Page images

of commiseration.

The Supreme Being, who, through the whole of his connexion with the Jewish people, is represented as being actuated by those passions and affections which influence the minds of human agents, in similar circumstances, manifests a reluctance to punish; expresses a sorrow at the very calamities he himself has inflicted; employs every argument, gives every encouragement, uses every menace, that they may repent, reform, and be happy. Instead of seeing no sins in these his elect, he manifests more solicitude on account of their sins, than for the depravity of the heathens. Their history shews that this solicitude, and these exertions, availed not to the due extent; as the privileges. the Hebrews had enjoyed, in consequence of their being descended from faithful Abraham, were shamefully abused, the eminent piety of their ancestors did not protect them from the punishment which the abuse of their privileges finally deserved; and their punishment continued until their reformation commenced.

Were we to take a view of the moral character of this people, from their first selection, until the days of their captivity, we should perceive that one of the strongest marks of Divine complacency in the pious conduct of Abraham, consisted in the patience and long-suffering exer

[ocr errors]

cised towards his offspring, from generation to generation and we should be surprised, that so few among them were exemplary characters, notwithstanding the immense advantages of a religious and moral nature, which, were communicated to all.

But this will be unnecessary, as our remarks concerning the moral character of the Jewish nation, previously to their captivity, are confirmed by the incessant, terrific, and yet ineffectual reprehensions of their prophets, through the dif ferent stages of their political existence. Isaiah takes the lead at a period when their depravity was not at its height. For he prophesied during the reigns of Uzziahı, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah; of whom Ahaz alone was profligate and abandoned. Yet we read the national character in his introductory exclamation; “Hear, Oh heavens, and give ear O earth; for the Lord hath spoken. I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Oh sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil doers, children that are corruptors, they have forsaken the Lord; they have provoked the Holy One of I

rael to anger, they have gone away backward.Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more; the whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint," &c. The passages to the same import, which might be quoted from this prophet and most of the others, are innumerable,

It might have been imagined, that a people who have received so many evidences of the divine interposition, who were surrounded with moral and religious privileges, who are mentioned in various parts of Scripture, with such warmth of affection, and to whom blessings were so copiously pronounced, would have been signalized for worldly prosperity; would have been a happy people. But this was not eminently the case. All the animating promises were conditional, and the conditions were never performed on their part, to a degree that rendered their prosperity permanent. "The Lord waited to be gracious," but very few opportunities presented themselves to manifest the richness of his goodness. The rule of the divine conduct is expli citly stated in the prophetic language of Jeremiah. “Behold as clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel.-If that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I


thought to do unto them.-If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then will I repent of the Good, wherewith I said I would benefit them."*

As their conduct strongly resembled that of the surrounding nations, so did their civil and political state. They had all the rest and peace they deserved; but these were unfrequent and of short duration, compared with the tumults and contests in which they were almost constantly engaged; but which they might, by their obedience, have effectually escaped. The imperfect manner in which they had executed the commands of Moses, exposed them equally to the seductions and the insults of the surrounding nations. The revolt of the ten tribes was followed by intestine wars. They were invaded, conquered, and plundered, by the superior powers of Assyria, Chaldea, and Egypt. After four hundred years of severe bondage, the periods which were strongly characterized by national prosperity were extremely few. While they were under the government of Joshua, and of the Elders who immediately succeeded him, and in the earlier times of the Judges, they enjoyed national blessings to a great degree. But it is * Jer, ch. xviii. v. 6~10.

[ocr errors]

mentioned as a singularity that, after the death of Sisera, "the land had rest forty years." Under David they acquired an honourable character among the nations; and were indulged in that gratification of the ambitious, the pride of conquest. During the reign of Solomon, they exulted in their national splendour. Exclusive of these short epochs, they seem to have been nearly upon a level with the neighbouring nations. They were alternately elevated and depressed, triumphant and subdued. They were sometimes envied, and sometimes envying; which occasionally induced them to worship the gods of the Pagans, that they might enjoy the temporal blessings the Pagans occasionally possessed.

Will not the above observations clearly eluci date the nature and extent of the distinguished favour, which was conferred upon the descendants of Abraham? Although they neglected to profit by the superior light and knowledge they enjoyed, respecting those important articles, the nature of true religion, and of acceptable service, yet they were destined to possess the high honour of being the deposit of these prineiples, for the benefit of others. Whenever any Superior proposes to execute a wise and


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »