« AnteriorContinuar »
OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
[WE have now brought the History of the several dispensations of revealed religion, down from the beginning of the world, to the coming of that seed of the woman, through whom our first parents were assured that mankind should recover all that had been forfeited by their shameful fall. Of these dispensations, the last and the most perfect that we have hitherto considered, was the Mosaic; but we are now to exhibit even that dispensation as giving way to another, which was to embrace, not a few families like the patriarchal, nor a single nation like the Jewish, but all the nations of the earth. Such a dispensation had been repeatedly promised to Abraham and his posterity as the completion of their own, and as the last that was to be vouchsafed to man; and it is indeed evident, that only when the consequences of the fall should be removed, and mankind restored to their forfeited inberitance, the objects of revealed religion would be fully attained. This was not done, nor intended to be done, by the law and ritual worship of the Jews ; for these, by their very nature, were necessarily confined to one nation, and completely practicable only in one temple; but it hath been done by the Christian dispensation, which hath brought life and immortality to light, and prescribed a mode of worship which may be performed " in spirit and in truth” in every region under heaven. The Christian dispensation is therefore the last, which mankind had to expect from their Maker; and it would be even absurd to look for another, since the great scheme of Providence for which revelations were first vouchsafed to fallen man hath by it been completed. It will be shewn in the course of the ensuing History, that the death introduced into the world by the fall of Adam hath been abolished; the serpent's head completely crushed ; and Christians furnished with means, for working out their own salvation, at least as efficacious, as those which our first parents enjoyed in their paradisaical state.
But we are asked by the Deist, why, since this last and best gift of God was origi. nally intended for fallen man, it was so long delayed? and why the Almighty, whose
power no creature can resist, was obliged to give a series of dispensations, each gradually rising in perfection above the other, instead of revealing “all his counsel" at once? Impotent and ignorant men are indeed under the necessity of accomplishing their purposes by degrees, and of frequently varying the means employed for their accomplishment, but surely He who, by a word, called the universe into existence, could have accomplished his purposes without having recourse to such expedients; he could have made man equal to the angels, and placed him at once in the same region with them, instead of subjecting him to a long and hazardous course of probation.
All this indeed seems very possible to Almighty power and Infinite wisdom; but power and wisdom are not the only attributes of God. He is a Being likewise of benevolence or goodness, of which he has given the most ample proofs in his works, and in his providential care of man even in this temporary state of probation ; but would he have been equally benevolent, had such creatures as we are been omitted in his creation ? He might indeed, for any thing that we know to the contrary, have filled the universe with such creatures as angels; and probably he has created as many of these exalted beings as the universe can at present contain ; but it could likewise contain an order of beings a little lower than angels, and such beings are men, who are capable of enjoying much happiness even here, and, as it appears from their nature, of making, by a due use of their intellectual faculties, daily advances towards that degree of perfection to which no creature can ever fully attain. To be absolutely stationary seems to be inconsistent with the very nature of such a creature as man. It is probably inconsistent likewise with the nature of angels; for they appear to have once been in a state of probation, as we are now, from which we know that some of them fell. There is indeed reason to believe that they commenced their intellectual and moral career at a much earlier period, and from a higher station, than man commenced his ;-or in other words, that they were originally more perfect than the human race; but the Divine benevolence was displayed in the creation as well of the lower as of the higher order of beings; it is displayed even in the brute creation, and in every creature that has sense to enjoy, happiness whilst it lives.
If man was originally such a being as he is now, it is evident that he could make no progress towards perfection but under the tuition of some superior guide. It has been observed elsewhere (a), that not only solitary individuals, but even small tribes of savages, make no efforts to raise themselves above the state in which they are at first placed, and which appears to be very little elevated above that of the beasts that perish; and it may here be added, that great empires, when subjected to a despotic government, and bewildered by a false religion, make very slow progress in the arts and sciences of civilized society. The Chinese seem to have been almost stationary, if not retrograde, for a thousand years; and there can be no doubt but that the Brahmins of India have lost much of that science which their ancestors certainly possessed.
At his first introduction into this world, man must therefore have been utterly un. able, by his own powers, to raise himself above the state of a solitary savage-and still more unable to acquire such principles, dispositions, and habits, as could fit him for the society of an order of beings far advanced beyond that degree of moral and intellectual perfection, to which, on earth, human nature can ever arrive. But because man is by nature a little lower than the angels, to whom, however, he can, under
proper tuition, make gradually nearer and nearer approaches by the due cultivation of his superior faculties, does it follow that a benevolent God should have forborne to call such à creature into existence? How much more amiable doth the Creator of the universe appear in the Scriptures than in this infidel theory? Moses represents the first pair as having, from the moment of their creation, been taken under the immediate tuition of
(a) Introduction to the History of the Old Testament.