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Their evasion of the fifth commandment, their exposition of the law of oaths, are specimens of the bad taste in morals which then prevailed. Whereas, in a numerous collection of our Saviour's apophthegms, many of them referring to sundry precepts of the Jewish law, there is not to be found one example of sophistry, or of false subtilty, or of any thing approaching thereunto.
VII. The national temper of the Jews was intolerant, narrow minded, and excluding. In Jesus, on the contrary, whether we regard his lessons or his example, we see not only benevolence, but benevolence the most enlarged and comprehensive. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the very point of the story is, that the person relieved by him was the national and religious enemy of his benefactor. Our Lord declared the equity of the divine administration, when he told the Jews (what, probably, they were surprised to hear), “That many should come from the east and west, and should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but that the children of the kingdom should be cast into outer darkness 23."
His reproof of the hasty zeal of his disciples, who would needs call down fire from heaven to revenge an affront put upon their Master, shows the lenity of his character, and of his religion; and his opinion of the manner in which the most unreasonable opponents ought to be treated, or at least of the manner in which they ought not to be treated. The terms in which his rebuke was conveyed deserve to be noticed :-“ Ye know not what manner of spirit
ye are of 24.”
VIII. Lastly, Amongst the negative qualities of our 23 Matt, viii. 11.
24 Luke, ix. 55.
religion, as it came out of the hands of its Founder and his apostles, we may reckon its complete abstraction from all views either of ecclesiastical or civil policy; or, to meet a language much in fashion with some men, from the politics either of priests or states
Christ's declaration, that “his kingdom was not of this world,” recorded by St. John; his evasion of the question, whether it was lawful or not to give tribute unto Cæsar, mentioned by the three other evangelists; his reply to an application that was made to him to interpose his authority in a question of property; “ Man, who made me a ruler or a judge over you?” ascribed to him by St. Luke; his declining to exercise the office of a criminal judge in the case of the woman taken in adultery, as related by John, are all intelligible 'significations of our Saviour's sentiments upon this head. And with respect to politics, in the usual sense of that word, or discussions concerning different forms of government, Christianity declines every question upon the subject. Whilst politicians are disputing about monarchies, aristocracies, and republics, the Gospel is alike applicable, useful, and friendly to them all; inasmuch as, Ist, it tends to make men virtuous, and as it is easier to govern good men than bad men under any constitution; as, 2dly, it states obedience to government, in ordinary cases, to be not merely a submission to force, but a duty of conscience; as, 3dly, it induces dispositions favourable to public tranquillity, a Christian's chief care being to pass quietly through this world to a better; as, 4thly, it prays for communities, and for the governors of communities, of whatever description or denomination they be, with a solicitude and fervency proportioned to the influence which they possess upon
human happiness. All which, in my opinion, is just as it should be. Had there been more to be found in Scripture of a political nature, or convertible to political purposes,
the worst use would have been made of it, on whichever side it seemed to lie.
When, therefore, we consider Christ as a moral teacher (remembering that this was only a secondary part of his office; and that morality, by the nature of the subject, does not admit of discovery, properly so called);—when we consider either what he taught, or what he did not teach, either the substance or the manner of his instruction; his preference of solid to popular virtues, of a character which is commonly despised to a character which is universally extolled ; his placing, in our licentious vices, the check in the right place, viz. upon the thoughts; his collecting of human duty into two well devised rules, his repetition of these rules, the stress he laid upon them, especially in comparison with positive duties, and his fixing thereby the sentiments of his followers; his exclusion of all regard to reputation in our devotion and alms, and, by parity of reason, in our other virtues ; -when we consider that his instructions were delivered in a form calculated for impression, the precise purpose in his situation to be consulted; and that they were illustrated by parables, the choice and structure of which would have been admired in any composition whatever; when we observe him free from the usual symptoms of enthusiasm, heat and vehemence in devotion, austerity in institutions, and a wild particularity in the description of a future státe; free also from the depravities of his age and country; without superstition amongst the most superstitious of men, yet not decrying positive distinctions or external observances,
but soberly calling them to the principle of their establishment, and to their place in the scale of human duties; without sophistry or trifling, amidst teachers remarkable for nothing so much as frivolous subtleties and quibbling expositions ; candid and liberal in his judgment of the rest of mankind, although belonging to a people who affected a separate claim to divine favour, and in consequence of that opinion, prone to uncharitableness, partiality, and superstition;-when we find, in his religion, no' scheme of building up a hierarchy, or of ministering to the views of human governments ;-in a word, when we compare Christianity, as it came from its Author, either with other religions, or with itself in other hands, the most reluctant understanding will be induced to acknowledge the probity, I think also the good sense, of those to whom it owes its origin; and that some regard is due to the testimony of such men, when they declare their knowledge that the religion proceeded from God; and when they appeal for the truth of their assertion to miracles which they wrought, or which they saw.
Perhaps the qualities which we observe in the religion may be thought to prove something more. They would have been extraordinary had the religion come from any person; from the person from whom it did come, they are exceedingly so. What was Jesus in external appearance? A Jewish peasant, the son of a carpenter, living with his father and mother in a remote province of Palestine, until the time that he produced himself in his public character. He had no master to instruct or prompt him"; he had read no books, but the works of Moses and the Prophets; he had visited no polished cities; he had received no lessons from Socrates or Plato-nothing to form in him a taste or judgment different from that of the rest
of his countrymen, and of persons of the same rank of life with himself. Supposing it to be true, which it is not, that all his points of morality might be picked out of Greek and Roman writings, they were writings which he had never seen. Supposing them to be no more than what some or other had taught in various times and places, he could not collect them together.
Who were his coadjutors in the undertaking,—the persons into whose hands the religion came after his death? A few fishermen upon the lake of Tiberias, persons just as uneducated, and, for the purpose of framing rules of morality, as unpromising as himself. Suppose the mission to be real, all this is accounted for; the unsuitableness of the authors to the production, of the characters to the undertaking, no longer surprises us : but, without reality, it is very
difficult to explain how such a system should proceed from such persons. Christ was not like
the apostles were not like any other fishermen.
But the subject is not exhausted by these observations. That portion of it which is most reducible to points of argument, has been stated, and, I trust, truly. There are, however, some topics of a more diffuse nature, which yet deserve to be proposed to the reader's attention.
The character of Christ is a part of the morality of the Gospel: one strong observation upon which is, that, neither as represented by his followers, nor as attacked by his enemies, is he charged with any personal vice. This remark is as old as Origen: “Though innumerable lies and calumnies had been forged against the venerable Jesus, none had dared to charge him with an intemperance 25.” Not a reflection upon his moral character, not an imputation or suspicion of any
25 Or. Ep. Cels. I. 3, num. 36, ed. Bened.