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which defiled the land, in which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had once built their altars to the Lord. In the process of purification, nearly the whole of those who had grown to maturity in Egypt passed away; and it was the generation which had been trained in the wilderness, cut off from all other nations, whether barbarous or refined, enjoying the institutions of God's appointment, and beholding daily the displays of his power and goodness in their miraculous supply, which was made meet to enter the land which had been promised, and enjoy it as their settled possession. And if obedience to God is the best proof of being enlightened in the knowledge of him, they gave practical demonstration of their intelligence and illumination. Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel.”* The period of the Jewish history which they filled up, is therefore subsequently referred to in language peculiarly bold and expressive : “Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in the land that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the first-fruits of his increase.”+ The whole people, then, at this period, whether compared with the Egyptians whom they had
* Josh. xxiv. 31.
Jer. ü. 2, 3.
left behind, or with the Canaanites whom they were about to dispossess, resembled, being enlightened in the knowledge of God, “a kingdom of priests."
And means were taken to perpetuate this national religious superiority ; to render the Jews, occupying, as they did, a central situation among the rising empires of the earth, the light of the world, the people enjoying, and diffusing around them, the knowledge of the true God. Oral communication had been corrupted. The stream of tradition, clear as crystal in its origin, had, by the successive influx of its channel of every species of earthly admixture, entirely lost its original character; and as it rolled on through the regions of the earth increasing in population, instead of discharging its feculence, became the common receptacle of every thing which was impure. Science had lent its power to arrange and systematize the rude and shapeless materials of the popular idolatry ; to commend it to the patronage of sovereigns and statesmen ; to enthrone it in gorgeous temples; to invest it with the mantle of venerable sages, the fascinations of genius, and the blandishments of senual delight. What tradition had failed to preserve, and recreant science had proved itself rather unwilling and unable to restore, was now embodied in a written revelation, in pages which were invested with the attribute of immortality; in oracles which might be disregarded, but which could never be bribed, nor corrupted, nor silenced. To the Jews were committed these oracles
of God; and, at whatever period of their history they listened and were obedient to them, they became, in comparison with their neighbours around them, “a kingdom of priests.” They had amongst them the light which could never be totally extinguished, and which occasionally shone with a radiance which penetrated the surrounding regions of darkness, and produced the cheerful anticipation of the dawn of an universal day.
There were, however, two circumstances, each of which, in a different period of the Jewish history, circumscribed the advantages, which from the Scriptures might have been derived. Prior to the captivity in Babylon, by which the vice was effectually cured, it was the proneness of the people to adopt the idolatrous rites and customs of their neighbours, because of the indulgence which in them was afforded to the corrupt propensities of their nature. Subsequent to the captivity, and as a consequence of it, it was the corruption of their language which rendered the pure Hebrew of the sacred text obsolete, and to the mass of the people scarcely intelligible ; affording an opportunity for the introduction of false glosses and delusive traditions. Against these, the whole course of the Saviour's personal ministry was directed; and it was the obstinate adherence of the people, their teachers, and their rulers, to them, which induced them to unite in rejecting and crucifying their Prophet and King. Still, at this darkest period of their history, there were a few, who,
like Nathanael, were Israelites indeed, in whom was no guile ; who saw in Christ, the Sun of Righteousness whose rising was foretold by Malachi ; walked in. the light which he diffused ; and, knowing the true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he had sent, wore more worthy the title of priests of the Lord, than were those who at that time officiated in the temple, which they had converted into a house of merchandize and a den of thieves.
Closely analogous to the circumstances of that genetion, which was trained in the knowledge of God in the wilderness, were the circumstances of the first converts to the Christian faith. Christ, the true Passover, had been sacrificed for them. Deliverance from the condemnation and bondage of sin by his death, had been effected. A more enlarged and perfect revelation of the truth of God, than the world had ever before enjoyed, was vouchsafed. A new covenant, the substance of which was, “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people,” was introduced. A new ministry, to gather the sheep into the fold, the ministry of reconciliation, was established. New shepherds to watch over them and feed them when gathered into the fold, pastors and teachers, were appointed. They were fed, not with traditions and foolish genealogies, and old wives' fables, but with the “sincere milk of the word.” They were employed, not in repeating paternosters and avemarias,
and in counting by the beads of the rosary the number of their vain repetitions; but in spiritual exercises, which were refreshing and invigorating to the spirit, and which were worthy the character of those, who were renewed “after the image of God, in knowledge and true holiness." Their knowledge was not to be stationary, confined within the narrow but perplexing labyrinths of creeds and acts of councils; but to be progressive, through all the length and breadth, and depth and height, in which the love of Christ and the range of his truth extended, and in, which they were to increase, till they were filled with all the fulness of God. For their advance to higher degrees of spiritual intelligence, they were directed, not to the members of a hierarchy, by whom every thing has been fixed and settled according to their own inclinations, and for their own aggrandizement and despotic power over the conscience; but to God the Father of lights, who giveth wisdom liberally, to all who ask him, and upbraideth not. Even those of their teachers who were inspired, and invested with the highest authority in the church which ever was intrusted to men, disclaimed the desire to exercise dominion over their faith, but wished rather to be helpers of their joy. If, as good stewards of the mysteries of God, they unfolded those things which had been hidden from ages which were past, and which angels desired to look into; as men, who felt that the treasure was in earthen vessels, and that the excellency of the power which transferred it