Obrazy na stronie

they never draw any inferences in his favor, nor do they take any notice of the preference to which this unquestionably entitled him over all the other great geniuses of our race. They never exhibit any disposition to glorify him, as it were, in this respect. They never give a connected delineation of this plan. Their accounts of the various events of his life, are made up of single fragments, the importance and connexion of which, evidently they did not perceive. To form a clear and correct conception of the views of this original personage, we must combine them together and give the whole a laborious examination. This circumstance of itself affords ample proof, that they did not forge the plan which they describe with the intention of palming it off upon Jesus. In such a case, their accounts would have exhibited more effort to represent him as the author of this plan. They would have made greater exertions to call the attention of the reader to this subject. And in general, on the supposition, that Jesus had nothing to do with the designs of which they speak, it is difficult to comprehend how his friends, taken as they were from the lowest ranks of life, and educated in all the partialities of the Jewish religion, could have palmed upon him a plan, embracing all mankind, even the detested heathen ;—a plan, which exhibits more that is great and noble, than the most daring poet ever attributed to his hero, and of which no one for a long time, understood less than these witnesses themselves. In respect to the credibility of these witnesses, however, I think I may fearlessly appeal to what others have said. I proceed, therefore, without further circumlocution to the matter in hand.

7. In regard to the plan, of which Jesus is said by his friends to have been the author, three circumstances deserve attention; namely, its compass, its character, and the manner in which it was to be carried into effect. ITS COMPASS. Jesus, in his plan embraced mankind at large; all the nations of the earth then existing, or ever to exist. ITS CHARACTER. It was his intention to establish a kingdom of God, a kingdom of truth, morality and happiness, and 'collect all nations into it. Finally, THE MANNER, in which

it was to be CARRIED INTO EFFECT. Every thing was to be done without using force, or employing the hidden springs of a secret society; merely by the gentle influence of convincing instruction, and institutions adapted to arouse the moral sensibilities, stimulate the human mind to reflection upon its most important concerns, and warm it with a living zeal for the attainment of its true destination. Of each of these points we shall treat in particular.


8. When Jesus first made his appearance in public, it was apparently as the reformer of his own nation merely, and without seeming to be engaged in a plan of universal extent. He declared that he was sent to devote himself entirely to his own people, Matt. 15: 24; spoke particularly of retaining the law and the prophets, Matt. 5: 17— 19; associated almost exclusively with the Jews, and commanded his disciples when sent to make their first essay at imparting instruction, to avoid all intercourse with foreigners, and confine themselves to their fellow citizens, Matt. 10: 5. It is well known also, that he never separated himself from the ecclesiastical community of the Jews, and that the apostles retained their connexion in this respect, even after they had established numerous churches which bore his name.

From these circumstances, it has been inferred, that Jesus actually limited his views to his own nation, and intended merely to purify the prevailing religion and restore genuine Mosaicism, it having been adulterated by the lapse of centuries, and the explanations and additions of Jewish sects, almost beyond recognition.* When, however, the expressions of Jesus, as handed down by history,

* Comp. Semler, Magazin für die Religion, Th. 1. S. 322; Mendelsohn, Jerusalem, oder über religiöse Macht und Judenthum, S. 130 f.; Riem, Christus und die Vernunft, S. 6 ff.; and Jakob, Annal. der Philosophie, u. des philosophischen Geistes, Jahrg. 1795, St. XXXIX. S. 306, and St. LXXXIX. S. 706; [also Fragm. v. Zweck Jesu, S. 19. 66 ff.; Dr. Th. in Scherer's Schriftforscher, I. 3. S. 428

are considered in their due connexion, and compared together, this opinion appears to be altogether destitute of probability.

9. In the first place, let us attend to the condition in which Jesus found himself, at the commencement of his labors. Whatever he may have had in view, it is undeniable, that he was obliged to begin his work somewhere, and measure his steps according to existing circumstances. From the fact, however, that he made his appearance among the Jews, conformed to their laws and customs, and exerted himself mainly at first in behalf of his fellow citizens, it does not follow that every thing which he resolved upon was for them exclusively. Where could he have begun his labors to better advantage than where, as a relative, a citizen and friend, he already had numerous connexions, and could easily form more; where, instead of being under the necessity of opening a door of access, he found one already opened, and a people possessed of much knowledge exactly to his purpose, which would have been sought for in any other nation in vain? Whatever he resolved upon, was he not obliged to place his chief dependence upon the attention, esteem, and affection of those by whom he was immediately surrounded, and with whom he began his operations? But could he have flattered himself with the hope of being able to produce any useful impressions upon his fellow citizens without at least first remaining with the community to which, by birth, education, and the civil constitution he belonged, until he had produced another state of feeling? Would he not have excited every one against him, had he at the very commencement of his career, evinced a prepossession in favor of the heathen, to whom the Jewish populace were so hostile? had he even imprudently discovered an incli nation to abolish the existing religious constitution, which every one deemed sacred, and was zealous to defend? Was it not necessary for him, therefore, to declare that he adhered to the law and the prophets, in order to procure a favorable hearing and prevent every one from withdrawing from him at the very out-set? Besides, his immedi

ate and personal efforts were confined to very narrow limits. He was allowed no time for developing the plan with which he commenced by appropriate actions, and was prevented from making the attempt as soon as opportunity presented for the purpose. It was very natural, therefore, that, during his short public life, in which he had enough to do in order to secure faithful men to whom he might intrust the continuation of his work, he should have made no arrangements for leaving the Jewish community. If it were his intention to separate from it, death overtook him before suitable preparations had been made for so important a step, and the thing could be effected with security. For the same reasons also, he was under the necessity of limiting the first commissions which he gave his disciples, to their own countrymen. Possibly he may have been further influenced in so doing by the reflection, that there was then very much to be done at home, and that his messengers were as yet too incapable of performing any thing among strangers, to be entrusted with more extensive powers. All things well considered, it was also necessary for Jesus to make his appearance in the character of a man, having the purification and improvement of his own paternal religion at heart. In no other character could he have introduced himself to his countrymen, so as to command their attention and esteem. No safe conclusion therefore, can be drawn from his conduct in these respects, as to the compass of his plan. He was obliged to act as he acted, whether he confined his views to his nation, or gave them more ample extent. He, therefore, who infers, that Jesus had merely the improvement of his own paternal religion in view, from the course which he pursued, appeals to circumstances altogether of an equivocal nature, and which might as well be combined with any other supposition, and so of course prove nothing.

$10. On the other hand, so many of the expressions of Jesus plainly indicate his resolution to erect an establishment perfectly new, and entirely different from the religious constitution of the Jews, as to render it a matter of astonishment that it could have been so often overlooked.

Look at the very declaration itself to which such bold appeals have been made in proof of the contrary. I am not come to destroy the law or the prophets,' says he, ‘but to fulfil; for one jot or one tittle shall not pass from the law till all be fulfilled. He therefore who breaks one of these least commandments and teaches men so, shall be the least in the kingdom of Heaven,' Matt. 5: 17-19. What is this declaration, when considered in connexion with what follows, but a hint, that the heavenly kingdom which he had in view, was to be a moral establishment, perfectly new, and far exalted above the old constitution?

As if Christ had spoken as follows: "Hitherto the use of the sacred Scriptures for purposes of moral improvement, has been constantly neglected, and is particularly so at present. They are expressly calculated however, to exert an influence in this respect, and accordingly the law and the prophets are henceforth to receive such a fulfilment as they never have received in times past. He therefore who would fulfil them, exhaust their meaning, advance their utility, and use them in a proper manner, must consider them in this point of view, and exchange the constitution grounded upon them for an institution of pure morality."* Now does not Christ's whole discourse, subsequent to this declaration, undoubtedly prove, that this was actually the fulfilment which he had in view? What does he quote from the law? How would he have it observed? How does he explain it? How does he inculcate it? He always confines himself in what he says, to those general commandments which are of universal and eternal obligation in morality. He clears them of the spurious additions and false interpretations of the Pharisees. He represents them in their true extent and all their sanctity. He calls upon his hearers to yield them obedience with an earnestness which condemns the hypocrisy of the Pharisees without forbearance. With the sacrificial rites, ceremonies, and the precepts, which relate to the external constitution of the Jews, he either does not meddle at all, or only in an inci

* Paul calls this establishing the law, Rom. 3: 31.

« PoprzedniaDalej »