"The faith of a true Christian is the same as that of Moses and the Prophets."
Letter 1. Introduction
My dearly beloved Brother Benjamin,
How greatly did my heart rejoice, when, after the lapse of so many years of separation and silence, I was favored with your affectionate letter. My feelings, on perusing it, cannot be expressed. Like my namesake, Joseph of old, I fell, in imagination, "upon my dear Benjamin's neck, and wept" tears of joy (Gen 45:14). I thank my God, who hath preserved your life, removed your prejudices, and inclined your heart to inquire after the truth.
1. You express a great desire to know "the reasons for my believing the Christian religion." After mature deliberation, and much prayer to God, and relying on the aid of the Ruach Hakkodesh, Holy Spirit, I have resolved to comply with your request. But be assured that no other consideration but to gratify you, and the hope that it may please God to make it a blessing to your precious soul, would have led me to undertake this work. For, although I can adopt the language and sentiment of one of our brethren of the tribe of Benjamin, that "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rom 1:16); and though lam commanded by one of the inspired apostles of my blessed Savior, "to be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh for a reason of my hope"; and although I have studied these subjects for many years, and preached on them often yet, such is the conviction of my imperfections in style, composition, &c. that diffidence would have led me to withhold them still from appearing in print, as I have done on former occasions, as you will perceive by the following extract from the fourth Report of the London Society for promoting Christianity amongst the Jews (p 3):"The lectures to the Jews, by Mr. Frey, which form so important and prominent a feature in the operations of the Society, have been continued at the Jews' Chapel, and of them it is not saying too much, to observe, that subjects have been so judiciously chosen, and so admirably treated by him, especially in the elucidation and application of the doctrines and discipline of the Jews, in exposing the fallacious reasoning of the Hebrew doctors, and in enforcing the grand truths of Christianity, that these discourses will long be remembered with delight and satisfaction by those who have heard them. Your Committee regret that Mr. Frey's diffidence has led him (perhaps somewhat too pertinaciously) to resist their repeated applications to prepare several of these lectures for the press."Similar applications have been made by friends in this country, as well as in England.
2. The subject on which you solicit information, is, of all others, the most interesting. It is that by which God has distinguished mankind from, and elevated them above, all other creatures in our world, endowing them with rational and moral faculties capable of religious notions and sentiments. Nor can it be supposed that God, who instructed our first parents in the useful knowledge they possessed, would neglect to communicate, to them the knowledge of religion. Hence, notwithstanding the many changes and corruptions which have been introduced, with respect to the nature of religion, still, the necessity and importance of it are acknowledged by all nations.
We find no human society who have not their religious opinions and sentiments; and some of the most uncivilized and barbarous nations are often the most zealous and conscientious in the observance of their rites and ceremonies.
3. You, my dear brother, have no doubt, like myself, felt thankful to God for blessing us with parents, who, like Abraham our father, commanded their children that they should keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; yet it is a deplorable fact, that they never taught us wherein true religion consists. With shame I confess to you, that for many years all the ideas I had on this important subject centred in this: that I must live and die as a Jew, professing and observing what my parents did, without even expressing or harboring a doubt respecting the truth, propriety, or utility of their creed.
How often have I been told, by Christians as well as Jews, "that for a person to change the religion in which he was born and brought up, is the worst thing he can do; and is a sure evidence of his being a bad man." This sentiment, however, is contrary to Scripture and reason. You, my dear brother, as well as any other one of our nation, would certainly be shocked at the very thought that our father Abraham, who renounced the idolatrous religion of his fathers, and worshiped the true God, "did the worst thing a man could do, and thereby evinced himself to be a bad man." Besides, if his conduct was blamable, the blame falls on Jehovah, whose express command was the rule of his conduct. And dare any one, who is called by the name of Jesus, assert such a principle? Did not he commission his apostles and ministers to preach his Gospel to every nation; to open their blind eyes; and to turn them from darkness to light; from their dumb idols, to serve the living and true God? If a Jew or a Gentile, for renouncing the religion of his fathers, and believing in Jesus Christ, be blamable, the blame belongs to Jesus, who commands all to believe in him, and not to him who obeys this divine command. Further, is it not universally considered contrary to reason, to continue in the erroneous belief and practice of out forefathers, in matters of a temporary or worldly nature. The husbandman, the mariner, the mechanic, the artist, the lawyer, and the statesman, each and every one considers it his duty and privilege to depart from the old mistaken views, principles, modes, and manners of his forefathers, and to follow the more correct, improved, and useful ideas and principles of the present day: and why should we not much more renounce the religious errors of our forefathers, and embrace the true religion of the Bible? Surely it is of infinitely greater importance to secure our spiritual and eternal happiness, than to improve our temporal and worldly circumstances. For "what is a man profited," saith the Lord of heaven and earth, "if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matt 16:26). However unscriptural and unreasonable this maxim is, alas! it is very common. In my travels, during the last forty years, which have been very frequent and extensive, both in Germany, my native country, in Britain, and in these United States, I have observed, with much grief and sorrow of heart, that this maxim is the foundation of the religious creeds of mankind in general, until the Spirit of God impresses on their hearts the importance of caring for their precious and immortal souls. Few can assign a better reason why they are heathens, Mahomedans, Jews, or Christians, than that their forefathers had been of the same persuasion. O, Christian reader! what is the foundation of your hope? why are you a Christian and not a Jew? why a Protestant and not a Roman Catholic? why an Episcopalian or a Presbyterian, &c. &c. Is it because, like the noble Bereans, you have examined the Scriptures and built upon the foundation that God has laid therein; or have you followed the mere example of your forefathers? Remember, that religion is a personal thing, and that you and I must very soon appear at the bar of Almighty God, and be either acquitted or condemned, after being tried and judged, not by the peculiar creed of our parents, but by his revealed will, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
4. Excuse this digression, dear Benjamin; consider how uncertain and dangerous was the maxim by which I was thus guided. For while we cannot doubt the sincerity of our dear parents, as it respects their religious creed, yet surely there was a possibility of their being mistaken. Now, suppose I had discovered that they had been really and radically mistaken in their religious views, would it not have been as much my duty to renounce error, and to embrace the truth, as it was the duty of our venerable father Abraham to leave the idolatrous religion of his parents.
5. But probably you will reply, that Abraham had an express command from God. This is true; and so had I. Not, indeed, in the same mode of communication; yet no less clear and certain. "For we have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto we do well to take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place." And certainly we are no less bound to believe and obey what God has said in his written word, than the patriarchs were bound to believe and obey what he made known to them in dreams and in visions. But before I point out unto you those portions of the sacred Scriptures which have convinced me of the truth of the Christian religion, I will show you why I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God.
6. When it had pleased the Lord, in his wise and holy providence, to bring me into company with a Christian fellow traveler,(1) 1. See my Narrative, chap. 2. who asserted that the promised Messiah had already come, and that Jesus of Nazareth, whom our fathers crucified, was that Messiah; in a moment, as it were, the foundation of my creed was shaken, my mind was filled with doubts, and I was exceedingly anxious to know whether Jesus was indeed the Christ. I now began to read the Scriptures of the Old Testament, to see what kind of a Messiah God had promised to our fathers. How great was my surprise when I read those clear and striking descriptions of the prophet, concerning the person, life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, which I had never seen or heard before. For you well know, my dear Benjamin, that the 53d chap. of Isaiah, the 19th chap. of Daniel, and many other parts of the writings of the prophets, are not included in the Haphtoreth, (i. e. the portions selected to be read in the Synagogue,) nor are they read by many in private.(2) 2. Narrative, chap. 1.
7. I now eagerly desired to know whether all that had been foretold by the prophets, had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth; I therefore procured a copy of the New Testament, the first I ever touched; for you remember how often we were cautioned against it, and told that "to touch a New Testament was as defiling as to touch a swine." I read the Gospels twice over. All was new and unheard of before; many things appeared very dark and mysterious, and I had none to ask for information, except the minister, my spiritual guide, but to whom I could not go as often as I wanted explanations. Under these discouraging circumstances the words of my blessed Savior were of great use to me. "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter" (John 13:7). It is impossible, my dear brother, to describe my astonishment in reading the history of my blessed Lord. How different is his real character from that blasphemous account of him called Toldoth Jeshu, which we were in the habit of reading every year on the evening before Christmas-day. Truly he is the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely, and as the poet said:"All human beauties, all divine,I was equally surprised to find the most minute predictions fulfilled in Jesus. My judgment was soon convinced that he was the promised Messiah, and I began to rejoice in the hope of glory.
"In my beloved meet and shine;
"His worth, if all the nations knew,
"Sure the whole world would love him too."
8. But alas! this happy state and frame of mind did not continue very long. It was suggested that the New Testament was not the word of God. For some time I was much perplexed and greatly cast down. The minister, one day, perceiving that I groaned under some burden, inquired into the cause of it. I first hesitated, for fear of giving offence, but his kind and affectionate conduct removed my apprehensions, and I told him my doubts about the truth and authenticity of the New Testament. He then asked, "Do you believe the Old Testament to be the word of God?" " Yes," said I. "What is the reason," said he, "that you believe it to be the word of God? How do you know that it is not a forgery!" "Because," said I, "my parents always believed it, and all the Jews believe it." "Well," replied he, "if that be a sufficient and satisfactory reason, then the New Testament is the word of God too, for all Christians believe it to be so. But," said he, "there are other proofs by which we may know whether a book is a divine revelation or not." By this pious and good man I was first instructed in the evidences of the Old and New Testament.
9. This subject is, of all others, the most important, and yet as strangely neglected. Whatever instructions may be derived from the volumes of nature and providence, it is the Bible, and the Bible, only, that can give a satisfactory answer to the serious and anxious inquiry, "what shall I do to be saved?" And it is because so few study the evidences of the Bible, that so many fall into dangerous errors, or into open infidelity. I will, therefore, in my next letter, give you some general ideas on the subject of a divine revelation, and afterward state the leading evidences that prove the Bible to be the word of God.
Letter 2. Observations on Divine Revelation
1. Agreeably to my promise, I shall now make a few general remarks respecting a divine revelation. I stated in my last that the minister who gave me the first instructions in the Christian religion pointed out to me the evidences of a divine revelation, which were then of great use to me. However, I had a still better opportunity afterward of examining that subject more extensively, and more carefully, in the Missionary Seminary, under the care of the late Rev. Dr. Bogue, at Gosport, in England. Permit me, my dear Benjamin, to embrace this opportunity of publicly acknowledging the kind providence of God, and of thanking the directors of the London Missionary Society, for sending and supporting me in their Seminary, where it pleased my dear Lord and Savior further to enlighten my mind, to rectify my judgment, and to establish my heart in the truth of the Gospel by the parental and judicious instructions of my ever-revered tutor, who lately entered his rest, after having spent a life of more than threescore years and ten in the most laborious, indefatigable, and useful manner. To return to our subject, the doctor's M. S. lectures on "divine revelation," and his printed essay on the "divine authority of the New Testament," exceed all I ever met with on the subject.
2. In treating on this subject, one is not at a loss what to say or to write, but how to arrange the mass of matter crowded at once into the mind. I need not inform you, my brother, that it is possible for God to make known to men many things which, otherwise, they could not have known. However wise men may be, still God is infinitely wiser. We are but creatures of a day, that know nothing, whilst his wisdom and knowledge are past finding out. His power too is almighty. He can never be at a loss for means to accomplish whatever he may wish to have done. For "he that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that teaches men knowledge, shall he not know?" He who has endowed us with power and ability to signify and communicate to others our intentions, desires, and commands, cannot be deficient in ability to make us acquainted with his own will and mind. To deny God such an ability is as foolish and sinful as to deny his very existence.
3. Nor shall I need many arguments to convince you of the necessity of a divine revelation. Whatever may have been the knowledge of our first parents before they sinned, it is very evident that since their fall a new revelation became necessary. Without it they and their posterity must have remained blind, wretched, and miserable. To enjoy true happiness we need a correct knowledge of God, of the way of deliverance from the guilt and power of sin, and of the nature and certainty of a future state. You have, no doubt, heard of the boasted light of nature, called "reason, sentiment, moral sense, a spark or monitor within." Pray, wherein does it consist? Where is it to be found? What has it effected in the world? Among the three hundred millions of the inhabitants of China, have any of them ever fanned up this "spark" into a flame sufficiently clear to lead them from their dumb idols to serve the living God? Has the "monitor within" ever taught them how to perform their duty, and brought them to realize true happiness? Alas! generation after generation have lived "without God, without Christ, and without hope in the world." And if this be the state of the ingenious and civilized Chinese, who have a knowledge of, and intercourse with, those who have long enjoyed a divine revelation, what can be expected from the rest of the heathen nations who have, perhaps, never heard of the Bible, or the God of the Bible? A slight acquaintance with history assures us that it is not more true that God, in the beginning, made man in his own (holy) image, and after his own (glorious and blessed) likeness, than that men have made their gods in their own depraved image, and after their own guilty likeness. Whilst our blessed God is glorious in holiness, perfectly free from every blemish, and possessed of every excellency, infinite and unchangeable, their gods gloried in their shame, and are represented as having committed every crime with greediness. Now, what else could be expected from the worshippers of such gods, or from the subjects of such sovereigns, than what is exhibited in the history of the worship and wars of the enlightened Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, viz. that they found pleasure in doing that which was most vile, horrid, hurtful, and unnatural. This awful description of the historian is confirmed by the testimony of the inspired Apostle of the Gentiles, in his Epistle addressed to the church at Rome, the capital of the world.Romans 1:18-32: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them: for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient: being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."Nor hath any nation since grown wiser or better where the enlightening, quickening, and fructifying beams of the Sun of Righteousness have not yet shone. Among them the picture drawn by the pencil of inspiration will be found to be not overcharged, that "their understanding is darkness itself, their judgment perverse, their memory treacherous, their will, enmity against God, their affections earthly, sensual, and devilish, and their members the members of unrighteousness." Many of the wisest heathen have acknowledged that human nature, in its present vile and corrupt state, could never have been made so by a wise, holy, and benevolent God; but that, by some means or other, some change for the worse must have taken place; but how or when this change took place they could not tell, much less could they find out a way to restore men to holiness or happiness. Their wisest philosophers, too, have tried to reform the world; but their attempts have been as fruitless as if they had attempted to change the Ethiopian's skin or the leopard's spots. The words of my blessed Savior are truly applicable to them: "They be blind leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch" (Matt 15:14). In the next place: How to obtain the pardon of sin, and to be reconciled to God, is another important defect of the light of nature, and makes a divine revelation desirable and necessary. Such is the importance of the pardon of sin, that no man can be blessed without it, nor miserable with it. David, the royal psalmist, expressed himself thus: "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered; blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit is no guile" (Psa 32:1,2). And the Lord of David hath said, "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matt 16:26). The assurance of the divine favor is the very essence of happiness, and the life of religion. Who would not join in the choice of the king of Israel, saying: "There be many that say, Who will show us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness into my heart more than in the time that their corn and wine increased" (Psa 4:6,7). That neither repentance, &c. &c. or any thing we can do, is of any avail in this respect, I shall show in a future letter, nor shall I add any more on this head.
4. It might, indeed, be considered more rational to question God's willingnesswhether He would condescend to give a new revelation to his guilty and ungrateful creatures, than to doubt its necessity. Yea, doubtless, great has often been the trembling apprehension of many a poor sinner, when brought to a sense of his guilty and helpless condition. From this fear, however, he will be relieved, by considering first, God's benevolent conduct towards men to promote their present happiness; the plentiful provision he hath made in nature to supply all our wants in health and in sickness, and his constant care and protection over us. Hence, all nations have not only desired, but also pretended to divine revelations, and have received them on very slender proofs. In the next place, he will be delivered from his fears, when he examines the characters or evidences of that revelation which God has graciously given unto us. This shall be the subject of our next letter.
Letter 3. Evidences of a Divine Revelation
1. Since writing to you my last letter, I remembered to have made use of the expression, the "Scriptures of the Old and New Testament." Now it is probable you may be as much at a loss to know the reason why the Scriptures are called a Testament, as I was when first I began to investigate the truth of Christianity. Indeed, there are many other religious expressions used among Christians which a Jew seldom hears, and which even many among Christians themselves use frequently in an improper sense. Thus in your very question you use the expression why I believe in the "Christian religion"; as if that was a new religion; or as if, by believing what Christians believe, I must necessarily have departed from the religion which God gave to our fathers. Now I shall have occasion to show hereafter that, strictly speaking, the Christian religion and the Jewish religion are the same in doctrines, &c. though different in dispensations. The difference of my creed from that of Abraham, Moses, David, &c. consists only in this: they looked for the coming of a promised MessiahI believe that the Messiah hath come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I shall, therefore, briefly explain all such technical terms as may come in my way, and begin now, by showing the reason why the Scriptures are called the Old and New Testament.
2. The revelation which God gave unto men, and which hath been preserved unto our day, is contained in one book, called, by way of distinction, the "Bible." This Bible is divided into two general parts; the first is called the Old Testament, and comprises the books which our people call Tenach, that is, Torah, the Law, Neviim, the Prophets; uchesarim, the Psalms or Hagiography; and the other part is called the New Testament, containing the Gospels, or history of Christ; the Acts and Epistles of his apostles, and the Revelation to St. John. A Testament, supposes a testator who has made known his will, and directed what is to be done after his death; and his will or testament is of no force, until both his death hath taken place, and his will proved to be genuine and true. Such a testator is the Messiah, who, immediately after the fall of Adam, made known the way and method in which sinners were to be saved. The whole of which was comprised in the promise made to our first parents, "that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent" (Gen 3:15), and was confirmed "typically" by the death of a sacrifice. This promise contained the whole substance and essence of the covenant of grace. All those promises given afterwards, on various occasions, were but explanations and confirmations of it. And though the death of the Messiah did not take place till the fullness of time, yet its efficacy, as the procuring cause of the remission of sins and eternal life, extends back to the entrance of sin, as well as forward to the end of time. Now all that was written before the birth of Messiah is called Old, and all that was written after his ascension to glory is called New Testament. Such is the reason generally assigned for calling the Bible a testament. Perhaps it would have been more correct to have used the word covenant, instead of testament. Immediately after the fall, the Messiah made known the gracious covenant by which sinners were to be saved. But the covenant required a sacrifice to ratify and confirm it. No other sacrifice was sufficient but that of the Messiah. Sacrifices were then instituted and offered typically, until Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, took away the sin of the world by the sacrifice of himself. But this subject must be stated more fully hereafter.
3. We return to the subject in hand, to ascertain whether the Bible be a divine revelation. This may be done, first, by examining the Bible itself; and secondly, by the character and circumstances of those who professed to have received it from God, and to have written it by his direction and assistance. The former we will call internal, and the latter external evidence.
I have, my dear Benjamin, carefully and prayerfully examined the matter, the style, the harmony, and the design of the Bible, and am perfectly satisfied that they are such as might reasonably be expected from a book sent from God to men. The sacred Scriptures bear the image of their divine Author. As the writings of mere men, in their present state, often partake of their ignorance, errors, and corruption; and as the streams partake of the nature of their fountains, so does the Holy Bible partake of the perfection of its Author, and the purity of its sources. It is the offspring of the "only wise God," and came down from the "Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
4. The more I read the Bible, the more I am led to admire the matter it contains. Here is every thing revealed that might be expected, and nothing to the contrary. Every thing relative to the character, the law, and the government of God, is described in perfect harmony with the ideas we derive from the light of nature, and the defects of the latter are abundantly supplied in the Bible. Man's original glorious and happy state, his present miserable and helpless condition; the circumstances which produced this awful change, and the remedy provided, able to restore us to felicity far exceeding our primitive estate, are here made known, perfectly consistent with reason, though far above its comprehension. All the doubts and difficulties respecting the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, the general judgment, are removed by the light of divine revelation. The providence of God is asserted, and its apparent difficulties are reconciled. The duties which the Bible enjoins, both towards God and man, are a reasonable service, and are accompanied by suitable rewards and punishments. The histories of the Bible are abundantly confirmed by other historians.
5. The Bible further differs from all other books, in its remarkable style. The majesty, the authority, the sublimity, the imagery, &c. of the Holy Scriptures, exceed all that ever hath been admired in the style of mere human composition. The language of the Scriptures is pure and holy, chaste and clear; free from all levity and obscenity, and from every thing that might be offensive to the ear of the chaste and pious. Some things are plain and easy, others hard and difficult to be understood. Some places are so shallow that a "lamb may wade, others so deep that an elephant must swim." Here is milk for babes, and meat for the strong. Here are plain truths to instruct and encourage the humble inquirer; and mysteries to humble and mortify the proud and self-conceited.
6. The harmony of the things revealed in the Bible is another of its peculiar excellencies. The doctrines, though delivered at sundry times, and in divers manners, yet are all of a piece; not yea and nay, no discord or disagreement. The two Testaments are like the two cherubims over the mercy-seat, which were of one beaten piece, were exactly alike, and looked to one another, and both to the mercy-seat, a type of the Messiah, who is the foundation of the apostles and prophets. The apostles of Christ said no other things than what Moses and the prophets had foretold should come to pass. The end and design for which the Bible was made known, shows it worthy of its divine Author.
7. The Holy Scriptures are able to make men wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. "They were given by inspiration of God, and are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Such was the sentiment of the apostles of Christ, of the design and influence of the Scriptures. Nor did the royal Psalmist set a less value upon them, though he had but a small portion of them. How beautiful and just is his description of the superior excellency and usefulness of divine revelation over the light of nature."The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple: the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes: the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward" (Psa 19:7-11).Much more might be said on the internal evidences; but I will close the subject in the words of an eminent writer:"The sacred Scriptures open to us the mysteries of the creation; the nature of God, angels, and man; the immortality of the soul; the end for which he is made; the origin and connection of moral and natural evil; the vanity of this world and the glory of the next. Here we see inspired shepherds, tradesmen, and fishermen surpassing as much the greatest philosophers as these did the herd of mankind, both in meekness of wisdom and sublimity of doctrine. Here we admire the purest morality in the world, agreeable to the dictates of sound reason, confirmed by the writings which God has placed for himself in our breast, and exemplified in the lives of men of like passions as ourselves. Here we discover a vein of ecclesiastical history and theological truths consistently running through a collection of sixty-six different books, written by various authors, in different languages, during a period of above 1500 years. Here we find, as in a deep and pure spring, all the genuine drops and streams of spiritual knowledge which can possibly be met with in the largest libraries. Here the workings of the human heart are described in a manner that demonstrates the inspiration of the Searcher of hearts. Here we have a particular account of all our spiritual maladies, with their various symptoms, and the method of a certain cure; a cure that has been witnessed by multitudes of martyrs and departed saints, and is now enjoyed by thousands of good men, who would account it an honor to seal the truth of the Scriptures with their own blood. Here you meet with the noblest strains of penitential and joyous devotions, adapted to the dispositions and states of all travelers to Zion. And here you read those awful threatenings and cheering promises which are daily fulfilled in the consciences of men, to the admiration of believers and the astonishment of attentive infidels."
"O may these heavenly pages be
"My ever dear delight;
"And still new beauties may I see,
"And still increase in light."
Letter 4. Continuation of the Same Subject
1. I will proceed now to state the external evidence. The character of the penman will be the first that invites our attention. In comparing their lives with the best and wisest men that ever lived; they appear to excell them in piety, zeal, and usefulness, as much as the sun in the firmament outshines all other luminaries, though himself is not without a spot. These holy men of God declared themselves to be inspired, for they tell us that they had not received cunningly devised fables, but that the word of the Lord came unto them at such a time, and when they spake it is, "Thus saith the Lord." Now, if the sacred Scriptures are not true, then these writers must either have been deceived themselves, or they must have wilfully tried to act the vilest part of impostors. But neither of these can be the case. As for the first, neither Moses nor the prophets, neither the evangelists nor the apostles could be mistaken. Their own senses were witness to the facts they relate; and the memorials which were immediately instituted, and constantly observed, in commemoration of those facts, are a standing monument of their truth and reality. Could Moses be deceived when he tells us that he wrought miracles in Egypt, turning the water into blood, filling the land with thick darkness for the space of three days, and that the Lord slew every first-born, from the king on the throne to the captive in the dungeon? Was it possible for him to deceive the people? Could he persuade 600,000 Israelites that they all came out of Egypt in haste, in one night, carrying their dough upon their shoulders; that they all passed through the Red Sea on dry foot, and saw their enemies dead on the shore? Could he make them believe, that for the space of 40 years they were daily supplied with manna from heaven, and with water out of a rock, which followed them through the wilderness? If these facts had not been true, could Moses have imposed upon the people such memorials as the institution of the Passover, the pot of manna, the budding rod, the weekly Sabbath, the monthly festivals, and the yearly sacrifices? Of a similar nature are the facts related in the New Testament, and confirmed by the institutions of baptism and the Lord's supper. Now, if these things had been false, the writers could by no means pretend an involuntary mistake, but must, in the most criminal and aggravated sense, be found false witnesses of God. But to charge them with so heinous a crime is most unreasonable, if we consider their character, which will clearly show that they are worthy of regard, and will leave no room to imagine that they intended to deceive.
2. The writers of the sacred Scriptures were generally men of common education, taken from their daily avocations as shepherds, fishermen, &c.; their writings were far above their capacity, both as to matter and manner, and could only have flowed from the pen of inspiration. They were pious, humble, and faithful historians. They concealed not their own failings and infirmities. Moses relates his own weakness and inadvertencies, and omits not the blemishes of his family. David did not conceal his awful crimes of adultery and murder. Jonah informs us of his passionate temper in telling the Lord, "I do well to be angry to death." Peter denied his Lord and Master; and Paul's sharp contention with Barnabas is faithfully recorded. Surely this is not the manner of proud and unrenewed historians. Their pen was guided by the love of truth.
3. Their motives, too, will bear the strictest scrutiny. They were pure, benevolent, and disinterested. Neither the hope of gain, the desire of honor, nor the gratification of pleasure, had any influence upon their conduct. Moses, the servant of the most high God, "when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward." Yea, when the Lord himself proposed to destroy Israel, and to make him a great nation, he refused, preferring the public good of the people to his own advantage. The disciples of Jesus in like manner forsook all and followed their Master, "who had not where to lay his head," and esteemed it an honor to be counted worthy to suffer hunger and thirst, revilings and persecutions, imprisonment and death, in the cause of their dear Lord and Savior.
4. It is further worthy of our notice, that the writers of the sacred Scriptures were many, and lived at such distance of time and place from each other, that, had they been impostors, it would have been impracticable for them to contrive and carry on a forgery without being detected: and when we consider; on the one hand, the great variety of their natural capacities, of their modes of education, and of their occupations and interest; and on the other hand, the astonishing and unparalleled harmony in the doctrines they delivered, in the precepts they enjoined, and in the arguments and sanctions by which these precepts are enforced; we are constrained to acknowledge the divine agency by which this agreement was produced. "Did so many and such marks of their veracity ever meet in any other authors?"
5. Next to the character of the penmen, we will consider the miracles they wrought in confirmation of the truths they delivered. There can be no stronger evidence of a divine mission than this. Hence, when the Lord sent Moses, he expected that Pharaoh would ask for a miracle in proof of his mission, and the Lord directed him what to do (Exo 7:9). For the same reason the Lord Jesus Christ frequently appealed to his miracles as a proof of his mission. The miracles wrought by Moses and the prophets, by Christ and his apostles, were witnessed by hundreds and thousands of enemies as well as friends. As these were real miracles, and of course contrary to the laws of nature, they could not be wrought but by the power of the God of nature; but the God of nature, who is the God of eternal and unchangeable truth, would never have lent his power to sanction and establish the character of an impostor, or to confirm a lie. Nor ought it to be forgotten that at the very time when the authenticity of these miracles was attested by thousands of living witnesses, religious rites were instituted to perpetuate that authenticity. Some of these institutions I have already noticed.
6. Another evidence in favor of the Bible, as a divine revelation, arises from the variety of prophecies which it contains: many of which have already been almost exactly confirmed by occurrence of the events predicted. As none can know the certainty of future events but the omniscient God, who seeth the end from the beginning, so none can foretell them but those to whom he is pleased to reveal them. Every distinct prophecy, therefore, when accomplished, is an evidence of the truth of those who delivered it. Hence the Lord Jesus Christ informed his disciples of the treacherous conduct that one of them would be guilty of, and told them that the reason why he mentioned it was to confirm their faith. John 13:19: "I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am," i. e. not a mere man, but Jehovah, the omniscient God. Now, my dear brother, allow me to mention but a few out of the many prophecies which have already been fulfilled, and are so many proofs that those who delivered them were inspired by God. Isaiah, ch. 44:28, mentioned Cyrus by name, who would issue a decree to build Jerusalem, which was fulfilled about 160 years after. Again, the man of God told Jeroboam that a child should be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name, who should defile the altars by burning the bones out of the sepulchres, &c. which was literally fulfilled after 350 years (1 Kings 13:2; 2 Kings 23:16). In like manner, the variety of circumstances foretold in Daniel chapter 9 to be fulfilled within 70 weeks, or 490 years, have all come to pass. But that which is the most remarkable of all the predictions is the minute description of the dispersion and preservation of our beloved nation, and the numerous predictions concerning the Messiah. The serious and candid consideration of the former has been the means of convincing infidels of the truth of divine revelation; and the latter has convinced me, and many of our brethren, that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah.
7. But I will proceed to notice the reception which the Bible hath met with, both from the bad and the good, as another proof of its divine origin. It is a remarkable fact, that the more self-conceited, worldly-minded, and wicked people are, the more they neglect, despise, and asperse the sacred Scriptures; and, on the contrary, the more humble and holy, the more they read, admire, and value them. What my blessed Lord said of his disciples is equally true of the Bible, "If it were of the world, the world would love its own; but because it is not of the world, therefore the world hateth it." No book, however, hath had as many friends as the Bible. Vast numbers of wise and good men, through many generations and distant countries, have agreed in receiving the Bible as a divine revelation; many of them have been noticed for seriousness, erudition, penetration, and impartiality in judging of men and things; living and dying they recommended it to all others, as the source of hope, wisdom, and consolation. Says a judicious writer:"Reason itself dictates that nothing but the plainest matter of fact could induce so many thousands of persecuted and prejudiced Jews to embrace the humbling, self-denying doctrine of the cross, which they so much despised and abhorred. Nothing but the clearest evidence, arising from undoubted truth, could make multitudes of lawless, luxurious heathens receive, follow, and transmit to posterity the doctrines and writings of the apostles; especially at a time when the vanity of their pretensions to miracles and the gift of tongues could be so easily discovered, had they been impostors, and when the profession of Christianity exposed persons of all ranks to the greatest contempt and most imminent danger."
8. The next thing which merits our attention is the wonderful efficacy of the Bible. The sacred Scriptures, like godliness itself, are profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come, i. e. both temporal and spiritual."In proportion as the Bible has been known, arts and sciences have been cultivated, peace and liberty have been diffused, civil and moral obligation have been attended to. Nations have emerged from ignorance and barbarity; whole communities have been morally reformed; unnatural practices abolished, and wise laws instituted. The spiritual effects of the Scriptures are still more wonderful. They wound and heal, they kill and make alive, they alarm the careless, direct the lost, support the tempted, strengthen the weak, comfort mourners, and nourish pious souls. Kings and peasants, conquerors and philosophers, the wise and the ignorant, the rich and the poor, have been brought to the foot of the cross; yea, millions have been enlightened, improved, reformed, and made happy by its influence."
9. I shall close this subject by noticing the remarkable antiquity and wonderful preservation of the Scriptures. The Bible is the most ancient book in the world. It is made venerable by antiquity. No human histories extant reach further than the flood of Noah. But the holy Scriptures relate matter of facts that have been from the beginning of the world; yea, they reveal transactions which have taken place in the eternal counsels of Jehovah. The oracles of God, like the Messiah, are the unspeakable gift of God, and the peculiar care of his providence. The Bible has never wanted its enemies to hate and oppose it; and, if possible, to banish it from the face of the earth. But as the children of Israel in Egypt, the more they were oppressed the more they increased and multiplied; so the sacred Scriptures, the more they have been opposed the more they have prevailed. No British and Foreign Bible Society, the mother of innumerable and useful children, was in existence till the close of the last century, when infidels had publicly and triumphantly declared that, after a few years, no Bible would be found in the world. It is equally certain that the Bible has been preserved in its purity, without being either mutilated or corrupted. God, whose prerogative it is to bring good out of evil, hath overruled the enmity which hath existed between Jews and Christians, to produce this important effect. Whilst our people keep, with amazing care, the Old Testament, full of the prophetic history of Jesus Christ, and by that means afford the world a striking proof that the New Testament is true; the Christians, in their turn, show that the Old Testament is abundantly confirmed and explained by the New. My dear Benjamin, I have now endeavored to lay before you, in as brief a manner as possible, the evidence of the Old and New Testament, which has led me to the conclusion, that, if ever there was a divine revelation, the Bible is such; and the only true revelation now in the world. Oh, how thankful ought we to be to have such an inexhaustible treasure put into our hands! And oh, my brother, how shall we escape if we neglect it?
10. Being now fully convinced by the preceding evidence, that the Old Testament is the word of God, and finding, by strict examination, that the New Testament contained still clearer and stronger evidences of a divine revelation, I found myself compelled to receive it as such, and shall, therefore, make no apology for referring to it, in succeeding letters, for proofs of the Messiahship of Christ Jesus, my Lord and Savior. And may the Lord "open our eyes, that we may behold wondrous things out of his law" (Psa 119:18). Farewell.
Letter 5. On Reading the Scriptures
Hoping that your mind is firmly established in the belief of the Bible as a divine revelation, suffer me now to suggest a few thoughts, to enforce the duty of reading it, and to direct in the performance of that duty.
1. Consider the source from whence the Bible comes. It is a communication from God. With what eagerness and pleasure do men peruse the letters of a beloved friend; and shall we not, with still greater pleasure, read the sacred Scriptures, which are a series of letters coming from our best Friend, who has loved us with an infinite, eternal, and unchangeable love? "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:7,8). It is the character of the good and the blessed man, that his delight is in the law of the Lord, and that he meditates therein day and night. Should a person receive a letter, and on recognizing the author by its signature, refuse to read it, would it not be considered a high insult and contempt? how much greater, then, is the contempt of God, if we neglect to read the Bible! Such the conduct of Ephraim, of which God complains, saying, "I have written to him the great things of my law, they were counted as a strange thing" (Hosea 8:12).
2. Reflect, in the next place, on its rich and glorious contents, and say whether the Bible does not deserve to be read. It is the "Magna Charta" of heaven, and shall we be ignorant of our charter? Should the information reach a company of persons, that a certain rich man had just died, and that he had left his whole estate to an individual in that company, would it not be the anxious inquiry of every one, "Is it I?" and if a sight of the will could be obtained, would any one spare either expense or trouble to ascertain whether he was the heir? But the Bible is called a Testament, as I mentioned in a former letter; it contains the will of the testator, the nature of the inheritance, and the characters of the heirs of salvation. Ought not we then to "give all diligence to make our calling sure?" to find out whether we have been "begotten again into a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven?'' I How eagerly, diligently, and perseveringly do men dig and search into the bowels of the earth for precious metals, such as silver and gold; and shall not we "search the Scriptures," which contain treasures infinitely greater and better? Here are brought to light the hidden treasures of divine knowledge, of redeeming love, of pardoning mercy, of sanctifying grace, of consolation and support, and of eternal glory beyond the grave. Hence the royal Psalmist and his son Solomon, the wisest of men, although they had but a small portion of the Scriptures, yet valued it as a greater treasure than all the riches of the world; "more to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold" (Psa 19:10). "The merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold" (Pro 3:14). "Wisdom is better than rubies" (Pro 8:11).
3. The reading of the Scriptures is strongly recommended to us by the example of the saints in all ages. Their practice is worthy of our imitation. Job informs us that he esteemed the word of the Lord more than his necessary food (Job 23:12). The word of God is as necessary for our souls, as our food is for our bodies. And as our natural life needs daily support, so ought we to hunger and thirst after the word of God, which nourishes and strengthens our spiritual life. David also made it his meditation all the day. And the Holy Ghost has recorded it to the honor of the Bereans, and for our imitation, "that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11). Oh, my brother, let us follow the worthy example of these our Jewish brethren at Berea. Although they received the word preached by the apostles with a ready mind, without prejudice or opposition, like the other Jews, yet they daily searched the Scriptures of the Old Testament, to see whether the apostles' preaching agreed with the writings of Moses and the prophets. Observe further:
4. It is the express command of God, that we should read the Scriptures. We are not left at liberty to choose whether we will receive the Bible or not. God hath made it our duty, as well as our privilege, to search the Scriptures. This command was frequently renewed to our fathers, in the Old Testament. "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deut 6:6,7). God had just commanded our fathers to love him with all their hearts; now follows the duty of reading the word of God constantly and diligently, morning and evening, by day and by night, at home and abroad, as an evidence of their love to God, and a most effectual means of nourishing and increasing it. Such was the duty of the whole nation. Now hear the command of Jehovah to the king: "It shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests, the Levites: and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life" (Deut 17:18,19). Although he might have some copies, yet he must write one, and must do it himself; and even if he should know it by heart, he must read it again and again all the days of his life. Neither was the general in the army exempted from this duty. When our whole nation was committed to the care of Joshua, the generalissimo, he received the following charge from Jehovah himself: "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shall meditate therein night and day." Neither rank, nor talent, nor occupation will release us from the duty of reading the Scriptures. The duty was renewed in the days of Isaiah, "Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read" (Isa 34:16). Under the New Testament dispensation we are equally bound to read the word of God. What Jesus said to the Jews, he saith to us a!so; "Search the Scriptures" (John 5:39), and the exhortations of the apostle to the churches of old are written for our instruction: "Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6:17). "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom" (Col 3:16).
5. I shall notice only one argument more, to enforce the duty of reading the Bible, viz. the consequences which will follow our conduct. Every command of God is sanctioned by a reward and punishment. David, speaking of the statutes and commandments of the Lord, saith, "in keeping of them there is great reward" (Psa 19:11). A proper reading of the Scriptures is calculated to be of great use to us in every condition in life. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim 3:16,17). The word of God is "a light to our feet, and a lamp to our path." The Scriptures guard us against error, preserve us from temptation, deliver us from sin, support us under affliction, and comfort us in death. As the leaves of the tree of life were for the healing of nations, so the leaves of the Holy Bible are for the healing of our spiritual diseases. This tree of knowledge may be touched, and its pleasant fruit may be eaten. Yea, unless we eat thereof, we shall surely die. Those who do not read the Scriptures, not only lose the benefits which they are calculated to confer, but their condemnation will be as aggravated as it will be just. The Scriptures are the clearest light that ever shone. If any man hates it, it is a sure and awful sign that his deeds are evil. We are told that the heathen will be judged for not walking by the light of nature; how much greater must be the punishment of those who refuse to walk by the light of divine revelation! Oh, my dear brother, how shall we escape if we neglect so precious a giftif we refuse to follow the sure and only guide that leads to the heavenly Canaan?
6. To assist in the performance of this important duty, let me recommend to read the Scriptures with a proper and suitable frame of mind. Let us love and esteem the Bible as the most excellent, and the most useful book, and the perusal of it will become a pleasure. People do not take pains to seek for what they do not value. Thus David loved the word of God more than gold; Job esteemed it more than his necessary food; and an innumerable company of martyrs rather parted with their lives than with the Holy Scriptures. Let us remember that the Bible is the field where the pearl of great price and the hidden treasure are to be found. It is the only chart and compass that can direct us in sailing to the heavenly Jerusalem. The many great and precious promises which it contains, are cordials in all our distresses, and so many streams of consolation from the inexhaustible fountain of eternal love. Whilst reading God's holy word, our hearts ought to glow with gratitude, and our lips should be filled with praise. If light is pleasant to the eye, how much more pleasant should the light of the Scriptures be to the eye of the mind? How many millions of heathen, are still involved in, ignorance? "For his judgments they have not known them" (Psa 147:20). How many live in the region of death where this bright star of the Bible never appeared, and where the sun of righteousness has never shone? Well might we ask, with admiration and thankfulness, "How is it, Lord, that thou wouldst show thyself to us and not unto the world?"
7. It is further reasonable and important that we should read the Scriptures with humble and teachable dispositions. As humility is the ornament of a Christian, and most lovely in the sight of God, so it is the first and most requisite preparation for reading the Scriptures. To the humble only is the promise made. "The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way" (Psa 25:9). "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant" (v 14). Hence the inspired apostle exhorts us "to receive the ingrafted word with meekness" (James 1:21). When men come to the reading or studying of the Holy Scriptures in the confidence of their own skill, wisdom, parts, learning, or understanding, God beholdeth them afar off, and scorneth to teach them. Oh, beloved brother, let us approach the word of God with a heart sensible of our own unworthiness to be taught, and our own inability to learnready to receive, embrace, and submit unto what shall be made known to us.
8. It is scarcely necessary to remark that the Bible ought to be read with great seriousness and holy reverence. When God speaks, it becomes us to be serious and attentive. In prayer we speak to God; in the sacred Scriptures God speaks to us. If the ark was not to be touched because it contained the law, with what reverence ought we to approach the Bible, which contains both the law and Gospel! The Scriptures are the oracles of God, and not of men. Hence the apostle commended the Thessalonians, "that they received the Word, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God" (1 Thess 2:13). Besides, God hath promised his blessing "to them that tremble at his word" (Isa 66:2).
9. To pray for the illumination of the Spirit is peculiarly necessary whenever we read the sacred Scriptures. The things of God knoweth no man but by the Spirit of God, by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. The wisdom that cometh from above is the most valuable acquisition we can possess. But to read and not to understand will be of no advantage. The internal illumination is as much necessary as the external revelation. Thus Jesus Christ not only repeated the words of Scripture to his disciples in the way to Emmaus, but he also opened their understandings, that they might understand them (Luke 24:45). Without this, a person may have the brightest parts, and the most penetrating judgment, in other respects, and yet be unacquainted with the mind of God in his word. A treasury deep and immured in darkness may be filled with gold and costly pearls; yet if a man goes into it without a light, instead of seeing what is desirable, he may be filled with fear and terror. Nor is it possible for a man, without the enlightening influences of the Holy Spirit, to discover the riches and treasures of the Bible. There is "a veil over the heart" of every man whether a Jew or gentile. Earnest prayer, therefore, for the guidance, direction, assistance, and illumination of the Spirit, to enable us to discern and understand the deep things of God, is most necessary. Where this is neglected, whatever we know, we know not as we ought. This illumination is the peculiar work of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18, 4:6). It is promised by Christ (John 14:26, 16:13; 1 John 2:20,27). Hence David prayed that the Lord would open his eyes, or, according to the original, to remove the veil from his eyes (Psa 119:18), and Paul prayed for this blessing for the Ephesians (1:16-20, 3:16-19); for the Colossian (2:2); and most earnestly do I pray, my dear Benjamin, that the Lord would take away every veil of darkness and prejudice, and give us more and more of the knowledge of himself, as it shines in the face of Jesus Christ, our blessed Immanuel.
10. Besides a proper frame of mind, we ought likewise to read the Scriptures with proper motives. These ought to be no others but to know and to do the will of God revealed in the Bible. Would it not be absurd in a man to read a treatise on husbandry with a view to learn navigation, or to seek the principles of trade and commerce in an essay on music? No less absurd is it to read the sacred Scriptures with any other motive, or for any other design, than that for which God gave them. Now, the design of God was, first, to give us such a knowledge of himself and his mind and will, that we might so know him as to believe, fear, love, trust, and obey him in all things (Deut 29:29). Secondly, as a rule of duty both toward God and man (2 Tim 3:15-17). Hence, saith David, "Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in and by thy truth" (Psa 86:11). As a rule is of no benefit to the mechanic if he does not work by it, so the Bible is no benefit if it does not direct our conversation and conduct. The word must be "a light to our feet and a lamp to our path"; not merely to please the eye, but to direct our way, walk, and conduct. Thirdly, To administer counsel, consolation, and hope in all our distresses and tribulations (Psa 119:24,92; Rom 15:4). God hath laid up a sovereign balm for every wound, and a cordial for our fears. Now, we ought to make ourselves acquainted with them, that we may know where to find them in case of need. Lastly, God's design in giving us the Bible, is to give us infallible assurance of eternal life, with the prospect and some foretaste of its glories. This is a great means of supporting us under afflictions, and of weaning us from sin, the world, and the flesh. Blessed Savior, deeply impress these thoughts upon my heart, and let them have their salutary influence upon my life.
11. Allow me to mention but one direction more to be observed in reading the Bible; viz. method. God has set us an example in observing order and proper method in all his proceedings. Nothing can be expected to succeed without it. And it is of great importance in searching the Scriptures. Be wise in your choice, as it respects time, matter, and quantity. The morning is peculiarly favorable for reading, meditation, and prayer. The Bible should be read daily. Those that read but seldom are continually at a loss what they are about (Pro 7:1-4). With respect to matter. The whole Bible should be read in order from Genesis to Revelation; six or eight chapters at a time, to become acquainted with the connection of the different parts. But one part of the Bible should be read oftener than another. The historical parts once, the Psalms twice, the Epistles three times in the course of a year. With respect to quantity, there should be a regular time fixed for reading the Bible, in order, as has already been observed, and a time for selecting a small portion for study, meditation, and prayer. A diligent comparison of the different parts of Scripture will remove many difficulties and doubts, and will make the most important doctrines clear, instructive, and edifying. We ought, also, thankfully and faithfully to make use of the commentators, and other useful books, explanatory of the sacred Scriptures. I now close this subject, my dear brother, with the exhortation of my blessed Savior, originally addressed to our Jewish brethren: "Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). And may you and I so read the sacred Scriptures, that, with our dying breath, we may be able to say with the prophet: "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart" (Jer 15:16).
Letter 6. The Controversy Between Jews and Christians Stated
The faith of a true Christian is the same as that of Moses and the Prophets.
1. I was duly favored with your letter. Its contents afforded me much pleasure, particularly your resolution to search the Scriptures. May you speedily find Him whom to know is life eternal. I will now proceed to show you that, in believing in Jesus Christ as the true Messiah, I have not departed from the religion of the Bible; nor does my creed differ from that of Moses and the prophets. The fundamental articles of my faith are as follows:
- That there is but one God, but three distinct persons, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
- That God is the creator of the universe, and the preserver and governor of every creature.
- That God created Adam and Eve in his own image and likeness, perfectly holy and happy; that he allowed them to eat of every tree in Paradise, but prohibited them from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, on penalty of death.
- That our first parents broke this law or covenant, and thereby brought sin and misery upon themselves, and upon all their posterity.
- That immediately after the fall or sin of our first parents, God promised the Redeemer of the world, and made from age to age, gradually, a clearer revelation of him, concerning the wonderful constitution of his person, the manner of his life, the design of his mission, the union of his offices, the nature and design of his sufferings and death, his victory over death and the grave, &c.
- That it is the work of the Holy Spirit to regenerate the sinner; to unite him to Christ by faith, and make him meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.
- That as soon as the sinner is thus united to Christ he is justified, adopted into God's family, and will be kept, by the power of God, through faith, unto the enjoyment of eternal glory.
- That it is our duty to make the moral law, or ten commandments, the rule of our life.
- That Jesus Christ will come again, first to reign a thousand years upon the earth, and then to raise the dead; to judge the world, to banish the wicked to endless misery, and to receive the righteous to endless felicity.
Each of these articles will be more fully stated and scripturally proved in our future correspondence.
No doubt, my brother, you are surprised at my statement, for you, as well as our beloved brethren in general, suppose that the difference between the Christian and the Jewish religion is very great. So did I once, and therefore stumbled and almost perished. The doctrine of the Trinity, the, change of the Sabbath, the omission of festivals and other ceremonies, besides a variety of objections, had greatly prejudiced my mind against Christianity, until I searched the Scriptures, and the happy result I shall give you in successive letters; trusting to remove thereby every difficulty, and answer every objection that at present prevents you from acknowledging Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, over all, God blessed for ever.
2. The first, and indeed the only point to be established is, whether the Messiah hath come or not; and if he has come, whether Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah or an impostor.
Our nation assert that the Messiah has not yet come, and that Jesus Christ was an impostor. Christians say, and I do believe, that the Messiah hath come at the time and manner promised, and that Jesus Christ is that Messiah. This is the only hinge on which the whole controversy between Jews and Christians turns.
3. To settle this all-important subject, (to convince the judgment, although the heart may still remain unchanged,) is, however, as easy as it is important. There is but one way to lead to a true decision, but that is a sure and infallible way. We must find out the characteristics by which the true Messiah was to be distinguished, and examine whether they all meet in Jesus Christ. If they do, it is our duty to receive him; if not, we are equally bound to reject him as an impostor and deceiver. Thus, suppose a person had left, in his will, a large and valuable estate to a certain individual; the testator died. A number of individuals present themselves, each asserting himself to be the rightful heir, and claiming the estate. We are sure that one only can be the proper heir, and that all others must be mistaken; nay, it may be that neither is the heir, and we must wait for another. In such a case what method is to be adopted to find out the truth, and who is to be the judge? The thing is plain. Not the wise, the rich, the noble, &c. but those, and those only, who are appointed by, and possess the will of the testator, called the executors. If an individual be found who answers the whole description given in the will, he is to be declared the rightful heir, and all others are to be rejected as mistaken. If none answers the description, all are to be rejected, and the executors are to declare that the rightful heir is not yet come, and that they must wait for another. Thus we are to act with respect to the subject in hand. "God, at sundry times and in divers manners, spake, in time past, unto the fathers by the prophets," concerning the Messiah, who is the sum and substance of the Old Testament. Of this Testament or will, our nation was appointed the executors; "for to them were committed the oracles of God." They, therefore and not the Gentiles, were the only persons authorized and qualified to judge whether Jesus of Nazareth, of blessed memory, was the true Messiah or not, by comparing his pedigree, character, &c. &c. with the Old Testament, the will of the testator. This, I conceive, is the most probable reason why Jesus said "that he was not sent but unto the lost sheep of Israel"; and why he commanded his apostles "not to go into the way of the Gentiles, nor into any of the cities of the Samaritans, but to go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel"; and why, after his resurrection, they were to commence preaching at Jerusalem; and hence the apostle assigns this among the reasons why he was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because it was preached and made effectual to the Jews first. (See Matt 10:6,15,27; Luke 24:47; Rom 1:16.) Hence, when John the Baptist sent to Jesus to inquire whether he was the Messiah, or whether they should wait for another, Jesus neither answered in the negative nor in the affirmative; he could not say no, for he knew that he was the Messiah; and he would not say yes; for he came not to bear witness of himself; but he directed them to some of the characteristics by which the Messiah was to be known; saying, "Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them" (Matt 11:2-5). And when the two disciples, in the way to Emmaus, were perplexed with doubts and fears, whether Jesus was the Messiah or not, Jesus expounded to them all that was written in the law, in the prophets, and in the book of Psalms, concerning the Messiah, and fulfilled in him (Luke 24:27). In like manner the apostle Paul went into the synagogues every Sabbath day, reasoning with the Jews from the Scriptures, (the Old Testament, of course, for the New was not then written,) that Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah, the Son of God.
4. Probably it may appear strange to you, my dear Benjamin, that our nation should have rejected Jesus of Nazareth as an impostor, if he was the true Messiah, answering the characteristics of the Old Testament. I might easily point out to you a variety of causes which led them to commit this fatal act, but for the present one must suffice. The art of printing not being known at that time, it must have been of immense expense to get the whole of the Old Testament written in Hebrew, on parchment, and therefore we may well suppose that few, very few only, could procure a copy. Hence, in the days of Josiah, one copy of the law only could be found in the whole Jewish nation. The scribes, lawyers, and other teachers, took the advantage of this circumstance, and taught the people more by the vain traditions received of the fathers than by the word of God. They led the people to expect a Messiah altogether different from the one promised to our fathers, characterized in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. All the blessings and benefits they expected from the Messiah were of a temporal nature only, and restricted wholly to our nation. They expected that he would overturn the Roman empire, set up the throne of David, his father, and raise his people above all other nations. Hence, when our blessed Lord and Savior came and professed to be the Messiah, multitudes followed him; and when they saw that he possessed almighty power; speaking to the raging waves of the sea, and causing a great calm; commanding legions of devils, and they instantly obeying; feeding thousands with a few loaves, and healing all manner of diseases; they greatly rejoiced, and desired to make him a king; but when Jesus plainly told them that his kingdom was not of this world, that he came to seek and save those that are lost, and that he must be crucified and slain, then their hopes and expectations being turned to disappointments, they cried, "Away with him; crucify him! crucify him! We will not have this man to reign over us." Thus, not knowing the Scriptures, they rejected the true Messiah, and for the same reason our dear people follow their example to the present day. You perceive then, my dear Benjamin, the importance of making ourselves first well acquainted with the characteristics of the Messiah, delivered in the Old Testament, and then examining the history of the Lord Jesus Christ, contained in the New Testament, before we can decide the question, whether Jesus is the Messiah or not. I purpose therefore to follow this plan in my future letters.
5. But before I commence these interesting subjects, it may not be improper to show, first, the necessity of a Messiah, or Mediator. For it will ever be true, that "the whole need not a physician, but those that are sick." The knowledge of our lost and ruined condition is absolutely necessary, before we can justly prize and value the remedy. Till men are really apprized of their danger and wants, it is impossible for them properly to estimate the Gospel grace, or to embrace the scheme of it with that full assent and warmth of affection which so inestimable a benefit deserves. I propose, therefore, to give you, in some future letters, a statement of the creation and fall of our first parents; their ruined and helpless condition, and the promise of a Messiah. The angel of the covenant be with you. Amen.
Letter 7. The Creation of Man
When I closed my last letter I had no idea that so much time would intervene before you would receive the present. I regret the delay, which could not easily be prevented. Besides some unforeseen circumstances which occupied much of my time, the importance of the subject required more than usual deliberation. As much of the security and stability of a building depends on the foundation, so do the future letters depend on the subjects proposed in my last.
1. The first of these subjects is the creation of man, or our first parents. From the sacred Scriptures we learn, and by faith we understand, that the worlds were framed by the Word of God (Heb 11:3). Moses, our inspired historian, gives us, in a few verses, a most sublime description of the creation of the heavens and the earth, with all their hosts, by the Word and Spirit of Jehovah. The Psalmist, also, expresses it as elegantly, in a few words: "He spake, and it was; he commanded, and it stood fast, or they were created" (Psa 33:9, 148:5). God having thus made the world, and richly furnished it with every creature, wherein the glory of his wisdom, goodness and power might be seen, he finished the great design by creating man in his own image, and in his own likeness,"The house being built, its inhabitant appeared; the feast being set forth, the guest was introduced; the theatre being decorated and illuminated, the spectator was admitted, to behold the splendid and magnificent scenery in the heavens above, and the earth beneath; to view the bodies around him moving in perfect order and harmony, and every creature performing the part allotted in the universal drama; that seeing, he might understand, and understanding, adore its supreme Author and Director." Bishop Horne
2. But though man be the last in creation, yet he is the noblest in our world. When Jehovah gave being to the universe, he formed three distinct orders of nature; the one purely spiritual, the other purely material, and between both, one mixed, which unites the extremes in itself. This is man, the abridgment of the universe, allied to the angels in his soul, and to material things in his body, and capable of the happiness of both; by his internal faculties enjoying the felicity of the intellectual, and by his external tasting the pleasures of the sensitive world. But his greatest excellency was a perfect conformity to the Divine pattern. The account of man's creation is introduced with special solemnity, as the joint work of the co-eternal three. "And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image,in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Gen 1:26,27).
3. The surest way of ascertaining the nature of the image of God, in which Adam was made, is by referring to the image of God, in which the soul is renewed by the grace of God. The image restored, was the image lost; and the image lost, was that in which Adam was created. The renewed image the apostle describes as consisting in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. His words are, "And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created him" (Col 3:10). "And that ye put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph 4:24).
4. a. With respect to knowledge, although we cannot ascertain the extent of the knowledge which Adam had in his first state, yet it certainly was very great. He knew himself, and he knew God, in a manner and to a degree adapted to the state and circumstances in which he was placed. He must have been conscious of the duty incumbent upon him, and of the felicity inseparably connected with it. His giving names to the various species of creatures, corresponding to their respective natures, has often been mentioned as a striking proof of the knowledge which he then had (Gen 2:19,20).
5. b. A second part of the image of God was righteousness. Righteousness sometimes includes knowledge and holiness, but here it is distinguished from both. As knowledge is seated in the understanding, righteousness may denote the conformity of the will to God. Thus innocent Adam not only knew his duty, but was inclined to it; had a will as well as a power to do it. He was naturally and habitually righteous. His heart was properly disposed towards God; with a love of good and a hatred of evil. The law was not written for him in tables of stone, but it was written upon his heart. Happy! thrice happy indeed, lavas innocent Adam! Whatever was the will of God was his will. Every duty incumbent upon him he was ever ready to perform. The reverse, alas! is the case with us in our fallen state. Only that person is happy, who is the subject of that renewing work of the Holy Ghost, by which the image of God is restored to the human soul.
6. c. Holiness is another part of the image of God. As innocent Adam had knowledge in his understanding, and righteousness in his will, so likewise he had holiness in his affections. They were placed upon proper objects and exercised in a regular manner. He loved God above all. He considered him as the supreme good, and the grand source of his happiness. He loved the creatures for God's sake; and all the beauty or sweetness he found in them, led him to adore and love his God the more.
In this state was man truly blessed and honorable. His mind was calm. His conscience easy. He knew no guilt. He felt no shame. He was a stranger to fear. No angry passions disturbed his soul. His body was free from disease and pain. He conversed with God, and was as happy as paradise could make him.
7. d. The dominion which God granted to Adam over the creatures, is by many divines considered as a part of the image of God in which he was created. In this he resembled that great Being who is Governor of all worlds. That Adam was created perfectly free from sin, and in the full enjoyment of the favor of God, is evident from the testimony of Jehovah, who, when surveying the works of his hands, pronounced them "very good" (Gen 1:31); and the wise and inspired King Solomon tells us that "God made man upright" (Eccl 7:29).
Reason also assures us that it was impossible for an infinitely wise, righteous, and powerful God, who made man to know, love, honor, and enjoy him, either not to delight in the work of his own hands, the effect of his own wisdom and power, or not to furnish him with those faculties and abilities by which he might answer the end of his creation.
This brief account may suffice, my dear Benjamin, to show the innocent and happy state in which Adam was created.
Letter 8. The Covenant, or Law of Works
1. Having in my last given you a brief statement of the creation of man, I will now endeavor to give an account of the divine dispensation with him, generally called the Covenant of Works; and whilst attempting to do this, I feel the solemnity and importance of the remark of Dr. Witsius, that eminently pious and learned divine:"Whoever attempts to discourse on the subject and design of the divine covenants, by which eternal salvation is adjudged to man, on certain conditions equally worthy of God and the rational creature, ought, above all things, to have a sacred and inviolable regard to the heavenly oracles, and neither, through prejudice nor passion, intermix any thing which he is not firmly persuaded is contained in the records which hold forth these covenants to the world. For, if Zalenbus made it a condition to be observed by the contentious interpreters of his laws: That each party should explain the meaning of the lawgiver, in the assembly of the thousand, with halters about their necks: and that what party soever should appear to wrest the sense of the law, should, in the presence of the thousand, end their lives by the halter they wore; as Polybius, a very grave author, relates in his history, book 12, chap. 7. And if the Jews and Samaritans in Egypt, each disputing about their temple, were admitted to plead before the king and his courtiers on this condition only: that the advocates of either party foiled in the dispute, should be punished with death; according to Josephus, in his Antiquities, book 13. ch. 6. Certainly he must be in greater peril, and liable to sorer destruction, who shall dare to pervert, by rashly wresting the sacred mysteries of the divine covenants; our Lord himself openly declaring, that whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:19)."(3) 3. Economy, page 39.2. Both from sacred and profane history, it appears that the most ancient and common mode of making covenants, was by devoting an animal as a sacrifice; cutting it into pieces, and the covenanters passing through the midst of them, and afterward feasting together. The following passages are particularly worthy attention. And Jehovah said to Abram, "Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another; but the birds he divided not" (Gen 15:9,10). "Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice" (Psa 50:5). "I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof, the princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, which passed between the parts of the calf; I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life; and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth" (Jer 34:18-20).
The covenant between Abimelech and Isaac was accompanied by a feast: "And they said, We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee: and we said, let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a. covenant with thee; that thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace: thou art now the blessed of the Lord. And he made them a feast, and they did eat and drink. And they rose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace" (Gen 26:28-31). The making of covenants, with such rites and ceremonies, was not without its signification. The cutting the animals asunder, denoted that, in the same manner, the perjured and covenant-breakers should be cut asunder by the vengeance of God. This is evident from the above passage of Jeremiah 34:18 and from the ancient form of these execrations recorded in Livy, book 1: "The Roman people do not among the first break these conditions; but if they should, avowedly, and through treachery, break them; do thou, O Jupiter! on that day, thus strike the Roman people, as I do now this hog; and be the stroke the heavier, as thy power is the greater." Hence the Hebrew expression to make a covenant, as you well know, is very expressive. Coreth Berith, literally signifies, to cut the purifier, or purifying sacrifice. That the origin of this ceremony is of divine institution, there can be no doubt. And like all other sacrifices, it had for its object, or antitype, the sacrifice of the Messiah, whose soul and body were one day to be violently separated, to confirm the covenant of grace. But more of this hereafter. Having made these preliminary remarks on covenants in general, I will now give you a brief statement of the covenant of works.
3. God having made Adam holy and happy, accommodated and furnished with every thing necessary and conducive to his felicity and comfort, both in soul and body, and having placed him in that delightful garden, distinguished by the name of Paradise, where he had in variety and plenty all the necessaries and comforts of life. He entered into a compact with him, which divines have called by different names. Some have styled it a dispensation, or constitution; others call it a law; and others a covenant, with different epithets, such as the covenant of innocence; the covenant of nature; the covenant of life: and the covenant of works.
4. Says Charnock:"A covenant is an agreement of two or more persons, in some common end pleasing to them both, upon certain articles and conditions voluntarily consented to by both, and to be performed by each, partly, with solemn obligations. So that in it there are two persons, mutual proposals and conditions, mutual consent, terminating in one and the same end."Hence it appears that although the covenant of works agrees with human covenants in the essential parts, yet it differs in several particulars. The parties are not equal; the plan is entirely of God, and man is bound to receive it without alteration or exception. But we are compelled to use names and modes of dealing among men, to express Divine dispensations. We shall therefore, with most divines, use the expression, "covenant of works," as the most suitable.
5. That there is a law requiring duty, and forbidding sin; that men of all ages and descriptions are bound to do the former, and forbear the latter, is a necessary dictate of reason. But that there was a proper covenant made with the first man, promising life as the reward of his obedience, and threatening death as the punishment of his disobedience; the promise on the one hand, and the threatening on the other, extending to his posterity, as well as to himself, reason cannot possibly discover. To revelation, therefore, are we indebted for the discovery and knowledge of the covenant of works, as well as the covenant of grace. To the law and to the testimony, therefore, we must apply for information on this all-important subject.
6. Besides the moral or natural law, engraven upon the heart of Adam, at his creation, as the rule of life, God was pleased to give him also a positive law, as a test of his obedience. The former God implanted, because it was just; the latter is just, because God commanded it.(4) 4. On the nature, properties, &c. of the positive law, see my Essays on Baptism, Essay 1. Moses, in his short history of the origin of mankind, gives the following description of this transaction: "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shall not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die" (Gen 2:16,17). In these words we have the parties transacting, Jehovah on the one hand, and man on the other; the condition specified, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; a double sanction annexed, first a threatening expressed: "thou shall surely die"; and secondly, a promise understoodif he obeyed he should live.
7. The contracting parties in this covenant are two. a. God. He may be considered as the framer of it, and principal party. He is to be viewed as Creator, Ruler, and Benefactor. On the part of God it was a display of goodness; for as man was the work of his hands, he must have regard to him, as every artificer has for his work, and would not despise him, but be concerned for his good and therefore, in covenant, promised good things to him. It also flowed from his sovereignty; since all his good things are his own, and he can do with them as he pleases; and he disposed of them to Adam, by promises, in a covenant way. b. The second party in the covenant was Adam. He is to be considered perfectly holy, and able to keep the covenant."There was light in his understanding, sanctity in his will, and rectitude in his affections: there was such a harmony among all his faculties, that his members yielded to his affections, his affections to his will, his will obeyed his reason, and his reason was subject to the law of God."Boston.8. b. Man, as the federal head of the human race. That Adam was the federal head of his posterity, is evident from the comparison which the apostle made between Adam and Christ, in Romans 5:12-18, and 1 Corinthians 15:45, where Adam is called the first man and the first Adam, and described as natural and earthly, and Christ is called the last Adam, and described as spiritual and the Lord from Heaven.
These were the only two individuals made public persons and federal heads, under whom all mankind are comprehended. No other such person, or federal head, has appeared, or ever is to appear in our world.
God's dealings with mankind ever since the fall, show that there was a federal agreement. For if no covenant was made with Adam, as our representative, we can have no concern in what he did when he violated it; what he did can be placed to his account only, not to ours; there can be no transmission of guilt and punishment from him to us; in short, there can be no original sin in the world; and if there is no original sin, how can there be any actual? Is not the former the root, the latter the branches? Is not the one the fountain, the other the streams? Can there be branches without a root, or streams without a fountain? According to this hypothesis, infants at least could have no sin. Is not sin the cause, and death the effect? But that infants as well as adults die, we all know. Infants, therefore, must have sinned. In their own persons they cannot have sinned; there must, therefore, be a federal head, in whom they federally subsisted, and in whom they have sinned. It was no unusual thing with God to make covenants with men and their posterity unborn. Witness God's covenant with Noah (Gen 9:9); with Abraham (Gen 17:4); and with the children of Israel (Deut 29:14,15). Nor have any of Adam's posterity reason to complain of such a procedure; since, if Adam had stood in his integrity, they would have partaken of all the blessed consequences of his standing, and enjoyed all the happiness that he did; and therefore should not murmur, nor esteem it injustice in God, in putting their affairs in his hand, that they share in the miseries of his fall; for if they would have received good through him had he stood, why should they complain of receiving evil things through his fall? But this part of the subject will be considered more fully hereafter.
9. The condition of this covenant is the next thing which claims our attention. This was obedience, perfect, personal, and perpetual conformity to the revealed will of God. The general standard of this obedience was the moral law; the special test of it was the positive prohibition relating to the fruit of a particular tree in the garden, of which God said, "Thou shall not eat of it."
10. Saith the elegant Dr. Bates:"This prohibition was upon most wise and just reasons. 1. To declare God's sovereign right in all things. In the quality of Creator he is supreme Lord. Man enjoyed nothing but by a derived title from his bounty and allowance, and with an obligation to render to him the homage of all. As princes, when they give estates to their subjects, still retain the royalty, and receive a small rent, which, though inconsiderable in its value, is an acknowledgment of dependence upon them; so when God placed Adam in Paradise, he reserved this mark of his sovereignty, that in the free use of all other things, man should abstain from the forbidden tree. 2. To make trial of man's obedience in a matter very congruous to discover it. If the prohibition had been grounded on any moral internal evil in the nature of the thing itself, there had not been so clear a testimony of God's dominion, nor of Adam's subjection to it. But when that, which in itself was indifferent, became unlawful merely by the will of God, and when the command had no other excellency but to make his authority more sacred, this was a confining of man's liberty, and to abstain was pure obedience."
11. It is here understood, as it has been hinted before, that Adam had both the knowledge of the will and law of God, and ability to fulfill it. The law was not yet written, either on tables of stone or on paper. He had it, however, imprinted on the fleshy table of his heart; and was in his whole man, soul and body, conformed to it. He was, and he did universally, what the holy law required him to be and to do. From his Creator, Adam had conformity of heart to the holy law, and habitual conformity of heart produces conformity of actions. A holy nature ever is accompanied with a holy life; as our Lord himself expresses it, a good tree bringeth forth good fruit.
12. But to return to the properties of this obedience. It was to be perfect, without the least blemish. It must flow from the principle of love; without this, all is vain (1 Cor 13:1-3), it must extend to every part, for it is written, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Deut 27:26). And again. "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty in all" (James 2:10). It must be equally perfect in degree: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul. and with all thy mind" (Matt 22:37). Adam's obedience was also to be personal; not like the obedience of Christ for his people, or as the obedience of Adam would have been reckoned to his posterity, had he continued obedient. And it was required to be perpetual, not for a time only, but always.
13. Saith a pious writer:"Adam, indeed was now in a probationary state. That state was only to continue for a limited time. Had he continued obedient till the expiration of it, the condition of the covenant would then have been fulfilled, and his own everlasting felicity, and that of his numerous posterity, insured. But would he in that case have ceased to be conformed and obedient to the law? No. He would have been confirmed in a state of perfect and perpetual purity, as well as felicity and dignity. The law under which he was, is of universal and of endless obligation. Universal conformity to it is the felicity and the dignity of the rational creature."Such, my dear Benjamin, was the tenor, and such the demands of the law, or covenant of works. High, but just demands! Such demands, however, innocent Adam was able to answer. God required nothing of him but what he was able to do.
14. We proceed now to consider the sanctions of this covenant, which are two; a threatening expressed, and a promise understood. The threatening is death, the promise is life. The threatening is best understood, or explained, by the event. It is not consistent with the justice of God to increase the penalty after the sin was committed. Whatever punishment, therefore, God inflicted, that must have been included in the original threatening. This punishment is mentioned in Genesis 3:16-19. It extends to the whole human race, and to the world to come, as will appear in a future letter. The death threatened is threefold.
15. a. Death, natural or corporeal, in opposition to life. This denotes not only actual dissolution of the union between soul and body, but the forerunners of it. Accordingly, the moment man sinned, he began, agreeably to the letter of the threatening, to die. Not only did he fall under the power of spiritual death, as the precursor of eternal, but he began to die naturally; i. e. he was exposed to the miseries of this life, as the beginning of the actual dissolution of the mortal frame. No sooner did he sin, than he felt the consequences of it in both soul and body. He saw himself naked, and was filled with shame, remorse, and dread. If man had not sinned, he would have enjoyed natural life, i. e. soul and body would have continued united in perpetual enjoyment of felicity and comfort. This is necessarily implied in the threatening, and the apostle places this subject beyond all reasonable doubt or dispute. Romans 5:12: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." Now, if death entered by sin, it is evident that if sin had not entered, death would not have entered.
16. b. Spiritual death was threatened in opposition to spiritual life. Spiritual life consists in union and communion with God. This is the highest felicity of the rational creature. So long as Adam obeyed the law he was approved and accepted of God. He was conformed and like to his Maker; he had both will and capacity to serve him. As he lived by God, so he lived to him. Such would have been his inexpressible joy and happiness had he not sinned. But alas, "how is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" The very moment man sinned he fell into a state, in various respects, similar to that of the dead. He was totally deprived of a principle of spiritual motion and action. This is the unhappy situation to which he reduced his numerous posterity, and in which we all now defend from him. We come into the world spiritually blind, deaf, and dumb; insensible and unfeeling, incapable of spiritual motion or action; and in this unhappy condition we lie until he who first created man in his own image and in his own likeness, creates us anew in Christ Jesus. Such was the description the apostle gave of the state of the Ephesians before and after their conversion, and includes himself amongst them (Eph 2:1-6).
17. c. Lastly, death eternal is threatened in opposition to life everlasting. Man was made for eternity. He was placed into a state of probation, and at the end of it he would have been removed from the terrestrial to the celestial paradise, to enjoy eternal and inexpressible felicity. This earth certainly never was intended to be the perpetual dwelling of the countless millions of the human species. But man being in honor, continued not. He sinned, and became obnoxious to eternal death, i. e. an everlasting separation of the whole man from God, and the punishment of both soul and body in that separated state for ever. This punishment is indeed greater than we can bear, but not greater than we deserve. The inspired apostle describes it in the following awful and tremendous terms: "The Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thess 1:7-9). Fearing the length of this letter will exhaust your patience, passing over many things that might have been instructive, and omitting many curious questions which have been asked respecting man's state of innocency, I bid farewell to my beloved Benjamin.Adam, our father and our head,
Transgress'd, and justice doomed us dead:
The fiery law speaks all despair,
There's no reprieve nor pardon there.
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