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PART III.

THE TOTALITY OF HIS MANIFESTATION BEFORE THE WORLD.

True Man.—Peculiar Susceptibility.—Sufferings and Provocations.—Unconquerable Patience.—Absolute spiritual Perfection.—Simplicity and Freshness.—Uniform Perfection.—Jesus a Manifestation, not an Effort.—A pure Original, and not an Imitation.—Alone in History.

CHRIST’S original and constant oneness with God prepares us to expect in him, an extraordinary elevation and purity of character. His mysterious consciousness, also, is the proof of moral greatness which never belonged to. man. But in addition to these, there is a proof of his spiritual individuality, which comes home more directly to the consciences and hearts of men, and is fitted to move them more powerfully. It is found in his life, as a whole, in the entire unfolding of his character before the world from first to last.

His identification with universal humanity can not fail to be recognized at once. He belonged to no privileged class, and as an inhabitant of the world, he enjoyed no protection or advantage of any kind which was not common to all other human 217beings. Real moral excellence and holy force of character are admirable, whatever may have been the history of their production; but they are certainly less impressive when peculiar advantages have been enjoyed for their cultivation, and when peculiar measures have been adopted for their acquisition. If a man withdraw himself from the duties, trials, and snares of the world, retire to solitude, and devote his life to the pursuit of virtue, it is felt, however elevated his character may become, that the methods to which he has resorted are impossible to men in general, and indeed are at variance with the constitution of things which God has ordained. Even the example of an individual in the higher walks of society, or belonging to some privileged order, or in any other way placed in circumstances more than usually favorable to mental and spiritual development, protected against hinderances and evils which beset other men, and possessed of encouragements and helps which they can not reach, can never act effectively and permanently on the world.

But Jesus Christ was man in the wide sense of that term, and was placed altogether in the ordinary circumstances which attend the lot of humanity on earth. He belonged to the masses and was brought up with them, unprivileged and undistinguished. His associations, all his outward relationships, his speech and his dress, were of the same 218kind with theirs; so that there was every natural ground of sympathy between them and him. We read of his weariness, hunger, and thirst—of his tears and his groans—of his friendship with his disciples, and with John in particular—with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary; we read of him weeping at the grave of his friend; we read of his love to little children, taking them in his arms and blessing them. Whatever else he was, he was man, a true man, and his was a true and warm human heart. No reader of his life can doubt that he was a sharer to the full in the common circumstances, occupations, susceptibilities, trials, and wants of universal humanity.

Thus conditioned, Jesus had to encounter a difficulty of overwhelming force, altogether peculiar to himself and arising out of the constitution of his soul. In his own idea, whether true or false it matters not, he was born to a Godlike work. A. mysterious purpose lay in his mind; it was to redeem and reclaim a world, to recover man to God and to immortal perfection. This was the passion of his heart, and the very nature of this passion, this purpose would necessarily render him more keenly susceptible and more dependent on grateful appreciation. But he was unappreciated and unsupported. Even his disciples, instead of fortifying him by their enlightened sympathy, vexed him with their low and earthly thoughts, and without 219intending of even knowing it, they often obstructed instead of helping him. This was not all. He encountered designed resistance and unrelenting and cruel persecution. He never injured a single being, in his heart lay only intense love, but it was basely requited. His actions were decried, his motives suspected, his character maligned, his spirit, too unselfish and pure for that age, misconstrued and misunderstood. Because he was holy and denounced all evil, the workers of evil conspired against him, and moved an entire people in their wickedness and blindness to put him to death. The forms of justice were violated, the name of religion was prostituted, and he was surrendered to the unrestrained revenge and power of his enemies. But even then, he was absolutely unmoved in the deep love of his heart, and in all his gracious thoughts of man and for man’s salvation. Never, amid cruel provocation and persecution, was his soul excited to anger. Once in the narrative of his life, the word anger is connected with his name—“he looked round upon them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” But the passage itself sufficiently proves that it is not anger which is meant, but strong emotion, indignation perhaps, or amazement; for the same persons could not possibly be the objects of grief and of human anger at the same time. No; of one being in human form, but of one only, it can be said that he never spoke an angry 220or unkind Word, and never indulged for a moment an angry or unkind feeling. Ingratitude, injustice, hatred, pierced his soul; but his forgivingness, patience, meekness, and measureless love, were never disturbed. He bore in silence “the contradiction of sinners against himself,” “he was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross;” “when he was reviled he reviled not again, when he suffered he threatened not, but committed himself to Him who judgeth righteously.” “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” was the prayer with which he died, and it breathes the spirit which pervaded his whole life.114114   The Rev. T. H. Horne, in his “Introduction to the Study of the Scriptures,” vol. i. p. 422, puts into English a magnificent eulogy of the character of Jesus, by J. J. Rousseau. The piece, in itself, is surpassingly beautiful and eloquent, but considering who its author was, it is beyond measure astonishing. The original passage will be found in the “Emile, on de l’Education,” liv. 4. Œuvres, tom. ii. p. 91, 92.—Frankfort, 1762.

Was ever man like this? Was such a manifestation of a human soul ever even imagined? Certainly never, except in this instance, was such a manifestation described.

Greatness, in the sense which most commends itself to many minds, can not be claimed for Jesus. His name is not associated with the philosophy, the literature, or the science of the world. He occupied a position far above them. The good sense and the good taste of candid men will pronounce 221unhesitatingly, that formal connection with any or all of them would have degraded, and not exalted. him. It is not that they are not unspeakably important to the world, and it is not that he, or the religion which he founded, in its principles or its spirit, was hostile to them. But he was personally apart from them, and his greatness belonged to quite another sphere—one infinitely higher. We have shown that transcendent opulence, and power, and grandeur of soul were his; we have shown that he dealt as a master with things which the greatest of men thought it their highest office, even distantly, to approach. Unknown to philosophy, literature, and science, in him shone a light which they never kindled, and in him were the universal principles of all beauty and all truth.

The difficulty which we chiefly feel in dealing with the character of Christ, as it unfolded itself before men, arises from its absolute perfection. On this very account, it is the less fitted to arrest observation. A single excellence unusually developed, though in the neighborhood of great faults, is instantly and universally attractive. Perfect symmetry, on the other hand, does not startle, and is hidden from common and casual observers. But it is this which belongs emphatically to the Christ of the Gospels;, and we distinguish in him at each moment that precise manifestation, which is most natural and most right. It is wonderful, that the 222unpretending and brief annals of his life, by four different hands, have not failed in this respect, have not failed in any part of the delineation, or in a single touch or tint: the more wonderful it is, since the character was utterly unlike what the writers could have imagined, by the aid either of experience or of history.

In human beings, there never is an approach to sustained, proportioned, and universal goodness. The manifestation in one direction is so high as to be unnatural, while in another direction, it falls perhaps below the standard of our conceptions. This wondrous Person always is, and acts up to the idea of perfect humanity—never unnaturally elevated so as to be out of fellowship with men, and never below the highest human excellence, conceivable in the particular circumstances at the time. If men possess a virtue in an unusual degree, the probability is, that they will be found to exhibit a defect or fault in the opposite direction. The virtue itself shall pass into a fault, and shall occasion the injury or the neglect of other qualities equally essential. A man is remarkable for sagacity and decision, but he shall be coldly unsusceptible; or he is tender and ardent, but he shall be wanting in resolution and in judgment. He is remarkable for dignity of deportment, but he shall be reserved and proud; or he is communicative and accessible, but he shall be wanting in becoming self-respect. 223The high development of the intellect is rarely combined with the due cultivation of the affections, and the cultivation of the affections is rarely combined with full development and force of intellect. Jesus Christ possessed the tenderest heart, overflowing with generous and warm feelings, but, at the same time, his wisdom was profound, and his decision of character was invincible. He was accessible to all without exception, and no circle of exclusiveness was at any time drawn around him in order to guard his presence; but he was always self-possessed, and self-sustained, and his dignity was commanding.. Intellectually and morally, socially and personally, in relation to his kindred or his disciples, to the followers or the enemies of his ministry, he always rises up to the highest idea that can be formed of perfect man. And then, there is thrown over all his intercourse with men, the charm of freshness and genuine simplicity. Nothing is artificial, nothing assumed, nothing forced; but we behold the natural, honest, free development of a true soul. He is never trying to impress, never laboring to sustain a character. He is not aiming to seem, but he. seems what he really is—no more, no less, no other. Nor does this Being come before us only on a few special occasions, carefully selected, in order to exhibit conspicuously the best aspects of his character. We behold him in every conceivable variety of positions, mingling 224with all sorts of persons, and with all kinds of events; we follow the steps of his public life, and we watch his most unsuspecting and retired moments; we see him in the midst of thousands, or with his disciples, or with a single individual; we see him in the capital of his country, or in one of its remote villages, in the temple and the synagogue, or in the desert, or in the streets; we see him with the rich and with the poor, the prosperous and the afflicted, the good and the bad, with his private friends and with his enemies and murderers; and we behold him at last in circumstances the most overwhelming which it is possible to conceive, deserted, betrayed, falsely accused, unrighteously condemned, nailed to a cross! But wherever he is, and however placed, in the ordinary circumstances of his daily life, or at the last supper, or in Gethsemane, or in the judgment hall, or on Calvary, he is the same meek, pure, wise, god-like Being.

It must be most distinctly noted, that the character of Jesus was a manifestation not an effort. Men rise to spiritual excellence; but it is from the imperfections and errors of first efforts, it is after repeated failures, and as the result of a long and hard struggle with evil; and whatever triumph be achieved, the struggle, not unattended with frequent defeat, is prolonged to the last. This is the unqualified testimony of individual experience and of universal observation. But, in the case of Jesus 225Christ, there were no indications of struggle or even of effort, and not a single failure or defeat. His soul was deeply moved by the darkness and the evil around him; but he was personally untainted with either. We behold the gradual unfolding of an inward power, which did not need to contend, but meekly and at once put aside whatever resistance was offered to it. By the words and the acts of his life, Jesus rebuked all that was ungodly, impure, and false among men; but invariably it was as one who himself was innocent of sin, and who was sent to renovate and bless the world. His life was a triumph from the first—the manifestation of a soul that stood invincible in its native spiritual force.

The character of Jesus, besides, was a pure original, not an imitation. The model existed not, and had never existed, from which it could have been copied. There is no record, in the writings of all nations and of all times, of a life for which absolute perfection is claimed from its beginning to its close. But the character of Christ drawn in the Gospels, though undesignedly on the part of the writers, is human perfection, in which we can discover no defect, and which we can imagine nothing beyond. Nor is it the concentration in a single life of attributes which, though they never all existed in combination before, had all existed separately, in different proportions, in other lives and other times. 226There are single elements of character and combinations of elements here, which are perfectly new; appreciated and admired, having been once disclosed, but no trace of which had before appeared. The entire personality, as it rose up before the world, was a fresh living original—a stream from its native fountain, not the accumulation of many tributary waters.

The suspicion is very groundless that that manifestation which is delineated with great artlessness in the Gospels, was not real, but ideal—a creation of the writers’ own minds, not a simple account of what they had actually witnessed. We need only refer to the intellectual and moral condition of Judea, with its known principles, habits, and tastes, to the position and character of the evangelists, and then to the representation itself which they have executed, in order to show convincingly that such a suspicion is the most groundless which can be imagined. That country and these men could never have conceived or described such ideal spiritual excellence, as that which they have attached as a reality to the person of Jesus; least of all was it possible, that this idea could have been connected with the name and the office of the promised Messiah. This was not their idea at all, especially in this connection. In several most important respects, it was exactly the opposite of their idea; and by no possibility could it have originated merely 227in their minds. Such a character as that of Jesus, they were not the persons to have ever imagined; and that it has been delineated by them, is the unassailable proof that it was actually seen.

Never passed before the imagination of man, and never but once alighted on this earth so heavenly a vision. Once, in all human history, we meet a being who never did an injury, and never resented one done to him, never uttered an untruth, never practiced a deception, and never lost an opportunity of doing good, generous in the midst of the selfish, upright in the midst of the dishonest, pure in the midst of the sensual, and wise far above the wisest of earth’s sages and prophets, loving and gentle, yet immovably resolute, and whose illimitable meekness and patience never once forsook him in a vexatious, ungrateful, and cruel world.

If the New Testament had contained only the character of Jesus, as it unfolded itself in his intercourse with men, it had deserved a place above all human productions, it had been a mine of spiritual wealth, and a fountain of holy influence unknown to every other region, and to all the ages of time.

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