Where shall we read of a more tragic, a more noble death than this ? Where is one that more stirs our mingled feelings of indignation and pity and admiration ? Do we wonder that by his death Jesus has won a closer place in the hearts of men than he could ever have by a most splendid and successful life; that the crucified one has been covered with honor and glory; that men have raised him to a height of praise equal only to the depth of shame in which he was once plunged ? Who would not like to be a believing Christian for a moment on Good Friday even more than on Easter Day, since all the instincts of honor and pity in a man incline us to take the side of one who was once placed at such bitter disadvantage? and we should rather err with such an one than keep company with those who are coldly correct, and have not hearts large enough for a noble mistake ! I for one would cast my tribute of honor at the feet of Jesus. There are Liberals who would ignore him, who would bring up their children in ignorance of him, or perchance would ridicule him. I am not of their number. Jesus is no paragon to my mind, no model of spotless virtue or of infallible wisdom ; I do not call myself his follower. But this he is to me, inspiration! He touches my heart, he stirs my conscience, he warms me with love of a noble ideal; and this is something which few philosophers, Liberal or other, have done or are doing for men, so that while in certain lines they may give correct opinions, Jesus and a few others like him give that indefinable thing we call life. I should rather have the impulses which Jesus communicates and be left to form my own opinions, than to have the opinions of our wisest philosophers without that motion of the heart toward goodness and all unselfishness which is so naturally stirred by the spectacle of the life and death of this son of man. It is not knowledge that moves the world, but character, love; and outside of the holy Buddha, where is there a man who has so impressed himself upon the world, and created and deepened so many channels of pity and tenderness, as Jesus, whose opinions we may outgrow, but whose heart never ?
The death of Jesus sets the last seal to his sincerity, and to the reality of that wonderful love of man which made him brave so much and count the cost so little. A man of commoner mould would never have risked so much; a man with a heart less pure would never have assumed so high a mission. We are compelled to say, that if Israel and the world were to be redeemed and purified and transformed according to the outlines of his dream, he was worthy to be the instrument of the Unseen in doing so; for never was there one who had less self-will, who more completely identified himself with the will of the Highest as he conceived it, never one better qualified to sit at the right hand of his Father, as he thought he one day should, and dispense justice and merciful judgment to the assembled nations of men.
As an incident in the moral progress of humanity the death of Jesus may be said to have a threefold significance :
1. It is the consecration of sorrow, of suffering. Cast over in your mind the gods of the Grecian and Roman pantheon, and where shall you find one with the downcast, sorrowful visage of the Son of Man ? where among the fair goddesses shall you find a face so tenderly beautiful as that which Christian imagination has given to the Mater Dolorosa ? A suffering godwhat an incongruous thing to a Greek or a Roman ! But a suffering god, a suffering man whom his followers have made a god, is the central figure in Christian worship. This means an immense difference in the moral sentiments of men. It means a compassion strange to the ancient world, it means that the more men suffer (other things being equal), the more they shall be cared for; while in Pagan civilization it was too apt to be the case that the more men suffered, the more they were neglected. No one can turn in reflection to the cross of Jesus, or to any of the affecting incidents of the last two days of his life, and not feel his heart softened toward all the sufferings of his fellow-men, and a double aversion to all the jeering spirit with which one man sometimes makes light of another man's distress. Such incidents as those at the trial and crucifixion of Jesus would not be tolerated now, even in the punishment of our worst criminals ; the dignity of humanity, even in crime, is felt now, and a lynching mob would hardly subject its victim to such indignities as were heaped on Jesus. It is not by accident, then, that we care for the sick now as never was the case in the old world, that the poor have a love shown to them that they never had in Greece or Rome ; it was not by accident that in old Rome itself the gladiatorial shows were stopped when Christian influences gained the upper hand in the State. Everywhere a new humanity arose, a new pity for all the outcast members of society; for no one suffered shame and loss without exciting the remembrance of him who was in his day "despised and rejected of men," and who asked no honor for himself save that of being remembered in the form of the least and feeblest of those who were his brethren.
2. The death of Jesus brings home to us in a vivid way that sacrifice is a law of progress. It is not that the unseen Spirit is angry and will not be favorable to man until some offering of blood is made to him, but that the conditions of things are such that progress is only possible through effort and pain and sacrifice. " What good thing have my brothers," exclaims the Buddha, " but it came from search and strife and loving sacrifice ? " It is a beautiful ideal that each of us should live a full and complete life, without any marring of it, any cutting of it short for the sake of others; but it is the goal of evolution rather than an always present possibility; in the mean time we have often to suffer injury to ourselves that good may come to others. What mother, what devoted friend, what leader of reform, what helper in any useful cause, does not know that without willingness to part with something, with time or means or strength or health, perhaps with life itself, they are not fitted to the tasks to which nature or their own hearts call them ? And this is why the innocent ideal of pleasure, of happiness for ourselves, falls so far short of the real requirements of life. It is summer-weather philosophy; and if we have cherished it, the first storm of adversity, the first disappointment, may dispel it like a dream from our minds, and is only too apt to leave us bitter because we were so unprepared. For we are in truth bound to one another, we belong to humanity. It is against our nature to seek a good for ourselves, alone and apart; it is according to our nature to find our happiness in the common happiness, to give, to spend and be spent in the service of humanity. None of the lower goods on which we so often set our hearts are absolute. Health we should seek; but we may disregard it, and suffer, as George Eliot says, "glorious harm " in some noble, disinterested service. " Who would not rather be sick," says Renan, " like Pascal, than in good health like the multitude ? " Who would not rather suffer, I would add, and bear his cross like Jesus, and be buffeted and spit upon and made the butt of cruel jests, and at last be crucified, than to live to a good old age as the high-priest did who condemned him to death, and left children after him, so that, as Josephus says, he was held to be one of the most fortunate men of his century ? Let us not use words lightly; let us not rate ourselves too high. I do not forget the truth of those lines of Newman,