The Church under the Apostles
From the Birth of Christ to the Death of St. John, a.d. 1-100
J. L. von Mosheim: Historical Commentaries on the State of Christianity in the first three centuries. 1753. Transl. by Vidal and Murdock, vol. i. chs. 1 and 2 (pp. 9-82, of the N. York ed. 1853).
Neander: Allg. Gesch. der christl. Religion und Kirche. Vol. 1st (1842). Einleit. (p. 1-116).
J. P. Lange: Das Apost. Zeitalter. 1853, I. pp. 224-318.
Schaff: Hist. of the Apostolic Church. pp. 137-188 (New York ed.).
Lutterbeck (R. C.): Die N. Testamentlichen Lehrbegriffe, oder Untersuchungen über das Zeitalter der Religionswende, die Vorstufen des Christenthums und die erste Gestaltung desselben. Mainz, 1852, 2 vols.
Döllinger (R. C.): Heidenthum und Judenthum. Vorhalle zur Geschichte des Christenthums. Regensb. 1857. Engl. transl. by N. Darnell under the title: The Gentile and the Jew in the courts of the Temple of Christ: an Introduction to the History of Christianity. Lond. 1862, 2 vols.
Charles Hardwick (d. 1859): Christ and other Masters. London, 4th ed. by Procter, 1875.
M. Schneckenburger (d. 1848): Vorlesungen über N. Testamentliche Zeitgeschichte, aus dessen Nachlass herausgegeben von Löhlein, mit Vorwort von Hundeshagen. Frankf. a M. 1862.
A. Hausrath: N. Testamentliche Zeitgeschichte. Heidelb. 1868 sqq., 2d ed. 1873-’77, 4 vols. The first vol. appeared in a third ed. 1879. The work includes the state of Judaism and heathenism in the time of Christ, the apostolic and the post-apostolic age to Hadrian (a.d. 117). English translation by Poynting and Guenzer, Lond. 1878 sqq.
E. Schürer: Lehrbuch der N. Testamentlichen Zeitgeschichte. Leipz. 1874. Revised and enlarged under the title: Gesch. des jüd. Volkes im Zeitalter Christi. 1886, 2 vols. Engl. translation, Edinb. and N. Y.
H. Schiller: Geschichte des römischen Kaiserreichs unter der Regierung des Nero. Berlin, 1872.
L. Freidländer: Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms in der Zeit von Augustus bis zum Ausgang der Antonine. Leipzig, 5th ed., revised, 1881, 3 vols. A standard work.
Geo. P. Fisher (of Yale College, New Haven): The Beginnings of Christianity. N. York, 1877. Chs. II.-VII.
Gerhard Uhlhorn: The Conflict of Christianity with Heathenism. Transl. by Egbert C. Smyth and C. J. H. Ropes. N. York, 1879. Book I. chs. 1 and 2. The German original appeared in a 4th ed., 1884.
8. Central Position of Christ in the History of the World
Map, The Roman Empire.
To see clearly the relation of the Christian religion to the preceding history of mankind, and to appreciate its vast influence upon all future ages, we must first glance at the preparation which existed in the political, moral, and religious condition of the world for the advent of our Saviour.
As religion is the deepest and holiest concern of man, the entrance of the Christian religion into history is the most momentous of all events. It is the end of the old world and the beginning of the new. It was a great idea of Dionysius “the Little” to date our era from the birth of our Saviour. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the prophet, priest, and king of mankind, is, in fact, the center and turning-point not only of chronology, but of all history, and the key to all its mysteries. Around him, as the sun of the moral universe, revolve at their several distances, all nations and all important events, in the religious life of the world; and all must, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, contribute to glorify his name and advance his cause. The history of mankind before his birth must be viewed as a preparation for his coming, and the history after his birth as a gradual diffusion of his spirit and progress of his kingdom. “All things were created by him, and for him.” He is “the desire of all nations.” He appeared in the “fulness of time,” (Mar_1:15; Gal_4:4) when the process of preparation was finished, and the world’s need of redemption fully disclosed.
This preparation for Christianity began properly with the very creation of man, who was made in the image of God, and destined for communion with him through the eternal Son; and with the promise of salvation which God gave to our first parents as a star of hope to guide them through the darkness of sin and error. (Gen_3:15) Vague memories of a primitive paradise and subsequent fall, and hopes of a future redemption, survive even in the heathen religions.
With Abraham, about nineteen hundred years before Christ, the religious development of humanity separates into the two independent, and, in their compass, very unequal branches of Judaism and heathenism. These meet and unite at last in Christ as the common Saviour, the fulfiller of the types and prophecies, desires and hopes of the ancient world; while at the same time the ungodly elements of both league in deadly hostility against him, and thus draw forth the full revelation of his all-conquering power of truth and love.
As Christianity is the reconciliation and union of God and man in and through Jesus Christ, the God-Man, it must have been preceded by a twofold process of preparation, an approach of God to man, and an approach of man to God. In Judaism the preparation is direct and positive, proceeding from above downwards, and ending with the birth of the Messiah. In heathenism it is indirect and mainly, though not entirely, negative, proceeding from below upwards, and ending with a helpless cry of mankind for redemption. There we have a special revelation or self-communication of the only true God by word and deed, ever growing clearer and plainer, till at last the divine Logos appears in human nature, to raise it to communion with himself; here men, guided indeed by the general providence of God, and lighted by the glimmer of the Logos shining in the darkness, (Joh_1:5; Rom_1:19, Rom_1:20; Rom_2:14, Rom_2:15) yet unaided by direct revelation, and left to “walk in their own ways,” (Act_14:16) “that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him, and find him.” (Act_17:26, Act_17:27) In Judaism the true religion is prepared for man; in heathenism man is prepared for the true religion. There the divine substance is begotten; here the human forms are moulded to receive it. The former is like the elder son in the parable, who abode in his father’s house; the latter like the prodigal, who squandered his portion, yet at last shuddered before the gaping abyss of perdition, and penitently returned to the bosom of his father’s compassionate love. (Luk_15:11-32) Heathenism is the starry night, full of darkness and fear, but of mysterious presage also, and of anxious waiting for the light of day; Judaism, the dawn, full of the fresh hope and promise of the rising sun; both lose themselves in the sunlight of Christianity, and attest its claim to be the only true and the perfect religion for mankind.
The heathen preparation again was partly intellectual and literary, partly political and social. The former is represented by the Greeks, the latter by the Romans.
Jerusalem, the holy city, Athens, the city of culture, and Rome, the city of power, may stand for the three factors in that preparatory history which ended in the birth of Christianity.
This process of preparation for redemption in the history of the world, the groping of heathenism after the “unknown God” (Act_17:23) and inward peace, and the legal struggle and comforting hope of Judaism, repeat themselves in every individual believer; for man is made for Christ, and “his heart is restless, till it rests in Christ.”
1. The Canonical Books of the O. and N. Testaments.
2. The Jewish Apocrypha. Best edition by Otto Frid. Fritzsche: Libri Apocryphi Veteris Testamenti Graece. Lips. 1871. German Commentary by Fritzsche and Grimm, Leipz. 1851-’60 (in the “Exeget. Handbuch zum A. T.”); English Com. by Dr. E. C. Bissell, N. York, 1880 (vol. xxv. in Schaff’s ed. of Lange’s Bible-Work).
3. Josephus (a Jewish scholar, priest, and historian, patronized by Vespasian and Titus, b. a.d. 37, d. about 103): Antiquitates Judaicae (Ἀρχαιολογία Ἰουδαΐκή), in 20 books, written first (but not preserved) in Aramaic, and then reproduced in Greek, a.d. 94, beginning with the creation and coming down to the outbreak of the rebellion against the Romans, a.d. 66, important for the post-exilian period. Bellum Judaicum (περὶ τοῦ Ἰουδαΐκοῦ πολέμου), in 7 books, written about 75, from his own personal observation (as Jewish general in Galilee, then as Roman captive, and Roman agent), and coming down to the destruction of Jerusalem, a.d. 70. Contra. Apionem, a defence of the Jewish nation against the calumnies of the grammarian Apion. His Vita or Autobiography was written after a.d. 100. — Editions of Josephus by Hudson, Oxon. 1720, 2 vols. fol.; Havercamp, Amst. 1726, 2 fol.; Oberthür, Lips. 1785, 3 vols.; Richter, Lips. 1827, 6 vols.; Dindorf, Par. 1849, 2 vols.; Imm. Bekker, Lips. 1855, 6 vols. The editions of Havercamp and Dindorf are the best. English translations by Whiston and Traill, often edited, in London, New York, Philadelphia. German translations by Hedio, Ott, Cotta, Demme.
4. Philo of Alexandria (d. after a.d. 40) represents the learned and philosophical (Platonic) Judaism. Best ed. by Mangey, Lond. 1742, 2 fol., and Richter, Lips. 1828, 2 vols. English translation by C. D. Yonge, London, 1854, 4 vols. (in Bohn’s “Ecclesiastical Library”).
5. The Talmud (תַּלְמוּד i.e. Doctrine) represents the traditional, post-exilian, and anti-Christian Judaism. It consists of the Mishna (מִשְׁנָה δευτέρωσις Repetition of the Law), from the end of the second century, and the Gemara (גמָרָא i.e. Perfect Doctrine, from גָמַר to bring to an end). The latter exists in two forms, the Palestinian Gemara, completed at Tiberias about a.d. 350, and the Babylonian Gemara of the sixth century. Best eds. of the Talmud by Bomberg, Ven. 1520 sqq. 12 vols. fol., and Sittenfeld, Berlin, 1862-’68, 12 vols. fol. Latin version of the Mishna by G. Surenhusius, Amst. 1698-1703, 6 vols. fol.; German by J. J. Rabe, Onolzbach, 1760-’63.
6. Monumental Sources: of Egypt (see the works of Champollion, Young, Rosellini, Wilkinson, Birch, Mariette, Lepsius, Bunsen, Ebers, Brugsch, etc.); of Babylon and Assyria (see Botta, Layard, George Smith, Sayce, Schrader, etc.).
7. Greek and Roman authors: Polybius (d. b.c. 125), Diodorus Siculus (contemporary of Caesar), Strabo (d. a.d. 24), Tacitus (d. about 117), Suetonius (d. about 130), Justinus (d. after a.d. 160). Their accounts are mostly incidental, and either simply derived from Josephus, or full of error and prejudice, and hence of very little value.
(a) By Christian authors
Prideaux (Dean of Norwich, d. 1724): The Old and New Testament Connected in the History of the Jews and neighboring nations, from the declension of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to the time of Christ. Lond. 1715; 11th ed. 1749, 4 vols. (and later eds.). The same in French and German.
J. J. Hess (d. 1828): Geschichte der Israeliten vor den Zeiten Jesu. Zür. 1766 sqq., 12 vols.
Warburton (Bishop of Gloucester, d. 1779): The Divine Legation of Moses Demonstrated. 5th ed. Lond. 1766; 10th ed. by James Nichols, Lond. 1846, 3 vols. 8vo.
Milman (Dean of St. Paul’s, d. 1868): History of the Jews. Lond. 1829, 3 vols.; revised ed. Lond. and N. York, 1865, 3 vols.
J. C. K. Hofmann (Prof. in Erlangen, d. 1878): Weissagung und Erfüllung. Nördl. 1841, 2 vols.
Archibald Alexander (d. at Princeton, 1851): A History of the Israelitish Nation. Philadelphia, 1853. (Popular.)
H. Ewald (d. 1874): Geschichte des Volkes Israel bis Christus. Gött. 1843 sqq. 3d ed. 1864-’68, 7 vols. A work of rare genius and learning, but full of bold conjectures. Engl. transl. by Russell Martineau and J. E. Carpenter. Lond. 1871-’76, 5 vols. Comp. also Ewald’s Prophets, and Poetical Books of the O. T.
E. W. Hengstenberg (d. 1869): Geschichte des Reiches Gottes unter dem Alten Bunde. Berl. 1869-’71, 2 vols. (Posthumous publication.) English transl., Edinburgh (T. & T. Clark), 1871-272, 2 vols. (Name of the translator not given.)
J. H. Kurtz: Geschichte des Alten Bundes. Berlin, 1848-’55, 2 vols. (unfinished). Engl. transl. by Edersheim, Edinb. 1859, in 3 vols. The same: Lehrbuch der heil. Geschichte. Königsb. 6th ed. 1853; also in English, by C. F. Schäffer. Phil. 1855.
P. Cassel: Israel in der Weltgeschichte. Berlin, 1865 (32 pp.).
Joseph Langen (R. C.): Das Judenthum in Palästina zur Zeit Christi. Freiburg i. B. 1866.
G. Weber and H. Holtzmann: Geschichte des Volkes Israel und der Gründung des Christenthums. Leipzig, 1867, 2 vols. (the first vol. by Weber, the second by Holtzmann).
H. Holtzmann: Die Messiasidee zur Zeit Christi, in the “Jahrbücher für Deutsche Theologie,” Gotha, 1867 (vol. xii. pp. 389-411).
F. Hitzig: Geschichte des Volkes Israel von Anbeginn bis zur Eroberung Masada’s im J. 72 nach Chr. Heidelb. 1869, 2 vols.
A. Kuenen (Prof. in Leyden): De godsdienst van Israël tot den ondergang van den joodschen staat. Haarlem, 1870, 2 vols. Transl. into English. The Religion of Israel to the Fall of the Jewish State, by A. H. May. Lond. (Williams & Norgate), 1874-’75, 3 vols. Represents the advanced rationalism of Holland.
A. P. Stanley (Dean of Westminster): Lectures on the History of the Jewish Church. Lond. and N. York, 1863-76, 3 vols. Based on Ewald.
W. Wellhausen: Geschichte Israels. Berlin, 1878, 3d ed. 1886. Transl. by Black and Menzies: Prolegomena to the History of Israel. Edinb. 1885.
F. Schürer: Geschichte des jüd. Volkes im Zeitalter Christi. 1886 sq. 2 vols.
A. Edersheim: Prophecy and History in relation to the Messiah. Lond. 1885.
A. Köhler: Lehrbuch der bibl. Geschichte des A. T. Erlangen, 1875-’88.
C. A. Briggs: Messianic Prophecy. N. York and Edinb. 1886.
V. H. Stanton: The Jewish, and the Christian Messiah. Lond. 1886.
B. Stade: Gesch. des Volkes Israel. Berlin, 1888, 2 vols. Radical.
E. Renan: Hist. du peuple d’Israel. Paris, 1887 sqq., 3 vols. Engl. translation, London, 1888 sqq. Radical.
B. Kittel: Gesch. der Hebräer. Gotha, 1888 sqq. Moderate.
Franz Delitzsch (d. 1890): Messianische Weissagungen in geschichtlicher Folge. Leipzig, 1890. His last work. Translated by Sam. Ives Curtiss (of Chicago), Edinb. and New York, 1892.
(b) By Jewish authors
J. M. Jost: Geschichte der Israeliten seit der Zeit der Maccabäer bis auf unsere Tage. Leipz. 1820-’28, 9 vols. By the same: Geschichte des Judenthums und seiner Secten. 1857-159, 3 vols.
Salvador: Histoire de la domination Romaine en Judée et de la ruine de Jerusalem. Par. 1847, 2 vols.
Raphall: Post-biblical History of the Jews from the close of the O. T. about the year 420 till the destruction of the second Temple in the year 70. Lond. 1856, 2 vols.
Abraham Geiger (a liberal Rabbi at Frankfort on the M.): Das Judenthum und seine Geschichte. Breslau; 2d ed. 1865-’71, 3 vols. With an appendix on Strauss and Renan. Comes down to the 16th century. English transl. by Maurice Mayer. N. York, 1865.
L. Herzfeld: Geschichte des Volkes Jizrael. Nordhausen, 1847-’57, 3 vols. The same work, abridged in one vol. Leipz. 1870.
H. Grätz (Prof. in Breslau): Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart. Leipz. 1854-’70, 11 vols. (to 1848).
“Salvation is of the Jews.” (Joh_4:22. Comp. Luk_24:47; Rom_9:4, Rom_9:5) This wonderful people, whose fit symbol is the burning bush, was chosen by sovereign grace to stand amidst the surrounding idolatry as the bearer of the knowledge of the only true God, his holy law, and cheering promise, and thus to become the cradle of the Messiah. It arose with the calling of Abraham, and the covenant of Jehovah with him in Canaan, the land of promise; grew to a nation in Egypt, the land of bondage; was delivered and organized into a theocratic state on the basis of the law of Sinai by Moses in the wilderness; was led back into Palestine by Joshua; became, after the Judges, a monarchy, reaching the height of its glory in David and Solomon; split into two hostile kingdoms, and, in punishment for internal discord and growing apostasy to idolatry, was carried captive by heathen conquerors; was restored after seventy years’ humiliation to the land of its fathers, but fell again under the yoke of heathen foes; yet in its deepest abasement fulfilled its highest mission by giving birth to the Saviour of the world. “The history of the Hebrew people,” says Ewald, “is, at the foundation, the history of the true religion growing through all the stages of progress unto its consummation; the religion which, on its narrow national territory, advances through all struggles to the highest victory, and at length reveals itself in its full glory and might, to the end that, spreading abroad by its own irresistible energy, it may never vanish away, but may become the eternal heritage and blessing of all nations. The whole ancient world had for its object to seek the true religion; but this people alone finds its being and honor on earth exclusively in the true religion, and thus it enters upon the stage of history.”
Judaism, in sharp contrast with the idolatrous nations of antiquity, was like an oasis in a desert, clearly defined and isolated; separated and enclosed by a rigid moral and ceremonial law. The holy land itself, though in the midst of the three Continents of the ancient world, and surrounded by the great nations of ancient culture, was separated from them by deserts south and east, by sea on the west, and by mountain on the north; thus securing to the Mosaic religion freedom to unfold itself and to fulfil its great work without disturbing influenced from abroad. But Israel carried in its bosom from the first the large promise, that in Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. Abraham, the father of the faithful, Moses, the lawgiver, David, the heroic king and sacred psalmist, Isaiah, the evangelist among the prophets, Elijah the Tishbite, who reappeared with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration to do homage to Jesus, and John the Baptist, the impersonation of the whole Old Testament, are the most conspicuous links in the golden chain of the ancient revelation.
The outward circumstances and the moral and religious condition of the Jews at the birth of Christ would indeed seem at first and on the whole to be in glaring contradiction with their divine destiny. But, in the first place, their very degeneracy proved the need of divine help. In the second place, the redemption through Christ appeared by contrast in the greater glory, as a creative act of God. And finally, amidst the mass of corruption, as a preventive of putrefaction, lived the succession of the true children of Abraham, longing for the salvation of Israel, and ready to embrace Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah and Saviour of the world.
Since the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey, b.c. 63 (the year made memorable by the consulship of Cicero. the conspiracy of Catiline, and the birth of Caesar Augustus), the Jews had been subject to the heathen Romans, who heartlessly governed them by the Idumean Herod and his sons, and afterwards by procurators. Under this hated yoke their Messianic hopes were powerfully raised, but carnally distorted. They longed chiefly for a political deliverer, who should restore the temporal dominion of David on a still more splendid scale; and they were offended with the servant form of Jesus, and with his spiritual kingdom. Their morals were outwardly far better than those of the heathen; but under the garb of strict obedience to their law, they concealed great corruption. They are pictured in the New Testament as a stiff-necked, ungrateful, and impenitent race, the seed of the serpent, a generation of vipers. Their own priest and historian, Josephus, who generally endeavored to present his countrymen to the Greeks and Romans in the most favorable light, describes them as at that time a debased and wicked people, well deserving their fearful punishment in the destruction of Jerusalem.
As to religion, the Jews, especially after the Babylonish captivity, adhered most tenaciously to the letter of the law, and to their traditions and ceremonies, but without knowing the spirit and power of the Scriptures. They cherished a bigoted horror of the heathen, and were therefore despised and hated by them as misanthropic, though by their judgment, industry, and tact, they were able to gain wealth and consideration in all the larger cities of the Roman empire.
After the time of the Maccabees (b.c. 150), they fell into three mutually hostile sects or parties, which respectively represent the three tendencies of formalism, skepticism, and mysticism; all indicating the approaching dissolution of the old religion and the dawn of the new. We may compare them to the three prevailing schools of Greek philosophy — the Stoic, the Epicurean, and the Platonic, and also to the three sects of Mohammedanism — the Sunnis, who are traditionalists, the Sheas, who adhere to the Koran, and the Sufis or mystics, who seek true religion in “internal divine sensation.”
1. The Pharisees, the “separate,” were, so to speak, the Jewish Stoics. They represented the traditional orthodoxy and stiff formalism, the legal self-righteousness and the fanatical bigotry of Judaism. They had most influence with the people and the women, and controlled the public worship. They confounded piety with theoretical orthodoxy. They overloaded the holy Scriptures with the traditions of the elders so as to make the Scriptures “of none effect.” They analyzed the Mosaic law to death, and substituted a labyrinth of casuistry for a living code. “They laid heavy burdens and grievous to be borne on men’s shoulders,” and yet they themselves would “not move them with their fingers.” In the New Testament they bear particularly the reproach of hypocrisy; with, of course, illustrious exceptions, like Nicodemus, Gamaliel, and his disciple, Paul.
2. The less numerous Sadducees were skeptical, rationalistic, and worldly-minded, and held about the same position in Judaism as the Epicureans and the followers of the New Academy in Greek and Roman heathendom. They accepted the written Scriptures (especially the Pentateuch), but rejected the oral traditions, denied the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul, the existence of angels and spirits, and the doctrine of an all-ruling providence. They numbered their followers among the rich, and had for some time possession of the office of the high-priest. Caiaphas belonged to their party.
The difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees reappears among modern Jews, who are divided into the orthodox and the liberal or rationalistic parties.
3. The Essenes (whom we know only from Philo and Josephus) were not a party, but a mystic and ascetic order or brotherhood, and lived mostly in monkish seclusion in villages and in the desert Engedi on the Dead Sea. They numbered about 4,000 members. With an arbitrary, allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament, they combined some foreign theosophic elements, which strongly resemble the tenets of the new Pythagorean and Platonic schools, but were probably derived (like the Gnostic and Manichaean theories) from eastern religions, especially from Parsism. They practised communion of goods, wore white garments, rejected animal food, bloody sacrifices, oaths, slavery, and (with few exceptions) marriage, and lived in the utmost simplicity, hoping thereby to attain a higher degree of holiness. They were the forerunners of Christian monasticism.
The sect of the Essenes came seldom or never into contact with Christianity under the Apostles, except in the shape of a heresy at Colossae. But the Pharisees and Sadducees, particularly the former, meet us everywhere in the Gospels as bitter enemies of Jesus, and hostile as they are to each other, unite in condemning him to that death of the cross, which ended in the glorious resurrection, and became the foundation of spiritual life to believing Gentiles as well as Jews.
10. The Law and the Prophecy
Degenerate and corrupt though the mass of Judaism was, yet the Old Testament economy was the divine institution preparatory to the Christian redemption, and as such received deepest reverence from Christ and his apostles, while they sought by terrible rebuke to lead its unworthy representatives to repentance. It therefore could not fail of its saving effect on those hearts which yielded to its discipline, and conscientiously searched the Scriptures of Moses and the prophets.
Law and prophecy are the two great elements of the Jewish religion, and make it a direct divine introduction to Christianity, “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
1. The law of Moses was the clearest expression of the holy will of God before the advent of Christ. The Decalogue is a marvel of ancient legislation, and in its two tables enjoins the sum and substance of all true piety and morality — supreme love to God, and love to our neighbor. It set forth the ideal of righteousness, and was thus fitted most effectually to awaken the sense of man’s great departure from it, the knowledge of sin and guilt. It acted as a schoolmaster to lead men to Christ that they might be justified by faith.” (Gal_3:24)
The same sense of guilt and of the need of reconciliation was constantly kept alive by daily sacrifices, at first in the tabernacle and afterwards in the temple, and by the whole ceremonial law, which, as a wonderful system of types and shadows, perpetually pointed to the realities of the new covenant, especially to the one all-sufficient atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
God in his justice requires absolute obedience and purity of heart under promise of life and penalty of death. Yet he cannot cruelly sport with man; he is the truthful faithful, and merciful God. In the moral and ritual law, therefore, as in a shell, is hidden the sweet kernel of a promise, that he will one day exhibit the ideal of righteousness in living form, and give the penitent sinner pardon for all his transgressions and the power to fulfil the law. Without such assurance the law were bitter irony.
As regards the law, the Jewish economy was a religion of repentance.
2. But it was at the same time, as already, hinted, the vehicle of the divine promise of redemption, and, as such, a religion of hope. While the Greeks and Romans put their golden age in the past, the Jews looked for theirs in the future. Their whole history, their religious, political, and social institutions and customs pointed to the coming of the Messiah, and the establishment of his kingdom on earth.
Prophecy, or the gospel under the covenant of the law, is really older than the law, which was added afterwards and came in between the promise and its fulfilment, between sin and redemption, between the disease and the cure. Prophecy begins in paradise with the promise of the serpent-bruiser immediately after the fall. It predominates in the patriarchal age, especially in the life of Abraham, whose piety has the corresponding character of trust and faith; and Moses, the lawgiver, was at the same time a prophet pointing the people to a greater successor. (Deu_18:15) Without the comfort of the Messianic promise, the law must have driven the earnest soul to despair. From the time of Samuel, some eleven centuries before Christ, prophecy, hitherto sporadic, took an organized form in a permanent prophetical office and order. In this form it accompanied the Levitical priesthood and the Davidic dynasty down to the Babylonish captivity, survived this catastrophe, and directed the return of the people and the rebuilding of the temple; interpreting and applying the law, reproving abuses in church and state, predicting the terrible judgments and the redeeming grace of God, warning and punishing, comforting and encouraging, with an ever plainer reference to the coming Messiah, who should redeem Israel and the world from sin and misery, and establish a kingdom of peace and righteousness on earth.
The victorious reign of David and the peaceful reign of Solomon furnish, for Isaiah and his successors, the historical and typical ground for a prophetic picture of a far more glorious future, which, unless thus attached to living memories and present circumstances, could not have been understood. The subsequent catastrophe and the sufferings of the captivity served to develop the idea of a Messiah atoning for the sins of the people and entering through suffering into glory.
The prophetic was an extraordinary office, serving partly to complete, partly to correct the regular, hereditary priesthood, to prevent it from stiffening into monotonous formality, and keep it in living flow. The prophets were, so to speak, the Protestants of the ancient covenant, the ministers of the spirit and of immediate communion with God, in distinction from the ministers of the letter and of traditional and ceremonial mediation.
The flourishing period of our canonical prophecy began with the eighth century before Christ, some seven centuries after Moses, when Israel was suffering under Assyrian oppression. In this period before the captivity, Isaiah (“the salvation of God”), who appeared in the last years of king Uzziah, about ten years before the founding of Rome, is the leading figure; and around him Micah, Joel, and Obadiah in the kingdom of Judah, and Hosea, Amos, and Jonah in the kingdom of Israel, are grouped. Isaiah reached the highest elevation of prophecy, and unfolds feature by feature a picture of the Messiah — springing from the house of David, preaching the glad tidings to the poor, healing the broken-hearted, opening the eyes to the blind, setting at liberty the captives, offering himself as a lamb to the slaughter, bearing the sins of the people, dying the just for the unjust, triumphing over death and ruling as king of peace over all nations — a picture which came to its complete fulfilment in one person, and one only, Jesus of Nazareth. He makes the nearest approach to the cross, and his book is the Gospel of the Old Testament. In the period of the Babylonian exile, Jeremiah (i.e. “the Lord casts down”) stands chief. He is the prophet of sorrow, and yet of the new covenant of the Spirit. In his denunciations of priests and false prophets, his lamentations over Jerusalem, his holy grief, his bitter persecution he resembles the mission and life of Christ. He remained in the land of his fathers, and sang his lamentation on the ruins of Jerusalem; while Ezekiel warned the exiles on the river Chebar against false prophets and carnal hopes, urged them to repentance, and depicted the new Jerusalem and the revival of the dry bones of the people by the breath of God; and Daniel at the court of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon saw in the spirit the succession of the four empires and the final triumph of the eternal kingdom of the Son of Man. The prophets of the restoration are Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. With Malachi who lived to the time of Nehemiah, the Old Testament prophecy ceased, and Israel was left to himself four hundred years, to digest during this period of expectation the rich substance of that revelation, and to prepare the birth-place for the approaching redemption.
3. Immediately before the advent of the Messiah the whole Old Testament, the law and the prophets, Moses and Isaiah together, reappeared for a short season embodied in John the Baptist, and then in unrivalled humility disappeared as the red dawn in the splendor of the rising sun of the new covenant. This remarkable man, earnestly preaching repentance in the wilderness and laying the axe at the root of the tree, and at the same time comforting with prophecy, and pointing to the atoning Lamb of God, was indeed, as the immediate forerunner of the New Testament economy, and the personal friend of the heavenly Bridegroom, the greatest of them that were born of woman; yet in his official character as the representative of the ancient preparatory economy he stands lower than the least in that kingdom of Christ, which is infinitely more glorious than all its types and shadows in the past.
This is the Jewish religion, as it flowed from the fountain of divine revelation and lived in the true Israel, the spiritual children of Abraham, in John the Baptist, his parents and disciples, in the mother of Jesus, her kindred and friends, in the venerable Simeon, and the prophetess Anna, in Lazarus and his pious sisters, in the apostles and the first disciples, who embraced Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfiller of the law and the prophets, the Son of God and the Saviour of the world, and who were the first fruits of the Christian Church.