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such rewards or punishments, as were suitable to their behaviour ? And yet there is reason to think, from occasional intimations in Scripture, that warnings and instructions from Heaven were still frequently vouchsafed to mankind.
But one man in particular, Abraham, and his de scendants, God was pleased to bless, beyond others, with communications of his will : and admit into a covenant of peculiar favour: which to many hath appeared a preference very partial, and unkind to the rest of the world. But would it have been kinder to bestow this favour on none, than on some? The rest of the world were not in a worse condition than before, though the Jews were in a better. God did
a not abandon the general care of mankind, when he took that people into his more especial protection. The other nations of the earth had still a right to all the old promises of mercy, though the Jews had new ones given them. Accordingly we find, after the call of Abraham, Melchizedeck, a Gentile, not only an acceptable worshipper himself, but a priest to others of the most high God*: and such a one, whose priesthood more fully resembled our blessed Lord's, than that of Aaron did. Again we find that holy man Job, though a Gentile, also, fully equal in God's esteem to any of those, who were distinguished for his chosen people, by the marks of his covenant.
Still, if, upon this, we are asked the question, which the Apostle supposes to be put, What advantage then hath the Jew? We answer with him : Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God t. From the very time of Abraham's call, he and his posterity had fuller notifications of God's will, and stronger instances of * Gen. xiv. 18.
+ Rom. iii. 1, 2.
his providential care, than other men. But from the time, when Moses appeared amongst them, they had unheard-of demonstrations of divine power, exerting itself for their deliverance and protection; and a visible appearance of the divine glory, leading them from the land of bondage to that of promise. They had a law delivered to them, with inexpressible solemnity, by the mouth of God himself: and though it may seem hard to account for some part of it, especially to the unlearned, at the present distance of above three thousand years ; yet, so far as we have the means of judging, it even now shews itself, on the whole, admirably fitted, in their circumstances, to preserve them from the idolatry and immoralities of their neighbours, and establish amongst them the belief and practice of true religion: to convince them of their inability of fulfilling a perfect obedience, and therefore their need of God's mercy; to prefigure, by the appointment of a ceremonial service, a spiritual one to come; and by the institution of typical sacrifices to be offered daily, the true and efficacious sacrifice and priesthood of that person, through whom pardon and grace were derived to mankind. Then, besides the establishment of such a law amongst them, God was perpetually exciting them to good, and deterring them from evil ; by the interposition of an extraordinary providence, to reward their obedience, or punish their disobedience; and by the warnings and exhortations of prophets, raised up successively, who also both explained and improved the instructions, which Moses had given them.
These were doubtless great advantages : but that other nations had not the same, is no more an objection against the divine justice and goodness, than that all nations or all men at present have not in all respects the same advantages, that some have.: It suffices, that of each shall be required according to what he hath, not according to what he hath not *. But as to every thing beyond this, God is master of his own gifts: and we are incompetent judges how he ought to dispose of them. Yet in the disposal, of which I am speaking, we may trace evident footsteps of wisdom, and extensive mercy. While the rest of the world was falling into superstition and idolatry, Abraham distinguished himself by a faithful practice of true religion: and therefore was properly a distinguished object of divine favour.
He was careful also to educate his family in the same principles; as God himself bears him witness. For I know Abraham; that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment t. It was therefore no groundless preference, but a most reasonable proceeding; to build on the foundations already laid and remaining; and reward persons, found to be so well disposed, by conferring on them further privileges; of which, with all their faults, they were much likelier to make a good use, than any of their more corrupted neighbours.
Yet to these likewise, and to all men, God had gracious intentions in every thing, which he did for his peculiar people. One of the first promises made to Abraham, was, that in him and in his seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed I. This indeed received not its full accomplishment, till our Saviour, the great blessing of all nations, came. But it was in some measure verifying continually, from the day it was made. Had all men been left to themselves
2 Cor. viii. 12.
+ Gen. xviii. 19. | Gen. xii. 3. xviii. 18. xxii. 18.
at that time, the knowledge of true religion might have been every where lost. But securing the profession of it amongst the descendants of Abraham, was preserving a witness for God upon earth, and that in a part of it, perhaps as well peopled and as well esteemed, as any then known. There they shone forth first in Canaan, then in Egypt, as lights in a dark place *, to attract the eyes and direct the steps of the well-disposed. And this is a benefit of great consequence. For truth proposed is much more easily perceived, than without such proposal it is discovered. And when the Almighty brought them back from Egypt to Canaan again, by such amazing miracles as the Scripture relates, these were so many loud declarations from Heaven to mankind, concerning their duty: nor have we reason to doubt, but many were alarmed and convinced by their means : which indeed is expressly mentioned, as one end proposed by them: And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord t. Accordingly there went out, we read, a mixed multitude with I the Israelites : and who could they be, but such as were brought to believe in the true God ? for worshippers of false Gods they were not to suffer amongst them. Again, soon after this, Jethro, a man of high rank, and therefore probably of great influence, amongst the Midianites; how strongly doth he declare, what effect these wonders had on him? And Jethro said, Blessed be the Lord, who hath delivered you out of the hands of the Egyptians—Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods Ş. Further still: wherever we find in
: the law, as we do very frequently, mention of the strangers, that should sojourn in the land of Israel; * 2 Pet. i. 19.
+ Exod. vii. 5. # Exod. xii. 38.
Exod. xviii. 10, 11.
these were many of them indeed no proselytės to the whole of the Jewish covenant, but all of them worshippers of the Maker of Heaven and earth only. And though by the wise direction of God, Moses prohibited the admission of idolaters amongst the people; yet by the same direction he enjoined the utmost humanity and tenderness to all, that preserved the religion of the children of Noah or of naturé, in any tolerable degree uncorrupted. In the same spirit, Solomon too puts up an earnest petition for such in his prayer at the dedication of the Temple. Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country, for thy name's sake: (for they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm:) when he shall come, and pray towards this house; hear thou in Heaven thy dwelling-place, and do aċcording to all that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all the people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel*
Nor were the Jews of service only in their flourishing state, to support true religion in the world; but under their afflictions and captivities they spread it much further, than they could before.
Whilst they were their own masters in their own land, the peculiar institutions of their law considerably lessened the freedom of their intercourse with strangers. And these restraints, though extremely necessary, as it very plainly appeared, to preserve the purity of their religion, were otherwise great hindrances to the propagation of it. But when they were led captive into the lands of their enemies, and the punishment of their sins had given them a steadier zeal for their duty; then they became extensively useful to the
* i Kings viii. 41-43.