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the way of life with such clearness, that he who ran might read, and that way-faring men, though fools, could not, necessarily, err therein.
At the same time, he adorned these instructions with a candour, frankness, gentleness, and sweetness of demeanour, with a sincerity, boldness, and energy of character, immensely honourable to himself
, and supremely great and lovely in the view of every just and discerning mind. Over all, his daily example, as a moral being, cast a glorious lustre, at once transcendently beautiful in itself, and illuminating in the strongest manner the nature and excellence of all that he said.
If Christ had not come into the world; if he had not preached the Gospel; what would now have been the condition of mankind? The Mosaic system, of necessity confined almost entirely to the Jewish nation, had, before the advent of our Saviour, degenerated chiefly into a mere mass of externities. The moral part of this system was in a great measure neglected, or forgotten: the ceremonial had almost wholly occupied its place.
Even this, also, had lost its proper designation, and influence. The sacrifices, instead of being regarded as mere symbols of that real and great Atonement, which taketh away the sins of the world, and to typify which, they were originally instituted, seem to have been, at this time, considered as expiations in themselves. The ablutions, which were intended only to direct the eye to the cleansing of the Soul by the blood of Christ, and the affusion of the Spirit of grace, appear to have lost their typical character, and to have been exalted by a gross imagination into means of washing away the stains of the soul, and making it pure in the sight of God. The oblation of incense was apparently supposed by the suppliant to ascend with his prayers to the heavens, and to accompany them with a sweet odour to the throne of God. To wear long clothing; to make broad their phylacteries; to pray in the corners of the streets; to fast twice a week; to bow down the head like a bulrush; to sit in sackcloth and ashes; and to tithe mint, annise, and cummin; were considered as the price paid for heaven; the price, with which salvation might assuredly be purchased. In the mean time, piety to God, Justice, judgment, and mercy towards men, and that government of our passions and appetites, without which neither can exist, were kept out of sight, and out of remembrance. Pride and avarice, cruelty and lust, reigned without control, and without opposition. Scarce an effort seems to have been made, or even thought of, to check the tide of declension. The progress was rapid, and unimpeded, till the measure of iniquity became full. About forty years after the crucifixion, the crimes of the Jewish nation, according to the testimony of Josephus, himself a Jew, rose to such a height, as to forbid the longer continuance of any civilized state, or social union, among this people. Furious animosity, unexampled pollution, civil war raging with singular violence, unparalleled treachery, and murder without bounds, then became the prominent, and almost the only, features of the Jewish character.
The rest of the world was absolutely overspread with Polytheism, and all the debasement, and all the miseries to which it so frequently gives birth,
Had not Christ, then, come into the world, and preached the Gospel to mankind; the Jews would, perhaps, have been, substantially, what, since the destruction of their nation, they have been in fact: reprobates; outcasts from God; possessing hearts harder than the nether millstone; impervious to truth ; impenetrable by argument; shorn from the side of virtue; vagabonds in the moral, as well as in the natural, world; roaming now in quest of gain, or prey, to satisfy immediate lust; now wandering in a benighted wilderness through every by-path, to find eternal life; and mistaking the glimmerings of every ignis futuus, by which they are misled, for the light of heaven.
We, in the mean time, together with all the present offspring of the Gentile world, should have been prostrating ourselves before calves and crocodiles, dogs and cats, an image of brass, or the stock of a tree. Instead of the churches, which on a thousand hills now stand open for the worship of Jehovah, we should, with the heathen of the Old World, have consecrated to a multitude of brutal Gods the dark groves, and still darker caves, of our mountains; or erected, with immense expense and suffering, splendid temples to the honour of thieves, strumpets, and murderers, or for the inhabitation of blocks and statues. Instead of the hymns, which here daily ascend to heaven, perfumed with the incense of Redemption, our ears would have been stunned with the outcries of the Priests of Baal, or the yells of the Priestesses of Bacchus. Instead of the communion table, which now holds out the bread of life, and invites us to eat, and live, Altars would here have smoked with the offerings of pollution, or streamed with the blood of human victims. Instead of listening to the invitations to renounce iniquity, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and to lay hold on a glorious immortality, given by God himself, and announced weekly from this desk; the youths who are before me might, in some instances at least, have been trembling beneath the frown of a Druid, prepared to plunge his knife into their bosoms, as an offering to the Gods of superstition; no uncommon fate of bright and promising young men, in ancient times, throughout that Island, from which our ancestors emigrated to this Country:
From all these evils, and from that perfect dissolution of the moral character, of which they are either the cause, or the substance, Christ bas delivered those, who receive and obey his instructions. The darkness, in which men groped, and stumbled, and fell, in the pursuit of eternal life, he has scattered by the sun
shine of the Gospel. The objects of our faith, and the rules of our duty, he has written in living colours. To ignorant, sorrowful,
, and despairing man, despairing of future enjoyment, and future being, he has proclaimed the glad tidings of life eternal. To rebels and enemies he has published everlasting peace. To Zion he has announced, that the God, who reigns over heaven and earth, is her God. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of this divine Messenger, descended from the regions of immortality to proclaim grace, mercy, and peace, to this ruined world!
2dly. Christ, as a Preacher, is a perfect pattern to every Minister of the Gospel.
That he is such a pattern in the substance of his preaching is a truth, which can need no comment. Every minister, whatever may be his opinions in other respects, will admit, unconditionally, that what Christ has said is the guide, and the substance, of all which he is to say. Nor are many words necessary to show, that he is a pattern equally perfect, and equally obligatory, as to his manner. It is not here intended, that the characteristical manner of Christ, by which he was distinguished from every other preacher, is demanded of any minister of the Gospel. In this respect, Christ cannot be copied by any man. The style, in which the inhabitants of the East spoke their discourses, differs materially from that, which has been adopted in Europe, and in this country; and each is suited to the taste of the respective inhabitants. The characteristical style of each individual, also, differs usually from that of other individuals ; and that of each will ever be the best for himself; and that which he will most advantageously employ in discoursing with his fellow-men. The manner of Christ, in this respect, is not here intentionally required of any preacher. It is wholly peculiar to Him, and inimitable by others. At the same time, although every preacher may learn the best lessons from the plainness and simplicity, with which the Redeemer taught, and is bound ever to keep him in view, as in this respect the proper object of a general imitation; yet it ought also to be observed, that no preacher is warranted to assume the authority, with which Christ taught, enjoined, and reproved; or the peremptoriness, with which he threatened and promised. These are characteristics peculiar to himself; which nothing, but direct inspiration, will authorize any man seriously to imitate; and which, accordingly, no Christian, except the Apostles, has ventured to assume.
The Spirit, discovered by the Redeemer in this manner of instruction, is the object, which it is designed here to urge upon preachers of the Gospel for their imitation ; particularly, the candour, patience, gentleness, and tenderness, displayed by him on every proper occasion. These are characteristics, which cannot fail to adorn every discourse, addressed by a preacher of the Gospel to his fellow-men. If a preacher has any sense of his own guilt, dangers, wants, hopes, or blessings; he cannot fail to feel in a corresponding manner those of others. If he have just views of the worth of his own soul, and the importance of his own salvation; he cannot but tenderly regard the souls, and the salvation, of others. If he comprehend, at all, his own infirmities, and the unceasing need, which he has of tenderness and patience from his fellow-men; if he remember, at all, how persuasive and efficacious candour and gentleness have heretofore been in influencing his own mind; he cannot but discern the importance of exercising them towards his flock.
Nor is it less indispensable, that the preacher should possess and exhibit, the same openness, boldness, and integrity. The possession of these things is absolutely necessary, in order to the appearance of them in his discourses, and in his life. All counterfeits will, at the best, be suspicious; and chiefly fail of their intended effect, after a little period. But a full conviction of the Preacher's unmingled integrity; which, if it exist, can scarcely fail of being distinctly perceived; will more powerfully persuade his hearers, than all the arts of reasoning and eloquence, attainable by the human mind. At the same time, this characteristic will aim at doing them good in ten thousand ways, unthought of by the insincere preacher. Beyond this, it will accomplish the good, where all skill and contrivance will fail. To an honest, open, undaunted preacher, thoroughly believed to be such, all men will listen, who will listen at all. By such a preacher all men will be moved, who, in the same circumstances, will be moved at all. His discourses will, of course, appear to be delivered in earnest : not, perhaps, with animation, or eloquence, properly so called: with respect to these his constitutional character may be unfavourable and his habits unhapry: but with seriousness, solemnity, and the appearance of a realizing conviction, that he is uttering the message of God. Such a message, so uttered, can scarcely fail of making some useful impression on the mind. If not ; it will be because the mind is not in a state, fitted to receive useful impressions.
3dly. The Preaching of Christ is a forcible reproof to Ministers.
Ministers, if we may judge from the sermons which they publish, are, in some instances at least, guilty of sophistry. Every preacher, who indulges himself in this mode of reasoning, has failed to propose, or to remember, Christ as his pattern; and whenever he solemnly reviews this part of his conduct, must feel himselt powerfully reproved by the open, sincere, and exact argumentation of his Redeemer, his fair and candid statements of the opinions of his adversaries, and his solid answers to their cavils.
Ministers, at times, are petulant, angry, and contentious ; not for truth, but for victory. Let him, who indulges any part of this spirit
, look to the example of his Saviour, and be ashamed of his neglect to walk, as Christ also walked. Let him lay aside the spirit of a disputant, and a champion ; and resume that of a disciple of his glorious Lord.
Not a small number of preachers, in one country and another, affect a strongly impassioned, fervid, and enthusiastic manner of writing and uttering their discourses. Their language is always intended to be vehement, bold, and highly figurative; their tones loud and violent; and their gestures accordant with both. No part of this character can be found in the preaching of Christ. Not the most distant resemblance to enthusiasm can be found in any thing which he said, or in the manner in which it was said; not an attempt to appear impassioned; not an effort to display what is customarily called eloquence. When the subjects, which he canvassed, inspired warmth, prompted imagination, and led to the adoption of figurative language; he indulged them, just as mere nature led. But he never summoned them to his assistance as a part of his scheme; nor, what is more to the present purpose, did he ever form the scheme, with an intention to give himself opportunity of calling in these auxiliaries to his discourse. A temperate manner; solemn indeed, and plainly earnest; far distant from that cold and uninterested mode, sometimes seen in the desk; but still temperate on all ordinary occasions, and raised only on extraordinary ones; was the characteristical manner of the Redeemer. His voice was pre-eminently the still, small voice of truth and piety; and he did not strive, nor lift up, nor cause it to be heard in the streets.
How different this pattern from the efforts of separatical preachers, and indeed of many others, in our own times! There is no small reason to fear, that by many men of modern days Christ, if now on earth, would be thought a very imperfect example of the best mode of preaching.
Ministers in some instances employ their discourses in minute, wire-drawn disquisitions. Such disquisitions can rarely be necessary in the desk; and, wherever they are not necessary, they are mischievous. No example of this nature can be found in the preaching of the Redeemer. The minds of hearers are lost in such disquisitions; their feelings blunted; and the truth and duty, recommended, are forgotten in the labour of following the ingenious discussions of the preacher.
The timidity of ministers is also forcibly reproved by that undaunted firmness, which Christ displayed in the midst of his bitter enemies; men, from whom he could expect nothing but hatred and violence. It is to be always remembered, that there are occasions on which some subjects cannot be urged with any hope of success, and only with a prospect of disadvantage. It will
, therefore, not only be justifiable, but commendable, to withhold the communication of certain truths, and the injunction of certain duties, in peculiar seasons; because those who should hear, cannot (in the language of Christ) bear them now. But the preacher is bound to withhold them, only because he is fairly convinced, that the comnunication will do evil, and not good. Even here, great caution