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THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS.
child,—we perceive that, although they couched their question in general terms, their object was to ascertain who among themselves was to be the chief officer under the new dispensation. Again, when Jesus declared that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye
of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, meaning obviously by this declaration, that it was next to impossible for one accustomed to the self-indulgence of wealth to descend voluntarily to the despised and persecuted condition of those who sought with him to effect a grand moral revolution, the disciples were exceedingly astonished, and exclaimed, “ Who then can be saved !” The salvation they were thinking of, was a political deliverance, and they could not understand how there could be any salvation, any kingdom, if the rich were to have no part in it. Jesus perceiving that they were not yet able to bear a further disclosure of the true character of the approaching dominion, forbore to shock them any more, contenting himself with assuring them, that although it appeared to be impossible to them, for the heavenly kingdom to be established without rich men, yet it was very possible with God. Still they are uneasy, and Peter, no doubt expressing the wishes of his fellow disciples, and deeming it high time to come to an understanding, immediately asks, “ And what shall we have therefore, we, who have left all and followed thee?” So deep was their impression that he would establish an external kingdom, that, after his death, they sorrowfully exclaim, “ We had thought it had been he who was to redeem Israel.” And just before his final disappearance their inquiry is, “ Lord, wilt thou now restore the kingdom to Israel ? "
THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS.
95 With these coarse, worldly expectations, it is beautiful to see how there was growing up in their minds a deep sentiment of reverence and affection for Jesus, a disposition to defer to his authority, before which their earthly hopes were destined slowly to recede, and, if never to be formally abandoned, yet to lose all vital influence. It was their hearts that were first touched, and that were gradually expanded, until the narrowing bands of their prejudices were broken. The evidence of their personal attachment for Jesus is seen in the fidelity with which they adhered to him, despite the example of the great and powerful, and the continued inconsistency of his words and conduct with all they had so confidently expected. Once and again they were afraid to question him, so great was their awe of him. And their great respect for their master is incidentally shown at the Last Supper, as we once heard it finely remarked by a friend. When their master declared that one of them would betray him, they did not resent the accusation, but in the spirit of a touching self-distrust, which their experience of his better wisdom had taught them to cherish, the cry broke forth on every side, “ Lord, is it I ?” “ Is it I ?” When one whom we deeply reverence charges us with an evil design, we suspect ourselves of it, rather than him of a wanton accusation. So was it with the personal friends of Jesus.
But all this appears in the narratives in the most accidental manner possible. It may be said that it is all a matter of inference. I acknowledge freely that
On this very account, because it is so plainly undesigned, it is affecting and decisive. That the
it is so.
THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST. Gospel histories admit of inferences so accordant with nature, so consistent one with another, is to
mind an irresistible sign of truth. It is to me a sign from heaven. To truth alone can such perfect harmony belong
THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST.
“ For it is an immutable truth, that what comes from the heart, that alone goes to the heart: what proceeds from a divine impulse, that the godlike alone can awaken."-COLERIDGE.
Of the unconscious consistency, upon which I have remarked, as one of the distinguishing features of the New Testament narratives, there is one illustration, in comparison with which the instances already mentioned, striking as they are, sink into insignificance. I allude to that great moral wonder, the character of Jesus Christ. The other characters brought into view in the Christian records are, in their prominent traits, of no peculiar and uncommon kind. They indeed stand out before us fully and individually, without any pains taken by the narrators to produce this effect. Still: they may be severally assigned to classes with which the daily intercourse of life and our common observation of human nature have rendered us familiar. Who has not often met with persons resembling Mary and Martha, Peter, John and Pilate in their principal features ? But the character of Jesus stands alone, without precedent or pattern. It
THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST.
constitutes a specimen—a model by itself. The history of the world furnishes us with no other instances to be classed along with it. Here the loftiest and loveliest attributes of humanity meet in full development in one individual. In his person, not only are conjoined, in the profoundest harmony, those remarkable qualities, which have been exhibited by different men at remote intervals, “every creature's best,” but we discern new forms of virtue, a new manifestation of greatness.
Although through the extravagant errors which have prevailed concerning the nature of Christ, his character has been but very partially apprehended, still it has generally been felt to be the grand argument for Christianity. But it appears to me that the very
remarkable manner in which it is bodied forth in the Four Gospels has never arrested the attention which it deserves. For my own part, I am at a loss to say which is the most astonishing, the character itself, or the way in which it is exhibited by the historians of the life of Jesus.
In him we have a new and original specimen of human nature. If he never had an existence-if he were a fictitious personage, it is evident that the writers of his life had no model to go by. But while he is original, he is at the same time perfectly natural. He is an harmonious whole, a self-consistent individual. This is abundantly enough to satisfy me of his reality. For it is not for minds deluding or deluded, and one or the other we must suppose the New Testament authors to have been if we do not admit their truth, it is not for such minds, nor is it within the ability of any human mind to produce a new creation,--to make
THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST. a new form of humanity, stamped all over with the truth and naturalness which characterize only the works of nature and of God.
But this is not all. The crowning wonder still is, the manner in which the character of Jesus is placed before us.
At once, in the highest degree, new and natural, it is nowhere elaborately described in the Four Gospels. There is not the slightest appearance of an attempt at minute description or analysis. That the writers felt most deeply the force of the character of Jesus, is not to be doubted. But, (and perhaps for this very reason, because they felt it so deeply,) they do not endeavour to define its force, or to point out wherein its peculiar greatness and beauty lay.* In the briefest and most rapid manner they have related a variety of occurrences in which he bore a conspicuous part. Their narrations show no traces of care or labour, no pains to put things together in a way to assist the reader to form, I say not a consistent idea of Jesus, but so much as any idea of him at all. They seem to be possessed with only one very plain and natural purpose--a simple relation of the things they had seen and heard, as they appeared to them. The reader may find a sufficient exemplification of
* “ To analyze the characters of others, especially of those whom we love, is not a common or natural employment of men at any time. We are not anxious unerringly to understand the constitution of the minds of those who have soothed, who have cheered, who have supported us; with whom we have been long and daily pleased and delighted. The affections are their own justification. The Light of Love in our hearts is a satisfactory evidence that there is a body of worth in the minds of our friends or kindred, whence that light has proceeded."-Wordsworth, Essay on Epitaphs.