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are formed with an express and more SERM. appropriate regard to the conditions II. and characters of those, with whom he had immediate intercourse.
- To render all his sayings of practical advantage to ourselves, it is our principal concern to understand, in what respect they bear an application to our own hearts and lives. But in order to understand with greater accuracy of judgement, it is expedient that we acquaint ourselves in the first instance with that special and primary application, which they bore to the people and the land of Israel.
I therefore trust it cannot be accounted foreign to the purpose, in which I am engaged, of elucidating the parables, that I offer some brief historical account of the people to whom they were addressed, and of the several characters and orders under which they fell.
At an early period of time the notion of a true God was become corrupted or forgotten in the world, and all mankind were fallen into error and idolatry. To keep up some memorial of himself, and some appearance of F 3
SERM. the true religion, God selected Abraham, II. and called him out of his country, his
kindred, and his Father's house. This call he readily obeyed: He believed in the Lord, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness ; and he was called the Friend of God b. Having proved him worthy of this sacred choice and name by many exercises of faith, God promised to his offspring the land in which he then sojourned, and solemnly assured him with a reference to Christ, In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessedo,
This blessing was transmitted from Abraham to Isaac, and from Isaac to Jacob. The Family of Jacob consisted of twelve Sons, the Fathers of the twelve Tribes of Israel. · One of these, namely Joseph, was sold by his Brethren into Egypt, where by the special destination. of Providence he rose from slavery to the highest oflice in the kingdom. His fortune brought the whole House of Israel into Egypt; where they settled as inhabitants, and where they multiplied exceedingly. But after some generations the Egyptians, who had at first received them as guests and friends,
Gen. xv. 6. James ii. 23.
cGen. xxii. 18.
began to treat them as slaves and ene- SERM. mies, and imposed upon them tasks too III. heavy to be borne. And now they were visited by the God of their Fathers in the character of a Redeemer and an Avenger; who having accomplished their deliverance from bondage conducted them into the wilderness, and gave them a law in thunders and lightnings from Mount Sinai. In this desert region they sojourned or wandered forty years under the guidance of Moses, being all the while miraculously sustained in food and raiment.
At the close of this appointed term they were conducted by Joshua into the promised land of Canaan, which they divided among
themselves and cultivated. During their first establishment in this land they were under the government of Judges, whom in critical times a special providence advanced for the protection and redemption of their country. But afterwards they desired to be governed by Kings like other nations. The kingly power, having subsisted for a time in Saul, became hereditary in the house of David. By the valour of this Prince the state attained some consequence among the nations
SERM. round: but it reached its highest splen
dour under the peaceful sceptre of Solomon his Son, who was famous for his wisdom, his riches, and his prosperity; and who distinguished his reign by building a magnificent Temple to the God of Israel.
Under his Son Rehoboam the royal inheritance was diminished by the revolt of ten tribes, who formed themselves into the separate kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam the son of Nebat who made Israel to sin: by this opprobrious character he is usually mentioned in the sacred history, as well for conspiring this revolt, as for that impious policy which he took to secure himself upon the throne: for suspecting that the people might return to their allegiance to the house of David, if they continued their yearly visit to the Temple of Jerusalem, he established an idolatrous worship in his own territory, by which they became altogether alienated from the God of their Fathers, and fell into all the abominations of the Ileathen. By a series of Prophets they were repeatedly warned of their evil ways and exhorted to return to the worship of the true God. But when they persevered in their idolatries
God at last abandoned them to the serM. fatal consequence of their apostacy: III. their kingdom was overthrown by the King of Assyria, and themselves were carried away captive into a distant land, whence they were neversuffered to return.
The two Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, now composing the kingdom of Judah, continued faithful to the progeny of David: and having the Temple of the true God among them they retained some reverence for his name and worship. Yet they also frequently fell into idolatries, notwithstanding the remonstrance of many Prophets and righteous men: till the measure of their crimes being filled, God was pleased to surrender them into the hand of the King of Babylon, who destroyed their city and temple, laid waste their country, and led the people into captivity. Their sentence however was not so desperate as that of their brethren. After they had endured a servitude and exile of seventy years, the Babylonian empire was overthrown, and the captive nation was restored by Cyrus King of Persia ; a Prince memorable in prophetic writings, being called by name two hundred years before his birth, as the Anointed of the Lord, the