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THE CHARACTER OF THE EVENTS RELATED.
larged and enlightened. The character of Jesus is not more truly a revelation of moral greatness than these wonderful writings are, in their style and structure, of the quality of truth. That this is strong language I am aware; and perhaps there is little in the foregoing pages that seems to justify it. Still I do not wholly despair of having given the candid and intelligent reader some idea of the grounds upon which rests the conviction I have already expressed, that nowhere in the writings of the dead, or in the characters of the living, do I discern evidences of integrity and singleness of mind so luminous and affecting as those presented in the Four Gospels.
I beg the reader to pause for one moment, and consider the character of the events which constitute the sum and substance of these narratives. How tremendously exciting must they have been! The blind seeing, the lame walking, the dead raised, the wretched and the profligate collected in crowds, listening to words of mercy and hope, multitudes thronging the highways bringing their sick, and pressing upon one another like the billows of a heaving sea! If Jesus of Nazareth spoke and acted and suffered as he is here represented, how must the minds of men have boiled around him! How closely and with what power must he have approached their passions, prejudices, sentiments! How must he, as with a giant's hand, have broken up all the fountains of wonder and fear and awe and hope; and made all hearts overflow with one or another passion!
Could you have been present, and by some strong philosophic effort, could you have torn off your atten
THE CHARACTER OF JESUS
tion from the absorbing interest of those scenes, and asked yourself the simple question, how can any idea of these things ever be communicated to those who do not see them, you would have exclaimed at once and aloud, “ It is impossible !" You might have glanced around upon those eager multitudes, but where would you have discovered a single calm observer ? Where would you have seen a single eye that was not like a burning coal, a single bosom that was not heaving in tumultuous and overpowering sympathy with the unprecedented spectacle? You would indeed have seen One there, all calm and collected, the producer of all this emotion ; but the dovelike serenity of his demeanour would only have tended to deepen in your eyes the mystery and excitement of the scene. I repeat it, you would have felt that it was impossible that any accounts could ever be given of events so exciting, save such as were wretchedly inadequate, or so coloured and exaggerated as to convey no just conception of the truth. witness anything that stirs up our feelings—any uncommon burst of eloquence, for instance—we either give up in despair every attempt to describe what we have witnessed, or, in the attempt to describe it, the reality is most sadly marred and dwarfed, and we take that single step which separates the sublime from the ridiculous.
Look now at the accounts which have come down to us of the wonderful words, works, and sufferings, of that unrivalled being who appeared some ages since in Judea. Perhaps they give us but a faint idea of the strange and stirring events of which they treat,
CREATED HIS BIOGRAPHERS.
and with all our efforts, our impressions, in distinctness and intensity, must fall far, very far short of those which were made upon the actual witnesses of the life of Jesus. The power of language was not equal to so great a subject. Still from these records, such as they are, we derive ideas of moral beauty and greatness, to which no page in the world's history furnishes anything that we can compare. An instance of moral life is disclosed to us which stands alone and unapproached in its wholeness and symmetry. At the same time, abundant evidence is afforded in the course of these narratives that all around Jesus were more or less the creatures of feeling, ignorance, and prejudice, fettered by superstition, beguiled by coarse hopes and dreams of outward splendour. Who were they-our curiosity is immediately aroused to ask, who were they that, among those excitable and excited crowds, were able to observe so calmly, and report so correctly; to look on and listen with eyes and ears and hearts so true, that, with a slight effort, we are able, in some few instances at least, to feel almost as if we were present on the spot, and the things related were passing visibly before us? To this qu stion there is only one answer. The character of Jesus must have created his biographers. Whoever they were, whatever were their names, they must have been persons who by intimate association with him had imbibed some measure of his spirit, and that spirit, calm and true, had wrought upon their minds, to subdue the tumults of feeling, to chasten their imaginations, to subordinate their sensibility to the Wonderful to their sensibility to the True; in fine, to
THE INFLUENCE OF JESUS REVEALED,
qualify them to see and hear aright, and to impart what they saw and heard. Upon examination we find, throughout these writings, the most touching indications of precisely that calm and elevated tone of mind and feeling which association with such a one as Jesus was fitted to produce. In their unguardedness, in their unsuspecting simplicity, in their pervading unconsciousness, we see that these authors had completely lost themselves, lost all anxiety about effect, every disposition to embellish, in the abiding and absorbing sense of truth. The facts—facts of which they had such full knowledge, -filled their minds to the exclusion of all self-reference, all fears and misgivings. They tell right on what they know, taking no credit to themselves, and unconscious that there can be anything meritorious in a faithful relation of what so entirely possesses their minds. To the authors of the Gospels, so far as they are disclosed in their writings, may be applied the language of Wordsworth in his Ode to Duty.
" There are, who ask not if thine eye
Be on them, who in love and truth
Not indeed“ upon the genial sense of youth" did the Evangelists rely, but upon a kindred spirit. Between him and the young, of whom he said, “ of such is the kingdom of heaven," there was the greatest congeniality. His spirit had gradually infused itself into the mind of these writers, until it became as their
IN THE STYLE OF THE GOSPELS.
life-blood, unconsciously animating all their thoughts, inspiring their words, and producing in them the simplicity, the “ unchartered freedom” of childhood. It cost them no effort to tell the truth. They could as well have ceased to breathe, as ceased to tell it, let the objections and difficulties it created be what they might. Their reverence for Jesus was so great, their confidence in him so entire, that they never appear to have thought that the most imperfect representation of any part of his conduct was not enough—that he could ever need to be indebted to their
to save him from being misunderstood. With the poet just quoted, they seem to have thought that their theme
might demand a seraph's tongue, Were it not equal to its own support; And therefore no incompetence of theirs
Could do it wrong. Accordingly they never think of explaining or setting off anything they relate concerning him. Thus they show how genuine was their love of their master. This love it was which was their “unerring light,” their security against every false bias, enabling them to see what they saw so nearly at the true point of view.
That these writers could not have invented the extraordinary character which they have portrayed is, I trust, abundantly clear from the whole structure of their narratives, wrought all over and inlaid with the characteristics not of fiction but of truth, and especially from the unconscious manner in which the character of Christ is described. The ability, if it
* The Excursion. Book 8.