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THE PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL OVER THE WHOLE
CIVILIZED WORLD ATTESTED BY JOSEPHUS.THE GOSPEL CONSIDERED BY HIM AS THE SAME WITH THE LAW OF MOSES STRIPPED OF ITS EXTERNAL ORDINANCES.
HE principles above laid down will serve to draw aside a veil from the writings of Philo and Josephus, which has hitherto concealed facts the most important to the truth and interest of the Gospel. The latter, in his answer to Apion, speaks to this effect in book ii. § 39.
Moreover, multitudes for some time are become exceedingly zealous for our worship; nor is there a city among the Greeks, nor a nation among the Barbarians, to whom the custom of observing the Sabbath as we (Jews) do, has not been extended, and who do not endeavour to imitate the cordiality and harmony, the distribution of their property, the industry in their callings, the patience under tortures in support of our laws, which are evinced amongst us. And what is more worthy of admiration in this respect is, that this zeal for our law is awakened, not by any allurement from pleasure or profit, but by the internal excellence of the law itself. And as God pervades the whole world, so his law has at length pervaded all mankind : and whoever reflects on his own country, and even his own family, will find evidence of the assertions now inade by me .... and if we ourselves were not sensible of the superior excellence of our laws, we should be taught to glory in them by the multitudes who embrace them.”
The following characteristic passage occurs in §
« The reward of those who conform to our laws, is not silver, or gold, or a crown of olive, or some such honour ; but each one believes, having in him, self the testimony of his conscience, (.e. enter, taining a firm and conscientious conviction) that; as our lawgiver foretold, and God has afforded a mighty proof, if they keep our laws, and, when ne cessary, cheerfully die for them, God has appointed them to live again, and after a revolution of ages. to receive a better life."
In these two passages put together, we have be. fore us several remarkable assertions ; namely, thật a religion which the author calls “the laws or the law of God,” had at the time of his writing this book, which was about sixty years after the death of Jesus, pervaded every part of the pagan world that the heathens who embraced it suffered tortures in support of it, and rivalled, if not surpassed, in zeal for its interests and admiration of its súperior excellence, the very people from wlioin they had received it; that its sanctions and the cause of its propagation were the hope of a future siate; and that this hope was founded, not on the supposed immortality of the soul, but first on a prediction made by the Jewish lawgiver that God. would, after a revolution of
in the grave, raise good men to a state of happiness: and, secondly, on a "mighty proof” which the Almighty has since given of that animating prediction. Now if we look to the New Testament, we shall find a commission
given by a Jew to a few followers, to go and convert all nations to a religion which they considered essentially the same with the religion of their ancestors; that in the course of fifty years after they had received this commission, they executed it in such a manner that scarcely a place in the whole civilized world existed where it was not planted : that the principal causes of their success were the beneficial effects which the proffered system had on the tempers and conduct of those who embraced it; and the resurrection of the founder after being publicly put to death, as a pledge and an assurance from God, that all good men would be one day raised in the same manner. The conclusion is evident and irresistible, that the religion of Moses mentioned by Josephus, and the religion of Jesus propagated by the apostles are the same; Moses and Jesus Christ being both Jews, their religion also being fundamentally the same, and called by the same names, while they differ only in degrees of refinement. This conclusion can be set aside only by showing that another species of Judaisın, besides the Gospel
, did actually, under the peculiar circumstances ascribed to it by Josephus, prevail in the world; a supposition without a shadow of evidence, and absolutely impossible. We infer, therefore, without the fear of contradiction, that the Jewish historian was a convert to the gospel of Christ, and has left behind him, as a glorious legacy to all future ages, a splendid testimony to its efficacy and truth.
This being a fact, it is worth while to give a brief view of the occasion and contents of the work which he has published in answer to Apion ; who was a scribe of Alexandria, and a man of wit and learning, yet profligate, malicious, and eager to oppose the truth by violence and falsehoods. In his book he detailed the common calumnies against the Jews, and blended them with so much scurrility and fiction, that he would have been unworthy of notice if his wit and buffoonery had not left on many an unfavourable impression. Under the auspices of Epaphroditus the secretary of Nero, Josephus undertook the defence of the Jews and their religion against this grammarian; and he gave to the public a work which has never been equalled for the solidity of his conclusions, or the profundity and strength of his researches. In his former compositions Josephus shows himself only a plain, ingenious commentator, or an artless but able historian; in his work against Apion he rises on his readers, and displays in a high degree the united powers of learning, argument, and oratory. Though confined till a late period to the language and philosophy of the Hebrews, he soon acquired a wonderful acquaintance with the dialect and literature of Greece. His powerful mind in a short period seems to have grasped the whole extent of the Phænician, Chaldæan, Egyptian, and Grecian records ; and with the authority of those records overwhelmed all the enemies of the Jews and of the Gospel: thus refuting them on their own grounds, and sweeping away their falsehoods and calumnies as with the force of a torrent.
“ What government,” says he, “ can be more pure, more honourable and worthy of God, than this, in which all the people are trained up in piety, in which the priests are faithful and exemplary, and have its functions administered as one religious solemnity ? Those institutions which strangers, as unable to conform to them for many days, brand
as mysteries and rites, we practise all our lives with great delight and immoveable perseverance. And in what do these mysteries and rites consist? What do they enjoin or prohibit ? They are simple and easily learnt.
Their first object is to inculcate worthy notions of God; that he possesses all things; that he is all-powerful, ever blessed, and sufficient in himself, being the beginning, the middle, and end of all things; that he is most obvious to us in his works and in his gifts, but incomprehensible in his essence and majesty; that no materials however costly can represent, or no art however exquisite can delineate his form; that we can neither see nor conceive any thing like him, nor is it lawful to draw his image. We see indeed the light, the heaven, the earth, the sun and moon, the succession of animals and of fruits--these are his works; he made them, not with hands, not with labour; nor did he need the cooperation of any: he simply wished all things to exist, and this fair and goodly system immediately came into being. It is the duty of all men to make him their model, to worship him in the exercise of virtue: for virtue is the worship most pure and acceptable in his sight.-We offer sacrifices, not that we may fill ourselves to satiety and intoxication, which is not agreeable to the will of God, and which occasions infamy and extravagance; but that we may become as much as possible temperate, obedient, and orderly. In our sacrifice we feel it our duty to pray first for the common good, and next for ourselves; for we deem ourselves born for the benefit of the community; and he who prefers the interests of others to his own, is most accepta able to God. Our addresses to him should consist of praise and prayer, not that he might give us good