« PreviousContinue »
benefit shipmates to whom he was affectionately attached, has induced him to make them public, under the hope of rendering some profit to the Readers of the Plain Englishman's Library.
May the Almighty give a blessing to this humble undertaking.
Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were uritten for our learning, thạt we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Rom. xv. 4.
The Old Testament contains the following important Works :Ist, A History of the World, from the Creation to the time of
Moses, (a space of nearly 3000 Years,) written by that distin-'
guished person. 2dly, A Collection of Religious Forms and Ceremonies established by the Command of God, and his Ławs for the Government of the
Jewish Nation, 3dly, A History of that remarkable people from the calling of
Abraham, when God chose them out from the other Nations of Man
kind, until within about 400 years of the Birth of Christ, when · Malachi, the latest of the Jewish Prophets, foretold the things
commanded of him by God. 4thly, A Collection of wonderful Prophecies, delivered to them bý
those holy Persons, who were raised up from time to time, during a period of 1000 years : who foretold the great Eveřts that would happen to them at a future time, and especially declaring the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; whom the Almighty was graciously pleased to promise should, at the appointed Season, come down from Heaven, to save Mankind from Eternal Death. by laying down his Life for their Sins. 5thly, A Collection of the most beautiful Psalms and Holy Hymns of
adoration to the Creator ; many of them foretelling things to
come, composed in great part by King David. 6thly, A Number of the most valuable Moral Maxims and Proverbs
for the Instruction of Mankind in all their common duties; composed and collected by his son Solomon, another of the Kings of Israel.
The Old Testament has been carefully preserved through distant ages by the Jews, as containing the substance of their Religion and Laws, and the accounts of their National History. It continues to be held in the highest authority by that very remarkable people, and remains among them to this day, without either alteration or addition,* only that the Books which it contains are divided by them
*. The Jewish Targums, or paraphrases, as well as their various traditionary collections, are a separate consideration,
somewhat differently' than by us, and the whole Volume is separated into three parts, which they call The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms ;-by which title our Saviour and his Apostles continually refer to it in the New Testament.
In order to remove some difficulties which I think it not improbable many of my readers may have already experienced, it is desirable, before we enter upon our examination of the Sa. cred Writings, that I should offer some reflections which are of importance to persons unaccustomed to such enquiries, and which being considered before-hand, may make our future labours more easy. For this purpose I shall reserve for the next Lecture the particular examination of the contents of this holy Book.
I can easily conceive the difficulty which must stand in the way of any one who, for the first time, opens his Bible with a serious inclination to understand it. His mind must be almost entirely unprepared for such a subject. The confused notions he has received of the Sacred History either from his Parents, or from accidental information, give him little or no assistance to the undertaking. There may be some of my Readers who, notwithstanding their opportunities of obtaining this knowledge, have not until now thought with earnestness upon the subject,
A person thus circumstanced may be at length convinced that the Bible alone contains the Word of God. He is happily persuaded of the absolute necessity of looking into it, first as a duty expressly commanded by God, and next as the means of learning his duty. He is satisfied of the importance of setting about it without delay. He turns to his Bible for these purposes, expecting perhaps to find a : regular code of instructions to guide him, according to the usual mode of teaching now a days. He searches through the Sacred Volume, but finds it made up of parts quite differing from each other. He finds a history of the world carried on through a few pages, and afterwards confined to the affairs of a particular nation. He reads a most astonishing account of God's direct interference in the worldly con. cerns of this chosen people; who, notwithstanding the high favour by which they are distinguished, appear to him to be totally undeserving of such great kindness. They stand convicted by their own History of the grossést acts of rebellion, idolatry, and wickedness. Nevertheless he finds them supported by the Almighty, in waging war upon other nations, guided in their conquests, and protected in their struggles by supernatural Providence, and at last gaining possession of the lands of their enemies, whom they absolutely destroy by the Divine command.
The inexperienced reader, surprised at these things, proceeds in his examination with increasing curiosity and wonder, He next reads of many holy men raised up from time to time among these chosen people, instructed by God himself, who deliver to them the.. most extraordinary accounts of events that were afterwards to happen; taking them to task for their crimes in the severest language, yet at the same time promising to them the greatest future blessings,
and the distinguished honour of giving a Saviour to the world in after times, who should be descended from their own stock. He is lost in amazement at the many wonderful things of which he reads. He is . confounded at the difficulties which press upon his mind, and is, sometimes inclined to doubt the truth of these sacred Writers and Prophets, or to turn away in despair of understanding matters so contrary to his own experience.
There are four chief points which require to be considered, when. we enter upon the study of the Bible, viz.
1st, The many different things contained in it. 2dly, Its great age.
3dly, The rudeness of the times in which the Scriptures were, composed, and the change of manners and opinions since ;-and we must consider
Athly, That a book of Divine authority must of necessity contain: things of an uncommon nature.
I shall carry on my observations in this order, and request your particular attention to them, as extremely important to our future, examination.
1st, Having from our childhood been accustomed to look upon the : Bible as a single book, we may not always hold in due remembrance, that the several works contained in this Volume, are totally separate from each other in their nature ;-treating of different subjects, and directed to different purposes, yet all tending to the same end, and all of equal authority. History, prophecy, and instruction, collected together in the same Volume, and oftentimes mingled in the same Page. Nor perhaps is it sufficiently remembered that these Writings: were composed in different ages of the world, at the distance of many hundred years from each other, the work of different authors, who, though all writing under the immediate command of God, were for: the most part quite unconnected one with another. .
From these causęs, therefore, it will require much attention in the; reader, to keep in his thoughts the connection of events. The writer often stops in his History to foretell future things, or breaks out into spirited remonstrances with the people. References are sometimes made to other chronicles, or accounts of affairs, which through the long course of ages have not come down to our hands. Yet knowing the injuries which time has made in all other works, it is a most. remarkable proof of the providential care of the Scriptures, that they have been so little injured in the great length of time they have existed.
This leads me to remind you, 2dly, That the Bible is by far the oldest book in the world. Moses composed the five first books, which bear his name, fisteen hundred years before the birth of Christ, whereas the most ancient uninspired book now in being is known to be of a date many hundred years later, and there is but that one which can be traced to so distant a period.
Bearing in mind this circumstance of the amazing age of the Writings of Moses, we shall not be surprized at the short and simple
account which the Book of Genesis affords us of the earliest ages of the world. Moses tells in a very narrow compass those great facts concerning the formation of the Earth, the creation of our first Parents, their disobedience afterwards, and the dreadful wickedness into which they fell ; which God was pleased to punish by drowning the whole human race in a general Flood. He wrote these Books, as he declares, by the express command of God, and doubtless was directed to furnish those that came after him only with such principal. circumstances concerning these great events, as the Almighty judged necessary for their information, that they might be a warning and an instruction to all mankind.
But though the Holy Spirit of God guided his pen, it should be recollected that before the Flood, when the age of man was extended to nearly nine hundred years, the memory of such distant events was capable of being handed down from father to son, without passing through many persons. Ten generations only reached from Adam to Noah, through a space of 2350 years. These early accounts might be conveyed from Adam to Methuselah, from hiin to Shem, (the son of Noah,) and so to Abraham, thus passing through only four persons. · Moses lived only 400 years after, and was himself descended from Abraham.
It seems to have been one of the great objects of the Almighty in separating a particular nation from the rest of mankind, and directing a peculiar tribe among them (the Levites) to take charge of the Sacred Writings, to preserve the history of past ages, and the knowledge of his Revelation and Commandments. In constructing tlie Jewish forms of Religion and Laws, Moses most admirably secured this point by mixing together the regulations of Religion, and government, thus giving lasting support to each other. Ile informs us in the Book of Deuteronomy, that all these laws and regulations, together with the accounts of ancient times, were written by himself in a book, and preserved in the Ark of the Covenant, that is, a' holy chest appointed by command of God to contain these valuable Writings, which record the covenant or agreement lie had made with his creatures. The persons who were charged with the care of them were to allow no others to approach the sacred place in which they were kept,* and supernatural destruction fell upon such as presumed to disobey this order. • The continuance of an establishment of Priests, who should hold this particular office, was provided for with the utmost care. The direction that these religious offices should descend from father to son was most rigidly commanded, and observed, and the succeeding History of the Jews was recorded in like manner with the greatest cxactness. These venerable books were publicly read in presence of the people on their Sabbaths, and on other Festivals, according to the instructions of Moses, so that any change in these Writings would have been immediately discovered. The Priests were thus most com,
* Numbers, chap. i. v.51. ,
pletely prevented from corrupting the ancient Writings in their care, while the general knowledge, and constant remembrance of them was by this practice carefully kept up in the minds of the whole people.
3dly, At a time when men possessed so little knowledge, it may be easily conceived that a different mode of instruction than would now be necessary, might be requisite for their rude state and limited information.
Upon reading the History of Moses you will perceive that mankind were in a state of deplorable ignorance when the Almighty graciously afforded them this knowledge. You will ohserves that the only true God was unknown and forgotten among them ; that piety and virtue had fallen into general decay : that all the nations of the earth were given up to the worship of images; and that having forsaken their obedience to the Creator, they were sụnk în every sort of rice and corruption.
Though the human race (excepting one family) had already been destroyed for their disobedience, the children of Noah, who through the Divine blessing had re-peopled the earth, soon fell back into the same state of wickedness. But God, remembering his promise to Noah, was pleased to spare them; and, in order to recall them to a knowledge of the true God, and to raise mankind at large from the degraded state into which they had fatally fallen, he chose out one nation from among them, who being tutored and directed by his own instructions, might afterwards spread this knowledge, and afford an example to the rest of the nations of the earth.
The Almighty therefore benevolently let himself down to the understandings of those who were to receive his Divine instructions, He taught them as often by outward signs as by language. Striking proofs of his heavenly authority were frequently shewn them, to make then sensible of the existence of that God they had so long forgotten. The sacred lessons with which he inspired the lips of their instructors, were such as suited their powers of understanding.
These lessons were constantly applied to their present situations, and to the manners and habits of their own nation. They refer con. tinually to places and things quite common, and well known to them, although of all these matters, at so great a distance of time, we can have but a very imperfect notion.
We must therefore be prepared to find in works so ancient, some things not easily to be cleared up by persons unskilled in learning. A manner of telling circumstances very different from the present mode of relating events ; old customs, with the frequent mention of things now unknown, are what we might naturally expect, and these are what we meet with in the Bible. It might reasonably be. expected too, that a form of government, and of religious institutions: suited to the character and peculiar situation of a particular people, would contain many things strange, and entirely unfit for other nations ; and such are the ordinances of the Israelites. Their Laws and Religion were not intended for general use, they were made to suit a partia,