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Such reason there is, even when we apologize for the truth of God, to do it with meekness and fear.
To conclude: Religious inquiries, when thus conducted (and only then) are commendable and useful. They exercise our best faculties on the noblest subjects: They may be the means of bringing some to the kingdom of God, and they can alienate none from it. Or, whatever the merit and the success of these inquiries may be, the authors of them will have the satisfaction of knowing, that they have inquired in a right manner; and, that, how little soever their UNDERSTANDINGS have profited the Almightyd, they have honoured Him with the noblest sacrifice, which a mortal can offer to his Maker, that of an HUMBLE AND SUBMISSIVE SPIRIT.
d Job xxii. 2.
PREACHED FEBRUARY 4, 1770
JOHN vii. 46.
Never man spake like this man,
by speaking, be here meant what is called fine speaking, oradiscourse artificially composed according to the rules of human eloquence, the subject is unworthy of this place, and the praise, infinitely disproportioned to the divine character of Jesus. A pagan philosopher, nay, and a Christian preacher, might haply so far forget himself, as to affect the credit of fine speaking ; or, his followers might think to honour him by applauding this talent a: But the Son of God spake with other views, and to nobler purposes ; and his inspired historians would not have condescended to make the panegyric of their Master, from so trivial a distinction.
Let us see, then, to what the encomium of the text amounts; and what those CIRCUMSTANCES are, in the discourses of Jesus, which give real weight and dignity to the observation---that never man spake like this man.
This will be an inquiry of use, and not of curiosity only; we shall find, in the course of it, very much to confirm our faith, as well as to excite our admiration.
I. The first particular, that strikes an attentive mind in considering the discourses of Jesus, is the MATTER of them; the most important, and, at the same time, the most extraordinary ; of the utmost consequence to mankind, and the most remote from all their natural apprehensions.
a Hence the name of Theophrastus, or the divine speaker, given to the favourite scholar and successor of Aristotle; And hence the stories told of Plato, whose eloquence Quintilian so much admired, that he thought it more than human-Ut mihi, non hominis ingenio, sed quodam Delphicg videatur oraculo instinctus. Quintil. l. 4. c. 1.Hence, too, the name of Chrysostom, given to the famous Greek Father.
But, by the discourses of Jesus, so qualified, I mean chiefly those, which are truly his own, and properly Christian : such as acquaint us with the dignity of his person, and nature of his office; with the purpose of his mission, and the manner in which that purpose was to be effected.
His moral discourses, though they be divine too, yet, being intended, for the most part, to deliver the religion of nature, or the religion of Moses, in all its purity, may be thought to contain nothing more than what human reason had, or might have discovered, or what the Law of God, at least, had already revealed. Yet it
deserve to be mentioned as an argument of his superiority to all other moral instructors, that HE ONLY has delivered a doctrine of life and manners, free from all mixture of error, and carried in some instances to a degree of perfection which, I do not say Reason, but, no Doctor of reason ever prescribed ; and that he penetrated further into the true meaning of the Jewish Law, than any of its expositors had ever done.
But, as I said, I confine myself to his peculiar doctrines, such as constitute the substance of that religion, which we properly call Christian.
And here, the weight of his doctrine must be felt by those persons who reflect that, coming into a world overrun with vice and misery, he proclaimed pardon and peace in this life, and everlasting happiness and glory in the life to come, to all who with penitent hearts and true faith turned to him. What Doctor, Philosopher, or Legislator ever spake as He spake, on these important articles ? What had Nature taught the Gentile world! Some fine lessons of morality, indeed, which might direct their lives for the future; but none that could set their minds at ease from past guilt, none that could free their consciences from instinctive terror, much less could erect their hopes to any assured prospect of immortality. What had Moses taught the Jews ? A divine religion, it is true, but such as left them under the burthen of a painful and oppressive ritual, in which the neglect of any one precept, or the irregular performance of any, might shake their security; and of which, when punctually observed, the reward was only some present ease or convenience in this