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Let no one then indulge the vain imagination that a just, and generous, and compassionate conduct towards his fellow creatures constitutes the whole of his duty, and will compensate for the want of every other Christian virtue.
This is a most fatal delusion į and yet in the present times a very common one. Benevolence is the favourite, the fashionable virtue of the age; it is universally cried up by infidels and libertines as the first and only duty of man; and even many who pretend to the name of Christians, are too apt to rest upon it as the most essential part of their religion, and the chief basis of their title to the rewards of the Gospel. But that Gospel, as we have just seen, prescribes to us several other duties, which require from us the same attention as those we owe to our neighbour ; and if we fail in any of them, we can have no hope of sharing in the bemefits procured for us by the sacrifice of our Redeemer. What then God and nature, as well as Christ and his apostles, have joined to
gethers gether, let no man dare to put asunder. Let no one fatter himself with obtaining the rewards, or even escaping the punishments of the Gospel, by performing only one branch of his duty; nor let him ever suppose that under the shelter of benevolence he can either on the one hand evade the first and great command, the love of his Maker; or on the other hand that he can securely indulge his favourite passions, can compound as it were with God for his sensuality by acts of generosity, and purchase by his wealth a general licence to sin. This may be very good pagan morality, may be very good modern philosophy, but it is not Christian godliness. .
As it is my purpose to touch only on the most importantand most generally useful parts of our Saviour's discourse, I shall pass over what remains of it, and hasten to the conclusion, which is expressed by the sacred historian in these words: “ And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine ; for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes *.” Both his matter and his manner were infinitely beyond any thing they had ever heard before. He did not, like the heathen philosophers, entertain his hearers with dry metaphysical discourses on the nature of the supreme good, and the several divisions and subdivisions of virtue ; nor did he, like the Jewish rabbies, content himself with dealing out ceremonies and traditions, with discoursing on mint and cummin, and estimating the breadth of a phylactery; but he drew off their attention from these trivial and contemptible things to the greatest and the noblest objects; the existence of one supreme Almighty Being, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of the universe: the first formation of man; his fall from original innocence; the consequent corruption and depravity of his nature; the remedy provided for him by the goodness of our Maker and the death of our Redeemer; the nature of that divine religion which he himself came to reveal to mankind; the purity of heart and sanctity of life which he required; the communications of God's Holy Spirit to assist our own feeble endeavours here, and a crown of immortal glory to recompense us hereafter.
* Matth. vii. 28, 29. Vol. I.
The morality he taught was the purest, the soundest, the sublimest, the most perfect, that had ever before entered into the imagination, or proceeded from the lips of man. And this he delivered in a manner the most striking and impressive; in short, sententious, solemn, important, ponderous rules and maxims, or in familiar, natural, affecting similitudes and parables. He shewed also a most consummate knowledge of the human heart, and dragged to light all its artifices, subtleties, and evasions. He discovered every thought as it arose in the mind; he detected every irregular desire before it ripened into action. He manifested at the same time the most perfect impartiality. He had no respect of persons. He reproved vice in every station wherever he found it, with the same freedom and boldness; and he added to the whole the weight, the irresistible weight, of his own example. He and he only of all the sons of men, acted up in every the minutest instance to what he taught; and his life exhibited a perfect portrait of his religion. But what completed the whole was, that he taught, as the evangelist expresses it, with authority, with the authority of a divine
teacher. The ancient philosophers could do nothing more than give good advice to their followers; they had no means of enforcing that advice; but our great Lawgiver's precepts are all DIVINE COMMANDÁ. He spoke in the name of God: he called himself the Son of God. He spoke in a tone of superiority and authority, which no one before had the courage or the right to assume: and finally, he enforced every thing he taught by the most solemn and awful sanctions, by a promise of eternal felicity to those who obeyed him, and a denunciation of the most tremendous punishment to those who rejected him.
These were the circumstances which gave our blessed Lord the authority with which he spake. No wonder then that the people 56 were astonished at his doctrines; and that they all declared he spake as never man
* John, vii. 46.