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III.—The Theory of Enthusiasm or Self-deception.

The hypothesis of enthusiasm or self-deception, though less disreputable, is equally unreasonable, in view of the uniform clearness, calmness, self-possession, humility, dignity, and patience of Christ,—qualities the very opposite of those which characterize an enthusiast. We might imagine a Jew of that age to have fancied himself the Messiah and the Son of God; but instead of opposing all the popular notions, and discouraging all the temporal hopes, of his countrymen, he would, like Barcokeba of a later period, have headed a rebellion against the hated tyranny of the Romans, and endeavored to establish a temporal kingdom. Enthusiasm, which in this case 139must have bordered on madness itself, instead of calmly and patiently bearing the malignant opposition of the leaders of the nation, would have broken out in violent passion and precipitate action.

Christ’s intellect is truly marvelous. He never erred in his judgment of men and things; he was never deceived by appearances; he penetrated through the surface, and always went straight to the heart and marrow; he never asked a question which was not perfectly appropriate; he never gave an answer which was not fully to the point, or which could be better conceived and expressed. How often did he silence his cavilers, the shrewd and cunning priests and scribes, by a short sentence which hit the nail on the head, or struck like lightning into their conscience, or wisely evaded the trap laid for him! When the Pharisees and Herodians, with the malicious intention to entangle him into their political party quarrels, asked him whether it was lawful to pay taxes to 140the Roman government, he, perceiving their wickedness, called for a penny with the superscription of the Roman emperor, and said: “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,”—a word which settles, in, principle, the whole vexed question between Church and State, and which may be called the wisest answer ever given by any man. When the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, laid before him a perplexing question concerning the marriage relation in the future state, he solved the difficulty by removing all foundation for it; and then, appealing to the very part of the Old Testament which they professed to believe to the exclusion of the later parts of the canon, he asked them: “Have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” By this short comment he opened the profound meaning of this title of God, 141which no one had seen in it before, but which, being once brought to light, was so clear and transparent that even the Sadducees were silenced, and the multitude astonished. And when the sanctimonious hypocrites, in the case of the adulterous woman, hoped to involve him in a contradiction with the rigor of the law, he brought the matter home to their own conscience by saying: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her;” and they, “being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last.” Christ never lost the balance of mind under excitement, nor the clearness of vision under embarrassment; he never violated the most perfect good taste in any of his sayings.

Is such an intellect—clear as the sky, bracing as the mountain air, sharp and penetrating as a sword, thoroughly healthy and vigorous, always ready and always self-possessed—liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning his own character and mission? Preposterous imagination!

142

Let us hear the most eminent Unitarian divine on this hypothesis:—

“The charge,” says Dr. Channing, “of an extravagant, self-deluding enthusiasm is the last to be fastened on Jesus. Where can we find the traces of it in his history? Do we detect them in the calm authority of his precepts; in the mild, practical, and beneficent spirit of his religion; in the unlabored simplicity of the language with which he unfolds his high powers and the sublime truths of religion; or in the good sense, the knowledge of human nature, which he always discovers in his estimate and treatment of the different classes of men with whom he acted? Do we discover this enthusiasm in the singular fact, that whilst he claimed power in the future world, and always turned men’s minds to heaven, he never indulged his own imagination, or stimulated that of his disciples, by giving vivid pictures, or any minute description, of that unseen state? The truth is, that, remarkable as was the character of Jesus, 143it was distinguished by nothing more than by calmness and self-possession. This trait pervades his other excellences. How calm was his piety! Point me; if you can, to one vehement, passionate expression of his religious feelings. Does the Lord’s Prayer breathe a feverish enthusiasm? . . . . His benevolence, too, though singularly earnest and deep, was composed and serene. He never lost the possession of himself in his sympathy with others; was never hurried into the impatient and rash enterprises of an enthusiastic philanthropy; but did good with the tranquillity and constancy which mark the providence of God.”74

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