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improbable, supposition, had he been guided by any thing else than truth, was, that he would be seen just what the Jews expected the Messiah should be seen; that these expectations had suggested the thought, and were to be the foundation of his claims, and the means of success.
But had our Saviour presented himself as a public and better instructer of mankind in his day, he would have had examples of this in the old philosophers. Had he assumed the character of a Jew, to the Jews he would have been a second Moses. Had he appeared an inspired prophet, instances of such had been of old frequent among the Jews.
But why he should not only depart from the established persuasion of his own country, and of all the world, concerning the Messiah who was expected, but assume pretensions different and unforeseen, superior to any of these already mentioned, and without any instance or example to lead to or suggest such a scheme and character, unless he was, as we believe him to be, really and truly what he called himself, it seems impossible to account for.
The character of Christ is single and alone in the history of mankind. If he was an impostor, there never was such lame and useless imposture. If he was an enthusiast, produce an instance of any character made up so well of enthusiasm, so calm, so rational, so sublime.
MATTHEW XVII. 54.
Truly this was the Son of God.
Our Saviour's miraculous birth, and still more miraculous life, distinguished him from every person that ever appeared in the world. History affords nothing like him, and these miracles form, no doubt, our assurance, that he was sent from God.' He preserved his pretensions by his works; the wonders of his nativity were followed by the performances of his life. This was the reason his followers believed on him at the time; and this must be a reason for believing on him, throughout all ages.
But, with considerate minds, there is a further reason for believing in him, exceedingly impressive, and that is, the excellency of his character. In this respect he surpasses the best men of whom we have any knowledge. It might be expected that it would be so, with so great, so distinguished a messenger, sent from God; and it was so.
Pilate said of Jesus, I find no fault with this man,' and he spoke truly ; nor has any one, that has examined his history, ever been able to lay a single charge against his conduct. The temper of his soul and the tenor of his life were blameless throughout. From the first moment of his birth, which we this day commemorate, to his last agony on the cross, he never once fell into the smallest error of conduct; never once spake unadvisedly with his lips. This is a negative kind of excellence; but observe, it is more than can be said of any person that ever yet came into the world. But however, though a thing so extraordinary is to be found in no other man, it formed but a small part of that perfection, which belonged to our Lord Jesus. He was not only exempt from every the slightest failing, but he possessed and practised every imaginable virtue, that was consistent with his situation, and that too, in the highest degree of excellence, to which virtue is capable of being exalted. We may in particular fix upon the following points of his character; namely, his zeal for the service, his resignation to the will, his complete obedience to the commands, of his heavenly Father. These constituted his piety. Then, the compassion, the kindness, the solicitude, the tenderness, he showed for the whole human race, even for the worst of sinners, and the bitterest of his enemies. These constituted, if such qualities can constitute, unparalleled benevolence. Then again, the perfect command he had over his own passions ; and the exquisite prudence, with which he eluded all the snares that were laid for him; the wisdom, the justice of his replies; the purity and the gentleness of his manners; the sweetness, yet dignity of his deportment; the mildness with which he reproved the mistakes, the prejudices, and the failings of his disciples; the temper he preserved under the severest provocations from his enemies; the patience, and composure, and meekness, with which he endured the cruellest insults, and the grossest indignities; the fortitude he displayed under the most painful and ignominious death that human ingenuity could devise, or human malice inflict; and that divinely charitable
prayer, which he put up for his murderers in the midst of his agony, Father, forgive them ! for they know not what they do ;' these concur to render the head and founder of our religion beyond comparison the greatest, according to true greatness, the wisest, according to true wisdom, and, in every sense, the best of men.
However, our Lord's proper office in the world was that of a public teacher. In that character, therefore, we ought more particularly to view him. And, in the first place, how astonishing, how inspired, and from what source inspired, must the mind of that man be, who could entertain so vast a thought in so low a condition, as that of instructing and reforming the whole world ; a world, at that time more particularly, divided between atheismı and superstition, but universally abandoned to sin ; differing perhaps in the forms of their idolatry, but agreeing in giving loose to their passions and desires; a plan, I say, of teaching, not a few hearers, not a few congregations, not a few towns or cities, not a single country or nation, but the whole race of mankind; for to that length did his plan, not his personal ministry, but the plan of his religion, extend. Surely such a plan was only to be found in the Son of God! In the execution of this immense design, what condescension without meanness, what majesty without pride, what firmness without obstinacy, what zeal without bitterness or enthusiasm, what piety without superstition, does our Lord display! In his discourses and instructions all was calmness. No emotions, no violence, no agitation, when he delivered the most sublime and affecting doctrines, and most comfortable, or most terrifying predictions. The prophets before him fainted and sunk under the communications, which they received from above, so strong was the impression, so unequal their strength ; but truths, that overwhelmed the servants of God, were familiar to his Son. He was composed upon the greatest occasions. He was tried every way ; by wicked men ; by the wicked one ; by weak or false friends, as well as by open enemies. He proved himself superior to every artifice, to every temptation, to every difficulty.
It was asked, and will always be asked, “ Whence had this man these things, and what wisdom is this, that is given unto him? He had no means or opportunity of cultivating his understanding, or improving his heart. He was born, as the
, history testifies, in a low and indigent condition. without education, without learning, without any models to form himself upon, either in his own time and in his own coun
try, or in any records of former ages, that are at all likely to fall into his hands. Yet, notwithstanding these great disadvantages, disadvantages I mean to a mere mortal man, he supported, throughout a most singular and difficult life, such wisdom and such virtue, as were never before found united; and we may venture to say, never will be again united in any human being.
Our Lord's history is given us in the gospels in a very plain, unornamented manner, and so much the better. There is an air of godly sincerity, of simplicity, and of solid undisguised truth in every thing which is related. Nothing is wrought up with art; no endeavour to place things in the fairest light ; no praise or panegyric, or very little ; no solicitude to dwell on the most favorable, or striking, or illustrious parts of our Saviour's character. These circumstances added to the whole turn and tenor of the evangelists' writings, prove that they followed truth, and fact, and nothing else. Lay open then the bible before you, regard and contemplate the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, as it is there candidly and honestly set forth.
Again, if Jesus be the Son of God, then everything which he taught comes to us with the weight and sanction of divine authority, and demands, from every sincere disciple of Christ, implicit belief, and implicit obedience. Christ delivered all his doctrines in the name of God; all of them, therefore, from their nature are to be received. He has given no man a license to adopt as much or as little of them as he thinks fit. He has authorized no human being to add thereto, or diminish therefrom. We are not to receive one precept, and refuse another; we are not to receive one article of belief, and reject another article of belief; all are stamped by the same authority, and that authority is decisive. There may be truths very imperfectly apprehended by our finite understandings. There is nothing surprising in this; on the contrary, it was natural and reasonable to expect it to be so, in a revelation pertaining to that incomprehensible Being, the high and mighty One, that inhabiteth eternity. But we have this for our trust and consolation ; we have a heavenly guide, we may put ourselves without reserve into his hands, and submit our judgments with boundless confidence to his direction ; ‘for he is the way, and the truth, and the life;' we must obey him with our understandings, we must obey him with our wills.
· Let us bring, therefore, according to the strong expression of the apostle, · let us bring every thought to the obedience of Christ, receiving with meekness the ingrafted word, that is able to save our souls.'
2 CORINTHIANS VII. 10.
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of.
The piety of good men in good times having appointed this season of Lent for a more particular attention to the concerns of religion, and especially that momentous part of religion, inward penitence and contrition ; I know not how I can employ the beginning of this season better than by setting before you the nature of repentance; so far, at least, as to point out the marks and rules by which we may judge of its truth, and its sincerity.
And when I talk of judging of the sincerity of repentance, I do not mean other men's repentance, but our own. Under these words I shall apply myself to consider the rules and tokens, whereby we may judge of the sincerity of repentance; not of other men's repentance, with which we have nothing to do, but of our own. Repentance is a change of the heart from an evil to a good disposition. When that change is made, repentance is true. This is a short definition of repentance; but it will of itself teach us many truths concerning the subject. As first, that sorrow for our past sins, however earnest and contrite it be, is not alone repentance. Repentance is the change of the disposition. Sorrow for the past is likely to produce that change, which always accompanies it; but still is not the change itself, nor indeed does it, as experience testifies, always and certainly work that change.
Sorrow for the past must necessarily be a part of repentance; for why should we repent, or wish to repent, of that for which we are not sorry? But still it is only a part; and it is extremely material that we do not mistake part of our duty for the whole. When the change, as I said, is made, repentance is complete, and not till then. Sorrow and contrition are the instruments and means towards that change; but if the instrument does not perform its office, and if the means do not produce the end, still all the instruments and means then go
for nothing. Secondly. If you ask whether repentance be in its nature a sudden and hasty thing, to be brought about at once