Page images
PDF
EPUB

NOTE B.

to enlighten his hearers, we forget how unprepared they were for such instruction, what prejudices must have been overcome, what wrong associations broken, how much of inquiry-on their part, and of explanation on his, would have been necessary, how liable his language was to be misunderstood, and how fatal it would have been to the purpose of his mission thus to occupy their thoughts upon We forget what optopics unconnected with it. position he had to encounter, how all his words and actions were watched with malignant eyes, how often his enemies came proposing questions to try what he would say, that they might find opportunity to injure him.* We do not remember, that no error could be touched without affording some new occasion or pretence of hatred; and that whatever he spoke would be misunderstood, perverted, misrepresented, and made a ground for false inferences. We do not keep in mind the imperfect apprehensions of his disciples, of which we find continual notices in the Gospels, and the utter indocility of the great body of the Jews, which is equally apparent. We forget, that, after a ministry of unintermitted effort, he fell a sacrifice to the truths which he did teach. In asking why his instructions did not extend to other truths, and to the correction of errors not essential, we forget how difficult was his proper office, we forget by whom he was surrounded, we forget the reproach that was forced from his lips: "O unbelieving and per

* The Common Version says, "to tempt him."

verse race! how long shall I be with you? How long-must I bear with you?" It was not to men so little ready to receive his essential doctrines that any unnecessary instruction was to be addressed. We mistake altogether the state of the case, when, in reading the Gospels, we conceive of Christ as teaching with the same freedom of explanation, and with the same use of language, with which we may perhaps reasonably suppose that he would have taught a body of enlightened men, receiving his words with the entire deference with which we now regard them.

The wisdom and the self-restraint, for so it is to be considered, of our Saviour, in confining his teaching to the essential truths of religion, and the broad distinction which he thus made between these and all other doctrines, appear to me among the most striking proofs of the divinity of his mission. I cannot believe, that a merely human teacher would have conducted himself with such perfect wisdom; that he would never have attempted to use his authority, or have displayed his superior knowledge, in maintaining other truths than those which essentially concern the virtue and happiness of mankind; that he would have refrained from exposing or contradicting the errors of his opponents on any other subjects; that he would have succeeded in communicating to his disciples those principles which are the foundation of all religion and morality, without perplexing their minds by the discussion of any topics less important; and, at last, have left his doctrine a

monument for all future time, not like the works of some enlightened men, which perish with the errors they destroy, but remaining a universal code of instruction for mankind.

BUT there is another very different point of view, under which the subject we have been examining affords, I think, proof of the divine origin of Christianity. If the Gospels are an authentic account of what was done and said by Christ, no question can remain whether Christ were a teacher from God. But that they are so, we have evidence in the facts which have been brought to view.

When we compare the language of Christ respecting his future coming with the expectations expressed by his Apostles, we perceive that his language was misunderstood by them. He did not predict his visible return to earth to be the judge of men. There is nothing in his words which requires or justifies such an interpretation of them. It has appeared, I trust, that the figurative language which he used is to be understood in a very different sense.

But the Apostles, from various causes, were expecting such a return of their Master. Their words admit of no probable explanation except as referring to this anticipated event. What, then, follows as a correct inference from this comparison?

It follows, that the words relating to this subject, which are ascribed to Christ in the Gospels, were truly his words. They were not falsely ascribed to him. They were not imagined for him. They

were not conformed to the apprehensions of his followers. Had his followers fabricated or intentionally modified the words, they would have made their Master say what they themselves have said, in language as explicit as their own.

Here, then, we have evidence of the most unsuspicious kind, for it is clearly evidence which it was the purpose of no individual to furnish, that certain words recorded in the Gospels were uttered by Christ. The writers of these books did not in this case fabricate language expressive of their own opinions, and ascribe it to him. And if they did not in this case, concerning a subject on which they taught what he did not teach, we have no reason to suspect them of having, in any other case, intentionally ascribed to him words which he did not utter.

The words, then, ascribed to Christ in the Gospels are words of Christ. They have been reported by well-informed individuals, who had no intention of deceiving, and who did not even conform them to their own apprehension of their meaning. I will not pursue the inferences from these truths. I will only observe, that the proof of them, as we have seen, is, through the providence of God, bound up in the New Testament itself. An error of the Apostles proves the reality of their faith. In seeking to solve a difficulty, we discover unexpected evidence of the truth of Christianity. And I am persuaded, that, as the New Testament is better understood, as the false notions that have prevailed concerning it pass away, and it is made a sub

ject of enlightened investigation and philosophical study, new and irresistible proofs will appear of that fact, of which we can hardly estimate the full magnitude and interest, that Christ was a teacher from God.

In reference, indeed, to the very subject we have been examining, there is another consideration well deserving attention. We have seen what were the anticipations of the Apostles concerning the personal return of their Master to earth, and the approaching termination of the world. But in connection with these expectations, a remarkable phenomenon presents itself. We might have supposed, that the imaginations and feelings of the Apostles would have been seized upon and inflamed by the prospect of such events; that they would have continually placed them before the eyes of those whom they addressed, and have urged them upon the thoughts of men; that their exhortations and warnings would always have borne the impress of anticipations so extraordinary and so exciting. But this is not the case. may read far the greater part of what they have left us in writing, without discovering an intimation that they held such opinions. It is clear, that they did not insist upon the facts in question as of any considerable moment. They introduce the mention of them as accessory ideas in connection with the doctrine of immortality and retribution. Imagine any other body of individuals laboring with like earnestness and devotion for the reforma

We

« EelmineJätka »