Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

have before contended) the doctrine of a future state be not absolutely essential to civil society, yet there can be no doubt, that it is a most powerful auxiliary to it : and that in proportion as it is firmly impressed upon the minds of a people, their conduct will be virtuous, and their government easy. If then it be abstracted entirely (as in the case before us), and temporal rewards and punishments be alone inculcated, we can hardly wonder at any degree of depravity at which a people, under such circumstances, may arrive. And such, in fact, appears to have been the case with the Israelites. If this were represented

us as the whole of God's dealings with them, I admit that it would be extremely difficult to comprehend it. But viewed, as the Scriptures describe it, as a partial and temporary dispensation, introductory to another, which was to be universal and final, much, if not all of its difficulty vanishes. It is at least, perfectly consistent with the account which he, who best understood both the Jewish and the Christian Revelations, (I mean the great Apostle to the Gentiles) has transmitted to us. The law (says he) made nothing perfect : but the bringing in of a

better hope did. At another time, he describes it, as a shadow of good things to come-and as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Considered in this point of view, as a part of an immense scheme of Divine wisdom, which is, even as yet, but very limited in operation ; we have surely no reason to doubt, that the benefit to be derived to the world in general, from the withholding the knowledge of a future state from the early Jews, may far exceed the detriment, sustained by them in particular, from that cause. If it contribute to strengthen the evidence, and ultimately therefore to the universal establishment of Christianity, its reasonableness and utility cannot justly be questioned. The materials, which constitute the foundation of a building, may be, and commonly are, very different from, and very inferior in value to those, which compose the superstructure; but they are not the less necessary on that account, nor can they be displaced, without endangering the edifice.

But there are those, who would object to my argument, certain texts both of the Old and New Testament, which appear to them to prove, that a future state was always the doc

[ocr errors]

trine of the Jews. I shall have time to notice only one or two of the strongest of these. But I must observe once more, that I am only contending that Moses did not expressly teach it; and explaining why he did not; a point, in my opinion, of the utmost importance. With what was disclosed

upon it by subsequent prophets, I am not immediately concerned. The doctrine does appear

in fact, to have spread amongst them (probably from various sources) by degrees; between the time of Moses ', and that of our Saviour : when we find the two great sects, of the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, divided upon it: the former receiving it, and the latter rejecting it: which seems clearly to shew, that up to that period it had not been expressly revealed to them ; but that it was reserved for the Gospel alone, to bring life and immortality to light.

The strongest text in the Old Testament, upon this point, is unquestionably that of Job : I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see

· Divine Legation, vol. vi. 142.

God. There is the greatest difficulty in determining precisely the sense of these words, from the impossibility of ascertaining the age, the author, or the nature and object of the book : upon all which points the opinions of learned men are extremely at variance'. If we were to adopt the sentiment of some, who think that Moses himself, or some one contemporary with him, was the author, it would be impossible to reconcile the explicit mention of it in this passage, with total silence upon it at all other times : particularly, when we observe, that in the Jewish law, matters of far inferior moment are urged, over and over again, upon the attention of the Israelites. It is also remarkable, that there is not another passage in the book of Job, in which this doctrine is insisted upon, at least with equal clearness, though the argument would seem very frequently to require it: and there are even some, in which it appears to be doubted or denied 2. All that we can conclude with certainty upon it, is, that it is a prophetical intimation of a future state, delivered probably, long after the

· Divine Legation, vol. v. 299, &c.
2 Ibid. vol. v. 373, &c.

time of Moses : connected with a prediction of the Messiah, and referring to him for its completion : similar in all respects, to another equally strong declaration of David in the sixteenth Psalm: which we are assured in the Acts of the Apostles, was spoken not of his own resurrection but prophetically of that of Christ. I am not aware of any thing else in the Old Testament, which can be urged against my argument, so plausibly as this ; yet it will be seen, that it has but a very slight bearing upon it.

But there remain to be considered some texts of the New Testament, which (as Bishop Warburton forcibly observes) are brought to prove against itself, that life and immortality were brought to light by the Old. The most material of these, are these words of our Saviour, reported by St. John. Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think that ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.

That some of the Jews had at this time conceived notions of a future state from some parts of their Scriptures, is extremely evident: but that our Saviour did not confirm those notions (except with reference to himself) is equally so. For he adds immediately,

« PoprzedniaDalej »