« AnteriorContinuar »
the impious boldness of Pompey; and soon after by Crassus, another Roc man general, who rapaciously seized those vast treasures which Pompey's piety and modesty had spared. In a few years after came Herod, who having obtained the grant of the kingdom at Rome, besieged and took the city and temple. And though, in order to insinuate himself into the affections of the people, he did all in his power to preserve the temple from being plundered, and a few years after expended vast sums in repairing and beautifying it ; yet, as he obtained the regal dignity by the favor of the Romans, he was always careful to please and oblige them; and accordingly profa ned the temple with a golden eagle, which was fixed upon the great porch at the entrance of the fabric, in order to court the favour of the emperor Augustus. This gave great offence to the Jews, who were scrupolously exact in the observance of the minutest rituals, but scandalously careless in the weightier matiers of the law : and while, on every trilling oecasion they were ready to cry out, “ The temple of the Lord ! l'he temple of the Lord !" they had so little regard to the divinity which dwelt within, that they made this holy place a market for trade and merchandise; and filled the sacred apartments with dealers, merchants, moneychangers, and usurers. And such were the injustice and extortion they practised in the holy place, it was justly observed, that the house which God had appointed for an house of prayer, they had converted into a den of thieves.
However little religion there was amongst the Jews, they were very forward and open in their profession, and there were several parties amogst them who violently opposed each other. Those who are mentioned in the gospels are the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians and the Samaritans; of each of these it may be proper to give some account. The Pharisees were the greatest of all the Jewish sects; and by their pretences to extraordinary purity, and the shew they made in things extere nal, they drew the bulk of the common people after them. They maintained a kind of priestly pride, and 'solemn stiffness in their deportment, doing every thing io their power to attract the notice, and gain the veneration of the multitude. A trumpet was sounded before them when they gare alms to the poor ; they made long prayers at the corners of streets, and in the markets, taking every occasion to exhibit the utmost ostentation of piety and devotion.
Bat the distinguishing character of the Pharisees, was their zeal for the traditions of the elders, which they constantly maintaļned were of equal anthority with the written law, as they were received from God himself by Moses when he was forty days on the mount. These traditions were multiplied to such an enormous number, that they were sufficient to fill twelve folio volumes : and these men pretending to an exact and rigorous observance of the law according to these traditions, would fain have themselves looked apon more holy than others, and therefore separated them selves from those whom they esteemed great sinners and profane persons, and refused to eat or drink with them. They looked with contempt on the common people, and the costant language of their looks and behaviour was, Stand by ! Come not near me! i am holier than thou! They were serupulously exact in the performance of the minutest rituals, and prided themselves in their punctuality in paying tithes of herbs, while they neglected the weightier matters of the law. They presumed so far as proudly to mention their good deeds in their prayers, and proposed them as the grounds of the divine acceptance; though, at the same time, while they maintained the fair outward shew of piety and goodness, they were privately guilty of great and scandaloys vices. This sect of the Pharisees, in process of time, swallowed up all the other sects amongst the Jews; and at present, it is by the traditions of the Pharisees, and not by the law and the prophets, tbat the Jewish religion is formed; it having been cor
ropted by these men much in the same manner as the Christian religion is by the Romish chorch.
Joined with the Pharisees in the gospel, are the Scribes and the Lawyers, who were not distinct sects or parties amongst the Jews, but men professing learning, and chiefly followers of the Pharisees in their religion : for the learning of the Jews principally consising in the knowledge of the Pharisaical traditions, and the interpretation of the scriptures by them, it is no wonder that the twelve folio volumes, above mentioned, found employment for great numbers of these men.
Another noted sect amongst the Jews, at the time of our great Redeemer's birth, was the Sadducees : These, at their first separation, differed only from the Pharisees in their refusing to receive the tradition of the elders, , and abiding by the written law; but in process of time, they degenerated into an universal scepticism; and like our modern Deists, they neither believed there existed good or evil spirits or that there would, be a resurrection, or a future state. As to the Herodians, it is not so precisely known what their distinguishing tenels were ; but as their doctrine is called in ihe gospel, “ The leaven of Herod,” and as their party takes its name from that prince, it is to be supposed their particular opinions were derived from him: now as, from his general character and conduct, we may conclude that the doctrine of the Sadducees would be very agreeable to him, as it delivered him from the fears of an hereafter, and as it is well known that as soon as he was securely settled on his throne (having cut aff all the heirs of the Asmonian family) he began to introduce Pagan customs amongst the Jews ; it is very likely that the Herodians held nearly the same sentiments as the Sadducees, and that they approved the conduct of Herod, in the introduction of the Heathen superstition.
It is necessary, lastly, to give some account of the Samaritans : These people were not of Jewish extraction, but were the offspring of those Heathen nations whom the King of Assyria sent to dwell in the land of Israel, in the room of the ten tribes who were carried away captive.Those people when first planted in the land, were grievously annoyed by lions ; and supposing this misfortune arose from their being ignorant of the worship of the god of the land (for the Heathens supposed that every land had its peculiar deity) they applied to Esarhaddon, the grandson of the king who carried them captives, and he sent them an Israelitish priest, who taught them the worship of God according to the law of Moses. They now took the God of Israel into the number of their deities, and worshipped him in conjunction with the gods of the nations from whence they came. Hence, when the Jews returned from the Babylonish captivity, and by the permission and assistance of Cyrus king of Persia, were building their temple, the Samaritans, as they in part professed the same religion, proposed an alliance with them, and offered their assistance in the carrying on the work. This the Jews abruptly refused, which gave such offence to the Samaritans, that they took all possible pains to obstruct them in the undertaking ; and, by corrupting the officers of Cyrus, prevailed so far, that the work was interrupted for a considerable time. After some years, the Jews obtained a fresh decree from Darius, the third Persian king from Cyrus, and the temple was finished and dedicated. But the city of Jerusalem lay in a ruinous condition, and the Jews remained under greai contempt and various discouragements, for about sixty years.At the end of this time, Divine Providence appeared for them, and raised them up a friend in the person of Artaxerxes Longimanus, the Ahasuerus of the Scriptures. This prince, having exalted a Jewish young lady, named Esther, to be his queen, was a constant favourer of the Jews ; and sent Ezra, a priest of great learning and piety, from the Persian court, to reform the abuses, and settle the disorders that had arisen amongst them. And in a few years afterwards, by the interest of the queen, he sent his
eup-bearer Nehemiah, to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and continue and perfect the reformation which Ezra had begun. lo carrying on of this work, the Jews met with great opposition from the Samaritans; and hence there arose a mortal hatred between the two people. The Samari. tans, in the contest, were chiefly supported by Sanballat the governor of Samaria; who having married his daughter to Managseh, the son of the Jewish high-priest, prevailed so far on Darius Nothus, the successor of Artaxerxes, that he obtained from him a grant to build a temple on mount Gerizim, near Samaria ; and to make his son-in law high-priest thereof.
This was accordingly effected, and introduced a change in the Samari. tan religion : for whereas they had, till now, only worshipped the God of Israel, in conjunction with their deities, they now conformed themselves to the worship of the true God only, according to the law of Moses, which was daily read in their new temple : from this time, the cities of Samaria became places of refuge for those Jews who had been guilty of such crimes as exposed them to punishment, and thither they fled to escape the arm of justice. Hence in process of time, arose a mongrel people, bei wixt the Jews and Samaritans. The quarrel between them and the regular Jews continued, and their hatred to each other remained at its highest pitch. And though John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon Maccabeus, destroyed their temple, yet they continued a separate worship from the Jews.
They acknowledge the authority of no other Scripture than the five books of Moses, which they kept in a character, peculiar to themselves, said to be the old Hebrew character, which was in use amongst the Jews before the Babylonish captivity. Though they were remarkable for their strictness in the observance of the rules of the law, yet they were more detestable to the Jews than were the Heathen nations. When Jerusalein was destroyed by the Romans, about seventy years after the birth of Christ, when the temple was burnt, and the whole nation dispersed, the Samnaritans remained in possession of their country, and there they continue to this day.
Such was the state of religion amongst the Jews, at the time of the birth of Christ ; nor were their morals in any respect superior. Theic religion cheifly consisted in externals, and by their traditions, they explained away most of the excellent precepts of the moral law. Their great
were privately guilty of the most scandalous vices; nor can it be supposed that the common people were more regular in their conduct, so that they should escape the general corruption wbich universally prevailed in the land.
Of the Promises and Predictions, in the various ages of the World, re: lating to the Dignity, Character, Office and Birth, of our Great, and Glorious REDEEMER.
THE great King of the universe, having in his eternal counsels, determined to send his only son, at an appointed period of time, to accomplish the salvation of lost, undone sinners; he was gracioosly pleased, in the va. rious ages of the world, to give such intimations of this great event, as were consistent with the nature of his moral government, and the designs of his grace: and that his offending creatures might not grope in darkness and distress, without spy hope of his mercy, or knowledge of the way in
which he would accept his rebellious subjects, and restore them to his favour,
rich in his death. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. The succeeding prophets were very clear and express in their descriptions of the kingdom of the Messiah. The prophet Jeremiah particularly mentions the thirty pieces of silver for which he was sold; and the prophet Daniel pointed out the parlicular time when he should make his appearance iu the world. Seventy weeks, says the angel, are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city; to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness; O seal up the oision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.. From these plain and frequent declarations of their prophets, the Jews had a full and clear expectation of the coming of the Messiah ; and they had an old tradition amongst them, which was generally received, and supposed to come from Elias, that the Messiah should appear in the four thousandth year of the world, which accordingly came to pass. Nor was the expectation of our Redeemer's birth confined only to the Jews; a tradition prevailed amongst the Eastern nations, that a great king was to be born to the Jews, who would be worthy to be worshipped : which is manifest from the wise men coming to Jerusalem, to inquire after this glorious person, having seen his star in the east, and being desirous not only to see the young king, but to present their offerings before him. Nor must it be onnitted, thri amongst the oracles of the Sibyls, at the time of cur Saviour's birth, in such high repute at Rome, are various predictions of the times of the Messiah; and the poet Virgil, who wrote in the beginning of Augustus, composed his Pollio, which contains the predictions of a heavenly child soon to be born, whom he calls the Son of God, and describes his king. dom in a manner which is parallel to several sublime passages in the prophet Isaiah, descriptive of the glorious Redeemer of niackind.
The Angel appears to Zacharias in the Temple, and foretells the Birth of
John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Great REDEEMER. Zacharias doubting, is struck dumb for a Sign., The salutation of the Virgint Mary. Her visit to her Relation Elizabelh, the Wife of Zacharias. The Birth and Circumcision of John the Baptist. Zacharias's mouth is opened: his Prophecy.
THE happy time being near at hand, fixed by the Triune God, for our great Redeemer to make his appearance in the World, called in Scripture, The fullness of time, it pleased the Eternal King of heaven and earth, to give notice to mankind, that this exalted person would soon be manifested, and the benefits arising from his mission obtained. God had declared by his prophets, that before his son appeared in the world, A messenger should go before his face, to prepare his way. This messenger was further described, under the character of the prophet Elijah ; and in another place he was called, The voice of one crying in the Wilder. ress, prepare ye way of the Lord, and inake straight, in the desart, a high-way for our God. In the accomplishment of those prophecies, it was necessary that John the Baptist, the forerunner of our great Redeemer, should first be born; and, accordingly, the Angel Gabriel was sent from heaven to give notice of the birth of this great berald of the Lord of