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therefore, cannot be pleaded in behalf of cruelty, or bring any imputation on the character of the Jews. With regard to other cities, which did not belong to these seven nations, they were directed to deal with them, according to the common law of arms at that time. If the city submitted, it became tributary, and the people were spared ; if it resisted, the men were to be slain, but the women and children saved. (Deut. chap. xx.) Yet, though the crime of cruelty cannot be justly laid to their charge on this occasion, you will observe, in the course of their history, many things recorded of them very different from what you would expect from the chosen people of God, if you suppose them selected on account of their own merit: their national character was by no means amiable; and we are repeatedly told that they were not chosen for their superior righteousness; “ for they were a stiff-necked people, and provoked the Lord with their rebellions from the day they left Egypt.” “You have been rebellious against the Lord,” says Moses, “ from the day that I knew you." (Deut. chap. ix. ver. 24.) And he vehemently exhorts them, not to flatter themselves that their success was, in any degree, owing to their own merits. They were appointed to be the scourge of other nations, whose crimes rendered them fit objects of divine chastisement. For the sake of righteous Abraham, their founder, and perhaps for many other wise reasons, undiscovered to us, they were selected from a world overrun with idolatry, to preserve upon earth the pure worship of the one only God, and to be honoured with the birth of the Messiah amongst them. For this end they were precluded by divine command from mixing with any other people, and defended by a great number of peculiar rites and observances, from falling into the corrupt worship practised by their neighbours.
The book of Judges, in which you will find the affecting stories of Sampson and of Jephtha, carries on the history from the death of Joshua, about two hundred and fifty years; but the facts are not told in the times in which they happened, which makes some confusion; and it will be necessary to consult the marginal dates and notes, as well as the index, in order to get any clear idea of the succession of events during that period.
The history then proceeds regularly through the two books of Samuel, and those of Kings: nothing can be more interesting and eotertaining than the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon; but after the death of Solomon, when ten tribes revolted from his son Rehoboain, and became a separate kingdom, you will find some difficulty in understanding distinctly the histories of the two kingdoins of Israel and Judah, which are blended together, and, by the likeness of the paines, and other particulars, will be apt to confound your inind without great attention to the different threads thus carried on together: the index here will be of great use to you. The second book of Kings concludes with the Babylonish captivity, 588 years before Christ; till which time, the kingdom of Judah lad descended uninterruptedly in the line of David.
The first book of CHRONICLES begins with a genealogy from Adam, through all the tribes of Israel and Judah; and the remainder is the same history, which is contained in the books of Kings, with little or no variation, till the separation of the len tribes: from that period it proceeds with the history of the kingdom of Judah alone, and gives therefore a more regular and clear account of the affairs of Judah than the book of Kings. You may pass over the first book of Chronicles, and the nine first chapters of the second book; but, by all means read the remaining chapters, as they will give you more clear and distinct ideas of the history of Judah than that you read in the second book of Kings. The second of Chronicles ends, like the second of Kings, with the Babylonish captivity..
You must pursue the history in the book of Ezra,which gives an account of the return of some of the Jews, on the edict of Cyrus, and of the rebuilding the Lord's temple.
Nehemiah carries on the history, for about twelve years, when he himself was governor of Jerusalem, with authority to rebuild the walls.
The story of Esther is prior in time to that of Ezra and Nehemiah, as you will see by the marginal dates; however as it happened during the seventy years captivity, and is a kind of episode, it may be read in its own place.
This is the last of the canonical books that is properly historical ; and it would therefore be advisable that you pass over what follows, till you have continued the history ihrough the Apocryphal books.
The history of Job is probably very ancient, though that is a point upon which learned men have differed: it is dated, however, 1520 years before Christ : it is uncertain by whom it was written; many parts of it are obscure ; but it is well worth studying, for the extreme beauty of the poetry, and for the noble and sublime devotion it contains. The subject of the dispute between Job and his pretended friends, seems to be, whether the providence of God distributes the rewards and punishments of this life, in exact proportion to the merit or demerit of each individual. His antagonists suppose that it does : and therefore in fer froin Job's uncommon calamities, that, notwithstanding his apparent righteousness, he was in reality a grievous sinner: They aggravate his supposed guilt, by the imputation of hypocrisy, and call upon him to confess it, and to acknowledge the justice of his punishment. Job asserts his own innocence and virtue, in the most pathetic manner, yet does not presume to accuse the Supreme Being of injustice. Elihu attempts to arbitrate the matter, by alledging the impossibility that so frail and ignorant a creature as man should comprehend the ways of the Almighty, and, therefore, condemns the unjust and cruel inference the three friends had drawn from the sufferings of Job. He also blames Job for the presumption of acquitting himself of all iniquity, since the best of men are not pure in the sight of God, but have something to repent of; and he advises him to make this use of his afflictions. At last, by a bold figure of poetry, the Supreme Being himself is iniroduced speaking from the whirlwind, and silencing them all by the inost sublime display of his own power, magnificence, and wisdom, and of the comparative littleness and ignorance of man. This indeed is the only conclusion of the argument which could be drawn, at a time when life and immortality were not yet brought to light. A future retribution is the only satisfactory solution of the difficulty arising from the sufferings of good people in this life.
Next follow the Psalms, with wbich you cannot be too con versant. If you have any taste, either for poetry or devotion, they will be your delight, and will atford you a continual feast. The Bible translation is far better than that used in the Common-Prayer Book; and will often give you the sense, when the other is obscure. In this, as well as in all other parts of the scripture, you must be careful always to consult the margin, which gives you the corrections made since the last translation, and is generally preferable to the words of the text. Select some of the Psalms that please you best, and get them by heart; or, at least, make yourself mistress of the sentiments contained in them. Dr. Delamy's Life of David will shew you the occasions on which several of thein were composed, which add much to their beauty and propriety, and by comparing them with the events of David's life, you will greatly enhance your pleasure in them. Never did the spirit of true piety breathe inore strongly than in these divine songs; which being added to a rich vein of poetry, makes them most captivating to the heart and imagination. You will consider how great disadvantages any poems must sustain from being rendered literally into proge, and then imagine how beautiful these must be in the original. May you be enabled, by reading them frequently, to transfuse into your owo breast that holy flame which inspired the writerio delight in the Lord, and in his laws, like the Psalmist-to rejoice in him always, and to think“ one day in his courts better than a thousand.” But, inay you escape the heartpiercing sorrow of such repentance as that of David, by avoiding sin, which humbled this unhappy king to the dust, and which cost him such bitter anguish, as is is impossible to read of without being moved. Not all the pleasures of the most prosperous sinner could counterbalance the hundredth part of these sensations, described in his penitential Psalirs. There are many very striking prophecies of the Messiah in these divine songs, particularly in Psalın xxii. : such may be found scattered up and down almost throughout the Old Testament. To bear testiinony to him is the great and ultimate end, for wbich the spirit of prophecy was bestowed on the sacred writers: but this will appear more plainly to you, when you enter on the study of prophecy.
The PROVERBS and ECCLESIASTES are rich stores of wisdom; from which you may adopt such maxims as may be of infinite use, both to your temporal and eternal interest. But, detached sentences are a kind of reading not proper to be continued long at a time; a few of them, well chosen and digested, will do you much more service, than to read half a dozen chapters together; in this respect they are directly opposite to ihe historical books, which if not read in consinuation, can hardly be understaod, or retained to any purpose.
The Song of SOLOMON is a fine poein, but its mystical reference to religion lies too deep for a common understanding: if you read it, therefore, it will be rather as matter of curiosity than of edification.
Next follow the ProPHECIES, which, though highly cleserving the greatest attention and study, had belter be omitted till after the history, and then read with a good exposition, as they are much too difficult for you to understand without assistance. Dr. Newton on the Prophecies will help you much, whenever you undertake this study; which you should by all means do, when you have gone through the history: because one of the main proofs of our religion rests on the testimony of the prophecies; and they are very frequently quoted, and referred to in the New Testament; besides, the sublimity of the language and sentiments, through all the disadvantages of antiquity and translation, must in very many passages strike every person of taste; and the excellent inoral and religious precepts found in them must be useful to all.
Though these books have been spoken of in the order in which they stand, they are not to be read in that order; but the thread of the history is to be pursued from Nebemiah to the first book of the Maccabees, in the Apocrypha; taking care to observe the chronology regularly, by referring to the Index, which supplies the deficiences of this history from Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews. The first of Maccabees carries on the story, till within 195 years of the birth of Christ. The second book is the same narrative, written by a different hand, and does not bring the history so forward as the first ; so that it may be entirely omitted, unless you have the curiosity to read some particulars of the heroic constancy of the Jews, under the tortures inflicted by their heathen conquerors, with a few other things not mentioned in the first book.
You must then connect the history by the help of the Index, which will give you brief heads of the changes which happened in the state of the Jews, from this time iill the birth of the Messiah.
The other books of the Apocrypha, though none of them are admitted as of sacred authority, have many things well worth your attention, particularly the admirable book called Ecclesiasticus, and the book of Wisdom. But, in the early course of your reading, these must be omitted till after you have gone through the Gospels and Acts, that you may not lose the historical thread.
We come now to that part of scripture which is the most important of all; and which you must make your constant study, not only till you are thoroughly acquainted with it, but all your life long; because, how often soever repeated, it is impossible to read the life and death of our blessed Saviour, without renewing and increasing in our hearts that love, and reverence, and gratitude towards him, which is so justly due for all he did and suffered for us. Every