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THE MORAL CHARACTER OF JESUS:
JOHN vii. 12. Some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but hs
deceiveth the people.
On the perfection of the moral character of Jesus, the hopes of his disciples must stand or fall. It therefore becomes necessary to read the history of his life, and endeavour to attain satisfaction on a subject of such infinito importance.
BENEVOLENCE, TRUTH, DEVOTION, and MAGNANIMITY, being generally esteemed the principal features in a complete human character; these shall direct us in our present inquiry.
1. BENEVOLENCE is a love to mankind, with a desire to promote their interest, under the many infirmities of human life. This accords with the dignity of our nature; and is founded upon the requisition of God's law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. A conviction of this truth dictated an heathen philosopher to say, was born, not for himself only, but for his friends.” Inn deed, the present state of man, loaded with evils, and exposed to numberless sorrows, requires the exercise of benevolence, charity, and kindness; a considerable share of which we have every reason to expect should be poso sessed by every man who assumes the teacher, and asserts his mission is from above. The least acquaintance with the history of Jesus of Nazareth will convince us, that his heart was made of tenderness, and that he went about perpetually doing good to his enemies, as well as to his friends. He was continually engaged in acts of pure benevolence; instructing the ignorant, and introducing them to the paths of bliss; explaining the nature of the law; unfolding the great principles of natural religion; collecting evidences from the Jewish records concerning the promised Messiah; and convincing the polluted hearts of men, of the necessity of a ransom in order to their everlasting salvation. His first sermon on the Mount, a specimen of his excellent mi. nistry, outvies the most elaborate human composition; and, in his parable of the good Samaritan, how charmingly does he commend benevolence to the unfortunate! No action did Jesus reprehend but what was injurious; no duty did he enjoin but what was immediately the interest of his disciples to perform. With confidence we affirm, never was fallen nature exhibited in its true colours until Jesus opened his lips; nor did any ever propose a remedy adequate to its accumulated miseries, until he showed us his bleeding heart! His doctrine dropped as the rain, his speech distilled as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass. Never man spake like this man! And although, according to prophecy, and to remove the incredulity of the Jews, it became necessary to confirm his doctrine by miracles, none of them were ever performed without the most benevolent designs of convincing the ige morant, and of conferring blessings upon the bodies and. the souls of men. If the forgiveness of injuries be another evidence of benevolence, this virtue was remarkably conspicuous in the doctrine and in the life of Jesus Christ. A desire for revenge is natural to the depraved heart; vain philosophers, in almost every age, have considered the gratification of this passion essential to constitute honour. But Jesus said unto his disci. ples, Ye have heard, thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy; but, I say unto you, love your enemics; bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you. This doctrine, however new, or seldom practised, is as interesting to the peace of society, as it is ornamental to individuals. Nor does it require much acquaintance with the history of Jesus to convince us, that amidst the blaze of moral excellence which shone from his breast, HE WAS READY TO FORGIVE. Notwithstanding the contradiction of sinners which he endured, when he was reviled, he reviled not again; expressing the most tender compassion for his enemies; and, when in the agonies of death, his benevolent heart interceded for his tormentors. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends; but Christ died for his very enemies. This, he repeatedly declared, was the end for which he came into the world; and, by the cheerful voluntary surrender of himself to the sorrows of death, and to the stroke of justice, he gave an incontestible proof of his benevolence. These are a few of the expressions of that pure benevo. lence possessed by the heart of Jesus; the contemplation of which must compel us to venerate his name.
2. The next essential trait in a virtuous human character is TRUTH; without which the most extensive show of BENEVOLENCE leaves the heart contaminated and ebnoxious. Truth is a girdle which binds all other vir tues to the soul, and enables the possessor to pass through life under the approbation of that God who desireth truth in the inward parts. With this principle Jesus was actuated in every part of his conduct; thereby confirmed the prophecy concerning the Messiah, that rightcousness should be the girdle of his loins, and
faithfulness the girdle of his reins. When Pilate asked Jesus, if he were a king? he replied, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Jesus did so in all the variety of truth, and on every occasion worthy the dignity of man, and the invariable acquirement of heaven. It is well known that Jesus entered on his public life when the Jews were ripe for scrutiniz. ing the claims that might be made to Messiahship. We know also that they expected the Messiah to come, in all possible worldly magnificence. Now, if Jesus had been actuated by a base, sordid principle, he might have availed himself of this opportunity ; embraced the kingly offers which were made to him; and, like Mahomet, the prophet of Arabia, he might have accumulated, riches and worldly dominion. Jesus was influenced by different motives; he entered Jerusalem, according to prophecy, lowly and riding upon an ass, thereby evincing, that his ķingdom was not of this world. It solicited not the protection of Emperors, nor sought the aid of civil polity to increase or to support it. If, indeed, Jesus had been actuated by falsehood or ambition, there were many periods in his life in which his enemies might have detected them. He submitted himself to the investigation of all ranks; his doctrines nor his miracles were confined to secrecy. The very doctrines of Jesus evince the purity
of his heart. They levelled at the root of hypocrisy, penetrated the soul, and exposed its most secret vices; and, what was altogether new, he esteemed the unchaste thought of the breast equally culpable with the most glaring action of the life. Such sublime and soul-discerning sentiments, accompanied with a correspondent life, produced converts of almost every description. The perfection of the truth of Jesus, which hath cemented thousands of thousands to his cause, has been too brilliant for the powers of infidelity to invade.
3. Let us now review those devotional exercises which have characterised the life of Jesus. DEVOTION is the highest possible employment of the human soul; it constitutes the glory of man, and is the very end for which he was designed. Yet, alas! who but sensibly feels the awful distance which sin hath driven us from the supreme Object of adoration ! Jesus, however, being free from personal sin, performed every act of worship in the beauty of holiness. As a Jew, made under the ceremonial law, he was an observer of those sacred rites by which the Hebrews were to testify their obedience to Jehovah. As a man, ke honoured the law of nature, by a reliance on providence; and as a teacher from heaven, his life was absorbed in communion with his Father. The solitary mountain, and the shades of night, witnessed the fervour of his supplications. Gethsemane, in a particular manner, was honoured with a scene of devotion, the most sublimely great that human nature could be capable of offering to the Almighty! These most solemn exercises were accompanied with such uniform complacency in the will of heaven, such an abhorrence to every species of iniquity, and such holy zeal for the konour of his Father and the salvation of men, as will