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“ IS NOT THIS THE CHRIST?"
BY JOHN STYLES, D. D.
John iv. 29.—Come, see a man which told me all things that ever
I did: is not this the Christ?
Jesus Christ was the best teacher of his own religion. “Never man spake like this man;" he possessed all the intellectual and moral qualities which are required in an instructor,-perfect knowledge of the great subject he undertook to elucidate ;—God and his attributeseternity with its abysses—heaven, hell, and judgment, all were familiar to his mind. It was not possible for him to err himself, or to mislead others; for he came to bear witness of the truth, and of the truth alone. He was the light of the world, and in him was no darkness at all.
With this perfect knowledge of all that he had to teach, was united an equal acquaintance with human nature, and the various capacities, characters, and sentiments of his hearers. He knew what was in man; he saw the interior of every individual being that appeared
He had not only a clue to lead him into the recesses of every heart, but his knowledge of them all was intuitive and complete. Thus, he adapted the truths he taught, and the medium through which he conveyed them, to the mental faculties, the educational prejudices, and diversified habits of those whom he addressed. Nor was this all; he was not only the majestic teacher of moral and religious wisdom, but his benevolence extended to all ranks and classes of society. He was a divine philanthropist as well as an unrivalled oracle ; and that he might especially confer the unparalleled benefits of his knowledge upon the most numerous portion of mankind, he condesce.ided to occupy
in his presence.
their station, and to veil his glory in the garb of the common people, who heard him gladly,--a thing heretofore unknown in the records of philosophers and philosophy. Nor was this garb assumed as the mere covering of pride, to win distinction and to gain applause. He was even more humble than he seemed; he was not contented merely to wear the form of condescension; he was meek and lowly of HEART. Therefore, he was gentle when others were froward; he was patient and forbearing when those around him were slow to believe his doctrines, and eager to pervert them. He was not elated by success, nor depressed by indifference; opposition could not move him to anger, and when reviled he reviled not again, but returned blessing for cursing, and kindness for calumny. Even little children were the objects of his solicitude, and woman in her lowest grade of vice and wretchedness, found in his heart, blended with purity unsullied, the tenderness of heavenly charity, the melting sympathy of divine compassion. He was often wearied by exertion, and the superhuman sorrows he endured; but his works of mercy knew no cessation. Though worn down with fatigue and assailed by the cravings of nature, he could forget himself in his anxiety to save a soul from death, and was regardless of his own privations, so that he could excite and satisfy, even in the meanest of creatures, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness. How superior also was he to human prejudice; that bigotry which divided kindred nations, and armed the Jew against the Samaritan, and the Samaritan against the Jew,—an enmity the growth of ages, and which was constantly inflamed by local proximity and frequent aggression and retaliation, was a total stranger to his bosom. He came to seek and to save that which was lost; and whether the Samaritans were the descendants of Abraham, as they pretended, or were the children of Cuth, an uncovenanted heathen, which was probable, he does not stay to inquire, when he has an opportunity of snatching a brand from the burning, and conducting a prisoner of hope to the paradise of God.
This narrative is remarkable for its simplicity, and therefore, peculiarly interesting; but though simplicity is its great charm as a composition, it is infinitely more important, as it illustrates and confirms the observations which I have made on the character of our Saviour as a divine teacher. His object is to impart the knowledge of himself; to inspire confidence, and by his communication of truth as a spiritual influence, to change the character and destiny of the stranger that stands before him. His first effort is to disarm her heart of its prejudice, and this he does by asking a boon at her hands. She falters, and, with evident embarrassment, makes a vain, and mere
excuse, —"The well is deep,”—as if this were a barrier to her doing that for Jesus which she came to do for herself. The Saviour is neither repulsed nor offended; but by the most natural and simple allusion, unfolds to her the doctrine of immortality, and his own ability and willingness to give her, in return, of that water which should be in her an inexhaustible fountain, springing up into everlasting life. There was in his demeanour something which struck the humble individual with whom he conversed, and notwithstanding the external poverty in which he was shrouded, convinced her that he was a prophet; the awe which she felt in his presence, is revealed in the simple question, “ Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well?”.
He leaves her to infer his superiority, by the majesty and condescension with which he encourages her to trust in him as the hope and Saviour of Israel. His doctrine distils as the dew; and the once careless sinner feels its mild and inserting energy. But it is remarkable that our Lord accompanies his instructions by an evidence of his divine mission, which appealed to the conscience rather than to the senses of his auditor, and which was even more convincing than if he had, in her presence, restored sight to the blind, or had raised the dead : he“ told her all things that ever she did.” If in itself, simply considered, it was not sufficient to stand alone,—as a proof of his Messiahship, it was all that she required; it completely answered the end for which it was designed; it possessed the character of adaptation, and it was irresistible: and it is from this singular fact, so entirely out of the ordinary course of events, and so distinct from the doctrines which our Saviour taught, that I propose to derive the observations which will form the basis of my present discourse. In this day of rebuke and blasphemy, I trust they will not prove either unseasonable or unprofitable. If I succeed in establishing them, it will be manifest to every candid inquirer into the truth of the gospel, that we have not followed a cunningly devised fable ; but that, on the contrary, our religion, so much misrepresented and despised, is "the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
“ Is not this the Christ?" was an exclamation of surprise produced by the evidence with which Jesus of Nazareth was pleased, on this occasion, to accompany his claim to the office of the Messiah ; and it affords us the opportunity of remarking,
I. That Christianity is supported by all the different species of evidence which its importance demands, and of which its nature is susceptible.
It must be obvious to every one in the least degree conversant with these momentous subjects, that natural and revealed religion, though emanating from the same source, come to us through very different mediums; that in the one case the medium itself is an evidence of irresistible cogency; that in the other it is a prima facie difficulty amounting almost to an objection.
In behalf of natural religion, the Deity addresses us through all the symbols of his Being and Perfections which are furnished by the
In making known to us Christianity, he speaks to us only through the intervention of men, frail and imperfect, and of like passions with ourselves. It would be interesting to account for this difference of the divine procedure in the methods which he has been pleased to adopt in communicating to the world, through the distinct economies of nature and Christianity, the knowledge of himself. Both are equally worthy of his character; but the latter especially displays his wisdom, condescension, and mercy. This we can now only assume; and on this assumption, as regards Christianity, we shall endeavour to build a superstructure of evidence which will establish its divinity.
Christianity professes to be a divine system of faith and practice, revealed through the medium of human agency. Now a religion, so conveyed, ought to be clothed with evidence which will free it from all suspicion of being the mere work of artifice and delusion. Its character must rise far above the capacity of man, either to originate or support it: while it condescends to employ his instrumentality, it must be manifest that he is an instrument, AND NO MORE, under the guidance and control of a Power which is confessedly divine;-orit will be liable to the imputation of being the contrivance or invention of the inferior agency by which it is introduced and maintained. Hence it is necessary that, as a system of truths and doctrines, it should be distinguished by such a grandeur of conception--such an opulence of resources —such a perfection and harmony of all its parts — and such a universal adaptation, as a whole, to accomplish the great end which it proposes, as shall announce it to be the work of a mind infinitely superior to that of man. In addition to this, it is further necessary that it should be introduced by miracle and maintained by TESTIMONY ; that the miracles which accompany its introduction should be striking, public, and numerous ; and that the attestations which are to hand them down to future ages should be unequivocal, perfect in their kind, unimpaired by the succession of events, and invulnerable to every attack; attestations which must stand on the everlasting basis of moral evidence which time cannot weaken, and which is interwoven with the very constitution of human nature. And, my brethren, this three-fold claim, the advocates of the gospel, in the face of heaven and earth, are not ashamed to set up as the mighty bulwark of their faith : of this claim they will not abate an iota; they assume it, they can triumphantly uphold it, and they desire no more. Concede to the gospel divinity of contrivance, miraculous and moral attestation, and we are satisfied. As for those who are sceptical, when these positions are fairly established, they are not within the reach of evidence; they would not be persuaded, though one rose from the dead and challenged their belief. All that we ought to require for any system of religion that demands our eredence, is that it be TRUE that the evidence of this lies within the range of the human intellect when properly exerted in the labour of inquiry — that it has all the evidence of which the nature of the thing is susceptible — that the objections urged against it originate, for the most part, in sources totally irrespective of the proofs which it is both able and willing to adduce, and therefore have no power to invalidate them. We are sometimes met by unbelievers with the unreasonable demand- “ Perform miracles, as you allege the apostles did, and we will yield to your pretensions; or give us evidence which will force universal assent, and we will oppose you no longer.” We say that this demand is unreasonable : we affirm that miracles have been wrought, and our assertion is either true or false; if true, it is capable of proof; if false, of detection. We invite you to examine for yourselves a chain of varied and complicated evidence of which miracles are only the first link, and which ought to be far more conclusive to your minds than miracles alone, actually performed in your presence. As to evidence that would force conviction upon the indolent, the prejudiced, and the vicious, the attempt to adduce it would place the world under an entirely new system of moral government, incompatible with the very nature of man and the present constitution of things; and if this were not the case, would it be desirable ?
Is not the kind and degree of evidence which confirms the truth of the gospel more than sufficient to satisfy the sincere and humble inquirer, whose moral tendencies are favourable to the discoveries of truth and the enjoyments of piety? And as for persons whose characters are the reverse of this, what benefit could they morally derive from a system of evidence whose force lay in coercion instead of reason, and which would compel them, in spite of themselves, to admit the truth of a religion equally abhorrent to all their principles and passions. Besides, what evidence forces universal ef, or indeed forces any belief at all? Are there not atheists, and countless millions of idolaters in the world, as well as deists? And who that thinks rightly will affirm, that there is