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all the world; and the lessons they give us are equally instructive, whether they themselves have suffered for their disobedience or flourished in consequence of their obedience, And the most important and convincing of all the lessons they are destined to give the world, what we have reason to believe will put an end to all infidelity, will be the result of their promised restoration to their present desolated country, from their present miserable, despised, and dispersed condition ; for who but he who alone can see into futurity, could foresee an event so distant and so complicated ? And as their dispersion and preservation correspond, * * * with such wonderful exactness to ancient prophecies, their is no reasonable cause of doubt but that their restoration and future flourishing state will correspond to the many predictions concerning it, with equal exactness. With those who, for want of attention (for it cannot be owing to any thing else), are unbelievers at present, the issue of the whole must rest on this future event, which cannot fail to arrest and most forcibly engage the attention of all mankind.
THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST.
THE very character of Jesus Christ is so exceedingly unlike any other character whatever in the whole history of mankind; there is something in it so remarkably great and extraordinary, especially such an amazing mixture of dignity and condescension; that we cannot suppose that such men as the Evangelists should have conceived it, or have supported it so uniformly as they have done on a great variety of occasions. The fact demonstrates that they must have had an original to copy after. In this case they must have written from their memories, and not from imagination.
I would not scruple to appeal to any person, whose moral sentiments have not been perverted, whether he can possibly reconcile the character of Christ, the doctrines which he taught, and his general conduct, with that of an enthusiast or an impostor, and consequently whether his history does not on this account bear internal marks of truth. He taught and laboriously inculcated the precepts of the purest morality. He did not puzzle his hearers with subtle distinctions in morals, but insisted chiefly upon great and general principles, as the love of God, the love of mankind, and universal purity of heart, which are calculated to form a complete character, adapted to every station and condition in life; and he more especially enforced those virtues which are the least ostentatious, but the most essential to true greatness and excellence of character; viz. the forgiveness of injuries, humility, contentment, and resignation to the will of God.
He never consulted his own ease or pleasure, but constantly labored and felt for others, going about doing good to the souls and bodies of men. He spared neither the faults of his friends, nor the vices of his enemies, though the former were ever so dear to him, and the latter ever so powerful and inveterate. He discovered the most astonishing wisdom and presence of mind, whenever ensnaring questions were put to him. He sought no worldly emoluments or honors, but persisted in a course of life which rendered him in the highest degree obnoxious to those who were in power; and when he deemed the great purpose of his useful life to be accomplished, he no longer secreted himself from the malice of his persecutors, but in a firm belief, and with a peremptory declaration, that he should rise to the most distinguished greatness, and that he should raise all his disciples and friends to similar honors in a future life, he submitted, with inimitable calmness and composure, to a most cruel and ignominious death.
If there be any truth in history, all this, and much more than this was unquestionably fact. Now, what is there in human nature, or in the history of mankind, that can lead us to imagine that the man who could act this part should solemnly assert that he was commissioned by God to do it without really having such a commission ? A good man will immediately say, if Divine interpositions be possible in themselves, and if God has ever spoken by man, Jesus Christ must certainly have been the man; and an intelligent person perceive that the time in which he lived was the most proper time for his appearance. The man whose life and conversation is agreeable to the gospel, and who feels that he enjoys the advantages of his being and condition, to the greatest perfection, in consequence of it, must feel what will be to him the most irresistible evidence, that the gospel proceeds from the Giver of every good and perfect gift. He has the witness in himself, and has peace and joy in believing.
# # # Let all these circumstances be duly considered, the obscure birth and mean occupation of Jesus, in a distant and despised country; his high pretensions to be the Jewish Messiah, without any assumption of kingly power, universally deemed to be most essential to that character; his claim to a kingdom, though not of this world, and to the power of raising the dead and judging the world, when he had nothing but the certain prospect of a violent death before him; his undertaking to overthrow all the religions of the heathen world, firmly attached as the several nations were to them, - religions which had kept their ground, from time immemorial, notwithstanding a long period now boasted of as the most enlightened of any till the present; when there had not been from the beginning of the world an example of any nations voluntarily changing their religion; his holding out to his disciples nothing but persecution in this world and happiness in another; his having no secrets; his discovering no anxiety about the evidences of his divine mission, joined with his calm good sense, his exalted piety, his general benevolence, and the strong affection he always showed to his friends and followers; let all these circumstances, I say, be considered, and, without attending to his miracles and his success, it must surely be thought impossible that this man could have been an impostor, and meant to deceive the world. This internal evidence added to external, on which I have already enlarged, viz. from miracles and prophecy, must be abundantly sufficient to satisfy any reasonable and candid inquirer, with respect to the truth of Christianity, and of revealed religion in general. # * #
Thus have I given a sketch of the history of Jesus, from which we may form a just idea of his real character; and let those who are best acquainted with human nature say, whether it does not bear every mark of true greatness, even exceeding any that ever existed before or since. Jesus appears to have been free from every human weakness, and to have been actuated by every sentiment that is justly entitled to the
denomination of great; as being remote from common attainments, and arising from the greatest comprehension of mind which is only acquired by just and enlarged views of things, respecting alike God and man, this life and another,
To persons of sufficient knowledge and candid reflection, this consideration affords satisfactory proof of the truth of Christianity. The Evangelists were not men who were capable of devising such a character as this, or of inventing a series of actions and discourses indicating such a character. It is a great unique, of which they could not have formed any conception.” And if such, indeed, was the character of Jesus, the question to the philosophical inquirer is, How could it have been formed ! For so remarkable an effect must have had an adequate cause. The answer is obvious. It could only have arisen from the firmest persuasion, in the mind of Jesus, of a divine mission, and consequently, of a great future reward, which would abundantly overbalance all the sufferings of this life.
* “What sweetness, what purity in his manners What an affecting gracefiflness in his delivery What sublimity in his maxims : What profound wisdom in his discourses : What presence of mind, what subtilty, what truth in his replies How great the command over his passions ! Where is the man, where the philosopher, who could so live, and so die, without weakness, and without ostentation ? Where could Jesus learn, among his competitors, that pure and sublime morality, of which he only hath given us both precept and example * Shall we suppose the Evangelic History a mere fiction ? Such a supposition, in fact, only shifts the difficulty without obviating it. It is more inconceivable that a number of persons should agree to write such a history, than that one only should surnish the subject of it. The Jewish authors were incapable of the diction, and strangers to the morality contained in the Gospel, the marks of whose truth are so striking and inimitable, that the inventor would be a more astonishing character than the hero.”—Rousseau's Letter to the Archbishop of Paris, 1763, p. 63.