Sidor som bilder

particular consisted mainly, if not exclusively, of persons, who, by becoming members of it, had parted with their possessions, and reduced themselves to a voluntary poverty. Under such circumstances, the proportion of poor, strictly so called, would be greater in that church, than among any other society of Christians.

The history of Christianity, so far as it is contained in the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles, supplies only two instances of a general contribution for eleemosynary purposes; one U. C. 795. A. D. 42, the other U. C. 807–809. A. D. 54-56. It is a remarkable circumstance that both these were voluntary contributions, made by the members of the Gentile churches; and both were intended for the benefit of the members of the mother church at Jerusalem. It is also remarkable that they were contributions expressly made and provided for the relief of the Hebrew Christians, against times and seasons which are otherwise ascertained to have been seasons of dearth and scarcity. For the necessary information on these points, I refer the reader to Diss. xiii. of vol. i. and Diss. i. of vol. ii. of my former work.

The same characteristic circumstance of a voluntary poverty, as the distinguishing peculiarity of the situation of the members of the parent church, between the day of Pentecost and the destruction of Jerusalem, I should think would be a much more natural solution of the name of Ebionites, (oi îτшɣоì,) retained by a sect or division of these Christians, after their return to Jerusalem, when the war was over, than the explanation of the name, assigned by Eusebius, E. H. iii. xxvii. 99. D-the meanness, and as it were poverty of their opinions, respecting the dignity of our Saviour's nature: тaúτη yàp èπíkλny, (sc. Ebion,) says he, ὁ πτωχὸς παρ ̓ Εβραίοις ὀνομάζεται.

When I observed, that the original constitution of the Hebrew church, by which it was founded on the basis of a community of property among its members, was something unexampled in any other society, before or afterwards; I was not ignorant that there were two societies in existence at this very time, which in this one circumstance resembled the Christian society at Jerusalem that of the Essenes in Palestine, and that of the Therapeutæ in Egypt. But these societies differed so widely in other respects from the Christian, that notwithstanding their agree

ment in this one peculiarity, they do not admit of being compared with it, any more than an association of monks or cœnobites, with the social union of a body of citizens, or the component parts of a nation.

Of the Essenes, in his time, Philo Judæus has given an account, Quod liber quisquis virtuti studet, ii. 457. 2-459. 41; which Eusebius quotes at great length, Evangelica Præparatio, viii. 12. 381. sqq. The latter gives another account of the same sect, also, viii. 11. 379 seqq. which he professes to have taken from a part of Philo's ὑπὲρ Ἰουδαίων ἀπολογία; which is lost. Josephus too gives a minute account of them, Bell. Jud. ii. viii. 2—13: Ant. Jud. xviii. i. 5. Porphyry borrowed this account; as Eusebius has quoted it again from Porphyry, Evang. Præp. ix. 3. 404. sqq.

The Therapeutæ are described by Philo, at great length, De Vita Contemplativa, ii. 471. 1-486. 12: the substance of whose account is repeated by Eusebius, Eccles. Hist. ii. 17.

The particulars of the descriptions given of the principles of both these sects, their mode of life, and the various characteristic peculiarities of each, would suit in some respects to the account which is found in the Acts, of the constitution of the Hebrew church: which was most probably the reason why Eusebius was led to conclude that the Egyptian Therapeuta were neither more nor less than Christians, planted by St. Mark in Egypt. But Philo describes this sect of his countrymen; and in the time of Philo, so far as we can trace the particulars of his life, or fix the chronology of his various treatises, it would be difficult to prove that Christianity was yet introduced into Egypt-particularly by the ministry of St. Mark; whose coming there, as I shewed in my former work, was later than the second of Nero. Besides, the principles and habits of the Therapeuta were not such as a primitive and genuine Christianity could ever have recognized for her own. It was their custom to renounce the world; to bid adieu to social intercourse and social duties to fly from the cities, and to take up their abode in the solitudes of the deserts, which surrounded Egypt on all sides a custom repugnant to the true genius and the native tendencies of the Christian religion, at all times, and to its effects at its first establishment, among its original professors. The only connexion which the Egyptian Therapeutæ can claim with

Christianity, is perhaps this; that they might be the prototypes of those monachi, and eremite or anachoreta, of later Christian times; who first appeared, and who always abounded most, in Egypt.

The truth is, the Therapeuta were either a subdivision of the Essenes of Palestine, or a rival sect, with another denomination, established in Egypt. It is clear from Philo's account, that the former were Jews as much as the latter, and consequently no more Christians than they. The circumstance, that a candidate for admission into either of these sects parted, first of all, with his temporal possessions, was common to both: but there was this difference between them, as to the way in which it was done, that the Therapeutæ resigned their property to such as would have had a legitimate claim to it, if they themselves had been dead; that is, to their nearest friends and relations: but the Essenes gave up theirs to the use of their whole society. So far then, the practice of the Essenes agreed more closely with the rule of proceeding established in the Hebrew church.

The numbers of the Essenes, Philo reckons about 4000: so that they were even less numerous than the Pharisees, whom Josephus reckons at 6000. They are not once mentioned in the Gospels, the Acts, or the Epistles; probably because of their living in the desert, apart from all intercourse with any but their own sect. As inhabitants of the desert of Arabia, contiguous to Judæa, Pliny the elder also alludes to them, under the name of Essæi. The occasion of the Jewish war drew them forth from their retirement, to embrace the party of the zealots; and Josephus mentions various instances of their indomitable spirit, and unshaken firmness in enduring any degree of bodily torture which the Romans could inflict upon them. Out of the fund formed by the joint property of the whole society, each individual member was supported. They had one board; one dwelling; in short, every thing common, except their wives and children; and like the freemasons, or the members of certain other associations of subsequent times, wherever they came, they could claim, and were sure to receive, support from the rest of their fraternity.


The second subdivision of the third part of the discourse, we assumed to begin at verse 35. That we must regard this subdivision as an integral member of the whole paragraph, is evident; there being no reason to suppose that our Lord's address to his disciples, once resumed, was not continued without interruption down to verse 40. That there is a change of topics, however, from the thirty-fifth verse and downwards, as compared with the substance of what goes before, is equally apparent. The connexion between the parts of a discourse, which though consecutively delivered are yet devoted to subjects so widely different, it may not be easy to point out; nor as I elsewhere observed, in considering the topics of our Saviour's discourses is it of necessary importance to the understanding of them, that it should be pointed out.

If however, we may advance a conjecture, the order and transition of thought from the subject of the first subdivision to that of the second in the present instance, may probably be accounted for, on the principles of association, as follows. The former part was directed to the eviction of a principle of duty, very difficult indeed of application as the rule of conduct in practice, and adverse to the tendencies of human nature; requiring consequently to be enforced and animated by the prospect of a proportionable reward. Now the mention of such a reward might suggest the time when it would be conferred; the time, the return of Christ to judgment; that return, its unexpectedness; and its un

expectedness, the situation in which it would surprise the Christian world. Hence, the propriety and expediency of subjoining such precepts and maxims, for the regulation of conduct meanwhile, as were adapted both to the fact of the future return of Christ, which was matter of certainty, and to the time or season of the return, which was matter of uncertainty; the precepts of Christian vigilance, Christian readiness, Christian preparation. Such precepts as these are the natural practical consequences of the doctrine in question; and understood according to their true meaning, and their legitimate extent, they are the only duties which can be inculcated upon every Christian's observance, who entertains a personal assurance of the futurity of such a thing as the return of his Lord and Master, some time or other, and feels that he has a personal interest in the consequences of that return, along with the rest of his servants.

There is no reason to suppose that our Lord's discourse, as it was continued without interruption past the 35th verse, so was not, as naturally, brought to a close at the 40th. The question of Peter, recorded at the 41st verse, proves this: for we cannot imagine he would have ventured to interrupt his Master, before he had made an end of speaking, to ask him either that, or any other question; though he might naturally take advantage of a pause on his part, whether for a longer or a shorter time, if it gave him an opportunity of putting a question without a breach of respect. So far, then, the substance of verses 35-40 may be considered independent of what follows from verses 41-48-or what we stated at the outset of this exposition, to be the conclusion

« FöregåendeFortsätt »