Page images
PDF
EPUB

people and their Messiah. The very ancient and wide-spread doctrine of the Logos, matured, expanded, and judaically appropriated and adjusted, furnished every position and attribute needed for the projection of one who should stand forth as a divine mediator, the vehicle of all blessing for the earth and its human occupants. The characteristics of such an agency were present, ready conceived. It only required to advance the assertion of the personage who had realized them. And in the ethics of philosophers Oriental and Grecian, the aspirations and religious sentiments of devout Jews, and the tenets and holy walk of those remarkable ascetics the Therapeuts and Essenes, who gave up the enjoyments of this life to cultivate their association with the life that was to come, the doctrinal elements were in view, in current acceptance, to give power to Christianity, and animate the movement into one of solid religious action. The gold and the gems were all there, and it needed only the hand of the artificer to construct them together in a necklet. The outlines of the system had been sketched in ; the filling up of the picture was what remained to be effected.

III.

THE PHASES OF CHRISTIANITY.

In endeavouring to trace the progress of the Christian doctrines from their earliest to their most developed form, we are practically limited to the materials derivable from the Christian scriptures, there being, according to common acceptation, no extraneous helps, of an independent kind, furnished by any other writings, to assist us in the research. The statement is that Jesus surrounded himself with twelve special witnesses to all he said and did, whom he commissioned to promulgate to mankind the purport of his mission. Such a circumstance should have provided the world with ample testimonies of the ministry thus ordained, showing in what places it operated, and with what effects. But beyond what is alleged in the Christian scriptures of these ministrations, elsewhere, not a token remains that there were such persons as the apostles in action for the propagation of the faith, and the early history of the movement is consequently shrouded in obscurity. “The distance of time, and the want of records," observes Mosheim, “ leave us at a loss with respect to many interesting circumstances of the peregrinations of the apostles ; nor have we any certain or precise accounts of the limits of their voyages, of the particular countries where they sojourned, or of the times and places in which they finished their glorious course.” He admits, in effect, having nothing to depend upon but the meagre statements in the Acts, all other sources appearing to him recent and fabricated (Ec. Hist. I. iv. 6). “ The great obscurity,” he elsewhere confesses, " which hangs over nearly every part of the early history of Christianity, not only prevents us from marking with precision

the extent of the apostle's progress, but also renders it impossible for us, with any degree of confidence, to name any particular churches as founded by them, except such as are mentioned in the writings of the New Testament(Early Christians, I. 145), Even when we advance to the second century of the asserted Christian era, the position is not improved. Speaking of this period he says, “ It is not easy to point out particularly the different countries on which the light of celestial truth first rose in this age," and he finds it therefore difficult to determine whether the converts were of the first or the second century (Ec. Hist. I. i. 3). That there was an extension of the Christian field at this time he assumes must have been the case, but adds, “ Being destitute of any documents on the subject that can properly be relied on, it is impossible for us, with any degree of exactness, to specify, either the time, circumstances, or immediate authors, of this further diffusion of the blessings of the gospel, or particularly to distinguish the provinces which had hitherto remained uncheered by, and now first received, the light of celestial truth, from those to which it had been communicated in the former century(Early Christians, II. 1). That is, outside the Christian scriptures, we have not a shadow of evidence that there was such a thing as Christianity in these early ages.

The Synoptic Gospels are obviously linked together in a common statement. It is apparent also that they have been extensively framed upon some common prior account.* The Gospel according to Luke allows the fact that there were " many” such narratives that had preceded it. The author does not profess to have witnessed what he describes, nor even does he allege that the writers who had preceded him had possessed such advantage. On the contrary, he allows that he and the others have derived their facts from other persons who professed to have been the witnesses of what is recounted. The stage of interruption between the facts and the statement of them is thus openly allowed; nor are the informants even named. The Synoptic Gospels carry the narrative to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles continues the history, so as to put before us the first promulgation of the

“The Bible; is it the Word of God ?” 34-41.

gospel, as founded upon the events of the history of Jesus. This record is furthermore associated with the synoptics in that there is the aim to show that it comes from the pen of the author of the third gospel.

Christianity having its rise out of Judaism, and in realization of Jewish hopes, it is natural to expect that in its first form it should represent Judaism. The allegation of the vision to Peter proves that to a certain time the feeling was that the mission of Jesus had no applicability to any part of the human race but the children of Israel. It needed a voice from heaven to assure Peter that he might open his mouth with the message of salvation also to the Gentiles, and he had afterwards to account for his action, apologetically, to his brethren.

The Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles amply illustrate the fact that Christianity, at its outset, was no more than a Jewish movement. There is a strong uniform line of doctrine throughout these scriptures which never transgresses Judaic requisitions, while other elements belonging to the stage when Christianity became a Gentile faith, undoubtedly occurring in the Gospels, but not in the Acts, stand out as manifestly incongruous introductions made at a later period. This feature of the Judaic character of primitive Christianity I have now to trace out.

The synoptists represent Jesus, at every turn, in strict form, as a Jew, and in Jewish connection. In Matthew his pedigree is traced to Abraham, and no further. Herod is made to stand in fear of him as the future king of the Jews. At the close of his career he makes the exhibition of entering Jerusalem as its king, and it is in this capacity, when about to suffer, that he is arraigned, mocked, and crucified. Jerusalem is accordingly “the city of the great king ;” the gospel is that of the kingdom ; and in the futurity the apostles are appointed to twelve thrones to rule over the tribes of Israel. The ministry of John, as that of the precursor of Jesus, was restricted to “ Jerusalem and all Judea ; " if God is able to raise up children to himself out of stones, they were to be “ children unto Abraham ;” if many are to be brought in “from the east and west," they are to “sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven;"

if God is to be proclaimed, it is as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus upheld the Jewish economy in all its integrity, declaring that he came, “not to destroy the law or the prophets,” “ but to fulfil” their requisitions to the uttermost. He viewed the temple as the “house” of God, and so purified it ; and its predicted overthrow by the Gentiles he bound up with the end of all things and his own return to judge the world. He restricted his disciples in their ministrations to the Jewish community. They were not to go “into the way of the Gentiles,” or “ into any city of the Samaritans,” but were to confine themselves “ to the lost sheep of the house of Israel ;" and he led them to expect that by the time they had “ gone over the cities of Israel,” this being the assigned limit of their ministrations, he would reappear in final judgment and glory. The healing of the Roman centurion's servant, which was out of rule, was accounted for by the supremacy of his faith, as brought to the test of the divine standard, being declared greater than any to be found “ in Israel ; ” and the Canaanitish woman, when pleading for her daughter, is made to feel herself of an outcast race, before special mercy is extended to her. Possibly these incidents may have been introduced, thus apologetically, at a later time, when Christianity had passed into a phase to make it applicable to Gentiles. In the gospel according to Mark the Jewish features similarly appear. John's ministry is restricted to Judea and Jerusalem; we have the gospel of the kingdom, the incident of the Syrophænician woman, the temple recognized as the appointed “ house of prayer,” its fall bound up with the end of the world, and Jesus questioned, mocked, and crucified as the King of the Jews. The gospel according to Luke is of a like character. The ministry of John, prophetically announced, is confined to the Jews. “Many of the children of Israel” were to be turned by him “ to the Lord their God." The annunciation made of Jesus was that he was to fill “ the throne of his father David,” in order to “reign over the house of Jacob for ever ;” in him were to be realized the promises made “to Abraham, and to his seed for ever ;" he was the “horn of salvation " set up by God " in the house of his servant David.” At his entry into life he had to undergo the Jewish circum

« PreviousContinue »