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The ancient world was given to Pantheism and creature-worship ; Israel only, not because of its "monotheistic instinct " (Renan), but because of the periodic interposition of God through His prophets, resisted in the main the general tendency to idolatry.
Besides maintaining those pure conceptions of Deity, the prophets from time to time, and with ever increasing distinctness until we come to the direct and personal testimony of the Baptist, foreshadowed a fuller and more universal revelation — a time when, and a Man through Whom, God should bless all the nations of the earth.
He confined His explicit teaching about the Church to His immediate followers, and left it to them, when the time came, openly to pronounce the abrogation of the Law.
( Acts 15:5-11, 18 ; Galatians ; 24-28 ; Ephesians 2:2 , 14-15 ; Colossians -17 ; Hebrews ) It was not so much, then, by propounding the dogmas of Christianity as by informing the Old Law with the spirit of Christian ethics that Christ found Himself able to prepare Jewish hearts for the religion to come.
Yet, though He often foreshadowed a time when the Law as such would cease to bind, and though He Himself in proof of His Messiahship occasionally set aside its provisions ("For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath ", Matthew 12:8 ), yet, as, in spite of His miracles, He did not win recognition of that Messiahship, still less of His Divinity, from the Jews at large.
We need not here trace the Messianic predictions in detail; their clearness and cogency are such that St.
Augustine does not hesitate to say (Retract., I, xiii, 3): "What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian".
The whole history of the Jews as detailed in the Old Testament is seen, when read in the light of other events, to be a clear though gradual preparation for the preaching of Christianity.
In that nation alone, the great truths of the existence and unity of God, His providential ruling of His creatures and their responsibility towards Him, were preserved unimpaired amidst general corruption.