« PreviousContinue »
CHARACTER OF CHRIST AND HIS RELIGION.
[Preached at Madras, March 12, 1826.]
St. MARK viii. 9.
And He sent them away.
It is with these words that St. Mark concludes his account of the second occasion in which our Lord displayed His Almighty power, by multiplying a very small quantity of food into nourishment for many thousand
persons. He had before, with five loaves and two fishes, satisfied the hunger of five thousand men; He now, with seven loaves and a few small fishes, afforded a sufficient meal for four thousand. And, having thus by a miracle relieved their bodily necessities, as He had by His preaching nourished and strengthened their souls with the bread of life, the evangelist informs us that “He sent them away;" a circumstance which I have chosen as the subject of our morning's contemplation, because, simple as it may seem, we may draw from it, by God's help, in the first place, a very important confirmation of the dignity and
disinterestedness of our Saviour's character, and of the truth of His Gospel ; secondly, a striking illustration of the spirit and principles of that religion which He brought into the world ; and, thirdly, a useful guide to our behaviour in the daily course of our lives, and an additional motive to the diligent practice of those duties, the discharge of which is the end and object of all religious knowledge.
“ In those days the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples unto Him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat; and if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way, for divers of them came from far. And His disciples answered Him, from whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? And He asked them, how many loaves have ye? And they said seven. And He commanded the people to sit down on the ground, and He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to His disciples to set before them, and they did set them before the people. And they had a few small fishes, and He blessed and commanded to set them also before them. So they did eat and were filled ; and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away.”
have repeated to you the whole history that you may be the better able to judge of the meekness
and moderation of our Saviour, and how greatly His conduct differed from that which would have been pursued by a fanatic or an imposter. Supposing it, for the sake of argument, to have been possible that in these miracles of loaves and fishes, He could have been Himself deceived by enthusiasm or credulity, or, could by subtlety or magical arts, have deceived the enthusiasm and ignorance of His followers; supposing, I say, this to have been possible, which few men in their senses will suppose, yet is such a supposition in the present case rendered absurd by the total and evident absence of any interested or ambitious design which could have led Him to deceive others, or of any pride or vanity by which He Himself could have been deluded. If He had either designed, as His enemies accused Him of designing, to make Himself a worldly king, or if He had derived a vain and selfish pleasure from the number of His disciples, and the hosannas of a surrounding multitude, how little would He have been disposed to send that multitude away, instead of taking advantage of the favourable moments while their hearts were yet warm with the recollection of the miracle, to have secured the zeal and active services of those whom He had the power of thus strangely feeding. A leader who either possessed, or was believed to possess such a power might have filled his ranks with all the idle and needy of the land ; and the multitude would have flocked into the wilderness for the bread which he distributed. But the views
of Christ were different; to His views His conduct was answerable ; nor were either the one or the other different from what we should have expected in a Being superior to man; a Being trusting in Himself and in His Father alone, whom neither the blame nor praise of man could reach, alike above the mark of his hatred and his services. So far from priding Himself on the number and greatness of the miracles which He wrought, He does those miracles as things of course, and with the same degree of unaffected indifference with which a service of the most trifling kind is rendered by one man to another; He displays, almost uniformly, His Divine Power in works of mercy and loving kindness; and instead of collecting an army among His followers, and causing Himself, as He well might have done, to be proclaimed king over Israel, He actually dismissed two armies, one after the other, who were not only flushed with hope and inspired with the fullest confidence in Him, but were actually inclined, as we read in another chapter, to make Him king whether He would or
Such a conduct as this is what no deceiver would have followed in his own person ; nay, it may be pronounced with equal certainty, that our Saviour's character and behaviour, as described by the four Evangelists, are such as, if the Evangelists had been deceivers, they could not possibly have described or imagined. His is, in fact, a character of such perfect excellence and purity as no writer has elsewhere described either in history or fable,
and which it is absolutely absurd to suppose, that the Evangelists, being, as they were, unlearned men, and writing, as they did, separately and without collusion, could have conceived or painted, if the same original had not been before them all. If, then, the history which has been read to you be true, it is certain that Christ was, what He professed, the Son of God Most High ; and that it is true we may be sure from the want of power in the Evangelists to describe such a person as our Lord from fancy, or to agree in imputing to Him a conduct so consistent with itself in every part, and in every part so different from that of other men. And this is the first observation which may be grounded on the words which I have read to you, namely, that they confirm our belief that Jesus was the Son of God, that all things which He hath spoken unto us from the Father are true, and that in Himself there is no falsehood at all.
The second observation relates to the tendency and character of the religion which He taught. That religion, above all others, which have been at any time offered to the world, is distinguished by its peculiarly practical nature ; by its not drawing men away from the interests, the charities, nor, when used within due bounds, the enjoyments and pleasures of the present life; but by being a system of which it is the leading object not to take us out of the world, but to fit us for lives of innocence and usefulness in the world. It was the boast of ancient philosophy, and it has been the