( Originally Published Early 1900's )
JESUS CHRIST was undoubtedly the very last sort of Messiah that the Jews expected. Christian theologians say confidently that the characters of humility, obscureness, and depression, were commonly attributed to the Jewish Messiah ; and even Bishop Butler, in general the most severely exact of writers, gives countenance to this error. What is true is, that we find these characters attributed to some one by the prophets ; that we attribute them to Jesus Christ ; that Jesus is for us the Messiah, and that Jesus they suit. But for the prophets themselves, and for the Jews who heard and read them, these characters of lowliness and depression belonged to God's chastened servant, the idealised Israel. When Israel had been purged and renewed by these, the Messiah was to appear ; but with glory and power for his attributes, not humility and weakness. It is impossible to resist acknowledging this, if we read the Bible to find from it what really those who wrote it intended to think and say, and not to put into it what we wish them to have thought and said. To find in Jesus the genuine Jewish Messiah, or to find in him the Son of Man of Daniel, one coming with the clouds of heaven and having universal dominion given him, must certainly, to a Jew, have been extremely difficult.
Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly in the Old Testament the germ of Christianity. In developing this germ lay the future of righteousness itself; of Israel's primary and immortal concern ; and the incomparable greatness of the religion founded by Jesus Christ comes from his having developed it. Jesus Christ is not the Messiah to whom the hopes of his nation pointed ; and yet Christendom with perfect justice has made him the Messiah, because he alone took, when his nation was on another and a false track, a way obscurely indicated in the Old Testament, and the one only possible and successful way, for the accomplishment of the Messiah's function :—to bring in everlasting righteousness.' Let us see how this was so.
Religion in the Old Testament is a matter of national and social conduct mainly. First, it consists in devotion to Israel's God, the Eternal who loveth righteousness, and of separation from other nations whose concern for righteousness was less fervent than Israel's,—of abhorrence of their idolatries which were sure to bewilder and diminish this fervent concern. Secondly, it consists in doing justice, hating all wrong, robbery, and oppression, abstaining from insolence, lying, and slandering. The Jews' polity, their theocracy, was of such immense importance, because religion, when conceived as having its existence in these national and social duties mainly, requires a polity to put itself forth in ; and the Jews' polity was adapted to religion so conceived. But this religion, as it developed itself, was by no means fully worthy of the intuition out of which it had grown. We have seen how, in its intuition of God,—of that `not ourselves' of which all mankind form some conception or other,—as the Eternal that makes for righteousness, the Hebrew race found the revelation needed to breathe emotion into the laws of morality, and to make morality religion. This revelation is the capital fact of the Old Testament, and the source of its grandeur and power. But it is evident that this revelation lost, as time went on, its nearness and clearness ; and that for the mass of the Hebrews their God came to be a mere magnified and non-natural man, like the God of our popular religion now, who has commanded certain courses of conduct and attached certain sanctions to them.
And though prophets and righteous men, among the Hebrews, might preserve always the immediate and truer apprehension of their God as the Eternal who makes for righteousness, they in vain tried to communicate this apprehension to the mass of their countrymen. They had, indeed, special difficulty to contend with in communicating it ; and the difficulty was this. Those courses of conduct, which Israel's intuition of the Eternal had originally touched with emotion and made religion, lay chiefly, we have seen, in the line of national and social duties. By reason of the stage of their own growth and the world's, at which this revelation found the Hebrews, the thing could not well be otherwise. And national and social duties are peculiarly capable of a mechanical exterior performance, in which the heart has no share. One may observe rites and ceremonies, hate idolatry, abstain from murder and theft and false witness, and yet have one's inward thoughts bad, callous, and disordered. Then even the admitted duties themselves come to be ill-discharged or set at nought, because the emotion which was the only certain security for their good discharge is wanting. The very power of religion, as we have seen, lies in its bringing emotion to bear on our rules of conduct, and thus making us care for them so much, consider them so deeply and reverentially, that we surmount the great practical difficulty of acting in obedience to them, and follow them heartily and easily. Therefore the Israelites, when they lost their primary intuition and the deep feeling which went with it, were perpetually idolatrous, perpetually slack or niggardly in the service of Jehovah, perpetually violators of judgment and justice.
The prophets earnestly reminded their nation of the superiority of judgment and justice to any exterior ceremony like sacrifice. But judgment and justice themselves, as Israel in general conceived them, have something exterior in them ; now, what was wanted was more inwardness, more feeling. This was given by adding mercy and humbleness to judgment and justice. Mercy and humbleness are something inward, they are affections of the heart. And even in the Proverbs these appear : ` The merciful man doeth good to his own soul ;' ' He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he ;' ` Honour shall uphold the humble in spirit ;' ' When pride cometh, shame cometh, but with the lowly is wisdom.' And the prophet Micah asked his nation ` What doth the Eternal require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God ?'—adding mercy and humility to the old judgment and justice. But a farther development is given to humbleness, when the second Isaiah adds contrition to it : ` I ' (the Eternal) ` dwell with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit ; ' or when the Psalmist says, `The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise ! '
This is personal religion ; religion consisting in the inward feeling and disposition of the individual himself, rather than in the performance of outward acts towards religion or society. It is the essence of Christianity, it is what the Jews needed, it is the line in which their religion was ripe for development. And it appears in the Old Testament. Still, in the Old Testament it by no means comes out fully. The leaning, there, is to make religion social rather than personal, an affair of outward duties rather than of inward dispositions. Soon after the very words we have just quoted from him, the second Isaiah adds : ` If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger and speaking vanity, and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise in obscurity and thy darkness be as the noon-day, and the Eternal shall guide thee continually and make fat thy bones.' I This stands, or at least appears to stand, as a full description of righteousness ; and as such, it is unsatisfying.