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SECTION IF. . .
Of the discovery which Jesus gave of his charac
ter, and office, by the miracles which he wrought.
TN the following part of this essay, we are 1 to consider those marks of dignity and merit in the Lord Jesus Christ, which proceeded more immediately from himself, and were the effects of his own extraordinary wis. dom, power and goodness. By the events already mentioned, the Father' bore witness of * him.' By those which we are now to mention, ‘he bore witness of himself.'
As God did not mark the dignity of his Son by the external honours and distinctions of this world, fo Jesus Christ himself did not choose to be distinguished, or to mark the merit and importance of his character, by any of those talents and abilities, by which the ambition, and the pride of men make them fond to be distinguished.
'Tis by extensive science or inventions in useful arts, by skill in politics, or arms, and the like accomplishments, that men strive to acquire the admiration of their fellow men, and to raise themselves to dignity and eminence; and in each of these, it must be own.
ed, there is an excellence and merit, which naturally raises admiration and respect. There is at the same time, a different kind of excellence, which though less generally admired, deserves the highest admiration and esteem, viz. that which lies in the virtuous and benevolent affections of the heart; and which, without solliciting the honours and distinctions of the world, is satisfied with the secret honour and reward which arises from itself. Those virtuous and benevolent affections of the heart, when they are directed by sufficient wisdom, and supported by sufficient pow. er, and are exerted in some great and extenfive sphere of life, constitute the highest excellence, and exhibit to our view the most respectable and amiable character. .
At the same time it ought to be observed, that these good affections of the heart may be directed and applied to two different purposes. ist, They may lead a man to employ the power and wisdom of which he is possessed, in promoting the external and temporary interests of mankind, arising from the outward conveniencies, or ornaments of life; or, 2dly, They may lead him to promote those internat and immortal interests of men, which are founded on the wisdom, piety and virtue of their hearts. The first of these interests are promoted by the literary, the mechanical, the commercial, or the political arts of life; tlie latter are promoted by moral, and religious instructions, and by virtuous example. When the kind affections of the heart are directed and applied to the last of these ends, they are. then undoubtedly in the noblest direction: and if, under this direction, they are support: ed by sufficient power and wisdom, they form a character of the highest merit and importance.
Now herein Jesus placed the merit of his character; neglecting those inferior kinds of excellence which gratify the curiosity and vanity of man, or are subfervient only to the outward ornament, and happiness of life; O. verlooking the distinctions which arise from science, eloquence, politics, and arms; he chose to be distinguished only by the piety and goodness of his heart, and by such exections of his power and wisdom, as were re-, quisite either to ensure, or to extend the effects of his benignity: and the blessings which he laboured to spread among mankind, were not the external temporary blessings of this life; but those internal and immortal blessings which proceed from wisdom, piety and virtue. It was the business of his life, to establish upon this foundation, the present tranquillity and happiness of men, and their future, and immortal welfare in the kingdom of his Father..
That this was the peculiar excellence and merit of his character, will easily appear from the history of his life. The Evangelists have not indeed atteinpted to give a description of his character, or to draw it in form. No effort of this kind appears in the history of the gospel. They have only given a simple narration of the conduct and transactions of his life, and left the world from thence to form their judgment of his character. When they relate his most deserving and illustrious actions, they do it without any expressions of applause, and in the same calm and artless manner in which they have recorded the least important circumstances of his life.
There seems to be in this respect, a fimplicity of manner peculiar to the writers of the gospel; and it gives a strong presumption of their candour and sincerity. Historians who write the lives of eminent and illustrious men, (how candid soever in their narratives) are not able to conceal their prepoffeffions in their favour, or the art which they employ to embellish and exalt the merit of their character. But a fimple narrative of facts, without the Imallest effort in the writer to embellish them, or to set them in any other light than what they must appear in, to every one, after they are simply told, gives a very strong prelumption both of the knowledge and veracity
of the writer, and that without being heated or misled by his own imagination, he hath given an unaffected recital of real facts, of which he had the most undoubted certainty.
In order then to ascertain the character of Jesus Christ, we must enquire into the measures of his conduct, as recorded in the history of the gospel : and from these we may be able to form the most exact and certain judg. ment of it; for it is strongly markt in every circumstance and action of his life..
There is in every character, consistent with itself, fome ruling principle or passion, which gives it its peculiar distinction : and in order to perceive the different parts of which it is composed, in their proper light, we must confider them in their connexion with this ruling principle. Attempting in this manner to ascertain the character of Jesus Christ, it will apó pear from the records of the gospel, that the • ruling principle of his life was a compassionate concern for the miseries of men; especially, those fatal and eternal miseries which flow from ignorance of God, depravity and guilt, together with an ardent, generous desire to restore them to the opposite felicity, arising from religious wisdom and immortal life; 2nimated in this desire, by the thought, that by promoting these important and everlasting in terests of men, he did the will of God, and