« السابقةمتابعة »
we have in Scripture of its having been appointed so early, by Divine authority, and as law for the whole world, explains how we come to find the observance of a seventh day as sacred, by universal custom, mentioned in such ancient writers as Homer, Hesiod, and Callimachus. Nor can any appointment be imagined more fit for keeping up an appearance of religion among mankind, than this. Stated solemnities, returning periodically, have, by the wis dom of all lawgivers, been thought the best expedients for keeping up the lasting remembrance of remarkable events. And it is evident, that no event better deserved to be kept in remembrance than that of the completing of the work of creation; till such time as the work of redemption, the second and best creation of man, was completed in the resurrection of the Saviour of the world. Upon which the first Christians sanctified the first day of the week, and, according to the best authority now to be had, the seventh likewise; though neither with that strictness required by the Mosaic constitntiou; but with that decent liberty, with which Christianity makes its votaries free.
The design of creating the human species, was to put them in the way toward such a happiness as should be fit and suitable to the nature of free moral agents. This rendered it necessary to place them in a state of discipline; the only possible method for learning virtue; and we accordingly find a lesson of obedience* prescribed them immediately on their coming into existence. A law, to all appearance, very easy to keep. Only to abstain wholly from one particular indulgence, being at liberty within the Wunds of moderation, with respect to others. In the state that things at that time, it would not have been easy to will scribe a particular trial, which should not turn upon government of passion or appetite. Being the onvo on the face of the earth, they could not be guilty breach of duty to fellow-creatures. And with the frequent intercourse, Scripture gives us reason to think, they had with angels, and celestial beings, they could hardly bring themselves to any positive violation of their duty to God; and were under no temptation to neglect it. That
* This point is not here stated as the author now thinks it ought. See the note, page 248. Vol. I.
they should fall into this fatal transgression of the first law given for trial of their obedience, was to be expected from beings newly created, and wholly unexperienced and unprincipled. Thus we see, that young children have no fixed principles sufficient to prevent their yielding to temptation for virtue is an attachment to rectitude, and abhorrence of all moral evil, arising from reason, experience, and habit. But though this, and other deviations from obedience, were to be expected from the first of mankind, it does not follow, that such deviations were wholly innocent. Pitiable undoubtedly their case was, and the rather, in that they were misled by temptation from a wicked being, more experienced than themselves. Accordingly their case, and that of the rest of their species, has found such pity, and such interpositions have been made in their favour, as we have reason from Scripture, to suppose other offending orders of beings, particularly the fallen angels, have not been favoured with. For it is expressly said, that nothing equivalent to the Christian scheme, restoration and salvation, has been planned out in favour of them, but that they are left to the consequences of their disobedience.
The natural tendency of the least deviation from moral rectitude is so dreadfully and extensively fatal, as to render it highly necessary that the righteous Governor of the World should inflict some signal and permanent mark of his displeasure on the occasion of the first transgression of the first of the species. As a wise father, who has found his child once guilty of a breach of truth, or any other foul crime, seems at first to disbelieve it, and then punishes him with the loss of his favour for a very long time after, and otherwise, in such a manner as may be likely to make a lasting impression on his mind, and deter him from a repetition of his fault. Scripture informs us, accordingly, that immediately upon the first offence, the transgressors, and, in them, the whole species, were sunk, from their natural immortality, and condemned to a state obnoxious to death.
Whether eating the forbidden fruit was not the natural, as well as judicial cause of disease and death, it is needless to dispute: but what is said of the tree of life in the book of Genesis, and afterwards in the Apocalypse, as if it were
a natural antidote, or cure for mortality, and the means of preserving life, is very remarkable.
Death, the consequence of the first transgression, and which has been merited by innumerable succeeding offences, was pronounced upon mankind on purpose to be to all ages a standing memorial of the Divine displeasure against disobedience. With the same view also, Scripture informs us, the various natural evils of the barrenness of the earth, inclement seasons, and the other grievances under which nature at present groans, were inflicted; that men might no where turn their eyes or their thoughts where they should not meet a caveat against vice and irregularity. Here I cannot help observing, by the by, in how ridiculous a light the Scripture account of the fatal and important consequences of the first transgression shows the usual superficial apologies made by wretched mortals in excuse of their vices and follies. One crime is the effect of thoughtlessness. They did not, forsooth, consider how bad such an action was. Another is a natural action. Drunkenness is only an immoderate indulgence of a natural appetite; and so on. Have such excuses as these been thought sufficient in the case before us? The eating of the forbidden fruit was only indulging a natural appetite directly contrary to the Divine command: and it is very likely that our first parents did not duly attend to all the probable consequences of their transgression. But neither of these apologies, nor the inexperience of the offenders, nor their being overcome by temptation, were sufficient to avert the divine displeasure, the marks of which, we and our world bear to this hour. Disobedience to a known law, given by our Creator and Governor, is always to be looked upon with horror: and no false apology ought to be thought of; for we may assure ourselves none will be admitted before our All-seeing Judge, who is not to be deceived.
The next remarkable object of our consideration, in this general survey of Scripture, is a dark prophecy of a conquest to be gained, by one miraculously descended of our species, over the grand enemy, and first seducer of mankind; which also implies some comfortable hopes of a restoration of the human race to the Divine favour.
The next dispensation of heaven, which we read of in Scripture, is that most awful and remarkable judgment of the universal deluge, by which the human race were, for the universal.corruption of their manners, at once swept off the face of the earth, and the world cleansed from the impurity of its inhabitants. Nothing can be conceived more proper for making a powerful and lasting impression on mankind, or convincing them of the Divine abhorrence of vice and disobedience, than to be informed that it occasioned the cutting off, or unmaking, the whole species, except eight persons, whom their singular virtue preserved amidst the general wreck of nature.
It is remarkable, that after the flood, we find the period of man's life considerably reduced below the standard of it in the antediluvian age. This is no more than was to be expected, considering what use the ancients had madeof the great length of life they enjoyed. The abridging the term of human life, is also a standing memorial of the Divine displeasure against vice. It naturally tends, by bringing death nearer the view of even the youngest, to lessen men's attachment to the present state, and lead them to think of one better and more lasting. By this means also, the opportunities of offending, being lessened, the guilt and punishment of wretched mortals comes to be very considerably diminished.
The laws given to Noah, upon his coming out of the ark, seems to be intended for mankind in general, as he was the common father of all who have lived since his time. And we know of no general repeal of them. The liberty of killing animals for food is derived wholly from hence; a right which we could not otherwise pretend to. Nor can the opposers of the Divine authority of Scripture, show any pretence for killing a living creature fo food, or any shadow of the title which the human sper have to the life of any creature whatever, but this gran om the Author of life, and Maker of all creatures, who he has a right to dispose of the lives of his creatures.
The command for putting to death every murderer without exception, which law is nowhere repealed, seems effectually to cut off all power of pardoning that atrocious crime. And many crowned heads have accordingly made it
a rule never to extend their mercy to offenders of that sort.
As to the prohibition of blood, its obligation on us has been disputed. But, as the blood is the seat of almost every disease, and is a gross, unwholesome, and nauseous substance, consisting of earth, salt, and phlegm, the best way is evidently to abstain from it, and so make sure of avoiding a breach of a prohibition. And indeed, in all the doubtful cases, prudence will always direct to keep on safe side. At the same time, the excessive scrupulousness of the Jews about the least particle of blood is absurd. The prohibition is only against eating an animal with the blood in it. And the intention was probably two-fold. One for the advantage of health; the other religious; that, in shedding the blood of the animal, a libation or offering might thereby be paid to the Lord of life, and Giver of all gifts.
The account we have in Scripture of the building of the tower of Babel, the confusion of tongues, and scattering the people abroad into different countries, is most naturally solved, by supposing their design to have been, to set up an universal empire, whose established religion should be idolatry and polytheism. This being quite contrary to the Divine intention in blessing mankind with a revelation from himself, it was not fit that it should be suffered to take place, at a time when there was no nation in the world in which the worship of the true God prevailed. The disappointment of such a design is therefore a Divine dispensation, fit to be recorded in Scripture.
The destruction of the cities of the Plain, for their abominable and unnatural vices, is a Divine judgment very fit to be related in the records of the dispensations of God to mankind. For such exemplary vengeance on the inhabitants of whole towns, upon kingdoms and empires, and upon the whole world together, as, we have authentic accounts of in Scripture, shows, that numbers, instead of alleviating, do, in fact, aggravate the guilt of offenders, and draw down a swifter and surer destruction. When we read in Scripture of kingdoms broken in pieces, of cities destroyed by fire from Heaven, of nations partly driven from their own country, and scattered abroad over the face of the earth, and partly given up to be massacred by