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Thus the will of God was known, and his worship celebrated, whilst surrounding nations were sunk in the deepest ignorance. A succession of prophets was raised up at different periods; a body of inspired truths was communicated; a peculiar system of providence established; as far as their affairs were concerned; and a series of predictions preserved, by which an expectation was excited of the appearance of a divine person of their race, who was to be the “ light of the Gentiles,” “ the glory of Israel,” the person in whom “ all the nations of the earth were to be blessed.” These high privileges and prerogatives are thus enumerated by St. Paul: “Who am an Israelite, of whom is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is God over all blessed for evermore.”
As the centurion derived his knowledge of the Supreme Being from the Jews, either by conversing with them, or attending [their worship), he necessarily felt himself attached to that nation.
Religious benefits, as they are incomparably superior to all others, lay a foundation for the strongest attachment among men. If we are taught rightly to appreciate spiritual favours, we shall feel veneration and respect for those who, under God, have been the instruments of conveying them to us, far superior to what we feel towards any other persons.
To love the Jewish nation is still a natural dictate of piety. To that nation we are indebted for the records of inspiration, and the light of the gospel; for the men, who, under the direction of the Spirit, composed the former and published the latter among the pagans, were all Jews. Moses and the prophets, Christ and his apostles, let it be remembered, were Jews; and though the Israelitish race are for the present suffering the vengeance of the Almighty for rejecting the Messiah, the blessings yet in reserve for them, to be bestowed at a future season, are great and signal. Separated for a time from the church of God for their unbelief, the period of their exaltation is deferred, but their glory is not extinguished : “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes : but as touching the election, they are beloved for their fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” They are the seed of a glorious church, the stock which remains in the earth; but which, at a future time, will revive and flourish in the beauty of holiness, and send forth its branches to the end of the earth. Though they have long lain “ in the valley of vision till their bones are become very dry," yet the Lord in his own time, and that not a remote one, will “ call to the four winds, the Spirit of God will revive them, their sinews will come upon their flesh, will cover them, and they shall live.” As the Jews were the first instruments in converting the nations to the faith of Jesus, so, we doubt not, it is to them the honour is reserved, of the final and universal propagation of the gospel : For “if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness ?” On this account, when we behold the miserable outcasts of the Jewish nation, it is natural and proper for us to feel, in a manner similar to what we are accustomed to do on beholding a prince in exile and captivity, with the difference which arises from the certainty of their being restored to more than their former splendour; “ when the Deliverer shall come from Sion, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.”
Was the Jewish nation an object of respect to the devout worshipper of God ? How much more are the servants of Christ entitled to the same respect! The servants of Christ are “the true circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” They succeeded to the spiritual privileges of the Jewish church, and enjoy them in a still higher degree. They are the salt of the earth; they are, through the illuminations of the Sun of Righteousness, the “light of the world,” the “ city set on a hill, which cannot be hid.”
The love of God will never fail to manifest itself, by saving those, in every sect and denomination, who appear to be partakers of his holiness. “Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.” With all their imperfections,
true christians will invariably be esteemed by a good man as the excellent of the earth.
Having contemplated the attachment which the centurion displayed to the people of God, let us next consider in what manner his attachment was evinced. It was not an empty profession, productive of no fruit.
II. He“ hath built us a synagogue.” The original words are more emphatic: “ It is he who built us a synagogue." Synagogues were places of worship, where the Jews were wont to assemble on their sabbath, to hear the law and the prophets read and interpreted, accompanied with suitable exhortations to the people, and to present prayer and praise to God. Wherever ten Jews resided, who were at leisure to attend the worship of God at ordinary times, as well as on the sabbath, it was the opinion of the Jewish rabbies, a synagogue ought to be erected. Thither the people resorted, not only to hear the law, but also to offer up their supplications; the times of prayer, which were at nine in the morning, at noon, and at three o'clock in the evening, corresponding to the times of presenting the morning and evening incense. These buildings for public worship were very much multiplied: at Jerusalem there were many hundreds of them; at Alexandria they were also prodigiously numerous; and there was scarcely a town, where any number of Jews resided, where there was not one or more. They were governed by a council of elders, over whom presided an officer, called the
angel of the synagogue, whence the title of angel is supposed to be given in the Revelation to the presiding elder, or bishop, in the christian church.
In each synagogue a discipline was established for the support of purity of manners; and punishments were sometimes inflicted on notorious transgressors of the law. Thus we read of Saul, afterwards named Paul, scourging men and women in the synagogues.
These places of worship are supposed to have taken rise among the Jews, after the return from the Babylonish captivity: at least, we find no distinct traces of them before; though it was customary, even in the days of Elisha, to resort for instruction to the prophets, on the new moons and the sabbaths. - They were a most important appendage to the temple-worship, and a principal cause of preventing the Israelites from relapsing into idolatry, to which they were before so strongly addicted. Instead of assembling at Jerusalem three times a year, where no public instruction was delivered, but sacrifices and offerings only presented by the priest, the people, by means of synagogues, had an opportunity of listening to the writings of Moses and the prophets every sabbath-day, the officiating ministers publicly harangued the people, and the persons who frequented the synagogue were united in religious society. While the temple-service was admirably adapted to preserve the union of the nation, and to prevent innovations in the public solemnities