Preparation for the Advent
Galatians 4:4-5
But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,…

Our Lord's appearance on the scene of human history corresponds with the general law so far as this — that He comes when a course of preparation, conducted through previous ages, was at last complete. But then He was not the creation, as we say, of His own or of any preceding age. What is true of all other great men, who are no more than great men, is not true of Him. They receive from their age as much as they give it; they embody and reflect its spirit. They catch the ideas which are in circulation — which are, as we speak, "in the air" — and they express them more vividly than do others, whether by speech or by action. The age contributes much to make them, and the age is pleased with them because it sees itself reflected in them, and their power with it is often in an inverse ratio to that of their real originality. With our Lord it is utterly otherwise. He really owed nothing to the time or the country which welcomed His Advent. He had no contact with the great world of Greek thought, or of Roman politics and administration. He borrowed just so much rabbinical language and sayings as to make Himself intelligible to His own generation; but no rabbi, of whatever school, could have said, or could have omitted to say, what He did. The preceding ages only prepared His way before Him in the circumstances, in the convictions, in the moral experiences of men; and thus a preceding period marked in the counsels of God had to be run out. At last its final hour had struck. That hour was the fulness of time: it was the moment of the Advent. There was a threefold work of preparation for the Son of God, carried forward in what was then called the civilized world; and each portion of this preparation demanded the lapse of a certain period.

I. The world had to be prepared, in a certain sense, POLITICALLY for Christ's work.

1. A common language. This was partly provided by the conquests of Alexander. He spread the Greek language throughout Western Asia, throughout Egypt; and when Greece itself was conquered, the educated Romans learnt the language of their vanquished provincials. And thus, when our Lord came, the Greek language, in which the New Testament is written, was the common tongue of the civilized world, ready to St. Paul's hand for the missionary work of Christianity.

2. A common social system, laws, and government. During the half-century which preceded the birth of Christ, the Roman Empire was finally consolidated into a great political whole, so that Palestine and Spain — so that North Africa and Southern Germany — were administered by a single government. Christianity, indeed, did not need this, for it passed beyond the frontiers of the empire in the lifetime of the apostles; and the earliest translation of the New Testament — that into Syrian, in the first half of the second century — showed that it could dispense with Greek. But this preparation was, nevertheless, an important clement in the process by which preceding ages led up to the fulness of time.

II. Then there was a preparation in the CONVICTIONS OF MANKIND. The heathen nations were not without some religion — a religion which contained within various degrees certain elements of truth, however mingled with, or overlaid by, extraordinary error. Had it not been for the element of truth which is to be found in all forms of heathenism, heathenism could not have lasted as it did. Had there not been much true religious feeling in the ancient world, although it was lavished often upon unworthy and miserable objects, the great characters with whom we meet in history could not have existed. But the ancient religions tended from the first to bury God, of whose existence the visible world assured them, in that visible world which witnessed to Him. Those powers of nature which are, as we know, but His modes of working — which are but the robe with which he covers Himself — become more and more, when man is without a revelation, objects of devout veneration. The principle is the same in the fetishism which finds a god in some single natural object, and in the pantheism which, like that of India, looks forward to the absorption of the individual soul into the universal life of nature. The Greeks never knew, at their best time, of a literally Almighty God; still less did they know anything of a God of love; but it was necessary that their incapacity to retain in their knowledge the little they did know about Him should be proved to them by experience. Certainly, their great men, such as Plato, tried to spiritualize, in a certain sense, the popular ideas about God, but the old religion would not bear his criticism. It went to pieces when it was discussed; and philosophy, which he wished to take its place, having no facts, that is, no religious facts, to appeal to, but consisting only of views, could never become a real religion, and so take its place. The consequence was the simultaneous growth of gross superstition and of blank unbelief — a growth which continued down to the very time of the Incarnation. Never before was the existence of any Supreme Being so widely denied in civilized human society, as in the age of the first Caesars. Never were there so many magicians, incantations, charms, rites of the most debased and most debasing kind, as in that age. The most gifted of races had done its best with heathenism, anal the result was that all the highest and purest minds loathed the present, and looked forward to the future. It was the fulness of the time. The epoch of religious experiments had been closed in an epoch of despair which was only not altogether hopeless.

III. There was also a preparation in the MORAL EXPERIENCE OF MANKIND. There was, at times, much of what we call moral earnestness in the ancient world; but men were content, as a rule, with being good citizens, which is by no means necessarily the same thing as being good men. In the eyes of , for instance, all obligations were discharged if a man obeyed the laws of Athens. , St. said, approached Christianity more nearly than any other; and yet Plato tolerated popular vices of the gravest description, and he drew a picture of a model State in which there was to be a community of wives. And the moral teachers whom St. Paul afterwards found at Athens were and . They divided the ancient world between them, practically. The Stoic morality has often been compared with Christianity; it differed from it vitally. Every single virtue was dictated by pride, just as every Epicurean virtue was inspired by the wish to economize the sources of pleasure. "Nowadays," says a pagan writer, Quinctilian, "the greatest vices are concealed under the name of philosophy." And the morality of the masses of men whom the philosophers could not and did not dare to influence, was just what might be expected. The dreadful picture of the pagan world which St. Paul draws (Romans 1.), is not a darker picture than that of pagan writers — of moralists like Seneca, of satirists like Juvenal, of historians like Tacitus; and yet enough survived of moral truth in the human conscience to condemn average pagan practices. Man still had, however obscurely, some parts of the law of God written deep in his heart. Men saw and approved (they said it themselves) the better course, and they followed the worse; and the natural law was thus to them only a revelation of sin and of weakness. It led them to yearn for a deliverer, although their aspirations were indefinite enough. Still this widespread corruption, this longing for better things, marked the close of the epoch of moral experiments; it announced that the fulness of the time had come.

(Canon Liddon.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

WEB: But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law,

Of the Fulness of Time, in Which Christ Appeared
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