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under the ancient dispensation. 2. Consider some partieulars, in which it appears, that the new dispensation is greatly superior; And, 3. Enforce the inference, which the apostle makes, viz: that to those, who reject this religion, there is no possibility of escape.
I. It appears, that God signally manifested his displeasure against those, who were disobedient under the ancient dispensation. By the Levitical law, violation of the sabbath was made a capital crime. "Every one that defileth the sabbath, shall surely be put to death :" and when a man was found, gathering sticks on the sabbath, this was immediately executed. "All the congregation," saith God, "shall stone him with stones. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him wit'. stones, that he died."
When Achan had concealed some of the devoted spoils of Jericho, though he confessed the deed and its criminality, no favor was shown him. He suffered a public execution; and on this condition "the Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger." When Moses came down from the mount and perceived, that the Israelites were celebrating idolatrous games before the golden calf, he assembled the sons of Levi, and commanded them to inflict immediate death on those, concerned in the wickedness. "Put every man his sword on his side, and go in and out from gate to gate, throughout the camp, and slay every man his neighbor, and every man his brother. And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people, that day, about three thousand men." More instances might easily be adduced to show, how severely individuals were punished for contempt of the Mosaic law, and how truly it was said, that they "who despised that law, died without mercy." If this were true of individuals it was more obviously so of the nation.
From the beginning, a great variety of evils had been threatened the Jews, to deter them from apostacy and rebellion. Whenever idolatry and vice became general, the displeasure of God was displayed, either in prophetic de
nunciations, or by the infliction of national judgments: and if incorrigibly obdurate, it was threatened, that they should be extirpated from the land of their inheritance, and dispersed over all the earth. This threatening was in due time fulfilled with a degree of exactness, which to the present day, is a matter of notice and astonishment to the whole world. From the manner in which God treated his chosen people, it is evident, that to him can be attributed neither remissness, nor want of veracity. Though long suffering, he was not slack concerning his promise. The obstinacy of the Jews did at length exhaust the forbearance of the Father of mercies. After he had, during the course of many ages, frequently admonished and chastised them, he suffered them to be enslaved, their civil and ecclesiastical government to be dissolved, their city and holy temple to be consumed, their land to be given to strangers, and themselves to be removed into all quarters of the globe. They have become "a proverb, a hissing, and a by-word," and God hath given them "a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind.”
Thus we perceive, that "the word spoken by angels, was stedfast," that the threatnings, contained in the Jewish law were not ineffectual;-but that "transgressions and disobedience received a just recompense of reward."
It may be fairly concluded, that the same God, who with so much strictness, punished disobedience under one dispensation, will not, under another, suffer delinquents to escape with impunity.
But this is not all. Between the two dispensations there is great difference. The latter is far more excellent. The particulars of this difference are now in the 2nd place, to be considered. These, it is suggested in the text, are the manner of its being communicated, and nature of the blessings promised.
God was equally the author of both religions. In that respect there was no difference. But one was introduced by angels, and the other by the Son of God: a circumstance,
which is, with much propriety, mentioned, to show what superior regard, the Supreme Being entertained for the christian dispensation; a circumstance, which may be very clearly illustrated by reference to one of our Saviour's parables. The owner of the vineyard is there represented, as letting it out to husdandmen. At the usual season for several years, he sent servants to receive his portion of the fruits. These servants were abused. Presuming, that there were some limits to their audacity, he at last commissioned his son. Now this last measure is mentioned, as the result of far greater condescension, than those which preceded. So the divine good will towards men was more strongly expressed by the sending of Christ, than by the mission of angels.
Another most important article, in which the economy of Jesus Christ surpassed that of Moses, was the nature of that happiness, promised to the obedient. The latter is denominated the law of a carnal commandment. Earthly rewards and punishments were the sanctions, by which this law was enforced. If the Jews were obedient, they should eat the good of the land; their neighbors should not invade them; if they did, they should not prevail; their lands should yield large harvests; their flocks and their herds should be multiplied; they should not experience desolating sickness, nor premature death.
On these subjects, christianity says little, or nothing. Jesus Christ has not made himself answerable to his community, for wealth, honors, or worldly influence. His disciples are to be remunerated at the resurrection of the just. Their reward is glory, honor, and immortality. Their pleasures will be those of the intellecis and the heart: such as none but good beings can enjoy; such as nothing but the presence and favor of God can excite. Had the Jews observed their laws with blameless fidelity, possession of the promised country would, to no individual, have been permanent. To such there would indeed have been many and prosperous days on earth; but exemption from death was. not intimated. Christianity, on the other hand, refers all
things to eternity. The believer's laurels shall never wither; his crown is perpetually brilliant; his rest is everlasting; his dwelling is a house, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; his kingdom is that which never can be moved.
Nor can we suppose, that, when speaking of the great salvation, and the superiority of the christian religion to that of Moses, the apostle was unmindful of the atoning death of Christ, obscurely shadowed in the one, but clearly made known in the other. How far some of the more inquisitive and devout Jews understood the ultimate design of their expiatory sacrifices, it is impossible to determine. That they could not, from the Levitical institution, have obtained any clear views on the subject, is certain. When Jesus Christ actually appeared, though the prophetic writings had been added to the law, nothing appears to have been further from the common expectation, than a suffering Redeemer.
But in christianity the sufferings of Christ are every where displayed. "I determined to know nothing among you," said Paul to the Corinthians, "but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I delivered unto you, first of ali," saith he, "that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures."
The christian salvation is great-not only in itself, and as to the manner, in which it was procured, but likewise in the manner, in which it is bestowed. The happiness, which it implies, supposes a certain correctness of moral taste:—a character essentially different from that which is common to men. "To as many as receive Christ, to them giveth he power to become the sons of God; who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
Whether we consider christianity in comparison with Judaism, or without such comparison, it is indeed a wonderful religion. Fix your eyes on any individual of our race. He enjoys animal life in common with the various species, by which he is surrounded. Some of them exceed him in years, and many in strength and vigor. Like the rest,
he decays, his body dissolves, and incorporates with the earth and the air. During life, he is distinguished from other animals by the gift of intellects, which he is very industrious to abuse. He feels, that there is reality in moral obligation; he cannot deny, that there is a fitness and dignity in virtue. He sees the right; he avoids it; and dreads a retribution. Concerning such a creature, mortal, erroneous, and depraved, what favorable expectations, or even conjectures, can reason indulge? "If a man die, shall he live again?" If he live, shall he not be miserable? Can it be imagined, that God will raise the dead to life?—that bodies, which are sown in dishonor, should be raised in glory? Can it be imagined, that for creatures, such as have been described, the Son of God should descend from heaven, to suffer disgrace and mortal agony? Shall they enjoy eternal rewards, sit, down with Christ on his throne, and become kings and priests unto God? What language is this to be applied to a creature, the most feeble and rebellious?— a creature, who deserves to be forsaken of God,-to be punished of God,-to be driven from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power? He is to be raised together with Christ, and to sit together with him in heavenly places!
III. We are now to enforce the expostulation, contained in the text.
"How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ?” To render this inquiry the more interesting, it is necessary to determine, whether this negligence be as common, as it is dangerous. If, in christian countries, but one in a large multitude be thus chargeable, almost no individual would think his own danger great.
To any person, judging of this subject, previously to observation, it would appear little less, than certain, that all to whom it was offered, would vie with one another, which should most readily embrace it. One would suppose, that as soon as such salvation were proclaimed, all men would resemble a hungry, famishing crowd, to which was opened a store house, richly furnished with every kind of food. Like