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CHRIST A PROPHET.—THE MANNER OF HIS PREACHING.
John vii. 46.- Never man spake like this Man.
In my last discourse I considered the second division of the proposed examination of Christ's prophetical character, viz. the Things which he taught. I shall now proceed to consider
III. The Manner of his preaching.
By the plainness of Christ's preaching I intend generally, that he preached in such a manner, as to be easily understood by all, who were willing to understand him.
Particularly, he used the plain, common, language of mankind; and, on no occasion, the technical language, customarily used by men of science, and extensively used at that period by all the votaries of the fashionable philosophy. That he has never used this language will undoubtedly be admitted by those, who read his instructions; there being not even a solitary instance of it in all his discourses.
That Christ acted with entire wisdom, in this particular, is manifest from many considerations. The common language of men is the only language, which men, generally, can understand. If Christ had used any other language, particularly technical language, scarcely one of a hundred of those who heard him, or of those who read his discourses, would have been able to know what he meant. To all these the book, containing his instructions, would have been a sealed book; and almost every man, who read it, would have been obliged to say, I cannot understand it, for I am unlearned.
Nor would technical language have been of much real use to learned men. In Natural and Mathematical science this language has, I acknowledge, been employed with success; and that, to a considerable extent. But in Moral science, which involves all the instructions of Christ, the same thing cannot be said without many abatements. The subjects of Moral science are, generally, less distinctly and definitely conceived of, than those of Natural, par. ticularly of Mathematical, science; and on this account, and be
cause we have no sensible, exact standard, to which we may refer them, the terms of Moral science are, to a great extent, used at first indefinitely; and are afterwards rendered still more indefinite by the looseness and imperfection of thinking, in succeeding writers.
At the same time, moral subjects are so important, so deeply interest the feelings, and awaken so many biasses and prejudices, that where our discernment, left to itself, might enable us to fasten on definite ideas, and to choose proper terms to express them, our biasses still lead them into error; and prevent us partly from perceiving the true import of the language, used by others, and partly from a willingness to accord with it, when perceived.
From these causes, and others like them, the technical language of moral science has generally been loose and indefinite, to a greater degree than the common language of men: and such must have been the language used by our Saviour, if he had adopted the technical language of his time. This language, also, originally difficult to be understood, would have been rendered still more obscure by every attempt to translate it into the languages of other nations. Terms of this kind have often no customary use, which can be appealed to, to fix their signification; and, being used only by some individual author, or in a peculiar sense by that author, it must be left to criticism, and often to conjecture, to determine their meaning. When used by several authors, they are commonly used with some variation of sense, either slight, or serious. In this case their signification becomes more doubtful, and the discourses, in which they are found, more perplexed. If I mistake not, no terms in an
authors are so doubtful, as those appropriated to philosophy; many of which seem to have their meaning scarcely settled even at the present time. With these sources of doubt before them, translators would have been extremely perplexed, and would have perplexed their readers still more by their own terms, chosen, often erroneously, to express the doubtful meaning of their originals. But the language, used by our Saviour, was suited to all men; the best language for Philosophers themselves; the only language for other men. All men can understand it better than any other; most men can understand no other.
The plainness of our Saviour's manner is conspicuous, also, in the obvious nature of his allusions and illustrations. These were all derived from objects, familiar to the apprehension of mankind at large ; according to the rule of Eloquence, in this respect, laid down by Cicero. Every reader of our Saviour's discourses must have observed this fact. The city set on a hill; the salt of the earth; the candle, which is not to be set under a bushel, but on a candlestick; the vine, and the branches; the Shepherd, and the sheep; are instances, which cannot be forgotten. These, and others of the like nature, are the happiest of all allusions, and the best of all illustrations. They are natural, but forcible; every where offering themselves, and every where beautiful ; familiar, but possessed of sufficient dignity; and attended always with this high recommendation, that they are easily understood by men in every situation of life.
The plainness of our Saviour's manner is remarkably evident, also, in his parables. Instruction appears to have been communicated in allegorical discourses, generally resembling these, from the earliest ages. But no instructer ever formed them so happily, as Christ. The subjects, alluded to, are chosen with supreme felicity; and, the allusions are conducted with the utmost skill and success. The allegorical part of the story, is always just and impressive; commonly beautiful; not unfrequently sublime; and in several instances eminently pathetic. The meaning, which it is intended to convey, is at the same time definite, clear, and obvious. The parable, instead of shading the thought, illumines it; and instead of leaving the reader in doubt, contributes not a little to the satisfaction of his inquiries. When we consider the perplexed, enigmatical manner, in which both Jewish and Gentile teachers, at that time, conveyed many of their most important instructions; we shall, on the one hand, see this characteristic of our Saviour's discourses in a stronger light; and, on the other, shall be led to admire, suitably, the wisdom with which, in this respect, he taught mankind.
Nearly allied to the plainness of our Saviour's instruction is their Simplicity. By simplicity, in this case, I mean that general characteristic of discourse, in which both thoughts and words appear to have been adopted without the effort of selecting, and merely because they offered themselves; and to follow each other in the order in which they offered themselves, without contrivance, and in the manner most remote from either study or affectation. Of this important characteristic, as critics universally agree, the ancient writers furnish more numerous, and more perfect, examples than the moderns. Among ancient writers, those who penned the Scriptures hold, by general acknowledgment, also, the first place. But amid these, as well as all other instructers of mankind, Christ, as a pattern of perfect simplicity, stands unrivalled. His discourses, though fraught with doctrines of the most profound and wonderful wisdom, and sentiments of the highest sublimity and beauty, appear still, as if neither the words, nor the thoughts, were the result of the least study; but sprang up spontaneously in his mind, and flowed from his tongue in a sense instinctively; in a manner, strongly resembling that of children. The impression made by the manner in which they are delivered, is, that they are the result of mere unadulterated nature, prompting the speaker with an unresisted impulse; as if he knew how to speak in no other manner. The effect of this manner of discoursing is undoubtedly in an eminent degree happy ; whatever may be the subject, or the drift, of the discourse. When this is didactic, simplicity gives the teacher the most desirable aspect of artlessness, candour, and sincerity. When it is historical, beside presenting the speaker as invested with these important characteristics, it lends the utmost beauty and impressiveness to his narration. When it is sublime, or pathetic, it presents the objects which excite these emotions, in the strongest light; and excites the emotions themselves in the highest degree, which is possible. As examples, illustrating in the most perfect manner the truth of all these observations, I allege, particularly, Christ's Sermon on the mount; his Parabolic sermon, recorded, Matts xiii.; several of his discourses with the Jews, recorded by St. John; those addressed to his disciples, commencing with the xiv. chapter; his Intercessory prayer in the xvii. of that Evangelist; the Lord's prayer; the parables of the Prodigal son, the rich man and Lazarus, and the good Samaritan; and his discourses concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, and the final judgment, in the xxiv. and xxv. of Matthew. The parable of the prodigal Son particularly, may be alleged as the first example of beautiful and pathetic simplicity, which has been ever given to mankind; as without a rival, and without a second.
2dly. Christ exhibited in his manner of instructing the most perfect Modesty and Delicacy.
Both Jewish and Heathen teachers, before the time of Christ, were remarkable for pride, vanity, and of course for boasting. Pharisaical and Stoical pride have been proverbial for near two thousand years. The Grecian Philosophers exhibited to the world their true character, in this respect, by calling themselves Eopos
, or Wise men. Those of the East assumed denominations equally arrogant and contemptible. The pride and vanity, which they exhibited in this manner, they manifested, also, in every other form, and on every convenient occasion. Like a disagreeable odour, this unbecoming character eludes every attempt to conceal it; and forces itself upon the mind, wherever the writer becomes the subject of his own thoughts.
In direct, and perfect, opposition to them all, Christ, though teaching with a wisdom and greatness of character altogether unrivalled, has not suffered, I need not say a proud or vain thought, but even the most distant appearance of such a thought, to escape from his lips. Though more frequently, than any other teacher, compelled by the nature of his Mediatorial office, the tenor of his discourses, and the disputes in which he was engaged with the Jews, to become the subject of his instructions to them; and although doing, and saying, that, which, far more than any thing ever done or said, must awaken the conviction of personal greatness and superiority; yet he has never even in the most remote hint, or allusion, intimated a single indulgence of either pride, or vanity, in his own mind. No resemblance of boasting can be found in all his discourses. Himself, as an object of admiration, or applause, is for ever out of sight, and out of remembrance.
Delicacy is the kindred, the ally, of modesty; and an attribute of instruction, as well as an excellency of character, which appears to have been very imperfectly known to the teachers, both Jewish and Heathen, who lived at, or before, the time of our Saviour.
From them all he is perfectly distinguished by the most complete exhibition of this excellence. Not a sentiment, not a word, has fallen from his lips, which can give pain, in this respect, to a mind of the most finished refinement and virtue ; not a word, not a sentiment, fitted to awaken one improper thought, or to allure in the least degree to any unbecoming action.
3dly. Christ taught with entire Boldness and Integrity.
These highly honourable characteristics of our Saviour's instruction are every where visible, and, so far as I know, universally acknowledged. Particularly are they conspicuous in his open, intrepid attacks on the Pharisees and Sadducees; the men, who at that time held the whole power of the Jewish Government, and the whole influence over the Jewish nation. These sects, also, were the leaders of that nation in all their bigotry, their miserable superstition, and their deplorable devotion to a mere outside morality and worship. They corrupted them in their moral and religious principles, and introduced a sensual, loose, and nearly atheistical system of doctrine and practice. To these men Christ, with no defence but his own wisdom, innocence and purity, opposed himself with uniformity, vigour, and immovable firmness : exposing the unsoundness of their wretched doctrines, the futility of their arguments, the hypocrisy of their professions, and the enormous turpitude of their lives. All this he did with such clearness of evidence, and such pungency of reproof, that they themselves often shrunk from the detection, and trembled for the very existence of their principles and their power.
At the same time, and in the same manner, he reproved, and exposed, all the popular prejudices of his Country. Gentle, modest, and humble, beyond example, he united with this character an unyielding fixedness of principle and deportment, and a perfect destitution of that love of popularity, and that desire of applause, which are such prominent traits in the character of most of those, who have attempted the instruction of mankind. There is not in his instructions a single instance of the least concession to any religious, civil, or personal, prejudice of his Countrymen. On the contrary, he resisted them all openly, uniformly, and alike. Even their favourite doctrine, that they were, and were ever to be, the peculiar people of God, together with all the mischievous conse quences which they derived from it, he resisted on many occasions, and in many forms; declaring, that they were not, in the true and scriptural sense, the children of Abraham ; and showing them, that their natural descent from this patriarch would not, by itself
, be the least advantage to them; while the abuse of their privileges would only increase their guilt, and enhance their final condemnation.
Nor was Christ less direct and severe in reproving his friends. In them, notwithstanding all the gentleness and tenderness, with which he taught them, he allowed no variation from truth, or