History exhibits to us many men of commanding and comprehensive genius, who stand at the head of their age and nation, and furnish material for the intellectual activity of whole generations and periods, until they are succeeded by other heroes at a new epoch of development. As rivers generally spring from high mountains, so knowledge and moral power rise and are ever nourished from the hights of humanity.
Abraham, the father of the faithful; Moses, the lawgiver of the Jewish theocracy; Elijah among the prophets; Peter, Paul, and John among the apostles; Athanasius and Chrysostom among the Greek, Augustine and Jerome among the Latin, fathers; Anselm and Thomas Aquinas among the schoolmen; Leo I. and Gregory VII. among the popes; Luther and Calvin in the line of Protestant reformers and divines; Socrates, the patriarch of the ancient schools of philosophy; Homer, Dante, Shakspeare and Milton, Goethe and Schiller, in the history of poetry among the various nations to which they belong; Raphael among painters; Charlemagne, the first and greatest in the long succession of German emperors; Napoleon, towering high above all the generals of his training; Washington, the wisest and best, as well as the first, of American presidents, and the purest and noblest type of the American character, -- may be mentioned as examples of those representative heroes in history who anticipate and concentrate the powers of whole generations.
But all these characters represent only sectional, never universal, humanity: they are identified with a particular people or age, and partake of their errors, superstitions, and failings, almost in the same proportion in which they exhibit their virtues. Moses, though revered by the followers of three religions, was a Jew in views, feelings, habits, and position, as well as by parentage; Socrates never rose above the Greek type of character; Luther was a German in all his virtues and faults, in his strength and weakness, and can only be properly understood as a German; Calvin, though an exile from his native land, remained a Frenchman; and Washington can be to no nation on earth what he is to the American. The influence of these great men may and does extend far beyond their respective national horizons; yet they can never furnish a universal model for imitation. We regard them as extraordinary but fallible and imperfect men, whom it would be very unsafe to follow in every view and line of conduct. Very frequently, the failings and vices of great men are in proportion to their virtues and powers, as the tallest bodies cast the longest shadows. Even the three leading apostles are models of piety and virtue only as far as they reflect the image of their heavenly Master; and it is with this express limitation that Paul exhorts his spiritual children: "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ."37
What these representative men were to particular ages or nations or sects, or particular schools of science and art, Christ was to the human family at large in its relation to God. He, and he alone, is the universal type for universal imitation. Hence he could, without the least impropriety, or suspicion of vanity, call upon all men to forsake all things, and to follow him.38 He stands above the limitations of age, school, sect, nation, and race. He was indeed an Israelite as to the flesh; walked about in the dress of a Jewish rabbi, and not of a Greek philosopher; and conformed, no doubt, to the Jewish habits of daily life. But this was his merest outside. If we look at his inner man, his thoughts and actions, they are of universal significance. There is nothing Jewish about him that is not at the same time found among other nations. The particular and national in him is always duly subordinated to the general and human. Still less was he ever identified with a party or sect. He was equally removed from the stiff formalism of the Pharisees, the loose liberalism of the Sadducees, and the inactive mysticism of the Essenes. He rose above all the prejudices, bigotries, and superstitions of his age and people, which exert their power even upon the strongest and otherwise most liberal minds.
Witness his freedom in the observance of the Sabbath, by which he offended the scrupulous literalists, while he fulfilled, as the Lord of the Sabbath, the true spirit of the law in its universal and abiding significance;39 his reply to the disciples, when they traced the misfortune of the blind man to a particular sin of the subject or his parents;40 his liberal conduct toward the Samaritans, as contrasted with the inveterate hatred and prejudice of the Jews, including his own disciples, at the time;41 and his charitable judgment of the slaughtered Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, and the eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and slew them (Luke xiii.1-4). "Think ye," he addressed the children of superstition, "that these men were sinners above all the Galileans, and above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay; but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." The only instance of Christ's complicity with popular error and superstition, which rationalists can point to with some degree of plausibility, is his belief in the devil and in demons. But they may say what they please against such a belief as irrational; experience everywhere disproves their arguments: while they get rid of one devil, they cannot deny the many devils in human shape, and leave them even more inexplicable; for it is much more irrational to believe in the continued existence of a chaotic wilderness of bad men and principles, than in an organized empire of evil with a controlling head.
As the pyramid rises high above the plains of Egypt, so Christ towers above all human teachers and founders of sects and religions. lie is, in the language of Renan, "a man of colossal" (we may well add, of infinite) "dimensions." He found disciples and worshipers among the Jews, although he identified himself with none of their sects and traditions; among the Greeks, although he proclaimed no new system of philosophy; among the Romans, although he fought no battle, and founded no worldly empire; among the Hindoos, who despise all men of low caste; among the black savages of Africa, the red men of America, as well as the most highly civilized nations of modern times in all quarters of the globe. All his words and all his actions, while they were fully adapted to the occasions which called them forth, retain their force and applicability undiminished to all ages and nations. He is the same unsurpassed and unsurpassable model of every virtue to the Christians of every generation, every clime, every sect, every nation, and every race.