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even the merits of the Redeemer could not save, was a most dangerous error; an error tending directly, either to unthrone the Messiah, or at least to place by his side in equal majesty the proud meritoriousness of a mere human being. Hence it was, that St. Paul so vehemently opposed a malignant error, which was radically inconsistent with the whole Christian scheme of a redemption by the alone merits of another person.
In reality, the three dispensations, when carefully examined together, will be found to constitute a single beautiful and regular whole, the several parts of which perfectly and exactly coincide: or, as St. Paul most aptly illustrates it, Patriarchism and the Law, each of which in a less or in a greater degree kept the human race in bondage under the preceptive elements of the world, were the progressive childhood and youth of mankind, while the Gospel is their allegorical manhood; yet childhood and youth and manhood, though such different stages of existence, form the joint life of no more than a single being.'
These were the errors of the first Hebrew converts to Christianity and of the Jews who remained obstinate in their unbelief; errors, however different in point of gross malignity, yet all contributing to darken and to destroy the true connection of the Law and the Gospel.
I Galat. iv. 1-4.
RESPECTING THE AUTHORITY, UNDER WHICH WE ARE RATIONALLY BOUND TO ADMIT THE ABROGATION OF ONE DIVINE DISPENSATION AND THE INTRODUCTION OF ANOTHER.
IT is perfectly easy then to conceive, that, in strict analogy with the general laws of the Creator, his grand scheme of mercy may develop itself by slow degrees and through a long succession of ages it is perfectly easy to conceive, that his infinite wisdom may have thought fit to communicate it through the medium of three different though harmonizing dispensations; those, which are but preparatory, giving place in due order to that which is final. All this it is very easy to conceive, without any invasion of the divine immutability: but still it is of the last importance to man, that he should have some mode of satisfactorily determining, WHEN a preparatory dispensation is abrogated
in favour of another preparatory dispensation, or WHEN that second preparatory dispensation is swept away to make room for the consummating dispensation. Unless there be some infallible index to guide him in each great change or modification, which the general system of grace is in its apparent and outward form predetermined to undergo; it is manifest, that he must ever lie open to the fraud of imposture or to the folly of enthusiasm. Now, since God does nothing in vain, and since the whole of his merciful plan would be liable to complete frustration, unless such an index were provided we may be sure from the very necessity of the case, that he has not left his work imperfect; we may be sure, that he will never abrogate an old dispensation or introduce a new one, without furnishing the most abundant evidence that the work is transacted by his special authority.
This evidence is THE POWER OF WORKING MIRACLES, communicated to the prophet of the new dispensation, as the only sure and infallible and universally intelligible and instantaneously applicable proof, that he is indeed the commissioned minister of Jehovah, and that what he reveals does indeed proceed from heaven.
I. Agreeably to the principle here laid down, we shall find, that of the three dispensations the Patriarchal alone was introduced without the sanction of miracles.
1. Of this dispensation Adam was the prophet: but, when it was communicated to him, it did not profess to supersede any prior dispensation: con
sequently, on that ground, miracles were plainly unnecessary. Nor was there more need of them even intrinsically. Adam and his consort were at that time the only human beings upon the face of the earth. Hence, that he should be enabled to work miracles, were manifestly superfluous: for he had no jealous and independent contemporaries, whom it was needful to satisfy respecting his divine legation. Direct converse with God was amply sufficient to convince his wife and himself: and, as it is preposterous to imagine that parents would wish to deceive their own children, the evidence of miracles was unnecessary to prove to his posterity, that the Patriarchal dispensation did indeed proceed from Jehovah.
2. Exactly the same remarks apply to the second prophet of this dispensation at the commencement of the postdiluvian world.
Noah was not commissioned to teach any new mode of religion, abrogatory of Patriarchism. The system, which he delivered to his sons that they might hand it down to their sons, was the very system which he had himself received from his pious ancestors: and this circumstance was well known to his children; for they were all born before the flood, and had each attained the age of about a century at the epoch of that catastrophe. Miracles therefore, in any religious point of view, would plainly have been quite useless to Noah.
3. Nor was it at all more requisite, that Abraham should enjoy the power of working them.
At the time of his call, mankind had universally
apostatised to idolatry, either complete or partial ; insomuch that even his own ancestors, in the line of Shem, had not escaped the general infection.* Yet the recollection of a more pure worship could not, at that early period, have been altogether obliterated. It is probable, that the idolatry of the house of Arphaxad resembled that of the Israelites in later times, rather than that of the Babylonians or the Canaanites or the Egyptians : to the worship of Jehovah, their unhappy superstition appears to have added that specious system of demonolatry and astrolatry, which was modelled and brought to perfection in the plain of Shinar under the auspices of the daring Cuthim. Now Abraham appeared in the character, not of an original legislator but of a mere reformer. By an intercourse with heaven he was brought back to that, from which the children of Noah had so foully apostatised and we cannot doubt, that he strongly urged upon all the members of his paternal and avital house the necessity, not of adopting a new system, but of tracing back their steps to that from which they had wandered. For such an office the power of working miracles was not at all necessary, even if the peculiar commission of Abraham had been to preach reformation to a degenerate world: but this was not his peculiar commission, though as a zealous servant of Jehovah he would be most happy to communicate the truth to any willing ear; his special commission
Josh. xxiv. 2.
Orig. of Pagan Idol. book i. c. 1.