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“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”
At this interesting season, when our hearts are full of its sacred associations, and our whole being in sympathy with the occasion, it may be proper to remind ourselves of the circumstances attending the com. ing of the Son of Man. The plan of salvation was four thousand years in developing. Man could not, in an instant, be freed from moral thraldom; and being unprepared for immediate deliverance, he had to be prepared by a course of discipline.
Christianity is like the sun; it purifies and enlightens everything that comes under its influence. It is like the sun in regard to its rising-no matter whether you refer to its dawning upon the individual heart, or to its first glorious appearance above the horizon of Jewish bope and Pagan longing, eighteen hundred years ago; in both cases there is a certain preparation and a gradual rising. As the son does not burst upon us in all his noon-day brilliancy, but sends his herald, the morning twilight, before ; so there is a twilight of grace going before the full splendor of noon-day glory.
In all history, there is no other event so interesting-to say nothing of its importance-as the advent of Christ. It is the crowning point of a long series of events, each of which finds its full meaning only in Him, around whom, as the central idea, the whole train revolves. The careful student will readily discover the beautiful harmony that obtains in the time and circumstances of these events; how each happened at a certain favorable period, how one prepared the way for another, how the last became a stepping stone to a third, and how, in the end, all centre in the advent of the God-man. Look at history from a sceptical standpoint, and you see great powers rising and falling, wars and commotions, strife and disorder, all haphazard confusion and blind chance; but read history from a christian stand-point, and you at once see harmony, order and meaning. We study history aright only when we refer every event to some central point or idea-only when we see some reigning principle or power pointing unerringly to that particular end toward which every accompanying circumstance tends, and in which it finds its significance. Such a principle or power we must see in the history of every age and people. If this is untrue, all the great occurrences of the last six thousand years must be accounted sheer nonsense-mere childs
play, with nation's for toys, and the world for a play-ground; history being a playful criticism on the solemn farce.
This reigning principal or power, is, however, most clearly seen in the preparation of the world for the advent of Christ. For two thousand years before, every historical event was a link in the great chain, a drop tending ocean-ward ; its beariug can not always be seen, because of our short-sightedness, and yet it certainly had its influence. So a small portion of ethereal blue, taken alone, seems to lose its color; yet it needs only clearer vision to be seen. The preparation of the world for the coming of Christ, is made up of three distinct elements, each of which to some degree, modified the rest, but at the same time had its own peculiar sphere of action; and in the end, all met as so many confluent streams, to pour their united flood into the same channel_these three elements are POLITICS, PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION.
On the first point an almost boundless field opens up, and one scarcely knows where to begin or where to draw the dividing line. In the term politics, we include all the political and civil changes, both in Heathenism and Judaism; all the wars and commotions, all the public fortunes of Kings and Rulers, in short, every event that can reasonably be classed under that head. Of course, it would require volumes to trace cut all that belougs to this point; but a few of the most important events ;. 41 serve our purpose, and show how true it is that “man proposes . God disposes."
We may begin with the conquests of Alexander the Great, and tis, o their bearing upon the subject. A man of strong ambition and great talents, strengthened by a thorough mental training, he conceived and carried out the idea of conquest. Himself a Macedonian, he successfully led his army through Greece into the very heart of Asia, and conquered Persia, Assyria and Egypt; thus breaking down the partition wall of national prejudice, and bringing Europe and Asia into political intercourse, which was but a preparatory step to the subsequent extension of Roman power eastward; while the Grecian refinement which followed his conquests, laid a good foundation for the future Christiani. zation of the conquered pations.
In a political point of view, the Romans seem to be by far the most important factor in this preparative work. To Judaism it was given to receive and keep pure, the revelations of God; to Greece it was given to discover that intellectual greatness cannot reach the Infinite; and to Rome it was given to develop the idea of State, of political power and political glory. Rome rose from a mere village, yea, from a Romulus, to be a mighty nation. Through seven and a half centuries she struggled on through danger and blood, with steady effort extending her power and influence from nation to nation, until in the glorious reign of Cæsar Augustus, she found herself proud empress of the world; from the seven-hilled, eternal city, extending her sway over Greece, Asia and Africa, thus taking up into herself all the conquests of Alexander, and uniting in her own dominion, subject to her power, the entire knowu world. How was this universal dominion of Rome particularly favor. able to the dawn of Christianity ? In several ways: it afforded the Apostles and Evangelists a safe-guard in their long journeys from place to place; the different povinces being thus bound together by a com.
mon rule and common interest ; commercial relations were entered into, and political intercourse carried on with distant parts ; by this means there was brought about a general exchange of sentiment, of national characteristics, and particularly of language. Soon the Greek tongue came into common use over nearly the entire world, and consequently the Apostles were enabled to preach and be understood everywhere.
This power of Rome was, however, a mere external power; and it is interesting to see how, by a double process, by outward growth and inward decay, she was unconsciously preparing the soil of the world for the seed of the gospel. Wbile her car of victory rolled on from conquest to conquest; while her name spread terror among the turbulent, and the conquered bowed in humble submission; and while wealth and power were increasing, Rome, blind to her interest, began to revel in luxury, to trust in mere magnificence, and to glory more in undisturbed ease than in the stern Roman spirit of the olden time. With Grecian refinement there came also Grecian luxury; and with the wealth of many nations there came also their vices. Rome thus became internally corrupt, lost her ancient integrity, and, drunken with success, reveled in the mire of sin until there was no longer any moral soundness in her. It is easy to understand how her outward, political strength aided the intro. i tion of Christianity, uniting, as it did, all nations under a common
er. Now, her internal corruption was clearly a preparative to the ir dispensation, in that the loss of her ancient integrity and civic vir1., hurtfully affected her religious sentiments and moral feelings to such an extent that all Rome was ready to cry out for help; it negatively opened the way for a new moral principle.
Another, and very important point in this political preparation, is the Babylonian captivity, which took place about six hundred years before Christ. Every one, at all acquainted with sacred history, will readily recollect that the Jews were “carried away captive,” by the triumphant Nebuchadnezzar, and retained thus for seventy long years. This was a very prominent factor in the preparation, in two ways: First, it was a a severe chastisement to the "stiff-necked" Jews. softening the rigidity of their nature, and at the same time making them more devoted to the God of their fathers. How sweetly does the Psalmist sing of their constancy; while their harps were hanged upon the willows, and their mocking masters required mirth, their sad hearts went back to the Jerusalem they loved, and they asked, “How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land ?" But, in the second place, this long captivity had a more important influence, perhaps, upon their captors. The Jews, still cherishing their religion and sacred writings, and earnestly looking forward through prophecy to the coming of Christ, spread their Messianic hopes far and wide among the heathen. There were, of course, thoughtful, and, in their own way, pious souls among these heathen ; there were hearts that felt the need of something divine, something higher and better than themselves, in which they might confidently rest and trust. It is easy to see how the Jews, by so long an intercourse, would ipfuse the great truths of revelation into a people that so much felt the need of them; and how soon, too, these Messianic hopes would spread from heart to heart, in virtue of their power to satisfy its deepest wants.
After seventy years, Cyrus issued a decree, permitting all Jews to return to their native country; comparatively few, however, returned ; one generation had died in captivity, and the new one had entered into such relations in their adopted country, as made a return to Palestine a matter of indifference ; many, however, went to other neighboring countries, thus still further spreading Messianic hopes. All those who were at all devoted, regularly went to Jerusalem once every year to attend the great feast of the Passover. Jerusalem was their centre and home, their dearest earthly hope. To the feast happening after the birth of Christ, they went as usual. Many Jews from all parts met there, and heard concerning the wondrous event that had just come to pass. The topic of the advent was upon every tongue ; a Saviour had come; there were strange reports ; some said a king had been born ; others sceptically denied such an idea ; but there were many earnest, pious souls prayfully waiting for the consolation of Israel, and to these, this event was only the fullfilment of prophecy. Whatever each may have believed, no one doubted the main fact. And now, those Jews returning home, to all parts of the knows world, carried along with them the strange news about the birth of a great personage. To the Jews them. selves, what a season that was! What wondering hearts, now that their fondest hopes were fulfilling! What fireside conversations about the new-born King! What joy mingled with fear! What anxiety and doubt! They went home from that annual holy festival as never before. The point in hand is, that the Jews now spread this good news among the same heathen whose hearts they bad before filled with Messianic hopes and pious longings. Why did these captives not return to Pal. estine after Cyrus had given them leave ? Did they not remain by God's direction and influence. yearly to bring back from Jerusalem strength. ened hopes, and at last to spread abroad the blessed news that, “the desire of all nations” had come ?
Another political preparative was the subjection of the Jews to the Roman power, in the reign of Augustus Cæsar. This was a severe chastisement, for the yoke was heavy and galling. They retained their religious freedom, it is true, but were obliged to yield to heavy taxes, tyrannical oppression, bitter taunts and all this from haughty heathen whom they despised. Such a discipline was well calculated to call forth the most earnest longings for deliverance, to lead them to look in renewed faith and hope to that God whom they had for ages worshiped, and to cause them to long for a deliverer as they had never before longed. True, they rejected Him when He did come, but yet this discipline was not in vain. It, no doubt, served God's purposes in ways of which we know nothing.
The second main preparative was in the sphere of heathen Philoso. PHY. By Philosophy, we mean the results of the investigations of learned men, and earnest minds deeply engaged in studying man, his moral relations, duties and destiny-the world, its origin and supportGod, or a Superior Power, his nature, attributes, and relations to man and the world. These results, as a whole, are termed Philosophy, of which there are several distinct systems, belonging each to its own par. ticular age and country, and serving its own peculiar purpose as a preparative.
There is in man something—the same in all ages and nations—that prompts him to ask many strange questions. In regard to the invisible world, that meets him at every turn, he asks, “Whence is it?-to what purpose? ---whose ?-and how sustained ?" When he turns in upon himself and views that other, smaller world, the microcosm, when he reflects upon his constitution, upon the mental and the moral part, he inquires : “ What am I? --whence ?-whither tending ?” When he has seen enough of his inner being, enough of the sublime and beautiful around and above him, to lead him to the idea of a higher power which he calls God, he institutes the same inquiries about him. To a heathen, of course, all these questions about world, self and God, are dark and mysterious. Not knowing God he cannot know himself; not knowing himself he cannot know the world about him ; and he is paiufully hemmed in on every side. This is the experience of only a single person; ob, what a mighty silent warfare of hopes and doubts, is carried ou in the great heart of entire heathenism! Here there is philosophy, crude and without system, yet philosophy having the deepest meaning.
Long before the Christian Era, there were great minds engaged in searching into these very mysteries, asking and striving to answer these same perplexing questions: yet no one could fathom the unknown deeps, though ages were spent in the vain effort. This labor was not, however, entirely fruitless, since they reached many of the most important moral truths, solved many very difficulty problems, and prepared the way for the ready solution of an infinite number of others, which reason, unassisted by divine revelation, could not fathom. In the course of time, rising above the common belief, they entirely transcended the mythic theology of their fathers, and lost faith in the ancient creed. This was a natural and necessary consequence. The popular religion was found. ed on a certain religious instinct; reason had little to do with its developement; hence, when reason began to investigate the ground and meaning of all the religious notions and customs extant, it found involved, and, to unassisted reason, unsolvable difficulties, many great absurdities, and, in short, little that did not appear to be unmeaning. The learned men of that age had great influence in directing the public sentiment; and it is now easy to understand how a general scepticism was produced ; although the learned had lost faith in the old religious beliefs, yet they did not despise them nor publicly discard them, for they had no better to give; nevertheless, the doubts and general sentiments which they entertained on this point, could not but find their way out among the people, and, coming from a source so reliable, cause many doubts and fears in these also. The people would gradually take up the idea that their religion was vanity, an institution sustained merely as a security to the State; that the philosophers themselves did not believe in its authority; ard, accordingly, we find that at the time of the advent of the Saviour, the whole Grecian and Roman community was under the blighting influence of a general scepticism; there was a loud call for a new religion, a new God, and new principle of religious life; and christianity, appropriating to itself, this negative preparation, filled the painful void in the heathen heart.
In this way heathen philosophy became, in a manner, a bridge to christianity, a "schoolmaster,” in a limited sense, to lead them to Christ.