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THE MESSIANIC IDEA.

ANY series of talks about Jesus, however brief or fragmentary, that should forget to treat the Messianic idea in its bearing upon his life and teaching, would be fatally defective. For, however strange the statement may seem to some of you that have not studied it and looked into its bearings, it is unquestionably true that but for the Messianic idea, wrought out and organized by the thought, the genius, and the energy of Paul, there would have been no historic, instituted Christianity in the world. This Messianic idea, then, is all-important; and yet the thought of its reality, of its significance, has almost faded out of the modern mind. Except on the part of a very few narrow-minded and bigoted among the Hebrews, the literal expectation of the fulfilment of their old national hope has long since passed away. Many of them mean by it only the general progress and development of mankind. Some of them hold that the Jewish race personified is God's Messiah to the world, holding up among the nations the conception of the unity and the moral perfection of God; and that this is the mission of their race. When we come among Christians, and ask what they still believe about the Messiah, we find that there is, underneath the surface, a smouldering belief in the original New Testament idea; and that, if the oxygen of certain conditions of thought can only get access to it, this latent faith is ready to flame up in a

nineteenth century enthusiasm almost as vivid and real as that of the first. But, on the part of most Christians, the belief in any literal coming of Jesus, unless it be by and by, in some very indefinite future, at the end of the world, is entirely surrendered. And on the part of many of them, as it finds utterance in sermon, in song, in hymn, in poem, it has come to be transformed into the idea that, when each believer dies, Jesus, in some figurative way, comes to him then.

The second coming of Christ, then, has almost passed out of the thought of the modern world, in any real and literal sense; and yet once it was the most vital thing in Christianity. There are two main questions that we must now consider; and my purpose is simply to place these as clearly as I can before you, and answer them as concisely as possible.

It has been the standing charge of Christendom against the Jewish people that they wilfully and wickedly rejected and cast out their own Messiah, the one that they had been for a long time expecting; and that, if they had been willing to have known the truth, they had light enough to teach them what they were doing. And this charge has grown to such stupendous and incomprehensible proportions, that there have been those among the leading thinkers of the world, and those by hundreds, who have even charged this Jewish race with the one grandest crime that the human mind can conceive,― of even putting to death God himself. Only now and then do men stop to see what the logic of their common belief is. But only a few years ago. I was reading a sermon of Mr. Beecher's, in which he went this length of clearly and simply saying that, when the Jews put Jesus to death on the cross, God died. This, then, must be the first question for us to consider, as to whether Jesus did really fulfil the Messianic expectation of the Jews in any

such realistic sense as to have given the people of his time a reason for knowing that he was veritably their Messiah.

In order to answer this question, I must ask you to go back with me, and trace for a moment the origin and development of this Messianic idea,-to see what it was, in its simplest and plainest outline, which the Jews really believed. We cannot go back so far as the time of Abraham; for his history and the words that are put into his mouth were written many hundreds of years after his death. But it is sufficient for us to take note that the Jewish nation believed, with all the intensity of earnest conviction, that God had veritably appeared to Abraham,-that he had entered into a personal covenant with him, had promised him, as the reward of his faithfulness, that he should be the father of his own chosen, peculiar people; that this people should be perpetually prosperous, that they should dominate the whole earth, and that through them all the nations of the world should be blessed. Right here, in this one belief, we shall find the seed and root of the Messianic idea. The Jews then believed that they were the chosen, peculiar people of Yahweh, the national god; they believed that the sign of his blessing was outward prosperity. There is no indication in their earlier writings of any thought of a future life beyond the grave. The highest blessing they pronounce upon obedience to Yahweh is long life, great wealth, many children, peace, and general prosperity. Precisely similar things in their thought constituted the highest welfare of the people. They believed, then, that they were a chosen people, and that as being such there was to spread out before them, in all coming time, a kingdom in perpetuity of blessing and peace and dominion over all the world. If there came to the Jews, then, any calamity or trial, they must explain it consistently with this underlying, foundation principle. It

could not mean that Yahweh had turned away his favor from them forever: it must mean only a temporary and local chastisement, in preparation for some larger triumph, that was yet to be. So, if you read the prophets and writings of the Jews all through, you will find the key to everything in this one principle that I have given you, the belief that they were the chosen people, and that, however they might be cast down temporarily, ultimately their destiny must be one of triumph, of peace, and of dominion over all the nations of the world. When, then, their land was overrun by the heathen, when the city of Jerusalem itself was taken, when the temple was destroyed, and the flower of the nation was carried off into captivity in Babylon, did they give up their hope? Not at all. So long as they believed in Yahweh, they could not surrender it. These disappointments were indeed mysterious; and yet Yahweh had some ultimate purpose in them, and out of this degradation there was to spring at last a triumph that would be glorious. So we find in the midst of their captivity this religious belief existing; and there never was a time in their whole history when the religious life was so active, and when it budded and flowered out into such heautiful blooms, as during this time of their oppression by a foreign power. As we get down toward the time of Christ, and as calamities thicken upon the people, as they pass now under the dominion of one kingdom and now under that of another, suffering famine and persecution and trial of every kind, we find this hope, this belief in the Messianic idea, only growing stronger and more intense, and ready to flame out into the wildest enthusiasm on the smallest possible provocation. Messiah after Messiah appears, each one claiming to be sent by their national god. Book after book is written, setting forth the nature of this Messianic kingdom. We find only the poorest and feeblest hints

of what this was to be in our canonical Old Testament. From the time when the Book of Daniel was written, down through the writing of the Book of Enoch, the Book of Baruch, the Book of Jesus the son of Sirach, the Book of Tobit, the Book of Jubilees, the Psalms of Solomon, and many others, we find this Messianic hope pictured in all the strongest and wildest outlines and all the most brilliant colors. Book after book was written and put out under the name of some of the great names of the past, that they might carry influence among the people, and thus encourage them in the days of their distress and despair, and prepare them for the day of their prosperity, which they believed to be near at hand. Such was the mental condition of the Jews, such was the religious idea of the time when Jesus is born, and proclaims himself the coming Messiah, who is to fulfil the hopes of his nation.

Now I wish, in just as brief a way as I can, to give you a picture of what it was that the Jews expected. But you must bear one thing in mind. If somebody should go out from here to Europe, and report that the people of Boston believed so and so, you will see at once that such a statement as that would need important modification. All the people of Boston cannot agree as to this particular thing or that in their belief. And yet it is perfectly safe to say that there are certain principles, certain prominent sentiments, which are practically universal, and characteristic of the city. So when we talk about the Messianic expectation of the Jews, we must not think that everybody in Jerusalem and Judea held precisely the same ideas, and pictured the future under precisely the same forms. There were many forms of the Messianic idea floating in the public mind at this time. And yet there are certain main outlines which are easily discernible, concerning which a majority of the people were agreed. It is these, then, that I must call your attention to.

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