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institutions, and regulations given to this people, re
Among these, the book of Deuteronomy (which concludes what is called the Pentateuch or five books of Moses) is distinguished above all the rest by a concise and striking recapitulation of the innumerable blessings and mercies which they had received from God since their departure from Horeb; by strong expostulations on their past rebellious conduct, and their shameful ingratitude for all these distinguishing marks of the Divine favour; by many forcible and pathetic exhortations to repentance and obedience in future; by promises of the most substantial rewards, if they returned to their duty; and by denunciations of the severest punishments, if they continued disobedient; and all this delivered in a strain of the most animated, sublime, and commanding eloquence.
The historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, continue the history of the Jewish nation under their leaders, judges, and kings, for near a thousand years; and one of the most prominent and instructive parts of this history is the account given of the life and reign of Solomon, his wealth, his power, and all the glories of his reign; more particularly that noble proof he gave of his piety and munificence, by the construction of that truly magnificent temple which bore his name; the solemn and splendid dedication of this temple to the service of God; and that inimitable prayer which he then offered up to Heaven in the presence of the whole Jewish people; a prayer evidently coming from the heart, sublime, simple, nervous, and pathetic; exhibiting the justest and the warmest sentiments of piety, the most exalted conceptions of the Divine nature, and every way equal to the sanctity, the dignity, and the solemnity of the occasion.
Next to these follow the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which contain the history of the Jews for a considerable period of time after their return from a captivity of 70 years in Babylon, about which time the
name of Jews seems first to have been applied to them. The books of Ruth and Esther are a kind of appendage to the public records, delineating the characters of two very amiable individuals, distinguished by their virtues, and the very interesting incidents which befel them, the one in private, the other in public life, and which were in some degree connected with the honour and prosperity of the nation to which they belonged.
In the book of Job we have the history of a personage of high rank, of remote antiquity, and extraordinary virtues; rendered remarkable by uncommon vicissitudes of fortune, by the most splendid prosperity at one time, by an accumulation of the heaviest calamities at another; conducting himself under the former with moderation, uprightness, and unbounded kindness to the poor; and under the latter, with the most exemplary patience and resignation to the will of Heaven. The composition is throughout the greater part highly poetical and figurative, and exhibits the noblest representations of the Supreme Being and a superintending Providence, together with the most admirable lessons of fortitude and submission to the will of God under the severest afflictions that can befal human nature. The Psalms, which follow this book, are full of such exalted strains of piety and devotion, such beautiful and animated descriptions of the power, the wisdom, the mercy, and the goodness of God, that it is impossible for any one to read them without feeling his heart inflamed with the most ardent affection towards the great Creator and Governor of the universe.
The Proverbs of Solomon, which come next in order, contain a variety of very excellent maxims of wisdom, and invaluable rules of life, which have no where been exceeded except in the New Testament. They afford us, as they profess to do at their very first outset, "the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity. They give subtilty to the simple; to the young man, knowledge and discretion."
The same may be said of the greater part of the book
of Ecclesiastes, which also teaches us to form a just estimate of this world, and its, seeming advantages of wealth, honour, power, pleasure, and science.
The prophetical writings present us with the worthiest and most exalted ideas of the Almighty, the justest and purest notions of piety and virtue, the awfullest denunciations against wickedness of every kind, public and private; the most affectionate expostulations, the most inviting promises, and the warmest concern for the public good. And besides all this, they contain a series of predictions relating to our blessed Lord, in which all the remarkable circumstances of his birth, life, ministry, miracles, doctrines, sufferings, and death, are foretold in so minute and exact a manner (more particularly in the prophecy of Isaiah) that you would almost think they were describing all these things after they had happened, if you did not know that these prophecies were confessedly written many hundred years before Christ came into the world, and were all that time in the possession of the Jews, who were the mortal enemies of Christianity, and therefore would never go about to forge prophecies, which most evidently prove him to be what he professed to be, and what they denied him to be, the Messiah and the Son of God. It is to this part of Scripture that our Lord particularly directs our attention, when he says, " search the Scriptures, for they are they that testify of me."* The testimony he alludes to is that of the prophets; than which no evidence can be more satisfactory and convincing to any one that reads them with care and impartiality, and compares their predictions concerning our Saviour with the history of his life, given us by those who constantly lived and conversed with him. This history we have in the New Testament, in that part of it which goes by the name of GOSPELS.
It is these that recount those wonderful and important events with which the Christian religion and the divine Author of it were introduced into the world, and which have produced so great a change in the prin
* John v. 39.
ciples, the manners, the morals, and the temporal as well as the spiritual condition of mankind. They relate the first appearance of Christ upon earth; his extraor dinary and miraculous birth; the testimony borne to him by his forerunner John the Baptist; his temptation in the wilderness; the opening of his divine commission; the pure, the perfect, the sublime morality which he taught, especially in his inimitable sermon from the mount; the infinite superiority which he shewed to every other moral teacher, both in the matter and manner of his discourses; more particularly by crushing vice in its very cradle, in the first risings of wicked desires and propensities in the heart; by giving a decided preference of the mild, gentle, passive, conciliating virtues, to that violent, vindictive, high-spirited, unforgiving temper, which has been always too much the favourite character of the world; by requiring us to forgive our very enemies, and to do good to them that hate us; by excluding from our devotions, our alms, and all our other virtues, all regard to fame, repu tation, and applause; by laying down two great general principles of morality, love to God and love to mankind, and deducing from thence every other human duty; by conveying his instructions under the easy, familiar, and impressive form of parables; by expressing himself in a tone of dignity and authority unknown before; by exemplifying every virtue that he taught in his own unblemished and perfect life and conversation; and above all, by adding those awful sanctions, which he alone, of all moral instructors, had the power to hold out, eternal rewards to the virtuous, and eternal punishments to the wicked. The sacred narrative then represents to us the high character he assumed; the claim he made to a divine original; the wonderful miracles he wrought in proof of his divinity; the various prophecies which plainly marked him out as the Messiah, the great deliverer of the Jews; the declarations he made, that he came to offer himself a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind; the cruel indignities, sufferings, and persecutions, to which, in consequence of this
great design, he was exposed; the accomplishment of it by the painful and ignominious death to which he submitted; by his resurrection after three days from the grave; by his ascension into heaven; by his sitting there at the right hand of God, and performing the of fice of a mediator and intercessor for the sinful sons of men, till he comes a second time in his glory to sit in judgment on all mankind, and decide their final doom of happiness or misery forever.
These are the momentous, the interesting truths, on which the GOSPELS principally dwell.
The ACTS OF THE APOSTLES continue the history of our religion after our Lord's ascension; the astonishing and rapid propagation of it by a few illiterate tentmakers and fishermen, through almost every part of the world, "by demonstration of the spirit and of power;" without the aid of eloquence or of force, and in opposition to all the authority, all the power, and all the influence of the opulent and the great.
The EPISTLES, that is, the letters addressed by the Apostles and their associates to different churches and to particular individuals, contain many admirable rules and directions to the primitive converts; many affecting exhortations, expostulations, and reproofs; many explanations and illustrations of the doctrines delivered by our Lord; together with constant references to facts, circumstances, and events, recorded in the Gospels and the Acts; in which we perceive such striking, yet evidently such unpremeditated and undesigned coincidences and agreements between the narratives and the epistles, as form one most conclusive argument for the truth, authenticity, and genuineness of both.*
The sacred volume concludes with the Revelation of St. John, which, under the form of visions and various symbolical representations, presents to us a prophetic history of the Christian religion in future times, and the various changes, vicissitudes, and revolutions it
* See the Horae Pulinae of Dr. Paley.