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universal deluge, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, many innocent children must have suffered with their guilty parents. In considering these cases, we should remember, that whatever public afflictions may be directed for the punishment of nations, it is to a future life that we must look for the grand distinction between individuals; when “God will render to every man according to his deeds."*
If some of those who, with myself, consider war altogether inconsistent with the Christian Dispensation, should argue from the unchangeableness of the Divine nature, that the Almighty could not allow of, or enjoin practices, in one age, which are inconsistent in another; it may and ought to be observed, that in his dispensations to mankind, great variety is evident; and many things which were not only allowed, but commanded, in former times and under different circumstances, would now be improper.
It also appears, that when our blessed Lord set forth the peaceableness of the Gospel Dispensation, He showed that a contrary conduct had been more than permitted in former times; and unless we intend to controvert the propriety of the manner, in which the Author of the Christian religion propagated it, we must allow that there have been times, in which divers things were lawful that are now unlawful; and thus we may reconcile the consistency of the Jewish wars with the Divine will. 66 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth ; but I say unto you, Resist not evil.” “Again, “ Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy;t but I say unto you, Love your enemies,” &c.I Now, when we consider the expressions just cited, and observe the obvious difference they make between the dispensations of the Law and of the Gospel ; we may find abundant reason to believe, that it was not inconsistent with the Divine nature and will, to command those things which are related respecting the wars of the Jews.
* Rom. ii. 6.
Matt. v. 38, 39. 43, 44. + The words, “bate thine enemy," do not appear in the Old Testament; perhaps they were added by the scribes as a gloss; however, our Lord, by his recital, acknowledges them as not inconsistent with the former Dispensation,
If any credibility is due to the writings of Moses, (and they have all the claim to credibility which writings of that antiquity well can have,) it is evident that those wars were commanded by the Almighty. And when we consider, that we have no less support for the authority of Moses than our Lord Himself; that He and his apostles mention him with evident tokens of their considering him Divinely directed; we must, in denying the authority of Moses, also deny that of Christ and his apostles :-a consequence, from the idea of which every Christian must revolt.
Let us, therefore, be content with that evidence of the Divine will which is afforded us; and, rather than impugn the former dispensations of God to mankind, be thankful to Him for having introduced one so much more excellent, in which—“Glory to God in the highest,” is peculiarly united with—“ Peace on earth, and good will to men.”
But whilst I have been endeavouring to remove these objections, I have regretted that there should be any necessity thus to “justify the ways of God to men,” as recorded in Holy Writ, and to endeavour to support the cause of that Omnipotent Being, whose prerogative alone it is" That He giveth no account of any of his matters.” He has, notwithstanding, as far as different circumstances will permit, condescended to adapt his dispensations towards mankind, to those principles of wisdom, justice, and mercy, which are the rules of our conduct towards each other. If, in some instances, we cannot perceive this consistency, the infinite
disparity between the Divine Being and his creature man, might reasonably induce us to expect difficulties of this kind; and surely the wisdom is no more to be admired than the faith, of those who reject every thing respecting an Infinite Being, that does not comport with their finite capacities. 66 Canst thou, by searching, find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection? It is as high as heaven ; what canst thou do? Deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. If He cut off, and shut up, and gather together, then who can hinder Him ?"*
But; in admitting the Holy Scriptures to have been communicated to us under Divine Influence or Inspiration, it is not necessary to consider all that is related in them, concerning even those whose general conduct might entitle them to the character of good men, as intended for our imitation. In many instances, indeed, their conduct is very properly and impartially censured ; and this impartiality constitutes one of the many excellencies of the Bible. But there are also circumstances simply related without any comment, which it is by no means requisite to consider as related with approbation, or authorizing a similar conduct in us. A close and critical examination of some of these cases, would probably remove much of the impression which a slighter consideration may bave sometimes produced. At any rate, neither the sacred historian, nor that Inspiration under which he is supposed to have written, is chargeable with such circumstances.--Here, however, we have again occasion for the exercise of our gratitude, in that it has pleased Divine Providence to give us an existence under a dispensation, which requires singular degrees of purity and uprightness of conduct; and which exceeds all former ones
* Job xi. 7.
in the excellence of its morality, as well as in the peculiar peaceableness of its principles, and the spirituality of its worship.
Great judgment is also necessary in applying the Scriptures to the support of religious doctrines and observances. These have been, I apprehend, sometimes adopted from what may be incidentally mentioned, rather than inculcated. In considering the Scriptures, and endeavouring to build systems upon them, it requires great care to distinguish those things which are universal and essential, from such as are only of a temporary or local nature. For want of an attention of this kind, many unprofitable disputes, (to say no worse of them,) have arisen among the professors of Christianity; and much unnecessary stress has been laid on things which the Christian religion does not enjoin or require.
Highly, however, as these writings are to be valued, and highly indeed do we esteem them! there is not only a possibility, but a danger, of placing too much dependence upon them, by preferring them to that Divine Spirit from which they proceed, to which they direct our attention, and by which only they can be rightly opened to our understandings. Thus the Jews, in the days of our blessed Saviour's personal appearance on earth, paid great attention to the Scriptures; and at the same time did not believe in Him, “of whom Moses in the Law, and the prophets did write.” On this account our Lord reproves them in this manner : “ Search (or, ye search ) the Scriptures ; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of Me; and ye will not come unto Me, that ye might have life.” Now, that from which the Scriptures proceeded, and to which they amply bear witness as the means of salvation, is what we apprehend there is a danger of neglecting; and thereby of dwelling upon the letter, with
out a proper regard to the Spirit; a danger against which the Scriptures themselves contain many salutary cautions.
There is also a name by which the Holy Scriptures are frequently distinguished, which appears to be, in divers respects, exceptionable, namely : “ The Word of God.” This is an appellation which is otherwise applied in those writings; and it tends to create a confusion of ideas, unnecessarily to denominate several subjects by the same name. Christ is called, “ The Word of God."* The termt is also applied to that holy Principle or Spirit, by which He carries on the work of salvation in the hearts of true Christians; and frequently to the preaching of the Gospel ; but by applying it to the Sacred Writings, a misapplication of passages in them is frequently occasioned. That these writings contain the WORDS of God, we readily admit: but we think it safest, as well as most proper, to designate them by that appellation by which the apostle Paul has distinguished them; and, by way of priority to all other writings, to style them, The Holy Scriptures. Concerning these writings we believe with this apostle, that they were “ given by inspiration of God; and are profitable for * doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” ş