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AT THE BIRTH OF CHRIST.
others, they appear to have altogether overlooked the duties which men owe to themselves. Those of them who were distinguished by the name of Therapeutæ, or theoretical Essenes, were a race of men who resigned themselves entirely to the dictates of the most egregious fanaticism and folly. They would engage in no sort of business or employment on their own account; nor would they be instrumental in forwarding the interests of others. In short, they appear to have considered themselves as released from every bond by which human society is held together, and at liberty to act in direct opposition to almost every principle of moral discipline.
It cannot therefore excite any reasonable surprise that, owing to the various causes which we have thus enumerated, the great mass of the Jewish people were, at the period of the birth of Jesus Christ, sunk in the most profound ignorance as to divine things; and the nation, for the most part, devoted to a flagitious and dissolute course of life. That such was the miserable state of degradation into which this highly privileged people had fallen is incontestibly proved by the history of our Lord's life, and the tenour of his discourses and conversations which he condescended to address to them. Hence his comparison of the teachers among them to blind guides, who professed to instruct others in a way with which they were totally unacquainted themselves; and the multitude to a flock of lost sheep, wandering without a shepherd. Matt. xv. 14; John ix. 39; Matt. x. 6, and xv. 24.
In addition to what has been already said respecting the sources of error and corruption among the Jews, we have still further to remark, that, at the time of Christ's appearance, numbers among them had imbibed the principles of the Oriental philosophy respecting the origin of the world, and were much addicted to the study of a mystical sort of learning to which they gave the name of Cabbala.*
The Samaritans are spoken of in the New Testament as a sect altogether distinct from the Jews; and, as they were inhabitants
* For a very ingenious and interesting account of the Cabbala, the reader is referred to Mr. Allen's Modern Judaism, ch. v. p. 65.
of Palestine, they merit attention in this place. Their sacred rites were performed in a Temple erected on Mount Gerizim; they were involved in the same calamities which befel the Jewish people, and were no less forward than the Jews in adding to their other afflictions the numerous evils produced by factions and intestine tumults. They were not, however, divided into so many religious sects; although the instances of Dositheus, Menander, and Simon Magus, plainly prove that there were not wanting among them some who were carried away by the love of paradox and a fondness for novel speculations; and that they debased the religion of their ancestors, by incorporating with it many of the principles of the Oriental philosophy. Much has been handed down to us by Jewish authors respecting the religious sentiments of the Samaritans, on which however we cannot place reliance, as it was unquestionably dictated by a spirit of invidious malignity. 'Tis certain, however, that our Lord attributes to the Samaritans a great degree of ignorance respecting God and divine things; it cannot therefore be doubted that in their religious system the truth was much debased by superstition, and the light in no small degree obscured by the mists of error. They acknowledged none of the writings of the Old Testament as sacred, or of divine authority, but the five books of Moses only. We learn, nevertheless, from the conversation of the woman with our Lord at the well of Samaria, John iv. 25, that the Samaritans confidently expected the Messiah ,and that they looked forward to him in the light of a spiritual teacher and guide, who should instruct them in a more perfect and acceptable way of worshipping the Most High than that which they then followed. Whether they were carried away with the fond conceit of his being a warlike leader, a hero, an emperor, who should recover for the oppressed posterity of Abraham their liberty and rights, and to the same extent that the Jews were, it would not be easy to determine. In this one thing, at least, they appear to have shown themselves superior to the Jews in general, that they did not attempt to gloss over or conceal the many imperfections of their religion, but frankly acknowledged them, and looked forward with hope to the period when the Messiah should reform what was amiss, and AT THE BIRTH OF CHRIST.
communicate to them a larger measure of spiritual instruction, of which they stood so much in need.*
So exceedingly great was the fecundity of the Jewish people that multitudes of them, from time to time, were constrained to emigrate from their native country ; and, at the æra of Christ's birth, the descendants of Abraham were to be met with in every part of the known world. In all the provinces of the Roman Empire, in particular, they were to be found in great numbers, either serving in the army, or engaged in the pursuits of commerce, or practising some lucrative art. Of the truth of this we have evidence in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, where we learn that, on the day of Pentecost, there were assembled at Jerusalem Jews “out of every nation under heaven,” who had come up to attend the festival. Their dispersion over all the west was the consequence of the subjugation of Judæa to Rome, and it was an important link in the chain of divine providence; for it placed them, as they express it, “ witnesses of the unity of God in all the nations of the world,” and this at a time when idolatry and vice overwhelmed all the rest of mankind. Those of them who thus ventured to establish themselves without the confines of Palestine were successful in proselyting to their faith many among whom they sojourned, giving them to perceive the superiority of the Mosaic religion to the Gentile superstition, and inducing them to forsake the worship of a plurality of gods : they likewise every where obtained that general sort of encouragement, and protection from violence, which was to be derived from various regulations and edicts of
* “Jeoida, the bigh priest at Jerusalem, had a son named Manasseh, who married a daughter of Sanballet, governor of the Samaritans. Nehemiah, governor of Jerusalem, banished Manasseh for this breach of the law. This exile carried a copy of the Pentateuch with him, read it to the Samaritans, and dissuaded them from idolatry, to which they never afterwards returned; and it was his father-in-law Sanballet who obtained leave of Darius Nothus to erect the Temple on Mount Gerizim, of which Manasseh was the first high priest. Hence proceeded a race of men, as the Jews acknowledge, more exact in worshipping the true God than themselves. Hence came the Samaritan Pentateuch in the old Phænician character, which confirms that of the Jews. Hence also went a Greek version of the Pentateuch, for the use of Hellenistic Samaritans resident in other countries, and especially for those at Alexandria; and of course the conversion of the Samaritans was an event in providence favourable to the general knowledge and worship of the one true God.” Robinson's Ecclesiastical Researches, p. 27.
the emperors and magistrates in their favour. On the other hand, the peculiarities of their religion and manners caused them to be held in very general contempt, and not unfrequently exposed them to much vexation and annoyance from the jealousy and indignation of a superstitious populace ; while many of them, in consequence of their long residence and intercourse among foreign nations, fell into the error of attempting to accommodate their religious profession to the principles and institutions of some of the different systems of heathen discipline, numerous' instances of which it would be easy to adduce. Upon the whole, the circumstance of the Jews having found their way into almost every region of the habitable globe, may be justly classed amongst the means made use of by Divine Providence to open a path for the general diffusion of the truths of Christianity.
Introductory Remarks-Object and plan of these Lectures-Im
portance of Ecclesiastical History—Strictures on the works of Dupin, Mosheim, Milner— Acts of the Apostles, &c.
I remember to have somewhere met with the remark, that the man who does not think he dropped from the clouds, or does not date the origin of the world from the day of his nativity, should be anxious to become acquainted with the transactions of different ages and countries; and for this, among other reasons, because to be ignorant of what took place before we came into the world is to be children all our days.
It cannot be denied that the all-wise and adorable Creator has implanted in the human breast a thirst after knowledge. It begins to manifest itself in children with the first dawnings of reason; and it is the province of history to minister food to this appetite. Knowledge is every where encouraged in the holy Scriptures, and our best interests are identified with it; 2 Pet. i. 2-while ignorance is pointed out as the concomitant of vice
-or, in the language of Solomon," it is not good that the soul be without knowledge,” Prov. xix. 2. “ Consider what I say,” said the apostle Paul to an eminent preacher of the Gospel, “and the Lord give thee understanding in all things,” 2 Tim. ii. 7.
But though knowledge of every kind be valuable, and may, under the direction and government of a well-regulated understanding, be rendered subservient to the purposes of useful life, we ought never to lose sight of the fact, that all the powers of created beings are limited ; and, as no one man can expect to