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So long as the temple and its ritual were in existence, the zealots of Judaism could never want a plea for enforcing upon the converts to Christianity a strict adherence to the law of Moses. “It were impious,” said they,“ to forsake an institution confessedly of divine original”-adding that “no subsequent revelation could diminish the sanctity of a temple built under divine direction, or abolish the offerings which he had required to be presented there.” This reasoning had been ably combated by the apostle Paul in his epistles to the Hebrews and Galatians ; but the arguments of the apostle were in themselves insufficient to countervail the influence of the Judaizing teachers. Some signal interposition of providence was necessary to disjoin Christianity from the carnal ordinances of the law. of Moses and to free the consciences of the Hebrew converts from their attachment to that law. The destruction of Jerusalem was that interposition: the service of the temple could no longer continue, when one stone of the temple was not left upon another : the tribes could no longer assemble at Jerusalem after the city was laid in ruins; and that bondage, under which the Judaizers desired to bring the Christians, ceased when the Jews were scattered over the face of the whole earth.
Before I take a final leave of this subject, permit me to appeal to you whether it does not present us with an irrefragable argument for the truth of the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently for the divine origin of Christianity.
Who that attentively reads the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, and compares with it the account which Josephus has given us of the siege of Jerusalem, can be so blinded as not to find in it a proof of the Saviour's perfect knowledge of future events—a knowledge which belongs solely to God, and to those to whom he is pleased to communicate it; but, this admitted, it establishes in the clearest manner the divine mission of Christ and the divine origin of his religion. The truth is that this prophecy has always been considered by every impartial person as one of the most powerful arguments in favour of Christianity, and is admitted by some of the most competent judges in the science of evidence to be absolutely irresistible. Let it then be improved by us in the way of strengthening our faith against the cavils of infidelity, and encoạraging us to look forward with confidence to the ac
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complishment of all the good things promised in the Gospel to Christ's faithful followers.
The influence which this astonishing event must have had in extending the Christian profession throughout the nations has been already adverted to; but the various ways in which it contributed to do this deserves an incidental mention, though we cannot dwell upon it.
In the bosom of the prediction concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the Saviour had given instructions to the Christians in that city, by attending to which they would insure their own safety, ver. 15—28.; and the Providence of God overruled events so as to bring this about. Eusebius tells us that “the people of the church in Jerusalem, by revelation, left the city before the siege, and dwelt in a city of Perea, the name of which is Pella.” Hist. iii. 5. Thus they were secured from the impending evil, And, now that this dreadful catastrophe had taken place, what a new field was opened to the apostles and their fellow-labourers for spreading abroad the savour of the knowledge of Christ in every country under heaven, and with additional evidence of its divine authority! Wherever the heralds of salvation went, they could produce the prophecy in the writings of three of the evangelists now published, and point their hearers to its accomplishment in the events which had taken place before their own eyes. No longer was it required of men to go up to Jerusalem to worship, the time was come when the true worshippers should worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The effect of the event, thus interpreted by the prophecy, was powerful and instantaneous. It furnished the friends of Christianity with an unanswerable argument against the Judaizing teachers; it solved the doubts of those who were stumbled by their reasonings; it removed an objection which the Gentiles had to the Gospel ; and, when the middle wall of partition was thus removed, the word of the Lord had free course and was glorified, in turning men from idols to serve the living and true God.
We have seen in a former lecture how the great apostle of the Gentiles carried the glad tidings of salvation “from Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum”-planting churches in every city, and giving them the ordinances of public worship to observe; and though we have not the same authenticated account of the
labours of the other apostles, and of the success which attended them, yet we find from the earliest writers of Ecclesiastical History that churches were established in Egypt, at Alexandria, and in the adjacent country—and that the light of the Gospel was carried into Chaldea and Parthia : and, as some add, into Germany, France, Spain, and Britain.
Of the persecution which took place at Jerusalem, when Stephen was martyred and the church dispersed, some mention has been already made. Another took place at Rome, in the ninth or tenth year of Nero, A. D. 63 or 64. The ostensible cause was the burning of Rome, which the tyrant had himself set on fire, though he contrived to cast the odium on the Christians. The persecution was carried on with great cruelty. Tacitus relates that those who were to die were publicly exhibited and made the sport of the multitude, clothed in the skins of beasts, and worried by dogs: others were crucified, or committed to the flames; many were wrapped in clothes besmeared with pitch and other combustibles, and then fixed up by the road side, and set on fire as torches, to give light during the night. Nero offered his own gardens for the execution of the victims of his malice. The persecution, we are told, was not confined to the city of Rome, but extended to many distant parts of the empire, and lasted four years.
Another persecution began in the fifteenth year of Domitian, about the year 95, and it raged throughout the Roman empire both against Christians and Jews. The cruelty of this emperor was scarcely less ferocious than that of Nero, and it was in virtue of a decree issued by him that the apostle John was banished to the isle of Patmos in the Ægean Sea, where he wrote the epistles to the seven Asiatic churches, and also the visions of the Apocalypse. Flavia Domitilla, niece of Flavius Clemens, cousin to the emperor Domitian himself, was also banished to the isle of Pontia. The persecution continued till the decease of the emperor, when the exiles returned, and the venerable apostle John is said to have taken up his residence at Ephesus, where he died at a very advanced age.
In closing the present lecture, let me remind you of the prophecy of Daniel, ch. ix. 26, 27, and entreat you to consider it in connexion with the eyents we have now had under review.
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The Jews themselves admit these verses to contain a notable prophecy of the Messiah. We not only have in them a general testimony respecting his coming, but they also fix the time of his advent. The work assigned him is detailed with wonderful minuteness, viz. to finish transgression-make an end of sinoffering—make reconciliation for iniquity-bring in everlasting righteousness—and seal up the vision and prophecy. In order to effect these grand purposes, Messiah was to be cut off, but not for himself; he was to confirm the covenant with manyand cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease. Here we have a compendium of the Old Testament state of things--the substance of all the institutions of the temple worship—the centre of all the promises--in short the entire work of the Messiah is epitomized in these verses. But they also point us to the invasion of Judæa by the Roman armies--"the people of the prince that should come.” They tell us that these armies should destroy the city of Jerusalem and the holy temple, and that the end should be “a flood,” that is, an overwhelming torrent of war and bloodshed, desolating the whole land with fire and sword. The Roman armies, in themselves an abhorrence to the Jews, were to overspread the country, laying it desolate---nor was this to be a partial evil only, existing for a short space of time, but, as the prophet expresses it, unto a “consummation”---or until the judgments of heaven determined upon by the Most High should be fully accomplished. Such was the prophecy, delivered 500 years before the birth of Christ. Our Lord, in the chapters to which your attention has been directed, resumes the subject ---refers to Daniel's prophecy---quotes it---declares the time of its accomplishment to be then at hand-he amplifies, enlarges, and expatiates upon it-points almost circumstantially to the miseries that should attend the siege—the total destruction of the temple—with a variety of other events which I cannot here particularize. But we have seen that all these things have been fulfilled---the temple was completely destroyed by the Roman armies--Jerusalem, the holy city, has ever since been trodden under foot of the Gentiles---the Hebrew ritual came to an end ; and the wrath of heaven came upon the Jewish nation to the uttermost. Thus were the prophecies fulfilled and the truth of Christianity strikingly demonstrated.
Introductory Observations Review of the Heresies of the First
Century—Judaizing Zealots-Gentile Philosophy-Heresy of Hymenæus and Philetus–Cerinthus and the Ebionites-the Gnostics and Nicolaitans-Reflections on the Causes and Cure of Heresy.
An attentive reader of the apostolic writings cannot fail to have observed that the spirit of error began early to work in the churches of Christ. The Lord Jesus himself, during his public ministry, had, in several of his parables, described his kingdom in this world, or in its militant state, as being of a mixed nature. Such, for instance, I understand to be the import of the parable of the tares and the wheat; the good and bad fishes, Matt. xiii. 24–30; and the wise and foolish virgins, ch. xxv. 1. We have no reason to think that any of the apostolic churches were wholly free from hypocrites and false professors; but they were fully instructed how to deal with such characters when heresies made their appearance among them ; and not only their allegiance to Christ as the King of Zion, but their own happiness was deeply involved in the faithful discharge of their duty in this respect. « Woe unto the world because of offences,” said Jesus, “ for it must needs be that offences come.” And the apostle Paul seems to cast additional light upon this subject, when he says to the Corinthians, “ There must be also heresies among you, that they who are