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RESPECTING THE NOTICES OF A FUTURE STATE
DISCOVERABLE IN THE PENTATEUCH.
The Pentateuch being confessed by all believers to have been written under the immediate inspiration of God, and every person (notwithstanding Bishop Warburton's ingenious reasonings to the contrary) feeling an invincible conviction that a heaven-revealed system of theology cannot but throw some light upon the future destination of the soul: we are apt, if the subject be new to us, to conclude as a thing of course, that the doctrine of an hereafter must needs make a prominent figure in the five books of Moses, and that the Israelites received it from their Law just as we receive it from our Gospel. Such, I suspect, is very frequently the case with those, who have never previously sat down to a regular study of this most curious topic, Hence, when challenged to produce from the Pentateuch their proof of a future state, they are not a little disappointed and perplexed to find, what very scanty and obscure and indirect notices of the doctrine they can discover even when they have painfully searched through the entire code.
This undeniable circumstance is triumphantly brought forward by infidels, with the exaggerated addition that no reference to a future state can be detected in the Pentateuch, for the purpose of throwing discredit upon the divine origination of the Hebrew Law: and the same circumstance, with an exaggeration not very dissimilar, has been adduced no less confidently by Bishop Warburton, as a safe and unobjectionable medium through which to prove the divine legation of Moses. Yet it may well be doubted, whether all parties have not proceeded upon the mere gratuitous assumption, that, if the doctrine were indeed taught and believed under the Law, we should find it largely insisted upon and exhibited with studied precision in various parts of the Pentateuch.
But, after all, what is the volume, from which so much is expected ? By far the greatest portion of it is neither more nor less than the common statute law of the Israelites, as administered by proper officers ecclesiastical and civil under their peculiar form of temporal government the Theocracy: and, with respect to the remainder, it is a very brief history, reaching through many centuries from the creation of the world down to the entrance of the Israelites into Palestine.
Now what can we reasonably expect from a volume of this twofold description ? Let us see, how often we can find the doctrine of a future state formally and explicitly set forth in the civil and ecclesiastical law of England, in the statutes of the realm and in the canons of the Church. As for the statute law, those, who are learned in it, can best say, how far it would be possible, to prove from its declarations, or to confute from its silence, the position that the English believe in a future state of rewards and punishments: but, as for the canons, I can venture to assert, that, out of their whole number which amounts to one hundred and forty one, none save two contain the slightest allusion to the doctrine of a future state ; and that those two, instead of luculently and copiously setting it forth, barely refer to it with as much brevity as possible. So again : let us peruse the Roman history of Livy or the various writings of Tacitus; and then let us calculate, how often we have found the ancient Latin belief in another world expressly declared or fully detailed. I am inclined to suspect, that in all these cases, we shall be surprized to discover, how very little is said upon the subject either affirmatively or negatively.
From such facts I would draw the obvious inference, that, if we expect to find any
formal recognition, or any elaborate description of a future state in the five books of Moses, we are
seeking what, agreeably to the natural rules of good composition, we cannot reasonably hope to discover: for as well might we resort to the statute law of England, as to the statute law of Israel, for a full enunciation of the doctrine in question; and as well might we expect to find it largely set forth in the historical writings of Livy, as in the historical writings of Moses. We must look in short not for the copiousness of systematic detail, but for the brevity of accidental allusion. The matter seems to be this. Throughout the whole Patriarchal Dispensation, the doctrine of a future retributory state, as we have already seen from the high authority of an inspired apostle, was duly taught and fully believed by all, except those who might, as in the present day, profess themselves to be infidels. To the Patriarchal Dispensation was added the Law : but Moses had no commission to throw any further light upon the doctrine in question ; it was reserved for the great prophet of a more perfect Dispensation to bring life and immortality to light through the Gospel. As for the Hebrew legislator, he left the doctrine as he found it. The very nature of his work. precluded him from any formal and regular statement of a tenet; which had been known from generation to géneration by every successive patriarch and his family, which from Adam and Seth must have been transmitted to the whole antediluvian Church, which from Noah must have been si
milarly transmitted to the whole postdiluvian Church, and which from Abraham and Isaac and Jacob must have been finally transmitted to the whole Levitical Church. He had nothing to add to it: and it were irrelevant to his purpose to enter copiously into detail. Accordingly, ás might have been anticipated from the very reason of the thing, the historian and the legislator, like any other historian and legislator, contents himself with incidentally alluding to what had ever been the familiar doctrine of the Church.
On these grounds it were vain to seek in the Pentateuch for any direct proof of the doctrine: and, agreeably to this plain rationale of the matter, our Lord's own argument effectually shews the futility of any such expectation.
As touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying; I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?!! God is not the God of the dead, but of the living '/]
The argument, no doubt, is perfectly conclusive': but still who does not immediately perceive, that the doctrine is proved from the Law, not in the way of adducing any positive declaration, but solely in the way of inferential reasoning ? Had the former mode been practicable, we may be sure that Christ would not
Matt. xxii. 31, 32.