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What simplicity, what pathos, what greatness is there in the portrait of the Son of God! There seems to be at times a shade of melancholy thrown over his appearance by the fatal certainty of his approaching death, which heightens, astonishingly, the effect of his supernatural greatness; while, at the same time, his tender compassion for his countrymen, and his familiarity, flowing from his benevolence, seem to relieve the awe of his more than human endowments.
He controls nature, as God created the light, with a word. To the waves, he says, peace, be still—and to raise a dead man from his grave, he says only, Lazarus, come forth! He performs the most stupendous miracles without emotion. Every one who sees them is lost in amazement; but the Son of God, conscious of his greatness, and unconcerned about his fame, except to confine it, leaves the words which he uttered, and the miracles which he wrought, to produce their own proper impression on the mind : he deigns not to draw the genuine conclusions. The most sublime of all the portions of his life, is its closing hour. His greatness in his sufferings must be felt by every reader of sensibility, and no language can render it more impressive than the simple record of the evangelists.
And now, my friends, if the evangelists are not the conscientious relaters of facts, how have they attained to these touches of moral greatness? How, in that age of corrupt literature and taste, among such a race of babblers and triflers as the Jews, did these unlearned men construct such a story, and give such a moral image, sublime beyond the conception of former ages, clothed only in the unexaggerated language of facts ? Here is no Plato to dress up the discourses of Jesus, like those of Socrates, on his dying bed; and yet the discourses of our Saviour with his disciples, and his prayer with them
just before his death, are the sublime of pathos and devotion. This part of the character of Jesus owes nothing to his historians. They do not carefully point us to any striking traits; they hardly make a reflection for us, or discover that they feel themselves a sentiment of admiration. If you feel, then, my hearers, this sublimity in the character, it is because it really existed, not because the evangelists have taken pains to display it; it is because you see, in their irregular and inartificial memoranda, the same person whom the centurion saw expiring on the cross, when he cried out, 66 This was a righteous man, this was the son of God!”
4. The fourth trait, which we proposed to contemplate in the character of Jesus, as it stands in the gospels, is its consistency.
To understand this, you must follow him, from the commencement of his ministry, through the various changes of his life. There is, throughout, the same devotedness to God, compassion for human misery, contempt of malediction, meekness, self denial, grandeur and solemn tranquillity. He is the same great and gracious being, when driven in fury from his native city, and when carried in triumph by the people; when giving his disciples his last adieu in private, and when surrendered by the baseness of a disciple to the violence of the rulers and the tumult of the people; when expiring on the cross, and when risen in all the plenitude of his power and glory. T'he great object of his life, and sufferings, and exaltation, seems never to have been absent from his mind. Not a syllable escapes him, in the most difficult and trving crisis of his life, unworthy of the majesty of the Son of God, or of the tenderness of one, who felt all our infirmities, and learned obedience by the things which he suffered.
The more we think of this subject, the more astonishing we shall find it, and the more difficult to
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préserve the consistency we have mentioned. Here is a wonderful contrast of powers-divine greatness and mortal debility, ignominy and glory, suffering and triumph, the servant of all and the Lord of all. Jesus expiring and Jesus risen and triumphant. Who would undertake, without any adequate proto. type, to describe a consistent character out of these incongruous elements ? Who could advance a step in such a narrative without previous instruction ?
Think how difficult it is to preserve, for any length of time, the consistency of a common fictitious delineation. Suppose the character is taken from the walks of every-day life, to make a natural portrait is a mark of considerable talent. But when the character is extraordinary, beyond the grasp of common minds, when the events are mighty and unexampled, and especially where supernatural agency makes a part of the narration, then the preservation of consistency discovers wonderful superiority of invention. Great geniuses have often attempted this and failed.
Now when you add to this, that the history of Jesus is the work not of one writer, but of four, and three of these obscure and illiterate, and one of them confessedly writing from the testimony of various witnesses; when you consider, that each of them contributes different portions of the history, and yet that they produce such an harmonious whole, as the character of Jesus Christ; if you suppose that they did not copy, and minutely too, from a real original, that they did not make use of undeniable facts, the work rises into a miracle of human genius. It is impossible, utterly impossible, in the nature of the human mind, that any thing but truth should have furnished the materials, the substance of the evangelical narrative. If you deny, or doubt this, you have a moral phenomenon, and an historical difficulty more unaccountable, more prodigious, more in
credible, than all the miracles of the gospel, and at the same time utterly useless and absurdly anoma. lous; and he who chooses this side of the alterna. tive, knows not what he doth, nor whereof he affirmeth.
What we have said on these four points, the unex. pectedness, originality, sublimity and consistency of the delineation, is enough, we hope, to satisfy any man, who will meditate on the subject, that this is a real picture; and if Jesus Christ really existed, as the evangelists have drawn him, I leave you to judge of the truth of that declaration at the commencement of his ministry, " This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
What remains then, but to exhort you to some practical use of these meditations.
I hope you are among those advanced christians, who, after having satisfied yourselves of the historical truth of the facts in christianity, because you thought it a duty which you owed to truth, are now able to repose on your original conviction; and that in this state your faith is continually strengthening itself, not merely by time and habit, but by those secret and irresistible influences, which flow from the frequent and diligent reading of that wonderful collection of documents relating to Jesus Christ, the New Testament. To dwell upon the character of Jesus, must be the delight of every christian who has any desire to grow in virtue; and surely he is "W no christian who makes no progress.
e widtshopošos We have said, that the kind of character which Jesus exhibited as the Messiah, was entirely unexpected to his nation. Instead of using his miraculous power to place himself at the head of his nation, as their deliverer and the conqueror of the world, the Son of God chose rather to appear as the son of peace and consolation. The heart of man was the only realm which he aspired to rule ;. and it was as
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grateful to him to convert the publicans and sinners, as it would have been to receive the proud submission of a prefect or an emperour, of Herod or Tiberius. He went about doing good, when the impatient Jews were tempting him to aspire to the throne of David. What a lesson of humility is this; and what can more clearly show the unambi. tious and holy spirit of the christian religion, than this character of Christ in these circumstances.'
Again, what an original character was that of Jesus Christ. How little was it modified by the national character of the Jews, and how perfectly free was it from any of the debilitating and corrupting influence of general example. The Son of God, christians, did not fear the charge of singularity. He did not seek favour by accommodating himself to the manners and principles of the times in which he lived. He did not choose to conciliate hypocrites, nor did he attempt to secure the ruling authorities in aid of his designs by falling in with their purposes. He dared to neglect superstitions which he thought vain, and men whom he thought base, and to honour those whom the wicked priests, and elders neglected or disdained. He felt that freedom from the common thraldom of prejudice, love of popularity, and inveterate custom, which the consciousness of pure views, of fervent and rational piety, and the continual anticipation of a better world will give you, my friends, even the most humble of you, if you will make the trial.
But is there any thing to be learned, you will say, from the sublimity of the character, which is so much a subject of taste? Yes, learn from this, that there is nothing truly great but what is simple and unaffected. Sublimity is completely destroyed by vanity and ostentation. Learn, that the moral grandeur of independent integrity is the sublimest thing in nature, before which the pomp of eastern magni.