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Peculiarities in the Ministry of Christ, incidental
to the Novelty of the Religion.
Ar the season of our Lord's advent as prophet of the church, that part of the world which was selected for the scene of his personal ministry, had been long in possession of a religious system closely interwoven with the civil polity, and stamped with the authority of heaven by the miraculous manner in which it had been originally communicated.
During the lapse of fifteen centuries it 'had been handed down from generation to generation, identified with the earliest feelings of the people, and cherished with their latest breath; its records forming their principal, if not their only written learning, and its study furnishing à stated employment to their wisest men. So So intimately were the observances of the ceremonial law connected with the recurrence of certain times and seasons, that none of the ordinary concerns of life could be carried on without bringing to mind the religious government under which the nation was placed, and thus carrying back the thoughts amid the temporal cares of life to the conteinplation of that Providence, on whose almighty will the whole chain of human events depends. The annual meetings of all classes of the people at the central seat of worship would serve to give consistency and agreement to the general feeling, and would consolidate a large number of individuals holding the same faith and expectations under the form of one united and eminently national religious body.
Provision was thus effectually made, as far as external ordinances could provide, against any separation from the covenant; and the spirit of schism would be discouraged, if not altogether checked, in the very outset. Under such a system, any innovation on the hereditary be
lief, which if introduced into the remoter provinces might have escaped notice in ordinary cases, till it became formidable by the accession of numerous adherents, would immediately attract attention in a quarter vested with authority to suppress it; and hence conformity to the established order of things would be preserved pure and universal through every part of the Jewish empire.
To interfere with a religion thus fenced in by the solemnities of an imposing antiquity, and fortified by its hold on the affections and habits of the people, would obviously be a work attended with no ordinary difficulty. Even the prophets who had appeared under the old dispensation without proclaiming any change in the terms and regulations of the existing covenant, had experienced no inconsiderable opposition. The assurances which they gave of the approaching advent of a Messiah, who should be set up for the light, as well as for the salvation of his church, were so contrary to the current of prevailing opinions, that the promulga
tors of these truths were received with distrust and coldness, and in some cases they were requited for their prophecies with imprisonment or death.
When, therefore, a teacher appeared in the very centre of Judea, and in the immediate neighbourhood of the temple, whose doctrines were so far from coinciding with the received system, that they virtually superseded the whole mechanism of the old economy, and who destroyed that most important feature of the Jewish faith which formed the very ground-work of their eternal hopes, their federal title to salvation, instead of meeting with minds prepared for the ready acceptance of his preaching, and listening with humble complacency to his revelation of the heavenly message, there was an instant decision in favour of the constituted religious authorities ; and the Jews of all classes and conditions rallied as it were with one accord around the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, against the God of the new covenant, the father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Owing to the operation of these causes, it not only became necessary for our Lord to contend with the jealousy which would be excited by the appearance of a new and popular expounder of the law, whose mode of teaching, without reference to the subject of his precepts, was favourably contrasted by the inultitude with the proud or frivolous manner of the Scribes and Pharisees; but he had also to surmount all the prejudices attendant upon new doctrines and new terms, and to overcome the misconceptions to which the originality of the dispensation would inevitably give birth. For the Jews had much to unlearn, as well as to learn, before they could receive Jesus in the character of a prophet ; and if he received no honour in his own country, it was due in fact partly to the strength of the national attachment in favour of the Mosaic institutions, as well as to the unpopularity of the new religion.
The very expressions of our Saviour's first address, as reported by St. Mark, were such as would astonish men who believed that they and