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ATTESTS THE POWER OF JESUS.
The prophetic cry, ringing in the desert, incidentally inspired by Jesus, was the first outburst, heralding the overflowing fulness of the Godhead dwelling in him. Had he had no existence in this world, no participation in its scenes, no association with its dwellers, before he appeared on the banks of the Jordan, then the Sun of Righteousness would have blazed forth suddenly, startling the darkness. But for thirty years that light was gradually rising, and although hidden from the public gaze by the obscurity of a low condition, though it shot forth no direct, far reaching, beams, still some rays must have broken from it, and been reflected from other hearts. The appearance of John corroborates this suggestion. His brief but stirring career was the gray dawn, the lighting up, that preceded the full-orbed glory of the man of Nazareth.
Not that John acted by the command of Jesus, not that there was any concert between them, any understanding, that diminishes, or does not increase rather, our conviction that the Baptist spake from a divine impulse, as he was moved by the Holy Spirit, but my meaning is that his intercourse with Jesus had wrought upon his susceptible mind with great power, refining and quickening. Could I only convey to the reader any just idea of the circumstances in which the childhood and youth of these two were passed! All I can say will fall far short of the reality; still let me attempt to express my own impressions.
Jesus and John were both Hebrews, both of direct Israelitish descent.
What a world of reflections does this one fact suggest! When we speak of the Jewish people, we speak of a people altogether the most extraordinary on the face of the globe. I am not going to discuss the claims.
CHARACTER OF THE NATION,
of the religion of Moses. It bears the visible impress of divinity. But in order to comprehend with some distinctness the state of things, into which Jesus and his Precursor were ushered at their birth, and the influences, under which their early years were spent, let us look at this great nation for a moment from the lowest point of view, in the simple light of History.
Considered then in the simple light of undisputed history, the Hebrews are the most singular of the nations. And their singularity consists in the elevation and force of their religious sentiment. Of all the races of men, they are pre-eminently the religious race. To substantiate this assertion, the appeal is not made to their ancient history, contained in their sacred books, but to their more modern fortunes. There is an identity of nations as of individuals; and whatever this people have shown themselves to be since the days of Christ and of John, they were the same in their prominent traits then. Two things, their present condition, and their relation to the rest of the world, show most impressively that the Hebrew temperament has ever been a religious temperament, that the Jews have been the sacred, priestly race. Not that the religious principle has always acted beneficently upon their characters, not that they have not sunk repeatedly into great moral degradation, but that the Hebrew mind has evinced the strongest affinity for religion, for spiritual ideas and the deepest religious convictions, this I say.
What a phenomenon does this people present! Upon every considerable spot on the face of the earth, we find the scattered branches of the stock of Abraham. Every where persecuted, the objects of contempt and prejudice, either pursued with menaces or allured by bribes, every where under the most urgent pressure to
WHENCE JESUS AND JOHN SPRUNG.
repay the injustice of opinion by overreaching and fraud, still every where exhibiting an unfaltering religious loyalty, neither betraying their faith, nor dishonouring it by a spirit of proselytism. Without a particle of national power, or a solitary civil institution, the Jewish nation survives and numbers its thousands and tens of thousands. Other nations far more extensive in territory, far mightier than the Jews ever were, have risen and vanished. With the decay of their civil institutions, they have rapidly melted away into the vast ocean of life. But the Hebrew national existence, unprotected by national forms, has proved an insoluble element in the world's population, in important respects, not merely floating hither and thither like a worthless weed, but controlling the current of affairs, obtaining a commercial supremacy upon which kings wait, and at whose bidding the sword rusts in the scabbard. A nation crushed and scattered, to every national purpose annihilated, yet a nation still! Distrusted, scorned, and vilified, yet neither deserting the ark of its ancient faith, nor attempting to bear it onward, but gathered round it in mute, immoveable, patience, standing, amidst the revolutions of the world and the wrecks of empires, like their own priests amidst the swelling tide of Jordan. Whatever else may be laid to their charge-to whatever dishonourable causes you may attribute their extraordinary thrift, however perverted and defective their religion may have been in its practical influence, still of indifference to that they cannot be accused. They have clung to it with an indomitable temper, claiming no credit for their loyalty. Here it is, still in the world, the ancient religion. And this cannot but strike us as the prominent feature of the Jewish mind, the depth and the power of the religious sentiment. Considering how
RELATION OF JUDEA TO THE WORLD.
peculiarities of appearance and character are handed down from age to age, even if the early history of this singular people were hid in darkness, we should still infer from their later fortunes, from their present position, that they were of no common parentage-that the ancestors of such a race, the Hebrew Patriarchs, must have been men of an exalted religious temperament.
But there is another thing that leads to the same conclusion. The religion of Europe and America— those portions of the globe, which we call the civilized, came according to the flesh from the bosom of this people, which as a people, then, stands to the rest of the world in a relation far more commanding than that of any other nation. We turn from our earliest childhood with enthusiasm and reverence to Greece and Italy. These have been our guides in literature, law and art. But there is a loftier eminence than either Athens or Rome, and Zion towers high above the Acropolis and the Seven Hills. In reference to that interest, unspeakably the most momentous, religion, Judea is the mistress of the world, and well may that spot, where the Daughter of Zion once sat in her beautiful garments, be called for ever the Holy Land. The head of Christendom was of Hebrew extraction, born on Hebrew ground, nursed by a Hebrew mother.*
When we consider what deep and angry prejudices have rolled for ages between Jews and Gentiles, we are struck with the fact, that, in the chief respect, the former are the guides and benefactors of the latter. The most wonderful of books has been handed across that black gulf. The world has been united against the Jews. Greek and Roman held them in contempt as a strange and superstitious people, and they have returned scorn for scorn. Nevertheless it was Jews who toiled and died to bestow, and it was from Jews that the world has received, the greatest of benefits. The Christian Scriptures, so widely received and honoured, are the works of Jewish hands, the gift of a people whom all the world has shunned. What a presumption of the truth, aye, and the divinity of these books does this one fact furnish! Were they cunningly devised fables, or mere delusions, it is incredible that they should have been received by those who were watching their authors with
THE PARENTAGE OF JOHN.
These considerations may seem too general in their nature to possess any particular bearing on the subject in hand. But they are fitted to refresh our impressions of the high character and standing of the Israelitish nation; a sacred nation,- a nation of priests,'' a royal priesthood,' such it was the design of Providence, through their illustrious Lawgiver, to make them, and however false the generality of this people may have been to their great destiny, yet, from among them has issued One, a Priest for the whole world and for all time, Priest, Prophet, and King! Keeping in mind their national character, we turn to any one period of their history with awakened interest, and regard any prominent individual with new curiosity and respect, when we look at him in connexion with the imposing character of his country, and the extraordinary social influences radiating around him. Jesus and John were both, according to the flesh, of the great line of Abraham.
John was doubly connected with the priesthood. His father Zacharias was a priest. His mother Elizabeth was of the daughters of Aaron. And according to the high standard of Jewish piety, they were persons of blameless lives and eminent devotion. Their
the deepest distrust and shrinking from their very touch as contamination. If the Christian history had not in it the all-victorious force of truth, Gentiles never would have listened to it from those hated Jewish lips. If a fraud was to be practised on the world, were those whom the world was the first to suspect, most likely to attempt it, or to succeed in it when attempted? Had the world's best book issued from an association of renowned philosophers, then there might be reason to suspect that the rapid credit which it gained was to be attributed to the blinding influence of prejudice. But as the case stands, they who obtained the world's faith, were not the world's favourites but her foes, the very filth and offscouring of the world,' so the first teachers of Christ were esteemed, men, whom none would believe but on overwhelming evidence. There was every disposition in the Gentile mind not to believe. And Christianity offered no bribe to selfish passions. It had nothing to give but truth, and this attended by disgrace, privations and tortures.