صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني



existed, to produce so remarkable an invention, necessarily involves qualities of mind and heart, a fine sense of moral truth, utterly inconsistent with the delusion or fraud which such a fabrication would imply. But the ability did not exist. True and single-hearted as the authors of these biographies of Jesus show themselves to have been, still on more than one occasion it

appears that there was a spirituality in his sentiments, a meaning in his words, which none of those around him, not even the best disposed, were able to fathom. But further. While it is impossible to conceive how the biographers could have created such a

character, it is easy to see how such a character pro| duced the biographers. So far from supposing that

they fabricated what they have told, the question is, how with their Jewish prejudices, with their human sensibilities, rendering them liable to be bewildered, carried away, and deluded by their feelings, they were able to attain to such a pervading truthfulness, and to represent Jesus, so nearly as they have done, to the life. That they have committed some errors and mistakes, I do not deny—I believe. That these are so few is the wonder. That there is so much truth in these narratives, so simply and truly exhibited—this it is that should surprise us, and for which we should seek a cause.

The influence of Jesus at once adequately and naturally explains the character of these writings; and shows us how their authors became the honest, fearless, single-hearted men they have shown themselves to be. Where else but from him could they have derived the spirit that they breathe ? In this way these histories are, in the truth of their


[ocr errors]

295 structure, a tribute, none the less expressive because wholly undesigned, to the force of that remarkable character with which they bring us acquainted. In their general tone and spirit they are as truly an illustration not merely of the existence but of the moral influence of Jesus, as any of the particular facts which they contain.

I admit that there are errors and mistakes in the Gospels. This, I suppose, will be deemed a dangerous admission. But let me not be misunderstood—I will not say misrepresented, for I love to believe that these pages “ will come under the perusal of ingenuous eyes and be felt a little by the hearts that look out of them.” Let me not be misunderstood. I

I say there are mistakes in the Gospels. But they are precisely such mistakes as were occasioned by the truth. Where there are misconceptions there must be something, some reality, some fact, to be misconceived. Error implies truth, as the shadow implies the substance. Such at least is the character of the mistakes which we discover in these writings. They result from the substantial truth of the main facts recorded, and they are undesignedly the most decisive evidences of the truth. For instance, these accounts differ as to the hour at which the crucifixion of Jesus took place. Mark states that Jesus was crucified at the third hour. According to John, he was not given up by Pilate until about the sixth hour. Now admitting, as I conceive we must, notwithstanding the attempts which have been made to reconcile this difference, that one or the other of the narrators is in error, what does the error show? Not that Jesus was not crucified at all,-it



goes to establish the fact by new and most natural evidence. The existence of the error discloses

precisely such a state of mind, such an inability to note the lapse of time, as must have been produced in those nearly interested in an event so exciting. So also in the case of the resurrection of Jesus, the mistakes made by the women at the sepulchre furnish evidence undesigned and unanswerable to the reality of the main fact, the actual presence of Jesus alive. This it was that produced the mistakes, and produced them in a perfectly natural way. In short, I conceive it may be confidently affirmed, that no error can be detected in these narratives which does not tend directly and decisively to establish far more than it does away.

The books which we have now been examining are invaluable for the saving knowledge which they give us of Jesus Christ, of whose life they are the record, and of whose spirit they are an unconscious illustration. In him I see a revelation of religious truth, and consequently a disclosure of the will of God, a representation of the perfection and destiny of man. When we see Jesus Christ as he is, we have come to the knowledge and possession of Christianity. He shows us what God is and what He would have us to be. In the spiritual and immortal lineaments of Jesus, we discover our own immortality, and in sympathy with him we come to feel and know ourselves to be immortal. To estimate him is to grow in Christian knowledge, and to become worthy of the Christian name.

It is a character of no ordinary force which has for



eighteen hundred years commanded the respect of the world. Christianity, in the forms in which it has been for ages extensively represented, has shown but few features of a heavenly origin. It has been set forth before the world as a religion identified with a most magnificent and complicated structure of outward ceremonies. Its sanction has been claimed for the exercise of a power, which knew hardly any limit, over national affairs and the rights of private opinion. At one time it was promulgated by bishops clad in mail and demanding faith at the point of the sword. And in all periods of its history, the appeal for its security and its triumphs has been directly made to the civil arm, or to those prejudices and passions which for ever war against human liberty. Under the banner of the Cross, that symbol of the divine power of an unresisting spirit, acts of the bloodiest violence have been perpetrated, the most merciless persecutions have been carried on. Opinions concerning God and man have been published under the name of Christianity, contradicting not only the first dictates of the understanding, but every natural sentiment of justice and mercy; and the terrors of this world and the next have been threatened

upon the faintest whisper

of dissent. In fine, that which has been called Christianity, instead of taking its place in the van of human interests, has been found opposing the progress of our race by all the weapons which ignorance and passion could supply. Not by one only, but by all denominations of its friends, has our religion been made to occupy more or less decisively this position. When these things are considered, the question




arises,“ how comes itmby what means—by what principle of vitality—has Christianity maintained itself for long ages in the world? Forced, through the unwise zeal of its friends, to ally itself with the worldly interests and passions of men, taking so little pains to address the better principles of our nature,-how is it that amidst all vicissitudes and the various and increasing lights of civilization, it has not long ago been shaken to its foundations, levelled with the dust, and swept away with the fragments of many preceding and contemporaneous empires ?” I find the principal answer to this inquiry in the person of its Founder, in the simple force of his character.

It was this which wrought the most powerfully for Christianity at its first introduction, when it came, unarmed with any worldly power, to rebuke the passions of the selfish, and dissipate the darkness which men loved. The great spring of action in the hearts of the first promulgators of our religion was the sentiment of ardent affection and reverence with which Jesus Christ inspired them. The love of Christ constrained them. It was for his sake that they accounted it joy and triumph to toil and suffer, and with the kindling idea of him were blended their best hopes and aims. And this it was, by the way, which constituted the wide difference between him and them, and which makes his fortitude so much more wonderful than theirs. He had no human precedent to which he could look, and from which he might draw strength and animation. No one had gone before him by whose memory his human sympathies might be encouraged, and whose example might cheer him onward.

« السابقةمتابعة »