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observes, almost all that is peculiar to this sect, is condemned by Christ and his Apostles. And this,” adds Lardner, “ is sufficient for us." He quotes Sir John Marsham to the same purport, who also states that the early Jewish Rabbis do not mention them. Some, however, have supposed them to have been alluded to in our Lord's words, Matt. 19:12. Lightfoot gives some reasons for supposing that when “John was baptizing in Enon near Salim,” his position was in the neighborhood of these ascetics as heretofore described. He says, “it might be supposed that the Baptist, as he had been among two sects of the Jews, and had baptized some of them, so now he applied himself to the third sect, the Essenes, and was baptizing some of them.”
Indeed, some Christian writers have argued that John was brought up among Essenes, on the ground of his ascetic character, and recorded eremitism, Luke 1: 80. But the theory that makes Christianity itself an emanation and modification of Essenism, amended and fitted to his purpose by Jesus of Nazareth, himself a disciple of this theosophic, ascetic school, is one of very painful hostility to the Divine word, and appears to us to disregard all historical probabilities. We do not deny the lawfulness, nay, the naturalness of the inquiry. The earnest mind, in executing its high task imposed on all, of seeking after truth, 'is destined to rebound from one false hypothesis after another, until it is attracted unalterably to the only one which will explain the facts that encircle man's moral and intellectual consciousness. No man, however, is at liberty to give out or embrace theories which are irreconcilable with the prominent features of the gospel. And if the Redeemer, as portrayed in the New Testament, was no more like the historical Essene of Josephus, than he was like John the Baptist, or a monkish devotee; if his life was as different from that of those Jewish ascetics, as Clarkson's or Henry Martyn's, from a modern Shaker's ; if all that was peculiar in their ethical and religious system, was condemned and discountenanced both doctrinally and practically, by Him whom the Gospels represent as Lord of Jew and Gentile; then are we bound by all that is reasonable, to seek in some other quarter the origin of Christianity. A glance at the history will decide this point. Let us be just in our inquiry. Judged by his own words and deeds, Christ bore a resemblance to the Essene only so far as the Essene lived a true life, and had attained right views of the kingdom of God. On the same principle, and to the same extent, Jesus accorded, both in doctrine and life, with Socrates and Plato, with Confucius in China, and Seneca at Rome, as well as Moses in Judea ; with the ancient Indian gymnosophists and Persian Magi. And he must needs have been just so far in sympathy with all systems, and in lineament like all men, or he assuredly could not have been, what the Scriptures claim for him, and what sinful humanity requires in him as its Savior, a personal exemplification of all that man ought to be, as a being related to God, and capable of moral perfection. Our Lord could not fail to recognize in his character and religion, the divine that was already in the world ; nor to sympathize with every element of goodness which under a superincumbent mass of evil was yet kept alive, and every fragment of holy truth which lay in this or that portion of the field of his redeeming mission; otherwise piety herself must have given way before the tide of doubt let in upon her by her own reason. But now in this very freedom and breadth of his system, in its many points of conjunction and chords of harmony with the philosophies and moralities and religious feelings by which infinite wisdom had been conducting the predestined development of human nature, we read a plain signature of truth, a precious manifestation both of humanity and divinity. Christianity, if of heaven, must of course prefer truth to originality. A divinely commissioned Redeemer inspired with but one purpose, that of eternal love, and seeing at a glance what was, and what was not of the Heavenly Father's planting, would destroy only what was wrong; would use every sound material found ready at his hands, in re-building the great temple of humanity, and would pull down nothing which already stood on the right foundation. It is not justifiable to regard our Savior as a fallible mortal, a copyist or a mere transcendent religious genius, and his holy religion a patch-work of human origin, because his theology was not entirely new,-because his ethics were not entirely unknown to mankind. Now if Christ's likeness to the Essenes opens the door to doubt as to his supernatural claim, his greater unlikeness to them ought to close it for ever. It is impossible to deny, that between what is recorded of the Savior, and what is recorded of this sect, there are several important points of resemblance—such as the moral dignity and duty of reciprocal service, the disparagement of riches, hostility to oath-taking, the value of self-denial, the pacific virtues, &c. But in all these particulars, the Essenes, so far as they did not press them extravagantly, only carried out the true spirit of the law of Moses, as ever cherished by the most pious under the Theocracy, and clearly expounded by the prophets. And the true Messiah, whom it behooved to "fulfil the law," and enlarge the bounds of the theocratic kingdom in all its destined spiritual fulness so as to take in the whole family of man, must of course re-produce and re-publish the same eternally perfect principles. But when they cross the bounds of Scripture and nature, and inculcate a round of needless austerities, erecting a standard of artificial unspiritual holiness, tying down the soul to a multiplicity of outward observances, exhausting to body and to mind, and derogatory to the wisdom and goodness of God, we find the system of Jesus Christ in direct antagonism to theirs. The parallel ceases precisely where reason parts company with the Essenes; for we ever find
him the wonder and pattern of all ages, going with his age in all its recorded attainments of good, and rising heaven-high above it, wherein it was yet lying, perhaps unconsciously under the dominion of evil. Take, for instance, Christ's philanthropic and natural interpretation of the sabbatical law. How pointedly, and how beautifully he rebukes the over-strained sanctification of it taught by the Pharisee, and carried out to still greater lengths by the upright, though misguided Essene. Math. 12:1-8; Mark 2: 23– 28. ,Luke 6:1-10, 13 : 10–17. Their scrupulous washings, receive their quietus in Matth. 23:25. Mark 7: 1-13. Luke 11: 38-9. Their “will-worship,” “ bodily exercise,” and “voluntary humility,” are set at naught by one who knew the spirit of the Master better than we do, in Col. 2 : 21-23; while in 1 Tim. 4:3, their dietetic morality and celibatic tenets fall under the same condemnatory sentence. Christ and his apostles taught no monastieism, no asceticism, no Shakerism, no enslaving literalism. “According to Christ,” remarks the learned Prideaux, “whosoever is diligent in his honest calling, how mean soever it be, is by so doing as much serving God, as when at his prayers, provided, that while he doth the one, he doth not leave the other undone.” It must also be observed as it respects the relation of the historical Essenes to the historical Messiah, that their silence, as to a resurrection, and a kingdom of God on earth, a regenerating spirit, and a redeeming Messiah, their sensual representations of the eternal world, must for ever stand in the way of those who would refer Christianity to this earthly source.
But other considerations also rebut such a solution of the problem. One is that suggested by Milman, that Jesus draws his imagery and phraseology so much from the marriage relation and the vineyard, not favorite themes, one would suppose, of those zealous sticklers for celibacy and cold water. As the Essenes are said to have been total abstinents from wine, the Savior must have placed himself at the outset in opposition to them, by his accredited agency in the production of that article at the marriage scene of Cana. The argument holds as good for us from the bare reputation of his having performed so anti-ascetic a miracle.
Again, Christianity has been from the first, peculiarly an aggressive, actively proselyting movement, attacking every other system, and inspiring its adherents with the most self-denying zeal for its diffusion. This feature renders it still more difficult to identify it with any antecedent religion or moral tendency:
As to the doctrine of a community of goods, which the Essenes practised, distinguishing themselves thereby from all antiquity, it is in vain to seek here a foothold for this theory, since no such precept is to be found in the New Testament, and the notion of its finding place first among Christians at Jerusalem who devoted private property so liberally to their poorer brethren at the interesting and peculiar period recorded Acts 2: is not sustained by the concurrent history. The distinction of rich and poor is everywhere recognized in the Christian Scriptures.
The hypothesis, then, which makes Christianity an outgrowth of Essenism is untenable. It breaks down at every important point of the comparison. It will not bear the test of honest historical and analytical inquiry. Unbelief must search elsewhere for an affiliation of this strange, unique religion, which certainly originated somewhere, and must be ascribed to the agency of some intelligent cause, either in or above the world, and that at no very great remove from the time and place which all the converging lines of history and tradition compel us to acknowledge as the chronological and geographical matrix of the Christian faith. It is the conception of the peculiar idea of Christ as a character, and the devotion of so many minds to the glorification of his name, and the setting forth of his merits and the annunciation of his transcendent demands upon the faith of mankind, then and there, as our New Testament and ecclesiastical and heathen records and memorials place beyond the power of doubting, that call for some solution different from what has yet been offered to the world by the patrons of deism, or by Dr. Strauss and his school. And reason as we may, the pure feelings of the world will be faithful to Jesus Christ as entitled to divine honors, and the everlasting gratitude of a sinful, dying race, faithful to the Bible as the sacred oracles of Heaven, revealing God, and sanctifying the soul of man, and proving equally true and equally necessary both to the religious and the historical sentiment in human nature.
That there are some minute items of resemblance between the code of the Essenes and particular sayings of the Redeemer, which we have not adverted to, may be true. Let each lover of truth look and decide for himself. Growing up in the bosom of Judaism as both did, and united by a common bond of language, nationality, and religion, it might easily happen that proverbial expressions, or forms of action and modes of thought, would be adopted from the common stock, and fallen in with as convenient and natural channels of self-development,—as well as on Christ's part, of uniting himself most sympathizingly and effectively with the life of humanity. Let us, however, give the Essene credit for all that he was as a worshiper of the true God, and as a man striving after moral purity in a corrupt age. The Gospel that breathed new life into the higher nature of man, can afford to allow all his virtues. We know that the Spirit of Christ opens the eye to the excellences of others. Truth rejoices in truth, and as all truth is from the same source, the lustre of one development can never be increased by hiding the glory of another. We would not enhance the necessity of our Lord's appearance by depreciating the moral condition of mankind at that period. Those ascetic Jews deserve well of mankind for the light they gave out in a dark age. We admire the humanity and justice of their principles ; their disapproval of war and slavery in the midst of a world İying in wickedness, and the noble example of industry, frugality, and moderation in the things of this life they set before all. We honor their honest endeavors to combine the vita contemplativa and the vita activa,-to escape the bondage of the senses, to maintain the supremacy of the spirit, and to unite themselves with the Highest. But in all these respects, they are only the true children of monotheism, the legitimate offspring of the Jewish theocracy. They could have sprung up nowhere else.
In the phenomenon of the Essenes let us therefore allore the provident wisdom of Jehovah, and recognize the secret working of his love in carrying forward the great, eternal economy of salvation. They exerted an influence on their age which helped pave the way for the Christ.
Conscience spoke, and was spoken to, through them; and the dying sense of virtue was kept alive. Thus were they stars which emitted an humble though useful light before, but grew pale and became invisible after, the coming of the Sun of Righteousness. There is, indeed, a true asceticism-a moral and religious self discipline for the subjugation of sense to spirit—which goes before as well as follows after, an earnest reception of Christianity. It is only when bearing the Cross, which virtue ever lays on her followers in our present being, that it is possible for man to come into communion with a Savior whose whole existence in time was a voluntary sacrifice of self to the will of God. For a sinful creature striving after holiness, via crucis, via lucis, is an axiom never to be forgotten.
Be it ours, then, to make the imperfectly righteous 'though sincere Essene, a guide to his infinite Superior, the sinless One, the world-befriending Jesus. Be it ours, led by heavenly wisdom, to seek and to find in every human system the connecting link which unites it to the Divine in the universe ; the higher truth and life which are now revealing themselves on all sides and out of every finite phenomenon, “to awaken the soul from the sleep of supe tion, the torpor of atheism, and the death of sin.”