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sessed of this peculiar wisdom and assistance: and he earnestly prays for their return to society, that their presence might illumine and regenerate mankind.
The Greek and Latin fathers understood full well that the sufferers described by Philo were believers in Jesus. But as they differed from them in some important points respecting Christ, they took little notice of them. Epiphanius, whose learning was much more extensive and accurate than is generally imagined, and who never deviates into error but when he has inotives to forsake the truth, thus notices them: “The curious will find that the Esseans, concerning wliose principles and mode of living Philo has written a commentary, were no other than Christians. This man spent some time in their monasteries, and was much edified by them. They then bad the name of Esseans; but in a short time after the ascension of our Saviour, and after Mark preached in Egypt, they followed, some of them the apostles, (under the name of Nazarenes,) being by nation Jews, and devoted to the law. But some, as if from an eminence having seen a fire, but not knowing for what cause it was made, kindled one in imitation, and in it consumed themselves. For having only heard the name of Jesus, and seen the signs done by the apostles, they too believed in him.” Epiph. vol. i. 128, 129.
Here this unfeeling monk asserts that the Jews, in imitatfon of the flame which Jesus and his followers had lighted in Judea, kindled another in Egypt, and in it consumed themselves. The reader might naturally consider this as but a figure of speech; but he alludes to the cruelties by which the followers of Jesus were destroyed at Alexandria, as related by Philo.
THE MANNER IN WHICH THE PEOPLE OF JUDEA
ACCOUNTED FOR THE MIRACLES OF CHRIST PROVES THEIR REALITY.
Our Lord, when now terminating his ministry in Galilee, wished to know the general impression which his doctrine and miracles produced on the people. His history, therefore, relates that “ When Jesus came into the coast of Cesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I, the son of man, am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias ; and others, Jeremias or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am ? And Siinon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.”
It is observable, that none of the people said that he was the Messiah. This was owing to his declining, in terms, that character ; to his enjoining upon those whom he had healed not to call him by that name; and to his refusing to be made king, when they were anxious to proclaim him as such. They could not account for a conduct so extraordinary, but upon the supposition that he was not the Messiah ; though it is clear, at the same time, that, till they were checked or mortified by disappointment, they were ready on many occasions to avow their belief in him as such, and to support his claims by violence.
It is further observable, that none of those who witnessed the actions of Christ thought him an impostor or a magician; that all believed the reality of his works, and were forced by that belief upon the most improbable suppositions to account for them. The Jews at this time believed in the separate existence of the human soul, and in its transmigration from one body to another. The spectators had examined the miracles of Jesus; and they could explain them only by supposing that the spirit of John, or some one of the prophets, had enabled him to do them. Some time after the commencement of his ministry, it is said that he came to Nazareth, his own country; and the people of that place are represented as asking, “From whence hath this man these things; and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands ?” The inhabitants of Nazareth had not yet witnessed, though they had heard the fame of, the mighty works done by our Lord. And as it appears from the context that they were his enemies, they concluded that such works were the effects of wisdom or magical skill, a meaning often conveyed by the original term*. To the dishonourable notion of him as a magician, entertained by the people of Nazareth, our Lord alludes when he says, that a prophet is not without honour but in his own country. It is observable, that a full conviction of the truth of his miracles is evinced in the very unworthy method of accounting for them.
The way in which Herod accounted for them, on hearing of the fame of Jesus, is remarkable. The history informs us, that the tetrarch said unto his servants, “ This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead; and for this reason mighty works are performed by him." The people apprehended that the object of his miracles was to establish his claims as the Messiah. Herod was alarmed by the prevalence of such an opinion; and he wished to set it aside by saying, that he worked miracles not because he was to be considered as the Messiah, but because the spirit of John had entered into and dwelt in him. It is evident that the foundation of this subterfuge is the testimony which the Baptist bore in favour of our Lord.
* Μark vi. 2. Σοφια, i. e. μαγικη τεχνη.
“ And all the multitude were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of. Dávid ? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This man could not cast out these demons but through Beelzebub, the prince of the demons.” Matt. xii. 23. By this they meant to say not only that Beelzebub assisted Jesus, but that he resided within him. This is evident from the words of Mark, who represents the Pharisees as saying that he had an unclean spirit.
But did these wicked men really believe that his works proceeded from Beelzebub; or was this a subterfuge, of the falsehood of which they were fully convinced in their hearts ? It appears to me an indisputable fact, that in the opposition they made to our Lord they acted throughout contrary to their conviction. His reply imputes to them the heinous guilt of sinning against the Holy Ghost;--and this is no other than the sin of ascribing to an evil spirit those benevolent works which they knew to have been produced by the spirit of God. When they were assured that Jesus was risen, they gave money
to the soldiers for saying that his disciples had stolen his body from the grave. Their conduct at this juncture was not the effect of error or prejudice, but of a stubborn deterrnination to resist the truth; and since they acted contrary to their conviction on this occasion, we may rest assured that they did so on all occasions, when they resisted the claims of Jesus.
When these implacable enemies of truth and yirtue found the pretext, that Christ performed his benevolent miracles by the power of Beelzebub, altogether unavailing, they adopted a new course. Disa guising their enmity to the Gospel, they endeavoured to substitute in the room of it an artful system, which, while it flattered the prepossessions of the Jews, gave free scope to the worst propensities of human nature. In this system the authors affected to extol and honour Christ; thus classing with his followers, and pretending to teach his religion, though their real object was to undermine it, by blending with it their own impious notions. These teachers are known in ecclesiastical history under the name of Gnostics, so called from their supposed superior knowledge. Their claims were very lofty ; and it appears froin the scriptures, that the effects of their imposture were so baneful and extensive as to threaten the total subversion of the Gospel, even in the churches estáblished by the apostles.
The Gnostics are thought by modern divines to have been a sect of Christians, betrayed into error by the pride of wisdom and by the imperceptible influence of vice and prejudice on the human heart. But this is a mistaken notion : the Gnostics were in reality atheists or Epicurean Jews, who had apostatized from the God of Israel and from the law of