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God suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless, he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” Thus “the invisible things of God from the creation of the world," might “have been clearly seen, being understood by the things which were made,” which exhibited to the attentive mind his eternal power and godhead, so that they were without excuse.'
But undoubtedly the religious advantages of the Jews were great and precious, “chiefly that to them were committed the oracles of God: to them were given the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the promises,”+ and many by the ever-present assisting grace of God were enabled to profit by these privileges, and by following the steps of the faithful Abraham to gain a place in the kingdom of God.
The selection and the privileges of the Jews, however, were not intended chiefly or exclusively for their own personal advantage. “In Abraham all the nations of the earth were to be blessed.” And the event verified the prediction, not only preeminently in preparing for the advent of the Messiah, but also in various other particulars, by which the Jewish people exhibited a standing monument of God's providential government to the surrounding nations, and preserved within the reach of their researches the grand principles of religious truth and moral duty, without which every trace of piety and virtue would have been irrevocably banished from the earth.
As there was “no nation so great that had statutes and judg. ments so righteous," as all the law which Jehovah set before his chosen people, "as there was no nation so great that had God so nigh unto them in all things for which they called unto him,"l so it is certain, that in no nation but this was the knowledge and worship of the one true God preserved, notwithstanding all their occasional errors, backsliding, and idolatries ; in no nation but this, was that summary of religious principle and moral virtue, the ten commandments, sanctioned by public authority, and though not always obeyed with fidelity, yet always regarded with reverence.
• Acts xiv. 16, 17, and ch. xvii. 30, and Rom. i. 20. + Rom. iii. 2.
Vid. Lectures on the Pentateuch, part iii.-Lecture v. on “ the Effects of Judaism on the Gentiles," and Lecture vi“Judaism, preparatory to Christianity."
| Deut. iv. 7, 8.
In no nation but this were the unity of God, the conviction that his providence governs the whole series of events both in heaven and earth, the necessity of worshipping him in purity and holiness, publicly acknowledged; while the belief of a resurrection and future judgment, gradually became part of the popular faith, extending itself more and more, until at length this light broke through the ignorance which had involved the heathen world, and placed within their reach the means of instruction, by the translation of the Jewish Scriptures, the multiplication of Jewish synagogues, and the increase of proselytes through the whole extent of the Roman empire, so that the apostles were enabled to attract an audience at Jerusalem consisting “of Jews and proselytes, devout men, out of every nation under heaven,"* prepared to discern the truth and to appreciate the value of the Gospel of Christ—that great Deliverer, “ who appeared to take away sin by the sacrifice of himself, and to turn mankind from sin to righteousness, and from the power of Satan unto God.”+
It is then plain, that the Jewish nation was selected by divine wisdom and controlled by divine power, so as to bear its illustrious part in the great series of God's providential dispensations, and that the course of events in every other state was regulated so as to forward in due season the objects of God's moral government; but still without violating the principles of retributive justice and long-suffering mercy on the part of God, or counteracting free agency on the part of man—principles which form the very foundation on which the whole structure of the divine government is raised.
True it is, the selection of any particular family for such a purpose, must have been to them, a gift of free unmerited grace, and to the rest of mankind must have exhibited the appearance of exclusion and comparative rejection. Hence it sometimes is spoken of in terms easily misunderstood and misinterpreted; as if they meant the unconditional election and reprobation, which the predestinarian scheme implies. But such an inference is clearly without reason, as this election referred to religious privileges in the present life, not to eternal happiness in the next.
* Acts, ii. 5.
+ Heb. ix. 26, and Acts, xxvi. 18.
A remarkable instance of such misinterpretation occurs in that passage of St. Paul's epistle to the Romans, quoted in the text of this discourse, which is so constantly produced as decidedly supporting the doctrine of absolute predestination. Whether it does in reality sanction that doctrine, we shall now proceed to consider.
This passage is preceded by the remarkable declaration of the apostle's “heaviness and continual sorrow of heart,"* for his countrymen, who had despised the offer, and thus forfeited the privileges of the Gospel of Christ, notwithstanding the peculiar opportunity they had enjoyed of receiving it from its Divine Author himself, who was born amongst them, and displayed amongst them the wonders of his power, his wisdom, and his mercy, to convince and convert them; “from whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever." From the afflicting view of their national fall, the apostle is led to vindicate the consistency of Divine Providence in permitting that event. He argues, we are not to infer from this," as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel which are of Israel: neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children; but in Isaac shall thy seed be called ; that is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, at this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son."! As if he had said, it is not the being by natural descent the child of Abraham, which constitutes the true Israelite, but inheriting the faith “which Abraham had, being yet uncircumcised."| As the apostle had proved in the fourth chapter, " the promise that he should be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. Therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed, not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham who is the father of us all."* The apostle having thus referred to that principle which proved that the admission of the believing Gentiles into the church of Christ, was consistent with the entire scheme of the divine dispensations, proceeds to argue with the Jews, that they had no right to complain of another nation being now admitted to the peculiar privileges of the chosen people of God, since they had themselves enjoyed these privileges merely by an act of unmerited favour on the part of God, as was evident from the history of Esau and Jacob, and their posterity; and that therefore a sinilar gratuitous favour might with strict consistency be extended to the Gentiles, by admitting them into the church of God in place of the Jews, whose disbelief excluded them. The tenor of the apostle's argument clearly points out this to be his meaning, which he thus illustrates. " When Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose, of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth ;) it was said unto her the elder shall serve the younger; as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated; what shall we say then ? is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy. on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”+
Rom, ix. 2, 5. Rom. ix. 6-9.
+ Rom. ix. 6-8.
|| Rom. iv. 12.
This passage would, indeed, seem very inexplicable, if Esau and Jacob were thus represented as individuals, who being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, were by a positive and unconditional decree of predestination, one elected to certain and eternal happiness, and the other doomed to certain and eternal misery, in the future world. But it is most clear both from the original history and the reference here made to it, that no such idea was meant to be suggested by either. In both, Esau and Jacob are considered merely as representatives of the nations who were respectively to descend
* Rom. iv. 13, 16.
+ Rom. ix. 9 to 16.
from them, the Edomites from Esau, the Israelites from Jacob; and the prophetic declaration in the history denotes, that contrary to the expectations arising from primogeniture, contrary also “to him who willeth,” to the personal inclination of Isaac who designed the blessing for Esau, forgetting or disregarding the prophecy to the reverse pronounced at their birth, and finally contrary also “ to him who runneth," to the efforts of Esau, who ran to execute his father's commands for securing the blessing to himself—in opposition to all these, the Israelites were to be the chosen people of God, in exclusion of the Edomites, who were to be their inferiors both in temporal and religious concerns. This PREDESTINATION OF NATions to execute the divine purposes in the PRESENT WORLD, not the PREDESTINATION OF INDIVIDUALS TO ETERNAL HAPPINESS OR MISERY IN A FUTURE STATE, was most clearly meant both in the prophecy and the apostle's argument, so far as refers to Esau and Jacob. For when, before the children were born, Rebecca went to inquire of the Lord, he said unto her; “ Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels : and the one people shall be stronger than the other people : and the elder shall serve the younger.
"* This prediction the apostle directly quotes, as the fact to which all his reasoning exclusively applies. This was the election he here speaks of, for, says he, “it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger.” It was this that verified the declaration of God's “loving Jacob,” and his posterity; and “hating,” that is, comparatively rejecting, and degrading Esau and his posterity. It is with relation to this national selection and this national preference, that the apostle maintains the selection of Jacob rather than Esau, did not depend on “any good or evil,” the individuals had done, it being “ determined before they were born.” With respect to this only, he defends the righteousness of God, and maintains that such national preference was consistent with the perfection of the divine justice and the equity of God's moral government. That it was thus consistent, has I trust been* already proved ; and we must allow it to be so, or affirm it impossible for God to choose any people out of an idolatrous world, who should
• Vide suprą, from 229 to 231 ; also 312 to 316.