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in his worship not superstitious: but in all was rational, gentle, meek, faithful, self-possessed, and sublimely excellent.
He was born in an age, in which pure, undefiled religion had wonderfully decayed, and given place to an almost absolute round of superstitious and vain externities. Whenever men rely on these observances for acceptance with God, they resign of course all ideas of internal purity. He who expects that washing of hands will give him a title to heaven, will never concern himself with cleansing his heart. In such a state of things, wickedness of every kind will triumph ; all the doctrines of Religion will be modelled to the views and feelings of those, who practise it; and the whole system of faith will become a complication of folly, falsehood, authoritative dogmas, and implicit submissions of credulity. But in an age, and country, distinguished by these evils more than, perhaps, any other, Christ uniformly and victoriously resisted them all. He received no doctrine, he required his hearers to receive none, except when known and proved by unanswerable evidence, to be from heaven. All his own instructions he proved in this manner. Not an instance can be produced, in which he used the argument from authority. In his conduct there is not an example of superstition, enthusiasm, or bigotry. Harmless enjoyments he never refused; sinful ones he never indulged. No man was the better, or the worse treated by him, on account of the sect, party, or nation, to which he belonged.
In his beneficence he was a glorious example to all men. His affections were literally universal: and his beneficence was an exact expression of his affections. As it was dictated by no idle dreams of Philosophy, by no cobweb system of abstraction, but by plain, practical truth; it was real, useful, uniformly honourable to himself
, and invariably profitable to mankind. He never spent his time in sending his thoughts abroad to distant countries, to inquire what errors, abuses, or sufferings, existed there, which demanded correction, reformation, or relief. He did not sit down in the exercise of vain philanthropy, to employ life in unavailing sighs, and tears, for the sufferings of distant countries, and ages ; nor give himself up to the useless despair of doing any good to mankind, because he could not do all which their circumstances re. quired. He did not satisfy himself with lamenting the distresses of his fellow-men, and teaching others to relieve them. In a manner, directly opposed to this visionary, useless philosophy, he made his whole life a life of the most active beneficence. Instead of seeking for objects of charity in Persia, or at Rome, he found them in his own Country ; on the spot, where he was; among the sufferers, daily presented to his eyes. During his private life, he contributed by his daily efforts to support, and befriend, the family of his Father. Throughout his ministry, he took an effectual and daily charge of his own family of disciples; and travelled unceasingly from one place to another, to find new objects, on whom his kindness might be successfully employed. Thus he loved mankind, not in word, neither in tongue, but in deed, and in truth. The weight of his example is, in this respect, singular; because the great purposes of his mission were more extensive, more absolutely general, than any which ever entered into the human mind. Like his views, his benevolence, also, was in the absolute sense universal. Yet he spent his life in doing good within the sphere, in which he lived, and to the objects, within his reach. Thus he has taught us irresistibly, that, instead of consuming our time in wishes to do good, where we cannot, the true dictate of universal good-will is to do it where we can.
At the same time, he denied all ungodliness and worldly lusts. No avaricious, ambitious, proud, or sensual desire, found a place in his mind. Every selfish aim was excluded from his heart; every unworthy act, from his life. Omniscience itself, looking into his soul with a perfect survey, saw nothing but pure excellence, supreme beauty, and divine loveliness: a sun without a spot: a splendour, formed of mere diversities of light and glory.
The perfection of this wonderful example we cannot expect, nor' hope, to attain : but a character of the same nature we may, and, if we would be interested in the favour of God, we must, acquire. Like him, we must consecrate ourselves absolutely to the glorification of God. Like him, we must willingly, and alway do good. Like him, we must steadily resist temptation, and overcome iniquity.
Obedience, and not pleasure, must be the commanding object of our purposes. The pleasure, at which we supremely aim, must be, not the pleasure of sense; but the peace, which passeth all understanding; the joy which no stranger meddles withal; a selfapproving mind; the consciousness of personal worth; the enjoy. ment of virtuous excellence; accompanied, and cherished, by a glorious hope of the final approbation of God, and an eternal residence in his house, in the heavens.
2dly. The example of Christ teaches us how far the character of mankind is from what it ought to be.
We are often told very flattering things concerning the dignity and worth of man ; the number and splendour of his virtues; and the high moral elevation to which he has attained. The errors, into which we fall in forming this estimate of the human character, are, together with many others respecting our own character, the consequence of referring the conduct of ourselves, and our fellowmen, to a false standard of moral excellence. No man ever intends to rise above the standard, which he prescribes for himself. All men expect to fall below it. If the standard, then, be too low; their character will be lower still. If it be imperfect; their life will be more imperfect. If it be erroneous; their conduct, under its influence, will err still more extensively. The true aim of every man ought to be pointed at perfection. Of perfection he
will, indeed, fall short; but his life will be more excellent, than if he aimed at any inferior mark. For this reason, probably, among others, the Scriptures have directed us to make the attainment of perfection our daily, as well as ultimate, aim.
The formation of a defective standard of excellence was one of the predominant errors, and mischiefs, of the ancient philosophy. The wise man of the Stoics, Plutonists, and Peripatetics, felt himself to be all that he ought to be, because he so grossly misconceived of what he ought to be. Proud; vain; impious to the Gods; a liar; an adulterer; and even a Sodomite; he still boasted of his morality and piety, just as the Stoic boasted of his happi. ness, while writhing under the pangs of the colic, or the gout. The reason plainly was: he believed all these enormities to be consistent with the character of a Wise man. Cicero thought war, (that is, the butchery of mankind, and the devastation of human happiness) when undertaken for the love of glory, and unstained with peculiar cruelty, justifiable. Why? Because he had previously determined the love of glory to be virtue, or the real excellence of man; and therefore concluded, that the means of indulging, and gratifying, this passion, must be, at least, consistent with virtue. In the same manner, men of all descriptions, when they have formed to themselves a false standard of excellence, are satisfied, if they only embrace the errors, and commit the sins, which that standard allows; and will in fact embrace more errors, and commit more sins.
He, who will compare himself with the perfect standard of virtue, furnished by the life of Christ, will see at once, and without a doubt, how far his character falls below what God has required. The best man living will, in this case, cordially unite with Paul in exclaiming, O wretched man, that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? and, with Job, humbled by the immediate presence of God, in the kindred exclamation, Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. “How different,” will he say, "is my life from that of the Redeemer! How different the heart, from which it has been derived! To me belongeth shame
! and confusion of face, because I have sinned, and done this great wickedness. But to thee, O Divine Saviour of men, be blessing, and honour, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen."
If such be the state of the best, in the light of this comparison, what must be the state of others ? What of men, who feel themselves to be, not only decent, but in a good degree virtuous, and safe? What shall be said of him, who neglects the worship of God in his family, or closet; who attends in the sanctuary, occasionally only, and is inattentive to the worship, when present; who neg- . lects the relief of the poor and distressed; who justifies lying, in certain circumstances; who uses sophistry; who makes hard bar. gains; who preaches moral essays, effusions of genius, and metaphysical disquisitions, instead of the Gospel; and himself, his re
sentments, or his flattery, instead of Christ; who wastes his time in light and fanciful reading; or devotes life to amusement, instead of duty? All these, and all other similar, persons, are contrasts to the character of Christ, and not resemblances. They walk not as Christ walked. The same mind is not in them which was in Christ.
The meek and lowly virtues were peculiarly the virtues of the Redeemer. By this I mean, that he exhibited them most frequently, urged them most extensively and forcibly, and described his own character as being formed of them in a peculiar degree. The proud, therefore, the vain, the insolent, the wrathful, and the revengeful, are irresistibly compelled, when they read his character, to know that they are none of his.
IV. The example of Christ was highly edifying.
By this I intend, that it was of such a nature, as strongly to induce, and persuade, mankind to follow him. On this part of the subject, interesting as it is, I can make but a few observations.
The example of Christ was singular. No other, corresponding with it, has ever appeared in the present world. The best of men are only faint and distant copies of his excellence. When exhibited by him, it was a novelty; and has, since, been always new, as well as always delightful. In this view, it is formed to engage at
. tention, and command a peculiar regard.
It was the example of an extraordinary person ;, who taught wonderful wisdom, lived a wonderful life, and wrought wonderful miracles. Such a person naturally compels, beyond any other, our admiration and respect; an admiration, mightily enhanced by a consideration of the circumstances, in which he was born and lived; the humble education which he received; the lowly condition and character of those with whom he consorted; the superiority of his precepts and life to those of all who went before him; and their total opposition to those of his own contemporaries. All these considerations lead us to a full and affecting conviction, that his wisdom was self-derived, and his life the mere result of his own unrivalled virtue. Accordingly, all these facts astonished those, who lived around him; and have filled with wonder men of every succeeding age.
The example of Christ was an example of benevolence only. All his employments were directed to no other earthly end, than the promotion of human happiness. His miracles were directed only to such objects, as feeding the hungry, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and restoring life to the dead. His precepts, and his life, terminated in illuminating the soul, diminishing the power of sin, invigorating virtue, and securing the salvation of men.
It was the example, also, of a person struggling with suffering and sorrow, unceasing obloquy and bitter persecution. The heathen could say, “ The Gods themselves behold not a nobler spec- .
tacle, than a good man, firmly enduring Adversity.” Christ was supremely good; and encountered extreme Adversity. The patience with which he submitted, and the firmness with which he endured, invest his character with greatness, to which there is no parallel. The fire of persecution, instead of consuming him, merely lent its gloomy lustre, to show the splendour of the object, which it surrounded.
It was the example of a person, employed in accomplishing the greatest work, which was ever done, and introducing into the universe the most extensive good, which it ever beheld. There is a moral grandeur, a divine sublimity, in this employment of Christ, at which the mind gazes with wonder, and is lost; which Angels behold with amazement and rapture ; and which eternity itself will hardly be able to unfold to a created understanding.
It is the example of a person, devoting all his labours, and undergoing all his sufferings, for the benefit of others, and proffering with an open hand the immense good, which he procured at an immense price, to strangers, sinners, apostates, enemies to himself, and children of perdition. Not for himself, but for guilty, ruined '
men, he was born, lived, laboured, suffered through life, and expired on the cross.
To every one, who is willing to be like him, he shut the prison of wo, and opened the gates of heaven.
It is an example, in itself pre-eminently beautiful and lovely. His meekness, gentleness, humility, compassion, and universal sweetness of disposition, are not less distinguished, than his greatness and glory. Solomon, beholding his character in distant vision, exclaimed, He is the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely! David, in prophetic view of the excellence of his life, exclaimed, Thou art fairer than the Sons of men! GOD THE FATHER, beholding him with infinite complacency, announced his character to the world with a voice from heaven, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. To these divine declarations all virtuous beings have subjoined their Amen.
Finally; it is an example, in which divine wisdom and excellence united with the most perfect human mind; coinciding with all its designs, and guiding it to unmingled excellence. To the amiableness and beauty of the most finished created virtue,
were superadded, and united, the authority and greatness of the Divinity, by which that Mind was inhabited. The combination, therefore, was a combination of all that is lovely with all that is awful, exalted, and divine. What mind, that can be persuaded from sin, must not this Example persuade? What mind, that can be allured to holiness, must not this Example allure ?