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HISTORICAL VIEW OF THE RELIGION OF THE BIBLE.
§ 301. Religion down to the Deluge.
OUR first parents, who were infants in point of knowledge, although they were introduced into the world, without being such in respect to form, were instructed by God himself. They were taught in the knowledge of the creator and governour of all things, and were likewise subjected to a course of moral discipline by the interdiction, which was made in respect to the tree of good and evil. The object of this interdiction was to introduce the human mind to an acquaintance with what was right, and what was wrong, what was good, and what evil. Hence the name of the tree, so sit nyi, viz. of good and evil, i. e. according to the spirit of the Hebrew idiom, of moral distinctions, Gen. 2: 8—20. Is. 7: 15. Hence two points were established in the religion of our first parents, the one, that God is supreme, and that all things arose from, and are dependent upon him; the other, that some things are right, and others wrong, and that those things are to be done, which are agreeable to God, and those things to be avoided which are displeasing to him.
The punishment, which followed the eating of the interdicted fruit, remained a perpetual monitor, that misery is the consequence of the commission of those things, which are not acceptable in the divine sight, and that such things, consequently, are not to be done. Comp. Gen. 5; 29. The example of Cain also, who slew his brother, his banishment and his misery, were a standing testimony in the eyes of the whole world, that wickedness is hateful to God, and ought to be and will be punished. In the progress 378 § 302. From the DeLuge to ABRAHAM.
of time, when many crimes received no visible punishment, the divine commands became neglected, the powerful oppressed the weak and the poor, and there was a general prevalence of levity and sensuality. The earth was filled with violence and slaughter. About the year 235 after the creation, wickedness was carried to such an extent, that the religious thought it necessary to attach to themselves, the title of sons or worshippers of God, in contradistinction from the sons of men, or those, who had forgotten God, and were hurried by the impulse of corrupt passions to every sort of wickedness. The prevalent evils were increased from the circumstance, that the sons or worshippers of God married the daughters of men, or the irreligious. Wives of this description neglected the right instruction of their children, and, as this devolved on them, rather than on the fathers, the offspring followed the former, rather than the latter, Gen. 4; 26. 6: 1. In this way corruption increased and prevailed to such a degree, that the warnings
of God, which were uttered by the spirit of prophecy, were without any avail, Gen. 6: 3. The Deluge followed, in consequence of this state of things.
§ 302. FROM THE DELUGE to ABRAHAM.
This terrible destruction of every living thing was predicted 120 years before its consummation, Gen. 6: 3. So that the family of Noah might know, that it was sent from God, and that the object of it was, to leave by such a signal event, a long to be remembered impression, that God is the governour of all things, to whom the vices of men are abhorrent, and that, however long sufsering, he will at length punish the wicked. A command was given by God, after the Deluge, that every homicide should be punished with death, and a promise also, that the deluge should no more return. He made the rainbow a visible sign of his promise, and a confirmation of it.
The posterity of Noah laid up in their minds the principles and insructions, which have been mentioned; and when they af. terwards attempted to build a tower, and were baffled and scattered from each other, they easily gathered from the event, that the proceeding was displeasing to God. They appear to have reproved Nimrod for making a similar attempt, and, in allusion to
§ 303. ABRAHAM, is AAC, AND JAcob. 379
his conduct, called him, inz. or the rebel, and made his memory a proverb, saying, “Even as Nimrod, the exceedingly mighty hunter.”
At a later period still, men, being still uncultivated, unable to direct themselves, and governed by the promptings of imagination, attributed a superiour and sublimer energy to various objects, and began to expect assistance from them. Thus rocks, trees, animals, winds, rivers, the sun, moon, stars, dead men, etc. were converted into divinities. Then came sculptured images, altars, and temples. At first they worshipped God, as the ruler of all things, at the same time, that they worshipped idols; but soon God was forgotten, and they adored the latter alone. These false divinities demanded no morality in their conduct, and both principles and conduct grew worse and worse. The greatest crimes were committed, as if of little moment, and were even made a part of the worship of their gods.
§ 303. Abraham, Isaac, And Jacob.
The corruption, which has been described in the preceding section, continued to spread itself wider and wider, till God gave a peculiar calling to Abraham, whose ancestors had from the beginning sustained during a long period a character for moral integrity and religion, Gen. 5:1–32. 11:10–32; but had at length become idolatrous, Josh. 24: 3.
It was designed in the Providence of God, that Abraham, the Chaldean, and his posterity should preserve and transmit his religion, till that period, when it should be communicated to other nations. In order to secure these objects, God promised to Abraham, who was a descendant from Shem of the tenth generation, his protection, an ample progeny, possession of the land of Canaan; and that all nations should at last be blessed through his seed, i.e. should receive the true religion, Gen. 12: 13. 18: 18. 22: 18. He coupled these promises with the names of Abraham and Sarah, which were altered with a reference to them, and connected, with the rite of circumcision, the obligation to protect religion, Gen. 18; 19; so that the names and the rite might be perpetual testimonies both of the promises in its favour, and the obligations to defend it.
God afterwards repeated the same promises to Isaac and Jacob, 380 § 304. REligion of the PATRIARchs.
Gen. 26:4. 28. 14, who faithfully performed their various duties, taught the true worship of God to their domestics, and left it to their posterity, Gen. 28:20–22. 35: 2–7. 9–13. 39:9, 50: 17 —20. These promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the fulfilment of the corresponding duties on their part, form the prominent and fundamental principle, the hinge, as it were, of the ANcient coven ANt ; and to them, accordingly, every thing, which follows after, is to be referred, and with them also the NEw coveNANT itself is very intimately connected.
§ 304. Respecting the Religion of the PATRIARchs.
It appears from what has been hitherto stated, that the knowledge of the one true God, which is coeval with the existence of the human race, was originally communicated by revelation. The patriarchs themselves knew God to be the creator, governour, and judge of the whole earth, not by reasoning from philosophical principles, which were then wholly unknown ; but because God had revealed himself, as such, to them. The ideas of men in respect to God, which were at first very limited, became extended, in the progress of time, by events both ordinary and extraordinary. It is worthy of remark, that the figure anthropopathy was very prevalent at the early period, of which we are speaking, and that men used the same language in respect to God, which they employed when speaking of one another; but there was truth, nevertheless, hidden under the garb of such expressions, Gen. 6: 6, 7. 8: 21. 11: 5–7. I 8: 10–21. The worship of God was very unconstrained, such as was prompted by conscience and approved by reason, and consisted chiefly in tythes and vows and prayers, in the erection of altars and in sacrifices, Gen. 4: 3, 4. 8:20. 12; 7, 8, 13:4, 18. 14:20. 15: 18–20. etc. With respect to the consecration of the sabbath, it may be observed, there is no trace of it, any further than this, viz. that a period of seven days occurs a number of times, Gen. 7: 4, 10. 8: 10, 12; likewise the word zoo, the Hebrew for week, Gen. 29:27. It may be inferred from these circumstances, that the seventh day was distinguished in some way or other from other days, as is