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Their piety a system of deceit,
Scripture employed to sanctify the cheat;
The pharisee the dupe of his own art,
Self-idolized, and yet a knave at heart.
When nations are to perish in their sins,
"Tis in the church the leprosy begins ;
The priest, whose office is with zeal sincere
To watch the fountain, and preserve it clear,
Carelessly nods and sleeps upon the brink,
While others poison what the flock must drink;
Or, waking at the call of lust alone,
Infuses lies and errors of his own;
His unsuspecting sheep believe it pure :
And, tainted by the very means of cure,
Catch from each other a contagious spot,
The foul forerunner of a general rot.
Then truth is hushed that heresy may preach,
And all is trash that reason cannot teach :
Then God's own image on the soul impressed
Becomes a mockery, and a standing jest ;
And faith, the root whence only can arise
of a life that wins the skies, Loses at once all value and esteem, Pronounced by grey-beards a pernicious dream : Then ceremony leads her bigots forth, Prepared to fight for shadows of no worth ; While truths, on which eternal things depend, Find not, or hardly find, a single friend : As soldiers watch the signal of command, They learn to bow, to kneel, to sit, to stand ; Happy to fill religion's vacant place With hollow form, and gesture, and grimace.
Such when the teacher of his church was there, People and priest, the sons of Israel were ; Stiff' in the letter, lax in the design And import, of their oracles divine ;
Their learning legendary, false, absurd,
And yet exalted above God's own word ;
They drew a curse from an intended good,
Paffed up with gists they never understood.
He judged them with as terrible a frown,
As if not love, but wrath, had brought him down:
Yet he was gentle as soft summer airs,
Had grace for other's sins, but none for theirs ;
Through all he spoke a noble plainness ran-
Rhetoric is artifice, the work of man;
And tricks and turns, that fancy may devise,
Are far too mean for him that rules the skies.
Th’ astonished vulgar trembled while he tore
The mask from faces never seen before;
He stripped th' impostors in the noon-day sun,
Showed that they followed all they seemed to shun :
Their prayers made public, their excesses kept
As private as the chambers where they slept;
The temple and its holy rites profaned
By mummeries, he that dwelt in't disdained ;
Uplifted hands, that at convenient times
Could act extortion and the worst of crimes,
Washed with a neatness scrupulously nice,
And free from every taint but that of vice.
Judgment, however tardy, mends her pace
When obstinacy once has conquered grace.
They saw distemper healed, and life restored,
In answer to the fiat of his word;
Confessed the wonder, and with daring tongue
Blasphemed th' authority from which it
They knew by sure prognostics seen on high,
The future tone and temper of the sky;
But, grave dissemblers ! could not understand
That sin let loose speaks punishment at hand.
Ask now of history's authentic page,
And call up evidence from every age ;
Display with busy and laborious hand
The blessings of the most indebted land ;
What nation will you find, whose annals prove
So rich an interest in almighty love?
Where dwell they now, where dwelt in ancient day
A people planted, watered, blest, as they?
Let Egypt's plagues and Canaan's woes proclaim
The favours poured upon the Jewish name;
Their freedom purchased for them at the cost
Of all, their hard oppressors valued most ;
Their title to a country not their own
Made sure by prodigies till then unknown;
For them the states,
they left, made waste and void ;
For them the states, to which they went, destroyed;
A cloud to measure out their march by day,
By night a fire to cheer the gloomy way;
That moving signal summoning, when best,
Their host to move, and when it stayed, to rest.
For them the rocks dissolved into a flood,
The dews condensed into angelic food,
Their very garments sacred, old yet new,
And time forbid to touch them as he flew;
Streams, swelled above the bank, enjoined to stand,
While they passed through to their appointed land;
Their leader armed with meekness, zeal, and love,
And graced with clear credentials from above;
Themselves secured beneath the Almighty wing ;
Their God their captain *, lawgiver, and king ;
Crowned with a thousand victories, and at last
Lords of the conquered soil, there rooted fast,
In peace possessing what they won by war,
Their name far published, and revered as far ;
Where will you find a race like theirs, endowed
With all that man ever wished, or heaven bestowed ?
They, and they only, amongst all mankind Received the transcript of th’ eternal mind : Were trusted with his own engraven laws, And constituted guardians of his cause ; Theirs were the prophets, theirs the priestly call, And theirs by birth the Saviour of us all. In vain the nations, that had seen them rise With fierce and envious yet admiring eyes, Had sought to crush them, guarded as they were By power divine, and skill that could not err. Had they maintained allegiance firm and sure, And kept the faith immaculate and pure, Then the proud eagles of all-conquering Rome Had found one city not to be o'ercome; And the twelve standards of the tribes unfurled Hlad bid defiance to the warring world. But
grace abused brings forth the foulest deeds, As richest soil the most luxuriant weeds. Cured of the golden calves, their fathers' sin, They set up self, that idle god, within ; Viewed a Deliverer with disdain and hate, Who left them still a tributary state; Seized fast his hand, held out to set them free From a worse yoke, and nailed it to the tree : There was the consummation and the crown, The flower of Israel's infamy full blown ;. Thence date their sad declension and their fall, Their woes not yet repealed, thence date them all.
Thus fell the best instructed in her day, And the most favoured land, look where we may. Philosophy indeed on Grecian eyes Had poured the day, and cleared the Roman skies; In other climes perhaps creative art, With power surpassing theirs, performed her part, Might give more life to marble, or might fill The glowing tablets with a juster skill;
Might shine in fable, and grace idle themes
With all th' embroidery of poetic dreams :
"Twas theirs alone to dive into the plan,
That truth and mercy had revealed to man;
And while the world beside, that plan unknown,
Deified useless wood, or senseless stone,
They breathed in faith their well-directed prayers,
And the true God, the God of truth, was theirs.
Their glory faded, and their race dispersed,
The last of nations now, though once the first;
They warn and teach the proudest, would they learn,
Keep wisdom, or meet vengeance in your turn :
If we escaped not, if Heaven spared not us,
Peeled, scattered, and exterminated thus ;
If vice received her retribution due
When we were visited, what hope for you?
When God arises with an awful frown
To punish lust, or pluck presumption down :
When gifts perverted, or not duly prized,
Pleasure overvalued, and his grace despised,
Provoke the vengeance of his righteous hand
To pour down wrath upon a thankless land;
He will be found impartially severe,
Too just to wink, or speak the guilty clear.
Oh Israel, of all nations most undone !
Thy diadem displaced, thy sceptre gone;
Thy temple, once thy glory, fallen and razed,
And thou a worshipper even where thou mayest;
Thy services once only without spot,
Mere shadows now, their ancient pomp forgot ;
Thy Levites, once a consecrated host,
No longer Levites, and their lineage lost,
And thou thyself over every country sown,
With none on earth that thou canst call thine own;
Cry aloud thou that sittest in the dust,
Cry to the proud, the cruel, and unjust;