« ForrigeFortsæt »
duty; and reproved them on every occasion for their prejudices, bigotry, unbelief, contentions, faults, and follies of every kind. Exact truth, and unwarping holiness, appear evidently to have been the objects, which he made the standard of all his instructions, as well as of his life. No tenderness, friendship, or gentleness of disposition; no fear of the populace, or the powerful; prevented him from reaching this standard on every occasion. No zeal transported him beyond it. He, and he alone, among those who have taught mankind, knew how to make all the affections of man perfectly accordant with truth and duty, and perfectly subservient to the establishment of them in the world.
4thly. Christ taught mankind with an Authority peculiar to himself. This characteristic of Christ's teaching was two-fold:
First. The authority derived from the weight of his precepts, and the manner in which they were inculcated. This I take to be especially what is intended by St. Matthew in the following passage: And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, (that is, the sayings contained in his Sermon on the Mount) the people were astonished at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes. In the authority of this kind, Christ far excelled every other instructer. No precepts are so important as his; no manner of teaching is so dignified, and so commanding. When we remember, that he appeared as a poor man, without friends, or influence, without power or splendour; that he proposed a new system of religion and morals; that he attacked, in many respects, the former system, the bigotry with which it was regarded, the prejudices of the multitude, and the enormous wickedness of the great: when we further remember, that in the minds of many, he overset them all, and in the minds of many more, shook them to their foundations : we cannot hesitate to acknowledge, with the Jewish officers, that in this particular, never man spake like this man.
Secondly. Christ taught mankind with a singular Official authority.
This is conspicuous in two things.
All the dictates of Christ's teaching are of the kind, which the Greeks called Dogmas, that is, positions peremptorily asserted without any doubt expressed, any wavering, any uncertainty, any
, suggestion of the possibility of error.
Every doctrine is exhibited as an absolute law of faith; and every precept, as a positive rule of practice. Every thing, which he uttered, carries with it evidently, the assurance, that his doctrines are true and certain; that his precepts are just and reasonable ; and that himself is invested with full authority to prescribe both, as obligatory rules of faith and practice.
The second is, that Christ taught in his own name, and without appealing to any authority but his own.
This fact was mentioned in a former discourse; but it will be proper briefly to consider it, also, at the present time. All the prophets of the Old Testament prefaced their Instructions with Thus saith the Lord. Christ commenced his Ministry with explaining, altering, and annulling, many things, said by ihem under this authority, and acknowledged by him to be thus said. His own instructions, however, he never prefaced in this manner; but merely said, I say unto you; or, on solemn occasions, Amen; Verily, I say unto you. The authority, here assumed by him, was such, as to warrant him in repealing that, which had been spoken by prophets in the Name, and by the Authority, of God; and was, therefore, an authority equal to that, under which these prophets had spoken.
In this exercise of Authority, Christ stands alone; being wholly distinguished from all other teachers, both sacred and profane. The Apostles, it will be remembered, taught only in the name of Christ.
5thly. Christ taught with uniform and singular Patience, Gentleness, and Kindness.
I have grouped these excellencies of our Saviour's manner of teaching as I have several of those, already mentioned, on account of the intimate relation, which they bear to each other.
To dwell on this subject with minuteness cannot be necessary. All readers of the Gospel know how often Christ bore with the dullness, prejudices, and unbelief of his disciples; how often he reiterated the same instructions; how patiently he removed their prejudices; how frequently he had occasion to pronounce them of little faith ; and how universally, and how often without reproving them, he bore with their numerous infirmities. There is not an instance in his life of an impatient, petulant word; not a single expression of the kind, which we term passionate; not an occasion, on which he lost, in the least degree, that absolute selfcontrol, by which he was elevated above all the children of Adam. When the ambitious sons of Zebedee, through their more ambitious mother, asked of him the privilege of sitting, the one on his right hand, and the other on his left; he calmly replied, It is not mine to give. When the body of his disciples strove, which of them should be greatest; he took a little child, and set him in the midst of them, and, when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them : Whosoever shall receive one of such children, in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. When Peter denied him in so shameful and bitter a manner; the only reproof, which he gave him, is recorded in these words, And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. Over Jerusalem, the seat of so much guilt, the scene of the messages, and of the slaughter, of so many prophets, and speedily about to be the scene of his own sufferings, he wept with inexpressible tenderness, and said,
How often would I have gathered thy children, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings; but
ye would not. 6thly. Christ taught by his Example.
It is a proverbial observation, that example is far more instructive than precept: an observation, verified by the experience of mankind every day, and in every place. No precepts are, indeed, seriously influential on the mind of the pupil, unless they are believed to have some good degree of influence upon the life of his instructer. On the contrary, where the instructer is supposed to speak with sincerity, and from the heart, and to be himself governed in his conduct hy the very principles, which he recommends to others; very plain instructions have commonly very great power. Example, therefore, may be safely pronounced to be the best of all instruction, and the only mode of consummating the instruction of the voice.
In this kind of teaching Christ stands alone. The prophets and apostles are here left out of comparison, and out of sight. As for the heathen philosophers, their example was a mere contrast to their instruction; I mean, to such parts of it, as were just and commendable. What they taught, of this nature, they refuted in the daily conduct of their lives. But Christ's life was a perfect practical comment on all that he taught, and a perfect illustration of the nature and efficacy of his precepts. Hence his instructions have been unrivalled in their influence on mankind;. and have produced effects, to which there has been in the history of the world no parallel.
I have here mentioned several primary characteristics of the Manner, in which Christ taught mankind. To form a more complete estimate of its excellence, it will, however, be necessary to consider what he did not do, as well as what he did. The superlative wisdom of the Redeemer was manifested as truly in what he avoided, as in what he accomplished.
On this subject, I observe, in the
1st place, that he utterly declined to gratify the mere Curiosity of man.
Many questions were proposed to him by the Jews, of such a nature, as to demand answers, which could only gratify curiosity. Several more, of the same kind, were addressed to him by his disciples. To all these he declined the answers, which were solicited. There are, also, very many subjects, concerning which curiosity has ever been awake; and which not only are intimately connected with the Scriptural system of religion, but are mentioned by Christ in many forms, and in some particulars extensively discussed. But such parts of these subjects, as excite mere curiosity, he has invariably left in silence; and never tempted, nor satisfied at all, this roving, restless propensity. Over all objects of this kind he has drawn the curtain of absolute concealment, and hidden them entirely from human eyes.
Among these subjects, it will be sufficient to mention one. The circumstances, which attend a future state of happiness, awaken, perhaps as extensively, and as naturally, the wishes of the mind to be minutely informed, as any thing belonging to the destiny of man. On this immense subject, Christ has, however, taught nothing, except what we plainly needed to know; and has withheld every thing else from our investigation. Others have often indulged a wandering fancy, and, in the wildeșt excursions concerning a future state, have attempted to explore the regions of future being, as travellers search distant countries in the present world. But Christ has chosen barely to inform us of the existence and general nature of these regions; things which we are deeply interested to know; and left these outlines to be filled up by our own actual experience, when we shall have become possessed of that happy state of being. When we remember how many uncertainties would have arisen out of such a disclosure, had it been made; how many questions, of difficult solution, or incapable of being solved; and, in a word, how greatly, and how often, the mind would have been perplexed concerning subjects, unconnected with its real good; we cannot hesitate to acknowledge the perfect wisdom, manifested in this concealment.
2dly. Christ taught without Sophistry.
The integrity displayed in the reasonings of our Saviour, is equally exact, and perfect, with that exhibited in his declarations of facts. In the
age, in which he lived, both the Jewish and Heathen teachers were distinguished for false reasoning, as a species of art. The doctrines, which they taught, needed this defence. Accordingly, we find it employed by them on almost every occasion. Many specimens of the subtleties of the Sadducees and Pharisees are recited to us in the New Testament; particularly in the Gospels. Quibbles, paradoxes, and fetches, were the custom of the time; and were shamelessly employed to defend every favourite opinion, and attack every adversary. But false reasoning is as real a violation of integrity, as false declarations; is often as mischievous; and is always a proof of gross depravity, or gross inattention to our duty. Christ, therefore, the perfect pattern in this, as in all other, conduct, has alleged no argument but a real one; has given no argument any more force than it really possesses; and has expressed no more confidence in any argument than he really felt. The glorious contrast, which he exhibited in the exact simplicity and sincerity, with which he reasoned on every occasion, to the subtlety and sophistry, of all with whom he reasoned, and of a vast multitude of other teachers, is a pattern for all succeeding reasoners; which, if universally followed, would free the world from a great part of its doubts and errors, and the deplorable guilt and misery, by which they are followed.
3dly. Christ has authorised no Intolerance. It is well known, that the Jews, who were distinguished for their
spiritual pride and bigotry, and who regarded other nations with an almost absolute intolerance, were never more strongly marked by these characteristics, than at the time when our Saviour appeared. Even the Apostles were not exempted from a share of this character. Master, said John, we saw one casting out devils in thy nume, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not; for he that is not against us is for us. Again, John and James, moved with indignation against the inhabitants of a Samaritan village, because they declined to receive their Master, said to him, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of Spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. So intolerant was the spirit even of the beloved disciple; and so benevolent, it ought to be added, was that of Christ.
In this nation, and at this period, was Christ born, and educated. But instead of imbibing, countenancing, or warranting, intolerance and bigotry, he taught, in all instances, their odiousness and guilt; and enjoined, with respect to every subject and person, the most absolute moderation, liberality, and candour; not, indeed, the fashionable liberality of licentious men in modern times; a professed indifference to truth and holiness; but a benevolent and catholic spirit towards every man, and a candid and just one towards every argument and opinion. Distinctions of nation, sect, or party, as such, were to him nothing : distinctions of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, were to him every thing. According to this scheme he framed both his instructions and his life.
4thly. Christ taught without Enthusiasm.
All the language, and all the sentiments, of our Saviour, were the language and sentiments of a person, perfectly satisfied of the goodness of the cause, which he had espoused, immoveably attached to it, and earnestly engaged to promote it among mankind. Still, this earnestness, this fixedness of character, differed greatly from that of most persons, who have undertaken the reformation of their fellow men. In our own as in all preceding ages, those, who have assumed the character of reformers, almost of course make a parade of their piety, and a merit of their peculiar devotion to the cause, in which they have embarked ; and aim at gaining proselytes by a nice scrupulosity concerning things commonly esteemed innocent, animosity against those whose opinions they censure, and impassioned addresses to such as listen to their instructions. Christ was the opposite of all these. Little things, always, in his instructions, appeared little. Harmless things he regarded as harmless, Great and important things, only, has he taught us to regard as great and important. In his life there was no ostentation of any thing. He came eating and drinking like other men; and in his human nature, and appearance, differed from them in nothing but