« PreviousContinue »
God, and gradually instructed, as their comparatively imperfect nature was able to receive instruction, in all that it was necessary for them to know or to practise. Had they been content to submit implicitly to such instruction, they would undoubtedly have been preserved from those pernicious errors into which their descendants so rapid. ly fell, and advanced, as soon as they should have been qualified for it, to that superior state which was prepared for them in heaven; but they rejected the tuition of their God, and applied elsewhere for a kind of knowledge, which they vainly hoped would make them independent of him, and able to govern themselves. This was the wayward weakness of children ; and with respect to all that knowledge which is the result of reflection on what is learned by the experience of ages, children they must have been, however perfect we may suppose their patural faculties; and as wayward children they were accordingly treated. Instead of being wholly cast off by their gracious and most merciful Creator, a future deliverance was promised to them from all the evils which they had brought on themselves and their posterity; a mode of worship was prescribed, admirably calculated to point out the means by which that promise was to be fulfilled, as well as to remind them of the heinousness of their sin; and though they were turned out of the delightful garden of Eden, which by that sin they had justly forfeited, to till the ground whence they were originally taken, they were far from being left to the superintendance of the Guide which they had chosen for themselves.
As their faculties were certainly not improved by their fall, they were not then able with Moses (a) to “ look up to Him who is invisible,” or to perform a worship so purely rational and refined as is that of the Christian church. God was therefore graciously pleased to manifest himself occasionally to their senses, and visibly to direct them by the angel of his presence, as he appears indeed to have done in paradise (6), in every thing which related to religion. That those manifestations were frequent, and generally made at some particular place, seems evident from what passed between God and Cain (c) on the murder of Abel; and hence it probably was, that when the murderer was banished from the presence of the Lord, his descendants so soon degenerated into idolatry.
It is not however probable that even that family apostatized, so soon as is generally supposed, from the worship of Jehovah. The earliest idolatry appears to have been that of the heavenly host—the sun, moon, and stars; and it is very likely that the Cainites would at first prostrate themselves before the SuNnot as a god himself—but as such an emblem of the true God as was the SHEKINAH manifested to the family of Seth. Lamech, the seventh from Cain, appears to have been even a religious man (d); and there is no good reason to suppose that there were not, for some time at least, many such in the same family (e). There is indeed no reason to believe, that the notions, which generally prevailed in either family, of the Divine nature and Providence, were very perfect or refined ; for being all “ keepers of cattle,” or “ tillers of the ground," then under the curse of barrenness, they could have little leisure for speculalation or refinement on spiritual subjects. Many of them, as an ingenious author (f) supposes, may have been little better than Anthropomorphites in their conceptions of the Divipe nature, as it is to be suspected that great numbers still are, even in regions blessed with the light of the glorious Gospel ; and therefore it can excite no reasonable surprise, that even Almighty power and Infinite wisdum found it expedient to train them by successive dispensations, such as they were capable of receiving, till in the fulness of time they were rendered in some degree able to receive the last and best that could be vouchsafed to them. He could not indeed, by any other means that we can
(a) Heb. xi. 27. (6) Gen. iii. 8, 9, 10. (c) Gen. iv. 3-17. (1) See Patrick on Gen. iv. (e) See Bishop Horsle’ys Dissertation prefixed to his Sermons on our Lord's Resurrection, together with his Sermon on the Descent of Christ into Hell, ( ) Bishop Law in his Theory of Religion,
conceive, have rendered them at all fit to profit by the Christian dispensation, unless hé had overpowered their wills and completely changed their nature; but to have overpowered their wills and to have literally changed their nature, would have been to make them quite different creatures from the human race. Such a change must have made them either angels or brutes ; and in either case a chasm would have been left in the creation, to be filled up by such creatures as men now are, with all their frailties and imperfections about them.
That every method, which Divine wisdom could devise, was employed to cure them of their imperfections, is proved by the whole history of the Old Testament. Revelations were frequently made to the heads of families both before and after the general deluge; and when the children of Israel were separated from the nations around them, and taken under the immediate government of the Lord of all the earth, this distinction was not conferred on them for their own sakes only, but that the principles of true religion might be disseminated from them through the whole world (a). Their law was indeed such as to prevent them from uniting with their neighbours in that intercommunity of gods and of worship, which seems to have prevailed from tlie earliest ages among all polytheistic idolaters; but it did not prevent any other kind of intercourse with the heathen. They were at liberty to trade with them; and though they had no encouragement to make conquests beyond the limits of the devoted nations of Canaan, which they were commanded to expel or exterminate, they were never forbidden to defend themselves by arms when unjustly attacked by enemies of any description. The nations with which they had any intercourse, whether warlike or commercial, and they seem to have had a great deal of both during the reigns of David and Solomon, could not be altogether unacquainted with the principles of their religion ; cu. riosity, if no better motive, would impel the most hostile of their neighbours to inquire into the truth of a religion so singular; the preaching of some of their prophets to the contiguous heathen nations; the dispersion of the Israelites through all the regions of the East, after the conquest of Samaria by Shalmaneser king of Assyria ; the long captivity of the Jews in Babylon and its dependant provinces, where they were permitted to live according to their own laws; and the high estination in which Daniel and other faithful Jews were held by Nebuchadnezzar the Great, and afterwards by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, when the Babylonian empire became subject to the Persian monarch, must have contributed much to diffuse the knowledge of the Divine unity through all the East. It is to be remembered too, that but a comparatively small number of the Jews returned to their own country with Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah ; the greater part of them choosing to remain where they had been so long settled, and where some of them are said (b) to be found at this day, practising all the precepts of the law of Moses which can be practised in a strange land ; that when the Persian monarchy was overthrown by Alexander, and his vast empire divided among his generals, the nation of the Jews became tributary to the Grecian dynasties of Egypt and Syria, just as one or other of those potentates became the most powerful; that during this period their Scriptures were translated into the Greek language, and thus laid open to all the learned nations of antiquity; and that they became afterwards tributary to the Roman empire at a period when Greek was perfectly understood by every Roman who had received a liberal education, and when literary curiosity was exceedingly prevalent among that warlike people.
When all these circumstances, and many others which must occur to the reflecting reader of ancient history, are duly considered, no doubt can remain, I think, in any candid mind, but that the Jews were the instruments of diffusing much religious know
(a) See the Supplementary Dissertation on some of the Principle Doctrines of the Christian Religion, p. 360 of this volume.
() See Buchanan's Christian Researches.
ledge through the world, as well as of raising that general expectation, which, about the period of our Saviour's birth, prevailed not only in the East, but through the greater part of the Roman empire, of some great personage and mighty conqueror who was to appear immediately in the hitherto obscure and despised country of Judea. But we have seen, during the course of the preceding History, that the ultimate purposes for which the children of Israel were separated from the heathen nations, and placed under a theocratic government, were to preserve in the world the knowledge of the Divine unity, which must otherwise have been wholly lost; and to prepare the way for Him, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed; and it appears from this concise detail, that both these purposes were served as much by the captivities and dispersions of that singular people at one period, as by their national prosperity and grandeur at another, under the reigns of their greatest monarchs, David and Solomon.
It appears, therefore, that the several dispensations of revealed religion succeeded each other in that order in which they could each be most efficacious in promoting the purpose which they were all equally intended to serve—the enlightening and improving of the human race. The supposition that it was unworthy of Him, with whom " is no variableness neither shadow of turning,” to reveal his purposes by degrees to mankind, proceeds from a notion, that Adam and Eve, because they undoubtedly came from the hands of their Creator perfectly innocent, must therefore have been endowed with more exalted faculties and even greater knowledge than any of their descendants. Had this indeed been the case, it would be very difficult to assign any reason, why God might not have revealed all his counsel at once to Adam ; but in the Scriptures there is no evidence whatever that the natural faculties of the first pair were superior to those of some of their posterity, whilst it seems impossible that they could have been created with all that knowledge which has ever since been acquired only by experience. The history of their fall indicates in them no natural superiority over many of their descendants; in paradise they were, as well disposed children, under the conduct of an infallible guide ; and when they withdrew themselves from that guide, they could be nothing else than youths probably of great natural abilities, but certainly destitute of that knowledge, which alone can conduct such creatures as we are, in safety through life. In this view of the earliest ages of the world, the only view which the writings of Moses authorise us to take of them, the Divine wisdom appears most conspicuous in the several dispensations of religion which were in succession vouchsafed to men; and perhaps the little success of those missionaries who have attempted to convert savage nations to the Christian faith, by initiating them at once into the sublimest mysteries of that faith, may be attributed to their having adopted an order of teaching directly the reverse of that by which God prepared the race at large for the reception of the sublime system of religion, to be in the fulness of time revealed to the world by that Divine Teacher, who hath brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel.
But the modern Jews here step forward, and lend their aid to the Deist in his reasoning against Christianity. They do not indeed deny, for their own sacred books declare, that many revelations were made by God to man before the era of Moses, and that the patriarchs, both before and after the flood, were under dispensations of religion in many respects different from that under which they were themselves placed by their great legislator, when he conducted their forefathers from their bondage in Egypt to the land of Canaan. They admit a gradation of dispensations, each rising in perfection above that by which it was immediately preceded; but they contend that their own, which was vouchsafed to them through the ministry of Moses, was from the beginning designed to be of all these dispensations the last and the best.
They still look for a Messiah, who is to be greater than Moses or Joshua, or David or Solomon; but, according to their expectations, he is not to introduce a new form of religion, but to restore the Mosaic law to its primitive purity ; to re-establish the Jews in the
land of Judea, and to bring all the nations of the earth under subjection to them. In support of these ambitious but worldly hopes, they observe, that God said (a) to their illustrious ancestor Abraham, “ I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God un. to thee and thy seed after thee;" that he instituted the passover (6) to be “ kept as a feast to the Lord for ever throughout all the generations of the children of Israel ; to be kept as a feast by an ordinance for ever ;” and that the wave offering of the sheaf of first fruits is declared (c) to “ be a statute for ever to the Israelites throughout their generations in all their dwellings."
Now it is not to be denied, nor have we any wish to deny, that these and many si. milar texts are to be found in our English version of the Hebrew Pentateuch ; but the great question between the Jews and Christians is, “ What do they import ?" At the first calling of Abram from his idolatrous country, he was assured, (d) “ that in him should all the families of the earth be blessed." The same promise is repeated to him (e) almost immediately after this establishment of the everlasting covenant of circumci. sion, and again on his having offered up to God his son Isaac (f). This then—" the blessing of all the nations of the earth”—must have been the ultimate purpose for which Abraham was called from his country, and from his kindred, and from his fa. ther's house, and taken into a peculiar and everlasting covenant with God; but it is not easy to be conceived how all the nations of the earth could be blessed, merely by being conquered and made subject to an universal monarchy to be established in Judea by some remote descendant of Abraham! We Christians say, that all the nations of the earth have been, or will be blessed by that descendant of Abraham who died to open the kingdom of heaven, which had been shut against the whole human race; and who will in time diffuse through all nations, as they shall be able to receive it, the light of his glorious Gospel ; but the blessing which the Jews promise to those who are not naturally of the seed of Abraham is such as no man can wish to receive; and the texts, on which that promise is founded, have, as interpreted by them, proved false predictions. That people do indeed still circumcise their male children, and may have done so throughout all their generations : They may therefore pretend that the covenant of circumcision, as literally understood by them, was to be an everlasting covenant; but they cannot, without absurdity, say the same thing of the passover, and the offering of the sheaf of corn. They can have offered no sacrifice according to their law, since the final destruction of their temple by the Romans; and therefore, though they were to be restored to their own country, and their ritual law completely re-established, they cannot pretend that either the passover had been kept, as enjoined by Moses (8), or the wave offering made of the sheaf, throughout all their generalions, by a statute for ever; for many generations have passed away, since the emperors Titus and Adrian rendered these observances impossible. The truth is, that the word og rendered, in the verses quoted, forever and everlasting, generally means nothing more than a concealed duration of unknown but great length (h), and very seldom eternal duration ; but it is unquestionable that the law, when given, was to be of long duration, and that its termination was then concealed, probably from Moses himself, but certainly from every other Israelite.
That the Hebrew lawgiver did not himself look upon it as to be in force to all eternity, is evident from his saying to the people, (i) a little before he was to be taken from them for ever; “ The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me ; unto him shall ye hearken;" but we are
(a) Gen. xvii. 7.
(6) Exod. xii. 14. (e) 16. xviii. 18.
(f) Ib. xxii. 18. Aurst's Heb. Lexicon, and Taylor's Concordance.
(c) Levit. xxiii. 14.
(1) Deut. xviii. 15. 18, 19.
(d) Gen. xii. 3. (h) See Park
assured by Ezra, or the president of the great synagogue, (one of whom is supposed to have written the three last verses of the book of Deuteronomy) that there had arisen, at the time of his writing, “no prophet in Israel, like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face ;” and indeed none could be like unto him, who had not authority to give unto the people a new law or covenant of religion—who should not be, as Eu. sebius express it, (a) Séutepos xato Mwośc vomoo Bétns-a second laugiver such as was Moses. To have told the rebellious Israelites in plainer terms, that their law was only preparatory to another, would at that period, when they were so prone to idolatry, and ready on all occasions to return into Egypt, have been to defeat the very purpose for which the ritual law was given. But when those prejudices were in some degree overcome, and the vail, which was then necessarily thrown over the future reign of the Messiah, gradually removed, clearer and clearer intimations were given by the prophets, that what was peculiar to the Mosiac covenant, was by him to be done away. « Behold the days come, saith the LORD, (6) that I will make a NEW COVENANT with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah ; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; (which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord ;) but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel ; after those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” A clearer intimation than this, that the Mosaic covenant or dispensation was to be superseded by another exactly such as we know the Christian to be, could not be expressed by words; and it was given to them, by a prophet, who some of their Rabbi's were absurd enough to suppose, was the prophet to be raised up unto them like unto Moses, (c) and inferior only to the Messiah whom they still expect.
To that mode which, as hath been shewn, the Divine wisdom chose for diffusing through the world the first principles of true religion, and thus training mankind for the reception of him who was to fulfil all righteousnesss, the Jews have therefore no right to object the perpetuity of their law. In that law there is much that is of eternal obligation ; much that was adopted by Moses, under the direction of the Spirit of God, from the patriarchal dispensations; much that was instituted to prefigure the future and better dispensation ; and not a little that was designed merely to keep the Israelites completely separated from their idolatrous neighbours in all things that related to religious worship.
The moral part of the law of Moses has suffered no change whatever by the preaching of Christ and his apostles. It has indeed been by them disintangled from the corrupt glosses of the Jewish Pharisees, and in many instances where it was made of none effect by their traditions, restored to its primitive purity, and enforced by more powerful sanctions. In one or two instances relating to marriage and divorce, and the treatment of enemies, in which Moses was permitted to make concessions to the hardness of the people's hearts, our Lord has restored the law to what he declares it to have been from the beginning ; by the importance which he gives to the internal dispositions from which obedience to the letter of the law proceeds; and by the aid from above which he hath promised, to all who earnestly endeavour to obey it, as well as by withdrawing mens affections from the good things of this life, and directing them to those of another, as the ultimate reward of obedience to his precepts, he hath certainly exalted and refined the morality of the Gospel above that of the law of Moses; but the reflecting reader of both, will find that not one tittle of the moral law hath been repealed by the Gospel.
(a) Demonst. Evangel. and xxxiv. 10.
(b) Jerem, xxxi. 31.-34.
(c) See Patrick on Deut. xviii. 15–20.