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THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS.
importance to forms, to external rites, disregarding the moral requisitions of the Law, cherishing without restraint the most selfish and corrupt passions. Every thing ascribed to them, accords with this representation. At one time they are on the watch to see whether Jesus would perform a cure on the Sabbath. Zealous for the sacredness of that day, they had no hearts for a work of mercy. At another they pronounced him a Sabbath-breaker, because on that day he had not only given sight to a man born blind, but had done it in disregard of that tradition, which regarded it as a profanation of the Sabbath to use any medicaments on that day, even so much as to put saliva on the eyes. Again they deem it a serious charge against the disciples of Jesus that he did not require them to observe frequent fasts, and that, regardless of the danger of uncleanness, they did not scrupulously wash their hands before eating. When they carried Jesus before the Roman magistrate, thirsting for his blood, the Pharisees refused to enter the Gentile Hall of judgment, lest they should contract ceremonial pollution and be unfitted for the observance of the Passover. And once more, they could clamour for the blood of the innocent, but they could not endure that the bodies of the crucified should remain upon the crosses, exposed to public view, defiling the Sabbath and the Festival. All these things are related briefly and incidentally, without any effort to point out their agreement, nay, without any consciousness that this agreement is at all worthy of note.
So also the words and feelings attributed to that little band, the personal followers of Jesus, harmonise wonderfully, but most naturally with one another, with all that we know of human nature, and with the pro
THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS.
bable circumstances of the case. They were evidently men possessing no small degree of ingenuousness. Their hearts were open to the spiritual power and beauty of the instructions and character of Jesus. He impressed and won their affections. Still they shared in the universal expectation of the times. And while they venerated and loved him, they still clung to him with mixed motives, in part with worldly views and hopes. At quite an early period, upon being interrogated by him as to what they supposed him to be, they avowed through Peter, that they believed him to be the Messiah. To have come so early to such a conclusion manifested great openness of mind. It showed how much they had been impressed by the moral wisdom he had uttered, the deeds of mercy he had wrought. By these they were convinced, although he had neither declared himself to be the Messiah, nor had he done any thing conformable to their idea of that expected Deliverer, nor did his external appearance present any thing of the magnificence which they had identified with that illustrious personage. Still they did not relinquish the darling hope of a splendid kingdom. They are continually betraying the tenacity with which they cling to it. Once they asked their master, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?"-a general question apparently. But when we observe that a little while before they were quarrelling among themselves, who among them should be the first in the approaching empire,-when we consider the reply of Jesus, who beckoned a little child to him, and told them they could never so much as enter the heavenly kingdom (a moral kingdom) until they gave up all their prepossessions and became as docile in his hands as that little child,-we perceive that, although they couched their question in general terms, their object was to ascertain who among themselves
THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS.
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 ?"
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
THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST.
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 it is so. On this very account, because it is so plainly undesigned, it is affecting and decisive. That the Gospel histories admit of inferences so accordant with nature, so consistent one with another, is to my mind an irresistible sign of truth. It is a sign from heaven. To truth alone can such perfect harmony belong.
Of the unconscious consistency which is so distinguishing a feature of the New Testament narratives, there is one illustration, in comparison with which the instances already mentioned, striking as they are, sink
THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST.
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 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, fully developed in one individual. In his person, not only are conjoined in the profoundest harmony those remarkable qualities, which have been exhibited by dif ferent 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