphlet, written by an ignorant man; which scarcely any person reads through, unless for the sake of seeing what such a man can write: a production, devoid of understanding, wisdom, incident, character, entertainment, and thought: a trial of patience; a provocative of contempt and pity. Such, all analogy compels us to believe, must have been the Gospel of St. John, had it been devised by the mere force of his own mind.
That he could have remembered the incidents and discourses contained in it, after the lapse of fifty years, I need not attempt to disprove: since it was never believed, and will never be believed, by any man.
But the Gospel of John was written by a fisherman. The writer himself declares it; and the declaration is confirmed by the testimony of all antiquity. Read this book; consider the sublime and glorious wisdom which it contains, and the wonderful life which it records; and then tell me, whether the supposition, that it was revealed, or that it was written without Revelation, involves the
THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST.-HOLINESS OF HIS CHARACTER.
IMPORTANCE OF THIS ATTR BUTE TO THE DISTINCTION OF HIS CHARACTER,
HEBREWS vii. 26.-For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, un
defiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.
IN the two preceding discourses, I have considered the personal holiness of Christ in its three great divisions of piety, benevolence, and self-government. I shall now proceed to a discussion of the 2d. head of discourse, originally proposed concerning this subject, and endeavour to
Explain the importance of this attribute to Christ, as the High Priest of mankind.
I wish it to be distinctly remembered, that I am not inquiring why personal holiness, or inherent moral excellence, was necessary to Christ. Personal holiness is indispensable to every rational being, in order to his acceptance with God: being no other than the performance of his duty in whatever situation he is placed. My inquiries respect solely the necessity of Christ's manifesting to the world, his holiness of character in a life of perfect obedience; such as he actually exhibited. Christ might have become incarnate, and died immediately; and yet have been a perfectly holy being. I ask here why it was necessary for him, as the High Priest of men, to exhibit such a life, as he actually lived.
The pre-eminent holiness of Christ was, in this character, neces1. To give him that distinction, which was indispensable.
We are so accustomed to regard Christ as an extraordinary Person, as hardly to ask for any reason, why this peculiarity of character was necessary to him ; or what influence it had, or was intended to have, on his priesthood. I shall not be able to do justice to this subject; yet I will suggest a few considerations, which have occurred to me, at the present time.
It will be readily believed by all persons, who admit the priesthood of Christ, that this office was the most important, ever assumed in the present world. He who has expiated the sins of mankind, and opened the way for their reconciliation to God, their restoration to holiness, and their introduction to heaven, has, undoubtedly, sustained the most important character, and performed the most important acts, which have been ever known to the human race. That a person, of whom these things can be truly said, must be
sary to him,
rationally supposed to be separated from the rest of mankind by many marks, both of personal and official distinction, is an assertion, which needs no proof. All men are by the very nature of the case prepared to admit, beforehand, that he, who is destined to so extraordinary an office, must also possess an extraordinary character.
The Jews, led by the several predictions, given in their Scriptures concerning the Messiah, and perhaps in some degree, also, by the nature of the case, formed concerning him apprehensions, generally of this nature. They mistook, indeed, the things, by which his personal character was to be distinguished; but were perfectly correct in their belief, that his character was to be singular, as well as his office. His life, in their view, was to find its peculiar distinction in external splendour, conquest, and dominion over all nations; who were to be subjugated by his arm. He was to reign with a glory, utterly obscuring that of every preceding conqueror; and was to divide among them, his favourite people, the pomp, wealth, and power, of this lower world. To them, as the People of the Saints of the Most High, was, in a literal sense, to be given the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven. To a people, conquered as they were, impatient of their yoke, panting for liberty and independence, proud of their pre-eminence as the chosen people of God, gross in their conceptions of divine truth, and confining, with an animal relish, all real good to the gratifications of sense; it can scarcely seem strange, that this should appear a rational interpretation of the prophecies concerning the Redeemer ; particularly of some, which are couched in terms highly figurative. From such a people, in such a state, we could hardly expect just apprehensions concerning those sublimer glories of the Messiah, which lay in excellence of mind, and excellence of life ; obtained the unmingled complacency of the Father; and called forth the admiration, love, and homage, of all the virtuous among mankind. Still, even the expectations of the Jews accord with the general truth, that he, who sustains such an office, must also possess a character suited to that office.
The necessity of this character to give distinction to Christ as the High Priest of mankind, appears in a striking manner from several considerations. Particularly, it was indispensable to the accomplishment of the end of his priesthood; and, therefore, of his whole Mediatorial office, that he should engage, to a great extent, the attention of mankind. On this, in a great measure, depended the importance and success of his public ministry, both among his cotemporaries, and among men of all succeeding ages. Had he not been an object of public curiosity, and inquiry, in his own time; bis instructions, if uttered at all, must have been uttered to the rocks and the winds; and his character, unregarded in that age, would have been forgotten in the next. Or, if we suppose a