« AnteriorContinuar »
sordid considerations, and of his unbounded zeal for the happiness of mankind.
II. But sincerity and disinterestedness are not the sole virtues required in the lawgiver;“and it is as certain that the precepts which are not enforced by a correspondent practice in the teacher, will avail but little with the generality of mankind, as it is that we know of no public teacher, of a mere human character, whose practice has not fallen far below the rules which he prescribed to others and to himself*.” Whereas the life of Christ is his own Gospel in action; and the most sublime and perfect precepts have been verified by the most perfect and sublime example. “ We find no fault in him!” He who was arraigned as worthy of death or of bonds, was thus pronounced blameless by the very judge whose pusillanimity consigned him to the malice of his persecutors. His whole conduct, the whole temper of his soul, the whole tenor of his intercourse among men, sufficiently justified the decision; and, if we confine ourselves solely to this negative excellence, this faultless innocence of character so beautifully and uniformly sustained, we admit in him a perfection to which the best and noblest of human beings can be scarcely said to have even approached. He stood not, however, unrivalled in this respect alone. How perfect was his love of God! How unreserved was the obedience with which he yielded himself to the service, or resigned himself to the will, of his heavenly Father! How pure and ardent was the piety which was so often exercised in his secret devotions; which breathed and glowed in the habitual thanksgivings
* I borrow willingly from the excellent Porteus, Serm. vol. ii. sermon xi.
of his heart; which poured forth the short but solemn supplication over the body of Lazarus ; and which, on the last evening of his life, and in the midst of the agony of the garden, ascended in ardent but humble supplication to God! Trying and peculiar was the situation in which he was placed, and pure and magnanimous were the virtues which it called forth. As circumstances required, he displayed the fearless fortitude of unswerving integrity, or the patient meekness of uncomplaining humility; he stood forth to unmask the hypocrisy of pharisaical pretence, and to resist the fallacies of the doctors of the law, or he attracted reverence and affection, by the suavity yet dignity of his deportment, by the mild and persuasive gentleness with which he admonished the errors and prejudices of his disciples, and by a temper, under the severest provocations, equally composed and meek. The perfect goodness which the philosophers of Greece had endeavoured to describe, but of which they could produce no example among the sons of men, or among their gods, was in him realized and visible in all the majesty and loveliness of its attributes. With what unwearied benevolence did he extend his kindness, his compassion, and his solicitude, to all around him! With what merciful consideration did he accept the widow's mite ! With what charity did he repress the forward zeal of his disciples in the Samaritan village! With what patient gentleness did he rebuke the hand that smote him in the palace of the high priest! He did not disdain to indulge in the sympathies of commiseration, nor in the kindness of affection. He wept when he beheld the tears of the sister of Lazarus; his pity descended in balm on the heart of the woman of Nain; he took John to his bosom ; he condescended to instruct the poor Samaritan at the well; he rebuked the denial of Peter with a look of compassion; and the tenderness or the mercy which he thus felt for individuals, was accompanied by the higher charities which extend themselves from individuals to communities, and from communities to mankind. The exclusive zeal of sects and parties could not reach him. The lost sheep of the house of Israel were addressed by the voice of the good shepherd. The Gentile, wandering in the darkness of idolatry, was invited to the wells of living water. To Samaria, rejected and insulted though she was by the orthodox Jew, were pointed out the paths of truth and of salvation. Ignorance was enlightened with a beam from heaven. Hunger was fed with the bread of life. Sin was invited, with affectionate and ceaseless solicitude, to return from the error of its ways,
and partake of the blessings of pardon and acceptance.
This is not all. Of the precepts of Christ some were peculiarly painful and difficult in performance; and these he seems to have been especially anxious to elucidate by his life. He came not to inculcate the nominal virtues of what might be termed the heroic character, the vigor, the firmness, the resolution, the honour, inflexible in purpose, violent in resentment, keen in sensibility, and implacable to wrong. He came rather to substitute for these qualities, the tame, and abject, and poor spirited disposition of the heart, as it has been termed, which, always ready to concede and to forgive, is less prompt to act than willing to suffer, is silent and gentle under the aggressions of rudeness and insult, is solicitous of reconciliation where a different temper would demand atonement, and is anxious, not to contend with, but to indulge, as far as principle may
permit, the prejudices, caprices, and intractability, to which it may be opposed. Now this passive fortitude, this yielding meekness, this generous and magnanimous, though, so often despised, placability, this lowly, and humble, and self-sacrificing spirit, so perpetually proscribed by the pride or the folly of the world, particularly distinguished the character, and the conduct, of Christ. Did he preach the contempt of the pomps and vanities of life? He himself resigned them all. Did he recommend patience and submission to the will of God? He endured, with uncomplaining meekness, innumerable sorrows. Did he enforce the duties of humility and self-abasement? He washed his disciples' feet. Did his friends hesitate in their belief, and forsake him in his trials:? He pitied, but did not condemn them. Did he command his followers to forgive that they might be forgiven, to pray for those who despitefully used them, and to return their enemies. good for evil? He repaid the malice of his persecutors with the most charitable and anxious zeal for their salvation; he would have gathered Jerusalem, the slayer of the prophets, and soon to become the slayer of himself, as a hen that gathereth her brood under her wings, but she would not; and, when he was about to expire under the cruel agonies of a lingering and shameful death, and beheld around him the unhappy multitude who had conducted him to the cross, and reviled and mocked him with unfeeling barbarity, even in his last moments; he still preserved the same celestial benevolence which he had so ceaselessly displayed during the whole period of his ministry, and the voice of more than human mercy and compassion was heard, “ Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Every age, from the death of this “ perfect man, has heard the sarcasms, and witnessed the malignity of the scoffer and the infidel. But which of his enemies has ever convicted him of crime? Which has ventured to arraign his charity, his justice, bis love of truth, his unaffected piety, his “temperance in all things,” his meek submission to the Divine will? Which has dared to deny the purity, the gentleness, and the sweetness of his manners; the mildness with which he rebuked the errors and prejudices of men; the fortitude and consistency with which he accomplished the duties, and endured the sufferings, of his celestial mission ? All the ingenuity of the pretended sage, all the raillery of the mocker, all the eloquence and misrerepresentation of infidel schools, have been employed to ridicule and malign his character. What has been the result? Not an imputation, not a suspicion, of any offence, has rested upon him. The arrows of malignity have fallen harmless to the earth ; and he still continues to be regarded as, beyond all comparison, the best, the wisest, and the greatest of men *
If Christ had exhibited a different character, his frailtjes would have been speedily blazoned to the world with malignant industry, and the accusation of his enemies would have been loud and triumphant -He announced the precept, it would have been said, but he has contradicted it by his life. He has proclaimed doctrines difficult to be fulfilled, but he has left the practice to others. He may have spoken like a sage, but he has acted like an impostor. He
# “ Innumerable lies and calumnies have been forged against him; but there was not one of his enemies who uttered an inputation against the purity, the chastity, and the innocence of his life." Origin, Epist. Contr. Cels. lib. iii. N. 36.