« PreviousContinue »
Ceremonies of the Hebrew worship, and the special objects of their
appointment. Their suitableness to the existing state of the world, and to the Israelites in particular. Institution of the Jewish sabbath, and the extensive benefits resulting from it.
In our last discourse we largely showed the fit
ness of those worldly.motives, by which even the religious rites of the Jewish law were enforced. We pointed out many reasons which justified and even necessitated those political or temporal rewards and penalties which were employed to stimulate and hold fast to their duty a rude, carnal, and untractable nation. Having surveyed the most conspicuous sanctions of their religious code, we will now attend to the leading rites, of which it is composed.
That the antient Hebrew worship embraced a great variety and abundance of ceremonies is manifest to all but many at this day do not appear to know the special and wise reasons of' their appointment. There are two modes of communicating religious instruction, as well as of offering religious worship; one by plain, intelligible words, the other by significant actions. The question is, which of these was best fitted to promote the great ends of religion among the Jewish people. It will be easy to prove that the latter 'method was most eligible, or that expressive and striking ceremony suited the genius and circumstances of that nation, far better than a simple and rational mode of instruction and worship.
For in the first place the Israelites had just emerged from the bondage of Egypt, where a low education and
grievous oppression had weakened their minds, and where they had been dazzled with the pompous ceremonies, as well as the celebrated wisdom of that idolatrous country. Besides, the most familiar mode of instruction in those times, and probably the only method which they then understood, was by Hieroglyphics, or external symbols representing invisible objects. Now ceremonies in religious worship corresponded to Hieroglyphics in writing, and were equally necessary and beneficial, before the invention and established use of letters. And as this symbolical method of writing and of worship was greatly studied and practised by the antient Egyptians; both habit and necessity would dictate a similar mode to the early Hebrews. To such a mode of religion they were so accustomed, and so fondly attached, that they very early compelled Aaron to make them a golden calf, as a visible symbol of the divine presence, and honored this symbol with the ceremonies of a public feast. The genius and habits of the Hebrews at that period did, therefore, evidently require a symbolical or ceremonious kind of worship. As this symbolical form of religion thus suited the genius and exigences of that people ; so it was farther necessary and useful, as a wall of partition between the people of God and surrounding idolaters. For as the Jews would not have been easy without a ceremonious religion, so without this they could not have been kept from adopting or participating in the idolatrous rites of their neighbours ; especially as many of these had every charm of splendor, luxury, and festivia ty. To guard them still more effectually against these allurements, it was necessary that their law should forbid, or hold up as unclean and detestable, those things, which idolaters esteemed most sacred. Thus eating the
blood of the victims was deemed an essential act of religion in the heathen festivals, because blood was account. ed the food of their demons or gods, and because the worshippers by partaking in this food were supposed to hold communion with these gods, and to receive peculiar discoveries or benefits from them. Was not this a sufficient reason for the prohibition of blood to the Israel ites ? Was it not important that a people, visibly conse. crated to the true God, should be effectually barred from all the idolatrous customs of pagans ? Was it not important that such a people should be conspicuously exalted above the heathen world by the superior dignity and purity both of their doctrine and worship? Would not this give them, both in their own esteem, and in the sighr of surrounding nations, a proper and honorable distinction as the people of Jehovah? And was not a peculiar system of ceremonies necessary to exhibit and preserve this distinction ?
Finally, as the law of Moses was intended not only as a remembrance of the past favors and wonders of the Most High, but a figure of better things to come ; it was needful on both accounts that it should consist chiefly of significant rites; and that these rites should be especial ly fitted both to preserve among the Jews the memory of the grand promise relating to the Messiah, and to type ify and prepare for its future accomplishments According ly, the law of Moses is really the gospel of Christ in a hieroglyphical or figurative dress; it wonderfully repre. sents the person and office, the actions and sufferings of the promised Redeemer, and the future spiritual blessk ings of his church,
If then the ceremonies of the Jewish law, considered as parts of one great whole, were adinirably suited to
the then existing circumstances of the world in general, and of the Israelites in particular ; if they were necessary to check idolatry and its destructive effects, to pre serve pure religion and morals, and gradually to introduce the more perfect system of Christianity; if these things can be proved, the wisdom of this institution will be amply vindicated even though the utility of some detached parts of it cannot now be fully perceived. If the -system at large, like that of nature, be evidently wise and good ; the just inference is, that its minutest parts, like those of creation, though singly or apparently trivial, yet contribute in their place to the harmony and perfaction of the whole. In this case those, who lay hold of some particular ceremonies as objects of ridicule, and from these point their artillery against the institution in general, act as unfair and impious a part, as those philasophists, who from a few seeming blemishes in the works of nature conclude that the universe is not the offspring of wisdom and goodness.
Having made these general observations we will now briefly analyze the Hebrew Ritual, and inquire into the Teasons which gave rise to its principal component parts, and on which their value and usefulness depended.
We will begin with circumcision; which properly claims our first attention, because it was the rite of initiation into the Jewish church. The origin of this rite has occasioned much learned discussion; for it is well known that the practice of it obtained very early, not only among the Jews, but likewise among the Egyptians, Phenicians, Syrians, Arabs, and several other antient nations. Two early Greek writers, Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, have intimated that this custom probably briginated in Egypt; and several modern deistical authors,
relying on their opinion, have labored to prove that the Jews borrowed it from their Egyptian neighbours. But how unfair is it to prefer the mere conjecture of two writers, who lived at a great distance both of time and place from the event in question, to the authority of Moses, who had the best means of information, and to the authentic record, the uninterrupted tradition, and the constant usage of the whole Hebrew nation for more than three thousand years! These regular sources of information give sufficient light both to the origin and the import of this ceremony, by tracing it up to Abrahami, the venerable father of the Hebrews,and by representing it as the appointed token of God's covenant with him and his posterity. It is very probable that the Egyptians afterwards derived it either from Joseph while he was the first and favorite minister of their government, or from the Arabians, descendants of Abraham, who for a time ruled over Egypt; or that they were induced to adopt it by the great reputation of Abraham and of the Israelites, or by the reverence and terror excited in their minds by the marvellous works of Jehovah in favor of the Hebrews, and against their oppressors. Even the principles of idolatry might lead the Egyptians and some other nations to view the God of Israel as a very powerful Deity, and fit to be ranked among their other divinities ; and according to a well known heathen custom, to court his friendly protection by embracing one of his peculiar institutions. It is, however, of small importance to determine how or on what principles this rite was introduced into pagan countries ; our main business is to show the fitness and utility of it to the antient Jews. Now the ceremony of circumcision was prescribed to Abraham, to confirm his faith in the wonderful promise of