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SKETCH OF THE
(Introductory to the Times of the PROPHET JEREMIAH.) The Old Testament, exclusively of its reference to the brighter dispensation of the Gospel, is a volume of the deepest interest and importance. Its history impresses us with awe, inasmuch as it is the history of a guiding Providence, which, in its watchful care over the progress of one favoured nation, has exhi. bited the model of those principles which regulate its dispensations towards mankind at large.
Engaged in the pursuit of earthly objects, and engrossed by hopes and fears that centre in the pains or pleasures of the present life, the views of men extend not often beyond second causes; on these they form their calculations, and by these alone attempt to unravel the most intricate events. Dimmed by the mists which float in the low atmosphere of sin and folly, they discern got the Intelligence that guides, the Power that rules, VOL. VI.
the Love that blesses them; nor do they more distinctly view that Holiness and Justice which, insulted by transgression, unsheaths the sword in punishment of crime. But though divine interposition be thus undistinguished by the selfishness of human pride and vanity, yet God remains the moral Ruler of his creatures; and the downfall or prosperity of nations, as well as the peculiar circumstances of the humblest individual, must be referred to the decisions of his wisdom, to the retributions of his justice, or to the exercises of that goodness which extends itself in bounty and beneficence through the vast circle of his yaried works.
In the inspired and venerable pages of the Bible, these footsteps of the Deity are most distinctly marked. The veil which hides his counsels, in the general dispensations of his providence, is here withdrawn; and in the history of the Jewish nation we see awfully exemplified the rectitude of his most holy, yet parental government, which, after frequent, long-continued, ineffectual corrections, at length entailed upon their disobedience the punishment of extirpation from the land of their forefathers, and of excision from the Covenant of their God.
The earliest proof of the displeasure of JEHOVAH against this highly-favoured but unfaithful nation, which sensibly reduced its strength and splendour, was the defection of the tribes of Israel from the house of David; whose family exhibits, in its own affecting history, an awful and impressive admonition to beware of sin. The son of SOLOMON, in the dismemberment
which his perverseness, pride, and folly, had occaOLETned, soon witnessed a declension in that national prosperity, which, under the dominion of his father,
HISTORY OF THE KINGDOM OF JUDAH.
had been the envy and the admiration of the world. The separated tribes, plunging at once into idolatry, in spite of threatenings, warnings, and expostulations, continued to provoke the anger of Jehovah, until his indignation overwhelmed thens, and the Assyrians, as the instruments of vengeance, removed them from their country, and led them captives to a foreign land.
Judah and Benjamin alone retained allegiance to the house of DAVID. But though the lustre of the throne was thus diminished, and its strength impaired by a revolt so formidable, yet in Jerusalem the sacred service was established, nor was the temple yet deserted by its Heavenly Guest.
In every place, the ordinances of religion, admi. nistered according to divine appointment, form a barrier to the overflowings of ungodliness.
ungodliness. A hallowing and an enlightening influence, emanating from the Source of Truth and Goodness, visits those who come within the sphere of its attraction, and spreads itself in widening circles on the surface of society.
This powerful counteraction to the weakness and depravity of human nature, operated on the house of Judah, and retarded for a while that
progress towards corruption, which, at a much earlier period, reduced the polity of Israel to a state of dissolution and decay. But though a splendid and impressive ceremonial daily called upon this people to regard the high and holy mysteries which it prefigured, yet were their hearts so gross and sensual, that they not only rested in the emblem, but were ever ready to associate with the service of Jehovah the degrading worship of the Gentile gods. Indeed so deeply were they tinctured with this impious spirit, that their kings on some occasions wholly left the sacred institutions, of their fathers, and caused the temple of the Lord to be shut up. But in the family of DAVID, to whom, for his adherence to the truth, and for his zeal in the support of the divinely-authorized economy of Moses, the Lord had made so many promises, there still re. mained a germ of piety, which, springing forth at intervals, renewed the bloom and beauty of the moral waste. This seed of righteousness, in seasons of peculiar peril, preserved the kingdom from destruction ; the prayer of faith averted those calamities which justly threatened to chastise transgression ; and the prolongation of tranquillity was the reward of reformation, effected by the zeal of princes, who, themselves adhering to the truth, exerted every effort to reclaim the people from the base and stupifying vices of idolatry.
Such was JEHOSHAPHAT,* who walked uprightly with the God of David; and by his diligent exertions, his example, and his prayers, brought back the people to the worship of JEHOVAH, instructed them in moral and in social duties, and in the time of imminent danger obtained deliverance for them from their enemies. Such also was the pious HEZEKIAN, who-succeeded to the throne upon the death of AHAZ, a prince whose crimes had done dishonour to humanity, and had defiled his country with the deepest stains of guilt. To purge Jerusalem from the pollution into which his father's sins had plunged it, to restore the service of the sanctuary, and to expel the profanations of the heathen, were the objects that engaged the zeal and piety of this devoted King. His reign affords a memorable confirmation of the
* See 2 Chron. xvii.
HISTORY OF THE KINGDOM OF JUDAH.
veracity of the divine assertion, that he will honour those who pay regard to him.
The host of the Assyrians, who, with their king SENNACHERIB, had carried war and devastation through the world, came to invade Judea. This mighty dragon, who had devoured so many nations, expected small resistance from a people weakened by divisions, and despised by the surrounding states. The patriot firm. ness of King HEZEKIAH, and the fidelity of his devoted subjects, were therefore met by insult and derision; and rage, and blasphemy, and threatening, were poured upon them in torrents by their diabolical foe.
The King of Judah, in this extremity, had only one resource; yet, haviog that, he was impregnable, and neither cruelty, nor malice, nor oppression, could pass the appointed bounds, to do him, hurt. His refuge in this time of trouble was the Everlasting God. From Him he sought assistance, and from Him received the succour he implored. That mighty host in which SENNACHIERIB had confided, and in reliance on whose strength he had ventured to contemn, and vaunt himself against JEHOVAH, were in one night cut off! The angel of the LORD, receiving from his mouth the mandate of destruction, went through the camp, and smote an hundred four-score and five thousand of the army of this impious boaster, and left him but a rem. nant to return with their confounded king to Nineveh, as witnesses of his disaster and disgrace.
Yet neither this miraculous deliverance, nor the fear of future judgments, could long restrain this cold and callous people from returning to the paths of sin. Idolatry, with all its dark and dreadful consequences, was again triumphant under the administration of MANASSEH; bæt the long-suffering of the LORD,