« ForrigeFortsæt »
P R E F A C E
THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, on account of their antiquity, dignity, and other excellencies, far exceeding all the writings of the ancients, it may be proper, before we commence our Biblical History, to make a few remarks upon them. Indeed, if we consider how many centuries have passed since they were compiled, and how miraculously they have been preserved to the present times, they plainly appear to have been the peculiar care of God. We ought also to prize the Scriptures, as comprising every species of knowledge that is useful and entertaining. Would we know whence natural philosophy, with astronomy and other appendages on it derive their origin? Examine the books of Genesis, Job, and Ecclesiastes. What writings abound more in ethics or moral precepts, than the sacred and sententious Proverbs? What more certain, regular or pleasing History can we find, than in Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, and Judges. How free from sophistry are the Holy Scriptures, and how solid are all the arguments used in them? Geometry is displayed in the building of the tabernacle ; and the working in metals and wood was known long before the building of Solomon's temple. In short, all manner of Learning, Arts, and Sciences, are comprehended within those sacred pages. They are so exactly disposed, that they are a magazine accommodated to all places, times and persons; so that St. Basil justly calls them a Pharmacopeia furnished with medicines for all uses and necessities. From hence, in time of persecution, the martyrs derived constancy and courage. From hence, in times of peace and religion, the learned acquired wisdom and eloquence. In times of heresy, they furnished the orthodox with stability in the faith, and assisted them in the subversion of error. From hence, in prosperity, we learn humility and modesty ; in adversity, magnanimity and patience. In danger it arms us with an honest zeal; and, finally, if abuses insinuate themselves into discipline, and corrupt our morals, nothing but the rule of God's word can restore religion to its pristine state and dignity; for that alone is the standard of our thoughts, and guide of our actions.
But we need no other recommendation of these sacred writings, than that of our blessed Saviour, who hath commanded us to “search the Scriptures.” And in obedience to his precept, the apostles and fathers of the church made it their great concern to exhort all men to the study of them. The Old Testament is indeed a system of every kind of knowledge useful for the conduct of human life; and from which the philosophers and legislators of all ages drew the best of their observations ; and the authors of both canon and civil law have from thence derived their most useful institutions.
But the excellency of Sacred History will more evidently appear, if we compare it with the accounts of the best and most ancient heathen writers. How obscure and trifling are their stories of Deucalion's flood, of Prometheus and Hercules, and their general notions of the existence of the world from eternity! In short, all profane story is filled with obscurity and fables before the Olympiads, which was their first certain æra, and which did not commence till many centuries after the time of Moses; so that from the first three thousand years of the world, we have no certain history to depend upon, but that of Moses. And, indeed, if we pay our just deference to it, we shall find it the best guide in the transactions life. There only we have the true account of the rise and fall of the most early kingdoms of the world; and by their example, either in prosperity or adversity, learn to be wise and happy. If we compare the Greek and Roman historians with the Sacred History, we shall find the latter to abound with the more illustrious exemplars of heroic virtue. Rome may boast of her Torquatus and Brutus, who, in a more ix brutal than generous bravery, sacrificed their sons to the public good: but who would not rather admire the obedience of pious Abraham, who had devoted his beloved Isaac a victim to the will of God? Historians and poets may applaud the courage of the Horatii and others, who in defence of their country slew their enemies in single combat: but how short do they come of the heroic David, who, though but a stripling, encountered and slew the gigantic Goliah, and by his death, procured an easy victory over the Philistines? Alexander's virtue is worthy of praise, who when he had conquered Darius, would not allow himself the pleasure of surveying his beautiful captives, lest he should be tempted to desire: but what is this to the continence of Joseph, who fled from the actual solicitations of his lascivious místress into a loathsome dungeon. They may talk of the fortitude and success of their warlike heroes, their Cæsar, Pompey, Scipio, Hannibal, and Alexander; but how much more illustrious are the examples of Moses, Joshua, Samson, Gideon, David and Saul? who inspired with more than human courage, with a handful of men, trampled on their numerous enemies; and to facilitate whose conquests the very elements conspired, and fought on their side.
I. But besides these general advantages of the Old Testament, there are some more peculiar to it; the first of which is, that the New Testament cannot be understood without it. The apostles often cite it, and more frequently allude w it, and our blessed Lord taking his leave of his disciples, says, “ These are the words which I spake unto you, whilst I was still with you; that all must be fulfilled, which was written of me in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms,” Luke xxiv. 44.
II. Christ being the end of the law, many things which are spoken of in the Old Testament, relate to Christ and his servants, as well in a literal as an allegorical sense: “ Our Fathers," saith St. Paul, “ were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptised unto Moses, and in that cloud, and that sea; and did all eat the same spiritual food, and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. Now
all these things were types unto them, and were written to admonish us, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”
III. Another great advantage is, that the Old Testament is a magazine furnished, with a variety of figures, examples, doctrines and sententious oracles, not only relating to faith, but to a good life, that from thence we may furnish ourselves with directions on all occasions. Thus our blessed Lord, by the example of Noah, and Lot's wife, stirs up the slothful to watchfulness, Luke xvii. 27, 32. He threatens the obstinate Jews, by the remembrance of Sodom and Nineveh, and the queen of the South ; and terrifies the uncharitable rich with the words of Abraham to Dives in hell; “ They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them, Luke xvi. 29.” St. Paul, as hath been before observed, says, “all these things were done to them for examples to us, that we should avoid those judgments God had afflicted them with for their fornication, idolatry, murmur
IV. The last advantage I shall mention is, that as the Old Testament had the honour to precede the New, so it gave witness to it as St. John Baptist did to Christ; both he, Moses, and the prophets going before him to prepare the way, “ to give knowledge of salvation to his people, to give light to them that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the
way of peace.” In confirmation of which, Moses and Elias appeared at the transfiguration of Christ on the Mount, bearing witness of him, and speaking of his departure, Luke ix. 31. Indeed, so great is the force of the gospel-truths, that comparing the transactions of our Saviour's life, with what was foretold of them, none can doubt of the completion of those predictions in him only. But none go so far in the eulogies of Moses and the law, as our blessed Lord himself. “ There is one that accuseth you, even Moses; had ye believed on him, ye would have believed on me; for he wrote of me: but if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words, John v. 45, 46. Certainly as Tertullian observes, the harmony between the two Testaments, the agreement between Moses and Christ, the prophets and the apostles, the synagogue and the church, must needs be a great testimony of the truth of Christ and his gospel.
Having said thus much of those incomparable histories and other excellent things contained in the Old Testament, it may not be improper to say something of the writers or compilers of them. And first of Moses.
And here, considering the dignity of that great and excellent legislator, to whom God did the honour of speaking face to face, it may seem almost a presumption to attempt his character. I shall only say, that for some thousands of years, the sun did not behold his equal. He was from his infancy brought up in a court, where he received all the advantages of a royal education. He was skilled in Egyptian learning, conversing at court till he was forty years old: at which time being divinely inspired, he withdrew from the court of Pharaoh, and, disdaining to be thought the son of Pharaoh's daughter, chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than enjoy the pleasures of a sinful life. Being obliged to flee to Midian, he undertook the humble employment of feeding sheep. In which time God appeared to him in the bush, and gave him a commission to be ruler and leader of his people.
But if we enquire more particularly into the character of this excellent person, we shall find him the most honoured mortal that ever was born, till the Son of God appeared to bless the form in human shape. He was prophet, prince, and poet. For the first we have his own acknowledgment: “ The Lord thy God shall raise up unto thee a prophet like unto me, from among thy brethren, Deut. xviii. 15.” For the second, God himself invest ed him with royal power, when he gave him a commission to deliver and govern his people, Exod. iii. 10. That he was a poet, appears from those eleven Psalms ascribed to him, from Psalm lxxxix. to Psalm c. Besides the many personal favours God bestowed upon this great man, he was pleased to honour him with this commendation, that he was the most faithful of his servants, to whom he would communicate his will by express words, Numb. xii. 7, 8. And indeed, if we consider the frequent interviews between God and Moses, the conveyance of the law by him, and his daily pleading for the people in the tabernacle, where God more immediately relieved himself, we