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The object of the present volume is to bring before the Christian public some information as to the present state of religion among the Jews, both with respect to the Ceremonial and the Moral Law; and as it may excite some surprise that there should be room or occasion for such a publication ; as it seems strange, that the religious practices, and even the moral principles of a people like the Jews should be still a subject for enquiry, I feel that the object of the publication may be assisted, and the prefatory remarks which I undertook to add may be most conducive to the purpose proposed, if I endeavour to direct the reader to the causes which separated the Jews from the Gentile Church, and have thrown such a cloud over the usages of God's ancient people.
Up to a certain period the Jews are regarded, and with justice, as the depositories of all that can be known of God. To them pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God and the promises. Theirs were the fathers, and of them, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.
From them therefore, from the record of their eventful history, from the pure sublimity of their moral law, from their ceremonial service, rich in types, and pregnant with mysterious notices of things not yet revealed ; from the clearer enunciation of the same future events as delivered by their prophets, from their predictions increasing in distinctness and particularity in proportion as the time of fulfilment drew near; from these sources the Christian world has been accustomed to draw the stream, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. The Old Testament Scriptures have been made the basis of all religious attainments; and the very perfectness of the Gospel scheme was only understood by those, who contemplating it in connection with the law and the prophets, saw what it had to do, and understood the nature of the work it had accomplished. When the Canon of the Old Testament Scripture was closed, and the last prophet had delivered his message, this source of interest ceased. The Apocryphal books disclaimed the character of inspiration.
There was no open vision. The moral writings of the later Jews drew from the canonical Scriptures many excellent truths, much that was holy and great and good; but they degraded what they borrowed by mixing it with their own conceits; and their best efforts were but faint and feeble echoes of the wisdom revealed to their forefathers.
As the Jewish Scriptures therefore derived their value from their divine original, that value ceased when revelation was suspended ; nor was it unnatural that the Christian world should turn away from the literature of a people whom they regarded with horror, as the crucifiers of the Lord of glory, and as the enemies of truth. The first effect of the Gospel had been unquestionably the conversion of many, and the removal of that wall of partition which had separated Jew and Gentile; but it seems probable that as the Jews were the first called, the conversions, which took place among them, preceded the ingathering of the Gentiles; and that few, comparatively, of Hebrew origin were added to the Church after the invitation was extended to the Gentiles. By that time it had been preached throughout Judea and Samaria, and in most of the synagogues of the East. They that had ears to hear, had heard, had been converted and been healed. The remnant who had resisted the call, were hardened by resistance; and their original prejudice against the truth
was aggravated by their jealousy of the heathen converts, and by the offence that was caused by their neglect of the law. It is probable therefore, that after the first attempt at union, the division was widened and confirmed. The Jews who had rejected the Gospel were more averse from Christian intercourse than before ; and when the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the people took place, the remnants of the nation, crushed for a time, and scattered through the East, rose up into separate existence more obstinately attached than ever to their own religion, and more hostile to that of the Gospel.
The separation which was thus begun, was not likely to be overcome. The prejudice with which each party regarded the other, gained strength and bitterness in every succeeding generation. The respect with which the earlier Fathers were regarded, led the Christian world to follow their opinions with implicit reverence; and as it is always easier for man to yield to the malignant feelings of his nature than to subdue them; as it is easier to hate and to despise others, than to learn the reasons for loving and honouring them; the prevailing sentiment among Christians towards the Jewish people was that of scorn and abhorrence. In some few cases, as in that of Jerome or of Origen, the value of Jewish literature was felt as assisting in the correction or interpretation of the sacred text, and the help of Jews was sought as essential to the right understanding of the Scriptures. But in general the Fathers preferred guessing at the sense of the Old Testament to consulting the Jewish authorities within their reach; and imagination was called in to supply a meaning which might have been collected with greater accuracy from those who were acquainted with the original language.
In this way the prediction concerning Israel, that the people should live alone and not be numbered among the nations, received a second fulfilment. Rejected by the Christian world, who considered it a proof of zeal for God's honour to persecute His ancient people ; shut out from all opportunities of social intercourse; known only to be hated; the objects of general scorn when in abject circumstances, and the objects of general envy when in affluence; they were compelled to hide themselves from observation; and in secret brooded over the recollections of former grandeur, or indulged in dreams of future elevation.
The Reformation introduced a different state of things, and ushered in a change which was eventually to alter the whole character of their condition. The first agents in that mighty movement referred to the Bible for the authority of every principle they laid down; and instead of the diluted or distorted sense of Scripture which the writings of the Fathers occasionally presented, they avowed their determination to go to the fountain head of truth, and to search the Scriptures for themselves. In entering on this search they soon found they were entangled with difficulties, which required a new species of assistance. The study of the Old Testament in the original led them to look to the Jews as the most efficient guides ; and they rightly deemed that its mysteries would be most satisfactorily elucidated by the men to whom the language was vernacular, and whose traditional knowledge seemed unbroken. The Rabbins, perhaps, on examination were not found more satisfactory than the Fathers. If the latter had gone astray in mystical interpretation and unauthorized conjectures, the others had entangled themselves in niceties of verbal criticism, and in idle unmeaning distinctions ; but a great point was gained, when reference was made to Jewish authorities; and the pursuit of truth became more reasonable, when the sense of Scripture was sought through those interpretations which alone could give the real and natural meaning of the text. It still may be a subject of surprise that after the character of the Jewish nation had been thus recognized by the Christian world, and the important office they had filled as Depositories of the word of God had been acknowledged, so little curiosity was felt as to their present condition, and their general opinions. Their value as Interpreters of the word was admitted. Men felt that the Jews had held the text of Scripture inviolate in the midst of persecution and dispersion and distress; men admitted the claim to respect, which their descent involved, and agreed that they held the keys of knowledge as hereditary interpreters of the Old Testament Scriptures : but they did not care to penetrate farther. Repulsed by the apparent disinclination of the Jews to admit enquiry, and retaining enough of the prejudice of by-gone days to believe readily every thing that was unfavourable; they left them to their superstitious observances and exclusive habits; and thought that it was needless to examine further into the condition of a people, so uninteresting in manners and habits, and from whom there appeared to be so little to learn.
And yet we might have thought, that a more enlarged and enlightened view of things would have led to a different conclusion. We might have thought, that the recollection of what had been done in and through their ancestors, might have secured to the Jews an interest in every mind, which had tasted the sweetness or felt the power of the Word of God. If they had been rejected of God, in consequence of the sin which they had accomplished in rejecting the Incarnate Son; if they had been cast out of the privilege which they once enjoyed in exclusive posession; and were no longer to be regarded as the people of God; they still retained claims on the gratitude of man, nor had they forfeited their title to general respect and veneration. The lineal descendants of Patriarchs and Prophets, belonging to that very nation of whom Christ came, who is over all God blessed for evermore ; they might have been contemplated even in the ruin of their state, with reverence and awe; but in addition to these