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Prince would arise at that time in Judea, who would change the face of the world, and extend his empire from one end of the earth to the other. *
The whole body of the people looked for a powerful and warlike deliverer, who they supposed would free them from the Roman authority. All considered the whole of religion as consisting in the rites appointed by Moses, and in the performance of some external acts of duty. All were unanimous in excluding the other nations of the world from the hopes of eternal life.
The leaned among the Hebrew nation were divided into a great variety of sects; and defended their tenets with the greatest zeal and pertinacity. The Samaritans were, in particular, violently opposed to the Jews. A particular account of their opinions, as well as those of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, &c. will be explained under each denomination in the Dictionary.
Whilst the learned and sensible part of the Jewish nation was divided into a variety of sects, the multitude was sunk into the most deplorable ignorance of religion; and had no conception of any other method of rendering themselves acceptable to God, than by sacrifices, washings, and other external rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law. Hence proceeded that dissoluteness of manners, which prevailed among the Jews during Christ's ministry on earth. Hence also the divine Saviour compares the people to sheep without a shepherd, and their doctors to men who, though deprived of sight, yet pretended to show the way to others.t
In taking a view of the corruptions, both in doctrine and practice, which prevailed among the Jews at the time
Robertson-About this period the pagans expected some great king, or glorious person, to be born. Hence Virgil, the Roman poet, who lived at this time, in his fourth eclogue, describes the blessings of the government of some great person, who was, or should be born about this time, in language agreeable to the Jewish prophet's description of the Messiah and his kingdom.
† Mosheim, vol. i. p. 38.
of Christ's appearance, we find that the external worship of God was disfigured by human inventions. Many learned men have observed that a great variety of rites were introduced into the service of the temple, of which no traces are to be found in the sacred writings. This was owing to those revolutions which rendered. the Jews more conversant than they had formerly been with the neighbouring nations. They were pleased with several of the ceremonies which the Greeks and Romans used in the worship of the pagan deities, and did not hesitate to adopt them in the service of the true God, and add them as an ornament to the rites which they had received by divine appointment.
The Jews multiplied so prodigiously, that the narrow bounds of Palestine were no longer sufficient to contain them. They poured, therefore, their increasing numbers into the neighbouring countries with such rapidity, that at the time of Christ's birth there was scarcely a province in the empire, where they were not found carrying on com-' merce, and exercising other lucrative arts. They were defended in foreign countries against injurious treatment by the special edicts of the magistrates. This was absolutely necessary, since in most places the remarkable difference of their religion and manners from those of other nations, exposed them to the hatred and indignation of the ignorant and bigoted multitude. “ All this (says Dr. Mosheim) appears to have been most singularly and wisely directed by the adorable hand of an interposing providence, to the end that this people which was the sole depository of the true religion, and of the knowledge of one supreme God, being spread abroad through the whole earth, might be every where, by their example, a reproach to superstition, contribute in some measure to check it; and thus prepare the way for that yet fuller discovery of divine truth, which was to shine upon the world from the ministry and gospel of the Son of God."*
* Mosheim, vol. i. p. 42.
SECTION III. At the important era of Christ's appearance in the world, two kinds of philosophy prevailed among the civilized nations. One was the philosophy of the Greeks, adopted also by the Romans; and the other that of the Orientals, which had a great number of Votaries in Persia, Syria, Chaldea, Egypt, and even among the Jews. The former was distinguished by the simple title of philosophy ; the latter was honoured by the more pompous appellation of science or knowledge, since those who adhered to the latter sect pretended to be the restorers of the knowledge of God which was lost in the world. The followers of both these systems, in consequence of vehement disputes and dissensions about several points, subdivided themselves into a variety of sects. It is however to be observed, that all the sects of the oriental philosophy deduced their various tenets from one fundamental principle, which they held in common; but the Greeks were much divided about the first principles of science.
Amongst the Grecian sects there were some who declaimed openly against religion, and denied the immortality of the soul; and others who acknowledged a Deity, and a state of future rewards and punishments. Of the former kind were the Epicureans and Academics, of the latter the Platonists and Stoics. See an account of those respective denominations in the Dictionary.
The oriental philosophy was popular in several nations at the time of Christ's appearance. Before the commencement of the Christian era it was taught in the east, whence it gradually spread through the Alexandrian, Jewish, and Christian schools.
Those who professed to believe the oriental philosophy, were divided into three leading sects, which were subdivided into others. Some imagined two eternal principles, from whence all things proceeded ; the one presiding over
light, the other over matter, and by their perpetual conflict explaining the mixture of good and evil that appears in the universe. Others maintained that the being, which presided over matter, was not an eternal principle, but a subordinate intelligence; one of those which the supreme God produced from himself. They supposed that this being was moved by a sudden impulse to reduce to order the rude mass of matter which lay excluded from the mansions of the Deity, and also to create the human race. A third sect entertained the idea of a triumvirate of beings, in which the supreme Deity was distinguished both from the material evil principle, and from the Creator of this sublunary world.—That these divisions did realy subsist, is evident from the history of the Christian sects which embraced this philosophy.*
From blending the doctrines of the oriental philosophy with Christianity, the Gnostic sects, which were so numerous in the first centuries, derive their origin. Other denominations arose, which aimed to unite Judaism with Christianity. Many of the pagan philosophers, who were converted to the Christian religion, exerted all their art and ingenuity to accommodate the doctrines of the gospel to their own schemes of philosophy. In each age of the church new systems were introduced, till, in process of time, we find the Christian world divided into that prodigious voriety of sentiment, which is exhibited in the following pages.
* Mosheim, vol. i, p. 70, 71.
ABRAHAMITES, differ- kinds. Like the Roman cathent denominations in the mid- olics, they offer their devotions dle ages, called after their re- and prayers to the saints, and spective leaders; one of which believe in a state of purgatory. was condemned by Theophilus They use confession, and receive for worshipping images, and penance and absolution from the another united with the Pauli- priests. Their divine service cians. *
consists in reading the ScripABYSSINIAN CHURCH, tures, administering the Euthat established in the empire charist, and reading some Homof Abyssinia. They maintain ilies of the Fathers. They use that the two natures are united different forms of baptism; and in Christ, without either confu- keep both Saturday and Sunsion or mixture; so that though day as sabbaths. They are the nature of our Saviour be circumcised, and abstain from really one, yet it is at the same swine's flesh; not out of retime two-fold and compound. gard to the Mosaic law, but
The Abyssinian Church em- purely as an ancient custom of braced these tenets in the sev- their country. They read the enth century. They disown the whole four evangelists regularpope's supremacy, and tran- ly every year in their churchsubstantiation, though they be- és; and when they speak of an lieve the real presence of Christ event, they say, “ It happened in the sacrament, and adminis- in the days of Matthew," i. e. ter the communion in both while Matthew was reading in
* Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, vol. i. p. 10.
† Mosheim, vol. ii p. 172, vol. iii. p. 492. Mod. Univ. Hist. vol. xv. p. 174 -177. Ludolph's Hist. of Ethiopia.