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happened unto them for ensamples, to the intent that we should
be divided here,
The scriptures suggest to us this observation, which frequent experience confirms, that men are very prone to depend upon a profession of religion, and their external privileges, as belonging: to the church and kingdom of God, as if that alone would secure the divine favour. This is a fatal error, and we are cautioned against it by the precepts and by the histories of the bible ; and the vanity of such a dependence appears from particular facts, as well as the general history of the Jewish people. Moses was honoured with particular intimacy with God; yet, because he spoke unadvisedly with his lips, and did not sanctify God in one particular instance, he died short of the promised land. The calamities of David and his family, for his great sin in the matter of Uriah ; the adversaries which God stirred up against Solomon ; and the violent death of the disobedient prophet, ali show, that no privileges will prevent God from animadverting on sin, and that he sees the sins of his people with peculiar displeasure, But this appears more at large in the history of the Israelites. Though they were in a peculiar sense the people of God, who had his oracles among them, and to whom belonged the glory, the adoption, the covenants, and the like, yet, for their disobedience and rebellion, God punished them severely. And their plea of having Abraham for their father ; of being called by God's namc; and having him in an extraordinary manner resident among them ; their cry of The temple of the Lord, the temple of ihe Lord, did not avail. God brought enemies upon them, who plundered and destroyed many of them, and at length carried them all out of their own land, They were punished with greater severity than other nations, because they had better opportunities of knowing God and their duty, and stronger motives to practise . it, from their near relation to God, and the distinguished blessings they had received from him, You only have I knooon, that is, you have I chiefly favoured, of all the families of the earth, therefore will I punish you for your iniquities with peculiar severity. Now these instances strongly suggest to us that external privileges and advantages are to be considered as helps and motives ta inward holiness; as great blessings, if properly improved; but as aggravating our wickedness, if we abuse them i
which we do in the most shameful manner, if we take encouragement from them to neglect the great duties of religion.
6. They manifest God's favourable regard to the upright, notwithstanding the imperfections of their characters.
The follies and faults of good men could not be passed by, without observation, reproof, and punishment. But, though they were displeasing to God, and his perfections required him to animadvert upon them ; yet, having a sincere principle of religion within, and their lives being in the main holy and good, he did not cast them off. When they were brought to repentance, he forgave their sins, and restored them to his favour : and this, though their transgressions had been heinous, and attended with some aggravating circumstances : as in the case of David in particular. And he speaks of those persons, while they were living, and after they were dead, in terms of high approbation and esteem. Thus Abraham, notwithstanding his infirmities, was stiled the friend of God ; Moses the servant, Aaron the saint of the Lord ; and David the man after God's own heart. These things were recorded, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope ; that our repentance, even for very aggravated transgressions and offences, will be accepted of God; that he is plenteous in mercy, and ready to forgive. This truth is taught with more plainness and certainty in the New Testament, and more effectually guarded against being abused. But that can be no reason why we should not trace out the agreeable, though more obscure intimations of it in the Old. To which I would add, that instances of the divine forgiveness and acceptance of upright men, notwithstanding the imperfections of their characters, are more encouraging, especially to minds disposed to doubt and fear, than the strongest general declarations. Beside, it is of advantage to compare both these together, to observe the connection and harmony of the divine dispensations, for the pardon of penitents, and the acceptance of his faithful servants. This leads me to add,
7. They show that there is one uniform, consistent scheme of Providence, which runs through every dispensation.
They give us the clearest apprehensions of the harmony of the divine attributes and dispensations. The grand scheme of the law and the gospel was, to bring many sons to glory ; to make men holy and happy. Though the bible contains the history of many ages and dispensations, yet, there is an evident connection of its parts, a common tendency to the same great end. One event and one dispensation make way for another. They all point to that of the Messiah, in which they are perfected. And this thought will help us to account for the obscurity of some of the former dispensations; the grand scheme being to be gradually introduced, and opened upon the world, as they were able to bear it ; just as the twilight gradually opens and brightens, till the sun shines forth in all its glory, and makes a clear, un
clouded day. In this view, these histories give us a noble and sube lime idea of the blessed God, as not being weakly partial to a single family and nation, as the narrow minded Jews thought ; but favouring them with particular blessings and discoveries for the sake of the whole world : making them the repository of true religion for the benefit of the neighbouring nations ; and, for the same end, scattering them, and their sacred records, through the most considerable nations of the earth. But we shall have an imperfect notion of the Jewish religion if we consider it as complete in itself: it is plainly nothing more than an introduction to one more perfect. Christ was typified in their law, prefigured in their history, foretold by their prophets; and all were intended to lead their faith to him, and to confirm ours in him.
The sacred histories point out to us the design of God's several dispensations ; show them in their connection and dependence ; and lead our thoughts to the grand end and design of all, to establish truth and righteousness in the earth, and to promote the spiritual and everlasting happiness of mankind. These are the great uses of the Old Testament histories. They contain a faithful and entertaining record of ancient events ; they explain and illustrate many other parts of the holy scriptures ; they convey to us many important and profitable instructions : more particularly, they give us clear and striking ideas of God's government of the world ; they furnish us with many examples of eminent piety and goodness; they set before us the danger the best of men are in, of being overcome by temptation ; they represent to us the great evil of sin, and God's high displeasure against it; they show the insufficiency of any profession and privileges to abtain the favour of God, without a suitable life ; they manifest God's favourable regard to the upright, notwithstanding the imperfections of their character, and, they show, that there is one uniform, consistent scheme of Provi. dence which runs through every dispensation. It is impossible for me, in this discourse, to do full justice to such an important and extensive subject. But the hints I have given will afford copious matter of enlargement, to those who will seriously apply their thoughts to them. I proceed, therefore, to make some Reflections on the subject.
1. How unjustly are these histories censured and abused.
This is, and has been the case. The grand events of them have been burlesqued, and the most shining characters reviled and ridiculed, by some men of learning ; and particularly by a celebrated writer, in a treatise on the Study and use of History. He has made many unjust and contemptuous reflections on Reve elation in general ; particularly the histories of the Old TestaArent : urged in such terms as, if regarded, would have a tendency to bring them into neglect and disuse. And as he is remarkable for wit, and the beauties of language, his censures may be of dangerous consequence to persons of weak understandings, or bad dispositions. He represents the chief use of history, to be for statesmen and governors. But, surely, it is useful to direct persons in private life ; to excite and regulate pious, generous, and kind affections. This he allows when he is speaking of other histories, and it is strange he should deny it to these. He objects, that the Jews were a superstitious, lying people. But if this were allowed, there are exceptions to national characters ; and to charge every writer with such a disposition, (for which I can see no foundation) is certainly unjust and wrong. Beside, if their historiảns were liars, they would certainly have been more favourable to their own nation, at least to their own family, and most of all to their own character, which yet they are not. I have largely shown what advantage these histories are of ; there is therefore no room for that contempt which has been thrown upon them, though it should be allowed (which is urged as a considerable objection against them) that they do not con tain a just and regular history of the Jewish state, or what may safely be depended upon in settling the history and chronology of the neighbouring nations, though some of the most learned men of this and the last age have thought otherwise. But should this be allowed, it is strange it should be made a reflection on any book, that it does not contain what it never pretended to contain ! It may be as just a reflection upon the bible, that it does not teach men mathematics, or trade. These histories were written, not to make men chronologers, but to make them wise and good. I think St. Paul knew what they were written for, better than Lord Bolingbroke, and he tells us it was for our tearning and admonition, that we might hate sin, love holiness, and have hope. If these histories are so absurd and unprofit able as some would represent them, Providence has acted strangely in conveying them down to us so safely and so perfect as they are, when so many other ancient histories are lost, which they think would have been of much more use to the world. But I hope, and believe, you will ever entertain a different opinion of them : and look upon those as contemptible writers, as having very bad hearts, and very mischievous designs, who would weaken their authority, and expose to contempt, what holy men of old wrote by the inspiration of the blessed God.
2. Let us be thankful to God, who hath given us these useful histories,
Reason, as well as revelation, teach us that every good gift is from above. And it is evident that those are the best and choicest. gifts which tend to make men holy and happy. God is the author of those improvements of understanding, and those good dispositions of heart, which incline men to speak and write for the advancement of knowledge and holiness. The arts of writing and printing are from him ; by which the knowledge of divine things is preserved and diffused.
It is owing to his overruling providence, that these sacred books have been conveyed down to us so entire and perfect ; and the superstition of the Jews, in numbering even the verses and letters of the Old Testament, made serviceable to secure those valuable treasures ; and to his goodness we owe it, that they are not locked up in an unknown language, as among the papists. That they are so useful, that im-ortant instruction is conveyed in so pleasant a manner, is another call for thankfulness. When, therefore, your hearts are affected with what you read or hear; when you feel an inclination to imitate the most eminent saints, and to cherish the influences of those excellent principles by which they were animated ; when your faith in God is confirmed, and your hope enlivened by the united testimony and experience of holy men ; let your hearts ascend in praise to God, who hath given you his word, to be a light to your feet, and a lamp to your path, and put it into your hearts to make a proper use of it. There is none who teacheth like him.
3. These histories are worthy our daily perusal and diligent study.
The reading of them is with great propriety often made a part of our public services. It is doing a becoming honour to the word of God, necessary for the instruction of the ignorant, and useful to fix the chief events more strongly upon the memory of those who already know them. Explaining and illustrating them is particularly serviceable for such purposes. But I would recommend them to your daily and careful perusal, and to your attentive study. One would think that they should be frequently read, if it were only for entertainment ; for they are certainly the most entertaining histories in the world. And if a person who had read and studied the most noted common histories, and had never seen the bible, was accidentally to meet with it, I am persuaded the perusal of it would throw him into a transport of joy and surprise, and he would give it the preference to all that he had ever seen. It is our duty to search the scriptures, and to be desirous that the word of God may dwell in us richly, in all wisdom ; that is, that we may understand its meaning, enter into its spirit, propriety and design ; and treasure up in our memory the most important facts, and the most extraordinary characters there recorded. It is surely a shame for a christian to be unacquainted with it ; that he should be able to give a circumstantial-account of the reign of Charles, or William, and yet know nothing of the reigns of David and Solomon, though they were so eminent for princely qualities and distinguished piety! But especially what an infamy is it to one who calls himself a christian, that he should be well acquainted with idle, mischievous romances, and know little of his bible! Why must such trash, as the world is