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He chose the humblest life; the humblest associates, the humblest food; the humblest dress; and the humblest manners; and voluntarily yielded himself to the most humiliating death. Nor was his character more distinguished by greatness, wisdom, and moral dignity, than by his humility of mind and life. He himself has alleged it, as one proof of his Messiahship, that the poor had the Gospel preached to them by his mouth.
I have now finished the observations, which I proposed to make under the first general head, mentioned in the preceding discourse; and have given an account, so far as I thought necessary, of several things, in which the holiness of the Redeemer was exemplified. The second, viz. the importance of this attribute to his priesthood, I shall reserve for future discussion; and shall proceed to make two or three remarks, naturally arising from what has been already said.
1st. We have here seen ample proof, that Christ was what he declared himself to be.
The precepts of Christ required mankind to be absolutely holy, or perfect; and allowed no defect of obedience, as well as no degree of transgression : declaring this character to be the only one, which, for its own sake, could be accepted of God. In what has been said, we have the fullest proof, that he was exactly such, as he taught others to be; a complete example of the character, which he required. Of all the things, attempted by man on this side of the grave, none is more difficult, or more transcends human efforts, than the attainment of this perfection. The world has never seen a second specimen of this character. How remote, then, must it be, when the best of mankind have fallen so far short of it, from the possible attainment of hypocrites, impostors, and pretenders? How distant from every counterfeit? How absolutely unattainable, hitherto, by the least blemished integrity, and the most exalted piety, which has been merely human, A single act, or a few actions, may, to the eye of spectators, seem great, spotless, and exalted. A retired life, little seen, and scarcely observed, may not disclose its defects. But a life, spent in the midst of mankind, and daily exposed to the view of multitudes, and filled up with actions of every kind, cannot fail to discover, even in the best of men, continual and numerous imperfections. Perfect rectitude of heart, therefore, can alone have produced perfect rectitude of life, in our Saviour. Of course, he was what he declared himself, and what he is every where declared, to be, in the Scriptures. Of course, he was the Messiah; the Son of God; the Saviour of Mankind. His doctrines and precepts were from God; and require, with divine authority, the faith and obedience of all men.
His life was given as a Ransom for many, and his flesh for the life of the world. He did not, therefore, die, to bear witness to the truth of his doctrines; but as a propitiation for sin, and a ransom for sinners. As such, therefore, we are required to believe on him, if we wish to be saved.
A strong additional proof of the truth, now under consideration, is furnished by the circumstances in which Christ was born, and lived. He was born, and educated, as has been observed before, in the humblest circumstances, and continued in them throughout his life. With plain and ignorant men only did he spend almost the whole of his days; men, whom he instructed, but from whom he could never receive instruction. At the same time, the learned men of his age and country had wandered, in their doctrines, far from truth and righteousness. Their opinions, grounded partly on a perverted revelation, and partly on a wretched and debasing collection of traditions, were, to a great extent, false, foolish, and stupid, beyond all easy conception. Their worship was a vain and miserable round of external rites. Their morals, also, were licentious, and polluted by all the dictates of lust, pride, and avarice; and their whole character was a gross and dreadful mixture of bigotry, hypocrisy, oppression, violence, and impurity.
In such an age, in such circumstances, among such men, and in the midst of such errors and sins, Christ was born and educated, lived and died. Let every honest, every sober, man now say, whence it arose, that he was an exception to the character
, of all his countrymen, and to that of mankind; that his wisdom transcended that of all other men; and that his life left that of every child of Adam out of comparison, and out of sight: a Sun
of righteousness, at whose presence every star disappears from the firmament.
2dly. These Observations strongly evince the Inspiration of the Apostles.
This perfect character of Christ they have left on record. It is perfectly delineated; not by general description, or loose, unmeaning panegyric; but by filling up a plain, simple, natural history with characteristical actions and discourses; and tracing features, distinct in themselves, and yet harmonious; blending into one complete whole, totally distinguished from every other character, hitherto drawn by man: as unlike, nay, much more unlike, any other person, ever seen, or heard of, in this world, than that of Hamlet, Lear, Achilles, or Hector.
Attempts to form such a character, as should be acknowledged to be perfect, have been often made ; but they have invariably failed of success. The efforts of the heathen philosophers, and poets to paint their wise and perfect men are well known to be miserably imperfect. The Æneas of Virgil is a picture of this kind; but, notwithstanding the genius of the writer, is so far from perfection, as not to be even amiable ; but gross, vicious, and hateful. The Wise man of Philosophy is little better : for he is impious, proud, impure, false, and unfeeling. Infidels have succeeded no better; and even Christians have been compelled to derive all, that is good and commendable in the characters, drawn by them, from the very record left by the Apostles ; the life, precepts, and doctrines, of Christ.
Whence, then, were these men able to perform a task, too hard for all the rest of their fellow-men? Plainly not from learning ; for they had none : not from genius; for in this most of them were evidently excelled by many others : not from the examples, furnished to them in their own Scriptures. Abraham, the most perfect example of this nature, exhibited at length, is wonderfully inferior to the character of Christ; although wonderfully superior to the best men of heathen antiquity. All the saints of the Old Testament could not, were their excellences united, supply the most ingenious mind with materials, out of which the life of Christ could be formed, even by such a mind. Nor could all the doctrines, contained in that invaluable book. enable such
a mind to originate, by its own powers, the instructions of Christ. The character is not only superior, but singular. The wisdom is not only greater, more various, and more satisfactory; but is wrought into forms, communicated in discourses, and started by incidents, all of which are too particular, too natural, and too appropriate, to admit, not the belief merely, but the possibility, of their having been compiled. The character is perfectly new and original ; like nothing which preceded, and nothing which has succeeded, it. At the same time it is all of a piece; every part being suited exactly to every other part, and all the parts to the whole. As this character could not have been formed by the Apostles, without an actual example ; it was equally impossible, that it should have been formed, at the time, when they wrote, with the aid of such an example. The Gospel of St. Matthew was, according to the earliest computation, written, as I formerly observed, eight years after the death of Christ. How plainly impossible was it, that he should have remembered Christ's sermon on the mount ; his Parabolical Sermon ; or his discourses concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the final judgment ? How evidently impossible is it, that he should have made them? Who could make them now? Compare them with the noblest efforts of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. Who now,
Who now, what pea- . sant, what beggar, what child of twelve years of age, would take their discourses as his creed; as the directory of his conscience; as the law of his life? But the discourses of Christ were the creed, the wisdom, the boast, the glory, of Bacon, Locke, Newton, Butler, Boyle, Berkley, Addison, and Johnson. Can it be imagined, that this Jewish publican possessed a mind sufficiently sublime and capacious, sufficiently discerning and pure, to command the admiration, belief, and obedience, of these great men? Can it be believed that, with all the wisdom of the world before them, and their own superior understanding to direct their choice, they, and ten thousand other enlightened men, should bow, with a single heart and voice, to precepts and instructions, devised by the mere native abilities of this uneducated inhabitant of Judea?
But if Matthew could not have devised, nor remembered, the life and discourses of Christ; what shall be said of John? His Gospel was written about fifty years after the death of the Sa
viour; and contains more, and more wonderful, discourses of this glorious Person. All these, also, are exhibited, as springing out of appropriate occasions, minutely specified; and are exactly fitted to each occasion. The writer, it is to be remembered, was a fisherman on the lake of Gennesaret; and followed this business, sometime after he arrived at manhood. A mere fisherman, therefore, wrote the Gospel of St. John. Suppose the experiment were now to be made. Suppose an American fisherman, who had read the Bible from his childhood, were to be employed to form a new Gospel, and to delineate anew, as particularly as John has done, the life and discourses of such a person as Christ; both of thein to be drawn wholly from the stores of his own mind. What must we, what must all men, be obliged to believe, would be the result of his efforts ? Undoubtedly, the same narrow-minded, gross, and contemptible compound, which we now and then behold in a pamphlet, written by an ignorant man; which scarcely any person reads through, unless for the sake of seeing what such a man can write : a production, devoid of understanding, wisdom, incident, character, entertainment, and thought: a trial of patience; a provocative of contempt and pity. Such, all analogy compels us to believe, must have been the Gospel of St. John, had it been devised by the mere force of his own mind.
That he could have remembered the incidents and discourses, contained in it, after the lapse of fifty years, I need not attempt to disprove: since it was never believed, and will never be believed, by any man.
But the Gospel of John was written by a fisherman. The writer himself declares it; and the declaration is confirmed by the testimony of all antiquity. Read this book; consider the sublime and glorious wisdom which it contains, and the wonderful life which it records; and then tell me, whether the supposition, that it was revealed, or that it was written without Revelation, involves the greater miracle.