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THE FORMS OF HIS CONSCIOUSNESS.
Nature of Consciousness.—Its Universality.—Value of its Testimony.—Christ’s Consciousness.—Highest Development.—Expressed to the last.—Interpretation of it.—Proof of the Validity of His Claims.
THERE is an inward sense, the counterpart of the senses of the body. These reveal the external, this the internal world. The eye and the ear assure us respecting the existence of material objects; consciousness assures us respecting the actual facts within our minds, our experiences, motives, thoughts, and aims at every movement. In this, all mental phenomena is realized; by these all material phenomena are perceived. Consciousness belongs to men universally; it is one of the acknowledged attributes of the human soul, and not the least wonderful. Every human being is distinctly conscious of what is passing in his mind at any moment, of the evil and the good in him, his insincerity or sincerity. It is one of the mysteries which are, nevertheless, undoubted facts of our 204spiritual constitution. In spite of what may be thought by others, whether unfavorable or favorable; in spite of what a man himself may assert and cause to be believed respecting him; in spite of what he wishes to believe, and even sometimes persuades himself he does believe, deep under all this there lies a clear sense of what is really within him at the moment, and to a man himself this testimony is irresistible. The evidence of consciousness to the individual mind is to the full as decisive as the evidence of the external senses, in their peculiar sphere. A thousand arguments and a thousand difficulties are of no weight in the face of what we see and hear; and a thousand arguments and a thousand difficulties can in no degree disturb the clear testimony of the inward sense. There is, in fact, nothing which can bear comparison with this in directness and in strength. That of which a human soul is distinctly conscious as a present fact within it, is of all things most indubitable, because, otherwise, its original constitution and the Former of that constitution would be impeached. If either the outward sense or this inward sense could not be trusted in their proper sphere, there could be nothing certainly true in the universe; the very foundations of all certitude and of all confidence would be overturned. The reality of that inner fact of which a human soul is perfectly conscious, 205is identified with the existence, the veracity, the sincerity, and the goodness of God.
The evidence of consciousness is available only in a very limited degree, beyond a man himself. Generally the inward testimony is anxiously concealed from other men; through mere carelessness it may be misunderstood, or it may be designedly mutilated and falsified. But if a faithful report of it could be obtained—if we were able, by satisfactory evidence, to ascertain beyond doubt that what was said to be a positive consciousness was really such, this testimony would be as convincing and as valid to others as to the man himself, and we should reach a species of proof than which none can be higher or stronger. The Gospels profess to report, in Christ’s own words, the voice of his soul to himself, and it is this report which must now be impartially examined; Christ’s own statements respecting what he himself found and felt in his nature.
This Being, then, never uttered a word to man or to God which indicated the sense of a single defect in his whole life. The Old and New Testaments record the lives of many godly and honored men—Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Ezekiel, John, Peter, Paul, and others; but they all confess faults and sins, and repent and throw themselves on the mercy of God. Religious biography leaves on the mind an impression of the same character, 206only more deeply marked. Without exception, the lives of men who feared and loved God, and who in intention and effect were workers for him and for their race, exhibit inconsistencies and imperfections. Such men utter humiliating confessions, and severe self-reproaches; and we are not surprised that they do; it would create astonishment if they did not. The range of general biography includes the illustrious men of all nations, and of all times—men distinguished for their moral qualities, their intellectual powers, their acquirements in all the various branches of knowledge, the positions of influence to which they have risen, and the reputation they have won, and which, perhaps, has lived through a succession of ages. It includes the originators of useful and sagacious schemes, the conductors of movements which have conferred extensive and lasting benefit on the world. It includes all the great benefactors of mankind, the instructors, examples, and guides of their race. Now we assert, without fear of contradiction, that in each individual, within this almost limitless range, there is found much that is wrong in the sight of God and men, many a deficiency, many a weakness, many a false step, many a positive sin. W hat is equally to our purpose, not one of all this vast number ever professes to be free from errors and sins, or even seeks to be thought so.207
But Jesus Christ uniformly expressed a distinct sense of faultlessness and perfection. He never once reproached himself, or regretted any thing he had ever done or said. He never uttered a word, to indicate that he bad ever taken a wrong step, or neglected a single opportunity, or that any thing could have been done or said more or better than he had done and said. Here is a being who was always calmly, perfectly conscious of faultlessness. “I do always those things which please the Father.”9090 John, viii. 29. “Which of you convicteth me of sin?”9191 Ib. viii. 46. “If I say the truth why do you then not believe?”9292 Ib. viii. 46. “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.”9393 Ib. xiv. 30.
There is a still more mysterious utterance of Christ’s inward nature. We find him avowing the most extraordinary sense, not merely of personal perfection, but of official greatness. “I am not alone, for the Father is with me.”9494 Ib. xvi. 32. “I and my Father are one.”9595 Ib. x. 30. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”9696 Ib. v. 17. “He that sent me is with me; the Father hath not left me alone.”9797 Ib. viii. 29. “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish his work.”9898 Ib. iv. 34. We do not profess to exhibit the full meaning of these holy texts: but it can not be disputed that they convey this at least, a conviction 208on the part of Jesus that he was at one with the Father, in some high and merciful enterprise. To his own consciousness it was certain that he was obeying not his own will only, but the will of the Father; that he was unfolding not his own thoughts only, but the thoughts of the Father, and that he was carrying on, not a work of his own merely, but the work of the Father. And on this inward sense of relation to God there was built up a conviction of the strict individuality, the solitary grandeur of his mission. “I am the bread of life.”9999 John, vi. 35. “I am the light of the world.”100100 Ib. viii. 12. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”101101 Ib. xiv. 6. “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine; and my sheep hear my voice, and they follow me, but a stranger will they not follow.”102102 Ib. x. 14, 4, 5. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”103103 Ib. x. 10. “All things are delivered to me of my Father, and no man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son shall reveal him.”104104 Matthew, xii. 27. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.”105105 John, viii. 56. “Many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them, and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”106106 Luke, x. 24. “The queen of 209the South shall rise up in judgment with the men of this generation, and shall condemn them for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh shall rise up in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonas, and behold a greater than Jonas is here.”107107 Luke, xi. 31, 32.
But more mysterious, more awful still, were the words in which Jesus sometimes pronounced himself. On several separate occasions he employed in the hearing of men, language which human lips could not have uttered without impiety. “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” “The Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins.”108108 Matt. ix. 2. 6. “The hour is coming when the dead shall hear the voice of .the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.”109109 John, v. 25. “When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all nations.”110110 Math xxv. 32. The deep sense of his mysterious greatness which these passages indicate, was expressed by Jesus from the first, and it was never lost or even impaired. At the last, when darkness gathered around him, he shrank not from the avowal. Immediately before his crucifixion, he said to the judge who condemned him, “Thou couldst have 210had no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.”111111 John, xix. 11. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into this world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world then would my servants fight that I should not be delivered unto the Jews, but now is my kingdom not from hence.”112112 Ib. xviii 36, 37. See Channing’s Sermon, p. 428. From first to last, in his humiliation and in his sufferings, and at his dying hour, just as in the outset of his career and the freshness of his public fame, this was the same great and dread Being.
The frequent utterance of a mysterious and distinctive consciousness, on the part of Jesus, can not be disputed. To say nothing of the inspiration of the New Testament; unless it be utterly fabulous and false, if even in the most loose sense it be authentic, this is certain, that Jesus often expressed without reserve a sense of personal faultlessness and perfection; and what is more, a sense of the incomparable dignity and sacredness of his official position. In his own conception, he stood between man and God, in a crisis of the world’s history which had no parallel. He was alone in the ages, bearing a burden for which no former age was ripe, and by which no subsequent age was to be oppressed. He was doing a work in which he could have no partner; 211he was alone in responsibility, in power, and in rank!
Such, supposing the Christian record to be of the smallest historical value, is the indubitable fact. Can it be accounted for—can any important con-elusions be founded upon it—what does it really involve?
1. Perhaps some of Christ’s injudicious and overzealous followers suggested to his mind the pretensions which he avowed. This is not conceivable: for the consciousness which he expressed comprehended far more than any of them believed, or even understood at the time, much as they honored and loved him.
2. Perhaps the language of Christ originated in mere vanity and conceit. It must have been consummate, unparalleled vanity, if it was vanity at all; but this is plainly incompatible with the sobriety and solidity of his deportment. Besides, the idea expressed was too lofty to have had such a despicable origin; it was too spiritual, and too closely connected with God, with religion, with the unseen world; unless, indeed, he had been utterly reckless and profane.
3. Perhaps it originated in a deep-laid scheme of ambition. The prompt answer to this suggestion is that such was not Christ’s character at all. He was no crafty and designing hierophant or demagogue. His own declaration was simply true, and 212was verified by his entire course, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” Interested motives, in any form, never once indicated their presence in him by a single token during his whole life.
4. Perhaps it originated in enthusiasm.113113 Channing, p. 427. But only an enthusiasm amounting to raving insanity could have uttered itself, in such language as his. If its origin was enthusiasm at all, it must have been the very insanity of enthusiasm, and his grave and meek life decisively forbids this supposition. There was nothing, either in his sayings or his doings incoherent, contradictory, wild. Both manifested entire self-possession and the calmest wisdom.
5, Perhaps it originated in mere mistake. With all his excellence, intellectual and moral, was not Jesus Christ nevertheless singularly mistaken on one point? Perhaps he fancied himself greater and better than he really was. Without the slightest intention to deceive, with entire sincerity and honesty, he uttered what he thought was the voice of his consciousness; but it was a mere fancy, a serious, but not altogether unlikely, mistake. It occurs to us to ask in this connection, was Jesus Christ also mistaken, when he uttered in the ears of men truths, which the wisest and best souls ever sent into this world before had never imagined? Was he also 213mistaken, when he bestowed on mankind a body of living, spiritual truth, which all the systems taken together, before known, do not approach, and to which nothing worthy to be named has since been added? In such a matter as this, was he mistaken, who had revealed the deepest secrets of the nature of God, or the human soul, and of the future state? Was he unable to report faithfully a thing so near at hand as the voice of his own consciousness, and in the stead of that voice, did he publish a groundless conceit to the world? These things do not comport; it is impossible that they should be both true of the same individual. The ground neither of injudicious foreign influence, nor of vanity, nor of deep-laid ambition, nor of enthusiasm, nor of honest mistake, can be taken in this case. The wickedness or weakness, or both, which these grounds would involve are utterly irreconcilable with the acknowledged character of Jesus; and none of the principles which are found to account for similar phenomena in the case of other historical personages, nor all of these principles together, are adequate or applicable in his case. But whether unexplained or explained, the fact remains, that he repeatedly expressed a sense of personal perfection and of extraordinary relation to God. He found and felt this as a fact of his inward nature; he uttered it as a distinct consciousness. A conviction is founded on evidence, and is reached by a process 214of reasoning. The foundation may be unsound, the reasoning may be false. and the conviction may be an error; but a consciousness is an immediate and independent act, like seeing by the eye, or hearing by the ear. It is its own evidence, and none can be more satisfying, more sure. By the very constitution of the soul, this is the highest proof possible of the reality of that which it presents.
We can come only to one conclusion, that the words of Jesus were a faithful and genuine expression of his consciousness—a consciousness which creates an impassable distinction between him and all men. In that true voice of his soul, there is the strongest evidence of indubitable reality. He spoke what he felt, and he felt what he truly was. His nature was conscious of the profound mystery which belonged to it, and he simply uttered this consciousness, and no apparent inconsistency between what he claimed and what he seemed to be, troubled him for a moment.
A young man who had not long left the carpenter’s shop, who at the moment he spoke was in a condition of poverty, and was associated only with those who were obscure and poor like himself, calmly declared his sense of perfect faultlessness and of extraordinary relation to God. Is it possible, that any candid mind can reflect on the plain facts of this history, and on the principles which 215lie beneath them, on the seeming of this marvelous life, and on the reality which the seeming does but vail—ay, often unvail—and not be filled involuntarily with wonder and with awe?216
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