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more refined and spiritual precepts and ordinances, and to sanction them, not by temporal, but by eternal rewards and punishments; as in his divine Sermon on the Mount; in which he enlarged and spiritualized the commandments of the Decalogue. Intimately connected therewith, was
6. His conscious dignity, and commanding authority; delivering his divine precepts and ordinances in his own name, and not like Moses and the Prophets, subordinately, in the name of God, "Thus saith the Lord;" whereas his usual style was, "Verily, verily, I say unto you." Insomuch, that the multitudes were struck with astonishment at his doctrine; for he taught them as having authority, and not as "the Scribes," servilely adhering to the corrupt traditions of the elders; as he repeatedly and publicly reproached them. And he failed not frequently to rebuke and to censure these "blind guides," and "whited sepulchres," "hypocrites," with all frankness, and without reserve.
7. The pure sanctity of his life, and uniform propriety of his conduct, affording the finest illustration of his doctrines, and the most perfect example of perfect and unerring obedience, in fulfilling all righteousness, and doing always what was well pleasing to his HEAVENLY FATHER-who therefore loved Him, is surely the most decisive and unequivocal proof of genuine DIVINE NATURE. The most highly gifted Prophets, and workers of miracles, were not exempt from the frailties and infirmities of human nature, and some were even guilty of crying sins; of which Noah, Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Balaam, David, Solomon, &c. furnish striking and instructive instances.
But in this respect, OUR LORD, with all the boldness of conscious innocence and native worth, set his enemies at defiance. Which of you convicteth me of sin? He was, indeed, preeminently," the HOLY ONE," and "THE JUST," "THE RIGHTEOUS," "THE SAINT OF SAINTS," to whose spotless innocence, and transcendent virtue, even his inveterate foes bore witness, his treacherous disciple, and his pusillanimous judge. Though tempted in all respects as other men, yet was he without sin. He overcame the world, the flesh, and the Devil; neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again, but answered nothing, and commended his spirit to Him that judgeth righteously. Neither popular applause, of which, at times, he had an abundant share, lifted
him up, nor popular insult, or persecution, cast him down; nothing disturbed the even tenor of his mind. He led a life of trouble and of rebuke, and of blasphemy, still he went about doing good to the souls and bodies of men, by instructing their ignorance, correcting their prejudices and vices, improving their hearts, and healing their diseases. All his miracles, two excepted, the possession of the swine, and the cursing the barren fig tree, were beneficent; and even for these satisfactory reasons have been assigned, as intended for correction and for admonition. The imaginary "wise man" of the Stoics, and the "Just man" of the Platonists, possessed of all possible virtues, were more than realized in JESUS CHRIST, who left his followers a real pattern of consummate piety, virtue, and temperance, in all things. No wonder then, that such unparalleled excellence extorted the admiration and applause of his most prejudiced enemies: Never man spake as this man spake! He doeth all things well! This was truly THE SON OF GOD! This was really THE JUST ONE!
2. To this ancient homage of contemporaries, we cannot refrain from adding a curious and valuable eulogy on his transcendant moral character, by the inconsistent and eccentric Sceptic, Rousseau; literally translated from one of the most mischievous of his eloquent publications †.
"I confess to you also, that the majesty of the Scriptures, and the holiness of the Gospel, touches my heart. View the books of the philosophers, with all their pomp; how little do they appear placed beside this! Is it possible, that a Book at once so sublime and simple, can be the work of men? Is it possible, that He whose history it records, can be but a mere man? Does he speak in the tone of an enthusiast, or of an ambitious sectary? What mildness, what purity in his manners! what persuasive grace in his instructions! what elevation in his maxims! what profound wisdom in his discourses! what presence of mind, what ingenuity and what justness in his answers!
The necessity of a perfect standard, or pattern of virtue, in their imaginary wise man, was well explained by Cicero, declaring that the reputed wise, such as the seven Sages, Cato, Lælius, &c. only bore some similitude and appearance of the truly wise, who alone observed the perfect duties. That such a standard was necessary to maintain a progressive improvement in virtue. De Offic. 111. 4. + Emile, Tom. II. p. 85. This same with acrimony and rancour!
work inveighs against the Christian religion
what empire over his passions? Where is the man, where is the sage, who knows how to act, to suffer, and to die, without weakness, and without ostentation?
"When Plato paints his imaginary just man, covered with all the infamy of vice, though worthy of all the rewards of virtue, he paints the exact traits of JESUS CHRIST: the resemblance is so striking, that all the Fathers perceived it; and indeed, it is not possible to be deceived therein. And what prejudices, what blindness, must possess the man that dares to compare the son of Sophroniscus, with the Son of Mary? What an immense distance between them! Socrates, dying without pain, without ignominy, easily supported to the last his character; and if this easy death had not cast a lustre on his life, it might have been doubted, whether Socrates, with all his genius, was any thing more than a Sophist. It may be said, he invented morality: but before him others had practised it; he only said, what they had done, and reduced to lessons their examples. Aristides had been just, before Socrates had said what justice was. Leonidas had died for his country, before Socrates had made love of country a duty. Sparta was sober before Socrates had praised sobriety, before he had defined virtue, Greece abounded with virtuous men.
"But where did JESUS, among his countrymen, take the pattern of this elevated and pure morality, of which he alone has given both the precepts and the example? From the bosom of the most furious fanaticism, the highest WISDOM made herself be heard; and the simplicity of the most HEROIC VIRTUES honoured the vilest of all the people of the earth.
"The death of Socrates philosophizing tranquilly with his friends, is the mildest one could wish for: that of JESUS, expiring in torments, blasphemed, reviled, and execrated by a whole people, is the most horrible one could dread. Socrates, taking the cup of poison, blessed him who presented it, and who wept: Jesus, in the midst of a frightful punishment, prayed for his blood-thirsty executioners. Yes, if the life and death of Socrates be that of a Sage, the life and death of JESUS is that of A GOD."
The following argument also for the veracity of the Gospels, drawn from the impossibility of inventing such a perfect character, of such complete uniformity and consistency throughout, is borrowed from Rousseau, and improved by Wakefield.
"No forgers of the Gospel narratives in question, (whose motives, in the first instance, of such an imposition, could not easily be ascertained,) could have discovered any inducement, either from an acquaintance with human manners, or the operations of the human mind, to deliver such an extraordinary relation of the conduct of their hero. For my own part, I am able to devise no other tolerable solution of this difficulty, but this obvious supposition; That the Gospel History is in reality an accurate transcript from a TRUE ORIGINAL; that such a personage as Jesus of Nazareth, ACTUALLY APPEARED in the world; a genuine likeness of the picture which is presented of him. That he came with the express intention of publishing such a system of religion, of executing that unprecedented project, of founding a universal empire over the affections and consciences of men, by the gentle constraints of TRUTH, and the soothing captivations of PURITY and LOVE *."
The argument for the veracity of the Gospel, drawn from the number of the Evangelists, enhancing the difficulty of such a joint fabrication, is excellently expressed by Rousseau.
"It would be more inconceivable, that several men should have agreed to fabricate such a book, than that a single personage should have furnished its subject. Never could Jewish authors have invented, neither this tone of character, nor this morality. And the Gospel has marks of veracity, so great, so striking, and so perfectly inimitable, that the inventor of it would be more astonishing than the hero."
And yet, the very next passage furnishes a deplorable instance of inconsistency, the most surprizing and unexpected in this Sceptic, as he professed himself:- "Granting all this, this same Gospel is full of things incredible, things that are repugnant to Reason, and which it is impossible for any man in his senses to conceive, or to admit †. What is to be done in the
• Wakefield's Evidences of Christianity, second edition, 1793, or British Critic, July, 1794, p. 28.
+ Rousseau principally objects to the Gospel miracles, and especially to the cure of Demoniacs, as impossible and incredible; not considering, in the blindness of his scepticism, that such were necessary for CHRIST and his Apostles, to prove their divine commission, like Moses. The doctrine of Demoniacs, though decried at the present day, is by no means disproved, or exploded. And the case of the man, and afterwards the herd of swine, possessed by a legion, which Rousseau so much ridicules, bears a frightful analogy to himself and the swinish multitude, "whose God is their belly, who glory in their shame, who mind earthly things."
midst of all these contradictions? We should be always modest and circumspect, my child; we should respect, in silence, what we can neither reject nor comprehend, and humble ourselves before that GREAT BEING, who alone knows the truth."
How any man in his senses could hazard such a conclusion, so repugnant to his premises, is only for professed Sceptics to conceive. There cannot, perhaps, in the wide field of human absurdities, be adduced a more striking, and a more frightful instance of inconclusive reasoning, deduced from fair premises, by a "reprobate" and " undiscerning mind." Surely the former "good confession," which cannot fail to win the admiration and applause of all sober minded readers, although they detest the principles and the practices of this libertine and sensualist, (for such Rousseau appears, from his profligate confessions,) intimates, that "the Spirit of THE LORD" is seldom totally “quenched,” even in the worst men: even these, possessed by an evil spirit, as Pharaoh, Saul, Judas, Simon Magus, &c. have had their lucid intervals!
Priestley also, in his parallel of Mahomet with CHRIST, has skilfully drawn the leading features of both *.
"If we consider the characters of the two men, the great superiority of that of JESUS is manifest.
"Mahomet, though not without religion, had nothing of that rational and humble piety, which eminently distinguished JESUS; nor did he discover any marks of that ardent and disinterested love of mankind in general, or of his own disciples in particular, which led JESUS to suffer and to die for them. Mahomet's passions of lust and revenge, the suspicion of which never fell on JESUS, render him a very improper object of imitation; whereas JESUS exhibited in his life a perfect pattern of every human virtue. Whence then could arise this great difference in the character and conduct of these two men, equally the founders of new systems of religion? The only hypothesis that can account for the facts is, that the consciousness which JESUS had of his peculiar and near relation to GOD, gave him that spirit of habitual devotion, which is the genuine parent of every other. virtue; and the sure prospect of a great future reward, (Heb. xii. 2,) gave him a great superiority over all lower
Priestley's Discourses relating to the Evidences of Revealed Religion, delivered in Philadelphia, Vol. II. See Monthly Review, August 1798, p. 428.