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THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST.
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 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
* "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.
THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST.
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 these remarks, in the instances which I have already adduced in another connexion. Still one case occurs to me so strikingly in point that I must mention it here.
Once, as we read, a young man, of a very winning appearance, came and knelt before Jesus, saying, "Good master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life!" He is rebuffed with the reply, "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, God." Again, when a woman, with an amiable sensibility, broke forth in blessing the mother of Jesus, his language is, "Yea, rather blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it." Now these instances would seem to imply in Jesus an extreme sensitiveness to any disposition on the part of those around him, to magnify him personally. And yet, when Mary came and poured that costly ointment upon him, an act whereby she expressed the greatest personal reverence, he upheld the propriety of the apparent waste, and paid no respect to the very plausible suggestion-"Why was not this ointment sold, and given to the poor ?" A consideration of the respective circumstances of the three occasions alluded to will satisfy us, that the language of Jesus, on each occasion, was expressive of, and consistent with, a healthy sensibility of mind. We shall recur to these passages of his life more particularly hereafter. In the meanwhile it is interesting to observe, that for all that appears in the letter of the narratives, there is a downright inconsistency. Looking only at what they ex
THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST.
pressly mention, we scarcely recognise the same individual in him who so willingly received the costly offering of Mary's reverence, and yet so promptly rejected the respectful address of the young ruler at one time, and at another, sought so instinctively to give a different direction to the sensibility of the female who poured out her benedictions upon his mother. Here is most impressive evidence, to my mind, that the writers of his history were wholly unconscious of any attempt to portray his moral features, or to communicate an individual idea of him. They are entirely occupied with the facts, the particulars that had passed before their eyes, and they leave all conclusions and inferences to take care of themselves.
Now this, I say, is the great and all-satisfying miracle-that from histories of this description we are able to form in our minds a distinct and consistent conception of an individual, such as the world has never seen before nor since. If, indeed, instead of being what they are, the Four Gospels were careful and laboured descriptions of Jesus Christ, profound critical analysis of his moral traits, even in this case I should be at a loss to understand how so grand a moral idea could ever have been suggested to the human mind but by reality. In its reality I should find the most obvious and sufficient cause of its existence. But as it is, it is immeasurably more surprising that from such books as those of the New Testament, for the most part the merest record of particulars briefly told, we should come at a result so novel, sublime, and yet so perfectly natural. Thinking only, as it appears, of relating what they had seen and heard, with such faculties and opportunities as Providence had granted them, the authors of these histories have furnished us, without appearing to know it, with the means of forming an
THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST.
idea of individual character, the most harmonious and the most kindling,—an idea that appeals to our best sentiments, animates our noblest springs of action, and transfigures our whole nature, through the veneration it commands, the imitation which it urges us to attempt. Surely an idea so generous in its influence, possessing so practical a power, so accordant with the highest nature of man, must be founded in reality. A mere fiction, the offspring of ignorant delusion or selfish cunning, never could have such an effect. Otherwise, all distinctions between the true and the false are broken down and obliterated.
The character of Christ, as I have already remarked, has as yet been very imperfectly understood. It would almost seem to require another Messiah to do justice to the first. It is not for this age, far less for this feeble pen, adequately to portray his pure spiritual glory. That I approach this subject, therefore, with a diffidence almost amounting to despair, I pray the reader to believe. Happy shall I be, if to a single mind I can communicate one quickening impression, impart one inspiring glimpse of Him, in whom are hid treasures of life, and truth, and good. If on any occasion it is appropriate to invoke the inspiration of a higher power, if my heart ever heaves with unuttered prayers for light and grace,-for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, it is when I approach this theme with a desire to depict its glories. What eye, dimmed by mortality, shall behold Jesus Christ as he is!
In the foregoing pages, my principal aim has been to illustrate the style and spirit of the New Testament historians. But in fulfilling this purpose it is impossible, even were it desirable, to speak of the character of the
FIRST PART, CONCLUDED.
writers without remarking also, more or less at length, upon the character of their subject. They naturally illustrate each other. Thus far I have kept this last topic, secondary and incidental. I shall now reverse the relation, making the life and character of Jesus, the principal theme, and illustrating the style of his biographers only incidentally. Thus the present work divides itself into Two Parts, the first of which is terminated here.