« VorigeDoorgaan »
the fact proves, having had no commandment to inscribe in his law the doctrine, or promise in it the reward, of eternal life, which it is the privilege of Christ openly to promise, as it is his gift to bestow: a subordination of inferiority in the Law to the Gospel, which is consistent with every other comparison we can make between them. But as a future eternal state is not made the sanction of the law of Moses, so neither is the doctrine of it made an explicit revelation either in the Law, or any other part of the Pentateuch. The text cannot be produced which simply declares it; and that none such exists, is evinced, or confirmed, by the discourse of our Saviour in his refutation of the Sadducees. For when, in proof of the resurrection of the dead, he referred those deniers of it to Moses, calling the Lord "the God of Abraham, the God of "Isaac, and the God of Jacob," we must suppose that he selected this text as one of the most forcible and clearest of the book of the law, capable of imparting the knowledge of a resurrection and a future state. But since he deduced that knowledge from thence by an implication, is it not a certain sign that the doctrine was not to be found there expressed? His own just and emphatic reasoning establishes the truth in question by this medium; "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." By the aid of his illuminating reason, we perceive the truth deduced. But who will say that the same truth could have been inferred as a clear,
infallible consequence, without his reason to derive it? Suppose his medium of explication withdrawn, how few could have supplied it? At the most, since the doctrine was to be had only by being so inferred, we must grant it was no article of the express Mosaic revelation. It lay indeed in its elements of proof; but then it has been one office of Christ, and his greater revelation, to enable us to understand many things contained in the first. The Sadducee erred culpably by his denial of the truth: yet there is a wide interval between his offence in the denial, and the certainty of knowledge founded on a direct revelation. Within that interval the evidence of the doctrine had its range; till the fulness of truth came, and turned the twilight of Jewish hope into the splendour of the Christian. Meanwhile, the hope which was thus afforded, it was the depravity of some to cast away, and the piety of others to cherish and embrace. Such, I apprehend, is the true state of the evidence on this subject in the Mosaic revelation.
But here a cloud of controversy has been raised. The absence of the doctrine of a Future Eternal State from the sanctions of the Mosaic Law has given to the unbeliever a topic of objection: to others, an occasion of scruple and uneasiness. As an argument of objection to the authority of the Mosaic Law, it has been more than repelled by the great Writer, whose name will always be remembered,
when the Divine Legation of Moses is called in question on this ground. But I am not certain that this eminent person has directed the force of his mind with equal assiduity and patience on the other side, to satisfy, or remove, the scruple existing there.
Since Prophecy is connected throughout with the course of Revealed Religion, and the state of it contemporary with the Law can never be understood, without a settled and precise view of the Law itself, as to its character and stipulations, I am unwilling to pass this disturbed point without endeavouring to clear my way through the difficulties which are thought to press upon it. The following considerations, therefore, are offered to the abatement of that scruple which the pure Temporal rewards and punishments of the Law have created in minds whose satisfaction deserves the most to be consulted.
Some of the uneasiness resulting to the piety of believers from this quality of the Mosaic sanctions, probably arises from a mistaken view either of the principle of moral obligation, or of the moral value of motives, seconding that obligation, as compared with the obligation itself. Now the religionist should consider that the obligation of man to obedience under the divine law, does not rest upon any specific pledge, or institution, of reward or punishment, at all. It rests upon this, the knowledge of the divine will imposed; consequent to which is the duty of obedience. The relation of man to God, as
his Creator and Sovereign Lord, is the immediate reason and principle of duty; and the perception of this relation is the evidence of the duty. It is essentially a part of our reasonable nature in looking to God, to confess his title to our service; without staying to inquire "what profit is there that we should serve him?" And although this sense of our reasonable nature is weak, and not to be intrusted with the whole interest of our duty, yet it is really a principle, and always to be acknowledged as such, in weighing the just claims of our Creator, and in cultivating our habits of duty. It is true the conviction of a rule of reward and punishment is necessary to the practical support of human obedience, as the rule itself is essential to the divine law, according to the decision of the Apostle, "he that "cometh to God must believe that he is a rewarder "of them that diligently seek him." But this conviction of reward and punishment is not separable from our ideas of God, and all religion whatever ; and still less is it separable from the act of God's own publication of his law. Consequently the publication of the divine law carries with it, under every form, an obligation complete. The duty is perfect, whenever the will is known. That the Jewish religion had this principle in its fullest extent, is certain. No law ever spoke more forcibly its authority. The very act of its publication was in miracle. The thunders and lightnings of Sinai were its ratification.
Now although we can never esteem too highly the
great mercy of God revealed in the Christian Covenant, and the excellence of the reward therein proposed to our faith and duty, yet it is the piety and virtue of mind directed to Him as the object of homage and obedience, that gives to our action whatever degree of rectitude it can have. To know and to serve him, that is religion, whether it be with a view to the present life, or to the next, and whatever inducements or encouragements he may choose to supply. The greatest rewards of endless felicity sought, or expected, in any other service than his, cannot consecrate that service, nor make it a part of essential religion. For this reason, an upright observer of the Mosaic Law, looking to God and his command, had more virtue than the votary of a false religion, who might seek a Pagan Elysium, or a Mahometan Paradise, for the retribution of his practice, or his worship: And for the same reason, a virtuous man, conforming to his conscience as to the will of God, has his virtue in that conformity, whether he know of any distinct reward or not.
It follows as a consequence from this principle of obligation, that neither the particular measure of the reward proposed, nor the indefiniteness of it, can affect the integrity of the obligation itself. When it was said to Abraham, "I am thy shield, " and thy exceeding great reward," that general promise of the divine favour was the sufficient bond and motive of obligation. The duty was perfect, though the Patriarch knew not the nature, or the extent, of the retribution assured to him. In like