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I became acquainted with them, and took pains to ascertain how those unlettered children of paganism would be affected by some of the most remarkable precepts of Jesus, and some of the most characteristic acts of his life. When portions of the Sermon on the Mount were read to them, they expressed, in their simple way, the deepest approval ; and after listening awhile very attentively to some of the most remarkable parts of his history, they actually broke out in an exclamation of delight, clapping their hands for joy; and said, with great seriousness, “ O, how good this world would be, if men would only be like Jesus !”
I do not believe the goodness of Jesus was ever doubted, was ever soberly questioned. Some infidels have attempted to find faults in him ; but they could not, without perverting bis words and coloring falsely his actions. The uniform verdict of mankind has been and is, “ Truly he was a righteous man ; he was a son of God.”
Now there is in us not merely the power thus to discern what is right and good. We have also the ability to do right, to become good. If men had not this ability, they would not be moral agents. But they all have it. This is often expressly asserted, and it is continually implied throughout the Sacred Scriptures. All the dealings of Providence proceed on the assumption that men are able to do what is right. Indeed, there could be no obligation to do the will of Heaven, if there were not in us a corresponding ability. And there would be no self-reproach unless there were a consciousness of voluntary disobedience. Responsibility. Analyze the word. It obviously means the ability which any one has to answer the demand that may be laid upon him. Now I believe every sane man is conscious that he is free to choose whether he will do, or whether he will forbear, this or that, unless he has enslaved himself to some bad habit. Nay, I will not make even this exception, for our own eyes have seen scores, and our ears have heard of thousands, of men, who were enslaved to one of the vilest and most tyrannical habits, who have yet risen in the might of their inner man, have thrown off their shackles, have become strictly obedient to commandments which they had outraged, and are now leaders in that great reform which, I trust in God, is to diffuse the blessings of temperance over our country and the world. I say, then, again, without qualification, that every sane person is able, if he will, to do what he perceives to be right. This, and this alone, qualifies him to become a disciple of the Teacher of righteousness.
Jesus of Nazareth is that teacher. There is no other name, there are no other doctrines, no other precepts, there is no other spirit than Christ's, whereby we can be saved from all iniquity. Of no other teacher can we say, there is no wrong we shall do, there is no sin we shall commit, if we follow him in all things. The more we contemplate Christ's life, his conduct on all occasions towards all persons, the more clearly shall we see the principles by which we ought to govern ourselves, our actions, our tempers, our thoughts, in all the relations and circumstances of life. As he was holy, so are we called to be holy in all manner of conversation. Our Creator, who made us what we are, who knows what are our capacities, has placed Jesus before us as the pattern man.
Surely God would not have called us to be or to do what we have not the ability to be or to do. And there is no assignable limit to the progress of the human soul. Everlasting advancement in knowledge and virtue, everlasting approximation to the perfect, this is the high calling of man. Jesus, the holy, harmless, undefiled, has trod the way. He invites, he encourages, all to follow. And to those who will receive him, he will give the power to become the sons of God.
But we must receive him. There is deep meaning in this word. We must receive him ; not the misrepresentations of him that have been made, either by friends or foes. We surely could not derive any salutary influence from Jesus, if we believed him to be what the Pharisees called him, - Beelzebub. Nor is it probable we shall feel the full force of his example, if we suppose him to be what modern divines have taught, a kind of God, or superangelic being. Then only can he give us the power to become the sons of God, when we receive him as he is,
a man who was tempted in all points as we are tempted, and yet never sinned, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, -a man who was made perfect through suffering. When we have received into our hearts the assurance, that all the temptations to which we are exposed have been withstood by a son of man, that the severest trials of every virtue, faith, patience, hope, and charity, have been nobly borne by a human being, – then may we appreciate the value of his example; then may we conceive the possibility of becoming holy as he was holy, and be encouraged, roused, animated, to aspire to the mark of our high calling.
It will not be enough that we receive Christ's name in baptism ; or that we are received into what is called his church. It will not be enough that we profess what may be pronounced by certain self-constituted authorities a sound faith respecting his nature, and the efficacy of his death. It will not be enough that we declare our confidence in his power to save us, nor our belief in the sufficiency of his righteousness. For we can never be saved by his righteousness imputed to us, - substituted for our obedience, - in some inexplicable, mysterious manner transferred to our account in the great day of reckoning. No. No. All this is mischievous error, - taught though it be in most of the churches. We are saved by Christ only so far as we are influenced by him to throw off the dominion of every sin, and become obedient to God in all things. It is only when we ourselves have attained Christ's righteousness (that is, a righteousness like his) that we are completely saved.*
I am aware, so much has been said about the inherent depravity of men, our natural alienation from God and all goodness, and the infirmities of human nature, that most, even of those who profess to have renounced that dogma, still take it for granted that no very high degree of moral excellence is attainable by the children of men. Indeed, not a few, I know, who regard it as impious presumption in us to think it possible that we can attain any but a very imperfect resemblance to the Son of God. This is practical unbelief, which certainly is no better,
* All who are not saved may not be lost. to show on a future occasion.
This we may attempt
nay, it is even more mischievous, than any speculative doubts. It has led men to sit down content with glaring imperfections in their characters, never putting forth the powers which God has given them; and so remaining for ever ignorant of the mighty moral energy there is in every human soul. Nay, more, it has led men to put constructions upon some of our Lord's explicit commands that give to them another meaning, so that some of the peculiar, the distinctive precepts of the Gospel have come to be dead letters in the church ; and the professed disciples of Jesus are not distinguishable in their manner of life from "the children of this world " Nay, Christ is put out of sight by the very men who are pledged by their profession to hold him up before the world.
If we would acquire the power to become the sons of God, we must receive Christ as he is set before us in the artless narratives which the Evangelists have given us. Although each of the four is but a brief sketch, yet they blend together into a perfect picture of the original. Indeed, we may receive an impression of him that is more real than a picture. His character was so truthful, so transparent, and so harmonious withal, that all may apprehend it. Ask any one who has studied the Gospels, how Christ would act in any given case, and he will tell you at once. And the deep approval of all he did or said, which comes from the inner man of our own souls, shows that there is in each of us the germ of a character which, under the genial, quickening influence of his example, – that Sun of Righteousness, — might be unfolded in a resemblance to his own, as obvious as that of the branch to the vine in which it abides. Brother, do you