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With such a knowledge of God, whom they had also been accustomed to consider as dwelling, though invisibly, in the midst of Israel, and as occupying the throne of his mercy-seat in the penetralia of the temple, what must have been their expectation of the appearance of the Messiah, who was to be of the lineage of David, and to bear the great name of Jehovah their justification." (Jer. xxiii. 6).
The Gospel mystery is, to persons who have not been educated in the belief of it, so entirely beyond any ordinary calculation of moral probabilities that we may be quite sure, granting even the fact of the incarnation of Deity, that no person could conjecture the peculiarities of the scheme or anticipate its operations. The prophetical writings certainly did reveal, in the most lucid enunciations, this fact, that Messiah was to suffer; that "his soul was to be made an offering for sin ;" and "that he should bear the iniquities of many;" that "he should be cut off, but not for himself,”— this enigma, however, the Jews would by no means comprehend was to be solved by a crime, which they were themselves to commit; and that they, following apparently the impulse of their zeal for their law, should slay a victim, whose death should be the cause of their own destruction or salvation, according to the light in which they should view it, and that the blood which they should shed, should not only obliterate the law of Moses, but, by an imprecation of their own devising, settle as a curse on themselves and their descendants, and work the ruin of the Holy City and the miserable dispersion of the whole nation. If Messiah were to suffer, they would argue, it might be by the enemies of Israel; by themselves it could not be; such an idea would, in their judgment, be utterly preposterous, for how should they do otherwise than greet with shouts of religious love, and hosannas of enthusiastic rejoicing, this Prince of Glory, whose apppearance they had been expecting with intense anxiety. It would be therefore far more in accordance with their natural feelings to treasure up those passages in the prophets, which spoke of a victorious, a reigning, a powerful Messiah, than of one wounded for transgressions which he himself had not committed, and bruised for iniquities of which he was not guilty. A crucified Redeemer, dying the just for the unjust, and, after his humiliation, exalted above every name in heaven and in earth, was hid from their eyes,-it was a mystery hid from generations and from ages-and though they were watching for the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, yet they perceived not the mists of pride and egotism which impeded their own vision, and enveloped their understanding in an impenetrable atmosphere. And we know that this was so; for when Jesus had, by his miracles, produced a temporary belief in the fickle multitude that he must be the Messiah, they forthwith endeavoured to make him a king by force. Their ideas ran on the promises of a splendid empire and boundless power covenanted to the wonderful Son of David,— "He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth;"-" All kings shall fall down before him, all nations shall serve him ;”—“ Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and a commander to the people." "There was given him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." This was the general view taken of the Messiah: and our Lord's disciples, whilst he was with them upon earth, participated in the popular expectation, and cherished thoughts of their master in accordance with that
expectation; for not only did Peter reject the doctrine of a suffering Messiah, even when it came from the lips of his Lord (Matt. xvi. 22); but after the crucifixion, the apostles plainly discovered what was in their minds when they said to the risen Saviour, whom they did not recognise, "We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel. The answer of our Lord all turned on their misinterpretation of Scripture, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" You have been feeding your minds with promises of the grandeur of Israel under the Christ, but you have neglected to observe," all that the prophets have spoken," of his sufferings and death; the sacrifice for sin, whereby the true Israel is to be reunited to God, you have entirely overlooked.
And thus, though the Jews had the Scriptures, and from them generally understood the nature of God, and though they knew that the whole array of his attributes was directed against sin, and that the law of Moses was concerning sin in all its appointments, and though they expected the incarnation of Deity, and that Messiah's name should be Jehovah their righteousness, yet, as they understood not the nature of sin, nor comprehended the extent of their own guiltiness, or their own utter incapacity to remove it, they looked forward to a work of overpowering victory, which should, by the irresistible force of the divine energy, subdue the evil that is on the earth; not through any satisfaction of the divine justice or exhibition of sovereign grace justifying the ungodly; not by raising up a new spiritual Israel justified by the faith which Abraham had before he was circumcised (Rom. iv. 11), but by the outstretched arm of Omnipotence, overturning all the works of darkness, and reconstructing the moral system in more than original beauty, harmony, and perfection.
Their views therefore of the Messiah, did not substantially differ from the principle of incarnation admitted in several mythologies, for it cannot be denied that the theologues of antiquity, in their researches into the cause and remedy of evil, came to this deduction, that it was necessary in great epochs of the darkness and prostration of the human race for Deity to appear on the scene; and by a new course of instruction, new manifestations of miraculous power, and new victories over oppression, to raise up the fallen tribes of man, to restore the true knowledge of God, and reestablish the obsolete laws of virtue, justice, and humanity. This indeed is enunciated as a standing rule of the Divine government, in the Vedantikastic theology of the East. In that ancient book the "Bhagat Geeta," the god Krishna says to Arjoon, "Although I am not in my nature subject to birth or to decay, and am the Lord of all created beings, yet, having command over my own nature, I am made evident by my own power and as often as there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world, I make myself evident; and thus I appear from age to age for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of virtue" (p. 53). A similar principle is at the root of Buddhism; and in Egypt, the incarnation of Osiris was derived from the same train of thought, the absolute necessity of restoring human affairs to order, and the utter incapacity of man for the work. In fact, of the many records of incarnation, which are well known to the student of mythology, the greater part are to be taken as religious revolutions engendered by the extreme corruption of the ecclesiastical state, and ushered into the world by some sage or hero, who, as he had
always to contend with a powerful party, is also sometimes represented as a martyred founder of his religion. It is well known that the Brahmins have invented nine incarnations of the Deity, with peculiar legends illustrative of each, and that they still expect the tenth and last. One of the histories of Buddh, the great Anti-Brahminist, represents him as prophesying shortly before his death, that after a revolution of 5000 years, a new God-man, Maidara, should appear on the earth with beneficent purposes for the children of men,—and indeed we may say of all the East, that the oriental theology has every where acknowledged the necessity of the personal interference of God to repair the moral, social, and religious disorders of the human race.
And this we do not mention here as a mere matter of curiosity, it is of deep religious interest to us as affording a proof that there is an appetency of the human mind† for some greater work of good than man can perform, and that there is a fitness, a congruity in the chief fact of the Christian faith for our natural feelings and reflections, when those feelings and reflections have, by the pressure of universal crime and wretchedness, led us to acknowledge the entire corruption of man, and the evident discordance of the moral world with the goodness and wisdom of God. The readiness of the mind to accept the Deity in person as the only efficient remedy for evil, is analogous to the general belief in the immortality of the soul, a belief which, though violently opposed by the appearance of the body
* One of the incarnations of Krishna represents him as dying on a tree, to which he had been nailed by the arrows of his persecutors shot into his body, and predicting with his dying voice the evils that were to come on the earth in the Cali Youg.-Creuzer, Religions d'Antiquité, ii. 209. Pauli Syst. Boulin. p. 149. sq.
† Plato, in his treatise on the laws, has acknowledged the difficulty, if not the impossibility of establishing a permanently beneficial government without the interposition of the Deity; and in the helplessness of man he seems to cry out for God. He tells us that in the happy age, i e. the golden, when all outward blessings were in abundance, and were spontaneously produced without the labour of man, Saturn, perceiving that no mortal could govern man without becoming insolent, unjust, and oppressive, placed, as kings and governors of states and cities, not any individuals of the human race, but certain divine beings (daipovia,) of superior race to ours; just as in the management of our cattle we do not appoint oxen to govern oxen, or goats to take the charge of goats, but, conscious of our superiority, we direct those inferior creatures ourselves. "The object of this tradition," says he, "when employed for the truth, is to teach us that in those states where a man and not a God has the rule, there can be no escape from evils and troubles." With this idea strongly impressed on his mind, he looks about for a perfect legislator; but seems to think the search fruitless: the desiderata for such a benefactor, in his opinion, would be great power, whether derived from nobility of birth or any other source, added to temperance and justice of character, and the gift of eloquence, such an one as he seems to think Nestor was in the days of Homer, but such as in his days could no where be found ε' newv ovdaμws, and if says he "there can be such a one any where discovered now, or shall he hereafter, blessed is his life, and blessed are those who listen to the precepts which come from his wise and temperate lips and indeed we may lay it down as a general rule for any government, that where the greatest power is united in the same individual with the greatest wisdom and temperance, there will be established the best polity and the best laws, and in no other way can they ever be produced (aws de ou un tote yεvnrai). Let this be taken as an oracular saying, and let it be considered as proved, that, on the one hand, it is most difficult to establish a good polity in any state; and that, on the other hand, if that should ever take place which I have mentioned (the appearance of such a legislator), it could be most readily and easily effected." Lib. iv. p. 176, Edd. Bip.
This is a very remarkable passage, and well does the voice of the prophet seem to answer the demands of the heathen philosopher. "O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold! the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold his reward is with him, and his work before him."
after death has prevailed in most nations, because based on arguments which the Creator has laid up in the human mind, thereby chiefly distinguishing it from the cogitative faculty of the brute creation.
In the reign of the Emperor Augustus,* the time arrived when the predictions of the prophets should be fulfilled by the manifestation of Messiah, the promised Son of David. The schools of the synagogues in Jerusalem, said to have been 400 in number at the time of the incarnation, the Scribes, the Rabbis, and all the chief teachers of the law, were generally agreed, by interpreting the prophecies of Daniel, that about that time the Great Deliverer might be expected. The expectation was so general, that Herod, the King, was well acquainted with it, and thought it a matter of sufficient importance for a particular inquiry ; "and when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea : for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel." This prophecy was accomplished, according to all appearance, by accident. Mary, the mother of Jesus, had gone with her husband from Nazareth, a city of Galilee, where they lived, to Bethlehem, that they might there be taxed, according to the regulations of the Roman government; and there she brought forth her first-born son in a stable, as there was no room for them in the inn. Bethlehem was probably crowded at that time with a great confluence of people, collected together to meet the collector of the taxes, or the public registrar; and this circumstance compelled the mother of Jesus to seek rest in a stable, where she gave birth to the Saviour, and where she laid him in a manger.
Here, then, began that peculiarity of the Christian religion which is observable in all its development, that it came forth upon the world in a manner not to be generally recognised or acknowledged. The minds of men were set upon a totally different appearance of the Messiah; and nothing could be further from their thoughts than that a poor woman, the wife of a carpenter, accidentally sojourning for a short while at Bethlehem, should give birth to the Redeemer of Israel in a stable. The birth of the child would be to the public a matter of no importance; of the crowd of Jews collected in the town probably very few became acquainted with the circumstance, and scarcely any one would feel any interest in it. But while the most important fact ever recorded in history took place unknown and unnoticed by the world at large, by another peculiarity of the system, a few persons were divinely taught the secret, and made to comprehend its value. The Eastern Magi (payot an' ava Tawv), to whom the Almighty had, by supernatural means,† commu
he fixed it The latest
Various dates have been assigned for the year of our Saviour's birth. Exiguus, A. D. 525, first used this date for the purpose of calculating an era; A. U. C. 754 ; but this has been decided to be too late by three years at least. investigations of this very difficult question tend to fix the event in the year 747 A. U. C. It must have been some time before the death of Herod, which took place A. U. C. 750. Irenæus and Tertullian give the year 751 A. U. C.; Eusebius and Epiphanius 752 A. U. C. + The Star in the East has given rise to various conjectures and traditions, which it would be tedious to mention. The astronomer, Kepler, suggests that it was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces, which fell in the year A. U. C. 747; and as that would be a great event in the astrological books, and as the Magi were skilled both in astrology and astronomy, some writers have caught at the suggestion, as also corroborating the most pro
nicated the knowledge of Messiah's nativity, and the shepherds feeding the flocks at night were selected to receive the glad tidings of the birth of Him whom all the prophets had predicted. The Gentiles and the poor were allowed to know, through the means of revelation, that which was kept secret from the wise and the great of Israel: "the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded." The great doctors of Jerusalem, the supreme pontiff in his palace, and the august retinue of the priests and Levites, who were "the authorised teachers of the people," and whose office exercised them continually in the established worship, did not discern the sun of righteousness which had just then risen on the world-their attention was turned to other phenomena. Had some prince been born with auspicious auguries in a Patrician family, whose proud pedigree, wealth and power had rendered still more illustrious; and had the dignitaries of the established religion, with the great lords of the land, been summoned by the rabbis and astrologers to his glittering cradle; and had the heavens above, and the earth beneath, by signs of preternatural commotion, attested the grandeur of the wondrous child; or had some daring soldier unfurled the standard of Israel's emancipation, and by his feats of arms broken the yoke of the Roman master, then would the priests and princes have hailed a Messiah like this with selfish loyalty, and in the opening prospect of their own glory have bowed the knee to so acceptable a leader. But he who had brought the first Adam forth in the counsels of his creation by ways unknown to man, brought the second Adam (1 Cor. xv. 47) into the world, under a veil which no one shall ever be able to penetrate, and at a time, and in a place, which no one could discern but those who by especial favour had been given to see that which others could not perceive. The Lord Jesus Christ was, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, and without the access of man, born of the Virgin Mary. He was, by this miraculous birth, the first-born of the new creation, standing out the chief and head of all that numerous family which by spiritual birth was to be born to God, and therefore is he considered "the second man, the Lord from heaven:" by his Father he was God, by his mother he was man, a mystery of too great argument to be examined closely by human faculties, and of too great holiness to be approached in language or thought more closely than the Scriptures authorise. But the way in which this mystery was made
bable date of the nativity: but as this would be to stamp the highest authority on that vain and mischievous study of astrology, it is impossible to accept the conjecture, however ingenious it may be. The star was probably a meteor appointed for the occasion.
Ignatius has spoken absurdly enough on the subject. "A star shone in heaven," he says, "beyond all the other stars; and its light was inexpressible, and its novelty struck terror into men's minds. All the rest of the stars, together with the sun and moon, were the chorus to this star; but it sent out its light exceedingly above them all." (Ep. ad. Eph.) Here the legendary propensity is fully developed.
Concerning the Magi, we can have no difficulty in agreeing with Chrysostom, that they came from Persia; but tradition has not been content with this conjecture, for we are told that the Magi were three in number, and that they were three kings, and that each had his separate offerings from his separate kingdom; their names also are given, Galgalath, Magalath, and Sarachin; or in Greek, Appelius, Amerius, Damascus; or in Latin, Gaspar or Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. By these three last names they are known at Cologne, where the skulls of the "three kings" are kept in a golden chamber, behind the high altar of the cathedral; where also they receive adoration from the infatuated people. In that idolatrous city they have also the skulls of the eleven thousand virgins, the companions of St. Ursula, who were all, so says the legend, murdered by the Huns, &c. These things we have seen all the sides of a church made horrible with skulls in iron cages, the eleven thousand skulls of those ridiculous saints!