But none of these speculations succeeded in displacing the older and simpler conceptions, or in banishing that original, patriotic, and political interpretation of them with which the great majority of the people were familiar. God Himself assuming the sceptre, destroying His enemies, founding the Israelitish kingdom of the world, and availing Himself of a kingly champion for the purpose; every man sitting under his own fig- tree, in his own vineyard, enjoying the fruits of peace, with his foot upon the neck of his enemies—that was, after all, still the most popular conception of the coming of the Messiah, and it was fixed in the minds even of those who were at the same time attracted to higher views. But a portion of the people had undoubtedly awakened to the feeling that the kingdom of God presupposes a moral condition of a corresponding character, and that it could come only to a righteous people. Some looked to acquiring this righteousness by means of a punctilious observance of the law, and no zeal that they could show for it was enough; others, under the influences of a deeper self- knowledge, began to have a dim idea that the righteousness which they so ardently desired could itself come only from the hand of God, and that in order to shake off the burden of sin— for they had begun to be tortured by an inner sense of it—divine assistance, and divine grace and mercy, were needful.
Thus in Christ’s time there was a surging chaos of disparate feeling, as well as of contradictory theory, in regard to this one matter. At no other time, perhaps, in the history of religion, and in no other people, were the most extreme antitheses so closely associated under the binding influence of religion. At one moment the horizon seems as narrow as the circle of the hills which surround Jerusalem; at another it embraces all mankind. Here everything is put upon a high plane and regarded from the spiritual and moral point of view; and there, at but a stone’s throw, the whole drama seems as though it must close with a political victory for the nation. In one group all the forces of divine trust and confidence are disengaged, and the upright man struggles through to a solemn “Nevertheless”; in another, every religious impulse is stifled by a morally obtuse, patriotic fanaticism.