Page images

nearly 2000 years. Yet by the astonishing interposition of Providence, though hated, despised, and persecuted of all men, evidently preserv- ́ ed from annihilation, and from oblivion, by being kept distinct from all men; as much a separate` people as in the zenith of their glory, under David and Solomon."




'AFTER the Babylonian captivity, the Jews no more lapsed into idolatry, but remained steady in the acknowledgment and worship of the one living and true God. But then they fell into new ways of perverting religion, and the wise and holy intentions of the Divine law.

First, by laying all the stress on the external and less momentous parts of it, while they neglected the weighty and substantial, true holiness of heart and life. Mankind are too easily drawn into this error. While they retain a sense of religion, they are too apt to listen to any methods by which it may be reduced to a consistency with the gratification of their passions, pride, and avarice. Thus, by placing religion in mere profession, or in the zealous observance of rites and ceremonies, instead of real piety, truth, purity, and goodness, they learn to be religious without virtue.

Secondly, by speculating and commenting upon the Divine commands and institutions, till their force is quite enervated, and they are refined into a sense that will commodiously allow a slight regard, instead of sincere obedience.

Thirdly, by confirming and establishing the two former methods of corrupting religion through tradition, and the authority of learned Rabbies; pretending that there was a system of religious rules delivered by word of mouth from Moses, explanatory of the written law, known only to those Rabbies ; to whose judgment, therefore, and decision, all the people were to submit.

This, in time, the space of 219 years, became the general state of religion among the Jews, after they had discarded idolatry. And this spirit prevailed among them for 290 years before the coming of the Messiah. But, however, it did not interfere with the main system of Providence, or the introducing of the knowledge of God among the nations, as they still continued steadfast in the worship of the true God, without danger of deviating from it.

Besides, they were now, much more than formerly, exercised in reading, thinking, and reasoning; and were themselves more capable of judging what was right. Luke xii. 57. And seve

ral of them did so judge. Some of them were truly religious and virtuous; and all of them had strong expectation of the Messiah about the time of his appearance, and were sufficiently qualified to judge of religious matters, and of the evidences of his mission. Thus the Jews were prepared by the preceding dispensation, for the reception of the Messiah, and the just ideas of religion which he was sent to inculcate; insomuch that their guilt must have been highly aggravated in rejecting him and his instructions. It could not be for want of capacity, but of integrity; which must be assigned to wilful blindness and obstinacy. Out of regard to temporal power, grandeur, and enjoyments, they loved darkness rather than light.

In the mean time, the pagan nations had made great openings in wisdom and virtue. Those arts that began in Greece, had travelled into other lands; learning had got footing among the illiterate; and humanity and social affections among the barbarous; and many good and useful books, useful even to this day among the Christians, were written in Ethics, for th ht nduct of life. The light of nature wa



, or rather the darkness of it was u chenSuch was, at length, the state of the les; God having still been pleased from

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

time to time, to raise up among them persons uncommonly endowed for their instruction, and to fit them for the day when he should more explicitly reveal himself, and his sacred will to them.

In a word, what with time, with the transmigration of knowledge from region to region, and the labours of poets and philosophers, men, at about the classic era, when our Lord came into the world, had, in general, gained tolerably just ideas of virtue and moral truth; and so, were in a condition to apprehend and embrace the higher and more important truths of God, of his Providence, and of a future state'.

For many ages, the Jews had been well known in the eastern empires, among the Assyrians, Chaldeans, Medes, and Persians; but, till the time of Alexander the great, they had no communication with the Grecians. About the year before Christ 332, Alexander, as already stated, built Alexandria, in Egypt; and, to people his new city, removed thither many of the Jews, allowing them the use of their own laws and religion, and the same liberties with the Macedonians themselves.

The Macedonians, who spoke the Greek language, and other Greeks, were the principal inhabitants of Alexandria. From them, the Jews

« PreviousContinue »