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The parables of the New Testament are, many of them, such as would have done honour to any book in the world : I do not mean in style and diction, but in the choice of the subjects, in the structure of the narratives, in the aptness, propriety, and force of the circumstances woven into them; and in some, as that of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Phari, see and the Publican, ir, a union of pathos and simplicity, which, in the best productions of human genius, is the fruit only of a much exercised and well cultivated judgment.
The Lord's Prayer, for a succession of solemn thoughts, for fixing the attention upon a few great points, for suitableness to every condition, for sufficiency, for conciseness without obscurity, for the weight and real importance of its petitions, is without an equal or a rival.
From whence did these come? Whence had this man his wisdom? Was our Saviour, in fact, a wellinstructed philosopher, whilst he is represented to us as an illiterate peasant? Or shall we say that some early Christians of taste and education composed these pieces and ascribed them to Christ? Beside all other incredibilities in this account I answer, with Dr. Jortin, that they could not do it. No specimens of composition, which the Christians of the first century have left us, authorize us to believe that they were equal
and unavailing such an attempt must have been is proved by one notable example: “ The Indoo and Mussulman religions are institutes of civil law, regulating the minutest questions both of property and of all questions which come under the .cognizance of the magistrate, And to what length details of this kind are necessarily carried when once begun, may be understood from an anecdote of the Mussulman code, which we have received from the most respectable authority, that not less than seventy-five thousand traditional precepts have been promulgated." (Hamilton's Translation of Hedaya, or Guide.)
to the task. And how little qualified the Jews, the countrymen and companions of Christ, were to assist him in the undertaking, may be judged of from the traditions and writings of theirs which were the nearest
The whole collection of the Talmud is one continued proof into what follies they fell whenever they left their Bible; and how little capable they were of furnishing out such lessons as Christ delivered.
to that age.
But there is still another view in which our Lord's discourses deserve to be considered; and that is, in their negative character,—not in what they did, but in what they did not contain. Under this head the following reflections appear to me to possess some weight.
I. They exhibit no particular description of the invisible world. The future happiness of the good, and the misery of the bad, which is all we want to be assured of, is directly and positively affirmed, and is represented by metaphors and comparisons, which were plainly intended as metaphors and comparisons, and as nothing more. As to the rest a solemn reserve is maintained. The question concerning the woman who had been married to seven brothers, “Whose shall she be on the resurrection ?" was of a nature calculated to have drawn from Christ a more circumstantial account of the state of the human species in their future existence. He cut short, however, the inquiry by an answer which at once rebuked intruding curiosity, and was agreeable to the best apprehensions we are able to form upon the subject, viz. “ That they who are accounted worthy of that resurrection shall be as the angels of God in heaven." I lay a stress upon this reserve, because it repels the suspicion of enthusiasm :
for enthusiasm is wont to expatiate upon the condition of the departed, above all other subjects; and with a wild particularity. It is moreover a topic which is always listened to with greediness. The teacher, therefore, whose principal purpose is to draw upon himself attention, is sure to be full of it. The Koran of Mahomet is half made up of it.
II. Our Lord enjoined no austerities. He not only enjoined none as absolute duties, but he recommended none as carrying men to a higher degree of divine favour. Place Christianity, in this respect, by the side of all institutions which have been founded in the fanaticism, either of their author, or of his first followers: or rather compare, in this respect, Christianity as it came from Christ, with the same religion after it fell into other hands; with the extravagant merit very soon ascribed to celibacy, solitude, voluntary poverty; with the rigours of an ascetic, and the vows of a monastic life; the hair shirt, the watchings, the midnight prayers, the obmutescence, the gloom and mortification of religious orders, and of those who aspired to religious perfection.
III. Our Saviour uttered no impassioned devotion, There was no heat in his piety, or in the language in which he expressed it; no vehement or rapturous ejaculations, no violent urgency in his
The Lord's Prayer is a model of calm devotion. His words in the garden are unaffected expressions, of a deep indeed, but sober piety. He never appears to have been worked up into any thing like that elation, . or that emotion of spirits, which is occasionally observed in most of those to whom the name of enthusiast can in any degree be applied. I feel a respect for Methodists, because I believe that there is to be
party to encourage such a disposition in his followers.
found amongst them much sincere piety, and availing, though not always well informed Christianity; yet I never attended a meeting of theirs but I came away with the reflection, how different what I heard was from what I read! I do not mean in doctrine, with which at present I have no concern, but in manner; how different from the calmness, the sobriety, the good sense, and, I may add, the strength and authority of our Lord's discourses !
IV. It is very usual with the human mind to substitute forwardness and fervency in a particular cause for the merit of general and regular morality; and it is natural, and politic also, in the leader of a sect or
Christ did not overlook this turn of thought; yet, though avowedly placing himself at the head of a new institution, he notices it only to condemn it. « Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say unto 'me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many
wonderfül works? And then will I profess unto you I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity." So far was the Author of Christianity from courting the attachment of his followers by any sacrifice of principle, or by a condescension to the errors which even zeal in his service might have inspired! This was a proof both of sincerity and judgment.
V. Nor, fifthly, did he fall in with any of the depraved fashions of his country, or with the natural bias of his own education. Bred up a Jew, under a
22 Matt. vii. 21, 22.
religion extremely technical, in an age and amongst a people more tenacious of the ceremonies than of any other part of that religion, he delivered an institution, containing less of ritual, and that more simple, than is to be found in any religion which ever prevailed amongst mankind. We have known, I do allow, examples of an enthusiasm which has swept away all external ordinances before it. But this spirit certainly did not dictate our Saviour's conduct, either. in his treatment of the religion of his country, or in the for: måtion of his own institution. In both, he displayed the soundness and moderation of his judgment. He censured an overstrained scrupulousness, or perhaps an affectation of scrupulousness, about the Sabbath: but how did he censure it? not by contemning or decrying the institution itself, but by declaring that “ the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath ;) that is to say, that the Sabbath was to be subordinate to its purpose, and that that purpose was the real good of those who were the subjects of the law. The same concerning the nicety of some of the Pharisees, in paying tithes of the most trifling articles, accompanied with a neglect of justice, fidelity, and mercy. He finds fault with them for misplacing their anxiety. He does not speak disrespectfully of the law of tithes, nor of their observance of it; but he assigns to each class of duties its proper station in the scale of moral importance. All this might be expected perhaps from a well instructed, cool, and judicious philosopher, but was not to be looked for from an illiterate Jew; certainly not from an impetuous enthusiast.
VI. Nothing could be more quibbling than were the comments and expositions of the Jewish doctors at that time; nothing so puerile as their distinctions.