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JEWISH AND HEATHEN TESTIMONIES.
THE FAITH OF MANY JEWISH BELIEVERS IN EARLY TIMES, A VALUABLE TESTIMONY TO THE TRUTH OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.
I. That many of the Jewish people believed in Jesus as the Christ, shown from the books of the New Testament. II. From, other ancient writings. III. Their faith a valuable testimony.
I. THE Lord Jesus was born at Bethlehem, and brought up at Nazareth; and in Judea (understanding thereby the land of Israel) he fulfilled his ministry. At Jerusalem he was crucified: there he arose from the dead, and thence he ascended to heaven.
A short time before his appearance in the world, John, called the Baptist, a man of an austere character, and acknowledged by all to be a prophet, who acted with a divine commission, preached to the people, saying, " Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." * Be persuaded by me
*to reform your lives, and break off every evil course, by
*repentance; for the kingdom of God by the Messiah, long
*since promised by God, and foretold by the prophets, is 'now about to be erected among you, which is a dispensa
'tion of the greatest purity and perfection, the privileges 'of which are appropriated to sincere penitents only, and * really good men.' He also pointed to Jesus, as the person who was to set up that kingdom, and was much greater than himself.
Soon after which Jesus also appeared, preaching the like doctrine in the name of God: recommending the practice of strict and sublime virtue in heart and life; with a view, not to honour from men, or any other worldly advantages, but with an eye to the favour and approbation of God, who knows all things. These were the general terms proposed by him; forgiveness of past sins upon repentance, and eternal life to perseverance in the profession of the truth, and the practice of virtue; without any assurances of worldly riches, honour, or preferment; and with frequent intimations of many difficulties, and external discouragements.
As he went about preaching that doctrine, he wrought many miracles, healing all men, who came to him, of the diseases they laboured under; and raising to life some who had died. And twice he miraculously fed in desert places, with a few loaves and small iishes, great numbers of men, who had long attended upon his discourses. At the beginning of his ministry, and during the time of it, there were some extraordinary manifestations from heaven, bearing testimony to him, as the "beloved Son of God," or the Messiah, the great and extraordinary person, who had been long since foretold, and promised, as the "seed of the woman, that should bruise the head of the serpent, the seed of Abraham, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed," and " the Son of David," in whom the promise of an extensive and everlasting kingdom was to be fulfilled. Of all which things the blessed Jesus sometimes, in the latter part of his ministry, reminded the Jewish people, his hearers, to induce them to act according to evidence, and to improve the present opportunity, and accept the blessings offered to them, lest they should expose themselves to the divine displeasure and resentment. But, as before hinted, he never invited any with assurances of worldly advantages from him: and all were at liberty to act according to their own judgment, and to "g-o away," or stay with him. John vi. 66—71.
Wherever he went, preaching that excellent and heavenly doctrine, he was attended by many; who plainly discerned it to be superior to that of their ordinary teachers, the scribes and pharisees, and that he spoke and acted as a prophet, with divine illumination and authority. The people in general were so well satisfied of his great character, that they could not help wondering, that their scribes and rulers, for whom they had a great respect, did not publicly acknowledge him to be the Messiah. "And many of the people believed on him, and said: When the Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man has done?" John vii. 31. Again: " And many resorted unto him, and said: John did no miracle. But all things that John spake of this man were true. And many believed on him there," John x. 41, 42.
"Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also many believed on him: but because of the pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God," John xii. 42, 43. But Nicodemus, a pharisee, and a ruler, and in the very early part of our Lord's ministry, came to him of his own accord, and acknowledged him to be a "teacher come from God," John iii. And it is very likely that he went away fully convinced that he was the Christ. And when the Jewish council reproved their officers for not having apprehended Jesus, and brought him before them, Nicodemus, "being one of them," pleaded his cause, saying, " Doth our law judge any man before it hear him, and know what he doth?" John vii. 51. For which he was reviled, as very ignorant and greatly mistaken. However, he afterwards attended the burial of Jesus, together with "Joseph of Arimathea," another "disciple of Jesus; but secretly, for fear of the Jews. He was a rich man, and an honourable counsellor: who went to Pilate,and begged the body of Jesus, and wrapt it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomh, hewn out of a rock," John xix. 38—42; Matt, xxvii; Mark xv; Luke xxiii.
Beside them, Jairus, ruler of a synagogue, and a nobleman of Capernaum, were disciples of some distinction. And there may have been some others in like stations, who paid their respects to Jesus, though they are not named. The centurion at Capernaum had such faith in Jesus, as to believe him able to heal his sick servant at a distance, by speaking a word only. He was a Gentile, but he was in esteem with "the elders of the Jews," who lived in that city. And they also joined with him in the request to Jesus to heal his sick servant, saying, " that he was worthy, for whom he should do this," Luke vii. 4. So that they also were persuaded in their minds, that Jesus had power to perform so great a miracle. Not now to take any notice of our Saviour's female disciples, though they also were, some of them, respectable for their outward condition, as well as for their eminent virtue.
Out of the number of his disciples Jesus chose twelve, to be generally with him, and to be employed by him, whom he named apostles; who, notwithstanding some imperfections and failings, owing to the prevailing prejudices of the Jewish people, all continued faithful to him, excepting only Judas the traitor, a man of a worldly and covetous disposition. And though the miscarriage and loss of Judas could not but be a great grief and discouragement to them, the other eleven kept together, even after the death of their Lord.
When he was risen from the dead, he came again among them, and showed himself to them: and though they were not to be persuaded without good proof, in the end they were all satisfied that it was he.
Having, in the space of forty days, been often seen by them, and having frequently conversed with them, " speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, he was in their sight taken up into heaven." Acts i.
Soon after which, when they were assembled together, to the number of " about one hundred and twenty," another, named Matthias, was chosen in the room of Judas, to be a witness with the rest of the things concerning the Lord Jesus, and particularly his resurrection from the dead.
At the next following Pentecost, the Holy Ghost, in a remarkable manner, came down upon the apostles and their company, agreeably to the promise which Jesus had made to them. And henceforward the apostles, being fully qualified, preached to all men in the name of Christ, exhorting them to repentance, with the promise of the remission of sins, and everlasting salvation. Acts ii.
Such was the effect of St. Peter's first discourse at Jerusalem, after our Lord's ascension, that " there were added to them about three thousand souls:" and afterwards such accessions were made, that their number was " about five thousand," Acts ii. 41; iv. 4.
But though many miracles were done by the hands of the apostles, and the whole company of the believers behaved in a very becoming manner, insomuch that it is said, "they had favourwith all thepeople;" Acts ii.49: and again, that " the whole multitude of them that believed was of one heart, and of one soul; neither said any of them, that ought of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things common;" Acts iv. 32: yet they met with many difficulties, and were ill treated by the Jewish rulers. Peter and John were apprehended and brought before the council, and examined, and were then commanded, not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus :" Acts iv. And they were farther threatened, if they transgressed that order. But they, nevertheless, thinking themselves obliged to persist in their work, and " to obey God, rather than men;" in a short time afterwards, all the apostles were taken up, and put "in the common prison," and then brought before the council: and having been "beaten," and again " commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus," they were dismissed, Acts v. Soon after this, Stephen, a man of great eminence and usefulness among the disciples, was stoned; Acts vi. vii. And James, brother of John, one of the chief apostles of Jesus, was beheaded by order of Herod Agrippa, then king in the land of Judea. "And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded farther to take Peter also, and put him in prison, intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people;" Acts xii. But now Divine Providence interposed : Peter was miraculously delivered out of prison; and Herod died under tokens of divine displeasure. What is added is well worthy of observation, "But the word of God grew, and multiplied."
And gradually the apostles and their fellow-labourers, with divine approbation and encouragement, enlarged their views, and preached the gospels to Samaritans, and then to Gentiles. But, wherever they went, they first addressed themselves to the Jewish inhabitants, and particularly in their synagogues, which there were at that time in many cities of Greece, and elsewhere, and usually had some converts among them. The evidences of the christian religion were fairly and openly proposed, and to many they appeared sufficient and satisfactory. The whole argument is briefly summed up in those words of St. Paul before the governor Festus, and king Agrippa, and the rest of that great audience. "Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue to this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come; that the Christ should be liable to sufferings; and that, being the first who rose from the dead," to die no more, " he should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles," Acts xxvi. 22, 23. Thus, at Antioch in Pisidia, it is said of Paul and Barnabas, Acts xiii. 14," they went into the synagogue on the sabbath-day;"