« ПредишнаНапред »
superior wisdom and purity of character. In his discourses every thing is serious, solemn, and earnest; but every thing, at the same time, is uttered with moderation, without passion, without declama
No discourses in the world are more distant from fanatical declamation, and no character is more unlike that of an enthusiast, than the discourses and character of Christ. A spirit of serenity, of self-possession, of impassioned sweetness, of principled excellence, reigns throughout all his instructions, and throughout all his life, of which, elsewhere, there is no example.
5thly. Our Saviour sought in his instructions for no Applause.
In this characteristic, also, he was equally singular and perfect. The love of applause is the most universal, and probably the most seductive, of all human passions; particularly, in minds, raised by intelligence above the common level. So seductive is it, that Cicero pronounced it to be true virtue. But of this passion not a single trace appears in the whole history of Christ. The good or ill opinion, the applause or censure, of his fellow-men, whether friends or enemies, seem as if they had not been thought of by him, and as if no capacity of being influenced by them had been an original attribute of his mind. With a magnetic constancy, his thoughts and discourses were pointed alway to truth and rectitude; and the world had no power of producing in them a momentary variation.
Such was the manner, in which Christ taught mankind: a manner all his own; copied from none who preceded him, and imperfectly imitated by the best and wisest of those who came after him; a manner perfectly suited to the supreme excellence of his character, to the divine commission, which he bore; to the illustrious system of truth, which he taught; to the glorious errand, on which he was sent; and to the perfect nature of that Being, whose representative he was to the children of men.
CHRIST A PROPHET.-CONSEQUENCES OF HIS PREACHING.
JOHN vii. 46.—And the Officers answered, saying, Never man spake like this Man.
IN the three preceding discourses, I have considered the Prophetical character of Christ, under these three heads: 1st. The Necessity of his assuming the office of a Prophet; 2dly. The Things which he taught; and, 3dly. The Manner in which he taught them.
I shall now proceed to the consideration of the 4th head, originally proposed concerning this subject, viz. The Consequences of his preaching; and, after a brief examination of these, shall conclude my observations on the Personal Preaching of Christ with a few Remarks.
The Preaching of Christ produced,
1st. A general astonishment in those who heard him.
And it came to pass, says St. Matthew, that when Jesus had ended all these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes. Two things are here mentioned as causes of the astonishment, occasioned by Christ's Sermon on the Mount: The things which he taught, and the manner of teaching. The people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes. It cannot be thought strange, that a scheme of doctrine, so new; so solemn; so simple; so pure; so amply fraught with inherent evidence of its truth; and, in all these respects, so opposite to that, which they were accustomed to hear from their own teachers; should produce an unusual degree of wonder in the minds of this people. Nor is it any more strange, that such a manner of teaching, as that employed by Christ, should have its share in producing this effect, and enhance the surprise, occasioned by his instructions. We, who hear these instructions from the cradle, to whom they are presented weekly from the desk, and daily by the Bible, cannot easily conceive the degree, in which they could not fail to impress the minds of men, when they were first published in the world. They were then new, and strange; and, both in the matter and the manner, were in a great measure singular. They were employed on the most important of all subjects: the sin and holiness, the ruin and recovery of mankind. They professed to contain, and communicate the will of God concerning these subjects, and of course to be a message from heaven.
At the same time, they censured, both implicitly and explicitly, most of the doctrines, taught by the Pharisees and Sadducees, most of their precepts, and the general tenor of their lives. The doctrines they showed to be false; the precepts unsound, and immoral; and the conduct of those, who taught them, to be unworthy of the profession, which they made, and contrary to the Scriptures, which, in pretence at least, they believed. These men, either alternately or conjointly, had, for a long period, held an entire and commanding influence over the Jewish nation. Highly venerated for their wisdom, and in many instances for their apparent sanctity, their countrymen scarcely called in question their claims to this influence, or to the character, on which it was founded. But, when Christ entered on his ministry, he stripped off the mask, by which they had been so long concealed; and left both their folly and their wickedness naked to every eye. The system, which they had so long taught without opposition, he showed, irresistibly, to be a strange compound of truths derived from the Scriptures; of falsehood and weakness, of superstitious scrupulosity and fanatical zeal, professedly drawn from the traditions of the elders; and of gross immorality and glaring hypocrisy, generated by their own minds. Their pretended sanctity both of doctrine and deportment he proved to be a mere veil, assumed to conceal their enormous avarice and ambition, pride and cruelty. As the means of future acceptance with God, he showed, that they could never avail; and that, therefore, they could only delude, and destroy, their credulous disciples. That such instructions as these, delivered by a person, whose whole life was a direct contrast to that of those, whom he thus censured, and refuted; who evidently appeared to be under the influence of no selfish passion, and no sinister motive; whose precepts required, and whose conduct exemplified, piety and benevolence without a mixture; delivered too in a manner so clear, so direct, and solemn, so universally convincing and impressive, should astonish all, who heard them, cannot be thought strange, even by us. Such was, indeed, their effect; and to such a degree, as to induce those, who heard them, to pronounce the teacher, on different occasions, a Prophet, a great Prophet, the Prophet foretold by Moses, and the Messiah. When we remember, that this teacher appeared in the character and circumstances of a Jewish Peasant; without a name; without education; without friends; we cannot but perceive, that the effect of his teaching was, in this respect, very great.
2dly. The preaching of Christ produced great Opposition both to himself and to his doctrines.
I have already recited many causes of this opposition. There were many more. But all of them may with propriety be reduced under these general heads. The novelty and excellency of his doctrines; the strictness and purity of his precepts; his birth; his character; the justice and pungency of his reproofs; the disap
pointment of the expectations of the Jews concerning the glory and splendour of his Messiahship; and the fears of the Pharisees and Sadducees, that he would destroy their influence and power. All these things thwarted some selfish passion, of his hearers; and many of them thwarted every such passion. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at, that they should oppose one, who taught, and lived, so as uniformly to reprove them for their whole moral character, and daily conduct.
This Opposition commenced, almost with his Ministry, and was carried on to its termination. It was, however, carried on with different degrees of vehemence by the different classes of Jews. The Great, that is, the Pharisees and Sadducees, hated Christ with far more uniformity and rancour, than the Common people. The reasons are obvious. He exposed their systems of doctrine, and modes of teaching; refuted their arguments; reproved their abominable conduct; displayed to the people at large their folly and wickedness; and threatened them with the total ruin of their reputation and authority. These were offences, not to be forgiven by proud, bigotted, unprincipled, and malignant men. They were not in fact forgiven. Throughout his whole public life, they exercised the most furious resentment against him, and hesitated not to adopt every measure to compass his destruction. All, that sagacity could devise, or art execute, was employed to ensnare, and entrap, the Redeemer in his words and actions. When these measures failed, as they always did, resort was had to violence and power. These at length succeeded; and the most perfect human malignity was finally gratified by seeing the Saviour nailed to the Cross.
The people at large regarded him with far less bitterness, than their leaders. It is several times mentioned, that the efforts of the Sadducees and Pharisees to destroy Christ, were prevented of success by their fear of the people. It is frequently testified, in substance, that the common people heard him gladly. It is also evident, that, had not appeals been made to their doubts, fears and prejudices, with great art and perseverance, and on many occasions, their attachment both to him and his doctrines would have risen still higher, and much more nearly accorded with their interest and duty.
On a number of occasions, however, they indulged the most violent animosity against him. Almost at the commencement of his preaching, the inhabitants of Nazareth attempted to put him to a violent death, by forcing him down the precipice of the hill, on which their city was built. Several times, afterwards, their Countrymen endeavoured to stone him; and in the end united, at the instigation of their Rulers, in accomplishing his death, with a fury approximating to madness.
3dly. The preaching of Christ produced the Conversion of a considerable number of his hearers.
The number of those, who were converted by the preaching of
Christ, cannot be estimated with any exactness. The eleven Apostles, the Seventy, the more than five hundred brethren, to whom at one time Christ appeared in Galilee, after his resurrection, are numbers mentioned in the Scriptures. The last not improbably included the two first. To these we ought, I think, to add a considerable number more, since it is often said, that some of the people, and many of the people, believed on him. No reason occurs to me, why we should not, generally at least, consider the faith, here spoken of, as Evangelical. If this be admitted, the number of converts, made by the preaching of Christ, must have greatly exceeded the largest number, specified in the Gospel.
Still it is, I suppose, generally believed, that the success, with which Christ preached the Gospel, was small, compared with that of the Apostles, and compared with that, which we should naturally expect to follow preaching, of such singular excellence: especially, when the perfection of his life, and the glory of his miracles, are connected with the nature of his preaching. The success, however, was upon the whole such, as to enable the Gospel to take effectual root in this sinful world, and to provide the means of supplying preachers throughout all succeeding ages, and of spreading the Gospel, within a moderate period, over a great part of the earth.
I have now finished the observations, which I proposed to make concerning the personal preaching of Christ; and shall conclude this discourse with a few Remarks, naturally flowing from the considerations, suggested on this subject.
1st. These considerations call up to our view, in an interesting manner, the Glory and Excellency of Christ as a Teacher.
From the things, which have been said in these discourses, it is, if I mistake not, clearly manifest, that both the matter and manner of Christ's preaching were singularly important, and excellent. The errand, on which he came into the world, was the greatest, which ever entered into the conception of rational beings, or which was ever proposed in the Providence of God. Of this vast and sublime purpose the preaching of the Gospel was a primary and indispensable part. To this part he appeared perfectly equal. The will of God the Father, concerning the duty and Salvation of men, he entirely understood; and, together with it, the character, the sins, errors, ignorance, and wants, of those, to whom he was sent; their hatred of truth, their opposition to their duty, and their reluctance to be saved. The same perfect acquaintance he also possessed with the nature and import of the preceding Revelation; its types, prophecies, and precepts; the false glosses, made on its various contents by the teachers, who went before him; and the miserable prejudices, imbibed by those whom he taught. These errors he detected and exposed: these sins he powerfully reproved: and the truth and duty, opposed to them, he enjoined with a force and evidence wholly irresistible. In this manner, he taught VOL. II.