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beyond the proper dimensions of a school book ; besides, such particularity would tend to destroy that catholicism, which should be a primary feature of such a book. Were our academies and schools constructed on sectarian principles, each denomination might have its Ecclesiastical History, in which its peculiar tenets, discipline, &c. might be set forth as of paramount value and authority. But such an order of things is not soon likely to exist. Children from families holding different religious opinions will come under the same instructor. Here they might be separated into sectarian classes. But who, at the present day, would wish this, if it might be consistently avoided? Hence, let our school books on religious topics, embrace those points and those facts only, about which there is no dispute. Any other course will tend to perpetuate those divisions and jealousies among Christians, which are now too justly their reproach, and which the true friends of Christianity must devoutly wish might be done away.
In the present edition, the number of churches, ministers and members belonging to the several denominations, have been omitted, for the reason that their numbers essentially vary with every succeeding year.
The author takes occasion to express his acknowledgments to a gentleman of high literary standing, belonging to a different denomination from himself, for several important suggestions and corrections, by means of which, errors have been avoided, and the literary value of the work enhanced.
CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS STATE OF THE WORLD AT THE BIRTH OF CHR IST.
1. At the time Jesus Christ made his appearance upon
the earth, to prepare the way for the establishment of the Christian Church, a great part of the known world had become subject to the Roman Empire, under Augustus Cæsar.
The Roman Empire, at this time, was a magnificent object. It extended from the river Euphrates on the East, to the Atlantic Ocean on the West. In length it was more than 3000 miles; and in breadth it exceeded 2000. The whole included abye sixteen hundred thousand square miles.
This territory, which was divided into provinces, comprised the countries now called Spain, France, the greater part of Britain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Asia Mi. fior, Egypt, Africa, and the Mediterranean Sea, with its islands and colonies. The subjecis of the empire, at this period, have been estimated at one hundred and twenty millions.
2. The state of the world, at this time, in respect to the prevalence of peace, civilization, and learning, was admirably adapted to the rapid diffusion of Christianity.
The world, in general, had not only become subject to the Roman dominion, but was now at peace. This was a state of things, which had not existed before for many years, and justly entitled the period, in which our Saviour descended upon earth, to the character of the pacific age. Such tranquillity was indeed necessary, to enable the ministers of Christ to execute with success, their sublinie commission to the human race.
An unexampled degree of civilization also prevailed. Barbarous tribes had submitted to the Roman laws, which, with all their iinperfections, were the best which human wisdom had devised. Distant nations, differing in language, and manners, were united in friendly intercourse. A degree of literature was also spread abroad in countries, which had before lain under the darkest ignorance. The Greek lan.. guage
was both extensively read and spoken ; and presented a medium to the heralds of the cross, of communicating to almost all nations, the doctrines which they were commissioned to preach.
3. The religious state of the world was less favorable to the diffusion of Christianity. A dark and gloomy system of superstition and idolatry was prevailing among all nations, except the Jewish, by means of which, the human mind had become exceedingly debased. Men were poorly qualified to judge immediately of a system, so different as was that of Christiani. ty, and by far too sensual to embrace, at once, one so pure.
The notion of a Supreme Being was not, indeed, entirely effaced from the heallien world ;
but the knowledge of the true God was doubtless lost. Every heathen liation worshipped “lords many and gods many." And ihese gods were courted and appeased by costly gifts, and honored by rites and cereinonies too indecent even to be named. Magnificent temples were erected to their honor, and an expensive priesthood maintained to serve at their unhallowed worship.
Such is an outline of the religious state of the heathen world, at the advent of Christ. The knowledge of the pure and exalted character of Jehovah was lost. Human accountability was disregarded, and holiness of life if conceived of was un. practised.
4. In respect to the Jewish nation, which inhabited Judea, where Christ was born, more correct notions of religion were entertained, since they possessed the Scriptures of the Old Tes. tament, from which these notions were derived.
5. But even among the Jews, the state of religion was low. They, indeed, still maintained the ancient forms of worship; but the life and spirituality, the original beauty and excellency of that worship, had departed.
6. At this period, also, the Jews were divided into several religious sects, all of which acknowledged the authority of Moses, and united in the same forms of worship; but they were so far separated by their peculiarities, as to be continually in. volved in the most bitter hostilities.
7. The most popular, and by far the most numerous of these sects, was that of the Pharisees, who derived their name from the Hebrew word, which signifies to separate ; because they pretended, though very hypocritically, to uncommon separation from the world, and devotedness to God.
The origin of this sect is involved in uncertainty. From small beginnings, how. ever, they had risen to great power; and in the time of the Saviour, held the princi. pal civil and religious offices in the nation.
In respect to some of the doctrines of the Scriptures, they seem to have been correct. They believed in the existence of angels, both good and bad; in the im. mortality of the soul; the resurrection of the borly; and a state of future rewards and punishments. But they also held to the traditions of their elders, which they considered of equal authority with the Scriptures. Nay, in many instances, they ex. plained the oracles of God by these traditions, and in such a manner, as wholly to destroy their meaning.
In their religious practice, the Pharisees pretended to uncommon strictness. They abounded in washings, fastings and long prayers. They assumed great gravity in dress and demeanor, and exhibited no small zeal in all the forms of religion. But, with all their pretensions, they were noted for their hypocrisy; and by our Sa. viour were compared to whited sepulchres, fuir and wholesome externally, but full of deformity and death within.
8. Next to the Pharisees, the Sadducees were the most pow. erful sect. They derived their naine from Sadoc, who flourish. ed about 260 B. C. This sect were infidels. They denied the existence of a future state, and the immortality of the soul, and worshipped God only to secure his favor, in the present world.
In point of numbers, the Sadducees fell short of the Pharisees; but they embra ced many of ile inen of rank and wealth. The system which they adopted was eminently suited to the licentious life, which they universally followed. They adopted the inaxiın, “Let us eat and drink, for to morrow we die.”
In their opposi. tion to the Son of God, they appear to have been eqnally bitter with the Pharisees. Some of the latter were converted to the faith of the Gospel, but not a single Sadducee is mentioned in the New Testament, as having become a follower of Christ.
9. A third sect were the Essenes, who took their rise about 200 years B. C. They derived their name from the Syriac verb Asa, to h-al; because they applied themselves to the cure of diseases, especially those of the mind. They appear to have been an order of monks, who lived secluded from the world, and practised great austerity.
The Essenes, though considerably numerous, are not mentioned in the New Tes. tament, for the reason, probably, that they lived chiefly in retirement. In doctrine they agreed with the Pharisees, except as to the resurrection of the body, which they denied. They pretended to have great respect for the moral law; but neglect. ed the ceremonial institutions of Muses.
In their religious practices they observed a rigid austerity. They renounced inarriage; held riches in contempt; maintained a perfect community of goods ; re jected ornaments; and cultivated indifference to bodily pain. In the observance of the Sabbath, they were inore strict than any other seci, and in their manner of life were more quiet and contemplative.
10. A fourth sect were the Herodians, who took their name from Herod the Great, and favored that monarch, in his efforts to bring the Jews into subjection to the Roman power.
A principal article in the religious code of this sect appears to have been, that it was lawful for the Jews to adopt the idolatrous custóms of the heathen, when required to do so by those in power, and also to pay tribute to him, whom conquest had made their master.
The Sadducees, generally, were Herodians; the Pharisees, on the contrary, were their bitter opposers. All, however, united in hostility to the Son of God, and to thut systein of truth, which he promulgated.
11. Besides these sects, various other classes of men are mentioned, as existing at that time among the Jews, of whom we shall mention only the Scribes, Rabbis, and Nazarites.
The Scribes were a class of men, originally employed to record the affairs of the king. At a later period, they transcribed the Scriptures, and expounded the law, and traditions of the elders in the schools, and synagogues, and before the Sanhedrim, or great Jewish Council. Besides this name, they are frequently called in the New Testament, lawyers, doctors of law, elders, counsellors, rulers, and those who sat in Moses' seat.
Rabbi, or Master, was a title given to men of rank in the st:tc; but especially to such Jewish doctors, as were distinguished for their learning. This honor was greatly coveted, since it was connected with no sınall influence over the faith and practice of the people. The title, however, was disapproved of by Christ, who warned his disciples to receive no such distinction in the Church of God.
The Nazarites were those who made a vow to observe a more than ordinary de. gree of purity, either for life, or for a limited time During their vow, they abstained from wine, and intoxicating liquors; they suffered their hair to grow without cutting, and were not permitted to attend a funeral, or to enter a house defiled by a dead body. Upon the expiration of their vow, they shaved their bair at the door of the tabernacle, and burnt it on the altar.
12. The government of Judea was at this time administered by Herod the Great, under the Emperor of Rome. Herod was a monster of cruelty, who despised both the Jewish reli. gion and their laws, and appeared to delight in the oppression and degradation of that ancient, and once honored nation. His death occurred the year following the birth of the Saviour, having reigned thirty-seven years.
Herod left his dominions to his three suns: his kingdom to Archelaus; Gaulonites, Trachonites and Batanea to Philip; Galilee and Parea to Herod Antipas.
Archelaus, in disposition, strongly resembled his father. Such was his violence and tyranny, that the Jews brought charges against him to the Emperor, who banished him to Vienna, in France, where he died. During his reign, Joseph and Mary returned from Egypt, with Jesus; but, hearing that he had succeeded to the government of Judea, in the room of Herud, they were afraid to go thither. On the death of Archelaus, Judea was divided among several Roman governors, of whom Pontius Pilate was one.
Of Philip, the tetrarch of Iturea and Traclionites, Jittle is recorded in the history of the Church. In the reign of Herod Antipas, John the Baptist lost bis life, for reproving that monarch for his iniquity.
We shall only add respecting the family of Herod the Great, that a grandson of his, by the naine of Herod Agrippa, reigned in Judea, in the days of the apostles. It was he who ordered James to be murdered, and Peter to be apprehended. His own death followed not long after, being smitten of heaven by a disease, which no skill could cure, and the torments of which no means could alleviate.
13. Notwithstanding the low state of the Jews, in respect to. religion and civil prosperity, there were some in the nation who were distinguished for their piety, and who were anxiously looking for the coming of the long promised Messiah.
The mass of the people, as we shall have occasion again to remark, were indeed expecting the advent of the Saviour ; but they looked only for a tempordl prince, who should deliver them from Roman bondage. Yet, there were others, whose views were more scriptural, and more exalted. We read of good old Simeon, and pions Anna, who, with others, were daily visiting the teniple, "waiting for the con.