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sufficiently displayed for the present purpose, will, of course, be a proper exhibition of the importance of this attribute to Christ, in This character.
The excellence of Christ, as an example to mankind, I shall attempt to exhibit under the following heads.
1. He was an Example of all virtue.
By this I intend, that he was an example of piety, benevolence, and self-government, alike. This truth has been sufficiently illustrated in the two first sermons on this subject. To add any thing, therefore, to what has been so lately said, must be unnecessary.
By the Example of Christ, considered in this light, we are decisively taught, that virtue is no partial character. The apprehension, not unfrequently entertained, that a man may love God, and not love his neighbour, and yet be a virtuous man; that is, in the Evangelical sense; the contrary apprehension, much more frequently entertained, that a man may love his neighbour, and not love God; and the opinion, still more generally adopted, that a man may love both God and his neighbour, and thus be virtuous, while he yet does not confine his passions and appetites within scriptural bounds ; are completely done away by the example of Christ. He, that saith, he abideth in him, is, in the text, required to walk as he walked: and in Rom. viii. 9, St. Paul declares, that if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. But if any man has the spirit of Christ, it will dictate the same conduct, which it dictated to Christ. If he is Christ's, therefore; in other words, if he is a virtuous man; the subject of that holiness, of which Christ was the subject, and beside which there is no virtue ; he will walk as Christ also walked. This is one of those commands of our Saviour, which he himself has made the test of our discipleship, and of our love to him. If therefore we are his disciples indeed; if we love him ; we shall keep this command ; and be, as he was, pious, benevolent, and self-governed, alike.
Further, Christ performed all the duties of life, prompted by these three great divisions of virtue. This conduct of our Saviour teaches us, irresistibly, that he, who does not carry the virtue, which he professes, into practice; or who does not perform those acts, or external duties, which are the proper effusions of such a spirit
, as that of Christ; is not a disciple of Christ. Christ habitually prayed to God. He, who does not thus pray, is, therefore, not a disciple of Christ. Christ praised God; blessed, and gave thanks for, his food; worshipped God in his house; and celebrated all the institutions of the sanctuary. He, therefore, who does not these things, since he walks not as Christ also walked, has not the Spirit of Christ, and is none of his. Christ, also, universally befriended, in all the ways of justice and charity, his fellow-men, by furnishing that relief to their wants and distresses, which they needed. Io vain will that man pretend to be his disciple, who is unjust in treatment of others; or who does not readily open his heart, and his hand, to relieve his fellow-creatures in their wants and distresses; or who does not, like the Redeemer also, administer to them advice, reproof, and consolation, as they need ; and employ, with sincere and tender affection, all the proper means, in his power, to promote their salvation. Christ spoke the truth, at all times, with perfect exactness. No liar, no prevaricator, no sophist, can be his disciple. Christ abstained from every fraud, and from every hard bargain ; from gaming; from reproaches; from obloquy ; from obscenity; from jesting with sacred things; from loose and irreverent observations concerning God; his works, word, and institutions ; from all idle words; and from wrath, bitterness, and revenge. He who indulges himself in these, or any of these, is not Christ's disciple.
At the same time, the example of Christ, in this respect, teaches us in the most decisive manner, that he, who performs one class of these external duties, and neglects the others; or who abstains from one class of sins, and commits another; is not a disciple of Christ. For example; a man may pay his debts'; speak truth; and give alms to the poor ; yet, if he does not pray to God in his closet, his family, and the church, he is not a disciple of Christ.
Generally, the example of Christ teaches us, beyond a debate, what may, indeed, be clearly proved from the nature of the subject, that virtue has not, and cannot have, a partial existence. No man can love God, without loving his neighbour ; or his neighbour, without loving God; or both, without restraining his passions and appetites. He, who supposes himself to do one of these things, when he does not the others, is guilty of a gross self-deception; and is employed in preventing his own attainment of eternal life.
II. Christ was an example to all classes of men.
It ought, I think, rationally to be expected, as plainly it ought to be most earnestly desired, that the person, intended by God to be the great pattern of righteousness to mankind, should so appear, and live, and act, in the world, as to become such a pattern to men of every description. Such a pattern Christ has in fact become; a fact, derived, in a great measure, from the lowly circumstances, in which he was born, lived, and died.
Had our Saviour appeared, as the Jews expected him to appear, in the character of a prince, and conqueror, reigning with unprecedented splendour, perpetual triumph, and universal dominion; he would, as an example, have been useful to but few of mankind; and to them in comparatively few respects. The great and splendid, only, would have been materially benefitted ; and even they, in but a small part of the truly excellent human characteristics. In the seat of splendour and dominion, certain exercises of virtue may be exhibited with peculiar advantage ; such, for instance, as are attendant on the just and wise administrations of government, and the honourable distributions of princely favour. But these are chiefly such, as few of mankind have it in their power to imitate. Vol. II.
Men in exalted stations; princes, nobles, and statesmen; may, indeed, learn wisdom, worth, and dignity of character, from these at. tributes, when displayed in a superior manner by persons, occupy: ing places of superior distinction. How few persons derive moral advantages from reading the actions of kings and conquerors, recorded in general history, compared with the multitudes, who are seriously profited by a single instance of well conducted biography?
In the humble station, which Christ actually occupied, all his excellencies were, and are plainly seen to have been, merely personal; springing from nothing accidental; blended with nothing adventitious; the inherent excellencies, and the natural emanations, of his own goodness of character; neither enhanced, nor obscured, by the dazzling glare of office ; nor liable to any misapprehensions of ours from that prejudiced awe, that imposing veneration, with which we are prone io regard the great. The virtues of Christ were, in the strictest sense, all his own; the excellencies of an Intelligent being merely; of a man, unincumbered with office, place, or power, or any other of those gaudy trappings, in our attention to which, just views of the real character are apt to be perplexed, or lost. These excellencies constitute an example for man, as such ; and are, therefore, fitted to instruct, and improve, every child of Adam.
To the great he became a glorious pattern of that condescension, meekness, and humility, which they ordinarily need in a peculiar manner, to learn; and which, when learned, is their prime ornament and glory. When kings and nobles behold him, who was declared by a voice from heaven to be the Beloved Son of God; and who, on earth, commanded the winds and the waves, and raised the dead to life ; characterizing himself as meek and lowly of heart, and retiring into a desert to avoid the offer of a throne; it is impossible, that they should not feel, unless lost to rational sentiments, their own pride, haughtiness, and irritability, strongly reproved. If they have hearts open to rational conviction, and not dead to virtuous impressions, it is impossible for them not to feel, that the meekness and lowliness of mind, which in the Redeemer were so excellent and exalted, must, of course, constitute the highest amiableness and exaltation of their own characters.
To men of inferior classes, down to the peasant and the beggar, the slave and the child, Christ is an universal example. In all the excellencies of which they are capable, or which are compatible with their circumstances, Christ has gone before them, as a glorious original, which they are required unceasingly to copy. The pattern is distinct; it can therefore be clearly seen.
It is exactly suited to their circumstances; with a suitable disposition it can, therefore, be easily followed. It is faultless; and can, therefore, conduct them to no sin. It is sublime and lovely; and allures, therefore, irresistibly to virtue.
When we remember, that men of these classes constitute almost
all the human race; when we remember, that among them are found almost all those, who are willing to follow any virtuous example; when we remember, that Christ, by appearing, and living in humble circumstances, has furnished a perfect pattern of righteousness to this part of mankind, and consulted in this efficacious manner their highest good: when we remember, that he has, at the same time, with equal efficacy, pursued the best interest of the remaining class ; those in exalted stations; by recommending to them the virtues, which they most need to be taught: we shall see, in the clearest manner, the perfect wisdom of the Redeemer, in condescending to appear in so humble a character. To the Jews this was a stumbling block; to Infidels it has been foolishness. But the foolishness of God is in this, as in all other respects, wiser than men.
To Ministers of the Gospel the example of Christ commends itself with peculiar energy.' Christ himself was a Minister of the Gospel; sent by his Father in the same manner, in which he has sent them. As a Ruler in his Church; as a Preacher, and a Pattern, of Righteousness; he is the great Archetype, of which they are bound to be as exact copies, as it shall be in their power to become. It ought, here, to be observed, that Christ, not improbably to render his example more useful to them by adapting it more to their circumstances, and their capacity of imitation, has, in this respect, acted almost only in the character of a mere man, and not as the Searcher of hearts, nor as the Lawgiver of his Church. Where he has acted otherwise, the distinction is so clearly and successfully made, that it may usually be understood without difficulty. His example in this, as in all his private conduct, is that of a mere, though perfect, man ; is, of course, easily transferred to the practical concerns of every Minister, and is both understood, and followed, without perplexity. Ministers, therefore, are peculiarly without excuse, if they are not followers of Christ.
I shall only add, on this part of the subject, that the example of Christ is to all men authoritative. It is not merely a bright and beautiful pattern, which we are invited to copy, because this conduct will be pleasing, honourable, and useful to us ; but it is a law, also'; requiring of us, with divine authority, to go, and do likewise. Our obligation to obey is indispensable. Nor can any man be excused for a moment, who does not labour faithfully to resemble Christ in all the merely personal and moral parts of his character.
III. The example of Christ was perfect.
By this I intend, that in all cases he did exactly that, and that only, which was right. The truth of this observation I have sufficiently illustrated in a former discourse. Nothing more, therefore, , will be necessary on this subject, at the present time, than to show its application, and usefulness, to the concerns of mankind. Regarded in this light, Christ is, to us, a finished standard of moral excellence; and as such has taught us,
1st. What we ought to be.
In the progress of these discourses, I have endeavoured to show the manner in which Christ walked; in which he glorified God, and did good to men. The two great commands of the moral law, which regulate, or should regulate, the conduct of all Intelligent creatures, are, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart; and thy neighbour as thyself.
In conformity with the first of these commands, God held the supreme place in his views and affections. He came into the world to accomplish a work, which his Father had appointed him. This work, in all its parts, he steadily pursued, while he was in the world; and, when he left the world, his work was done: so that he was able to say at the close of life, Father, I have glorified thee on earth; I have finished the work, which thou gavest me to do. But he did nothing else. When he left the world, he left nothing unfinished, and nothing superadded. The end of all which he did, or said, or thought, was the glory of his father. This end he accomplished ; and, in the pursuit
, left himself out of consideration; cheerfully subordinating to it his own convenience, pleasure, and comfort; and cheerfully undergoing every trouble, difficulty, and danger. The whole language of his heart, on which the whole language of his life was a glorious comment, was, Not my will, bul thine, be done! This is the pattern, which we should set always before us ; this the piety, at which we should unceasingly aim.
To Mankind, also, he yielded himself, to promote their comfort, relieve their distresses, and secure their salvation. God is always glorified, when good is voluntarily done to mankind; and was in this manner singularly glorified by Christ. He taught men truth and righteousness. He taught them all the doctrines which they needed to know, and all the duties which they were required to perform, for the attainment of eternal life. At all times he prayed for them, even while he was agonizing on the cross; and wrought for them, with extreme self-denial, many wonderful and beneficent miracles. In a word, he lived in such a manner, that even his hard-hearted, unbelieving, and malignant countrymen were compelled to say, He hath done all things well.
In the mean time, he did nothing ill. He never omitted a duty, nor committed a sin. He was neither idle, nor vain. He neither flattered nor slandered, neither deceived nor defrauded, neither corrupted nor neglected, his fellow-men. By their favour he was not enticed; by their resentment he was not awed. His mind indulged no wrath; his bosom harboured no revenge. Boldly and uniformly, without fear and without fondness, he told the truth, and did that which was kind, just, and right.
To friends he was never partial; to enemies he was never resentfül. In his virtues he was not rigid; in his doctrines not severe;