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STOICS, PLATONISTS AND GNOSTICS.
hands, it is related that the founder of this school, when he was dying, expressed much anxiety in departing this life, and ex. claimed, “ Cause of causes have mercy upon me!" The Stoics held that there was one God, a spirit, and that the whole universe was his body. They peopled the world with invisible beings, and supposed that every man had a guiding dæmon, and that his happiness consisted in following its leadings in obedience to the Supreme Mind. They taught the duty of entire submission under all circumstances, and that perfection might be attained by controlling the passions : they believed that the soul was mortal, and had no motive in living virtuously but to secure present happiness. The Platonists believed in one God, perfect, self-existent, self-sufficient, and infinitely good ; that he was desirous to make his creatures happy, and that all morality consisted in conformity to his will. They taught that the soul was immortal, and that there was a future state of rewards and punishments. All this appeared very fair ; but they added, that the Deity was confined to a certain space, and that there was an unconquerable evil in matter which he could not overcome.
The system of Plato was nearly allied with the Oriental philosophy, to which it is also necessary to refer, as it prevailed in Persia and other Eastern countries at this period.
The Gnostics (as they were called, from a Greek word signifying science) professed to believe there was one Eternal Mind; but that matter, which they held to be the source of all evil, was formed into this habitable world by some inferior being, whom they called the Demiurgus, and represented with many fine qualities, but haughty and ambitious. They said that the Eternal inhabited a certain space called the Pleroma; and that, after ages of happy solitude, he had peopled it with ever-during minds of both sexes, who perfectly resembled himself. They believed that man was composed of a perfect soul and a corrupt body, which oppressed it. The Supreme Being, they said, employs various means to deliver man from it, but is always opposed by the Demiurgus. Those who overcome the sinful matter rise and dwell in the Pleroma after the death of the body; but those who do not must pass from one body to another till they are purified. They had a hope that the Eternal would at length overcome evil by destroying matter, and that the souls confined in mortal prisons would, after the
CORRUPTION OF THE RELIGION OF GOD.
destruction of the world, dwell with him and the happy spirits in the Pleroma. Well might the Apostle say, “the world by wisdom knew not God.” And if the philosophers of the age were supporting such strange and fanciful religious systems as these, and thus proving that they were afar off from God, how gross was the darkness of the idolatrous world, who worshipped devils, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk. All the nations beyond the Roman empire had their own peculiar superstitions and observances; and human sacrifices were still offered by the Druids and other barbarian priests.
Having thus briefly noticed the different religious systems established by ignorant men, we must consider the grievous corruption of the only religion ever established on the earth by God. Religious corruption must always be regarded in two points of view ; first, as it regards doctrine ; and, secondly, as it affects the practice. It is quite possible to have a sound creed, that is, to receive all revealed truth with the understanding; and yet, as the Apostle says, to “ hold the truth in unrighteousness ;” and it is therefore written, “ with the heart man believeth unto righteousness :" and those who are saved, receive " the love of the truth.” Remember, therefore, it is only the loving hearty reception of the truth of God that leads to righteousness, or ends, in salvation.
On the other hand, the practice, or outward conduct of a man, may be beautiful in the eyes of his fellow-men, and yet sound faith, with its inseparable companion-love, be so far wanting within, that, as the Lord says, he resembles a whited sepulchre, or a platter that is only cleansed on the outside ; for God sees in him nothing but death and uncleanness.
The last days under the Jewish dispensation appear to answer to the prophetic description of the last days under the Christian dispensation. At the time of the Lord's first appearing, the Jews were divided into three great sects: the Pharisees and Sadducees already mentioned, who were best known in Jerusalem, and the Essenes, who chose to live in solitude, or in companies at a distance from the city. They held the Gnostic opinion, that the body was a mass of evil matter, the prison of the immortal spirit, and believed that a life of solitude and hardship, without the indulgence of even any natural affection, would raise the soul to God, and ensure future happiness. They were,
RELIGIOUS STATE OF THE JEWS.
among the Jews, in some respects similar to monks among Christians. They differed from the Pharisees, who looked for the resurrection of the body to share either the reward or punishment of the soul; and they differed from the Sadducees, who denied the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body. The Essenes refused to marry, lived upon the produce of the earth, which they cultivated with their own hands, wore a particular dress, observed almost continual silence, and had many singular customs which they followed with great strictness.
The Jews then, we perceive, had gone far away from the simplicity of the written word, and were almost as ignorant of God and his truth as the heathen world. All, excepting a small remnant, kept faithful by the sovereign grace of Jehovah, had sinned by either adding to his commandments or diminishing from them. See Deut. xii. 32. That blessed remnant were, without doubt, saying in their hearts, “ It is time for thee, Lord, to work : for they have made void thy law.” Thus it is clear that, as it regards the religious state of the Jews and Gentiles, the fulness of the time was come for the appearing of the Son of God; for it seemed as if the only true God was well nigh forgotten on the earth, and the things that please Him unknown among men.
And now, having considered the religious condition of man, or his notions of God, and state towards Him, we will dwell a little on the political and moral condition of the Romans and the Jews, during the first years of the Lord's stay upon earth, as we shall thus discover the state of men towards each other.
GOVERNMENT OF AUGUSTUS. - BURIAL OF HEROD. —TUMULTS
IN JUDEA. -- DESCRIPTION OF THE TEMPLE. --THE SONS OF HEROD. — JUDEA, A ROMAN PROVINCE. — GALILEAN PRINCIPLES.—THE EARLY LIFE OF CHRIST.
“ Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no
power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation (judgment).” -Rom. xiii. 1, 2. !
The head of the Roman empire has been already described ; but it will be proper to enlarge a little on his character and mode of government. The title Imperator did not convey to the Romans the same idea that the word Emperor gives to us; but at first signified only the chief commander of the armies. Augustus Cæsar was so called; but his favourite title was Prince of the Senate, as it was in the name of that body he professed to govern. The remembrance of his uncle's murder made him artfully avoid the appearance of holding absolute power; and in order to escape the suspicions of the people, he carefully preserved the forms of a republic, whilst he firmly established a monarchy. He contrived to disguise his sovereignty, by occasionally proposing to give up the authority which he professed to hold for the public good, and by deceiving the people with the shadow, whilst he robbed them of the substance of power. The dress, the palace, and the table of Augustus equalled those of the wealthiest senators only, and his household was wholly made up of slaves and freedmen, for he would not employ the poorest Roman in any menial office. He went with apparent humility to ask the votes of the people for the office of consul or tribune; and he would himself give his vote as a private senator, whilst his word, in the end, was the law. At the same time he gathered round his person the finest-looking and bravest of the youths of Italy, and they were gradually formed into a powerful body of guards, at first call Augustus' band, and afterwards the prætorian bands, as the assistants of the prætor, or first magistrate of Rome, in keeping order throughout the city. They were distinguished from the other troops by more costly dress, double pay, and HEROD'S BURIAL.-- ARCHELAUS.
particular privileges. Under their protection, Augustus felt himself secure; and during the latter part of his reign was less careful to conceal the reality of his power.
It was before a Roman court, appointed by this emperor, that the three sons of Herod appeared, each desiring to obtain the whole instead of part of their father's late dominions. Herod had married ten wives, and his children were numerous ; but Archelaus and Herod Antipas, the sons of his sixth wife, and Philip, the son of the seventh, were alone named in his will as his successors. Archelaus took the charge of his father's funeral, and tried to gain the favour of the Jews by giving them a public banquet on the occasion, and by making great promises. The splendid burial of the wretched tyrant who had been so long king of the Jews, forms a striking contrast with the carrying away of the Holy Child, “ born King of the Jews,” and his hiding in Egypt that same year.
Herod's corpse was wrapped in purple, and adorned with the diadem and sceptre; the bier was ornamented with precious stones, and the whole army followed it in battle array, with five hundred court officers bearing sweet spices to embalm the body. For seven days a pretended mourning was observed; but at the close of that period, when Archelaus addressed the multitude gathered in the temple, the Zealots, whose leader, with three companions, had been buried alive by Herod's order, demanded the immediate punishment of all who had been concerned in the execution of that cruel order, and the election of a new high priest. The young prince strove to quiet them without granting their desires ; but their party daily gained strength by fresh arrivals from the country, as the Jews were then coming from all parts to celebrate the passover. At the time of the morning sacrifice, Archelaus sent some soldiers to seize the most forward of the Zealots, but they defended themselves and drove away their assailants. This contempt for his authority enraged the son of Herod, and led him to attack the party assembled in the Temple, and to prevent the entrance of the strangers outside the walls. The unarmed multitude could make no resistance; three thousand were killed and the rest dispersed, so that in the first year of the appearing of the promised Lamb of God, the great national feast which was intended as the perpetual type of Him was not kept. The whole nation was terrified and distressed at this extraordinary occur.