Keith Hunt - Church History #2 - Page Two   Restitution of All Things

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History of the Church #2

The People


Taken from Philip Schaff multi-volume work on the subject:


Is there a better argument for Christianity than the Jews ? Is
there a more patent and a more stubborn fact in history than that
intense and unchangeable Semitic nationality with its equally
intense religiosity? Is it not truly symbolized by the bush in
the desert ever burning and never consumed?  Nebuchadnezzar,
Antiochus Epiphanes, Titus, Hadrian exerted their despotic power
for the extermination of the Jews; Hadrian's edict forbade
circumcision and all the rites of their religion; the intolerance
of Christian rulers treated them for ages with a sort of
revengeful cruelty, as if every Jew were personally responsible
for the crime of the crucifixion. And, behold, the race still
lives as tenaciously as ever, unchanged and unchangeable in its
national traits, an omnipresent power in Christendom. It still
produces, in its old age, remarkable men of commanding influence
for good or evil in the commercial, political, and literary
world; we need only recall such names as Spinoza, Rothschild,
Disraeli, Mendelssohn, Heine, Neander. If we read the accounts of
the historians and satirists of imperial Rome about the Jews in
their filthy quarter across the Tiber, we are struck by the
identity of that people with their descendants in the ghettos of
modern Rome, Frankfurt, and New York. Then they excited as much
as they do now the mingled contempt and wonder of the world; they
were as remarkable then for contrasts of intellectual beauty and
striking ugliness, wretched poverty and princely wealth; they
liked onions and garlic, and dealt in old clothes, broken glass,
and sulphur matches, but knew how to push themselves from poverty
and filth into wealth and influence; they were rigid monotheists
and scrupulous legalists who would strain out a gnat and swallow
a camel; then as now they were temperate, sober, industrious,
well regulated and affectionate in their domestic relations, and
careful for the religious education of their children. The
majority were then, as they are now, car nal descendants of
Jacob, the Supplanter, a small minority spiritual children of
Abraham, the friend of God and father of the faithful. Out of
this gifted race Have come, at the time of Jesus and often since,
the bitterest foes and the warmest friends of Christianity.

Among that peculiar people Jesus spent his earthly life, a Jew of
the Jews, yet in the highest sense the Son of Man, the second
Adam, the representative Head and Regenerator of the whole race.
For thirty years of reserve and preparation he hid his divine
glory and restrained his own desire to do good, quietly waiting
till the voice of prophecy after centuries of silence announced,
in the wilderness of Judaea and on the banks of the Jordan, the
coming of the kingdom of God, and startled the conscience of the
people with the call to repent. Then for three years he mingled
freely with his countrymen. Occasionally he met and healed
Gentiles also, who were numerous in Galilee; he praised their
faith the like of which he had not found in Israel, and
prophesied that many shall come from the east and the west and
shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of
heaven, while the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into
outer darkness. He conversed with a woman of Samaria, to the
surprise of his disciples, on the sublimest theme, and rebuked
the national prejudice of the Jews by holding up a good Samaritan
as a model for imitation. It was on the occasion of a visit from
some " Greeks," shortly before the crucifixion, that he uttered
the remarkable prophecy of the universal attraction of his cross.
But these were exceptions. His mission, before the resurrection,
was to the lost sheep of Israel. He associated with all ranks of
Jewish society, attracting the good and repelling the bad,
rebuking vice and relieving misery, but most of his time he spent
among the middle classes who constituted the bone and sinew of
the nation, the farmers and workingmen of Galilee, who are
described to us as an industrious, brave and courageous race,
taking the lead in seditious political movements, and holding out
to the last moment in the defence of Jerusalem. At the same time
they were looked upon by the stricter Jews of Judea as
semi-heathens and semi-barbarians; hence the question, "Can any
good come out of Nazareth," and "Out of Galilee ariseth no
prophet." He selected his apostles from plain, honest,
unsophisticated fishermen, who became fishers of men and teachers
of future ages. In Judea he came in contact with the religious
leaders, and it was proper that he should close his ministry and
establish his church in the capital of the nation.

He moved among the people as a Rabbi (my Lord) or a Teacher, and
under this name he is usually addressed. The Rabbis were the
intellectual and moral leaders of the nation, theologians,
lawyers, and preachers, the expounders of the law, the keepers of
the conscience, the regulators of the daily life and conduct ;
they were classed with Moses and the prophets, and claimed equal
reverence. They stood higher than the priests who owed their
position to the accident of birth, and not to personal merit.
They coveted the chief seats in the synagogues and at feasts;
they loved to be greeted in the markets and to be called of men,
"Rabbi, Rabbi." Hence our Lord's warning: "Be not ye called 
Rabbi - for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are
brethren." They taught in the temple, in the synagogue, and in
the school-house (Bethhamidrash), and introduced their pupils,
sitting on the floor at their feet, by asking and answering
questions, into the intricacies of Jewish casuistry. They
accumulated those oral traditions which were afterwards embodied
in the Talmud, that huge repository of Jewish wisdom and folly.
They performed official acts gratuitously. They derived their
support from an honorable trade or free gifts of their pupils, or
they married into rich families. Rabbi Hillel warned against
making gain of the crown (of the law), but also against excess of
labor, saying, "Who is too much given to trade, will not become
wise." In the book of Jesus Son of Sirach (which was written
about 200 B.C.) a trade is represented as incompatible with the
vocation of a student and teacher, but the prevailing sentiment
at the time of Christ favored a combination of intellectual and
physical labor as beneficial to health and character. One-third
of the day should be given to study, one-third to prayer, one
third to work. "Love manual labor," was the motto of Shemaja, a
teacher of Hillel. "He who does not teach his son a trade," said
Rabbi Jehuda, "is much the same as if he taught him to be a
robber."  "There is no trade," says the Talmud." which can be
dispensed with; but happy is he who has in his parents the
example of a trade of the more excellent sort."

Jesus himself was not only the son of a carpenter, but during 
his youth he worked at that trade himself. When he entered upon
his public ministry the zeal for God's house claimed all his time
and strength, and his modest wants were more than supplied by a
few grateful disciples from Galilee, so that some thing was left
for the benefit of the poor.  St. Paul learned the trade of
tentmaking, which was congenial to his native Cilicia, and
derived from it his support even as an apostle, that he might
relieve his congregations and maintain a noble indeň., pendence.
Jesus availed himself of the usual places of public instruction
in the synagogue and the temple, but preached also out of doors,
on the mountain, at the sea-side, and wherever the people
assembled to hear him. "I have spoken openly to the world; I ever
taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come
together; and in secret spake I nothing." Paul likewise taught in
the synagogue wherever he had an opportu nity on his missionary
journeys. The familiar mode of teaching was by disputation, by
asking and answering questions on knotty points of the law, by
parables and sententious sayings, which easily lodged in the
memory; the Rabbi sat on a chair, the pupils stood or sat on the
floor at his feet.' Knowledge of the Law of God was general among
the Jews and considered the most important possession. They
remembered the commandments better than their own name.

Instruction began in early childhood in the family and was
carried on in the school and the synagogue. Timothy learned the
sacred Scriptures on the knees of his mother and grandmother.    
Josephus boasts, at the expense of his superiors, that when only
fourteen years of age he had such an exact knowledge of the law
that he was consulted by the high priest and the first men of
Jerusalem! Schoolmasters were appointed in every town, and
children were taught to read in their sixth or seventh year, but
writing was probably a rare accomplishment.

The synagogue was the local, the temple the national centre of
religious and social life; the former on the weekly Sabbath (and
also on Monday and Thursday), the latter on the Passover and the
other annual festivals. Every town had a synagogue, large cities
had many, especially Alexandria and Jerusalem. The worship was
very simple: it consisted of prayers, singing, the reading of
sections from the Law and the Prophets in Hebrew, followed by a
commentary and homily in the vernacular Aramaic. There was a
certain democratic liberty of prophesy. ing, especially outside
of Jerusalem. Any Jew of age could read the Scripture lessons and
make comments on invitation of the ruler of the synagogue. This
custom suggested to Jesus the most natural way of opening his
public ministry. When he returned from his baptism to Nazareth, "
he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the Sabbath
day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him the
roll of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the roll and found the
place where it was written (61: 1,2):  "The Spirit of the Lord is
upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the
poor; he hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and
recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are
bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.  And he
closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down
and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he
began to say unto them, To-day hath this scripture been fulfilled
in your ears. And all bare witness unto him, and wondered at the
words of grace which proceeded out of his mouth: and they said,
Is not this Joseph's son?"

On the great festivals he visited from his twelfth year the
capital of the nation where the Jewish religion unfolded all its
splendor and attraction. Large caravans with trains of camels and
asses loaded with provisions and rich offerings to the temple,
were set in motion from the North and the South, the East and the
West for the holy city, "the joy of the whole earth;" and these
yearly pilgrimages, singing the beautiful Pilgrim Psalms (Ps. 120
to 134), contributed immensely to the preservation and promotion
of the common faith, as the Moslem pilgrimages to Mecca keep up
the life of Islam. We may greatly reduce the enormous figures of
Josephus, who on one single Passover reckoned the number of
strangers and residents in Jerusalem at 2,700,000 and the number
of slaughtered lambs at 256,500, but there still remains the fact
of the vast extent and solemnity of the occasion. Even now in her
decay, Jerusalem (like other Oriental cities) presents a striking
picturesque appearance at Easter, when Christian pilgrims from
the far West mingle with the many-colored Arabs, Turks, Greeks,
Latins, Spanish and Polish Jews, and crowd to suffocation the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre. How much more grand and dazzling
must this cosmopolitan spectacle have been when the priests
(whose number Josephus estimates at 20,000) with the broidered
tunic, the fine linen girdle, the showy turban, the high priests
with the ephod of blue and purple and scarlet, the breastplate
and the mitre, the Levites with their pointed caps, the Pharisees
with their broad phylacteries and fringes, the Essenes in white
dresses and with prophetic mien, Roman soldiers with proud
bearing, Herodian courtiers in oriental pomposity, contrasted
with beggars and cripples in rags, when pilgrims innumerable,
Jews and proselytes from all parts of the empire, "Parthians and
Medes and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Judea and
Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, in Phrygia and Pamphylia, in
Egypt and parts of Libya about Cyrene, and sojourners from Rome,
both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians," all wearing
their national costume and speaking a Babel of tongues, surged
through the streets, and pressed up to Mount Moriah, where "the
glorious temple rear'd her pile, far off appearing like a mount
of alabaster, topp'd with golden spires," and where on the
fourteenth day of the first month columns of sacrificial smoke
arose from tens of thousands of paschal lambs, in historical
commemoration of the great deliverance from the land of bondage,
and in typical prefiguration of the still greater re demption
from the slavery of sin and death.

To the outside observer the Jews at that time were the most
religious people on earth, and in some sense this is true. Never
was a nation so ruled by the written law of God; never did a
nation so carefully and scrupulously study its sacred books, and
pay greater reverence to its priests and teachers. The leaders of
the nation looked with horror and contempt upon the unclean,
uncircumcised Gentiles, and confirmed the people in their
spiritual pride and conceit. No wonder that the Romans charged
the Jews with the odium generis humani.
Yet, after all, this intense religiosity was but a shadow of true
religion. It was a praying corpse rather than a living body.
Alas! the Christian Church in some ages and sections presents a
similar sad spectacle of the deceptive form of godliness with out
its power. The rabbinical learning and piety bore the same
relation to the living oracles of God as sophistic scholasticism
to Scriptural theology, and Jesuitical casuistry, to Christian
ethics. The Rabbis spent all their energies in "fencing" the law
so as to make it inaccessible. They analyzed it to death. They
surrounded it with so many hair-splitting distinctions and
refinements that the people could not see the forest for the
trees or the roof for the tiles, and mistook the shell for the
kernel. Thus they made void the Word of God by the traditions of
men.' A slavish formalism and mechanical ritualism was
substituted for spiritual piety, an ostentatious
sanctimoniousness for holiness of character, scrupulous casuistry
for genuine morality, the killing letter for the life-giving
spirit, and the temple of God was turned into a house of

The profanation and perversion of the spiritual into the carnal,
and of the inward into the outward, invaded even the holy of
holies of the religion of Israel, the Messianic promises and
hopes which run like a golden thread from the protevangelium in
paradise lost to the voice of John the Baptist pointing to the
Lamb of God. The idea of a spiritual Messiah who should crush the
serpent's head and redeem Israel from the bondage of sin, was
changed into the conception of a political deliverer who should
re-establish the throne of David in Jerusalem, and from that
centre rule over the Gentiles to the ends of the earth. The Jews
of that time could not separate David's Son, as they called the
Messiah, from David's sword, sceptre and crown. Even the apostles
were affected by this false notion, and hoped to secure the chief
places of honor in that great revolution; hence they could not
understand the Master when he spoke to them of his approaching
passion and death.

The state of public opinion concerning the Messianic expectations
as set forth in the Gospels is fully confirmed by the preceding
and contemporary Jewish literature, as the Sibylline Books (about
B.C. 140), the remarkable Book of Enoch (of uncertain date,
probably from B.C. 130-30), the Psalter of Solomon (B.C. 63-48),
the Assumption of Moses, Philo and Josephus, the Apocalypse of
Baruch, and the Fourth Book of Esdras. In all of them the
Messianic kingdom, or the kingdom of God, is represented as an
earthly paradise of the Jews, as a kingdom of this world, with
Jerusalem for its capital. It was this popular idol of a
pseudo-Messiah with which Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness,
when he showed him all the kingdoms of the world; well knowing
that if he could convert him to this carnal creed, and induce him
to abuse his miraculous power for selfish gratification, vain
ostentation, and secular ambition, he would most effectually
defeat the scheme of redemption. The same political aspiration
was a powerful lever of the rebellion against the Roman yoke
which terminated in the destruction of Jerusalem, and it revived
again in the rebellion of Par-Cocheba only to end in a similar

Such was the Jewish religion at the time of Christ. He was  the
only teacher in Israel who saw through the hypocritical mask  to
the rotten heart. None of the great Rabbis, no Hillel, no 
Shammai, no Gamaliel attempted or even conceived of a
reformation; on the contrary, they heaped tradition upon
tradition and accumulated the talmudic rubbish of twelve large
folios and 2947 leaves, which represents the anti-Christian
petrifaction of Judaism; while the four Gospels have regenerated
humanity and are the life and the light of the civilized world to
this day.

Jesus, while moving within the outward forms of the Jewish
religion of his age, was far above it and revealed a new world of
ideas. He, too, honored the law of God, but by unfolding its
deepest spiritual meaning and fulfilling it in precept and
example. Himself a Rabbi, he taught as one having direct author
ity from God, and not as the scribes. How he arraigned those
hypocrites seated on Moses' seat, those blind leaders of the
blind, who lay heavy burdens on men's shoulders without touching
them with their finger; who shut the kingdom of heaven against
men, and will not enter themselves; who tithe the mint and the
anise and the cumin, and leave undone the weightier matters of
the law, justice and mercy and faith; who strain out the gnat and
swallow the camel; who are like unto whited sepulchres which
outwardly appear beautiful indeed, but inwardly are full of dead
men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Put while he thus stung the
pride of the leaders, he cheered and elevated the humble and
lowly. He blessed little children, he encouraged the poor, he
invited the weary, he fed the hungry, he healed the sick, he
converted publicans and sinners, and laid the foundation strong
and deep, in God's eternal love, for a new society and a new
humanity. It was one of the sublimest as well as loveliest
moments in the life of Jesus when the disciples asked him, Who is
the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? and when he called a
little child, set him in the midst of them and said, " Verily I
say unto you, Except ye be converted and become as little
children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child,
the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall
receive one such little child in my name receveh me." And that
other moment when he thanked his heavenly Father for revealing
unto babes the things of the kingdom which were hid from the
wise, and invited all that labor and are heavy laden to come to
him for rest.

He knew from the beginning that he was the Messiah of God and the
King of Israel. This consciousness reached its maturity at his
baptism when he received the Holy Spirit without measure. To this
conviction he clung unwaveringly, even in those dark hours of the
apparent failure of his cause, after Judas had betrayed him,
after Peter, the confessor and rock-apostle, had denied him, and
everybody had forsaken him. He solemnly affirmed his Messiahship
before the tribunal of the Jewish highpriest; he assured the
heathen representative of the Roman empire that he was a king,
though not of this world, and when hanging on the cross he
assigned to the dying robber a place in his kingdom. But before
that time and in the days of his greatest popularity he carefully
avoided every publication and demonstration which might have
encouraged the prevailing idea of a political Messiah and an
uprising of the people. He chose for himself the humblest of the
Messianic titles which represents his condescension to our common
lot, while at the same time it implies his unique position as the
representative head of the human family, as the ideal, the
perfect, the universal, the archetypal Man. He calls himself
habitually "the Son of Man" who "hath not where to lay his head,"
who "came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give
his life a ransom for many," who "hath power to forgive sins,"
who "came to seek and to save that which was lost." When Peter
made the great confession at Caesarea Philippi, Christ accepted
it, but immediately warned him of his approaching passion and
death, from which the disciple shrunk in dismay. And with the
certain expectation of his crucifixion, but also of his
triumphant resurrection on the third day, he entered in calm and
sublime fortitude on his last journey to Jerusalem which "killeth
the prophets," and nailed him to the cross as a false Messiah and
blasphemer. But in the infinite wisdom and mercy of God the
greatest crime in history was turned into the greatest blessing
to man kind.

We must conclude then that the life and work of Christ, while
admirably adapted to the condition and wants of his age and
people, and receiving illustration and confirmation from his
environment, cannot be explained from any contemporary or
preceding intellectual or moral resources. He learned nothing
from human teachers. His wisdom was not of this world. He needed
no visions and revelations like the prophets and apostles. He
came directly from his great Father in heaven, and when he spoke
of heaven he spoke of his familiar home. He spoke from the
fullness of God dwelling in him. And his words were verified by
deeds. Example is stronger than precept. The wisest sayings
remain powerless until they are incarnate in a living person.    
It is the life which is the light of men. In purity of doctrine
and holiness of character combined in perfect harmony, Jesus
stands alone, unapproached and unapproachable. He breathed a
fresh life from heaven into his and all subsequent ages. He is
the author of a new moral creation.


To be continued

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