« PreviousContinue »
structions were delivered in a form calculated for impression, the precise purpose in his situation to be consulted ; and that they were illustrated by parables, the choice and structure of which would have been.admired in any composition whatever; when we observe bim free from the usual symptoms of enthusiasm, heat, and vehemence in devotion, austerity in institutions, and a wild particularity in the descriptions of a future state ; free also from the de. pravities of his age and country, without superstition amoagst the most superstitious of men, yet not decrying positive distinctions or external observances, but soberly recalling them to the principle of their establishment, and to their place in the scale or huroan duties: without sophistry or trifling, amidst teachers remarkable for nothing so much as frivolous subtleties and quibbling expositions ; candid and liberal ia his judgment of the rest of mankind, although belonging to a people who affected a separate clain to divine favour, and in consequence of that opinion, prone to uncharitableness, partiality, and restriction; when we find in his religion, no scheme of building up a hierachy, or of ministering to the views of human governments: in a word, when we compare Christianity, as it came from its Author, either with other religions, or with itself in other hands, the most reluctant understanding will be induced to acknowledge the probity, I think also, the good sense of those to whom it owes its origin; and that some regard is due to the testimony of such men, when they declare their knowledge that the religion proceeded from God; and when th appeal for the truth of their assertion, to miracles which they wrought, or which they saw.
Perhaps the qualities which we observe in the religion, may be thought to prove something more. They would have been extraordinary, had the religion come from any person ; from the person, from whom it did come, they are exceedingly so.
What was Jesus in external appearance ? a Jewish peasant, the son of a carpenter, living with his father and mother in a remote province of Palestine, until the time that he produced himself in his public character. He had no master to instruct or prompt him. He had read no books but the works of Moses and the prophets. He had visited no polished cities. He had receivel no lessons from Socrates or Plato; nothing to form in him a taste or judgment, different from that of the rest of his countrymen, and of persons of the same rank of life with himself. Supposing it to be true, which it is not, that all his points of
morality might be picked out of the Greek and Roman writings, they were writings which he had never seen. Supposing them to be no more than what some or other had taught in various times and places, he could not collect them together.
Who were his coadjutors in the undertaking, the persong into whose hands the religion came after his death ? a few fishermen upon the lake of Tiberias, persons just as uneducated, and for the purpose of framing rules of morality, as unpromising as himself. Suppose the mission to be real, all this is accounted for; the unsuitableness of the authors to the production, of the characters to the undertaking, no longer surprises us; but without reality, it is very difficult to explain how such a system should proceed from such per
Christ was not like any other carpenter; the apostles were not like any other fishermen.
But the subject is not exhausted by these observations. That portion of it, which is most reducible to points of argument, has been stated, and I trust truly. however, some topics, of a more diffuse nature, which yet deserve to be proposed to the reader's attention.
The character of Christ is a part of the morality of the gospel; one strong observation upon which is, that, neither as represented by his followers, nor as attacked by his enemies, is he charged with any personal vice. This remark is as old as Origen:-“ Though innumerable lies and calumnies had been forged against the venerable Jesus, none had dared to charge him with any intemperance."'* Nota reflection upon this moral character, not an imputation or suspicion of any offence against purity and chastity, appears for five hundred years after his birth. This faultlessness is more peculiar than we are apt to imagine. Some stain pollutes the morals or the morality of almost every other teacher, and of every other lawgiver.t
Zeno the stoic, and Diogenes the cynic, fell into the foulest impurities; of which also Socrates himself was more than suspected. Solon forbad unnatural crimes to slaves. Lycurgus tolerated theft as a part of education. Plato recommended a community of women. Aristotle intained the general right of making war upon barbarians. The eller Cato was remarkable for the ill usage of his slaves. The younger gave up the
person of his wife. One loose principle is found in almost all the Pagan moralists; is distinctly, however, perceived • Or Ep. Cels. 1. 3. Num. 36. ed. Bened. + See many instances collected by Grotius de Ver. in the notes to his second book,
p. 116. Pocock's edition.
in the writings of Plato, Xenophon, Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, and that is, the allowing and even the recommending to their disciples a compliance with the religion and with the religious rites of every country into which they
In speaking of the founders of new institutions, we caunot forget Mahomet. His licentious transgressions of his own licentious rules; his abuse of the character which he assumed, and of the power which he had acquired, for the purposes of personal and privileged indulgence; his
; avowed claim of a special permission from heaven of unlimited sensuality, is known to every reader, as it is confessed by every writer of the Moslem story.
Secondly, in the histories which are left us of Jesus Christ, although very short, and although dealing in narrative, and not in observation or panegyric, we perceive, beside the absence of every appearance of vice, traces of devotion, humility, benignity, mildness, patience, prudence. I speak of traces of these-qualities, because the qualities themselves are to be collected from incidents; inasmuch as the terms are never used of Christ in the gospels, nor is any formal character of him drawn in any part of the New Testament.
Thus we see the devoutness of his mind, in his frequent retirement to solitary prayer,* in his habitual giving of thanksgt in his reference of the beauties and operations of nature to the bounty of Providence ;f in his earnest addresses to his Father, more particularly that short but solemn one before the raising of Lazarus from the dead ;9 and in the deep piety of his behaviour in the garden, on the last evening of his life ;|| his humility, in his constant reproof of contentions for superiority;** the benignity and affectionateness of his temper in his kindness to children ;ft in the tears which he shed over his falling country ;ff and upon the death of his friend ;$$ in his noticing the widow's mite ;|||| in his parables of the good Samaritan, of the ungrateful servant, and of the Pharisee and publican, of which parables no one but a man of humanity could have been the author: the mildness and lenity of his character is discovered, in his rebuke of the forward zeal of his disciples at the Samaritan village,
*** in his expostulation with Pilate.fit in his prayer for his enemies at the moment of his sufiering, fff which, though it has been since very properly and frequently imitated, was then, I apprehend, new. His pru
+ Mat. xi. 25. Mark viii. 6. John vi. 23. Lukexxii. 18 _jJohn xi. 41. | Mat. xxvi. #Luke xix. 41. g John xi. 35. HI! Mark xii. 42.
ttt John xix. 11. #11 Luke xxiij. 34.
Mat, xiv, 23. ix. 28, xxvi. 36.
Mat. vi. 26, 28.
*** Luke ix. 55.
** Mark ix. 33.
dence is discerned, where prudence is most wanted, in his conduct upon trying occasions, and in answers to artful questions. Of these the following are examples. His withdrawing, in various instances, from the first symptoms of tumult,* and with the express care, as appears from St. Matthew,t of conducting his ministry in quietness; his declining of every species of interference with the civil affairs of the country, which disposition is manifested by his conduct in the case of the woman caught in adultery, and in his repulse of the application made to him, to interpose his decision about a disputed inheritance;& his judicious, yet, as it should seem, unprepared answers, will be confessed in the case of the Roman tribute,|| in the difficulty concerning the interfering relations of a future state, as proposed to him in the instance of a woman who had married seven brethren ;* and, more especially in his reply to those who demanded from him an explanation of the authority by which he acted, which reply consisted, in propounding a question to them, situated between the very difficulties, into which they were insidiously endeavouring to draw him.ff
Our Saviour's lessons, beside what already has been remarked in them, touch, and that oftentimes by very affecting representations, upon some of the most interesting topics of human duty, and of human meditation; upon the principles, by which the decisions of the last day will be regulated, it upon the superior, or rather the supreme importance of the religion, & upon penitence, by the most pressing calls, and the most encouraging invitations,|||| self-denial, *** watchfulness, ttt placability. 111 confidence in God, 989 the value of spiritual, that is, of mental worship,||| the necessity of moral obedience, and the directing of that obedience to the spirit and principle of the law, instead of seeking for evasions in a technical construction of its terms.****
If we extend our argument to other parts of the New Testament, we may offer, as amongst the best and shortest rules of life, or, which is the same thing, descriptions of virtue, that have ever been delivered, the following passages :
6 Pure religion, and undefiled, before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affictions, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Mat. xiv. 22. Luke v. 15, 16. John v. 13. vi. 15. xji. 19. John viji. 1. Luke xij. 14. || Mat. xxji. 19. * Ib. 28. tt xxi. 23. et seq. # Mat. xxv. 31. et. seg. Mark viii. 35. Mat. vi. 31–33. Luke xii. 16. 21-45. !!!! John xv.
*** Mat. v, 29.
ttt Mark xiii. 37, Mat. xxiv. 42-xxv, 13. 111 Luke xvii. 4. Mat. xvii. 33. 545 Mat. Y. 23-30. | | Johniv. 23, 24.
*•Mat. v. 11. 1777 James i. 27.
“ Now the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned.">
" For the grace of God that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all
men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.”+
Enumerations of virtues and vices, and those sufficiently accurate, and unquestionably just, are given by St. Paul to his converts in three several epistles. I
Tbe relative duties of husbands and wives, of parents and children, of masters and servants, of Christian teachers and their flocks, of governors and their subjects, are set forth by the same writer,f not indeed with the copiousness, the detail, or the distinctness of a moralist, who should, in these days, sit down to write chapters upon the subject, but with the leading rules and principles in each; and, above all, with truth, and with authority.
Lastly, the whole volume of the New Testament is replete with pity; with what were almost unknown to hea. then moralists, devotional virtues, the most profound vederation of the Deity, an habitual sense of his bounty and protection, a firm confidence in the final result of his councils and dispensations, a disposition to resort, upon all occasions, to his mercy, for the supply of human wants, for assistance in danger, for relief from pain, for the pardon of sin.
CHAP, III. The Candour of the Writers of the New Testament. I MAKE this candour to consist, in their putting down many passages and noticing many circumstances, which no writer whatever was likely to have forged: and which no writer would have chosen to appear in his book, who had been careful to present the story in the most unexceptionable form, or who had thought himself at liberty to carve and mould the particulars of that story, according to his choice, or according to his judgment of the effect.
A strong and well-known example of the fairness of the evangelists, offers itself in their account of Christ's resurrection, namely, in their unanimously stating, that, after he
+ Tit. ij, 11, 12. Gal. v. 19.
. Tim. i, 5.
Col. iii. 12.
1 Cor. xiii.