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PRACTICAL VIEW OF THE CIARACTER
56 Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”
It is said by Plato, in some part of his works, that if virtue, in her native beauty, could be presented to the eyes of men, she would command without difficulty their admiration and homage. The philosopher seems to have judged too highly of his kind. Certain at least it is, that a perfect pattern of moral excellence has been exhibited to the world, yet vice is still loved and followed; Christ has long since been manifested, but men “love darkness rather than light.” “To them" (however, says the apostle), “who received him, gave he power to become the sons of God;” and, unquestionably, as the character of our blessed Saviour is one of the most convincing evidences of the truth of the Gospel he promulgated, so is it, beyond competition, the best model which his servants can choose for their imitation. To study this, will be ever our duty and our happiness; and the ensuing reflections, even if they should be thought to have little claim to originality, will not be useless, if they renew to the writer and the reader considerations which should ever be present to both.
In order to our understanding justly the character of our Redeemer, it would be necessary, first, to examine the qualities of which it was composed, separately; and then survey their general effect: that we might see both the perfectness of each grace, and the symmetry of the whole. To fill up such an outline completely, would be a great and valuable performance. To this the following reflections have no claim, but they are loosely adjusted to that model.
The leading feature in the character of Jesus Christ unquestionably was, Devotedness to the service of God. He lived only to do his will. It was his meat and drink; his daily, hourly, momentary occupation. From this, pleasure had no charms to seduce, pain no power to terrify him. At the table, in the temple, on the mount, by the way-side, weary, hungry, defamed, by night, by day, in every state and every place, weeping over the grave of Lazarus, riding triumphantly into Jerusalem, praying in the garden, hanging on the cross, Jesus was still the same "he did the will of the Father who sent him.” Fancy can image nothing more sublime than the unity of that great purpose.
This devotedness of spirit was sustained by an unfailing Trust in God. “He committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” Faith, the great principle of the second covenant, the act by which fallen man receives the dispensation of mercy, which Jesus studiously magnified in his preaching, he nobly illustrated by his example. Whatever unbelief might be found in others, the faith of Christ never faltered. Though vexed with the opposition of the Jews, and discouraged by the dulness of his disciples, he stayed himself still upon his God, and persevered in the
work assigned him. Betrayed by his follower, deserted by his friends, confounded by the powers of darkness, and so dismayed and tortured that his wounded soul broke out in the bitter expostulation, “My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me!" still his faith was firm: and in his dying words, “it is finished,” he recognized the immutable counsels and declarations of God, and pronounced them completed.
It is observable, that a hope of future glory, which sceptics have often arraigned as a mean, because a mercenary, motive, and even some pious persons have omitted or discountenanced, was very differently esteemed by him who knew the value of the promised inheritance: “ For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame.” Hope has, perhaps, been too seldom mentioned and enforced in modern times. When St. Paul prayed for the Ephesians, it was, that “they might know the hope of their calling, and the riches of their glorious inheritance, and the exceeding great power of God towards them that believe.”.
Jesus declared, that to love God with all our heart, is the first and great commandment; and it cannot be questioned that what he enjoined he practised. Beloved himself of God, as his only begotten Son, he undoubtedly returned to his Father love unmeasured and incomprehensible. Yet we may observe, and it demands our serious attention, that this all-powerful, all-constraining love broke out into no enthusiastic fervours. In the bosom of the Redeemer, doubtless it was a principle of joy and consolation unspeakable; but in his outward behaviour, it was chiefly visible in the steady cheerfulness with which he did and suffered whatever it pleased his heavenly Fa
ther to coinmand or to inflict. It was a spring of action, not of mere emotion; a source of such intimate and heartfelt satisfaction, that it sought neither aid nor observation from others. Yet the love of Christ to God had nothing in it of mystical abstraction, nor did it require to be nursed in seclusion. It had strength enough to live in the midst of business and tumults.
Of Christ's devotional exercises but little is told us; only it appears that they were at times long and earnest, and that he so bighly regarded them, as to rise up a great while before day for the purpose of attending on them. From some passages in his life, it seems probable that he held a constant mental communion with his heavenly Father; and perhaps the reason why more particulars have not been recorded, may be, that external acts, which form so exceedingly small a part of this duty, are too commonly regarded by men as the whole of it. There seems no reason to suppose that petitions for strength to do the will of God were excluded from our Saviour's prayers; for an angel would not have been sent to communicate what he did not need, and what he needed we may be assured he prayed for, Do we believe then, that Christ, to whom the Spirit was given without measure, one with the Father, for the weakness of the nature he assumed, res quired and asked for aid from heaven; and shall we, who add corruption to infirmity, and sin to corruption, shall we presume to trust in our own strength?
The social and personal virtues most remarkable in the character of Christ, were Love to Man, Humility, Disinterestedness, and Constancy. The first of these was so wrought into the tenor of his whole life, that every act, either directly or remotely, had a reference to the happiness of others. This, however, was not the whole. He not only did good, but he did it with tenderness. He was benevolent in little things as well as in great ones; in manner as in substance. Neither the opposition of his enemies, nor the blindness of the disciples, nor the oppressive labours of his ministry, ever moved him to haste or fretfulness. A striking instance of his equanimity and tenderness may be seen in Mark vi. 31. et seq.- Jesus and the apostles were so pressed upon by the multitude, that they had not time to eat. And he said, Come ye apart into the wilderness and rest awhile. So they went by ship into a desert place. But the people ran a-foot and came thither before him. Jesus then, going out of the vessel, saw a great multitude: they allowed him no respite. What ensued? Surely he was vexed to find himself thus persecuted, and gave them a sharp reproof, or turned sullenly away, or at least he retreated from their importunity. The Evangelist speaks otherwise: “he had compassion on them." It is the more important to note the unvarying benignity of heart which our Redeemer exhibited in the midst of opposition and obloquy, because many persons, of high religious profession, are observed to be peculiarly deficient in the government of their tempers. This cannot but be matter of affliction to all true Christians: and worldly people, seeing that a regard to convenience and good-breeding frequently effects more in this branch of self-discipline than the lofty motives avowed by such friends of religion, judge harshly of the men, and imbibe a secret prejudice against religion itself. They, however, who condemn, should recollect that this is an age of courtesy, in which good-nature bears a high price, and is more generally cultivated than other virtues; that it is there