« AnteriorContinuar »
these were sometimes called the Lord's anointed. But this term was used by pre-eminence, to designate the expected vice-regent of Jehovah under the new covenant; and hence he was emphatically styled the Messiah-the Christ, the Anointed. He was also known among them by the names of He who was to come; the son of God; the son of man, of David, and the king of Israel; all which names, though not precisely of the same import, were indiscriminately used to designate the same personage.
That the Jews of our Saviour's time did not expect a Messiah who should be the Supreme God himself, is abundantly evident from the Scriptures, and is indicated by the name itself. They expected him to be a man like Moses; a descendant of their king David; one who was, under Jehovah, to be their king and ruler, and who, in a particular and pre-eminent manner, was to be the Christ, or Anointed of God. Such was the Messiah who had been promised to them by the predictions of their prophets:* and I would here beg the reader to observe, that, when Jesus of Nazareth appeared, Nathanael acknowledges him as the son of God”—“the king of Israel;"f and Peter confesses him to be the Christ of God.
It has been imagined by some, that the benefits which the Jews expected to derive from the advent of the Messiah, were purely of a political kind; but this is evidently a mistake. It may be that many, perhaps even a majority of the Jews, attached only ideas of national prosperity to the reign of the Messiah: it may even be that the belief, that under that reign the Jewish nation should become pre-eminent among all the nations of the earth, was universal. Such a belief would naturally result from the idea that God was about again to become the political head of their nation; but the reflecting portion of the Jews also connected with the kingdom of God, ideas of a moral and religious nature. Under the old dispensation, Moses, God's first Vice-Regent, had been, not only the political ruler, but also the moral and religious lawgiver of the nation; and they expected the same from the Messiah, Jehovah's Vice-Regent in this new dispensation. This is shewn by the ideas which were prevalent aniong them. They believed that the advent of the Messiah was to be announced by a sign from Heaven.s that it was to be accompanied by a resurrection of the just, perhaps by a destruction of the wicked; and that his reign was to endure forever.** To the Jews, therefore, the advent of the Messiah was invested with all
*Deut. xviii: 15, and Isa. xi: 1. John 1:49. Luke ix: 20. Mati. xji: 38, Ivi: 1, xxiv: 3, and John ji: 18, and vi: 30. Sec Lightfoot. **John xii: 34.
the solemnity of a day of ultimate retribution;* and this ac. counts for it, why, when John the Baptist announced the approaching advent of the kingdom of Heaven, this announce. ment produced such a powerful effect on the Jewish nation, t and why all classes of men inquired so anxiously of him, what they must do to escape the impending doom, and to qualify themselves for admission into this kingdom.I
But perhaps it will be asked, of what interest is it to us to know what ideas the Jews attached to the kingdom of God? I answer by repeating the observation already made, that a doctrine, preached by our Saviour and his Apostles, must possess more than a passing interest. The Jews may have connected with it some erroneous ideas, but it must have involved a fund of truth which renders it of universal interest and application. Besides, if we consider this matter carefully, we shall probably find that the correspondence between the Jewish ideas relating to the kingdom of God, and the ideas which properly belong to it, are far greater than they are generally supposed to be.
Up to the time of the advent of Christ, mankind had no other guide in the path of duty than the dim light of reason; and no hopes of a life to come invited them to the practice of virtue, or cheered them on under the self-denial which it requires. Man lived only for this world, and all his plans and views were limited to his present state of living. It is true, that God had, in former times, favored the Jewish nation with a special revelation of himself; but it appears to have been the main object of that revelation, to preserve among mankind the knowledge of the one true God. Every thing in the Jewish legislation shews that its great aim was to preserve the Jews as a distinct people; and the state of seclusion from other nations which was imposed on them, was well adapted to answer that purpose; but it was evidently not calculated to disseminate ihe knowledge of God among the nations of the earth. Besides, as that revelation did not reveal a future life as the reward of virtue, it was not calculated to become the moral rule of action of mankind.
But by the advent of the Messiah, a new dispensation was introduced, in which God becime, in a peculiir manner, ihe la wgiver and ruler of mankind. Jesus, by his gospel, and, still more by his life, has prescribed rules for the conduct of all who desire to become subjects of this kingdom of God,
* Matt xxiv: 3. +Matt. iii: 5, and Mark i: 5. Compare Matt. iii: 7. with Luke iii: 7-14.
and has revealed, that a life of never-ending felicity is to be the reward of those who shall faithfully endeavour to observe its laws. It is true that this kingdom is not, in the cominon acceptation of the term, a political, but merely a moral kingdom; but then, under this dispensation, every act assumes a moral aspect. Every thing a man does, whether in regard to himself, or his relations as husband, father, member of the community, or citizen,-all is moral action-and for all he is to be held accountable to God. The laws also, prescribed for the government of this kingdom, do not consist, like human laws, in minute details for the regulation of individual conduct. On the contrary they consist of great principles of truth, purity, love, justice, mercy and benevolence, applicable to every situation and condition of life. - This kingdom is to be an everlasting kingdom, not only because its laws are of perpetual obligation, but also because its subjects are to live for ever. Whenever a man makes the laws of this kingdom the rule of his actions, he passes from death unto life. His immortality dates from the moment that he becomes a faithful subject of this kingdom; and he has the assurance of the Saviour that whoever keeps his saying shall never see death.*
It is also intended to be a universal kingdom, not only as rits laws extend to the whole scope of human actions, but also as intended to embrace under its dominion the whole human race. As yet only a portion of mankind are even nominal subjects of this kingdom, and a still smaller number are true subjects of it, faithful to its laws. But the number of these latter is rapidly increasing, and the borders of the Messiah's kingdom are gradually extending themselves. We have the assurance of the Scriptures that the Messiah must reign until all his enemies shall be subdued, and until death itself shall be done away.f The religion of Jesus is to those who cordially embrace it, the power of God unto salvation. By it men are turned away from their vices, and led to seek for eternal life by the practice of virtue and godliness. And this religion, if I am not mistaken, is now in a rapid state of progression. If we look back for thirty or forty years, we cannot help perceiving the very great improvement which, during that period, has taken place in the moral and religious state of society. Before that time, we might meet with much individual kindness, but it was generally the result of innate goodness, not of a religious principle. Then, comparatively speaking,
*John viii: 51. ti. Cor. xv: 25,26.
there were but few who professed to be religious, and these few were mostly found among the female sex, and among persons somewhat advanced in life. Now, on the contrary, the number of those who profess to be Christians, has greatly increased. It is no more limited as heretofore, but embraces now thousands of both sexes, and of all ages and conditions. And this religious spirit must hereafter diffuse itself through society with accelerated rapidity. The man who has grown up in religious indifference,–who has devoted the prime of his days exclusively to this world, its occupations and its pleasures,-finds it, in after life, difficult to acquire the Christian character. But not so with the child who has been born and bred in a Christian family, -who has been educated in a Christian Society, and has constantly been surrounded by moral and religious influences. Such an one imbibes, as it were, the religious spirit with its mother's milk, and is, by birth, a citizen of the kingdom of God, and an heir to immortality. Now it is obvious that in every community in which the spirit of Christianity has once obtained a considerable footing, there must be a constant tendency to its diffusion, and to its becoming the universal principle of action.
If any one should think that I am too sanguine in my anticipations of the future spread of christianity, I would refer such an one not only to the present state of religion in this country, when compared with the past; but also to the many usesul and benevolent institutions which have sprung up of late, and which all, more or less directly, owe their being to the spirit of christianity. Who that sees our Common Schools, our Sunday Schools, and our other institutions for the education, not of the few, but of the many,—who that sees our institutions for the instruction of the deaf and dumb, and of the blind,- for the education of the poor, and the fatherless,-for the reformation of the vicious,—and above all, that truly Christian and Apostolic institution, the Ministry to the Poor,—who can see all these, and the many other means for the improvement of mankind, which are in active cperation among us, without feeling that the spirit of Jesus is indeed abroad, and that here at least are found some who are true and faithful subjects of the kingdom of God.
I am not discouraged in the cheering views I take of this subject, by the slow progress which christianity is making in heathen lands. This, to a considerable extent at least, must be attributed to the deficiencies of the missionaries sent thither to preach the gospel. I would not detract from the merit
of these men. They are full of devotion to the cause in which they are embarked; but it is evident that with a very few exceptions, their zeal is far greater than their knowledge; and we have reason to think that, in most cases, their efforts are much more directed to the making of prosely tes to a sectarian faith, and to the introduction of positive rites, than to the dissemination of the spirit of Christianity. But these errors will gradually be corrected; and when Christianity comes again to be preached in its pristine simplicity, it will meet with more docile hearers, for in that shape it recommends itself both to the understanding and to the heart of man.
Neither am I discouraged by the skepticism and infidelity which have become so prevalent in certain portions of the christian world. I look upon these as the natural result of an advanced state of civilization and development of mind, which can no longer content itself with the dry, abstract, unintelligible and contradictory creed, or the barren, unmeaning ceremonial institutions of the dark ages. This evil too is only temporary in its nature, and may be necessary in order to free mankind from the slavery in which they have been held to the traditions of former times. Neither a state of unbelief nor of doubt is natural to man. He cannot rest contented under it. Hence we see, that the spirit of inquiry is every where actively at work, and from this spirit Christianity has nothing to fear. Some, in their search after truth, may for a time wander away from the mark, but the ultimate result will be salutary. The tares which had come to be mixed with the good grain, will then be separated from it. Christianity has nothing to fear but indifference. So long as men investigate its claims, all is safe.
som son (From the German of Herder.)
JOHN 1. 1–18.
SYSTEM OF CERINTHUS, A JEW. God in the fulness, in the pleroma. The eternal, invisible, unknown God.
Æons. The first of them is the Only-Begotten. From him is derived the word, (logos.)