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THE PREPARATORY DISPENSATIONS OF RELIGION, IN THE MODE OF THEIR
BEING INCULCATED, IN ADAPTATION TO THE CHARACTER OF MAN AS RUDE AND UNLEARNED, HESTE PROVED TO BE OF DIVINE AUTHORITY.
We have almost no data upon which to decide what was the essential character of the human intellect—what was the power of the human reason, in its unfallen and underanged condition. We have presumed to suppose that it was unconfirmed and inexperienced, and hence weak, arguing from the first and only recorded trial to which it was put. What would have been its innate power of self-development, and the range of its future conquests, had it stood the test, and come forth triumphant from the probation, we have not, and probably never will have, the means, in this world, of deciding. But in regard to the character of that intellect, and of the moral powers and feelings, after that sad event, we have the most ample grounds of knowledge—most satisfactory means of forming a judgment. The whole history, in fact, which it is our object to prove divine, is the history of the development of that intellect and those passions in their various phases and phenomena. The books of Moses have been very happily described as the history of the effects of the fall of man. The same description will apply to all the other narrative portions of the Bible; and we may add to it, that the account of the successive revelations and dispensations given to the early ages, may be described as the narrative of the divine dealings intended to counteract those effects, to familiarize the minds of men with the principles of truth, and prepare them for the reception of the perfected remedial scheme. By taking here and there several of those striking facts of God's judicial and manifested interference in the affairs of men, for the purpose of forcing upon their consideration the reality of his sovereign power, and the nature of his moral government, and comparing these, as we may be able, with the recorded character of mankind
for the time, and the varying nature and varying language of these facts of judicial interference, with the changing circumstances of the characters and the times, we hope to bring forth a striking argument for the whole history being the divine narrative of God's doings, and, of course, the whole doctrines, combined or deduced, the revelation of the eternal truth of heaven.
As the leading principle of this argument, we say, that in those early ages men required to be taught by facts. We have seen how ignorant they were of the character and attributes of God, how incessantly prone they were to forget him, and forget and pervert all that he had revealed to them of himselfhow incorrigibly bent they were upon following their own passions and desires as the direct road to happiness, as the end and chief good of their existence. Such are the doings, such is the character, of an infant and inexperienced world. Now, truth of all kinds, to strike, and be brought home to the apprehension and reception of such infant and inexperienced reason, must be made palpable to the senses, or unavoidably obvious, on the slightest reflection. In such a case, arguments of all kinds, to have any weight as motives to moral conduct, must be divested of all complexity of logical processes of reasoningmust speak directly to the senses or feelings, either as persuading or dissuading-must show directly that there is disgrace, or loss, or suffering, in the course warned against, and approbation, or happiness, or gain, in that recommended. This instance may serve to some extent to give a correct representation of the reason, and moral affections, and moral experience, of man in the first ages of the world. It is clear, as we have said, that all these were long in a state of unconfirmed infancy, and untried experience. In accordance with this state of things, we find that, when God spoke to man at first, he spoke to his senses—he manifested himself face to face, the Creator visible to the material eye of the creature. He did not, as now, conceal himself in inaccessible glory behind the elements he had formed, or reside in the invisible infinitude of his own spirituality, and allow the intelligent creature to search after him and learn his character, by penetrating, with the strong and eagle fight of untried faith, through the mysterious and impenetrable depth of those material elements that every where lay around him. Had this been done, it is probable that the feebleness of the creature could never have passed that mysterious veil which separates the visible and material from the invisible and spiritual, as we know that the thoughts and affections of man will never ascend to heaven and to God, unless they are raised and drawn. When he first tried the belief, and dependence and obedience of man, it was not by setting before his mind the sublime doctrines of a spiritual and perfected theology; it was by a single visible symbol constantly before his eyes, with a direct warning, and a direct threat.
Now, when his reason was deceived and misled by the specious and glozing sophistry of the tempter, the first terrible lesson he got, and the world through him, regarding the character of God and the nature of sin, was one that spoke most overwhelmingly to all his senses__banishment from the garden of God, and from his paternal and daily presence, condemnation to exhausting labour and heart-withering sorrow, and racking pain, and death. He was not left to draw by inference, or come to the conclusion, through a process of reasoning, that these sufferings were the immediate or remote consequences of his sin. He had been warned directly before what should be the consequence of his transgression; and in the minute particularity of the sentence of judgment, his reason and conscience were compelled - to connect the suffering with the sin, and thence learn, in a way he could never mistake while he remembered the facts, the character of God as a being of holiness, who hateth all sin. This is the first great practical demonstration that God gave to the fallen world of his character of moral governor; and except it be in its great counterpart, in the remedy provided to counteract the effects of that sin, never has man since seen, and perhaps never had the universe of all intelligent creation before witnessed, such a striking exhibition of the attributes of Deity. Now, I think it is too evident, on the face of this transaction, to require any reasoning to prove it, that, had not God appeared to maintain his authority, and support the dignity of his law, and explain the nature and inculcate the knowledge of his moral government, by personal appearance and direct act, and declared sentence upon the sinners, man himself could not have concluded the heinousness of his guilt, nor learned the unbending justice and unsuffering holiness of the divine character and the divine law, from the experience or consideration of those personal consequences, without such explanation. On the contrary, it is most probable that our first parents would have believed, in their folly, as many of their descendants did soon believe, the deceitful promise of the tempter, that they had really become gods, knowing good and evil. In consistence with this view of the subject, it is a common and a very probable inter
pretation, that supposes there is a deep and bitter sarcasm that indicates such as being their real persuasion and belief, previous to the divine sentence, in the expression, “ behold the man is become as one of us, knowing good and evil.”
Man was thus taught the nature, and the evil, and the guilt of sin, and the character of God as Creator and Judge of the world, from the very commencement of his new probation. This was done also in a way, and with a terrible power, which we might have supposed every thing in him, and around him -every day's toil, and every day's want, and weakness, and suffering, would have bitterly reminded him. Only let him remember the history of his original and present condition, and he could never forget the truths which these most solemnly and impressively urged upon his mind. We cannot doubt, indeed, that these fundamental truths were thenceforth deeply engraved in the soul of Adam and Eve—too deeply ever to be forgotten or effaced—and that they exerted all their influence and persuasion with their posterity to maintain these as the very principles and laws of human existence. We do not know how soon, or in what way, the atheistic principle, in its avowed and open shape, again gained entrance among men; but it is very obvious, without any comment, that Cain, the first-born of the fallen race, introduced, or attempted to introduce, innovations in the rite or mode of worship. The consequence of this, from his own fierce and evil passions, was the breaking out of sin, in a new and terrible shape, in the murder of his brother. God showed his displeasure at this deed of unnatural violence, by banishing the murderer, as an excommunicated wanderer, from his presence. But we pass over the whole of this first period of the world's new probation, and of the working of the new moral law, with this single remark, that God had already made so fully known to man his law, and the nature of human obedience and faith required, as to supersede the necessity of repeated manifestations, or violent interferences of judgment, to assert his supreme authority. Had they remembered, as they ought and had every powerful reason and cogent motive to do, what they had been taught by God—had they improved these principles by the experience which time and events must have afforded them, no new interposition, no terrible judicial manifestation of the divine ruler, would have been necessary. On the commission of this first great crime of Cain, the awful effects of the first judicial punishment of sin must have been still too fresh in the minds of all; and the whole of the first family was too small to render any new demonstration necessary in the way of judgment; therefore the displeasure and condemnation only were expressed, and the execution of the sentence delayed.
We come then at once to the time when the truths which had been given to guide man in his duty to God were forgot, and the promise of deliverance held out to cheer and elevate his spirit, amid the sufferings and imperfections of the world, was almost universally lost sight of, and the whole race apparently sunk into a state of gross atheism, and its natural consequence, brutal licentiousness and lawless violence. The long-delayed sentence of the transgression had passed upon Adam, and upon most of those who had conversed with him and listened to his instructions. Death, the doom of sinful humanity, was now, in the populous earth, daily witnessed in the
ourse of nature, or hastened by the tyrant cruelty and bloodstained hand of man. But from its very commonness and familiar occurrence, awful as it at all times ought to be, it had ceased to warn and to teach. In those days of millennial life, we can scarcely imagine, that the knowledge of the fact of the first transgression of the great judgment and universal curse, should have vanished from the earth. That, we should suppose, was not possible. But the lesson of mighty truth which these facts so plainly and forcibly taught, was no longer connected in the minds of men with their daily duty and their final destiny. The paradise of Eden, perhaps, had become a barren waste—the tree of life may have withered and died in a clime which was now no longer its native and genial soil—the fiery waving sword of the cherub guard may have been withdrawn—and all manifest symbols of God's former footsteps upon earth may have been obliterated by the effacing fingers of time, or forgot in the wicked heart of the corrupted race. The authority of God's eternal government had been left to be maintained by those principles, so strongly inculcated, which should now have been the felt and efficient elements of the moral nature of man. Ample proof, and sanction broad and deep, and enduring as human nature itself, had been given to enforce and support the righteous principles of the moral government of heaven. But though the voice of sanctioned truth, and of prophetic warning, and the living examples of righteous men, were still before them continually, the combined moral power of all was displayed and applied in vain—it was despised or unfelt. Is there any probable reason to account for all this? Are there any principles of known operation in the perverted heart of man, from which we could calculate the pro