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THE RELIGION OF THE JEWS.
LUKE 16: 16.—The law and the prophets were until John. Since that the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
The end of all religion as a positive institution, is to enlighten the understanding and cultivate the devotional sentiments. It is either to instruct, or to quicken. Each generation comes into the world with capacities merely, both of mind and heart, for religion. They need religious education, and religious education they will have, and if the truth is withheld, error and superstition will take its place. The mind must think, and the heart must worship. So it must be through life. The cares of the world are continually effacing religious impressions, and truths once clearly seen and vividly felt, by lapse of time wax dim, and lose the influence of present realities. The soul more
ver feels the want of the support and guidance of religion at all times. Every day the soul experiences the need of communion with God. It is as necessary to us as daily food. That we adored and acknowledged the Author of our being with the rising sun of yesterday, diminishes neither the need nor the pleasure of calling upon him to-day when the morning wakens us to a new consciousness of being; and the fact that we committed ourselves to our Almighty Guardian, when about to sink into the unconsciousness of slumber, when the shadows of the last night enveloped the earth, will not at all weaken the constraint which will impel us again to commend our souls to Him when sleep shall once more be about to imprison all our faculties. All religions therefore, have their sacred rites, by which God speaks to the heart, and the heart speaks to God. All religions have some modes of addressing the mind and moving the affections; of taking hold of the memory, and perpetuating themselves in the world.
But these outward institutions must all be adapted to the present condition of man. Religion can use only those instruments which are already in existence. In the absence of writing, it can use only ceremonies and forms, which have a conventional meaning, and thus come to be symbolic of certain truths. Thus the patriarchal religion consisted almost entirely of prayer and sacrifice. The Mosaic religion, which came after the invention of writing, added to prayer and sacrifice a written code of duty, a formal declaration of truths and principles, which lay at the
foundation of the whole institute. The patriarchal element was still strong and predominant in the Hebrew Commonwealth. There was no express provision made for public religious instruction. This was especially enjoined upon the heads of families. “ And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children, and thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Indeed, such was the scarcity and costliness of books, that it was impossible for the great mass of the people to possess a copy of the law. For this cause we may suppose that it was added : “ And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes, and thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.” It was with reference to the scarcity of books and means of instruction we may suppose, that Moses commanded the Israelites to write their laws upon their public altars, that they might thus unite devotion and instruction. "And it shall be on the day when ye
shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set there up great stones and plaster them with plaster, and then shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly.” Thus, those who were unable to procure a copy of the law, might at least become acquainted with its general provisions when they came to sacrifice.
The public religious instruction of the nation, such as it was, devolved upon the Levites. We have in the
. same chapter of Deuteronomy a stated homily which they were commanded to rehearse in the ears of all the people. I doubt if there be any more impressive preaching even at the present day. The people were to be assembled in two companies, on two mountains over against each other, six tribes on one side and six on the other, one to pronounce the blessings and the other the cursings of the law, " And the Levites shall speak and say to all the men of Israel with a loud voice, Cursed be the man that maketh any graven image, an abomination to the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place, and all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother: and all the people shall say, Amen.” Thus they went through the principal points of their law.
There were no public assemblies for religious instruction. The only religious meetings we read of were the three annual festivals, which were celebrated wherever the ark happened to be, and the local sacrifices generally kept at the new moon on tops of hills, denominated in the Old Testament, high places. These were places set apart for religious exercises, especially for prayer; and hence
called Proseuchac or oratories, after the Greek became the current language. Into one of these devoted and solitary places, it is supposed it was that our Saviour retired on the night previous to the choice of his disciples.
But in the Hebrew Commonwealth, church and state were closely amalgamated, the code of Moses, prescribing alike religious and civil duty. The Levites of course, were the judges and magistrates as well as the religious teachers of the people. That there were neither any provisions for the religious instruction of the people, nor many books among them, we should infer from the history of the times of Jehoshaphat. In the third year of his reign he sent some of his princes, and with them he sent Levites to teach in the cities of Judah. “And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord with them, and went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught the people.”
But in the sacred institutions of the Jews it is evident that devotion predominated over instruction, the cultivation of the heart was made a more prominent object than that of the understanding. It was so in their temple service. Their tabernacle in the wilderness, and afterwards in the Holy Land, was intended as a perpetual memorial of God, and a symbol of his presence. It called the people off from idolatry, and reminded them that their worship was