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pure, or barbarous ceremonies of worship. Hence mankind became necessarily vicious both in principle and practice. Instead of aiming to please the true God, and procure needed blessings from him, by adoring and copying his purity, justice, and benevolence, they sought the favor of jupiter, who with all his power and dignity was exhibited to them as a hero in lust, intemperance, and wickedness; of Mercury, the patron of thieves and robbers ; of Bacchus, the god of drunkenness ; or of Venus, the model and protectress of debauchery. As the characters of such deities, so the most sacred rites and mysteries of their worship extinguished in their votaries every principle of moral rectitude, and nourished every evil propensity; they not only licensed but even consecrated the most shocking scenes both of lewdness and of cruelty. It was a known custom among the Canaanites to sacrifice even their own children to one of their idols.—When we contemplate these and many other detestable crimes, which the Scripture charges upon these Canaanitish idolaters ; must we not pronounce it wise, just, and even benevolent in the Supreme Ruler to inflict upon them exemplary punishment 2 And had he not a right to commission the Israelites to execute this punishment —As this dreadful execution of the Canaanites gives rise to one of the most popular, and at the same time unjust clamors of infidelity against the constitution. and consequent proceedings of the Hebrew nation, I would just remark, that the question between us and such objectors is not, whether the Israelites had any natural right to take away the lives and estates of the Canaanites, who had never injured them : We grant they had not. But certainly the righteous Judge of nations had a right to exterminate those wicked idolaters by whatever instruments he chose to employ. If a human government may lawfully commission one man to kill another, who has forfeited his life ; much more may the Supreme Governor do the same. To say that the Israelites had no such commission, but only made a false pretension to it, is meanly to shift the question before us ; which is, whether their conduct, with all its circumstances, as stated in Scripture, be justifiable? We confidently maintain not only the equity, but the peculiar wisdom and goodness of God in this mode of proceeding. For nothing could more powerfully operate to suppress idolatry and its attending vices, and to encourage true religion and virtue, than for Jehovah publicly to commission and miraculously to assist a nation, who openly professed and worshipped him, to extirpate mighty nations of idolaters, and to grant and permanently secure to his conquering people the possessions of the latter, on the express condition of their stedfast obedience to his laws. By thus destroying the Canaanites the God of Israel publicly triumphed over their idol deities ; he showed that these could neither give nor secure to their votaries life and prosperity, but that he was the sovereign dispenser of blessings to his friends, and of plagues to his enemies. This whole proceeding was especially fitted to impress the Israelites with a perpetual abhorrence and dread of those crimes, which they had been the instruments of punishing, and to secure their fidelity to that Being, whose wonderful interposition they had experienced, and whose continued favor was connected with their loyalty. As the peculiar manner, in which the Jews were made to possess the land of Canaan, was thus highly favorable to their virtue, and of course to their prosperity ; so many of their laws, which, at first view, may seem tri
fling or severe, will appear important, if we keep in view the great design of their national establishment. Thus the laws, which prohibited familiar intercourse and especially intermarriages with their heathen neighbours, though censured by infidels as unsocial and savouring of misanthropy, were highly useful to preserve the Israelites a distinct and holy community, and thus to keep alive in the world the pure principles of piety and morals. So easily were the Hebrews enticed into idolatry, that a frequent participation in the society or even innocent entertainments of heathens would endanger the pu. rity of their character.—Many other statutes derive their chief importance from the same source. The ablest of the Jewish Doctors gives this general reason for them— “They were made to keep men from idolatry, and such false opinions as are akin to it, such as pretences to incantations, divinations, foretelling things by the stars, or by the possession of some spirit or demon, or consulting with such persons.” He farther observes, that “many of the magic rites consisted in certain gestures, actions, or words ;” and mentions several examples of such superstitions ; among the rest a remarkable rite to prevent a storm of hail. Now not a few of the Mosaical laws, which would otherwise seem unworthy of the wisdom of God, were yet necessary guards against these idolatrous pagan customs.-That statute, for instance, which forbids the Jews to “round the corners of their heads, or to mar the corners of their beards,” will appear important, when we consider it as a barrier against a magical custom of the heathen priests, who made this mode of treating their hair and beards essential to their idol worship, and a grand prerequisite to the success of their petitions,—We likewise instantly perceive the wis
dom of that prohibition, “ neither shall a garment of linen and woolen come upon thee,” when we know that such mixed garments were the appropriate habits of idolatrous priests, and were supposed to possess some great magical virtue.-We also understand the propriety of that law, which forbids each sex to wear any garment peculiar to the other, when we find that it was a standing injunction among the antient heathers, that men must stand before the star of Venus in the flowered garments of
and women were to put on the armour of men before the star of Mars. Agreeably, Macrobius tells us, that men worshipped Venus in women's habits, and women in the habits of men.-How wise and benev. olent was it in the divine Legislator, by such minute and strict precepts, to guard a gross and superstitious people from the dangerous customs, which every where surrounded them, and which, without such checks, must have operated to destroy every distinction between Jews and pagans.
Let us then steadily keep in mind the noble and complex design of the Hebrew government. Let us view it as intended to preserve in our world rational piety and virtue, and in connexion with this to dispense liberty, order, and happiness to the Jewish commonwealth. Their constitution, thus viewed, resembles the pillar of cloud and of fire, which attended their camp through the wil. derness. While it guided, protected, and cheered the obedient Jews, it held up to the surrounding world a public and impressive monument of the supremacy of Jehovah, of the blessings, which attend his faithful servants, and of the detestable and destructive evils, which accompany idolatry, superstition, and vice.
Objection of partiality in Jehovah toward the Jewish nation,
answered. Objection to the Hebrew constitution as a system of intolerance and war, of conquest or extermination, answered. System of Hebrew policy contrasted with that of the antient beathens.
N our last Lecture we showed that the great design of the civil constitution of the Jewish nation was the preservation of the true religion among them, and in connexion with this, their temporal freedom and prosperity. I presume you will all grant, that such a design was truly benevolent and noble, and that every regulation necessary to its accomplishment was highly important. We have already remarked, that many statutes in the Jewish code, which, at first view, seem puerile, were needful barriers to that people against the enticing, but dangerous customs of their idolatrous neighbours. Yet still many features of the Hebrew government differ so widely from the best sentiments and usages of modern times, that it requires a candid and attentive survey to make us fully see their propriety and beauty. As I trust that both you and myself are honest inquirers after truth, I hope you will cheerfully accompany me in the disquisition before us; and the rather, as the question concerning the merits of the Jewish polity and laws affects the reputation both of the Old Testament and the New; and it has accordingly been the practice of many enemies to Christianity to attempt its subversion, not by direct assault, but by casting reproach or ridicule on the institutions of the antient Jews. We are willing to meet them on this ground.
If these institutions cannot