Page images
PDF
EPUB

Christians should, even now, confine the blessed effects of his appearance upon earth to this or that particular sect or profession, when he is so clearly and emphatically described as the Saviour of the world! The story of Abraham's proceeding to sacrifice his only son, at the command of God, is affecting in the highest degree, and sets forth a pattern of unlimited resignation, that every one ought to imitate, in those trials of obedience under temptation, or of acquiescence under afflicting dispensations, which fall to their lot; of this we may be assured that our trials will be always proportioned to the powers afforded us: if we have not Abrahain's strength of mind, neither shall we be called upon to lift the bloody knife against the bosom of an only child: but, if the almighty arm should be lifted up against him, we must be ready to resign him, and all we hold dear, to the divine will. This action of Abraham has been censured by some, who do not attend to the distinction between obedience to a special command, and the detestably cruel sacrifices of the heathens, who sometimes voluntarily, and without any divine injunctions, offered up their own children, under the notion of appeasing the anger of their gods. An absolute command from God himself, as in the case of Abraham, entirely alters the moral nature of the action; since he, and he only, has a perfect right over the lives of his creatures, and may appoint whom he will, either angel or man, to be his instrument of destruction. That it was really the voice of God, which pronounced the command, and not a delusion, might be made certain to Abraham's mind, by means we do not comprehend, but which we know to be within the power of him who made our souls as well as bodies, and who can controul and direct every faculty of the human mind : and we may be assured, that if he was pleased to reveal himself so miraculously, he would not leave a possibility of doubting whether it was a real or an imaginary revelation : thus the sacrifice of Abraham appears to be clear of all superstition, and remains the noblest instance of religious faith and submission that was ever given by a mere man: we cannot wonder that the blessings bestowed on him for it should have been extended to his posterity. This book proceeds with the history of Isaac, which becomes very interesting to us, from the touching scene I have mentioned, and still more so, if we consider him as the type of our Saviour: it recounts his marriage with Rebecca the birth and history of his two sons, Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes, and Esau, the father of the Edomites or

[ocr errors]

Idumeans the exquisitely affecting story of Joseph and his brethren-and of his transplanting the Israelites into Egypt, who there multiplied to a great nation.

In Exodus, you read of a series of wonders, wrought by the Almighty, to rescue the oppressed Israelites froin the cruel tyranny of the Egyptians, who, having first received them as guests, by degrees reduced them to a state of slavery. By the most peculiar mercies and exertions in their favour, God prepared his chosen people to receive with reverent and obedient hearts, the solemn restitution of those primitive laws, which probably he had revealed to Adam and his immediate descendants, or which, at least, he made known by the dictates of conscience, but which time, and the degeneracy of mankind, had much obscured. This important revelation was made to them in the Wilderness of Sinai : there assembled before the burning mountain, surrounded “ with blackness, and darkness, and tempests, they heard the awful voice of God pronounce the eternal law, impressing it on their hearts, with circumstances of terror, but without thosé encouragements and those excellent promises, which were afterwards offered to mankind by Jesus Christ. Thus were the great laws of morality restored to the Jews, and through them transmitted to other nations; and by that means a great restraint was opposed to the torrent of vice and impiety, which began to prevail over the world.

To those moral precepts which are of perpetual and universal obligation, were superadded, by the ministration of Moses, many peculiar institutions, wisely adapted to different ends either to fix the memory of those past deliverances, which were figurative of a future and far greater salvation—to place inviolable barriers between the Jews and the idolatrous nations, by whom they were surrounded-or to be the civil law, by which the community was to be goverded.

To conduct this series of events, and to establish these laws with his people, God raised up that great prophet Moses, whose faith and piety enabled hiin to undertake and execute the most arduous enterprises, and to pursue with unabated zeat the welfare of his countrymen ; even in the hour of his death, this generous ardour still prevailed : his last moments were employed in fervent prayers for their prosperity, and in rapturous gratitude for the glimpse vouchsafed him of a Saviour, far greater than himself, whom God would one day raise up to his people.

Thus did Moses, by the excellency of his faith, obtain a glorious pre-eminence among the saints and prophets in heaven; while, on earth, he will be ever revered, as the first of those benefactors to mankind, whose labours for the public good have endeared their memory to all ages.

The next book is Leviticus, which contains little besides the laws for the peculiar ritual observance of the Jews, and therefore affords do great instruction to us now; you may pass it over for the present as well as the first eight chapters of NUMBERS. The rest of Nuinbers is chiefly a continuation of the history, with some ritual laws.

In DeUTERONOMY, Moses inakes a recapitulation of the foregoing history, with zealous exhortations to the people, faithfully to worship and obey that God, who had worked such amazing wonders for them; he promises them the noblest temporal blessings, if they prove obedient, and adds the most awful and striking denunciations against them, if they rebel or forsake the true God. It has been before observed, that the sanctions of the Mosaic law were temporal rewards and punishments; those of the New Testament are eternal: these last, as they are so infinitely more forcible than the first, were reserved for the last, best gift to mankind, and were revealed by the Messiah, in the fullest and clearest manner. Moses, in this book, directs the method in which the Israelites were to deal with the seven nations, whom they were appointed to punish for their profigacy and idolatry; and whose land they were to possess, when they had driven out the old inhabitants. He gives them excellent laws, civil as well as religious, which were ever after the standing municipal laws of that people. This book concludes with Moses's song and death.

The book of JOSHUA contains the conquests of the Israelites over the seven pations, and their establishment in the promised land. Their treatment of these conquered nations must appear very cruel and unjust, if you consider it as their own act, unauthorized by a positive command; but they had the most absolute injunctions not to spare these corrupt people; “ to make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy to them, but utterly to destroy them.” And the reason is given, “ lest they should turn away the Israelites from following the Lord, that they might serve other gods.” (Deut. chap. ii.) The children of Israel are to be considered as instruments in the hand of the Lord, to punish those whose idolatry and wickedness had deservedly brought destruction on them: this example therefore, cannot be pleaded in behalf of cruelty, or bring any imputation on the character of the Jews. With regard to other cities, which did not belong to these seven nations, they were directed to deal with them, according to the common law of arms at that time. If the city submitted, it became tributary, and the people were spared ; if it resisted, the men were to be slain, but the women and children saved. (Deut. chap. xx.) Yet, though the crime of cruelty cannot be justly laid to their charge on this occasion, you will observe, in the course of their history, many things recorded of them very different from what you would expect from the chosen people of God, if you suppose them selected on account of their own merit: their national character was by no means amiable; and we are repeatedly told that they were not chosen for their superior righteousness ; " for they were a stiff-necked people, and provoked the Lord with their rebellions from the day they left Egypt.” “You have been rebellious against the Lord,” says Moses," from the day that I knew you." (Deut. chap. ix. ver. 24.) And he vehemently exhorts them, not to flatter themselves that their success was, in any degree, owing to their own merits. They were appointed

to be the scourge of other nations, whose crimes rendered them fit objects of divine chastisement. For the sake of righteous Abraham, their founder, and perhaps for many other wise reasons, undiscovered to us, they were selected from a world overrun with idolatry, to preserve upon earth the pure worship of the one only God, and to be honoured with the birth of the Messiah amongst them. For this end they were precluded by divine command from mixing with any other people, and defended by a great number of peculiar rites and observances, from falling

into the corrupt worship practised by their neighbours.

The book of Judges, in which you will find the affecting stories of Sampson and of Jephtha, carries on the history from the death of Joshua, about two hundred and fifty years; but the facts are not told in the times in which they happened, which makes some confusion; and it will be necessary to consult the marginal dates and notes, as well as the index, in order to get any clear idea of the succession of events during that period.

The history then proceeds regularly through the two books of Samuel, and those of Kings: nothing can be more interesting and entertaining than the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon; but after the death of Solomon, when tea tribes revolted from his son Rehoboain, and became a separate kingdom, you will find some difficulty in understanding distinctly the histories of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, which are blended together, and, by the likeness of the names, and other particulars, will be apt to confound your inind without great attention to the different threads thus carried on together: the index here will be of great use to you. The second book of Kings concludes with the Babylonish captivity, 588 years before Christ; till which time, the kingdom of Judah had descended uninterruptedly in the line of David.

The first book of CHRONICLES begins with a genealogy from Adam, through all the tribes of Israel and Judah; and the remainder is the same history, which is contained in the books of Kings, with little or no variation, till the separation of the ten tribes: from that period it proceeds with the history of the kingdom of Judah alone, and gives therefore a more regular and clear account of the affairs of Judah than the book of Kings. You may pass over the first book of Chronicles, and the nine first chapters of the second book; but, by all means read the remaining chapters, as they will give you more clear and distinct ideas of the history of Judah than that you read in the second book of Kings. The second of Chronicles ends, like the second of Kings, with the Babylonish captivity.

You must pursue the history in the book of Ezra,which gives an account of the return of some of the Jews, on the edict of Cyrus, and of the rebuilding the Lord's temple.

Nehemiah carries on the history, for about twelve years, when he himself was governor of Jerusalem, with authority to rebuild the walls.

The story of Esther is prior in time to that of Ezra and Nehemiah, as you will see by the marginal dates; however as it happened during the seventy years captivity, and is a kind of episode, it may be read in its own place.

This is the last of the canonical books that is properly historical ; and it would therefore be advisable that you pass over what follows, till you have continued the history ihrough the Apocryphal books.

The history of Job is probably very ancient, though that is a point upon which learned men have differed: it is dated, however, 1520 years before Christ : it is uncertain by whom it was written; many parts of it are obscure; but it is well worth studying, for the extreme beauty of the poetry, and for the noble and sublime devotion it contains,

« PreviousContinue »