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A MEDITATION FOR ADVENT.
FROM THE GERMAN OF REV. P. SCHAFF BY REV. G. F. KROTEL.
WHEN the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, the desire of all nations, in order to redeem the world from the curse of sin, and to establish an eternal kingdom of truth, of love, and of peace, for all that believed in His name.
Jesus Christ is the end and result of a two-fold process, which preceded his personal advent upon earth, and whose first beginning extends back to the creation; yea, has its roots in the counsel of redemption formed by eternal love before the existence of time and the world.
He is, in the first place, the culmination and end of all revelation, or God's communication of Himself to His rational creatures. The entire history of mankind before His birth, extending through four thousand years, is a preparation for his coming-the voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."
This preparation can be most distinctly traced in Judaism, which is a mysterious system of types, shadows, and promises of the coming Messiah. Here the process is from above, downward; here God descends to his chosen people, and reveals himself more and more clearly in word and deed. Here the divine contents of christianity are prepared for mankind. The Mosaic law reveals the holy will of God, and, by contrast, our sin and guilt; and therefore awakens the knowledge of sin, the sense of guilt, and the longing for redemption, far more clearly than this can be done by the voice of natural moral consciousness or conscience, and thereby proves itself to be a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Comp. Rom. 3: 20; Galat. 3:24. The daily sacrifice in the tabernacle and in the temple served the same purpose, and the same is true of the entire ceremonial-law, which constantly kept alive the feeling of the need of atonement, and, as the shadow directs to the body, continually directed attention towards the realities of the new covenant, and, above all, to the one all-sufficient atoning sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. As God demands absolute fulfilment of the law and purity of heart, accompanied by the promise of life and the threatening of death; and as He cannot possibly make man the subject of a cruel sport, but is the true faithful and merciful God, the moral ritual law of the Old Testament must already contain, as in a shell, the sweet kernel of the promise, that he will, at some future day, realize the perfect fulfilment of the law, and present the ideal of righteousness and holiness in a living form, and that he will point out to the poor sinner the way by which he may reach it. Without such an assurance the giving of the law upon Sinai would be a fearful irony on the part of God, and would lead man to despair. But we find the promise or prophecy inseparably combined with the law. Yea, it is even more ancient than the law which "entered." Rom. 5: 20. It begins to rise already, like a star of hope in a dark night, immediately after the Fall, in the well-known declaration concerning the
woman's seed, which should bruise the serpent's head; it afterwards beamed with still greater brightness in the age of the patriarchs, through whose descendants all the families of the earth should be blessed; it lived in Moses, who was a prophet as well as a lawgiver, and pointed the people to a greater prophet who should come after him. Deut. 18: 15. But from Samuel's time, about eleven centuries before the birth of Christ, prophecy, which had hitherto been irregular, assumed an organized form, and, as a continuous prophetical office and class, accompanied the Levitical priesthood and the Davidical kingdom up to the time of Babylonish captivity. It survived this catastrophe and superintended the reorganization of the restored people and the rebuilding of the temple, expounding and applying the law, rebuking abuses in church and state, predicting the terrible judgments of God, but also his merciful love; reproving and correcting, but also comforting and encouraging, culminating in an increasingly distinct reference to the coming Messiah, who would redeem Israel and the world from sin and misery, and establish a kingdom of peace and righteousness. Thus ante-christian Judaism on the one hand, as far as it is an economy of law, exhibits itself as a religion of repentance, and on the other hand, as far as it is a chain of promises, as a religion of hope and of the future, which, like John the Baptist, constantly points beyond itself to the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. Prophecy expired with Malachi: and Israel was now, as it were, left to itself, through a waiting period of four hundred years. But now, immediately before the advent of the Messiah, the whole Old Testament, Moses and Isaiah combined, appeared in a personal embodiment, and after shining for a brief time expired in incomparable humility, like the dawn in the brightness of the rising sun of the New Covenant. John the Baptist, that earnest preacher of the law, who, laying the axe unto the root of the rotting tree of his nation, called to repentance, because the kingdom of heaven was at hand: John the prophet, rich in consolation, who directed his disciples away from himself to the sin-destroying Lamb of God, and, as the friend of the bridegroom, conducted the Messianic bride to the Saviour, was indeed the greatest among them that are born of women, and yet, in regard to his official character, less than the least in the kingdom of heaven of the New Covenant, whose glory exceeds that of the Old Covenant represented by him-the preparatory state of types and shadows-as much as the bright sunlight surpasses the glimmering of the stars, and the light of the moon in a dark night. Such is the Jewish religion, as it flowed from the fountain of divine revelation; as it continued to live on in John and his parents, in the mother of Jesus and her relatives, in the disciples of John and the apostles, in the venerable Simeon, and Anna the prophetess, in Lazarus and his pious sisters, and such it was at its final confluence with christianity.
We cannot so distinctly trace the preparatory steps of christianity in the idst of heathenism. For this, in essence, is a false religion, a "wild growth" upon the soil of fallen human nature (to employ a descriptive term of the new Schelling school,) a darkening of the original consciousness of God, a deification of the rational and irrational creature, and, intimately connected with it, a corruption of moral consciousness, which went so far astray as formally and religiously to sanction
natural and unnatural vices. Com. Rom. 1: 19, etc. Even the religion of Greece, which, as the artistic creation of the poetical imagination of Homer and the highly-gifted Greeks, has not improperly been termed the religion of beauty, to distinguish it from the Egyptian religion of enigmas, and the Roman religion of politics and expediency, is marred by this moral turpitude. Properly speaking, it totally lacked the proper idea of sin, and consequently of holiness and purity of heart. Sin appears, in Homer and the Greek classics-with the exception of a few deeper perceptions of a Socrates and Plato, who, by being exceptions, only establish the general rule-not as a perversion of will, and as a crime against the gods, but as a folly of the understanding, and a crime against men; and besides this it very often proceeds from the gods themselves; for "Infatuation" is a "daughter of Jupiter." Diomedes threw stones at Mars, and wounded the finger of the delicate Venus with his spear without committing sin; whilst Clytemnestra, on account of her unfaithfulness to her husband, is a great sinner. According to the popular religion of Greece the gods are nothing but men. They have bodies and senses like mortals, only that they are of colossal proportions; so that Mars marches along like ten thousand men, Neptune covers seven acres, and Juno makes the forests tremble by her steps. They eat and drink as we do, although it be only nectar and ambrosia, and consequently their immortality and olympic majesty is dependant upon the gratification of their stomach. They are confined to the limits of time and space as we are. Although at times honored by the ascription of omnipotence and omniscience, they are nevertheless subject to the blind power of an iron fate, which even rules over father Jove; and they are also deluded, and rail at each other on account of their ignorance. Ulysses conceals himself beneath seal skins, and is thus able to surprise the omniscient Proteus. Their heavenly bliss is disturbed by all the wretchedness of an earthly existence. Jove threatens blows and death against his fellow gods, and makes Olympus tremble, when he shakes his locks; the finger of Venus bleeds when wounded by a spear; Mars is cast down by a stone; Neptune and Apollo are obliged to work for wages, and are cheated; and jealousy and dissension reign in the marriages of the gods. They are indeed called holy and righteous, but in the very same Homer and Hesiod they appear full of envy and contention, hatred and sensuality, and mutually excite each other to lies and cruelty, perjury and adultery!
How deeply must christianity have declined in Germany, when its greatest poet could hold up regenerated Hellenism as the highest ideal of beautiful humanity, and when the next greatest, and at the same time noblest and most thoroughly national of its poets could express a longing after the "gods of Greece," and, instead of a feeling of joyful gratitude, could sing with a feeling of sad lamentation:
"To enrich One among all these
This perversion is great and disgraceful enough, even if we give all due weight to the fact, that this same Schiller, in another place, and in a better mood, praised the "Religion of the Cross" as the highest union of "Humility and power;" and at least knew, to some extent, how to
appreciate its influence upon the world in all its ages, when he says in a manner as beautiful as it is true:
But notwithstanding this essential apostacy from the truth and the holiness of the primæval revelation, heathenism was still religion, a dark presentiment and longing, a kind of uncertain groping about after the "Unknown God," to whom the Athenians had built an altar. Acts 17: 27, 28. Under the shell of superstition it concealed the necessity of faith; behind polytheism it had a presentiment of a monotheistical background, in that it subordinated the gods to Jupiter, and Jupiter himself to mysterious Fate. It was based upon the feeling of dependance upon higher powers; of reverence for divine things. It preserved the remembrance of a golden age, and of the fall. It had the voice of conscience, and of the thoughts accusing or else excusing one another;
-Rom. 2: 15-and a consciousness of the guilt of sin, however indistinct it may have been. It felt the need of reconciliation to the deity, and sought to effect this, although unsuccessfully, by prayers, penitential exercises and countless bloody and bloodless offerings. In many pious traditions and customs, it referred back, like a soft echo, to primeval religion, and at the same time, in its meaningless mythological dreams, concerning the union of the gods with men, of heroes and demi-gods, of the redemption by Hercules of Prometheus, chained to the rock, and tried by sore afflictions-points, like an unconscious prophecy and carnal anticipation, to the truths of Christianity. For God has never left himself "without witness" among the heathen. The Logos shone into the darkness before his incarnation, lighting every man that cometh into the world; and he also scattered abroad the seeds of beauty, truth and virtue, even in Hellas and Rome. Thus we are able to explain the many elements of truth which we find in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Pindar, Plutarch, Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, etc., and also the susceptibility of the heathen for the preaching of the Gospel. Therefore heathenism also, especially the classic, or Greco-Roman, was a preparative for Christianity; but, of course, one more negative and indirect. Here the process was not from above, from a special revelation; but from below, from the necessities of man. Here the divine contents of true religion was not prepared for mankind, but mankind for the reception of true religion. Heathenism was the prodigal son, which did not remain in the paternal mansion, like its elder brother Judaism, but carelessly forsook it, spent its patrimony, and sank to the most abject servitude, to the eating of husks; but yet, with a sense of shame and misery, penitently arose, and fell into the arms of the Father of mercy who went forth to meet it.
The character of Heathenism, as preparatory to, and tending towards Christianity, is exhibited in the Greek language, which was to preserve the golden apple of the Gospel, like a basket of silver; and in the entire compass of Greek literature, which, by investigating the fundamental principles of all science, especially of philosophy, and by an artistic
representation of the ideal of beauty, in a manner became a theoretical school-master unto the Gospel, and presented to the latter those forms into which its divine mass of truth should be poured. This classical literature and culture became the inheritance of the church, and in her became the natural basis of a holy science and christian civilization. We furthermore, also trace the hand of Providence in the political movements and appearances of the heathen world, previous to the birth of Christ. Alexander the Great, the enthusiastic admirer of Homer, the imitator of Achilles, the deeply-thoughtful pupil of the philosophical world-conqueror, Aristotle, was not, it is true, able to execute his bold idea to rule the world from Babylon, and to convert that world into a Greece; for he died while still a young man, and his empire was divided immediately after his death; but his ambition to conquer was made subservient to higher purposes, viz.: the diffusion of the Greek language and culture to the borders of India; the union of the Orient and Occident; and by these very means, the rapid expansion of the Gospel, and the establishment of a universal empire of truth and love. That which he was able to accomplish but imperfectly, the Romans realized upon a grander scale. They cast down the frowning walls of separation of ancient nations and religions, although but in an outward manner; and combined all the civilized portions of the then known world into one well-ordered empire, which extended from the Euphrates to the pillars of Hercules, from the Lybian desert to the banks of the German Rhine; and every where paved the way for the apostles of Christ to proclaim a universal religion. Thus also the political laws and institutions, and the great wisdom of government possessed by Rome, greatly assisted the Christian church in the development of its outward organization and discipline, and rendered excellent practical service, as classical literature had rendered theoretical service. It cannot be denied that the ancient Greek church rests altogether upon the Greek language and nationality; and that the Latin church has its national basis and historical precedent in the Roman nationality, and, in a higher degree, reproduced its virtues, but also its vices.
In addition to this, Christ is likewise the end of the human longing after redemption, that breathes throughout ancient history, as it does to this day in every human heart. For man has been created for Christ, and "his heart is restless until it rests in him." Within his heart of hearts he bears a recollection of a lost age of innocence, and a desire after an inalienable paradise of salvation. He feels himself a stranger in the midst of the joys and pleasures of nature, and feels a home-sickness after God, the living God. It is known that Tertullian speaks of the testimonia animae naturaliter Christianae, i. e., of the testimonies of the human soul which is predestinated for Christianity, and longs after it, consciously or unconsciously. They sparkle like stars in midnight darkness, in the firmament of heathenism; like moonlight and the dawn in Judaism; and point to the sun-like radiance of the gospel. In Christ, and in Christ alone, all these conflicts, presentiments, wishes, and need of the human heart after light and life, are pacified and gratified. Lenau, who alas! fell in the midst of madness and animal obtuseness, has gloriously expressed this thought, in the Christmas sermon of Savonarola: