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infinitely excellent. He is ever pursuing the general welfare in the highest degree; he is bringing good out of evil; and actually advancing the happiness of all who love and serve him. Did it not lead me into too large a field, I would extend the description to the Old Testament, the first volume of this book.
I am at no loss to account for this, because I believe the writers of the New Testament were inspired. But how will you,
who reject Christianity, account for it? Whence did these illiterate men acquire such just and exalted ideas of the Supreme Being ?
But the argument is not presented in all its extent of evidence, till we compare the New Testament with the writings of other men. The compositions of the poets of Greece and Rome have been celebrated throughout the world. You admire them. Let us take a view of the deities which these men, the theologians of the ancient pagans, have described. But their lusts, their quarrels, their revenge, their temper, and their conduct, are so disgusting, that the mind cannot bear to institute a comparison. How high do the philosophers of the same countries stand in the annals of fame! But when we hear some of them deny that there is a God, and see others excluding him from the government of the world; and among the best of these sages, for one just sentiment of God, ten that are absurd;-if find more decent company,
it is but little more instructive. Equally needless is it to stop with the votaries of Brahma and Budhu in the east; they discover a similar taste, and present us with similar descriptions of the object of their worship. Mohammed, it has been remarked, is a peculiar favourite with the opposers of Christianity. Let us attend to his representation of God: only be it remembered that he had the Old and New Testament to copy from; but he could not copy
His features of the deity are harsh and forbidding. Some of the divine perfections are left out: his god is imperfect. The men of Judea and Galilee alone could delineate the character of God. They have done it so well, that in the most polished countries, at the present time, none can say, “ You have forgotten an attribute; we can improve the description.” Were they not taught of God?
The Character of Jesus Christ.
Were there nothing else to distinguish the New Testament from other books, this alone would establish its superiority. That it is a real character which is drawn, and not a fiction, is evident from the very representation. No human mind would ever have conceived such a one. We find nothing like it in any ancient writings: Plato and Aristotle had no such conceptions. Such a birth, such a life, such a death, lie beyond the bounds of human invention; for human invention is limited and regulated by human passions and pursuits. There is a peculiar symmetry of features, a certain original and appropriate cast of countenance, which proves the portrait to be drawn from a real person; and not to be a fancy piece, which sprang out of the imagination of the painter. This is eminently the case in the life of Christ. The discerning reader will perceive it to be no romance, no effort of genius, to portray a remarkable character which never had existence; but real personage who lived on earth, and died, and suffered, and spoke, and acted, what is related of him. If in any instance human sagacity can discriminate between real life and fiction, it is here; for a thousand circumstances are adduced, which furnish the fullest opportunities of distinguishing the one from the other. The heated imagination of a writer may fancy that his hero acts naturally, and according to character, in the various situations in which he places him; and those likewise with whom he has intercourse. But one reader, more conversant with a peculiar walk in life, sees one thing to be unnatural, and another, another; and thus the romance is discovered. But in the life of Christ no such unsuitableness appears; all is in its proper place. Were the men of Galilee such proficients in deception? No. The conclusion is obvious: 'They write a true history.
The perfection of Christ's character is another consideration which stamps a peculiar excellence on the New Testament. A representation is given of one entirely free from every error and every sin-of one who is perfectly wise and perfectly good. This character is not pourtrayed in a few brilliant passages at the end of the gospels; it rises out of the whole of the history of his life and death. Jesus is presented in many and different situations. He is introduced speaking on a great variety of subjects; he converses familiarly with his friends; he discourses to the multitude; he replies to the cavils of his enemies. He is displayed both in active employments and in sufferings: but not one word is contrary to the dictates of wisdom, not one action contrary to the rules of rectitude. He is often thrown into the most trying circumstances, and sudden and ensnaring questions are frequently put to him; but his consummate prudence shines forth in his answers and in his conduct; and none can accuse him of folly or of sin. In his most bitter sufferings from the hands of his Father and of the Jews, there is neither murmuring against God, nor hatred and revenge, nor reviling of man. But he does not rest in negative virtue; he is all resignation to the will of God. His treatment of Judas, when betrayed and about to be delivered up, his behaviour before Pilate, his words to the daughters of Jerusalem when they wept at his sufferings, and his prayer on the cross for his enemies, all manifest the highest and purest efforts of goodness. Not one evil passion shows itself in the slightest degree, even in an unbecoming word. No ignorance, no error, no imprudence; all is truth and all is wisdom. Enthusiasm and superstition have no place in this wondrous personage. There is, from first to last, a full display of perfect rectitude and perfect goodness.
In persons of remarkable activity, who are constantly engaged in one duty or another, and who are thereby thrown into situations of difficulty and temptation, how hard is it to keep free from blame! Something is hastily said; something is unwisely done; a reproof is given without due consideration; a reply is too bitter. Into the few years of the ministry of Christ is compressed a greater portion of good works, and active services, than can be found in the protracted life of the man who dies at threescore years and ten, and who has served God from his youth. But no imperfection is to be found. “ Which of you,” said he to his bitterest enemies, and he says it to you, deist, “ which of you convicteth me of sin?” Examine the life of Jesus fully and maturely. It is written by four men: and I venture to say with confidence, you will find nothing which can detract from the perfection of his character. No other book furnishes a like instance. A few
of panegyric may be written without a fault. A life of tranquil inactivity it may be possible to represent without many prominent blemishes: but a life of so much business as the New Testament exhibits in Jesus Christ, does not exist; and it increases a thousand-fold the difficulty of drawing a
character. Yet they succeeded. No men of ancient or modern times can furnish such an example. Take a view of the writers, their education, their manner of life, their social intercourse and relations, and you may justly exclaim with astonishment, “ How were these men alone able to do what all others, in ancient or modern times, who attempted it have attempted in vain?” I can think of no other answer but this : “ They were taught of God.”
But there is something still remaining to be mentioned in the character of Christ, which is equally, if not more, extraordinary. While the evangelists uniformly represent him as a partaker of human nature, they also speak of him as being more than man; for he is not only called the Son of man, but the Son of God. Here, then, is an additional difficulty in delineating the character of Jesus. There must be added, to the perfection of a man, the elevation becoming “the Word, who was in the beginning with God, and who was God, by whom all things were made;" nor do we search for it in vain. Along with the most amiable condescension that ever adorned human nature, there is united a uniform dignity of sentiment and conduct becoming his exalted rank: as the Son of God, Jesus speaks with authority; he promises with a consciousness of his power; he confers blessings as one who has a right to bestow. In every thing, and place, and time, he preserves, without the remotest resemblance of pride or assuming arrogance, the tone of a master, and the dignified deportment of one who “ came down from heaven to give life unto the world; and who was the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
There is another thing respecting Jesus Christ which deserves to be thrown into the balance; and it is by no means destitute of weight, namely, that the evangelists do not present a popular character. There is nothing of the air of an impostor in it; it was not calculated to gain the approbation of the Jews. They expected a Messiah who would lead them on to victory, who would subdue all their foes, and who would exalt them to worldly dignities. Their hopes of these things were high and warm, and of long continuance; they had drunk them in with their mother's milk, they had received them by tradition from their fathers. Those who wished to impose on them and gain their favour, flattered their prejudices, and promised them worldly greatness. Thus did the false Messiahs act. We see them at the head of armies, endeavouring to gain glory to the Jewish nation by the edge of the sword. But Jesus of Nazareth comes in a way which was altogether unexpected; in a way which dashed all their hopes, and robbed their minds of those golden dreams which had so long delighted them. In short, it was a total disappointment in a matter which was the sheet-anchor of their hopes, and which occupied their whole souls. But there is even more than a disappointment. Jesus enjoins an opposite temper on the subjects of his kingdom, and he enforces it by his own example. Instead of cherishing their fond expectations, that he would erect his standard, and lead them forth to victory and glory, he speaks “ of the Son of man being betrayed into the hands of sinners, who would scourge him, and spit upon him, and put him to death.” Nay, more, instead of encouraging their ideas of superiority to the Gentiles, he utters various parables to convey the unwelcome, because humbling, idea, that the Gentiles were to be admitted to a participation of the same privileges with the Jews; and that men of all nations, who received the gospel, were to be melted down into one holy brotherhood. Is this the conduct of an impostor? Can either the person described, or the writers, excite suspicions of an intention to deceive? *
Instead of soliciting permission, I shall be entitled to thanks, for in. serting here the no less just than eloquent, the inimitable, description of the character of Christ, drawn by the hand of a master.
“ I will confess to you that the majesty of the Scriptures strikes me with admiration, as the purity of the gospel hath its influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our philosophers with all their pomp of diction: how mean, how contemptible are they, compared with the Scripture! Is it possible that a book, at once so simple and sublime, should be merely the work of man? Is it possible that the sacred personage, whose history it contains, should be himself a mere man? Do we find that he assumed the tone of an enthusiast or ambitious sectary? What sweetness, what purity in his manners! What an affecting gracefulness in his delivery! What sublimity in his maxims! What profound wisdom in his discourse! What presence of mind in his replies! How great the command over his passions! Where is the man, where the philosopher, who could so live and so die, without weakness, and without ostentation?_When Plato de. scribed his imaginary good man with all the shame of guilt, yet meriting the highest rewards of virtue, he describes the character of Jesus Christ; the resemblance was so striking that all the Christian fathers perceived it.
“What prepossession, what blindness must it be to compare (Socrates) the son of Sophroniscus to (Jesus) the son of Mary! What an infinite disproportion is there between them! Socrates, dying without pain or ignominy, easily supported his character to the last; and if his death, however easy, had not crowned his life, it might have been doubted whether Socrates, with all his wisdom, was any thing more than a vain sophist. He invented, it is said, the theory of morals. Others, however, had before put them in practice; lie had only to say, therefore, what they had done,