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JOHN vii. 46.
NEVER MAN SPAKE LIKE THIS MAN.
: THE excellence of the gospel is so distinguishing, and the evidences of its divine original are so various, that a constant study of it, instead of diminishing our interest, or shaking our faith, tends rather to astonish us by the constant increase of its proofs, and the inexkaustible abundance of its motives. True it is, that a mind, which comes fresh to the examination of christianity, and, if such a thing is possible, with perfect impartiality, ought first to ascertain what is called the external evidence of the gospel, or, in other words, the credibility and authenticity of the historical testimony on which it rests. But when his conviction from this source is sufficiently established, and in this regular way, let the inquirer direct his attention to what is called its internal evidence, such as the character of Christ and his apostles, the nature of his instructions, and what we understand in general by the spirit of the gospel. In this way, if he is an inquirer of an ingenuous disposition, and of a heart warmed with the love of virTue, he will love the gospel too well to suffer any relicks of doubt to disturb him; he will be unable to reject what appears so divine, and what he finds so powerful, or to think it to be any thing else than what he wishes it to be,--the word of God.
There is something in the character of Jesus Christ, which, to an attentive reader of his history, is of more force than all the weight of external evidence to prove him divine. If we attempt to persuade ourselves, that there is nothing super-terrestrial in the picture, which, with so much simplicity and unlaboured consistency, the evangelists have given of our Lord, this question pushes upon the mind, and demands an answer: How was it, that in the common course of nature, in one of the most corrupt ages of the world, and in an obscure corner of an obscure country, a perfect personage or model of the moral class should all at once start up before the admiration of mankind, and now, after the lapse of many centuries, as well as then, remain unrivalled, and almost unapproached ? This is a phenomenon, which must be explained before any man can be satisfied with the rejection of divine interposition.
If, to relieve ourselves from this difficulty, which no man who thinks will fail to feel, we choose, with an absurd distrust of all history, to doubt that such a personage as our Lord existed, a greater difficulty meets us : How, if the original did not exist, did four writers like the evangelists acquire, without inspiration, the idea of such a character, and transmit, with such harmonious and lively colours, the picture we have of Jesus Christ. The imagination of any man can form a singular combination of qualities, a character merely extraordinary; but if four men conceived, at the same time, and without any ade. quate prototype, such a character as is confessedly drawn of the blessed Jesus, I scruple not to say it was such a miracle of genius, as neither before nor since had a parallel in the recorded history of the human mind,
In order that you may feel the argument, which I wish now to set before you, let me transport you back to Judea, and place you in the audience that. were listening to the discourses of our Saviour, recorded in that chapter of St. John from which our text is taken.
The Pharisees and chief priests, enraged at the boldness of our Saviour's discourses, and jealous of the attention which he appeared to excite, order some of their officers to apprehend him. The officers go forth determined, as we may suppose, to obey their superiours, as usual. They advance toward the Son of God, then in the midst of his discourse. They behold a man standing in all the conscious dignity of independent virtue, full of grave and impressive wisdom, which he delivers and enforces with the authority of divine power. As they approach, no secret anxiety betrays itself in his countenance. In his manner they discover none of the reserve and cunning of imposture, no arts to gain attention, no solicitude to provoke wonder or catch applause, none of the extravagancies of the head of a sect, no absurdities, and no symptoms of concern for family interest, or personal fame. All about Jesus of Nazareth is as fair, and grand, and unaffected, as the sun in his course through a cloudless sky. He appears to be the delegate of Him, who sits at the head of the creation, proposing messages of love, and expressing, in his own manner, the benevolent designs of his Father in heaven towards this perverse nation. They behold him affectionate in his adddress, sublime in his conceptions, yet fearless in his manner, meekly conscious that God was with him, and that his unbelieving hearers were a wicked and cruel race, who would bring upon themselves the vengeance of the Most High, whose prophet they rejected.
Dressing Fathele hold
The rude officers are arrested at the sight of this inexplicable dignity, and an unaccountable awe spreads itself over their consciences. They feel, as if they were. about to lay unhallowed hands on the Son of God, or the inhabitant of some other world. They stand at a distance, dwelling on his looks and language, fixed in amazement. They return to their employers without their prey. Why have ye not brought him ? say the impatient priests. Never man spake like this man, was all their reply. And who is this wonderful teacher, my friends? The Son of the humble Mary of the village of Nazareth.
If, christians, there should be produced in your minds a true sense of the dignity of him, whose words and appearance arrested these officers in their de. sign, and if you should feel too, that such a character cannot be the unaided invention of the four evangelists, but demands a real original, the purpose of this discourse will be answered, and the truth of the character of Jesus will be substantiated.
We begin with this preliminary, if the history of Jesus Christ, as it is recorded in the four evange. lists, is substantially true, then his claims to divine authority must be admitted, for God was with him.
Now there are four remarkable circumstances in the description of our Saviour, as it is left us in the gospels, which sufficiently show the reality of the delineation, and, of consequence, as we think, the di. vinity of the original; and these are the unexpectedness, the originality, the sublimity, and the consistency of the character.
1. The unexpectedness of the character, which Jesus assumed. You will understand the force of this consideration, when you recollect, and bear in mind, what the Jews had long, perhaps always, expected in their Messiah, and what they found in Jesus. They were impatiently looking out for a temporal deliverer; they had figured to themselves a leader of magnanimous spirit and celestial power; they hoped to find erected on the hill of Zion, a standard of revolt from the oppression of the Romans, under the imagined king, whom they had clothed in robes of royalty, and to whom they had given ensigns of power. Thus the Magi, at the birth of Jesus, came with regal presents, and the populace too were afterwards ready to conduct him, in regal triumph, into the holy city, and crown him king of the Jews. Besides this general impatience to be led on, under the banners of the Christ, to national independence, and ultimately to universal empire, they were continually demanding some sign in the heavens, which they expected. To this notion of the Messiah, which was unquestionably the prevailing one, they were led by a too literal interpretation of some of the passages in their sacred books, as well as by a national sentiment of oppression. Nor was the expectation of some mighty deliverer, about that time to appear, confined to Judea. The rumour was prevalent in the east. It was certainly known to the classical historians of that age, and there are strong reasons for believing, that it had reached the Roman emperour. *
Now, this being the state of the Jewish minds with regard to the Messiah, let us not forget, that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were Jews, who, in addition to the prejudices of their nation, were exposed to contracted views from the lowness of their origin and condition in life. These men, how. ever, undertake, without any previous advantage that we can imagine, to give us the history and show the character of a Messiah in every respect a contrast to the expectations of their nation, and, as they tell us with much simplicity, long irreconcileable to their own wishes and previous opinion. They have put us indeed in full possession of the state of their
* See Sermon 1.