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THE HOPE OF THE JEWS.
nations of ancient times placed the golden age in the past, the Hebrews looked for an era yet to come, and destined to surpass in glory and in good all that had gone before. They believed that their dispensation, proud as they were of it, was to be succeeded by another far better and more divine, to which the religion of Moses was only preliminary. The prophets who appeared among this people from age to age were men who, imbibing a more than ordinary measure of the spirit of the national faith, became qualified to receive divine inspirations. They predicted, in glowing language, the future good. But while they saw that it was to consist in the increase of righteousness, they believed that the great blessing was to be realised through their own nation, and by its eminence and power as a nation. There was to be established a grand Jewish empire, with a heaven-anointed king at its head. Such was the form which the Hebrew hope gradually assumed in the course of ages. There sprang up and prevailed many opinions concerning the forms, institutions and concomitants of the kingdom that was to come. But all believed that it would be introduced and established by a man sent from God, clothed with extraordinary powers, all the insignia of the vicegerent of Heaven. This looking for the advent of an inspired man was sanctioned not only by the prophets, but by the reason and nature of things. The whole analogy of nature and providence bids man look for the fulfilment of his best hopes through man. In all things man is the mediator standing between heaven and earth. Would that now-a-days, instead of waiting for the supreme good to be manufactured by institutions and governments, the world placed its heart and hope on man alone under God, that it panted and prayed for the advent of true men! How might such
THE DIVINE KINGDOM, DESCRIBED BY JESUS.
a hope, inspired by reason, nature, and providence, tend to its own fruition! This natural expectation was cherished with the greatest ardour among the Jews, but, although consecrated by religious faith, it was contracted and debased by narrow prejudices and earthborn passions. It was not a man, a man inspired to sympathise with and to supply the deepest wants of man, but a prince that they longed for, a political deliverer, a fountain of national honour and renown. The galling oppression of Rome exasperated their worst passions, and they prayed for a Christ to avenge their wrongs and lead them in triumph over their foes. Not a guiding Mind, not a loving Heart, did they wait for, but a red right Arm. Their chief and darling idea of the Messiah was of a conqueror who would found a magnificent empire, administered indeed in righteousness and the fear of Jehovah, but still an empire of visible grandeur.
Such was the faith of the period at which Jesus of Nazareth appeared. He did not declare himself the Messiah. He assumed no visible pomp or authority, but went about every where announcing that the great kingdom was nigh, that 'the Son of Man,' the Anointed, the Man, to whom the hope of the nation so fondly pointed, was at hand. Anxiously expected as he was, the Christ, he declared, would come at a moment and in a way wholly unexpected, and would find few prepared to recognise and receive him. And in so saying, he stated an actual, present fact, could his hearers only have understood it. The chief topic of the discourses of Jesus was the divine kingdom that was drawing nigh. The manner of its introduction, its progress, influence, and laws, he aimed to shadow forth to the minds of his countrymen, dimmed by bigoted prejudice and selfish passions, in various similitudes and
HIS IDEA OF THE KINGDOM,
parables. It would come, he said, not with pomp and outward observation. It was an invisible empire, and men would not be able to say, Lo, here! or, Lo, there! for it was within. He describes its progress as gradual, like the process of vegetation, first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear,' or like the growth of a minute seed or the influence of leaven. One of his first and most remarkable declarations is that not the proud and warlike, but the lowly-minded, not the revengeful, but they who were prepared to suffer all things for the sake of right, returning blessings and prayers for curses, were the true and rightful heirs of rank and honour in the coming kingdom. It was all but impossible, he once observed to the exceeding amazement of those who heard him, for the rich to enter that kingdom. Its thrones would be filled by those who surrendered all things, houses, lands, and the dearest treasures of life, for the sake of the world's regeneration. When asked who shall be the greatest in the kingdom, he replied, that no one could so much as enter it, unless he put on the docile temper of a child. He declared with solemn explicitness that the divine kingdom would be filled with multitudes flocking from all quarters, while those who imagined themselves the heirs of that glory would be excluded. When one among his hearers, unable to repress his feelings, burst forth with the exclamation, Happy those who shall sit down in the kingdom of God!' Jesus instantly related a parable of a man who made a great feast and invited many, and at the fit hour sent to request their attendance, but they refused to come, thus teaching that those who were first invited to enter the glorious kingdom, would be unwilling to accept the invitation when all was prepared for their reception. Again upon another occasion, he repressed more strikingly the
thoughtless hopes of the people when, as he was approaching Jerusalem, and a vast and excited throng attended him, and the impression was spread abroad that the great revolution was immediately to commence and the kingdom to be ushered in, he uttered those other parables by which he taught that none would be permitted to share in the blessings and honours of the expected reign, who were unprepared to render a faithful account of their respective trusts.
From these various representations, considered in connection with the whole tenor of his language and his whole manner of life, simple, devoid of all show, self-denying and laborious, we perceive that the idea of the kingdom, which possessed his mind and which he lived and died to advance, was a spiritual idea. The state of things which he portrays by all these similitudes was a new condition of the human soul, not primarily a new arrangement of man's outward condition, but a renovation of the inner life. The Jews all believed that the kingdom of the Messiah would be distinguished by the increase and prevalence of righteousness. But of this they thought comparatively little. The moral aspect of the coming dispensation was but dimly discerned and lightly thought of. Its relative value was not suspected. The visible splendours of the kingdom, its riches and honours-these, to the popular mind, occupied the foreground of the great picture painted upon "the cloud-curtain of the future." Jesus aimed to teach that the true glory of the coming dispensation, consisted not in these but in the moral good it would bring and illustrate. By various figures and parables he sought to fix attention and excite curiosity, and, attracting his countrymen to study out his meaning, he drew off their minds from worldly visions, and gave them some insight into the spiritual features of
THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN.
the heavenly kingdom, its inward life rather than its visible form.
It may be thought, by the way, that his labours availed very little. But the reverse was the fact. Always, from the foundation of the world, man has looked to the outward to bless his hopes. Against this disposition, heightened and rendered inveterate by the peculiar force of Jewish prejudices, Jesus had to contend. And when we consider what resistance these offered to his divine teachings, we can only wonder at the measure of his success. Judge of him as you please, the simple historical fact you cannot dispute. He has changed the condition of the world. No life has wrought like his upon mankind. In the briefest space, he so moulded by his influence eleven individuals, that from the meanest sphere they were raised to be Apostles, Martyrs, the world's guides and regenerators. But not to wander from the subject in hand, by aiming to enlarge and spiritualise the popular conceptions of the nature of the kingdom, he was, in effect, writing out in divine characters, the credentials of his own authority. Were the lowly, and self-sacrificing, and persecuted, the highest and most distinguished in the kingdom of Heaven? Then was not he, so pre-eminently humble and self-denying, the Anointed King himself?
So far there is but little difficulty. But while we have so much reason to conclude that the idea which Jesus had of the kingdom was perfectly spiritual, there is language of his recorded which does not at first sight accord with this conclusion. He speaks of the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven and attended by hosts of angels, of a time when the Son of Man shall be seated on a glorious throne. He appears to have had in view a definite event, to occur in that generation,