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There is a strong basis of natural religion permeating the Jewish scriptures, which is what, in fact, gives these writings their true vitality. They taught that God was “ of purer eyes than to behold evil,” and could not “look on iniquity” (Hab. i. 13); and that “none” could safely “imagine evil in their hearts against his neighbour” (Zech. viii. 17). “Thus speaketh the Lord of Hosts, Execute true judgment, and show mercy, and compassions every man to his brother; and oppress not the widow nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart” (Zech. vii. 9, 10). "Is not this the fast that I have chosen ? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him ; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh ?” (Isa. lviii. 6, 7; see also Isa. v. 16 ; xxviii. 17, 18; lvii. 15, 16; lxi. 8 ; Ezek. xviii. 4-9). The observance of the ceremonial and sacrificial law, whatever the authority under which it was said to have been established, could, it was acknowledged, afford no true remedy against sin, or suffice to secure the favour of God (1 Sam. xv. 22 ; Ps. xl. 6-8 ; Isa. i. 11 ; Hos. vi. 6; Joel ii. 13; Amos V. 21; Mic. vi. 6). Nothing but a spiritual work wrought upon the heart of man could introduce him to the knowledge of God, and establish his ways in righteousness (Jer. xxxi. 31-34 ; Ezek. xi. 19, 20; xxxvi. 25-27).
These are universal truths accepted by all godly races, and thus have not originated with Judaism or Christianity. “Five centuries before the Christian era Buddhism had already inculcated gentleness and compassion, not only towards men, but towards all living creatures. Among the Jews themselves, the Rabbi Hillel had already taught, a generation before Christ, that the commandment of loving one's neighbour as one's self constituted the very essence of the law. To assist even our enemies was a maxim of the Stoics in Jesus' time. And but one generation later, although without, and independently of him, and strictly in keeping with the principles of the Stoic school, Epictetus called all men brothers, inasmuch as all were the children of God” (Strauss, The Old Faith and the New, 95). “The requital of good for evil, the virtue of loving an enemy instead of ill-treating him, had been appreciated by the philanthrophy of the Greeks and Hindoos; Horace's ‘Nil conscire sibi' is the apostolic eulogium of a good conscience ; the maxims, Guard the thoughts of the heart, and ‘Do to others as you wish them to do to you,' are among the maxims of Confucius.” In the Talmud, in many parts, it is said, “ Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” is the first of moral rules. “A Pagan having asked Rabbi Hillel to explain the Jewish law in few words, was answered, that which you would not that another should do to you, that do not you to him ; this is the sum of the law; the rest is a mere commentary on it.' The other great command, to love God with all the heart and soul' was notoriously the property of the Jew before it passed into Christianity. . . . Jesus did not announce his moral maxims as his own, but as the essence of what was already to be found in the Scriptures.. .Be ye holy,' says the Jerusalem Targum, 'as the angels who serve before the Lord your God.' . . . It is better,' says the book of Tobit, to give charity than to heap riches, for 'charity preserves from death, and cleanses from all sin '” (Mackay, Rise and Progress of Christianity, 23, 24).
About four hundred years before Christ the true principles which should govern mankind in their relations with each other, and towards the Almighty, were illustrated by Socrates in his doctrines and practice. He maintained “that the first principles of morality, which are common to all mankind, are laws of the Supreme ; and the distinction between them and mere human laws he finds in the fact that they can never be transgressed with impunity. He was a sincere, upright, disinterested man, and withal singularly pious, according to the light he had received. His disciple and intimate friend, Xenophon, declares that he never undertook any work without first asking counsel of the gods. A sense of God, a strong faith in the influence of God, and a deep desire to be governed by it, were habitual to his soul. The youth of Athens had been long corrupted, as he thought, by a class of instructors who set little value on what they taught, or others believed, but great value on dialectic power and rhetorical art, by means of which even falsehood might be commended to the minds of men. Socrates resolved to lift up goodness and truth, in themselves, as the noblest end of living; and to show that the office of philosophy was to deliver mankind from the dominion of prejudice, ignorance, and vice, to inspire them with the love of virtue, and, through a careful intellectual and moral discipline, to guide them to happiness. His position, from the first, was that of a philosophical moralist ; and choosing Athens as his sphere, he devoted his life to the diffusion of what he believed to be the highest truth. His entire time was spent in this work; he sought for scholars, not only among men of rank, but also among labourers and mechanics, and, contrary to the general practice in that day, he exacted no remuneration.” He incurred poverty, and his fellow citizens, no longer able to endure bis merited rebukes, condemned him to death. In his defence he says his time had been passed in cultivating the souls of his hearers, that while esteeming and loving his fellow citizens, he obeyed God rather than them. He felt assured that in passing out of life, he was being transferred to a happier state (Dr. J. Young, The Christ of History, 162-168).
Plato was a disciple of Socrates, and combined his philosophic teaching with that of Pythagoras. This brought him into contact with those oriental sources from which Pythagoras had drawn his ideas, especially of divine emanations, out of which has grown the doctrine of the Logos. He was followed nearly a hundred years later by Zeno, the founder of the school of the Stoics, who attached himself to the various prominent teachers of his day, culling from their doctrines all that he could best approve of himself. The ethical system of the Stoics was “wonderfully grand, and wonderfully pure.” They taught “ that the highest end of life is to contemplate truth, and to obey the Eternal Reason and the inscrutable law of the universe; that God is to be revered above all beings, to be acknowledged in all events, and to be universally submitted to; that the noblest office of wisdom is to subject the passions, dispositions, and conduct to reason and virtue; that virtue is the supreme good, and is to be pursued for its own sake, and not from fear or from hope ; that it is sufficient for happiness, and is seated only in the mind, and being so, renders man independent of all external events, and happy in every condition; that the consciousness of well-doing is reward enough without the applause or approbation of others, without even their knowledge of our good deeds; and that no prospect of self-indulgence, and no fear of loss, or pain, or death, must be suffered to turn us aside from truth and virtue” (Young, Christ of Hist., 158).
“There were none whose sentiments and discipline were so well received by the ancient Christians as those of the Platonists and Pythagoreans;" their system being to mortify the flesh, and to pass their days in solitude and contemplation, in order to promote communion with the Deity, and to ensure a happy end after death (Mosheim, Ec. Hist. I. 195). “The Platonists were the nearest of all philosophers to Christianity, and they might find in their religious notions and their psychology many points of union with Christianity. Hence it happened that many of the early teachers of the church had been prepared by the religious idealism of Platonism for Christianity as a spiritual religion, and used their philosophical education afterwards in its service” (Neander, Hist. of the Christian Religion, I. 165).
The Jews of Alexandria became indoctrinated with the Greek philosophy, the imaginative system of the orientals, and the views of Pythagoras and Plato, which ingredients through them passed into Christianity (Reuss, Hist. de la Theo. Chrèt., 104-106). The writings of Philo awakened a profound interest in the teachings of Socrates and Plato in the Jewish world and among the primitive Christians (Young, Christ of Hist., 159, 160). Philo considered the flesh the seat of original sin, warring against the soul, the spirit of God ever arousing the soul to resist the invasions of sin. He recognized two classes of men, those who lived in the flesh, and those who lived in the spirit. The sin of Adam was the source of misery and death to his descendants. The soul was to be fed at first with milk and plain nourishment, and afterwards with strong meat. Almost in the language of Heb. ix. he describes Abraham as seeking a better country which God would give him, and finding his reward in regarding the things that are not as though they were. Righteousness he held to be the gift of God to man, not of debt, but of grace. Faith, hope, and love ruled before him. Faith was the substance of things hoped for, but the highest attribute was love. He compressed the law into two great commandments, and spoke of “ the stewards of the divine mysteries," of " the true riches," and of “hungering and thirsting after righteousness." He furthermore treated of a Holy Ghost, of a first and second Adam, of the faith of Abraham, and of bread which came down from heaven (Prof. Jowett, The Epistles of Paul, I. 494-514). Philo viewed God as one whom we should love, serve, and imitate in holiness. He rewards humility and punishes pride. The happiness of man is his union with God, and his misery is the being separated from him. Men can pray only as he teaches them. We are not to hurt our enemies or avenge ourselves on them. It is better to suffer wrong than to do it. God is the sole cause of good, and cannot be the cause of evil. The love of our neighbours should be founded on our love of God. The world is nothing but corruption, and we should fly from it to cleave to God who is alone our health and life. In this world we are surrounded by enemies with whom we have continually to combat so as to endure. We cannot conquer but by God or angels sent for our help. The knowledge of the Logos gives happiness after death. The soul is immortal; the dead rise again to a final judgment of the righteous and the wicked, who pass to eternal happiness or misery (E. P. Meredith, The Prophet of Nazareth, 437, citing M. Dacier).
To these striking illustrations of the consonance of the Christian doctrines with the teachings of Philo I add a few others, which will be found in Philo's works, IV. 223, 243, 244, 250, 263, 265, 274. Philo put the Deity before him in that paternal aspect in which the Christian scriptures represent him. “There is no form of address,” he observes, “with which a king can more appropriately be saluted than the name of father” (Matt. xi. 27; John i. 18; iv. 23 ; vi. 46; x. 38; xiv. 6, 11). He recognized the working of the conscience as a divine instrument used for the governance of mankind. “ The mind,” he says, “is the witness to each individual of the things which they have planned in secret, and conscience is an incorruptible judge, and the most unerring of all judges.” “Who is there who does wrong who is not convicted by his own conscience, as if he were in a court of justice, even though no man correct him ?” (Rom. ii. 14-16; viii. 27 1 Cor. ii.;