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sin, and God's displeasure against it ; they show the insufficiency of any prayers or professions without a suitable life ; they manifest God's favourable regards to his servants, notwithstanding the imperfection of their characters ; and they show us that there is one consistent, honourable and useful scheme of divine government carried on through his several dispensations.
1. They give us clear and striking ideas of God's government of the world ; both of his natural and moral government : his natural government, or his providence ; and his moral government, that is, his treatment of his rational creatures, according to their character and conduct.
They give us clear ideas of the providence of God : that his kingdom ruleth over all. This is a truth, which the reasonings of our own minds, upon an observation of the frame of nature, its preservation and revolutions, would suggest ; but it is particularly represented in the sacred history. It is supposed through the whole of it, and in many places delivered in express and striking terms. It is almost impossible to open the bible without reading this at the first glance ; and it is often described with great plainness, and great sublimity, both to convince the most illiterate, and to strike the most careless. The sacred histori. ans were full of this thought, and they introduce it in a very natural and a very instructive manner. They ascribe all their mercies and afflictions, and those of their nation, whose history they record, to the hand of God. They acknowledge, that he lifteth up, and he putteth down ; that to hiin belongeth mercy and judg. ment. Whatever extraordinary achievements they describe, they impute them to the Spirit and power of God. The devotions of its heroes are perhaps as valuable a part of the history as any other. They seek their help from God, own their depende ence on him, and give him the glory of all their deliverances and successes. They ascribe it to him, that other pations were overcome by them, or were their conquerors : and represent the greatest and most powerful princes, as only instruments in his hands, and employed to execute his wise and righteous purposes. And there is not one of the sacred historians, except the writer of the book of Esther, who does not take frequent occasion to suggest this thought to every reader, that God reigneth among the kingdoms of men, and that he ordereth all things according to the counsel of his will. It has been observed, that other histories are written to give us high and magnificent ideas of princes and conquerors, the pomp of courts, the splendour of conquests, the bravery and success of armies ; but these direct our thoughts to the supreme and universal King, whose scourge, tyrannical princes are, to a wicked people. Here we see, as in the works of nature, “ all things full of God.” A strong presumption that these writings come to us under his influence and suggestions, and are instances of their great usefulness.
Further ; we have the clearest ideas of the moral government of God, or that which respects the conduct of his rational creatures. He does not interpose in the affairs of this world merely to show his power, but also to display his holiness and justice, his hatred of sin, and his regard to righteonsness. The calamities brought upon our first parents, upon the old world, upon the Canaanites, upon the Israelites as a nation, and upon many of their princes; all display the divine rectitude, and show, that the righteome Lord loveth righteousness, but the wicked, and him that loveth violence, his soul hateth. And though we cannot argue from God's dealings with the Jews, how he will deal with other nations, (as there was something peculiar in their constitution and government) yet their history inculcates this general and important truth, that righteousness exalteth a nation, and sin is the reproach, and will be the ruin, of any people. For the apostle tells us, 1 Cor. X. 11. that all these things happened to them for: ensamples to us.
2. They furnish us with many examples of eminent piety and goodness:
The usefulness of virtuous examples is universally allowed ; and where shall we find any equal to those in the bible ? Many of the Old Testament saints were very eminent : perhaps, considering their advantages, as eminent examples of true religion as any in the New. The simplicity, as well as shortness of the scripture histories, does not allow the inspired penmen to take up time in drawing characters and writing encomiums, such as are to be found in common histories. This is left to the reader, who cannot but observe in them the evident traces of unaffected piety, deep humility, generous benevolence, strict temperance, undaunted fortitude, meek resignation, and the like. And one would think that every reader must feel an inclination to cele brate and imitate what is so lovely and laudable. To stir up such inclinations, a hint is sufficient, and perhaps may be more effectual than a laboured panegyric or description. I would only ob, serve, that there are good examples for the young and the old,
for persons of both sexes, for statesmen and soldiers, for divines, tradesinen, and mechanics ; and these examples come recommended by the sanction of God himself. There are, particularly, some shining characters, which he has marked out with especjal approbation ; and they were recorded to promote our emulation. There is an abstract of the principal characters in these histories, in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews; and illustrated with this view, that we may be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
3. They set before us the danger in which the best of men are, of being overcome by temptation.
The most perfect of human characters are not exempt from what may be a grievance and reproach to them : the most celebrated saints under the Old Testament have displayed soms
things in them, which cannot be commended or vindicated. Instances may be found in the lives of Noah, Lot, Abraham, David, Solomon, and some of the prophets. And though some writers have very indecently exposed their frailties, and disguised their virtues, in order to weaken the credit of revelation, yet we cannot vindicate them, and even the sacred histories themsclves condemn them. Our business is candidly to think that they were but men ; men of like passions, and subject to the same infirmities, with the rest of the species. Their faults are recorded for our warning; and the warning is important and useful. They caution us not to be high minded, but fear, whatever advances we may have made in religion. And let me add, it is a debt of justice 10> good characters in ancient times, as well as at present, not hastily to receive an opinion to their disadvantage ; but to consider the circumstances of the action, of time and place, to judge candidly, and to pronounce with caution. Had many writers done this, instead of asserting confidently, or insinuating with a sneer, it would have prevented them from censuring many great and good men, whose virtues would have commanded their approbation and applause.
4. They represent to us the great evil of sin, and God's higla displeasure against it.
Sin is so evil and bitter, that every thing which tends to make us sensible of its malignity and mischief, must be of great advantage. The sacred histories answer this end ; for they represent the most remarkable calamities which have befallen mankind in those ages, as the effects of sin'; and plain, avowed tokens of the divine displeasure against it. In this view the history of the fall, the destruction of the old world, and the many afflictions of the Is. raelites, are remarkable. These were awful memorials of God's latred of that which is evil. The destruction of Sodom and of the Canaanites, for their horrid and unnatural vices, speak loudly, that they are the abominable things which God's righteous soul hat. eth. Calamities on particular persons speak the same language. The death of Korah and his company, of Nadab and Abihu, the destruction of the rebellious and murmuring Israelites, the calamities which befell David and his house, for his sin, and several su ch events, testify the righteousness of God, and how he resents the iniquities of men. The great ends of punishment, are the reformation of the offenders, and the admonition of others. The admonition was designed, not only for those who were spectators of those calamities, or shared in the effects and consequchces of them, but for all to whom the report of thein might extend. For the nature of God is the same ; the nature and evil consequences of sin are the same ; and, amidst numerous snares and temptations, we need a caution. Thus, after St. Paul had reckoned up the chief sins and plagues of the Israelites, their unreasonable desires ; their idolatry; their impurities; their murmurdogs and tempting of Providence ;- he says, now all these things
happened unto them for ensamples, to the intent that we should avoid the like crimes : and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. And then he adds this, important caution, Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall, N. B. If this Discourse be found too long to be read at once, it may
be divided here,
5. The histories of the Old Testament show the insufficiency of any profession and privileges to obtain the favour of God, without a suitable life.
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, all 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 name; and having him in an extraordinary manner resident among them; their cry of Tire tcmple 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 known, 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 im, proved ; but as aggravating our wickedness, if we abụse them ;
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 hiin 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.