« PreviousContinue »
dence; 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 every where successful in obtaining that general sort of encouragement and protection from violence, which was to be derived from various regulations and edicts of the emperors and magistrates in their favour : but 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. Many of them, in consequence of their long residence and intercourse among foreign nations, fell into the error of attempting to accomodate their religious profession to the principles and institutions of some of the differerent systems of heathen discipline, of which it would be easy to adduce numerous instances. On the other hand, however, it should not be overlooked, that the Jews were often successful in proselyting to their faith many of those among whom they sojourned, giving them to perceive the superiority of the Mosaic religion to the gentile superstition, and were highly instrumental in causing them to forsake the worship of a plurality of gods.
A VIEW OF THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF CHRISTIANITY
FROM THE BIRTH OF JESUS CHRIST TO THE CLOSE OF. THE FIRST CENTURY.
From the Birth to the Death of Christ.
The kingdom of the Messiah forms an important article in the writings of the Hebrew prophets. Those holy men who, from time to time, were raised up to exercise their ministry in the Jewish church, had foretold the advent of this illustrious personage, and described, in the most glowing colours, the majesty of his character, the extent and perpetuity of his empire, the blessings of his government, and the happiness which his subjects should enjoy under his mild and gentle reign. Accordingly, the chosen tribes, throughout successive ages, anticipated his appearance with eager expectation.
It was a custom among the eastern monarchs, when entering upon an expedition, to send harbingers before them to announce their approach, and prepare for their
2 Sam. vii. 11–16.-Psal. ii. 8. and xxii. 37. and Ixxii. passim, and luxxix. 19-36. Isa. ix. 6,7. and chap. xi. 1-9. chap. Ix. Jerem, xxij. 5, 6. chap. xxxiii. 15. ad finem. Dan. ii. 44. and vü. 14. VOL. I.
reception. Isaiah had taught the Jews to expect that such also should be the case with their promised Messiah; that he should be preceded by “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a high way for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it.”*
In conformity with this prediction, the sacred historian informs us, that the joyful intelligence of the Messiah's immediate appearance was announced, in the fifteenth year of the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, by the preaching of John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea.+
The leading object of John's ministry was to proclaim the kingdom of heaven at hand; in virtue of which he called upon all who heard him to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins; whilst the testimony that he bore to the character of his divine Master was the most honourable that can be conceived. I
The Jewish Sanhedrim, learing of his fame, sent to interrogate him, whether he were the promised Messiah ; and if not, to inform them what he professed himself to be. John immediately directed their attention to the prophecy of Isaiah, declaring that he was merely the herald of his Sovereign-“the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah.”—That there stood among them one whom they knew not, whose character was infinitely more dignified than his own one who, though he came after him, was preferred before him, and so much his superior that he considered himself not worthy to loose even the latchet of his shoe. $
Isa. xl. 3.
+ Luke üi, 1.
Matt. iü. 1.
John i, 19-7.
When Jesus had attained the age of thirty, the period of life at which the priests entered upon their ministrations in the temple, and was about to commence his public ministry, he was solemnly inaugurated in his sacred office by means of the ordinance of baptism, administered by the hands of his fore-runner. Impressed with sentiments of the most profound veneration for his Lord, John hesitated, saying, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” Jesus, however, reminded him, that there was a necessity for this—that his baptism was to serve as an emblematical figure of the manner in which he was to accomplish the work of human redemption: for as in baptism the individual is. buried under, and raised again from, the water, even so it became him to fulfil all righteousness, by dying for the sins of his people, and rising again for their justification. This being, accordingly, transacted in a figure, the evangelist informs us, that “the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descending like a dove, alighted upon Jesus, and a voice was heard from heaven declaring, “ THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED.” *
The ministry of Jesus, which continued during a period of three years, was restricted to the benefit of the Jewish nation. The writer of the Acts of the Apostles sums it up in two words, “He did and taught.”+ He went about all Galilee “teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people." I His doctrine comprehended the nature and perfections of God-the misery of fallen man--a declaration of his own character as the Son of God and promised Messiah-the design of his mission into this world, which was to seek and save the lost
his life a ransom for many, and call sinners to repentance-the immortality of the soul—the resurrection from the dead—the certainty of a future state of rewards and punishments—that he was appointed of God to judge the world in righteousness at the last day; and, finally, the gracious promise, that whosoever believeth the divine testimony concerning himself shall not perish, but have everlasting life. *
In his doctrine he rescued the moral law from the false glosses imposed upon it by the Scribes and Pharisees; unfolded its spirituality and extent, as requiring perfect love to God and man; and enforced its indispensible obligation upon all men as the rule of their correspondence with God; declaring that he himself came not to abrogate or annul one tittle, but to fulfil its utmost requirements, by his own obedience and conformity thereunto, and adopting it as the unalterable law of his kingdom, which is to regulate the conduct of his disciples to the end of time. +
The fame of this divine teacher soon spread " throughout all Syria,” and “ multitudes of people from Galilee, from Decapolis, from Jerusalem, from all parts of Judea, and even from beyond Jordan, resorted to him to hear his discourses and be healed of their infirmities.” # The miracles which he wrought from time to time, were the fullest attestation of his mission that could possibly be given; for they demonstrated that “ God was with him." They were performed at his word, in an instant, on persons both near and a distance; they were done by him in the most public and open manner--at Jerusalem and in every part of Judea and Galilee-in cities, in villages, in synagogues, in private houses, in
* John iy. 24. ch. iii. 3—19.-Matt. xvi. 26.—Johp y. 27-29.–Mark xvi. 13, 16.
Matt. v. vi. vii. Matt. įv. 24, 25, | Acts x. 38,