« PrécédentContinuer »
of every discourse that the matter be important and worthy of attention; that the manner be interesting, well adapted to the subject, and suited to the hearers—and lastly, that the intended effect may be produced, and a due impression made on the audience.
I. The matter of our Saviour's discourses is superiour to that of any other teacher either heathen or Jew; for none of them ever declared truths of such infinite importance to the world.
The subject matter of our Saviour's discourses comprehends either such things as had been handled by former teachers, or such things as were altogether new, and of which the world are indebted to him for the discovery. Many things indeed had engaged the attention of former teachers, which were altogether below his notice, which were too trifling to consume one moment of his precious time. For this purpose came he into the world, "that he might bear witness unto the "truth,”—not to indulge in the false glosses and absurd commentaries of the scribes and pharisees, the quibbles of the sophist, the vain conceits of the philosopher, the profane babblings and oppositions of science falsely so
called. The most finished compositions of ancient times treat of subjects comparatively mean and insignificant: the rise and fall of states and empires, the debates of a faction, the petty interests and competitions of the present life. Jesus came with a message of infinitely greater extent and importance. He was in truth the oratour of the human race-his discourses were big with the fate of all mankind. He performed a work and declared truths which were devised before the foundations of the earth were laid, and which reached into the remotest ages of eternity. The ancient philosophers and oratours had chiefly in view the display of their own talents, or of the powers of their art. Jesus sought only to deliver truths useful and instructive to his hearers. Their lectures were employed in inquiring into the origin of all things, in describing the courses of the planets, the laws of the material world, the properties of an animal or a plant. Such barren speculations were foreign to the design of our Saviour's mission-he had a grander and more profitable object in view, even to make men wise unto salvation, to teach them to be pious and virtuous and happy.
Even where he happened to tread in the same path with others, he improved so much upon his predecessors that he is justly entitled to the praise of an original. The existence and attributes of God, for instance, had been previously discussed by the Heathen philosophers and the Jewish lawgiver. But none of them spake on this subject like Jesus of Nazareth. The polytheism of the ancients; the imperfections and even shocking vices which they ascribed to their imaginary deities, make them unworthy of comparison. The errours of the heathen indeed, were excluded from the Jewish sysMoses taught expressly the unity of God, "Hear now, O Israel, the Lord your "God is one Lord." But the ritual service which he prescribed, represented the Deity rather in a corporeal light; the severity of his laws obscured the Divine benignity; the terrour accompanying their delivery inspired fear rather than hope. How just and sublime were the words of Jesus on this subject. "God is "a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. He "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the
good, and sendeth rain on the just and on "the unjust. God so loved the world that he
gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever "believeth on him might not perish but have everlasting life."
The same superiority is discernible in the morality of Jesus. How much more pure, perfect, and certain than the vague speculations of the heathen moralists? How much more extensive and universal than the ceremonial system of the Jews? Above all, how much more powerful motives did he furnish for the discharge of the duties which he commanded?
Thus did Jesus improve upon every subject which he handled; thus did he far outstrip all who had gone before him in what related to God, to morals, and to a future life. But this is not all. Many doctrines were taught by the Saviour of the world which no ear had ever heard and no human heart had ever conceived. Among these we may rank the doctrine of his own divinity; the mystery of his own incarnation and assumption of our nature; his appearance in a world overspread with misery and vice, to proclaim pardon and peace in this life, and everlasting happiness in the future, to all who with penitent hearts and true faith returned unto him; his humiliation, sufferings
and death in our room; his victory over death by virtue of his atoning sacrifice, and his bringing life and immortality to light. These are the great things of which Christ spake; these were the amazing topicks which filled his discourses. Who ever uttered such things? who ever presumed to raise their thoughts to mysteries so grand and sublime? Without controversy great and unequalled is the mystery of godliness God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of Angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
II. The manner in which our Saviour spake was equally incomparable with the matter of which he treated. Under this head, I do not mean to assert that Jesus was a most consummate oratour in the common acceptation of the word; that he was a perfect master of the rules of art; and that he knew how to employ to the best advantage the various tropes and figures of rhetorick. Were it indeed a circumstance of much importance, or in which there was room for exultation, it would be easy to shew that the sacred writings afford specimens altogether unrivalled in every species of composition.