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the last dispensation through which the Supreme Being would converse with mortals.
Now the only argument, which can be adduced in favour of such an opinion, is the expression for ever, which is sometimes applied to the Levitical dispensation : whence it might be inferred, as the unbelieving Jews contend, that perpetuity was its essential attribute.
To this argument however the reply is sufficiently easy. The Hebrew phrase, rendered for ever, is ambiguous : and it is not unworthy of notice, that, even in the English language, it does not always denote eternity. We speak of conveying an estate to a man and to his heirs for ever : just as the purchased children of strangers are to be slaves to the Israelites for ever ; or as the voluntary Hibrew servant, whose ear was bored, was for ever to be the servant of his freely chosen master. The mere use then of the phrase proves nothing: unless, as applied to the Mosaical dispensation, it can be shewn incontrovertibly to import eternity; the Jew gains nothing by a bare assertion, that such is its meaning. As the expression is ambiguous, wé can only ascertain its true sense in the case of the Hebrew Law, by comparing it with express testimony and with stubborn matter of fact.
With respect to testimony, Moses himself declares, that God would raise up to Israel a prophet like unto him; and charges the people to receive him with due obedience.' But, if this prophet
Deut. xviii. 15–19.
were specially to resemble Moses, he must be a divine legislator : if he be a divine legislator, he must introduce a new dispensation : if he introduce a new dispensation, he must abrogate the old one. Accordingly, Jeremiah expressly foretells, that in the fulness of time Jehovah will make a new covenant with Israel and Judah, which shall not be after the tenor of the Levitical covenant but shall be of a more pure and spiritual nature.' The Jews therefore themselves might have anticipated the brogation of the Law, even from the testimony which it bears respecting its own temporaneousness; bad they not read their sacred books with a veil over their hearts.
So likewise with regard to matter of fact, Jehovah is said to have chosen Levi out of all the tribes, to ininister in the name of the Lord, bim and his sons for ever ; and the ordinances, over which they were to preside, are declared to be ordinances for ever. But the event has irrefragably proved, that the expression, in regard to the Mosaical dispensation, is not to be understood in the sense of eternity. More than seventeen centuries have now elapsed since the destruction of the temple and the dissipation of the Hebrew people. The perpetual sacrifice has been abolished : numerous ordinances, which could only be observed in Palestine, have been practically abrogated : and the priesthood, in its most essential functions, can no longer be exercised by the tribe of Levi.
! Jerem. xxxi, 31-34.
Thus futile, in each point of view, is the Jewish argument from the expression for ever : nor is there more cogency in the abstract reasoning, that, because Jehovah is immutable, the Levitical dispensation must be immutable also.
Doubtless with the Most High himself there is neither change nor shadow of turning : but, that in the world both of grace and of nature he should gradually bring his works to perfection, argues' no mutability in the workmaster; it merely shews, that such is the universal plan, which in his infinite wisdom he has been pleased to adopt. From the fall of Adam to the dissolution of all things, there exists but one plan of divine mercy : yet that plan advances to its consummation by a regularly determined progressiveness ; it does not, complete in all its parts, spring up instantaneously. Its very progressiveness is, in fact, a preordained arrangement: and we might just as rationally argue, that God is mutable, because his creature man passes through the different stages of boyhood and youth and virility; as that he is mutable; because his plan of grace slowly develops itself in three successive dispensations. The whole analogy of nature shews, that it is the fixed purpose of the Deity to bring all things to perfection only by degrees. If then his scheme of mercy had been instantaneously completed at the time of the fall, it would have been abhorrent from that general analogy which may be traced throughout the whole creation. Most groundless therefore was the fancy, that an abrogation of Judaism argued mutability in the Divine
Legislator: his pupils were in truth only moved from a lower to a higher form in one and the same school.
I. Yet, on such principles, did the unbelieving Hebrews reject what was really the end and purpose of their own imperfect dispensation.
Long before the time of Christ, that gross and sensual people had accustomed themselves to consider the splendid festivals, bloody sacrifices, and numerous ceremonies, of their law, as really and intrinsically pleasing to God, notwithstanding the frequent and express declarations of their prophets to the contrary. Owing to this persuasion, they could not bear the idea, that it was ever to have an end; still less could they conceive it possible, that the Messiah himself should be the instrument of its dissolution. From the figurative and ecstatic language of the inspired prophets, which painted, in glowing colours, a victorious and warlike prince sprinkled with the blood of his enemies and triumphing over the prostrate Gentiles; they anticipated with joyful expectation the moment, when their conqueror and deliverer was to appear and to rescue them from the yoke of the Romans. They had not sufficient purity of heart to pray humbly to God, that he would be pleased to liberate them from the heavy bondage of sin; that he would enable them to mortify the corrupt appetites of their nature; and that he would teach them, in stead of being subject to a round of ceremonies, significant indeed but highly burdensome, to offer up to him the lively sacrifice of thanksgiving and to bear the badge of circumcision in their hearts : but they were accustomed to cherish far different thoughts from these ; thoughts equally abhorrent from the wisdom and the goodness of God. They vainly hoped, that the temporal glory of the second temple would be greater than that of the first ; 'and that the splendid pageant of festivals and ceremonies would be once more presented to their longing eyes, with a lustre superior even to the pomp and majesty of the reign of Solomon. They grossly and impiously fancied, that the King of Glory, the Seed in whom all nations should be blessed, was to descend from heaven for no other purpose, than to gratify the pride and evil inclinations of the stock of Abraham. Under his banners they were to go forth conquering and to conquer : the blood of the slain was to mark the progress, and the groans of the dying were to celebrate the triumphs, of the Prince of Peace : the vanquished Romans were in their turn to bow the neck before the lordly Jews : and the earthly Zion, enriched with the spoils of the whole world, was to be the seat of universal empire. The desire of all nations was to be the persecutor and enslaver of mankind : and Israel alone was to be exalted in that day, at the expence of suffering humanity.