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ledge: it must surely be worse than impertinent to prove their IGNORANCE of the doctrine, through the medium of passages written during a period, when it is allowed that they were not IGNORANT of it. Yet precisely such is the mode, in which the bishop conducts his argument. He produces three passages, one from the book of Ecclesiastes, another from the thanksgiving of Hezekiah, and a third from the Lamentations of Jeremiah; all of which are to prove, not merely the general ignorance of the people, but the equal ignorance of a very wise king and of a very pious king and of a very learned priest : yet were all these passages written AFTER the time of David; and therefore during a period when the doctrine is allowed to have been so competently KNOWN, that all texts, brought to prove the knowledge of it from any writers of that period, are manifestly impertinent. The doctrine in short, according to the bishop, was KNOWN among the Israelites after the time of David: but, by some inexplicable fatality, Solomon and Hezekiah and Jeremiah, each of whom flourished after the time of David, were alike IGNORANT of it.
A much more serious consequence however, than the inconsistency of an individual, flows from the interpretation given by the bishop of others of the texts which he has produced.
In sacred history, as well as in any other history, a private person may be introduced speak
ing his own sentiments : and those sentiments may themselves be either right or wrong: the recording historian does not stand compromised by the bare circumstance of his having been the recorder. But, when an inspired writer speaks with his own voice, he can speak nothing but the most perfect truth: for it is a blasphemous contradiction to say, that an inspired writer can utter falsehoods. It is easy indeed to conceive, that God may not so fully inspire a prophet as that he should be able to declare the whole truth: hence, had the writers of the Old Testament been altogether silent on the doctrine of a future state, it were no impeachment of their claims to inspiration ; because they might have received no commission to set forth that doctrine. But, if, instead of preserving a total silence, they come forward and unreservedly declare, while speaking in their own persons, that THERE IS NO FUTURE STATE; when yet we know from the highest possible authority, that thERE IS A FUTURE STATE: I am at a loss to understand, how we are to save their credit as inspired writers. Thus, when the woman of Tekoah uses an expression, which implies (as the bishop thinks) her complete disbelief of a future state; the inspired historian merely records the language of an uninspired individual: but, when David or Solomon, writing under the immediate impulse of inspiration, equally declare (as the bishop contends) that there is no future state; are we to
admit or to reject their alleged declaration ? If the former; what becomes of the doctrine itself? If the latter; what are we to think of their inspiration ? An inspired writer may be silent on a particular doctrine: but, as an inspired writer, it is impossible that he should utter a direct falsehood.
These considerations ought to teach us much more caution than Bishop Warburton has evinced, while interpreting the texts in question.
That the pious Hezekiah should openly avow his disbelief of a future state, during the very period when (according to the bishop himself) the doctrine was known among the Israelites, may well seem passing strange: nor will the singularity of the circumstance be diminished by the recollection ; that, if the bishop expound his words aright, he chose above all other times, as the most appropriate season for this extraordinary avowal, the very day of his miraculous recovery from a mortal sickness. But, strange as may have been the conduct of Hezekiah, the language of David and Solomon and Jeremiah and the author of the book of Job is tenfold more unaccountable, if the bishop be a faithful interpreter of it, on the supposition of their being all inspired writers. Most reasonably then may we doubt, whether his lordship has not greatly misunderstood them.
And here I may remark, that the bishop cannot be allowed to extricate himself: sometimes
by asserting, that, were Moses and the prophets the commissioned servants of God, they COULD NOT teach a future state, since it was EXCLUSIVELY ordained and reserved for the ministry of Jesus'; and at other times by declaring, that the doctrine was gradually opened by the prophets to the people, and that it is plainly impertinent to adduce against his theory any text written After the time of David because WHAT WAS KNOWN FROM THIS TIME could not supply the want of what was unknown for so many ages before'. The doctrine either was, or was NOT, known previous to the ministration of Christ: and we have a right to demand, that the bishop should steadily adhere either to the one or to the other position. If it was known, previous to the ministration of Christ and after the time of David; then nothing can be more nugatory and irrelevant, than to adduce passages, written during this intermediate period of confessed KNOWLEDGE, by way of proving the perfect IGNORANCE of the Israelites: if, on the contrary, it was not known, or rather if his lordship finally maintains that it was not known; then it is equally nugatory to declare, that all passages, brought from writings posterior to the time of David with the view of confuting such an opinion, are manifestly impertinent. Let the bishop take either side of the alternative; and his reasoning, in one part or other of his great work, will still be found inconclusive and contradictory: but by no rules of sound logic can he be allowed, first to take this side and then to take that side, first to maintain that the doctrine WAS known before the ministration of Christ and then to maintain that the doctrine NEITHER WAS NOR EVEN COULD BE known before the ministration of Christ; just as the one or the other opinion may best serve his current train of argument.
| Div. Leg. book ix, chap. 1. p. 233. ? Ibid. book vi. sect. 5. p. 1. sect. 1. p. 296.
On the grounds which have just been stated, I have no fear in asserting, that, let the passages adduced by the bishop in the prosecution of his POSITIVE argument mean what they may; it is utterly impossible, with the single exception of that spoken by the woman of Tekoah, that they should set forth, as the avowed belief of their respective authors, the doctrine that there is no future state but that the soul immediately perishes upon the death of the body.
Let us however notice each of these passages; and see, whether it must of necessity bear the sense which his lordship ascribes to it.
(1.) The first passage, adduced by him, is taken from the speech of the woman of Tekoah to king David.
We must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground which cannot be gathered up again'.