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it seems a torture to him to relate what he had suffered and done in his Master's service. What they say of one part of their office, “ we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake,” is applicable to the whole of their character.
The humility of the apostles appears also in recording various particulars in the life of Christ. Men who wished to shine in the rays of their Master, would have exalted his character to the utmost, and cast a veil over circumstances and actions which seemed not so honourable, or which would lead the world to think meanly of him. The writers of the gospels act in a different manner. They relate a multitude of things which might have been concealed from every following age, and which they knew would tarnish the character of Jesus with men of worldly minds. The station of his parents, his unlearned education at Nazareth, his rejection by his countrymen, when he appeared in his public character, and their attempt to put him to death for his pretensions, the opposition made to him by his kinsmen, who supposed him to be mad, the continual enmity of the rulers, his condition so destitute that he had not where to lay his head, and his subsisting by the bounty of others, his being accounted a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners, in league with Beelzebub, and a demoniac himself—are all told without shame and without disguise. Men who wished either to impose on the world, or to exalt themselves, would not have acted thus. They gave the enemies of the gospel a fair opportunity of examining every charge; and they held themselves up to the world as the disciples of one who was poor, and vilified, and despised. Pride would not have done so. They were clothed with humility.
The Apostles acted as Men believing their Testimony
to be true.
The witnesses profess to be fully convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, and that every part of their testimony is true. How they were led to accept the office which called them to deliver this testimony, is not considered as it ought; for it carries much evidence with it. They were following their occupations in common life, several of them fishermen, one a publican. Christ called to them, “Follow me.” They left all, their homes, their comforts, their prospects; they lived with him as. members of his family, and received his doctrine from his lips; and were witnesses of his life, his death, his resurrection, and ascension. sup
One of the witnesses was a furious and sanguinary bigot, and a persecutor of Christianity. We see him depart for Damascus breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of Jesus. But before he arrives at the place, he is stopped in his career; and we find him soon afterwards, in the very city where he designed to extirpate the gospel, proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ, and attesting the facts which he had before been doing every thing in his power to contradict and obliterate. The moral as well as the natural world has its laws—there is an order in both. Men do not throw off their character on a sudden without cause : they cannot instantly divest themselves of their deep-rooted, their favourite, their strong-grounded prejudices, especially their prejudices of birth, of education, and, least of all, their prejudices of religion. This is applicable to all the apostles, but especially to Paul. Some cause, some adequate cause, must have produced in them, and especially in him, so great a change. The history of the planting of Christianity in the world records it in Acts ix., and Paul himself, in the xxii
. and xxvi. chapters of the same book. Changed he is indeed! His doctrine in Rom. xii. and 1 Cor. xiii. shows him to be a very different man from Saul the zealous Jew, when he rose from the feet of Gamaliel. But what cause shall we assign for the wondrous change? There must have been in them all, and in him, a full conviction that the cause of Jesus was the cause of God.
The manner in which they acted in the discharge of the apostolical office, displays the same spirit of full conviction of the truth of their testimony to Christ. Their Master commanded them to go and teach all nations, “ beginning at Jerusalem.” They obeyed; and a few weeks afterwards, in the very place where Jesus was crucified, they bore testimony that he was the Messiah promised to the fathers. Their preaching consisted of an extensive detail of facts relating to Jesus Christ. Had they been conscious of a deception, they would have gone to countries at a distance. They would have declared at Byzantium, at Rome, or at Marseilles, what Jesus had done in Judea and Galilee; and the deception could not have been so easily found out. But by beginning at Jerusalem they put their doctrine to the test at once. Every inhabitant of that
city was qualified to judge, and to decide. Could the apostles have given more convincing evidence that they believed the truth of the testimony which they bore to Christ?
This will appear with still fuller evidence, if we consider that the apostles preached the gospel in an age, and in places, of the greatest knowledge. The Jews were beyond comparison the best informed people in matters of religion; with them they began to deliver their testimony. The Greeks and Romans had made the greatest improvements in arts and sciences, and various literature; to them the apostles afterwards went, and preached in Syria, in the lesser Asia, in Greece, and in Italy. Every where they candidly and fully proposed to the people the gospel of Christ. This has certainly every appearance of fairness, and discovers a consciousness in the apostles that they were speaking the words of truth; for if rude tribes may be easily imposed on, a civilized nation will not believe without evidence. Those only who think they have truth on their side will act in the manner the apostles did.
The Apostles do not encourage the Prejudices, nor flatter the
Passions of Men.
PREJUDICE is one of the grand instruments of human wickedness and human misery. It is the chain by which the mind is prevented from going in quest of truth. Men have their individual, their professional, their national, and their religious prejudices, and the more agreeable these are to their depraved dispositions, the stronger will they be. Those who wish to gain them, unless they respect their prejudices, can, humanly speaking, expect but little success. The heathen legislators acted on this principle; and we find Mohammed following their example. There is in his system a wonderful degree of accommodation to prejudices. We find something to please the Jews, something to win over the Christians, and something to render his doctrine palatable to the pagan idolaters. The apostles encourage none—they call men away from them all, as in numberless instances exceedingly pernicious; and the least hurtful, as childish follies, unfitting the mind for the reception of truth.
How strong were the prejudices of the Jews in general, and of their different sects! The prejudices of the Gentiles were
equally inveterate; and the rulers, the philosophers, the priests, and the multitude, had each their appropriate portion. A man of craft would have tried to attach them all by compliance; or he would have sought to secure a part on his side, and by their means to gain the rest. The apostles attack all, and show themselves equally hostile to Jewish and Gentile prejudices, without regarding that vast strength which they had acquired by the growth of more than a thousand years. Their design certainly is not to deceive, but to reform; and, instead of ple impostors, we have certainly before us men of staunch unbending integrity.
As they do not respect men's prejudices, they do not flatter their vices, and indulge them in their evil passions. When men wish to impose on others, they endeavour to enlist their passions on their side, and thus to win over their judgment. Every deceiver, without exception, has made this his aim. But the apostles of Christ know not what flattery means; it is not to be found in all the New Testament. While they discover the tenderest pity for guilty and miserable creatures, and show the utmost condescension to human infirmity, they neither foster men's prejudices, nor give indulgence to any, even the least, of their sinful passions.
They do not flatter the Jews, but reduce them to a level with the rest of human kind. They do not flatter the Pharisees, to gain the aid of their popularity to the cause of Christ; but accuse them of making the law of God of none effect by their traditions. They do not flatter the Sadducees; but charge them with infidelity and guilt. They do not flatter the priests; but address them as blind leaders of the blind. They do not flatter the multitude; but call them away from the commission of every sin, to the practice of every duty.
Nor do they flatter the Gentiles more than the Jews. They do not seek to ingratiate themselves with the magistrates by a sacrifice of principles, and a support of their measures. They do not seek to win over the heathen priests by enjoining the people to pay them homage and submission. They court not the patronage of the philosophers by adopting the dogmas of their sect; nor do they strive to please the multitude by numerous festivals and a pompous ritual. They flatter neither friends nor foes; neither friends to procure their attachment, nor foes to avert their hatred; neither the Jews to gain their countrymen, nor the Gentiles to allure them into their church.
Are these men impostors? Is it really their intention to deceive? Will human policy act by this rule? Will it lead its votaries to expect success by such methods as these? There is something here above man. There is here a mode of conduct which must constrain every unprejudiced mind to acknowledge that this is not the manner of men when their object is to deceive; and that it presents every appearance of honesty, which words or actions can possibly give.
The high Tone of Authority which the Writers of the New
To the best judges of human nature, the writers of the New Testament will appear among the humblest of men. But here is a remarkable phenomenon; these humble men every where speak with the commanding tone of divine authority. Other authors who expect belief, reason or record facts; these sometimes reason, often record facts; but, in addition, they reveal doctrines, and deliver precepts; and in all demand credit and obedience in the name of God. This is not a paroxysm of pride boiling over for a moment and then subsiding—not a pretence for dominion, assumed for the occasion, and then laid aside-it runs through the whole. Nor is it the case with one of the writers only, but with all. There is a perfect uniformity of character among them in this respect.
The more I consider this, the more striking it appears. There were eight men concerned in writing the New Testament. They wrote at a distance from each other; several of them, most probably, never saw what the others had done, till they had composed and sent forth their own part. If one, or two, or three of them were men whose natural temper or acquired disposition led them to speak in an authoritative tone, the rest, we might suppose, would have conveyed their ideas in a different manner, but they do not. While there is that diversity in language and expression which may be expected from the various constitutions of mind, they all unite in speaking authoritatively in the name of God, and demand attention and obedience to their words.
There is another striking circumstance connected with this subject. I do not hear one of the writers of this book complain of want of ability, or beg the indulgence of his readers to his errors and imperfections, seeing he had undertaken to treat on subjects so exalted. In other writings this is common. One