Графични страници
PDF файл

corruption. Under the Christian difpenfation we have a renovating principle, the gift of grace: and I would draw this inference, that had it not pleased God to preserve mankind by that filent but irresistible voice of conscience from total degeneracy, that law which was written in their hearts, the world would unavoidably, by the constitution of things, have fallen into an irrecoverable state of depravity. Yet if natural religion could enable us to acquire notions of morality, we ought never to lose sight of this consideration, that nothing but revelation can sanction the principles of justice and virtue among men.

On the motives of natural religion they will be only a temporal convenience, adapted entirely to the improvement or accommodations of temporal life. Revelation is the bond which unites man to God, and connects our present interests with eternity.

Besides the excellent tendency of the Mofạic inftitution to preserve a true sense of the unity and perfections of God, which is a strong internal evidence of its origin, we may further observe, that it contained much encouragement to benevolence; notwithstanding that it prescribed many distinctions which appear to be supercilious. The unlimited law of universal charity was promulgated more fully under the Gospel covenant: yet strangers under the old law were not altogether excluded from participating in the benefits of religion and common rites. The law admitted proselytes of the gate, as they were then called; and all the prescriptions of the old covenant were founded on a moral and religious necefsity, rather to exclude the contamination of heathen ceremonies, than social intercourse;. and was a necessity fomewhat similar to that which the law of self-preservation compels men to adopt in preventing the contact of epidemical disease. It prescribed at the same time several charitable institutions, such as the charge recommended to the owners and keepers of the harvest, that the grain should not be collected with scrupulous parsimony, but that the poor gleaner might in quiet and with facility enjoy his portion.

The injunction given to the Israelites to poffefs the land of Canaan has been considered as oppressive and unjust. To this the common and obvious answer is sufficient, that Providence undeniably does frequently make use of human instruments in the moral government of the world. And in this instance the enormous impiety, and the profligacy of these


ple, loudly invoked divine punishment. But it must be remembered, that on all other occafions the wars of the Jews were defensive; and they were expressly forbidden to enlarge their territories by the invasion of their neighbours. If the command of God then obliged them to act offensively as his instruments of wrath in a particular instance, and if the same law prohibited them in all others, this conclufion must at least follow, that this folitary injunction was an evident proof of particular interposition. Now suppose the command to have been from heaven, which we believe, did not this establish the right ? All law is derived from some fupreme power. If the Bible be at all true, it was God himself who promised and gave them poffeffion. Their subsequent employment was agriculture, the most useful and the most innocent of all the pursuits of man. It must be confessed, that war and conquest, abstractedly considered, appear such horrid inftruments, as to be inconsistent with the mercy of the Deity; and so are disease and death. Yet, as all men are subject to these evils, we must consider them on the whole as mercies. Thus if the human frame be subject to the injuries of time, death is a remedy for physical fuffering ; pain is the index, and the faithful centinel of danger. And if death be gain, difease is the friend that conducts us to the

gate that opens to everlasting bliss. To inflict suffering then on the human race is a merciful act of providence, if the suffering of the incorrigible lead others to repentance. Life and death are in the hands of God; and are entirely at his disposal. There is no law of nature which exempts us from evil. If war were universally enjoined as a precept of religion, it would indeed form an objection to it: but since God is sometimes pleased to destroy by famine, by earthquake, or pettilence, we cannot object to any other mode which the divine wisdom may devise of punishing a guilty world. The whole objection must lie, not against the punishment, but the mode of its execution. Now of this the Almighty can alone determine. For if we murmur at the infliction of physical evil, we have reason to murmur at the whole course of providence, which is constituted on the certainty of its existence. An injunction to destroy is indeed sufpicious, when there is no evidence of its coming from God; but the certainty of the evidence of the injunction removes all cause of objection.

To conclude the consideration of the institu

tions of the first covenant; that of the fabbath is alone a sufficient proof of a divine origin; an institution most admirably calculated to keep a fense of religion alive; an institution so important to society at large, and to the spiritual interests of individuals in particular, that it may

be considered as a most invaluable blerfing. It is the bond of religious fociety; the sanctifier of public order and tranquillity; the anticipater of heaven, and the guardian of individual grace and holiness. The universal violation of it would bring anarchy and destruction on a nation, and always terminates in the debauchery and ruin of individuals. The observance brings blessing and prosperity, and does more for public and private happiness than worldly wealth, or any temporal fuccess.

It is objected to the selection which God was pleased to make of the Israelites, as instruments of his providence, that they were a small and inconsiderable people, and that they were altogether unworthy of his peculiar favour. This may be readily granted, and yet be no ground of objection; and indeed this is urged by Moses himself, when he exhorts them to obedience: The Lord did not set his love on you, and choose you, because ye were more in


« ПредишнаНапред »