Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

piety, where the former advances the loosest Sadducean philosophy, to which the latter replies with the greatest keenness and severity. But if we choose not to adopt this opinion, we must consider the wise man as sometimes using the language of unbelief fronically, for the purpose of exposing its odious character.

The Song of Solomon, is a dramatic poem of the pastoral kind. It was written in the days of his youth, and is the most figurative part of Scripture. În describing a ceremonial appointment he presents to view a spiritual concern, which that very appointment is often used in the Scripture to symbolize ; and if this spiritual allegory has been used by the irreverent with unbecoming levity, the pious mind will clearly discover, through the types of Solomon and his bride, the union between Christ and his Church portrayed in a very lovely and engaging

These three books are all that the Holy Spirit was pleased to preserve for the edification of the Church, of the works of the Man who spake three thousand proverbs; whose“ songs were a thousand and five;" who spake of trees from the cedar that is in Lebanon, even to the hyssop that springeth out of the wall;" who “spake also of beasts, and of fowls, and of creeping things, and of fishes ;” and they are probably all that would be eminently useful in rearing this great moral edifice.

manner.

CHAPTER V.

Declension of religion in the Jewish nation. God's judgments for it. Precious seasons to the Church of God in the days of Hezekiah and Josiah. History of the Prophets.

Great outward prosperity has ever been destructive to the interests of religion. The power, wealth and splendour of the Hebrew monarchy in the days of Solomon, both corrupted him and his nation. Soon after his death, Jeroboam came among the people ;—a fit instrument in the hand of the prince of the power of the air, for demoralizing and destroying them. Ten tribes revolted under his treacherous dealings, from God, 975 years before Christ, and all Israel and Judah went after the calves of Dan and Bethel, and the god Baal, and forgot the God of their fathers.

During the three hundred years which succeeded this revolt, scenes were transacted both in Israel and Judah, which scarce found a parallel among heathen nations. The house of God was converted into an idolatrous temple, altars were erected for Baal, the great idol of the Phenicians; children were made to pass through the fire to Moloch, witchcraft, enchantments and other profanations were practised, to the corruption of the true religion, and the promotion of all manner of wickedness ; and prophets and righteous men “were stoned, were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented.”

In the fierceness of his anger, God inflicted upon them those judgments which Moses threatened, if they forsook him. In the year 722, B. C. Salmanezer, a king of Assyria, invaded Samaria, the capital of the ten tribes, and, after three years siege, took it and destroyed the kingdom ; carried the greater part of the inhabitants into captivity, and dispersed them throughout Assyria. And after the lapse of a little more than a century, in the year 588, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, invaded Jerusalem ; destroyed the city and Temple ;* took all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and of the king's house; the king, and princes, and chief men and artists, and carried them to Babylon. These tyrants were but the saw, the axe, the rod and the staff, in God's hands, to punish his people. They did it in the pride of their hearts ; not knowing that they executed the divine decree. The happy land, which four hundred years before, was the seat of piety and great worldly prosperity, was now laid waste ; stripped of its inhabitants, and reduced to iron bondage.

But in looking back over that dark period, in which iniquity

* The temple remained but a little period in its original glory. About 34 years after its dedication, Shishak carried off its golden treasures, 1 Kings xiv. 25. It went fast to decay under Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Athaliah. Soon after Joash robbed it to satisfy the demands of Hazael. And after him, Ahaz gave its treasures to Tiglath Pilesor ; removed the brazen altar ; took the brazen sea from off the oxen, and the brazen lavers from their pedestals, and placed them on the ground, and brake many of the sacred vessels, and shut up the temple. Hezekiah repaired it, but he was obliged to rob it of much of its wealth for Sennacherib. Manasseh reared altars to the hosts of heaven in its courts. Josiah purged the temple and replaced the ark of God; but before its final destruction, it was much marred; yea, scacre bore any marks of its original magniâcence.

CHAP. 5.

PRECIOUS SEASONS.

61

abounded in the Jewish nation, we find the spiritual Church was not destroyed. God remembered his promise. A holy seed was preserved. Even in the days of Elijah the prophet, when the persecutions were so violent, that scarce any were seen avowing themselves on the Lord's side, and Elijah thought he was alone, God had 7000 secret ones who had not bowed the knee in idol worship. Some peculiarly precious seasons, the Church was permitted to enjoy. Many of the kings of Judah, were friendly to the true religion, upheld the temple worship, and protected the prophets. Rich consolations had the Church in the days of Hezekiah. His reign began about 731 B. C. and continued twenty-nine years. He made David his pattern, and trusted in God with all his heart. He destroyed idolatry throughout his dominions. He called together all the priests and Levites, opened the house of God which his father had im. piously shut up, and restored divine worship. He caused his people to keep the Passover, and invited the ten tribes, who had, for a very long period neglected it, to unite with them. He kept skilful scribes to write out copies of the holy scriptures. He was a man of prayer, and his fervent supplications availed to his recovery from dangerous sickness. His reign was truly precious and joyful to the people of God.

Another season of rest and consolation, the Church enjoyed, about a century after, in the days of Josiah. In the interim between these excellent monarchs, the throne of Judah had been filled by a monster in wickedness. Manasseh reigned fifty-five years, and bent the whole energy of his government to the restoration of idolatry, and destruction of the knowledge and worship of God. He was the most impious man that ever reigned in Israel or Judah. When therefore Josiah came to the throne, religion was in Judah, at its lowest ebb. This is 'strikingly shown in the fact, that when he was repairing the Temple, the workmen accidentally found among the rubbish, the law of Gnd which was lost ; or rather had been thus providentially preserved from the hands of Manasseh. It was read to the king; and when he heard the curses which were denounced against the Jews for not keeping it, and which had already been executed on the ten tribes, he wept and rent his clothes.

This pious prince went through the land, and thoroughly rooted out idolatry. He assembled the whole nation together at Jerusalem, and caused them to hear the law of God, and entered with them into a solemn covenant with Jehovah. He also caused them to keep the passover with a degree of solem

rest upon

nity which had never been known from the days of Samuel to that time. He made the people acquainted with the law of God, and caused them to walk in his statutes. He was a pre. cious man of God. His heart was tender, and he humbled him. self before God and met the divine acceptance. He was truly a nursing father to the Church.

During this dark period also, the Church was supported by a succession of eminent prophets ; who boldly reproved the nation for their vices; revealed the purposes of Jehovah, and con. tinually pointed the righteous to their great Redeemer.

In the reigns of Ahab, Jehoram and Jehosaphat, lived Eli. jah and Elisha. They were successively heads of the schools of the prophets ; were men of great holiness and boldness, and denounced terrible judments against injustice and idolatry in Judah and Israel. The former gained a signal triumph over the prophets of Baal and the prophets of the grove. He assembled 450 of the one, and 400 of the other on mount Carmel, that the people might have a fair trial whether Jehovah or Baal was God. Sacrifices were then prepared and the issue was to

the descent of fire from heaven. In vain did the false prophets call upon their gods. But no sooner did Elijah invoke Jehovah, than fire came down from heaven and consumed his sacrifice. The people, beholding the miracle, cried out, “ The Lord he is the God ;” and, at the command of Elijah, slew all the prophets of the grove and of Baal. His life was often exposed, but God miraculously preserved it, and enabled him to gain many triumphs over his enemies. The last miracle he performed was, dividing the waters of Jordan, that he and Elisha and fifty young prophets might pass over. Immediately there appeared a chariot of horses and fire; and Elijah, entering the chariot, was carried in a whirlwind, into heaven. Elisha cried after him “My Father, my Father, the chariot of Israel and horsemen thereof,” the strength and protection of my country. He was a type of John the Baptist. So distinguished and eminent was this man, that 750 years after, he with Moses, appeared and conversed with the Saviour in his transfiguration.

On Elisha fell the mantle of Elijah as he ascended. With this he divided the waters of Jordan and returned to Jericho. He performed many miracles, and possessed a far larger share of spiritual influence than any other man of his time. By some young men of a certain city which was given to idolatry, he was mocked and reviled and told “ to go up, go up” like Elijah if he could ; towards whom God, in vindication of his servant, came forth in wrath, and, by wild beasts, destroyed them all.

[ocr errors]

| CHAP. 5.

PROPHETS.

63

Sometime after his death, a dead body being thrown into his sepulchre, revived as soon as it touched his bones. Neither of these men wrote any prophecy or history for the future instruc. tion of the Church. The distinguished prophets who succeeded, wrote under inspiration of God; and their prophecies form parts of the sacred canon.

Jonah, the first in the order of time, was commissioned to warn Nineveh, a heathen city, of destruction; and call its in. habitants to repentence. That he might be chastened for dis'. obedience and also be a symbol of Christ, who was to be en. tombed three days and nights in the grave, he was swallowed up and retained for this period by a great fish. His warnings produced the desired effect. The Ninevites turned to the Lord with weeping, fasting and mourning, and the judgement was averted.

Amos, the next, was a herdsman. He was not of the schools of the prophets. He predicted the captivity and destruction of Israel, the restoration of the kingdom of David, and the blessed reign of the Prince of Peace. His images are drawn from the scenes of nature.

Hosea resided chiefly in Samaria. He prophesied sixty-six years. His book is a continued strain of invective against the sins of Israel. He foretold their captivity and distress; the reception of the Gentiles into the Church ; the present state of the Jews; their future restoration; the coming of the Saviour and the final judgment. He also denounced some judgments against the Gentile nations. His style is beautiful and his writ. ings are powerful.

Isaiah was of the seed royal. Tradition reports that he was sawn asunder in the reign of Manasseh. He was the brightest luminary of the Jewish Church. So clearly does he describe the Messiah and his kingdom, that he is often emphatically styled the evangelical Prophet. In early life he was blessed with a remarkable vision of Jehovah sitting in glory and worshipped by the Seraphim. It was, we are told by John,* a vision of Christ, and is an incontrovertible proof of his real divinity. The view caused the prophet to lie low in the dust and bewaiļ his own sinfulness; but a seraph touched his lips with a live coal from the altar, and intimated that his sin was purged. Immediately he received a commission to declare the judgments of the Lord. He prophesied about sixty years, com. mencing at the close of the reign of Uzziah, and was an emi.

* John xii. 41.

« PreviousContinue »