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necessary for them to be apprised of, so far as might help afterwards to reconcile their thoughts to these things, when they were able to recollect that they had been intended, and foretold from the beginning; yet were not at that time to be laid down in a more open, direct manner; such as related chiefly to the external circumstances of his person and doctrine, and the effects thereof upon both Jew and Gentile.
As to the fundamental parts of his religion, and his manner of declaring them, both these were easy and obvious, such as the weakest and most ignorant, unless affectedly so, could not mistake, and proposed in that plain, popular way to which they were the most accustomed, and in which they would be most likely to apprehend him. The eastern writers are well known to abound with brief maxims, parabolic or proverbial expressions, and extremely popular forms of speech; in which such a dry way of reasoning and discoursing, such a minute detail of circumstances and restraining clauses, as is in use with us, would have been little relished or regarded, and which style of theirs might be easily justified in point of certainty and perspicuity; since, to one who is tolerably well acquainted with it, the main drift lies commonly very obvious under all these strong and significant, however highly figurative and bold expressions nor is there any great difficulty in supplying all the proper qualifications which of course arise in every subject; and will have an allowance
made for them so long as either common sense or common equity and candour is admitted. And it is worth remarking, that wherever Christ's words seem capable of different senses, we may conclude that to be the true one, which lay most level to the comprehension of his auditors; allowing for those figurative expressions which were so very frequent and familiar with them, and which therefore are no exception to this general rule, this necessary canon of interpretation, which of all others, I think, wants most to be recommended.
The bulk of his doctrine was purely practical, always highly pertinent to the case in hand, and of an immediate and apparent tendency to the most beneficial purposes; and he is so far from seeking reputation by an artful and elaborate manner of explaining it, that he seems barely to propose each point, together with its proper sanction, and leaves it to shine forth by its own light. 'Tis neither versed in any nice, subtle speculations, nor involved in pompous paradoxes, nor adorned with flowers ~ of rhetoric. We find it free from all ostentatious and unnatural flights, as well as from that load of superstitious rites and slavish ceremonies, which encumbered every other system; consisting of solid and substantial duties; containing general comprehensive rules to try them by, and grounded on such never-failing principles of action, as must enable his disciples to determine for themselves, and judge aright in each particular case; as for instance, in
that of the sabbath; which, like all other solemnities, was instituted for the sake of man; and therefore should be made subservient to his good, and in that, to the glory of his Maker, which are inseparable from each other.
In meats and drinks, and every thing, by consequence, of the same kind, which, as being merely external things, must likewise be of an indifferent nature, and therefore could not of themselves defile a man.* In that of oaths, the several kinds of which were all really of the same import, as including the same virtual appeal to God; and therefore must needs be of equal force, and should alike exclude all fraudulent, evasive artifices.† In that of vows, which bind only to things otherwise innocent at least, and by which none ever could exempt themselves from duties of a prior and perpetual obligation. In that of contracts, which confer a strict right to the thing contracted for, more especially the great, general one of matrimony, which ought not rashly to be violated by either party, or dissolved for any cause less than such a one as must prove inconsistent with the very foundation and original end of it, such as fornication or adultery. And by that universal rule of mercy being preferable to sacrifice, whenever a moral and a positive precept interfere with one another. T
Such doctrine must appear not only excellent in
* Matt. xv. 11. Mark vii. 15.
Matt. xxiii. 16. &c.
Matt. xv. 6. Mark vii. 11.
§ Matt. v. 32.
Matt. ix. 13. xii. 7.
itself and taken independently, but more especially so in the circumstances under which it was delivered; as fully obviating the several false maxims and fallacious glosses advanced by the Jewish teachers of our Saviour's time; in which respect it must be doubly useful, as an instruction in several truths of the last importance, and a guard against so many popular errors; and may be considered as another instance of his exquisite manner of accommodating things, both to the general benefit of mankind, and the particular exigencies of his hearers.
Lastly, our Saviour's way of arguing must carry something of a peculiar force and poignancy along with it, and be attended with extraordinary degrees both of conviction and astonishment; as he knew thoroughly what was in man, and therefore could speak to his heart directly,* as he saw into the most secret thoughts and purposes of all those whom he had to deal with; and often showed them plainly that he did so, by removing the latent prejudices of his weaker friends; and obviating the doubts and difficulties as they arose in their own minds, before they durst give utterance to them. By answering such objections as had been made only in private, or out of his hearing: by refuting every plausible pretence, and laying open the most artful stratagems of his subtle adversaries; detecting their hypocrisy, exposing their true aim, and thereby cutting off all possibility of reply: on
* Matt. ix. 4. xii. 25. Mark iii. 5. ix. 33-35. Luke v. 22, vi. 8. ix. 47. xi. 17. John vi. 61. 70. xvi. 6. 30.
which account, his words must needs be quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. In this respect it might well be said, "never man spake like this man." Many instances of which will occur upon a diligent perusal of the gospel.
Thus did Christ live and teach; showing himself superior to the rest of the world, as much in each of these respects as he was in his miracles.
There was an extraordinary man among the Greeks, who has often been compared to Christ, there being a resemblance between them in some very remarkable particulars. Socrates, like Christ, lays out all his time in going about to admonish and reform his countrymen; which he assures them was a ministry enjoined him by the Deity for their benefit, to whom he supposes himself given, or sent by God; with the utmost firmness bearing all the injuries, and despising the affronts to which he was continually exposed on that account. He frequently resorts to places of public concourse, and generally grounds his discourses on what occurs there, making use of every place, and season, and occasion, to exercise and inculcate his philosophy. He chooses a state of poverty, to clear himself of all suspicion of any private interest, and make his character more unexceptionable, by showing that he himself practised what he taught. He avoids meddling with the affairs of the public, declines posts of authority amongst his fellow-citizens: such in those bad times must have precipitated his fate, before he had done them any considerable service. He perseveres in sift