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himself to this people when they were groaning under a heavy bondage in Egypt, from which they had neither spirit nor power to deliver themselves. He freed them from their captivity by a series of illustrious miracles. He led them through the sea and the desert. He honoured them with the symbols of his immediate presence; was a wall of fire round about them, and a glory in the midst of them. He spoke to them with an audible voice, and fed them with manna from heaven. He put them in possession of a good land, and fought against all their enemies. Might it not have been expected that a people so highly favoured and honoured should have been obedient and thankful? Some of them were so. His grace always preserved a spiritual people amongst them, whose faith in the Messiah taught them the true meaning of the Levitical law, and inspired them with zeal and sincerity in the service of God. But the bulk of the nation was always refractory and disobedient. While in the wilderness, they murmured against the Lord upon every new difficulty. Within a few days after the law had been delivered in flames and thunder from the top of Sinai, they formed a molten calf to worship, and would have made a cap. tain who might lead them back into Egypt. They despised the good land; therefore their carcasses* fell
* 1 Cor. x. 5. They were overthrown in the wilderness. KaTOTganoar, they fell in heaps, like grass before the scythe; and this, after all the great things they had seen and been partakers of. Of the many hundred thousands, who were above twenty years old, when they were delivered from Egypt, only two persons were spared to enter the promised land. A striking admonition to us, not to rest in the participation of external privileges of any kind. For these people had seen the Lord's wonders at the Red Sea, had rejoiced in the destruction of the Egyptians, and been fed with manna from heaven.
in the wilderness. Their posterity retained the same spirit. They learned the ways of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out before them. They adopted every idolatrous practice, they transgressed every divine command. During a long succession of warnings, chastisements, and deliverances, they became worse and worse; so that, in Jeremiah's time, they equalled, or exceeded, the heathens around them in ignorance and wickedness. They mocked the messengers of God, despised his words, and misused his prophets, till his wrath arose against them, and there was no remcdy. At length their land was laid waste, Jerusalem burnt, the greater part of the people destroyed, and the remainder carried captives into Chaldea.
Upon their return from captivity, they seemed, for a little while, to retain a sense of their duty, and of the judgments they had suffered. But all was soon forgot. Their wickedness now put on a new form, and discovered the evil of the heart of man in a new point of view. They were no longer prone to idolatry. They avoided the most distant appearance of it with scrupulous exactness; and professed the highest attachment to God. They boasted themselves in his law; and, from a presumption that they were his peculiar people, they despised and hated the rest of mankind. It is not our present concern, closely to follow their history. Let it suffice to say, that, by substituting a regard to the letter of the law, in the place of spiritual obedience, and by presuming to multiply their own inventions and traditions*, and to hold them no less
• See one instance, Matt. xv. 5. The expression is rather obscure; but the sense is, "What you might expect from me for "your support, I have put out of my own power; it is devoted to the "service of God and the temple." And teachers allowed this to
binding than the positive commands of God; they, by degrees, attained to a pitch of impiety unknown to former times; and which was so much the more offensive. and abominable, as it was covered with the mask of religion, and accompanied with a claim to superior sanctity.
Pride, hypocrisy, and interest, divided them into sects; and the contests of each party for superiority, threw the state into frequent commotions. Their intrigues at length brought upon them the Roman power. The city was taken by Pompey; and, though they afterwards retained a shadow of liberty, their government was determined, from that time, by the will of the conquerors. At length Herod, a foreigner, obtained it. In his reign Christ was born.
Thus the state of mankind, before the coming of Christ, proved, with the fullest evidence, the necessity of his interposition. And, in the mean time, the world had not been left utterly helpless and hopeless. His future advent had been revealed from the beginning; and, by faith in that revelation, a remnant had subsisted in every age, who had triumphed over the general evil, and maintained the cause of God and truth. It was not necessary to the salvation of these that he should have been manifested sooner; for they beheld his day afar off, and rejoiced in his name. With respect to others, destitute of divine faith, his incarnation would have had the same effect at any period, as
be a legal exemption. Any man who would pay handsomely to the priests and the temple, might treat his parents as he pleased. Thus they set aside the express command of God, by their own authority, and for their own advantage. The same dispensing, commuting, engrossing spirit, has too often appeared in the Christian church,
it had on multitudes who actually saw him in the flesh, but, offended with the meanness of his circumstances, and the great honours he vindicated to himself, rejected him with disdain.
But further. The late appearance of Christ in the world gave room for the full accomplishment of the prophecies concerning him, which had been repeated at different times with increasing clearness and precision; insomuch, that the time, place, and every circumstance of his birth, life, and death, had been distinctly foretold. Thus the truth and authority of the Old Testament were confirmed; and the wisdom, power, and providence of God, over-ruling and directing the contingencies of human affairs to produce this grand event in its determinate period, were displayed to the highest advantage. And as the state of the moral world made his presence highly necessary, so God, in due time, disposed the political state of mankind in such a manner as to prepare the way for a speedy and general publication of the Gospel through the world.
It would be pleasing to consider how the rise, and fall, and change of empires, were made successively subservient to introduce the kingdom of Jesus. But this would lead me beyond my present bounds. only just hint at two or three events which had a more general influence. The first is, the rapid progress of Alexander, whose extensive conquests, divided amongst his successors, laid the foundation of four powerful monarchies, and opened an intercourse between countries till then unknown to each other. By this means the Greek tongue became familiar and common to many nations; and soon after the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into that language, and the prophecies concerning the Messiah were laid open to the Gentiles.
To this may be added the several dispersions of the Jews; who, upon various occasions, had been settled in almost every considerable city under the heathen governments. By their traditions and prophecies, imperfectly understood, a general expectation had been raised of some extraordinary deliverer, who would shortly appear. Lastly, by the growth of the Roman empire, many nations and pcople, who were before acquainted by means of one common language, became more closely united under one dominion. Every province had a necessary connexion with Rome; and Rome was the centre and resort of the greatest part of the then habitable world.
As to the Jews, many things concurred to animate their wishes and expectations of the Messiah's approach. The prophecies were in their hands. Many of their wise men were apprised that the term of seventy weeks, spoken of by Daniel, was drawing to a period. The sceptre seemed departing from Judah; they groaned under a foreign yoke, from which, they vainly imagined, the Messiah would set them free, and give them, in their turn, a temporal dominion over the nations of the earth. Though this mistake prompted them to reject Christ when he preached a deliverance unsuitable to their worldly notions, yet it made them solicitous and eager for the appearance of the person on whom their hopes were fixed. A few amongst them, however, better instructed in the true meaning of the prophecies, were secretly waiting, in the exercises of faith and prayer, for the consolation of Israel*.
From this general view of the moral and political state of mankind, and the leading designs of divine re
*Luke ii. 25.