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Where shall we find a more striking instance of the power of moral greatness ? How contemptible is the prince, amid all his grandeur and wealth, as compared with the prophet, notwithstanding his subjection and poverty! All might wish to have been the prophet; but few who could desire to have been the king. To the passages above cited, we may add the awful scene which took place between Saul and Samuel, after the decease of the prophet, on the fearful night which preceded the death of the king. It runs thus : “ And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy? And the Lord hath done to him as he spake by me: for the Lord hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David: because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day. Moreover, the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines ; and tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines. Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel ; and there was no strength in him ; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night.” How dreadful is this address of the disembodied spirit of the prophet! What a picture of agony in the person of the king! How solemn is truth, when uttered by holy lips, in the ears even of the most ungodly man!-Behold the decision and elevation which eminent piety imparts to Christian character !
I might, did space permit, proceed to speak of David, of Solomon, of Elijah, of Elisha, of Jeremiah, of Daniel, of Ezra, of Nehemiah, and others, and to show, that all their characters comprised abundantly the elements of moral greatness; but I must now go on to the New Testament.
JOHN THE BAPTIST, who was in all respects an ex. traordinary character, is the first personage who invites our attention. According to the highest authority in the universe, he was “a burning and a shining light." The Messiah has also spoken to the point of his comparative greatness: “ Among them,” says he, “that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” After this, it is not left for us to consider whether John was great, but only in what manner that greatness was manifested. The office of John, indeed, required the utmost greatness and dignity of character. He was the harbinger of the Sun of RightEOUSNESS ; and it was in discharging this function that John displayed his marvellous magnanimity. This fact was pointed out in a very affecting manner by the father of John, at the birth of his child. On that remarkable occasion, after a long season of speechless expectation, he closed a burst of sublime inspiration, by thus apostrophising his infant: “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest ; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord, to prepare his ways,—to give knowledge of salvation unto his people, by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the day-spring from on high hath
visited us,—to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” From infancy, this wondrous child displayed the utmost magnanimity. This fact, according to the manner of the Scriptures, is strikingly set forth by a single expression : “ The child grew, and waxed strong in spirit.” His greatness, indeed, had been expressly foretold: “He shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God; and he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” All this betokens the utmost moral greatness.
As the period of John's public labours was very brief, that period was necessarily attended with but few incidents; those incidents, however, were of such a nature as strikingly to illustrate his marvellous magnanimity. As changes of climate try the constitution, so few men have sufficient moral greatness to withstand the prostrating influence of royal favour. Before the sunshine of a court they melt away. The maintenance of robust health, under the operation of influences so debilitating, is, therefore, the most satisfactory proof of extraordinary magnanimity. This it is which reflects such lustre on the names of Elijah, Daniel, and other Old Testament worthies. No human spirit ever sustained less injury than John from regal smiles, while, like a pillar of marble, he remained erect and unmoved amid the prostrate and fawning multitudes. When
John was called to preach to the royal household, "the trumpet gave a certain sound.” His words were as swords and spears to the hearts of his audience; but none did they pierce so deeply as Herod himself. He stormed at once the stronghold of the ruler's passions. He not only reproved the king for taking his brother Philip's wife, but “for all the evils which Herod had done.” There was no forbearance, no connivance, no winking at sin. John knew the price of his fidelity; but he shrunk not from duty; although for that fidelity he was first imprisoned,—then beheaded! There is upon record, I think, no instance of moral greatness much superior to that of John; certainly none ever, at least, presented such an aspect of awful severity and exalted sanctity. The experiment of its power upon a hardened and most profligate magistrate was singularly instructive. Herodias dreaded the effect of John's remonstrances upon the conscience of Herod, and as a means of preventing the separation which might probably ensue, she plotted John's destruction. She “would have killed him, but she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man, and a holy, and observed him.” What an acknowledgment! Could a higher tribute be yielded to moral worth ?Behold the decision and elevation which eminent piety imparts to Christian character !
The glorious company of THE APOSTLES are next presented to our notice as illustrious examples of moral greatness. This noble attribute, like a monument upon a mountain, is seen to most advantage when least encumbered with adventitious circumstances. These men,—without fortune, without rank, without patronage, without a single quality by which the world is accus
tomed to set store,-occupied a situation in Jerusalem, at the outset of their enterprise, which served to try them to the uttermost. They sustained the fiery ordeal with honour. The narrative of their actions needs only to be read in order to produce the strongest conviction of their surpassing moral greatness. Their enemies beheld it and wondered; they were unable to account for the sublime phenomena of their courage. Those enemies “marvelled at their boldness; and took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus." How magnanimous was their answer to those who commanded them to speak no more in his name! “Whether it be right, in the sight of God, to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye; for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” But, passing by a multitude of heroic spirits referred to in the New Testament, let us for a little fix our thoughts upon Saul of Tarsus, whose name is but another for magnanimity, and whose moral greatness was second only to that of his Almighty Master. To estimate aright the character of this extraordinary man, it is necessary to weigh well his position, and to consider the nature of the work to which his life was consecrated. That position and that work were both entirely novel; neither had previously existed. They were such as tended to test moral greatness to the uttermost, and such as supplied a boundless field for its exhibition. The labours of Paul were wholly different from those of all the Jewish worthies, with the single and comparatively insignificant exception of Jonah. Nothing of the missionary character attached to Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, and the other prophets. The duties of these righteous men