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the ignorance and vices of surrounding nations, and to the seductive influence of example, every expedient was employed to counteract the injurious effects of example, that was consistent with the primitive constitution of man; that might do honour to the freedom of his choice, and render all the offices of piety, and the practice of every virtue, the acts of a wise mind, and well-regulated dispositions.
The accomplishment of this purpose required a process which was to continue many ages, and to be conducted through manifold contingences, which might arise during so long a period. The nature of these contingent circumstances, and the manner in which the grand design was effected, now demand our attention.
The subject is extensive, and it consists of various branches, which, notwithstanding their diversity, have an intimate relation to the grand object. In treating it we shall observe the following order.
I. We shall consider the early state of the world, respecting Religion.
. II. The selection of a particular family in order to prevent an universal apostasy from Monotheism, or the principles of true religion; and also the deliverance of this family from a state of bondage.
III. The religious Ceremonies, instituted during, the sojournment of the Hebrews, in the wilderness; their nature and object,
IV. The propensity of the Hebrews to Idolatry, and its causes: The nature and pernicious influence, of idolatry; and the injunctions necessary to preserve this people from its fatal seductions.
V. The religious, and moral character of the. Israelites, under the different forms of government, with the correspondent consequences produced.
VI. The instrumentality of the Prophets of Jehovah, in the preservation of true religion.
VII. The Captivity of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and its salutary effects in the *final establishment of Monotheism in the land of Judea.
CURSORY VIEW OF THE EARLY STATE OF THE WORLD, RESPECTING RELIGION.
Ir being the chief object of the sacred historian to treat of the theological and moral history of this selected nation, the events of several preceding ages are passed over in the most rapid manner. Hints are simply given of certain
facts which were introductory to his principal design. Nor is it practicable for any modern to fill up the large vacancies, observable between different periods, with conjectures of a satisfactory nature, by the deepest researches into antiquity. Yet these hints, concise as they are, furnish a clue which enables us to trace, with some degree of precision, the designs of the moral governor of the world, and the manner in which these designs are accomplishing. Where there is great obscurity, and doubtless for wise reasons an intended obscurity, thrown over the early state of mankind, it is indecent to substitute vague conjectures, or hypothetic doctrines, as absolute facts; and it is dangerous to venerate the particular opinions of the wisest men, as if they were indubitable and historical truths, or the infallible oracles of God.
As the sacred history commences with the account of Adam's formation, and relates his disobedience and punishment, thus it presents us with some insight into his superiority as an intelligent and moral agent. We perceive, in this account, the distinguished honours conferred upon Man, in the very mode of his creation, as well as in his mental powers. God is represented as ordering the Earth to bring forth
grass, and the herb yielding seed, after his kind; and also cattle and creeping things: and the Waters to bring forth the inhabitants of the deep, and the winged fowl after his kind: but in the formation of MAN the divine energy is represented as being exerted immediately, without any kind of instrumentality; and "God said let us make Man in our image, after our likeness."
We know of three very important characteristics of human nature, correspondent with these expressions. The dominion over every other sensitive being, and the power of converting the inanimate creation to an infinitude of uses; by which he imitates the Sovereignty of his Maker: his Intellectual Faculties; and his Moral powers; by the due cultivation of these—he is able to imitate his Maker in the still more venerable attributes of Wisdom and Goodness, and their concomitant Felicity. Of the precise degree of Intellect possessed by our first parents, and how far it transcended the powers of their offspring, we know nothing; for the scriptures have not informed us. Of their moral Attainments, and the sublimity of their Virtue or Piety, we are not authorised to say much to their honour. The restraint imposed upon them, in the midst of the most liberal grants, as a proof of their
Obedience, does not appear to have been peculiarly severe and difficult, and yet they failed. Indeed, it is not easy to conceive how, at the early period of their existence, they could have offended against any of the moral duties. From theft, extortion, fraud, intemperance, debauchery, their primitive situation totally exempted them. Falsehood and deceit, quarrels and contentions, are vices much too rude for the simplicity of their state, or the early endearments of social intercourse. Thus, in the very infancy of their being, it was scarcely possible for a natural temptation to exist. This peculiarity indicates to us the necessity of their being prohibited from the performance of an act, which was not in itself immoral, as a test of their OBEDIENCE. By the commission of the offence they fully manifested, that their sensual propensities were
not restrained by motives of reason or of piety: They gave the reins either to a perverse appetite, or to a culpable curiosity.*
- Better things could not be expected from their posterity. Without having recourse to vitiated propensities, communicated by the fall of their parents from a state of primitive innocence, and
* See the Layman's letters to Mr. Wilberforce, upon Hereditary Depravity, for a more ample statement of this subject. First edit. p. 56, pássim, Published by J. Johnson, 1799.