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A WORK has recently been published by Mr. Davison, under the title of An Inquiry into the Origin and Intent of Primitive Sacrifice.
I. In this work, the author teaches us, that the peculiar rite of Expiatory Sacrifice was, for the first time, divinely instituted at the promulgation of the Law by Moses: and he contends, that anterior to such promulgation of the Law, the practice of devoting sacrifice, under the precise notion of thereby making an atonement, was, to the early religionists, altogether unknown; for, in truth, we have neither any evidence extant nor any one positive example, by which we can distinctly prove, that, in the primitive worship, the rite of sacrifice was thought to possess an expiatory or piacular virtue.
Hence he maintains, that the various sacrifices, offered up during the period of the Patriarchal Dispensation, were not, in their nature and intent, of that class of sacrifices, which are denominated expiatory or piacular : and hence he consistently maintains also, that, as the outward sign of an atonement had not been divinely instituted during the primitive or antemosaical ages; so neither had the doctrine, represented by that outward sign, been as yet divinely revealed.
On these principles, he denies, that primeval sacrifice, as offered up by Abel and Noah and Job, was of divine institution. For, since the respective oblations of these holy men were not piacular, there is no difficulty in conceiving them to have been of mere human origination and appointment: nor is there any need to introduce the Deity, for the purpose of loosing a knot, which admits of a perfectly easy independent solution.
Accordingly, as we have no occasion to maintain the divine institution of primitive sacrifice: so neither, from any testimony of Scripture, have we the least warrant for maintaining such an opinion.
II. Had Mr. Davison's work treated only of some curious literary speculation, which led not to any theological result of material consequence ; however I might possibly have differed from him, I should not have felt it in any wise necessary to controvert his hypothesis.
But such, I apprehend, is by no means the case. His hypothesis respects not some mere indifferent question. Even to say nothing of its denying all knowledge of the doctrine of an atonement to the patriarchal worshippers, it respects a matter of most deep and most grave importance ; a matter, which vitally touches the entire system of typical prophecy through the medium of sacrifice.
In saying the ENTIRE system of typical prophecy, I speak not unadvisedly: on the contrary, I speak with full deliberation and conviction.
By the mouth of an inspired prophet, and (as Kimchi well remarks) in perfect accordance with the very peculiar phraseology of the Mosaic Law, God himself declares, that he did not command or institute the rite of sacrifice under the Levitical Dispensation : and Mr. Davison assures us, that he did not command or institute that rite under the preceding Dispensation of Patriarchism.
Such being the case, if the rite of sacrifice were not instituted of God either under the Patriarchal Dispensation or under the Levitical Dispensation, that rite, from first to last, must henceforth altogether cease to be esteemed a DIVINE institution : and thus the inevitable result from Mr. Davison's hypothesis, according to his own very just remark, will be, that The rite of sacrifice, whether under the Patriarchal Dispensation or under the Levitical, “ however it might express the piety
of the worshipper, cannot be reckoned among the typical signatures of Christianity*.”
III. In his whole view of the present topic, I conceive Mr. Davison to be mistaken : yet certainly, unless I had seemed to feel my ground tolerably firm under my feet, I should most conscientiously have remained silent ; for, as we all know, a weak defence is more mischievous than even a powerful attack.
* See below, sect. iii. chap. 3. § I.
I could have wished indeed, that a much better man than myself, Archbishop Magee, would have taken up the subject: but this is a matter rather to be warmly desired than reasonably expected. Happily for the Church in one respect, however unfortunate in another respect, the situation of his Grace well nigh precludes the possibility of his entering into a somewhat nice and perplexed controversy: for the anxious occupation of any episcopate, pre-eminently the occupation of the Irish episcopate, is by no means favourable to that uninterrupted thought and undivided study, without the command of which it were perhaps scarcely prudent for any man to embark in a difficult theological discussion.
As for myself, since, in a private station, I have doubtless been able to reckon upon a measure of time and uninterruptedness which is denied to an Archbishop of Dublin; should competent judges pronounce my Treatise on the Origin of Expiatory Sacrifice to be a failure, let the blame rest, where alone it ought to rest, not on the cause, but on the author.
Jan. 28th, 1826.