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record to have been made of his instructions, they would have been the instructions of an individual, obscure, not only on account of his parentage, and the humble circumstances of his life, but on account of every thing else. Whatever they were ; however wise, pure, and unexceptionable, they would have failed to arrest the attention, and command the regard, of future times, because they were not enforced by a distinguished character in their author. For extraordinary sentiments the mind instinctively looks to an extraordinary man. If Christ had not been separated from the rest of the children of Adam by singular characteristics, it would have been boldly questioned whether these instructions ever came from him; and the record, which asserted them to be his, could scarcely have been furnished with such proofs of authenticity, as to place the question beyond rational doubt. If this point had been admitted ; new and equally perplexing inquiries would have arisen concerning the authority of the teacher; concerning the strangeness of the fact, that God had destined such a man to the office of giving such precepts to the world; and concerning the irreconcileableness of so insignificant an appearance with a character, distinguished by such wonderful wisdom. Strong objections are even now made by Infidels to the humble character, in which Christ appeared. What would they not have objected, if he had been marked by nothing extraordinary?
These observations respect Christ in all his offices. Had he not possessed this distinction in some clear, acknowledged manner, and in a degree unquestioned, he would never, in any sense, have become the object of any peculiar regard ; and would, of course, have failed of the end of his mission.
The arguments, already alleged, are, therefore, applicable to every part of his character as Mediator. But they are, in some respects, peculiarly applicable to his Priesthood. A great part of the truths, which he taught, respected himself, as the High Priest of the human race. These were truths, indispensable to the salvation of mankind. The Atonement, made by him in this office for the sins of men, is the only foundation, even for the hope of eternal life. The belief of men in this great fact is the basis of all our confidence in Christ as our Saviour; and this confidence is the only mean of our justification. But in this fact few men, to say the most, can be supposed to have believed, had not Christ been distinguished from other persons by peculiar and very honourable characteristics. There is something so repugnant to all our most rational and satisfactory thoughts, in the supposition, that a person, ranking in all things with such beings as we are, should sustain this glorious office, and accomplish this marvellous end; that it can hardly be imagined to have gained admission into the mind of any sober man.
Should it be answered, that a distinction of some kind or other, in the degree specified, was indeed, necessary to the character of Christ, in order to render him the object of the confidence, or even the attention, of mankind; but that this distinction was sufficiently established by his power of working miracles, so often, and so illustriously, exemplified while he was in the world: I answer, that this power distinguished Christ from other inhabitants of the earth very honourably, but could not distinguish him sufficiently for the purpose in view. For, to say nothing of the fact, that in this respect he was not sufficiently unlike Moses and Elijah, who also wrought many and great miracles, or his Apostles, who did greater works than his own; to say nothing of the contrariety to all rational thinking, in the supposition, that a man, invested with no other proofs of an extraordinary character, should work such stupendous miracles, or any miracles at all: It is perfectly evident, that he could never be the object of any moral regard, unless in his moral character he had appeared sufficiently important to claim it; much less of that supreme moral regard, Evangelical Faith. In the exercise of this Faith, the Soul surrenders itself absolutely into the hands of Christ. But such a surrender cannot be made, unless to a being of such consequence, as to make the act rational, and warrantable, in the view of the understanding. But the understanding can never be persuaded, that a person, undistinguished by pre-eminent holiness, however superior might be his natural, or supernatural, endowments, could be regarded by God as an acceptable propitiation for its sins. Nor could it by any means, of which I am able to conceive, feel itself warranted to exercise this confidence toward any being, unpossessed of that consummate rectitude, particularly of that sincerity and good-will, upon which it is ultimately founded. If Christ had not, in this respect, been superior to other men, the faith placed in him would, I think, have been the same with that, which is placed in other men; and have differed from that, neither in kind, nor degree.
Holiness is the supreme distinction of moral beings, and the supreme object of moral regard. Especially, in all cases, where the approbation and acceptance of God, or the confidence of intelligent creatures, are concerned; is this the object, on which our thoughts ultimately rest, in comparison with which all others are of little importance.
II. To enable him to magnify the Law of God, and make it honourable.
Christ performed this important office, an office predicted by the Prophet Isaiah, and also by himself, many ages before his incarnation, in a manner absolutely perfect. The following particulars will, if I mistake not, illustrate this subject with advantage.
1st. Christ in his own obedience showed, that the Law was capable of being perfectly obeyed by mankind.
By this I mean, that beings, possessing exactly such natural powers as we possess, are, if properly disposed, proved, by the obedience of Christ, to be capable of perfectly obeying the law of God.
There is no reason to believe that Christ possessed any other natural powers, than those which are possessed by mankind generally. The difference between him and them, lay, radically, in the disposition : His being that of a dutiful child; and theirs being froward and rebellious. With these powers Christ perfectly obeyed the law of God; and thus proved, that it might be perfectly obeyed by any other person, possessing the same powers. No difference of intellect can be pleaded here; because, Christ thus obeyed in every stage of his life ; with the intelligence of an infant; of a child ; of a youth; and of a man. The least degree of intelligence which he possessed, after he became a moral agent, is, therefore, sufficient to enable any other moral agent thus to obey. The difficulty of obeying, experienced by us, does not, therefore, lie in the want of understanding.
The importance of this article will be easily realized, if we call to mind how prone we are to justify ourselves in sin, and to feel secure from the danger of punishment, from the consideration that we have not, naturally, sufficient power to obey; and, if at the same time, we remember, that, even to the present day, not only ordinary men and plain Christians, but even philosophers and divines, hold this doctrine, and insist on it as a part of their customary instruction. The proof here furnished, that the doctrine is wholly erroneous, is complete: for it can never be said that the mind of Christ, at its entrance upon moral agency, possessed more intelligence, and more natural ability to obey, than that of a mature man. Christ obeyed throughout his infancy and childhood. Bacon, Newton, and Locke, were sinful beings. The reason why they were sinful beings, was not a defect of intelligence. The difference between them, as moral beings, and Christ, while an infant, or a child, was a moral difference; involved moral turpitude on their part; and rendered them deserving of blame and punishment.
In this manner Christ proved the practicability of obedience, and the reasonableness of the law. If He, with the same natural powers which we possess, could obey the law; obedience is naturally, and certainly, practicable to us. If Christ obeyed, while an infant, or a little child; the requisitions of the law cannot be unreasonable. The importance of his glorifying the law, in this respect, needs no illustration. : 2dly. Christ, in obeying, furnished mankind an extensive, and most useful comment on the law of God.
A moment's recollection will show us, if we need to be shown, that the nature of all precepts is more perfectly seen in those actions which are conformed to them, than it can be in the abstract contemplation of the precepts themselves. The life of Christ was exactly conformed to the precepts of the divine law; and was, therefore, a more perfect exhibition of their true nature, than any other of which they were capable. It was, particularly, a perfect exhibition of the nature and extent of every requirement, so far as it was applicable to him. In seeing what he did, we learn, exactly, what we are required to do; more exactly, than we could possibly learn from the precept itself.
It exhibited, also, the beauty and excellency of obedience. This is discerned very imperfectly in the mere contemplation of the precept by which it is required. That application of the precept, through which alone its proper influence can be discerned by mere contemplation, is made so imperfectly, and seen so obscurely, by the mind, that the proper efficacy of the precept cannot, in this way, be ever realized. In example, in actions, on the contrary, the true nature, the beauty, the desirableness, of the wise and good precepts, by which such actions are governed, are distinctly perceived, and comprehended. The example of Christ is, beyond debate, far the most amiable and glorious of all the moral objects, ever exhibited to mankind. At the same time, it is an exact display of the nature and influence of the precepts of the divine law; as being other than a course of mere obedience to them.
Thus Christ has taught us what it is to obey the Law of God; what conduct is obedience, in every situation in which he was placed; in what respects, within what limits, and to what degree, obedience is to be exhibited; what words we are to use; what actions to perform; what affections to indulge, and to discover; and when, or how far, we are to withhold, to restrain, and to deny, them all. These several things, also, he has taught us with a distinctness and perfection, of which all other instruction is incapable. At the same time he has shown us the beauty and loveliness of Obedience in the strongest colours; divinely fair, divinely amiable; beheld by God the Father with infinite complacency; and admired, loved, and adored, with supreme regard, by Angels and good men.
3dly. Christ in his obedience has made the Law honourable, because it was the Obedience of a Person, possessed of infinite dignity.
I have formerly, and, as I fatter myself, with success, attempted to show, that Christ was God as well as Man. In these united natures he was one person; and all his actions were the result, not only of human views and affections, but of a divine approbation and choice; of a created mind, voluntarily devoted to perfect rectitude, and to perfect truth, and thus coinciding in the most exact manner with the will of God; and of the divine wisdom, complacently regarding all the dictates and conduct of this mind, and concurring with it in every affection and effort. The obedience of Christ is the obedience of this glorious person.
As Christ is a person of infinite knowledge, it is impossible, that he should not discern with entire exactness the propriety, or impropriety, of becoming a subject to the law of God, in the character Vol. II.
of Mediator. In conformity to this perfect discernment he became such a subject. In this character he discerned with the same ex. actness the propriety, or impropriety, of all the conduct, presented by the circumstances in which he was placed, to his view; and of course the propriety, or impropriety, of his absolute obedience to the divine law. But in this manner he actually obeyed.
The infinite rectitude of Christ prompted him to that conduct, and that only, which in all respects was right. But, under the influence of this rectitude, he became subject to the law; and, when he had become a subject, conformed his whole life, in every minute, as well as every important particular, to the precepts of that law. In this manner he showed with the most decisive evidence, the evidence of life and conduct, that infinite knowledge and rectitude dictated to him to assume the office of Mediator; to become a subject of the divine law; and in that character to yield to its precepts an universal and perfect obedience.
Christ is a person of infinite dignity. By this I mean, not only the splendour of moral and intellectual greatness, with which his character is invested; but the dignity also, which is conferred by omnipotence, eternity, and immutability, and by supremacy of station and dominion. With this transcendent exaltation over all things in heaven and in earth, he still chose to become subject to the divine law; and, as a subject, to obey every one of its precepts, which at any time respected either his character or his conduct. Thus he taught, in a manner which cannot be questioned, and with a decisiveness allowing of no doubt, that infinite Knowledge and Rectitude regarded the divine law as possessing such infinite excellence and glory, that it was not unbecoming a divine person to conform his own actions to its dictates, even in the minutest particulars; that it was not unsuitable to a divine person to become subject to its control, and in this state of subjection to obey its precepts in an absolute manner.
These considerations exhibit my own views of that active obedience, or Righteousness of Christ, by which we are said in the Scriptures to be justified. Christ, as a mere man, was of necessity subject to the law of God, equally with all other moral creatures. His obedience in this character, therefore, was necessary to his own justification, and could not be the means of ours. As a divine Person, he was subject to no law; and needed, and could need, no justification. By the union of his divine and human natures he became One Person, as Mediator between God and man; in such a sense One, that all his actions and sufferings became the actions and sufferings of this One Mediator. The value which was inherent in his conduct, as a divine Person, was in consequence of this union extended to all the conduct of the Mediator, Jesus Christ. When, therefore, this glorious Person voluntarily yielded himself as a subject of the divine Law; the act was the result of infinite knowledge, and rectitude; and was instamped with the worth, ne