« PreviousContinue »
ON THE DEGREE OF KNOWLEDGE RESPECTING
A FUTURE STATE OF RETRIBUTION POSSESSED BY THOSE WHO LIVED UNDER THE PATRIARCHAL DISPENSATION.deli
S to If we wish to ascertain the important question, whether the ancient Israelites had or had not any knowledge of a future state of rewards and punishments, we must begin our inquiryfrom the very first ages : for, as Bishop Warburton is well aware, the alleged ignorance of the Israelites must inevitably rest upon the equal ignorance of their predecessors under a yet prior Dispensation. The two positions clearly stand or fall together. If the Israelites were ignorant of a future state, their patriarchal forerunners must also have been ignorant of it: and conversely, if the subjects of the Patriarchal Dispensation were well acquainted with it, their successors the Israelites could not possibly have been in a state of ignorance.
Of this indissoluble connection the learned prelate was fully aware : and therefore, having made the ignorance of the Israelites the ultimate basis of his argument, he found himself compelled also to maintain the previous ignorance of those who flourished before the promulgation of the Law. Hence, as we have already seen, he taught, that man after the fall was left under the sole guidance of what has been called the religion of nature; that, so far from having any belief in a future state, he supposed himself to have wholly lost his immortality in the strictest and largest sense of the word; and that he could not draw any moral argument to prove the real existence of such a state from the unequal distribution of physical good and evil in this present world, because he lived, like the house of Israel in a subsequent age, under an equal providence, which regularly and unerringly accumulated temporal rewards upon the virtuous, while it never failed to visit with temporal punishments the habitations of the vicious'.
I. All these positions stand immediately and inseparably connected : each one is absolutely necessary to the other.
A well understood promise of a future Deliverer involved of necessity the knowledge of a future deliverance: therefore, lest man should know more than was convenient for this great prelate's system, he must be turned over to the
See above book i. chap. 2.
meagre tuition of natural religion. But, under the tuition even of natural religion, if he were influenced by a firmly rooted conviction that God was a God of justice, he would soon argue forward, from the unequal distribution of physical good and evil in this present world, to a future state where this brief inequality would be fully rectified and vindicated; for, supposing him to have lived as we ourselves do under an únequal Providence, he must plainly either have thus argued or have sat down under the practically atheistic persuasion that God was unjust and indifferent as to the moral government of the universe: therefore, to stop the
consequences which (as the bishop justly contends) cannot but flow from such a state of mind, he must be placed, like the ancient Israelites, under the rule of an equal and miraculously interfering Providence.
- In this manner only can Bishop Warburton's system preserve its compactness.
The alleged ignorance of the Israelites respecting a future state requires the antecedent ignorance of their patriarchal predecessors : the antecedent ignorance of their patriarchal predecessors requires, that those predecessors should be placed under the guidance of mere natural religion: and the placing of them under the guidance of mere natural religion requires, that they should also be placed under the rule of an equal Providence; lest haply, from the irregu
larities of an unequal one, they should argue forward, through the postulate of God's perfect justice, to a future state of well assigned rewards and punishments.
Now the two last of these positions are wholly untenable: whence, standing connected as they do, their untenability will of necessity draw after it the untenability also of the bishop's leading hypothesis.
1. So far from our having even a shadow of proof from Scripture, that the early inhabitants of our globe lived under an equal and mira-; culous Providence in any manner resembling: that under which the ancient Israelites' were placed, we have as decisive proof, as can 'well be desired or expected from so very brief a his- , tory of the first ages, that they lived, like ourselves, under an unequal and irregular Providence.
The proof of this point has already been deduced from the recorded fact of the premature and violent death of the righteous Abel, while the fratricide Cain enjoyed a long life with a competent share of worldly prosperity. It shall now be deduced 'additionally and no less satisfactorily from the recorded words of the impious antediluvians themselves.
With the exception of a single pious family, the antediluvians sank universally into a state
" See above hook i. chap. 2. $ III, 3.
of lawless anarchy and materializing atheism. Such was their moral and religious condition. Now, under these circumstances, what was their ordinary language? Why, the very language, which we are assured they used in the course of their lapse, proves to absolute demons stration that they could not have lived under the rule of an equal Providence.
Hast thou marked, says the inspired author of the book of Job, the old way which wicked men have trodden?: Which were cut down out of time, whose foundation was overflowed with the flood : which said unto God, Depart from us, and what can the Almighty do for them?: Yet he filled their houses with good things '.
Such, it seems, was the strictly Epicurèan argument of the impious antediluvians; an argu-” ment, which is plainly inconsistent with the very idea of an equal Providence, and which therefore could never have been used by men who lived under it. They; beheld their own houses filled with good things, notwithstanding their repeated daring provocations of God: while the pious, in despite of their profession of being his servants, were apparently neglected, and were suffered to pine away in sickness or poverty or affliction. Hence, like many other wicked men, instead of anticipating a fearful recompense hereafter, they scoffed at the expec
1 Job'xxü. 15-18.