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Julian Pe- The institutions of Christianity had succeeded to the institu- Asia Misa riod, 4799. tions of the law of Moses. The temple of God upon earth, Vulgar Era, which had opened its gates to the people of one favoured country alone, was taken down, and the whole world was invited, by the preachers of the holy Gospel, to enter into another temple of God upon earth, whose gates stood open night and day, to receive all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.
It may be useful, in the conclusion of this work, to cast a rapid glance over the past history of that religion which Christ and his apostles, and their successors in the Christian Priesthood have established. From this we shall be naturally led to consider the state of Christianity in our own age, not merely in England, or in Europe, but through the world. The appearances of the present times, the expectations of wise and good men, and the express predictions both of the old prophets and of the Christian Scriptures, will justify us in anticipating the eventual comparative perfection of mankind, and the universal establishment of the one pure religion in this world, before the arrival of that solemn day, when the theatre on which the great drama of man has been acted will be swept away from existence. We will compare the state of the world at the beginning of the century before the birth of Christ was announced to the shepherds, with its condition at the death of the last of the apostles.
At the commencement of the century in which the Redeemer of mankind became incarnate, the world was divided into two classes, the Pagans and the Jews. The former of these had entirely forgotten the object for which mankind had been originally created; and, among the latter, the remembrance of that object was coufined to a very few who still retained the spiritual meaning of their Scriptures, and anticipated a deliverer from the dominion of ignorance and wickedness, rather than a Saviour from the Roman yoke. The degeneracy of mankind was daily increasing; and the Church of God, that is, that portion of the visible Church which had preserved itself pure from the universal corruption, was so rapidly diminishing; that there was danger lest the world should return to the same condition to which it had been reduced; when eight persons only were saved from the deluge, or when ten worshippers of Jehovah could not be found to preserve the cities of the plain. Among the Heathen all classes had become foolish. The magistrates and the statesmen of antiquity considered religion as an useful engine of state; the philosophers, bewildered among their metaphysical dreams, and involved in endless disputations and divisions, considered all religions as equally false, and equally true-justly despising the inconsistencies of the popular mythology, they knew not where to rest. The scanty remains of the ancient truth, which tradition still preserved among them, was obscured by innumerable absurdities. Neither the hope of good, nor the fear of evil, animated the popular devotion; while the very superstitions which the wandering reason of their pretended philosophy despised, were rendered more binding upon the ignorant populace by the outward compliance of the philosophers, with all its rites and ceremonies.
The teachers of the Jews had secularized the religion of their fathers. The magnificent promises and splendid predictions of the prophets, which describe the spiritual glories of the expected Messiah, were interpreted of a temporal dominion. The maintainers of the spiritual interpretation were treated with contempt. The two classes of teachers, who divided the affections of the people, united in ridiculing the holiness of heart and life required by the law of Jehovah. The Sadducees denjed
AND AT THE END OF THE APOSTOLIC AGE.
Julian Pe- the doctrine of a future state, and the consequent sanctions of Asia Minor, riod, 4799. an invisible world; the Pharisees resolved the religion of Moses, Vulgar Æra, and of the prophets, into the belief of traditions, and attachment to external observances, and ostentatious austerities. The one destroyed internal religion, by denying its necessity altogether; the latter ruined its influence with equal efficacy, by finding a substitute for holiness. The first were condemned entirely, as the open enemies of purity, as the infidels of their day; the last were condemned with unsparing severity, but not so univer sally, or totally, in that more restricted censure, "these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." The consequence of the united dereliction of both Jews and Heathens, was, that the knowledge and fear of God was rapidly fading away from the public faith, and the private motives of
The close of the century presented a strong contrast with this melancholy condition. Mankind were now divided into three classes. The Heathens, who, in addition to their former errors, had now acquired a spirit of persecution-the Jews, who, though they had been conquered by the Romans, and subjected to severe persecutions, still continued in various towns in Palestine, and throughout the empire, and whose inveterate hatred against the Christians increased daily-the third division, and it included no small portion of mankind, were the Christians, who were elected by the providence of God from both the former classes.
Before we proceed to the history of the Christian Church, it may be advisable to inquire into the condition of the once favoured people of God, after their rejection of the Messiah had brought upon them the accomplishment of his predictions, in the destruction of the city, and the utter ruin of their poli tical existence.
The visible true Church, in any nation, is under the protection of the peculiar Providence of God, and entitled to the veneration of the people, whom it is intended to guide to future happiness, so long only as it retains its spiritual fitness, and zeal, and purity, to accomplish the objects of its institution. This seems to be the lesson which the fall of Jerusalem was designed to impress upon the infant Church, which had now succeeded to the miraculous gifts and privileges of the Church of Jerusalem. Not only did the fallen daughter of Sion render' service to her favoured sister, by impressing this solemn lesson, she was still permitted, before the final dispersion of her sons, so to deliver the ancient Scriptures to the Gentile Churches, that their integrity and genuineness should be unimpeachable, either by the Jews or Heathens.
Though the city and temple of Jerusalem were destroyed, the Sanhedrim remained, and were acknowledged by the surviving Hebrews as the legitimate directors and teachers of the people: Some years before the destruction of the temple they had removed to Jabneh: and, after that event, Rabban Jochanan ben Zacchai, the president, who had predicted the destruction of the temple forty years before, when the doors of the temple had opened without visible cause, requested permission of Titus, with whom he was in favour, to re-establish the Sanhedrim at Jabaeh. Fully convinced of the truth of his own propheey, he had entreated the people to submit to the Romans. It was possibly on this account that Titus complied with his request. He sat as president of the Sanhedrim five years after the destruction of the city. Some few of the more eminent and learned Jews, who escaped from the common slaughter, from the sale, and vassalage of their countrymen, continued with him at Jabneh.
riod, 4799. Vulgar Era,
Julian Pe- Among these were R. Gamaliel, the son of the R. Simeon who Asia Minot. was educated with St. Paul, and was killed when president of the Sanhedrim, at the siege of Jerusalem: this Simeon is considered by the Jews as the last of the ten eminent men who were slain by the kingdom, that is, who were put to death by the Romans. With R. Gamaliel were R. Zadok, who had emaciated his body with extreme fasting, when the doors of the temple moved on their hinges by invisible hands, R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, the author of Pirke Eliezer, and others whose names are still held in honour among the Jews. These men were employed to the last in making decrees respecting the ritual of the temple service, and settling questions of ceremonies, though the glory had departed, and religion had become an empty form. There were thirteen worshippings, or bowings, in the temple, but the house of Rabban Gamaliel and the house of Ananias Sagan made fourteen, says a Jewish tradition. Lightfoot erroneously conjectures that the Ananias, who was thus united with the house of R. Gamaliel in ordering the additional bowings in the temple, when it was about to be destroyed, was the same Ananias who insulted St. Paul.
R. Jochanan was succeeded in his presidency over the Sanhedrim at Jabneh by R. Gamaliel. The traditions relate, that he gave offence to the people by his pride and passion, and at one period was deprived of his presidency; he was restored to his dignity in part only, R. Eliezer being elevated to the joint administration.
The presidency of these two, continued twelve years, from the second year of Vespasian, to the second of Domitian. The hatred of the Romans towards the Jews had not at this time increased to its height. In the second year of Domitian, R. Akibah, was their head. His presidency lasted forty years, when the Romans sacked with so much cruelty the town Bitter, or more properly Beth-Tar (a). The Jews now began to be more severely threatened, as enemies to the public peace of the empire, and to all mankind. This was the period of the dreadful insurrection at Cyrene (6), when they murdered two hundred and twenty thousand Greeks and Romans, under circumstances of the most revolting and shameful cruelty. A similar insurrection was made in Egypt and Cyprus, where they slaughtered two hundred and forty thousand. The principal author of this revolt is said to have been the false Messiah, Ben Cozba, who proclaimed himself king, and coined money. This took place in the reign of Adrian, and R. Akibah, the president of the Sanhedrim, was killed at Beth-Tar, as armour bearer to this pretended Messiah.
The destruction of the remaining cities of Judea, and the number of Jews who were slaughtered, make the Jews consider this period as the completion of their ruin, and the most severe blow they ever received, except the destruction of their city. Adrian had sent against them the relentless Severus, who was afterwards emperor.
At this time lived Trypho, the Jew who had the controversy with Justin Martyr. It is not improbable that this was the same as Tarphon, an intimate associate of R. Akibah; he is frequently mentioned in the Talmuds.
The fourth president of the Sanhedrim, after the destruction of Jerusalem, was Rabban Simeon. He governed about thirty years from the sixth or eighth of Adrian, to the fifteenth or sixteenth of Antoninus Pius. The honour and power of the learned Jews began now to lessen daily, though there were still found among them some eminent names, which are yet honoured both among the Jews and Christians. The principal of these were R. Simeon ben Jochai, and Eliezer, his son, the first authors of the book Zohar-and Aquila, the celebrated proselyte, whose
ORIGIN OF THE MISHNA, GEMARA, MASORITES, &c.
Julian Pe- translation of the Scriptures is quoted even by the Jerusalem Asia Minor.' riod, 4799. Gemarists. The Sanhedrim had now removed from Jabneh to Vulgar Era, Usha and Shepharaim.
R. Simeon was succeeded by his son, R. Judah the Holy. He was held in very high estimation among his countrymen, and is said to have been much valued by one of the Antonines. It was R. Judah who caused the traditional law to be collected into one mass. This is called the Mishnah, and is the great code by which the Jews still profess to be regulated. The number of pupils who might be the preservers of this code of traditionary law was daily diminishing, and he resolved therefore to commit it to writing, that it might be preserved. He appointed teachers of these traditions also in all the cities remaining to the Jewish name. The Sanhedrim, in bis reign, removed to Bethshaarain, Tsipporis, and Tiberias. R. Judah compiled the Mishnah, as some traditions relate, in the year 190, in the latter end of the reign of Commodus; but, as others affirm, in the year 220, one hundred and fifty years after the destruction of the city.
R. Judah was succeeded by his son R. Chaninah, in whose presidency we first read of the commentaries on the Mishna, which are called the Gemara. The Mishna, which is the text of the traditional law, and the Gemara, which is the comment, make up together the Talmud. The Targums are commentaries on Scripture.
R. Chaninah was succeeded by R. Jochanan, who was president of the Sanhedrim at Tiberias eighty years. Though the country abounded with schools, and the surviving Jews made every effort in their power to perpetuate their now corrupt religion, no school or college obtained so much celebrity as that at Tiberias. Jerome was instructed by a learned man of Tiberias; and it was most probably about this time, that that edition of the Hebrew Bible was prepared, which has ever been of high authority among both Jews and Christians; the edition of the Masorets, or, as they are more generally called, the Masorites.
This term is derived from a Hebrew word, signifying tradition. The Masorites were the learned Jews of Tiberias, who, being anxious before their nation was finally separated, to secure the sacred text from corruption, prepared an edition of the Old Testament, in which they marked, by certain arbitrary vowel points, accents, and pauses, the traditionary pronunciation of every word, The Bibles which the Jews read in their synagogues are now, and it is believed have always been, written without the vowel points; but the minister is required to read each chapter according to the traditionary sounds of the words, which are preserved in the pointed Bibles; and an inspector or superintendant stands by him when he reads, to correct any error. This pronunciation is not borrowed from the Masoretic Bible, as I have been informed by some learned Jews, whom I consulted on this matter; but it is the traditionary mode of reading which has been handed down from remote antiquity. Should this statement be correct, it appears to afford one very satisfactory argument, that the Masoretic punctuation is entitled to more respect than many modern Hebraists entertain for it. This, however, is not the place to enter upon this discussion. The Masorets, by their great care and diligence, have left us an edition of the Old Testament, which secures the text from all interpolations, while it checks also the licentiousness of conjectural criticism, and gives a definite meaning to many obscure passages; at the same time it by no means precludes the labours of the learned from aiming at greater accuracy in their attempts to understand Scripture, as the sense which the Masorets may have put upon any passage, can only be said to
Jalian Pe- be highly probable: the meaning of Scripture in all cases being Asia Minor.
the Masoretic text was formed from a collation of manuscripts,
The precise time when the Masorets of Tiberias completed
We will now return to the history of the Christian Church. Though the view which may be now taken of the effects of Christianity on human happiness, is unavoidably brief and imperfect, the memory will be assisted by a regular division of the subject.
I. The first stage is the state of the Christian Church from the death of St. John to the establishment of the persecuted faith by Constantine.
II. From thence to the rise of the Papal power.