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ing it, and is persecuted, perhaps, and looked on with suspicion because he is preaching it, while most of the people are going on in the old way, precisely so it was then. There was a prophet here, a seer over yonder, one claiming to be inspired here who taught this great truth of the unity of God, who was trying always to lift the people up to a conception of it, and a practical acceptance of it as a great controlling religious conviction, and the most of the people always ready to fall away, ready to be enticed to the worship of the gods of this people or that. When, for example, they did not attain as the result of their prayers and sacrifices that which they desired, they were often ready to try another god, to see if they could not in that way attain what they had not succeeded in gaining. So slowly the world always moves; and in this slow way did the Jewish people come at last to this great religion of sublime belief in the unity of God.
But, when they had attained that, you must not think that their thought of God was like ours to-day. Their God was not pure spirit, as we think of him now. He was located a little above the firmament, on a throne, in a particular place, surrounded by a court of angels, capable of vengeance, capable of jealousy, capable of being moved by those things that we now regard as unworthy of a divine being. But still, he was one, and was declared to be the God of the heavens and of the earth.
Neither had they attained to a conception of the truth that Jesus uttered later, that God might be worshipped anywhere. His worship was local. It was in the temple of Jerusalem that he peculiarly manifested himself. They had not attained that spiritual thought of his power and perfect righteousness which was needed to fill up the conception of a being worthy of worship as God. They thought that he must be worshipped by certain ceremonies, rites, and sacrifices, and that only thus could he be acceptably approached. So there was this great order of the priesthood that stood between the people and God, authorized to interpret his will, able to remit the s of the people if certain ceremonies had been complied.
with. But an advance was going on; and, in spite of the fact that the priesthood was multiplying ceremonies and rites in Jerusalem, a prophet here and there was proclaiming that God did not care for their sacrifice, that he was weary of it, that he did not care for their hecatombs of flesh or the rivers of oil they poured out, what he wanted was the pure thought and the loving heart. Another prophet was saying, "What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?
These contradictions you find in every age of the world. A few higher, finer leaders of men, and the people slowly comprehending these grander truths and coming on as fast as their natures and their ability to comprehend and feel will allow.
During the later part of the history of the Jewish people. there was a continual conflict going on between the prophets and the priests, the priests multiplying the rites and ceremonies and sacrifices and emphasizing obedience to the Mosaic law, and the prophets ever emphasizing more and more the higher spiritual truths that have come to be recognized as parts of the universal religious life of the world.
Right here it is time for me to outline for you the great magnificent hope which was born in the hearts of the Jewish people, and that has had so controlling an influence, not only on their development and their history, even to the present day, but which has been the one shaping, coloring power of the religious life of Christianity itself; that is, their hope of a coming Messiah. I cannot go into any detail concerning that hope this morning. It expressed itself in an infinite variety of ways, but the substance of it is here. They came to believe that a king was to be born of the line of David, and that he was to set up his kingdom in Jerusalem; that he was not only to free them from foreign control, but to give them universal conquest of the earth. Before the time of the establishment of this kingdom the faithful dead of all the past were to be raised. There was to be a resurrection preceding the coming of this Messiah, so that those who
looked for him and hoped for him all those dreary years should be partakers in his ultimate and glorious victory. And then the whole earth was to be transformed. The Jews had come to believe that nature had been cursed, that thorns and thistles had sprung up on account of human sin, and that all the evils and diseases, the troubles and sorrows, under which men groan and suffer, were caused by departure from the true God; and, consequently, when this Messianic kingdom was to be established, all evils of every kind were to be done away. There was to be no more pain, no more disease, no more heartache, no more tears. Nobody was to die prematurely, and every evil was to be forgotten. Nature herself was to be rejuvenated in the glad presence and happy smile of her king, and was to take on a newness and abundance of life surpassing even that of Eden days.
I wish to read you an extract from one of the old apocalyptic writers, to give you a picture, in his own words, as to what they believed was to be the condition of things in Messiah's reign: —
"The earth shall yield its fruits, one producing ten thousand, and in one vine shall be a thousand branches, and one branch shall produce a thousand bunches, and one bunch. shall produce a thousand grapes, and one grape shall produce a measure of wine. And those who have been hungry shall rejoice; and they shall again see prodigies every day. For spirits shall go forth from my sight to bring every morning the fragrance of spices, and at the end of the day clouds dropping the dew of health. And it shall come to pass at that time, the treasure of manna shall again descend from above, and they shall eat of it in those years."
I wish, however, for that is more important, that you should note the natural line of thought by which the Hebrews came to believe in this wonderful coming. It is perfectly natural, perfectly logical, not at all strange that they should have developed that faith. Note the steps of it. They had come to believe that the one God of all the earth, the omnipotent One, had chosen them as his peculiar peo
ple, to be faithful to them to the end of time. He had promised that they were to multiply until they became a great nation whose seed should be as numerous as the stars that they saw over their heads, or as the sands of the seashore. They were not altogether selfish in this hope; for, along with this promise to themselves, was another, that in them should all the people of the earth be blessed. So they believed, naturally and logically, that an outcome of this choice of them on the part of God would be their establishment in the great city of Jerusalem, as the rulers of the world and the blessers of the earth at the same time. But, as years went on, they were persecuted; they were a small people; they were overwhelmed by their enemies; they were carried into captivity. How could they reconcile that with their hope, and what influence did it have on the particular shape which that assumed? They said, naturally, The Omnipotent is our God, and we are his people; but the reason why we do not attain the realization of our prayer is that we are not true to him, we are not obedient, we are not faithful, and these are only punishments which he is sending upon us, by the ministry of which he is to bring us to himself. When we have faithfully and perfectly kept his law, then Messiah will come.
What did they do in the attempt to realize this dream? On the one hand, there were spiritual leaders telling them that the most important thing was the condition of the heart, inward purity, goodness. On the other hand was the exaggerated reverence which had sprung up for their law, their temple, their ceremonies, their sacrifices. So we find at the time of the birth of Jesus a condition of things like this. There were different parties in existence among them. The Sadducees, who did not believe in the infallibility of any part of the Bible except the law, the Pentateuch, and who did not regard the rest as having any divine authority. They did not believe in any future life, because it is not revealed in the Pentateuch. They did not believe in this coming of the Messiah, and did not care much about it: it was not part
of their hope. Then there were the Hellenists, as they were called, who, giving up their care for their national development, took a special interest in the civilization of the Greeks and Romans around them. They believed in upholding foreign influence and imitating foreign ways and introducing foreign games and amusements. Then the heart of the people, the great popular party, the party that represented their best life, on the whole, in spite of all their faults, were the Philistines, the Puritans among the Jews. They stood for the national life, the national faith, the national customs, the national past. These the great body of the people were in sympathy with, and were best represented by them. And, while they believed and taught that they must be pure in heart, they laid the emphasis of their teaching on the ceremony, the law, the sacrifice, setting most weight on the law. It is, they said, because the people do not understand the law, because they do not keep the law strictly enough, that our hopes are deferred and Messiah does not come. And so they made the law to cover every phase of life and every occasion, not only on Sunday, but every other day. Their whole life was parcelled out and mapped for them; and one must do this thing in this way, and that thing in that way, and the third thing in still another. They believed that, if the law were kept strictly and perfectly, then the triumph so long waited for, so long deferred, would be theirs. This was substantially the condition of the Jewish people at the time when Jesus was born.
I wish now to have you note how far they had come, how nearly they had preached what came afterwards to be Christianity. They had begun, we have seen, as idolaters, as nature-worshippers, as believers in many gods, starting with substantially the same ideas as the other peoples that were their neighbors on every hand. They had come to believe in one God, that the one great thing which he demanded on the part of his people was righteousness. The Eternal who loved righteousness was their God. But they had not attained freedom from the local limitation of a worship whose