Isaiah 53, 3.—He is despised and rejected of men.
Theke is scarcely any thing more characteristic of the masses of mankind, than the facility "with which they can be roused and set in motion, by any specious promise to improve their temporal condition. Even where their actual state is not one of extraordinary suffering, nor that which is offered in its place peculiarly attractive, nor the means by which it is proposed to accomplish it remarkably appropriate or efficacious, some natural propensity to change still operates in favour of the new proposal, and vast multitudes are instantly pervaded, as it were, by a galvanic influence, entirely disproportionate to the visible inducements, and apparently independent of all rational considerations.
There are individuals, and even classes of society, which seem to remain proof against this popular susceptibility, and take no part in the exciting movements which it generates. But, on the other hand, there are cases, still more numerous and marked, in which this same susceptibility is carried to a length which verges on insanity; and this extreme may fairly neutralize or cancel that already mentioned, so as to leave the general statement still emphatically true, that this mobility and readiness to catch at new schemes for improving the condition of society, does really belong to the masses of mankind, as a prominent feature of their common character. I speak of the masses, not in any invidious or unfavourable sense, as opposed to the select few who are thought, by themselves or others, to monopolize refinement and intelligence; but in the proper sense of the expression, as denoting great numbers, and even whole communities, in opposition to smaller bodies, and still more to insulated individuals. For, one of the most striking points connected with the general fact in question, is the uniformity with which it may be verified, upon the largest scale of observation and comparison. !Not only may the same cause be seen to operate in a vast aggregate of individual cases, but the actual and visible effects which it produces, are of a social, not to say a national, description. That is to say, the movements prompted by this potent and mysterious spring in man's constitution, are not merely personal, or limited to small organic bodies, but the movements of societies, communities, or nations, by a common impulse, as if suddenly endowed with a rational and moral individuality.
This is abundantly verified by history, which exhibits, when surveyed upon a large scale, nothing more distinctly marked, or more impressive to the eye of the intelligent observer, than those great migrations, the unsettling and removal of whole races, which have so often changed the whole condition of society, and given complexion to all after times. The profane traditions of the old world are unanimous, amidst their variations as to all things else, in showing us the surface of primeval history, however stagnant and monotonous in general, as repeatedly broken and enlivened by these earth slides and avalanches of migration—the abrupt, and, for the most part, unaccountable removal of the vast living masses from their original or immemorial homes to new ones.
The earliest history of Greece is nothing but a complicated maze of such migrations; and the same thing may be said, in due proportion, of the infantile reminiscences of every other ancient people. Even the New World forms no exception to this general statement. According to the Mexican traditions, the old race which established the empire overthrown by Cortez, had been wandering eight centuries before it settled on that lofty table-land. With all allowance for traditional corruption and exaggeration, there is, no doubt, truth in these accounts, for several reasons, and especially because they substantially agree with sacred history, which sets before us, at a very early period, the imposing sight of a great human current, setting from the source of population, in the central valley of South-western Asia, and represents even God's peculiar people, as passing through a series of remarkable migrations.
To show the confirmation of the same thing, in the history of later times, I need only allude to the repeated inundations of the Roman empire by immense and overwhelming floods of foreign population from some unknown reservoir or fountain, following each other like successive floods of lava, from repeated eruptions of Vesuvius or Etna, sweeping away existing institutions, and almost obliterating every ancient landmark; so that Europe, as it now is, or as it lately was, derives the most marked peculiarities of its condition, from the presence and the power of these so-called Barbarians.
For these great movements of the human race, historians have been puzzled to account. No one hypothesis affords an adequate solution. That the shifting masses have been started by the want of room, or of subsistence, or by a definite desire of better settlements, may serve to explain some cases, but admit not of a general application, since, in many instances, the current of migration has set out from spacious regions, rich but thinly settled, to lands already overstocked, if not exhausted, so that one large population must be destroyed, or at least displaced, to make way for another; while in many cases there appears to have been no desire of settlement at all, but the masses, once set in motion, have continued to move on, until lost in the surrounding nations or destroyed by collision with bodies harder than themselves.
This difficulty in explaining the phenomenon on any ordinary principles of action, only makes it more adapted to the end for which I cite it, as an illustration of the restlessness and feverish mobility which is characteristic of the masses of mankind. That it has not been destroyed by the spread of civilization or of free institutions, we may satisfy ourselves by simply looking round us—watching the movements—counting the pulsations of the great body politic, of which we form a part. Look at the symptoms of susceptibility in reference to the three great worldly interests of health, wealth, and freedom. Observe the easy faith, the persuasible docility of men in general with respect to sovereign remedies for some or all diseases. See how the popular credulity keeps pace with the very extravagance of the pretensions, so that men seem, by some strange inversion of the ordinary laws of reasoning, to believe and be convinced in inverse proportion to the evidence afforded. ambition, and, above all, with an utterly irrational credulity, a blind and superstitious faith in the sufficiency of theories and systems to heal wounds which have been bleeding and discharging nearly six thousand years, and an impious reliance upon men, and not the best men, to effect what God has solemnly reserved as an inalienable, incommunicable part of his divine prerogative.
Look again at the avidity with which new fields of speculation, or new mines of wealth are seized upon without a disposition to contest thj most improbable assertions, or rather with a perverse disposition to lay hold of what is most improbable in preference to what is less so, and to make a mind of merit of believing it, and proving the sincerity of the belief by corresponding action, not unfrequently involving painful sacrifice of actual possession or of cheering prospect for what may be a chimera, for what must be an unsatisfying portion. All this is exemplified among ourselves.
For a third example, we must look abroad at those tumultuous excitements in the sea of nations, from which we, through the divine mercy, dwell apart, as having already realized the vision of which others dream. Without detracting in the least from the value of the object aimed at, the secure enjoyment of civil and religious freedom, it is impossible to look at these commotions from our post of observation without seeing how the rational and right desire of liberty is diluted on the one hand, or poisoned on the other, with childish folly, with insane illusion, with corrupt
From all this it is easy to infer that we do no injustice to ourselves or others, when we represent it as a characteristic feature of man's actual condition, that he is predisposed to look with favour upon any specious project of amelioration that his bias, in relation to such schemes, is rather to credulity than scepticism, and that this propensity is not a matter of prudential calculation, but proved to be as much an affection of the heart as of the head, by the avidity with which the inclinations constantly outrun the judgment, and in some cases wholly supersede its action.
It would, however, be at variance with man's nature as a rational being, if his reason were completely set at naught, or even held in abeyance, by his sense of want, and his impatience to supply it. While the restless character in question does undoubtedly arise from an instinctive consciousness of something needed to appease the cravings of unsatisfied desire, and a vague belief in the reality of something more desirable than any thing as yet attained, it seems impossible that man, without a forfeiture of that which raises him above the brutes, should systematically act in opposition to the dictates of his reason and his better judgment, or perversely choose what he cannot but see to be least entitled to his choice. Passion, and appetite, and strong delusion may obscure his perceptions and impede the action of his rational powers, but cannot utterly destroy them. And accordingly we find that, in relation to these very schemes and hopes of temporal advancement, there is a vast expenditure of cunning and sagacity in order to secure the advantage and to baffle competition. It might therefore be expected from analogy, that the influence exerted upon men by offers to ameliorate their actual condition would bear some proportion to the greatness of the evils which they actually suffer, to the fitness and efficacy of the means employed to bring about a change, and to the value of the positive advantages bestowed or promised.
Seeing how credulous men are, how ready to believe and act on the authority of questionable evidence, and under the control of interested guides, provided there is any possibility of bettering their condition after all, it might be supposed that this facility of faith and action, this promptness to believe, and this eagerness to act on the belief, would rise with the clearness of the evidence afforded, and the authority by which the movement has been sanctioned or required. And, as the strongest case conceivable, it might have been expected, with the highst antecedent probability, that if the prospect, opened to mankind or any portion of the race, was that of complete deliverance from the worst of evils by the use of means infallibly effective, and if they were summoned and encouraged to the use of these by an authority alike
incapable of error and deception: I say, in snch a case as I have just supposed, it might well have been inferred from all analogy, that the restless disposition of our race to better its condition, and the readiness with which it is convinced that such amelioration is attainable, would operate at once, without restraint, and with complete unqualified effect in the production of the change proposed.
With this; antecedent probability let us now compare the fact as attested by the most authentic ev» idence. The key to history, both sacred and profane, is furnished by the fact that, after man had fallen through the influence of evil spirits, and God had determined to restore him by the gift of his own Son and Spirit, he foretold to our first parents, or rather in their presence to the great seducer, that there was to be a protracted contest between two antagonistic races, called in the prophecy the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman; a warfare full of fluctuations and reverses, but ultimately tending to the triumph of the cause of truth, and righteousness, and mercy.
This prospective division of mankind into two great parties gives complexion to all history, and may be traced distinctly from the date of the prediction to the end of time. The first visible triumph of the good cause was reserved for the appearance of its champion upon earth, when it was symbolized and really begun by victories openly achieved over the adverse powers of darkness. To prepare for his appearance, the explicit revelation of God's will was limited for ages to a single race, and every thing in their condition was so ordered as to excite, in the highest possible degree, the sense of want and the correlative desire of something to supply it.
As the time for the fulfilment of the promise drew near, this restless expectation reached its height. From the Jews it passed over to the Gentiles, where it seems to have combined with a collateral tradition, reaching back to the first periods of human history, and both together generating in the palmiest days of Roman domination, a pervading apprehension of some great event or personage as near at hand: a state of feeling attested both by Jewish and classical historians. This general condition of the public mind throughout the Roman empire, at the very acme of its greatness, and the widest sweep of its victorious yet pacific sway, was nothing more than an extraordinary and simultaneous exhibition of those same uneasy movements of the mind and will which we have seen to be exemplified, in more irregular and insulated forms, throughout all nations and in every period of history. It was the innate consciousness of want, and the irrepressible desire of something better and yet unpossessed, subjected to new stimulants, and brought, by providential means, to bear upon the great scheme of human renovation and advancement which was about to be unrolled by the hand of God himself.
This scheme possessed in the highest degree every thing which we have seen to be required as passports to men's confidence. The evil which it undertook to cure was the greatest in itself, and the cause of every other; the means such as only the Divine compassion could have brought to bear upon the end proposed; and this end, far from being merely negative, or limited to freedom from existing evils, comprehended the experience and possession of the highest good conceivable, both natural and moral. Here then was a case in which that native impulse might have been expected to have full scope and activity.
If left to conjecture, or to reason from analogy, how natural and easy to imagine the effect of this stupendous revelation on the hearts and lives of the expectant nations. As all eyes had, by some mysterious influence, been turned towards the spot where the deliverer of mankind was to appear, and the great men and wise men of the world, no less than the vast mixed multitude around them, held their breath, half in hope and half in dread of the event, it might have been imagined that when He, the incarnate Son of God, and yet the man of sorrows for our sake, rose on the view of this vast amphitheatre of nations, not as a gladiator in the arena of Yespasian's matchless structure, for the amusement of the world, but for its ransom, for its rescue from the greatest of all evils, and indeed from all the evils that.had stained or crushed it since the first sin was committed—the won' der, gratitude, and joy of the spectators would have found vent, not in noisy acclamations, not in silent and inactive tears, but in a mighty simultaneous rush of nations towards the cross, and the gushing lifespring which flowed from it—a unanimous, enthusiastic self-appropriation of this heaven-descended panacea for all pains, this inexhaustible supply of all necessities, this talisman of entrance to eternal glory, comprehending in itself all the true, and superseding all the false expedients for attaining the same end, by which, these very nations had again and again been roused to frenzy, and excited as one man to energetic but insane exertion. Yes, it might have been imagined that the men who had been thus roused by the false, or partial and inadequate devices of philosophy, philanthropy, or practical experience of plotting craft or soaring ambition, would have fallen down in speechless adoration at the feet of Him, invested with divine authority and power to do what men and angels had essayed in vain.
With this imagination, natural and reasonable as it would have been beforehand, let us now compare the simple, unexaggerated fact as recorded in the text by the prophetical historian, of a suffering Messiah. "He was despised and rejected of men." This is no hyperbole or oriental figure of speech, it is the literal history of Christ's reception by the nations; the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He was despised and rejected. He for whom they had been waiting with an eager curiosity, when he came was despised and rejected by the very people who had hung with idiotic faith upon the lips of augurs, pythonesses, magi, and false prophets. Even by the Jews themselves, who had existed as a nation to prepare for his appearance, he was despised and rejected, *'. e. by the masses of the people; while among the Gentiles, with the exception of the chosen few who joined with the elect Jews to compose the Christian church, the exciting anticipation of his coming was exchanged for bitter spite, or frivolous contempt, or stupid indifference, and they who were too wise and too refined to believe the record God had given of his Son, went back to their oracles, and fanes, and mysteries, to the filthy rites of Venus and the bloody rites of Moloch " as the dog returns to his own vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."
These expressions may be strong, but the reality is stronger, and the utmost license in the use of language would fall short of the loathsome folly and ingratitude of this reception given to God's highest, best, and most invaluable gift. Nor was it a mere temporary fit of madness, an ephemeral delirium. It has lasted ever since without so much as a lucid interval in the case of the great masses of mankind. And never has this scornful rejection of an offered Saviour been more odious in its spite, or more pitiable in its senselessness, than at the times, and in the places, and among the men, where the natural credulity, of which I have been speaking, and the practical docility which is its fruit, were most conspicuously manifest.
These darkened glimpses of a distant past may prepare our eyes for the intenser and less grateful light of times and places nearer to ourselves. Why should we talk of the old Romans and the Jews, of the Crusaders and the medieval generations, when we have only to look out of our windows to behold precisely the same spectacle, the same susceptibility of strong impressions, the same lively hopes and fears, the same credulity or easy faith, disposing to believe the most extravagant inventions, if embellished with a promise of long life, or boundless wealth, or unstinted freedom; the same restless inquiry after some new bait to this insatiable appetite; the same precipitation in obeying any call to fresh indulgence, without stopping to compute the chances or to count the cost; the Same compassionate Redeemer knocking at the door of men's hearts, as a man of sorrows, bruised for their iniquities, entreating, as it were,- for leave to save them, and the same contemptuous repulse. As this was, in prophecy, a constituted token of the true Messiah, so has it been in history, and still is, the invariable character of Christ's reception by the world, by the nations, by the masses of mankind. The offence of the cross has not ceased. "He is despised and rejected of men."
This would be bad enough and strange enough, even if it were in perfect keeping with the character and conduct of mankind in general. Even if men were naturally unsusceptible of strong excitement in relation to the future, even if it were hard to rouse their hopes and fears, or to render them available as means of practical control; if they were not easily imposed upon by falsehood or exaggeration, or disposed to act without sufficient evidence or warrant, it would still be an unspeakable infatuation to refuse to believe or act on God's authority. They might be inaccessible to dreams of wealth, and independence, and longevity, and yet be chargeable with madness in rejecting everlasting life. But how shall we find words for the description of this madness when the ordinary conduct of mankind is all the other way; when they are credulous, and tractable, and eagerly precipitate in every thing that promises to better their condition in the present life, and only sceptical, and self-willed, and refractory, when it is God who calls, and Christ who pleads, and everlasting life or death that is at stake! This astonishing exception to the general rule of human character and conduct seems to call for explanation, and the Bible gives it. The secret of this startling inconsistency lies in the simple but humiliating fact, that men are most insensible precisely to the greatest evils and the greatest good. This is a part of their hereditary curse. "Madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead," to be forever undeceived. One decisive symptom of this madness is, that it regards eternity as less than time, the soul as inferior to the body, God as less en titled to belief than man, an hour of animal indulgence more attractive than all heaven, a year of bodily privation or endurance more terrific than the gnawings of a guilty conscience, and the fire of divine wrath in the hottest hell forever. I am speaking now of those who do not pretend to doubt the truth of Christianity or to dispute the authority of God, but who nevertheless act in direct opposition to their own avowed convictions. With such delusions, why attempt to reason ?" Madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead."
This view of the delusion, under which the whole race naturally labours, casts a melancholy light upon the actual condition of the world, and more especially on those great national convulsions which are continually reaching even these ends of the earth with the prolonged reverberation of their noise, and the sympathetic shock of their concussions. However highly we may estimate the prize for which the nations are contending, now should we be affected by the thought that after all, these struggling masses are unconscious of their greatest dangers, and unsuspicious of their deepest degradation. To us the fearful events that are now passing, seen by a dim light at so vast a distance, are like some great nocturnal conflagration, or some scene of shipwreck; and to one who takes the view which I have just presented, most of the actors in this fearful drama must appear like men enveloped in the flames, or sinking in the waves within reach of the only means of possible escape, yet unaware of it, or in their blindness and confusion disregarding it; catching, with desperate eagerness, at this or that expedient, only to relinquish it anon or to perish in reliance on it, when a single step, a motion of the hands, a turning of the body, nay a look or a word of admonition from another, might ensure their safety.
He who could gaze on such a scene in real life without a sickening of the heart, must be without one altogether. And a kindred feeling may be naturally stirred by the sublime but awful spectacle of burning empires and of shipwrecked nations. As in the case supposed, however distant or however feeble, the humane spectator would experience an involuntary impulse to do something, to hasten towards the scene of death, to shout or cry aloud in warning; so the man who looks upon contemporary changes in the light of truth and of eternity, may feel an irrepressible yearning to extend a helping hand, or raise a helping voice to those great masses now in violent commotion, and too soon perhaps to be baptized in blood, to warn them that there is a worse oppression than the voi. II.—11*
one beneath which they are chafing, and a nobler freedom than the one in -which they are rejoicing, tc divert their eyes and their idolatrous affections from the objects of their overweening trust—the men -whom they worship as their national deliverers—to One who is a Saviour indeed, a deliverer both of men and nations, but whom, in common with their enemies and tyrants, they are still rejecting.
To a mind susceptible of such impressions, and capable of large and lofty views of human interests, as well as open to the calls of suffering humanity, the question may perhaps present itself as one of individual duty. What can /do? what shall I do for the remedy of this great evil? I will answer the question, if it comes from one who is himself a voluntary subject of Christ's kingdom. I say, follow your leader into the thickest of the fight, into the hottest of the fire, into the heart of the deep sea if need be; do what you can to let his name be heard and his victorious banner seen on every bloody field, on every wreckstrewed sea or shore. But if, alas, you are yourself an alien from the very Christ whom you would preach to others, then my answer is, remember that the ocean is made up of drops, and all societies of rational, responsible, personal agents. If every man among the masses now in motion on the surface of society, like conflicting icebergs in the arctic sea, were personally loyal and devoted to the Saviour, the entire mass could not despise or reject him. If the greater portion were thus faithful, the controlling influence in nations and communities must be a good one. Let us not then be so far absorbed in the condition of the mass as to lose sight of its constituent elements.
For a moment at least, insulate yourself from the surrounding mass in which you are, perhaps, too much disposed to lose sight of your individuality, and let me put a parting question, to be answered, not to me, not to any fellow-man, but to your conscience and your God. "He was despised and rejected of men." Of these men you are one by nature; are you still one in the heat of your affections and the conduct of your life? Are you still one of those by whom the offer of salvation is rejected? Do you still refuse or delay to trust him, and to give yourself away to him? Ah, then! I beseech you, think no longer of the nations or the masses who reject him. Waste not your pity on mankind in general, but reserve it for that one deluded heart, which in the midst of all this light and all this mercy, still despises and rejects the Saviour. While you thus bar the door of your own heart against him, shed not the tear of sentimental sorrow over his exclusion from the hearts of others, lest he turn and—pointing to that untried future which is still before you—say to you as he said to the women who lamented him, when on his way from Gabbatha to Golgotha, from the judgment seat of Pilate to the place of crucifixion, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but for yourselves and for your children."