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and little insisted on, and its importance imperfectly realized, by those who preceded the Redeemer. He, on the contrary, by showing that the heart was the only seat of good and evil, and teaching that the nature of the streams was derived solely from the fountain, taught, also, in a manner which could not be misapprehended, that the supreme duty and interest of man lay in guarding the fountain itself from every impurity. As all good and all evil commence here; to watch the state of the thoughts and affections becomes a duty of immeasurable importance. Propor tionally important is the lesson, by which this duty is taught and enjoined.
In the same manner also, Christ taught the emptiness of external and ceremonial performances.
Many of the Jews, and all the Heathen, placed the whole of their religion in such performances. Christ struck at the root of this fruitful stem of falsehood; a production, not unnaturally cherished by the splendid ceremonies of the Mosaic ritual.
Although the religion of the heart was actually taught, and taught with great force and propriety, in the Mosaic system; yet the splendour of the worship which it enjoined, and the strong impressions made on the imagination by the nature, and multitude, of its rites, easily drew off the attention of gross and careless minds from the thing typified to the type; from spiritual worship and real duty to a mere external observance.
For several ages before Christ appeared, the Jews, and among them the teachers of their law, had leaned more and more towards an unqualified approbation of mere external rites, and a general substitution of mere external conduct for the duties enjoined by Religion. To the opinions of these men Christ, on many occasions, opposed himself in form, and with irresistible efficacy. Whatever stress may be laid upon them by others, it is impossible for his disciples to regard them as being virtuous, even in the remotest sense; or as being of any moral use, except as occasional aids and means of virtue.
2dly. Christ taught mankind, that virtue consists solely in loving God with all the heart, and our neighbour as ourselves.
On these two commands, said he to the scribe, hang all the law and the prophets. Out of these commands arise all the precepts, taught by Moses and the Prophets; precepts, which have no other nature, nor end, but to explain, and enjoin, this universal law of God. He who keeps these, therefore, keeps them all. Of course, he is the subject of that obedience, which God has required; of moral excellence; of real amiableness in the sight of his Maker.
The distinction between virtue and vice, exhibited under the first head, as so successfully made by the doctrine there specified, was here completed. When virtue is made to consist wholly in love, and love itself is at the same time so exactly defined; all the facility is given, which can be desired, for the purpose of discriminating between virtue and sin.
3dly. Christ taught that the meek and lowly virtues, as they are called, or in other words exercises of virtue, are superior in their excellency to any others.
Mankind have universally admired magnanimity, active courage, contempt of danger and death, and other exercises of a bold and vigorous spirit. Nay, so greatly have they admired them, not only as to regard with a forgiving eye those who have exhibited them, even in the midst of crimes and excesses, but to yield to them, when guilty of every enormity, their universal and unqualified applause. I do not deny that these may be indications and exercises of virtue. There are undoubtedly occasions, on which we are required to be strong, and of a good courage; and, when we as-sume this character from a sense of duty, and for just and benevolent purposes, we are really, and may be eminently, virtuous.
On the other hand, the meek and lowly exercises of this spirit; such as meekness, humility, patience, submission, gentleness, pla cability, moderation, and forgiveness; although, perhaps, by most persons allowed to be virtuous, are yet by almost all unadmired and unesteemed. Still, our Saviour has unquestionably exhibited these, both in his instructions and in his example, as wholly superior to the others. He descants on them oftener: he dwells on them more he presents them more frequently to us in his life; or rather his whole life is an uninterrupted exhibition of them. He plainly attaches to them a higher importance, as they are in themselves: and he makes them more essential to the character of a Christian, and to the attainment of salvation. This, it must be acknowledged, is a current of instruction running directly counter to that of Poets, Historians, and Philosophers, in all ages; and to the general course of human feelings, relating to this subject. It cannot but be useful to examine, for a moment, how far this conduct of the Redeemer accords with the decisions of experience and
It is evident beyond a debate, that the meek and lowly virtues have in themselves no tendency to produce any part of those miseries, with which mankind have afflicted each other. If we were humble, we should never become the authors of those evils which have regularly sprung from pride. If we were meek; we should not impatiently feel injuries, nor give pain in those numerous instances in which it is created by wrath. If we were gentle; we should not do injuries to others. If we were forgiving; we should not revenge them on others. If we were moderate; we should prevent the evil effects, which always spring from ungoverned passions; particularly from envy, wrath, and the passion for pleasure. If we were placable; we should cut off the mass of calamities, which is found in alienation of heart, unrelenting aversion, and irreconcileable estrangement of affection; and instate in its place that serene and self-approved enjoyment, which springs from the cordial reconcilement of minds, previously the seats of real, though
imperfect good-will. If we were patient; we should neither murmur at God, nor at each other; and should at the same time lessen half the evils, which we felt, by a quiet submission to the hand of our Creator. Who does not see, that, if these virtues had their full and proper influence on human hearts, and human affairs, Man would assume a new character, and the world a new face? Who does not see, that a great part of the guilt and misery, now suffered, would vanish; and that in its place would be found peace and happiness, transcending all easy estimation?
Equally evident is it from experience, that those, in whom these virtues presided, have never in fact produced these miseries. Often have they been among the principal sufferers, but never numbered among the actors, of this tragedy. As this position cannot, and will not, be denied; to insist on it any further would be useless. On the other hand, to that characteristic of man, which is styled heroism, has been owing a great part, and that usually the most dreadful part, of human sufferings. Active courage has in every age filled the world with tumult, contention, and bloodshed; destroyed the labours and enjoyments, the peace and hopes, of men; overturned temples; consumed cities with fire; and converted kingdoms into deserts. All these are causes of misery only. At the same time, it has rarely done good, except by accident; and, however admired and applauded by the silly mind of man; undoubtedly been one of the chief curses, which God has permitted to visit this unhappy world.
I have already said, that I do not deny these exercises of heroism to be capable, in certain circumstances, of being virtuous; and even eminently virtuous. Still, it ought to be remarked, that, if the other class of virtues were to have their proper influence on mankind, these would not exist; because there would be no occasion for them. Were no injuries done, there could be no occasion for resisting them; and, of course, no demand for active courage. The exercises of this spirit, therefore, are, at the most, of a secondary importance; and can be called forth only by preceding crimes. The meek and lowly virtues are, on the other hand, original and essential ingredients of happiness in every world; are indispensable to all private and public enjoyment; and are, therefore, of primary and inestimable value. The preference, given by our Saviour to these virtues, is of course, a proof of real and divine wisdom.
4thly. Christ in the same complete manner taught the way, in which fallen beings may again become virtuous and happy.
He explained his own character, as the Propitiation for sin, and the Saviour of sinners: the willingness of GOD to pardon, justify, and accept, them on account of his righteousness, through faith in him; accompanied by repentance, and followed by holiness of heart and life. He taught mankind, that their character by nature is sinful and odious to GOD; and that their own obedience can never be accepted as an expiation for their sin, or a ground of their
justification; that, unless they are born again of the Spirit of GoD, and possess a new and spiritual character, they cannot see the kingdom of God; and that in acquiring this character they become his disciples indeed, and prove themselves to be such by doing whatsoever he hath commanded. All these things, united, constitute that character, which being assumed, those, who before were apostates, return to GOD, and to their obedience of his will; and may evangelically claim, through his promise, a title to eternal life.
5thly. Christ established his church in a new form, appointed in it new ministers, constituted a new discipline, and directed anew the peculiar duties of both its officers and members.
The Church, under the Mosaic dispensation, was properly a national one; consisting, with the exception of such as became proselytes, and thus in a sense Israelites, of those only, and of all those, who were descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Christ constituted the Church of the Spiritual children of Abraham; who were Jews inwardly, though not according to the flesh; and whose praise was not of Man, but of God. Instead of the Priests, who were ministers of the Jewish Church, he appointed ministers of the Gospel to be officers in the Christian Church. Its discipline, also, ceased to be the severe and dreadful system of proceedings, enjoined under the Mosaic dispensation; and became a course of advice, reproof, and, in cases of irreclaimable obstinacy, a solemn separation from the offender: all administered with the most prudent care, the tenderest good-will, and the most exemplary moderation. The peculiar duties of Christians towards each other were summarily directed by the New Commandment; which, to the common benevolence, required by the moral law towards all men, superadds brotherly love; or the exercise of complacency towards the evangelical character of their fellow-Christians. The peculiar duties of Ministers, as enjoined by Christ, are, generally, to preside over the worship and discipline of the Church; to preach the Gospel; to dispense, and, together with their fellow-Christians, whose duty it is also, to receive, the Sacraments of the New Testament.
6thly. Christ taught also the great doctrines concerning a future state of being.
These are the separate existence of the Soul after death; the Resurrection from the dead; the final Judgment; the misery of the wicked; and the happiness of the righteous, throughout eternity. Concerning these great subjects the Heathen only formed conjectures, supported by very imperfect arguments. The Jewish Scriptures, also, although really containing these doctrines in substance, exhibited them in dim and distant view. Life and Immortality were brought to light, that is, were clearly shown, and fully proved by Christ alone. To him the world is indebted for its certain knowledge, and extensive views, of things beyond the grave; things, in comparison with which all that exists in the present life is nothing, less than nothing, and vanity.
From this summary view of the Instructions of Christ, it is evident, that he has taught every thing, necessary for the knowledge of our duty, the attainment of holiness, and the best conduct of a virtuous life; has established his Church on a new and happier foundation; instituted a simpler and purer worship; suited its whole economy to the circumstances of all nations; prepared it to extend easily, and happily, throughout the world; furnished mankind with the best means of obtaining salvation; and engaged them by the most cogent motives, placed before their eyes, to seek effectually a glorious and blessed immortality.