Page images
PDF
EPUB

have faith, multiplied by works, faith finding expression in works, works reacting and moulding faith; and the measure of such moral momentum is neither faith nor works, but the joint result, the outcome of which is life itself. And how measure these Jews in particular? Josephus saw them only as lovers of disorder, as ambitious men; men desirous of other people's goods; as a rabble dissatisfied with existing conditions; men contemptuous of the priesthood, and with no veneration for the precious things of their worship-things to him most sacred. But for all that it is in them we find the ethics of mankind at their high-water mark of the past. They, with all their qualities, good, bad, and indifferent, are the quintessence of the race. As mere physical animals they are supreme, and this was but small part of them as men. The worship of their God—the God of their holy books—was worship of their nursery. Preserve, increase, and delight in your strength and you shall rejoice in your cradle. This is the conclusion of their law-law enforced by divine sanctions.. Above all, this fierce brotherhood stood for this. The notions of the Greek they had in abhorrence. In them was nothing morbid. Wherever is sex repression there is always danger of a morbid view of life and religion. Fierce blows, fierce fighting, they could understand and rejoice in—rejoice in to the extent of jesting in the midst of their miseries. Perhaps their peers were the Roman in the days of his primitive virtues, or the northern races not yet emerged from barbarism; but in a religious idealism they stand out pre-eminent in that age of shams. Does your God come first? This is the stinging question of all time. Does the God of your lips, the God of your creed, the God of your holy books come first? Undoubtedly the god we serve does come first; and if our god be our gold, our honours, our ambitions, our comforts, our children, our pleasures, our god has little complaint to make of the ardour of our worship. But in this last scene we see the Jews with no such god. He is a God calling

[ocr errors]

them to stripes and imprisonment, to poverty, misery, and to death. And they answer to the call with a smile and with a jest. And it is in the supreme moments of stress and trial that we mark how far the flood has flowed, how far the tide has ebbed. It is in his grandest achievements we place the artist, the musician, or the poet-all, alas, can sink to unworthy levels; and it is by the high-water mark of their achievements we must gauge race value to a world. One noble example is priceless in the evolution of mankind. And we remember that Christ was of them. And however we regard Him, can it ever do other than uplift our world; however we regard Him, need we inquire further why His name is the power of our world? Enough that of such a race He was first.

71. Yes, a noble example surely, but bitter the price to be paid. We cannot follow their further fortunes; it is a new page in history, but happy were those who met their end in that blaze of glory. Those to be left were to know all the miseries of being a hated and now despised race. Down, and wherever their home, and every petty people was to wreak its spite upon them. And excuse was found in the missionary efforts of these extremists who sought refuge with their brethren, but chiefly to foment them against Rome. Thus they came to Cyrene. Never greater calamity to their people there. The governor warned against them by Jews whe detested their activities, arrested them and then encouraged them to turn informer against their richer kinsmen. Readily they denounced them, but not the conspirators against their oppressors. It was thus that Josephus had occasion for a burst of righteous fury that again and again they thus sought to implicate him. He might have been an ardent patriot, so many his activities. But-poor worm—he relied, and not in vain, on his proved fidelity to the destroyers of his country. And so they made evidence, and on it three thousand of the above unfortunates were seized and destroyed, and their wealth

reputdestroyed them old. Woe to torv. And we the

added to the coffers of the empire. And we mark the virulence of hate with which they are pursued. In reputation or fame they would destroy them as they had destroyed them in estate. It is the story of Carthage again to be told. Woe to the stricken, whose enemy has the making of their history. And we note the turn given to such incidents in the pages of the then respectable historians of these times. Thus we take a note from Chapter XVI. of his history, where Gibbon summarizes the account of Dion Cassius, a native of Nicaea, who flourished about the third century. “In Cyrene they massacred two hundred and twenty thousand Greeks; in Cyprus two hundred and forty thousand; in Egypt a great multitude. Many of these unhappy victims were sawed asunder, according to a precedent to which David had given the sanction by his example. The victorious Jews devoured the flesh, licked up the blood, and twisted the entrails like a girdle round their bodies.” Thus the perversion of fact. Its malevolence breathes in every word, but it shows the sort of story that was greedily accepted wherever this miserable people were now concerned. Its falsity and absurdity is patent on the face of it. Undoubtedly, with their numerous ramifications, their straight living, their fanatical zeal, the Jews may have become a great power in the world, but we doubt if they were ever in sufficient force to have executed the atrocities narrated. On the contrary—wretched, weak, hated, and now despised-in many a place it was Rome alone that stood between them and their would-be executioners. Her attitude in Antioch was typical even if cynical. There the Greeks and natives would have exterminated them. Rome would hear of no such murder. Failing this they would have driven them into banishment. But where? their own country desolated. This denied, they should at least be deprived of their social privileges. And wherefore? once more demanded the imperial master. They had given no assistance to their people in Jerusalem; wherefore should they share their doom? But for all that, it needed Rome's strong hand to shield them, so odious were they, so anxious was a vengeful world to balance the reckonings of the past. The facts of this animosity are undoubted; the reason for its violence is not so apparent. Had mankind equally rejoiced over a Rome destroyed? But never was ruin so absolute, so complete. With the destruction of their city—their temple, the centre of their race, no more they were crushed to the earth and from the proudest of confederations were become exiles without a country, strangers without a home. And longings unutterable pursue them through the ages. Wistfully they eye many a wretched race which, poor in all else, is yet inestimably rich in a country which it can call its own. Only an idea, may be, but some ideas are more real than many a harsher actuality of life. And in Jerusalem was type of their own fallen fortunes. Over it night broods. The pall of a great darkness overshadows. Words fail to convey a sense of the overwhelming desolation that had overtaken them and the city of their fathers and the centre of their faith. To reproduce such feelings we must go to music alone. In the long wail of some soul-piercing melody one may possibly get a glimmer of those days that were, but no grosser medium of expression can convey such thought. A great spiritual power had gone out of the world. With the destruction of Jerusalem the world had sunk many degrees in the scale of civilization. All that the Jewish God stood for in a pagan world—and it stood for far more than is generally credited—was blotted out, and whether in itself it accepted or not the later development of its faith, for those times it stood for the highest phase of religious or moral thought that God had yet given to the world. And it had gone out, and the night was black. The sun, maybe, had risen, but clouds still darkened its full glory, and at best on the horizon was but promise of the dawn.

PART III—continued.
Ethical Ideal in Creedless Christianity.

CHAPTER XXI.

THE ETHICAL IDEAL.

| 72. EXPERIENCE is a hard master, but its lessons come home. And from the terrible doom of the Jews the truth is to emerge that no race, no nation, no family, no man even, shall live to himself alone and not deplore it in the end.

As far as the world is concerned, this is the great lesson to be learnt from their past. To the Jew God had given much; but ever the same blot-and it is to make of every blessing a curse, of every joy a sorrow, and of every hope despair—he is entirely self-centred. His God is for himself alone. The world and its increase are his sole inheritance. As he grew in ability, in strength, and in wealth, he above all increased in arrogance and pride of heart. To him mankind was but as slave or servant; not even as younger brother.

And the world rose and destroyed him.

Maybe, he was no whit worse than his fellow, but in his very pre-eminence the lime-light of history has been turned upon him. To this also is the added interest that as a race he still persists, whilst his contemporaries are but memories alone. The Persian has passed away; the Greek; the Roman; the Egyptian; he only remains.

And we ponder on the lesson of his past. The mad dog of the world, hated by all, every nation delighting in his humiliation, we realize how this terrible lesson was burnt into his very being. Did he appreciate it; did he learn it; did he even acknowledge it? Baited on every hand, the detestation would be reciprocated "until a frenzy of hate would mark his attitude to his

373

« PreviousContinue »