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Esau among the Edomites; by Job among the Uzzites and their neighbours; by Moses among the Egyptians, and all the nations bordering on the Wilderness; Balaam himself assisting in this work, against his will, among the Moabites, &c.; by Naaman and the host sent to Dothan, on their return from Samaria, among the Syrians; by Agur, wheresoever he lived; by Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, and Daniel, among the Babylonians, Medes, Persians; and by the prophecies of the last throughout the Greek empire, for the Jewish high-priest shewed those prophecies to Alexander the Great, which foretold his conquests in the east. And as to the Roman empire, which had subdued the western world, when its arms began to prevail in the east, this day-spring began to dawn upon it, and in a few ages rose to its full brightness; and Christ, subduing the conquerors of mankind, • divided the spoil with the strong.' To the great persons who believed in Christ, before he came into the world, or at least wrote and spoke of him, in ancient ages, and in countries far distant from those I have mentioned, I could add some inore, as Confucius in China, Zoroaster in Persia, and Plato in Greece ; in whose writings a prophetic expectation of his coming seems to be expressed, even with some notion of a Trinity, and with somewhat more of clearness, as to both, in the very ancient books of the Chinese; but I pass them by as persons and writings not placed within the extent of your reading.
But to return, Joshua having survived the settlement of the Israelites, about twenty years, and judged them wisely and religiously, departed this life.
So far your common sense must be satisfied that God did every thing that was reasonable to be done in order to feed the faith of this numerous family, and a firm trust in his promise of a redeemer, made to Abraham, or rather in that renewal of the same promise, made to Adam, immediately after our fall into sin and corruption; every thing, I mean, that was requisite to keep up the expectation of this redeemer in the minds of all the religiously attentive.
Yet soon after the death of Joshua, and of the fathers, who outlived him, they began to lose sight of this promise, to forsake the Lord, to despise his. law, and to worship the gods of those idolatrous nations, whom he had so miracu
lously driven out before them. For about three hundred years, that is, until the days of Samuel, and the establishment of a king among them, their whole history is made up of little else than a sort of contention between God and them; they sinning and repenting, and God chastising and relieving them, frequently in a manner so miraculous, that we cannot help equally wondering at his goodness, and their obstinate wickedness. I need not enter upon the particulars, which you see recorded in the book of their Judges, and in the beginning of the first book of Samuel.
Our wonder is yet farther increased, at their having, to this day, so religiously preserved this record, with many others, which so deeply blacken their own characters. But here common sense must interpose to prove to us, that no .people, less ready to revolt from the truth, no people, less obstinate in a fondness for the grossest errors in religious matters, and for all the sins which flow from those errors, could have brought about so many, and so convincing proofs for the support of our faith in the great plan of Providence, whereby to prepare for, and whereon to build, the gospel of our Redeemer. Had they easily received, and all along strictly adhered to, their religion, we might, at this day, have doubted, whether priestcraft and politics had not been - contrivers and managers of that plan. It is probable, therefore, that the Israelites were chosen, not only because they were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but because they were a most perverse and stiff-necked people, who have laboured and suffered for the conversion of mankind, as well by their infidelity and apostacy, as by the love of truth and virtue in a few among them. Did not Christ afterward, for a like reason, choose Judas into the number of his apostles? Or did he not always perfectly know what was in man?' in every particular man? It is just so the Jews serve the cause of Christ Jesus to this day, and will serve it yet more signally at their approaching return to the plain sense of those prophecies, for the purity of which, as still enemies to Christ, they are every where the best vouchers.
But to proceed, their first king was but half a believer, and half a servant to God; yet under him the prophet Samuel made a considerable progress in bringing back these untoward mortals to the service of the only true God, and such a dependence on his power, providence, and promises, as they were capable of. They soon tasted the happy effects of this return, in a deliverance out of a miserable subjection to their Philistine enemies, begun under their first king, and soon after completed in the reign of their second.
This was David, a man, notwithstanding two most horrible actions, “after God's own heart.' The wise and good Being does not judge of any man by one or two, the best or worst actions, but by the general tenor of his life. In the eyes of men one very excellent deed shall raise the doer to the highest pitch of glory; or one very scandalous, plunge him to the sink of infamy. In our weak apprehension the first can never err, nor the second ever do good. Yet every man is capable of either. In this light his all-knowing Maker considers him, forgives the evil, if he repents, and blesses him for the good, if he does not take the merit of it to himself, but gives God the glory. David did both. He repented and bewailed his crimes from the depths of his soul, but never once calls on mankind to applaud him for his tenderness and generosity to Saul, that enemy who sought his life, and could not be cured of his malice even by a repetition of this generosity. The Lord, looking on the better part of David, raised him ' from feeding sheep, to feed his people;' and never did man better acquit himself of so high a trust. Inspired by God, he inspired his countrymen and subjects with that faith in God, and love of his service, to which no miracles had ever brought them. By his wisdom and valour he led them to victory every where; and by his piety, to a happy conquest over themselves. Under him they became quite another people. Before Christ, no man ever so served the cause of God and true religion as David did. God punished him for his sins, and loved him for his goodness. As bishop Hall hath observed, God suffered him to fall, that no man may presume; and enabled him to rise again, that no man may despair. David hath never been railed at by infidels (and no other do it) for his sins, though they are always made the plausible pretence, but for his piety and love of religion. No two characters of antiquity, fairly considered, deserve more to be admired than those of David and St.Paul, and yet each of them had innocent blood on
his head; blood, however, washed off by the blood of Christ. David, after his repentance, cries out, “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God. Thy sacrifices are a broken spirit!' And Paul, after his, calls himself the chief of sinners.' Whosoever so repents, becomes “the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, through faith in his atoning blood.' That David was blessed with this faith, as well as with that repentance, is evident in not a few of his Psalms, where he bewails his sins, and prophesies of Christ in very plain and strong terms, particularly in the second, sixteenth, twenty-second, and the forty-fifth Psalms, which it will be easy for the reader to consult. This great event David could not, of himself, foresee a thousand years before ; and therefore common sense must perceive, that his predictions were the effect of Divine inspiration, and a probable proof that he was not unacceptable to God.
During the long reign of his son and successor, Solomon, we have no reason to think the Israelites departed from the worship of the true God, until Solomon himself, who had been the wisest of men, was seduced by his pride (for who so fond of pomp and splendour) and by a love of pleasure, into idolatry; in other words, into the lowest degree of folly, to say nothing of his wickedness, so as to be found on his knees adoring a stick or stone. If his father could be guilty of adultery and murder, and he of such crying stupidity and wickedness, the common sense of us all must rouse us to humility, fear, and watchfulness. Let us therefore 'watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation ;' for, if we once enter, none but God can tell, how creatures so much worse than David, and so much inferior in wisdom to Solomon, shall escape from snares, already laid by the enemy of our souls in our fleshly lusts, in our pride, our slavery to pleasure, and our enfeebled understandings.
· Quickly after the death of Solomon, the kingdom was divided into two ; Judah and Benjamin continuing subject to his son, and the other ten tribes revolting to Jeroboam. This bad man, to prevent his people from going to worship God in the temple at Jerusalem, still in the possession of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, and by that means reconciling themselves to the family of David, set up two golden
calves at Dan and Bethel ; to the worship of which he soon brought the far greater number of his ill-disposed subjects. But such as would not submit to this sort of idolatry, nor forsake their God, fed in crowds from his dominions to those of Rehoboam, whereby the kingdom of Judah was greatly strengthened.
From this time to the captivity, first of the ten tribes under Shalmoneser king of Assyria, and again, of Judah and Benjamin under Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the kingdom of Israel, an inconsiderable number excepted, sunk still deeper and deeper into idolatry, and wickedness of every kind; while that of Judah, not so corrupted, did little better than compliment their kings with their faith, worshipping the 'true God, but not always in a proper manner, under a good and religious king, and generally forsaking him under a king of an opposite character; and, at length, became almost wholly idolaters.
During this time of about three hundred and sixty years, the Lord was pleased to send a number of prophets into both these kingdoms, who cried aloud against their idolatry and other sins, threatening them with wrath and vengeance from the hand of God, unless they returned to his service and their duty. Small was the number of those who listened, though frequent miracles, afflictions, and deliverances, were added to give force to the warning, in comparison of the deaf and hardened. Among these prophets some left nothing in writing, but nine or ten did, and five or six more, during the seventy years of captivity in Babylon, and after the return of the Jews from thence to their own country. Of these scarcely one is silent concerning the Redeemer. With the threatenings just mentioned, they seldom fail to refresh the faith, and comfort the spirits of the few believers and good men, not yet estranged from God, and the true religion. To these they promised both a suffering and conquering Saviour in the same person. Isaiah especially speaks of him so often, and so clearly, particularly of his sufferings and death, chap. liii. and of the end for which he was to suffer, that not one of the four evangelists, who wrote the life of Christ, after he left the world, is more express, or speaks of him with stronger feelings. Daniel fixes the time of his coming, insomuch that Rabbi Nehemiah, a learned