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now took the God of Israel into the number of their deities, and worshipped him in conjunction with the gods of the nations from whence they came. Hence, when the Jews returned from the Babylonish captivity, and by the permission and assistance of Cyrus king of Persia, were building their temple, the Samaritans, as they in part professed the same religion, proposed an alliance with them, and offered their assistance in carrying on the work. This the Jews abruptly refused, which gave such offence to the Samaritans, that they took all possible pains to obstruct L them in the undertaking; and, by corrupting the officers of Cyrus, prevailed so far, that the work was interrupted for a considerable time. After some years, the Jews obtained a fresh decree from Darius, the third Persian king from Cyrus, and the temple was finished and dedicated. But the city of Jerusalem lay in a ruinous condition, and the Jews remained under great contempt and various discouragements, for about sixty years. At the end of this time, Divine Providence appeared for them, and raised them up a friend in the person of Artaxerxes Longimanus, the Ahasuerus of the Scriptures. This prince, having exalted a Jewish young lady, named Esther, to be his queen, was a constant favourer of the Jews; and sent Ezra, a priest of great learning and piety, from the Persian court, to reform the abuses, and settle the disorders that had arisen amongst them. And, in a few years afterwards, by the interest of the queen, he sent his cupbearer Nehemiah, to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and continue and perfect the reformation which Ezra had begun. In the carrying on of this work, the Jews met with great opposition from the Samaritans; and hence there arose a mortal hatred between the two people. The Samaritans, in the contest, were chiefly supported by Sanballat, the governor of Samaria; who having married his daughter to Manasseh, the son of the Jewish high-priest, prevailed so far on Darius Nothus, the successor of Artaxerxes that he obtained from him a grant to build a temple on mount Gerizim,
near Samaria; and to make his son-in-law high-priest thereof. This was accordingly effected, and introduced a change in the Samaritan religion: for whereas they had, till now, only worshipped the God of Israel in conjunction with their deities, they now conformed themselves to the worship of the true God only, according to the law of Moses, which was daily read in their new temple: from this time, the cities of Samaria became places of refuge for those Jews who had been guilty of such crimes as exposed them to punishment, and thither they fled to escape the arm of justice. Hence, in process of time, arose a mongrel people betwixt the Jews and the Samaritans. The quarrel between them and the regular Jews continued, and their hatred to each other remained at its highest pitch. And though John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon Maccabeus, destroyed their temple, yet they continued a separate worship from the Jews. They acknowledged the authority of no other Scripture than the five books of Moses, which they kept in a character peculiar to themselves, said to be the old Hebrew character, which was in use amongst the Jews before the Babylonish captivity. Though they were remark able for their strictness in the observance of the rules of the law, yet they were more detestable to the Jews than were the Heathen nations. When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, about seventy years after the birth of Christ, when the temple was burnt, and the whole nation dispersed, the Samaritans remained in possession of their country, and there they continue to this day.
Such was the state of religion amongst the Jews at the time of the birth of CHRIST; nor were their morals in any respect superior. Their religion chiefly consisted in externals, and by their traditions, they explained away most of the excellent precepts of the moral law. Their great men were privately guilty of the most scandalous vices; nor can it be supposed that the common people were more regular in their conduct, or that they should escape the general corruption which universally prevailed in the land.
Of the Promises and Predictions, in the various ages of the World, relating to the Dignity, Character, Office and Birth, of our Great and Glorious RE
THE great King of the universe, having in his eter
nal counsels, determined to send his only Son, at an appointed period of time, to accomplish the salvation of lost, undone sinners; was graciously pleased, in the various ages of the world, to give such intimations of this great event, as were consistent with the nature of his moral government, and the designs of his grace: and that his offending creatures might not grope in darkness and distress, without any hope of his mercy, or knowledge of the way in which he would accept ⚫his rebellious subjects, and restore them to his favour, he was pleased, as soon as sin had entered into the world, to give our first parents some hope of their restoration; and in passing sentence on the serpent who had seduc. ed them, he declared that the seed of the woman should bruise his head; which, though it could not give them a clear idea of the nature of their deliverance, nor of the glorious person who should accomplish it, yet it might be sufficient to quiet their minds, and inspire them with a distant hope. What further discoveries of the divine will, in the redemption of sinners by the Son of God, were made to the antediluvian patriarchs, are not clearly revealed in the word of God; but from the prophecy of Enoch, recorded by the apostle Jude, it may be concluded, that the world was not ignorant of this great event; for the patriarch, who could so clearly declare, Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints to execute judgment on all mankind, cannot be supposed to be totally ignorant of the great person who was to sit in judgment: and the hard speeches which he charges ungodly sinners with speaking against God, may have no indirect re
ference to the scorn, contempt, and reproach, which our great redeemer suffered from the ungodly and unbelieving Jews. What further discoveries of the Redeemer were made to the patriarch Noah, and his descendants, after the flood, are not to be learned from the volume of inspiration; but there we learn, that Abraham was called from his idolatrous countrymen, by a divine manifestation, learnt the uncorrupted worship of the true God, and informed that in his seed all the families of the world should be blessed. That this patriarch had full expectation of some exalted person, who was to rise out of his family, and that the notion of this prevailed amongst his descendants, are evident from the blessing which Jacob, at his death, pronounces on his son Judah, Gen. xlix. 10. The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a law-giver from between his feet, till Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. The sceptre not departing from Judah, is here a prediction; but the com, ing of Shiloh at an appointed time, is mentioned as a thing already known. There is no mention directly made of our exalted Saviour, amongst the moral precepts of the law; but it is universally allowed, that the various rituals of the Jewish religion were typical of his exalted person, his offices, and the great atonement he made to divine justice, when he made his soul an offering for sin: and Moses could declare to Israel in plain terms, A prophet shall the Lord thy God raise unto thee from amongst thy brethren like unto me, and it shall come to pass that whosoever shall not hear that prophet, shall be cut off from amongst his people. During the conquest of Canaan, the anarchy and confusion which succeeded in the time of the Judges, and the reign of Saul, we hear nothing of the Messiah, But the royal prophet David, in his psalms, gives a very lively and spirited account of a full belief in this great descendant of his; and in a language peculiar to himself, describes the glories of his reign, his death, and triumphant resurrection: for having a clear and full view of the Messiah's kingdom and reign, he, in
poetic rapture, could cry out, Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. But clearer, and stronger still, our great Redeemer blazes forth in the prophecies of Isaiah, who writes more like an historian than a prophet, and minutely particularizes the great events which attended the birth, life, and death of the Saviour of sinners. Full of prophetic fire, the great Isaiah could cry out, A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and call his name Immanuel. And having a clear view of his sufferings and death, he could add, He was led like a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before her shearers is dumb; so he opened not his mouth. He was taken from prison and judgment; who shall declare his generation? For the transgression of my people was he smitten. He made his grave with the wicked, and the rich, in his death. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. The succeeding prophets were very clear and express in their descriptions of the kingdom of the Messiah. The prophet Jeremiah particularly mentions the thirty pieces of silver, for which he was sold; and the prophet Daniel pointed out the particular time when he should make his appearance in the world. Seventy weeks, says the angel, are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city; to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness; to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. From these plain and frequent declarations of their prophets, the Jews had a full and clear expectation of the coming of the Messiah; and they had an old tradition amongst them, which was generally received, and supposed to come from Elias, that the Messiah should appear in the four thousandth year of the world, which accordingly came to pass. Nor was the expectation of our Redeemer's birth confined only to the Jews; a tradition prevailed amongst the Eastern nations, that a