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hood, it was written, that at that precise time the East should become mighty, and that the sovereigns of the world should issue from Judea." + “ In the East," says Suetonius, " an ancient and consistent opinion prevailed, that it was fated there should issue at this time those who should obtain universal dominion.” | This general expectation is to be traced, doubtless, to the predictions of the Hebrew prophets. Daniel's “ weeks of years ” were supposed to be on the point of expiring. The sceptre, in some sense, had “departed from Judah,” and therefore the Shiloh, or the Peacemaker, was about to come. What he was to be, few indeed understood. The views of his character and mission were modified by the dispositions of those who cherished them. Josephus, a shrewd, selfish man, false to the hopes of his nation, false even to the principles of honor, subsequently pretended to recognize him in the person of the Emperor Vespasian! Some expected a mighty King, a half divine, half human conqueror; others, but a comparatively small number, a great Moral Reformer or Spiritual Redeemer; and fewer still, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. But the majority of the na
* In the language of Tacitus, the East means Syria. - History, V. 13. + Suetonius, Ves. p. 4.
tion looked only for a temporal deliverer, his footsteps tracked with blood, and his long reign of earthly power and splendor encircling the globe.
Hence the general state of the Jews, though favorable enough to political change, was quite unfavorable to the reception and acknowledgment of a spiritual Messiah, whose peaceful reign should be that only of righteousness and love. Carnal and besotted, they were more likely to crush than to honor the Son of God.
What mankind every where needed, was a divine transformation, a complete spiritual and interior revolution in the domain of religion and morals; a regeneration, in fact, of the heart and the life of individuals and families; and that consequent political transformation, on the basis of which, might spring up a new and more perfect form of civilization. But the idea had not even dawned upon the Grecian or the Roman mind, and though clearly predicted in the Old Testa-ment Scriptures, was utterly lost sight of by the Jewish people.
Indeed, taking the world as a whole, it was a dark and godless era. The race, as if abandoned by Heaven, staggered like a crazy vessel amid the gathering storm, and seemed on the point of being forever ingulfed.
Yet there were watchers on the hills of Pales
tine, and far off, even in the depths of the Orient, wise and good men were longing for the coming of the Deliverer. Long years had they brooded over the prophecies, and like Simeon and Anna, hoped to see the Messiah before closing their eyes in death. But all was still in the heavens above. A deep and portentous gloom, unrelieved by a single star, brooded over the world.
We can easily imagine the sceptic, at the era referred to in the preceding chapter, pouring infinite scorn on the predictions of the Messiah's reign, saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the foundation of the world. The course of nature moves on as usual ; the sun rises and sets, the stars circle in the heavens, spring, summer, and autumn come and go, by an unvarying law. Divine advents are no more. Miracles are a legend of the darker ages. The season of faith in the supernatural is passed. A religion other than instinct, or nature, is but the dream of sick-brained enthusiasm. Prayer is folly and presumption. The creation of the world as a work of time, the first Eden, the fall of man, the flood, the call of Abraham, the exode from Egypt, the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, the passage of the Red Sea, the giving of the law from Sinai, divine revelations through Moses and Isaiah, inspiration, miracles, and wonders, are simple myths, or traditionary legends,
in which a few grains of truth are mingled and preserved in a huge mass of error. But the time for believing such things is gone by. This is the eighth century from the foundation of Rome. The
age is too enlightened to be caught by fic. tions. And as for a new and special revelation, of a grander and purer character than has ever been dreamed of by saint or sage, and above all, the advent from the spirit world of a divine messenger, whose kingdom is to be coeval with time, and spread over the globe, reason must pronounce it the most absurd chimera.
Yegnature moved on as usual; and no sign or promise of the new order of things so long expected, and so much needed, was visible in the earth or sky. Mankind were eating and drinking, sinning and suffering, as usual. Millions were rushing after vanity, and the weary nations were sinking into deeper and still deeper night.
But as nature is often silent, intensely silent, before the bursting forth of some grand or fearful change, which is to affect, for weal or 'for woe, the destiny of thousands, and as such change is often like the sudden protrusion of a hand from the dark, or a flash of lightning at midnight, so now, the fulness of the times being come, Jesus was born into the world - in a humble town, in the hush of night - among strangers who cared nothing for the event - in a condition of lowliness