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To what purposes the ancient prophecies were given, and upon what foot religion stood from the beginning to the restoration, or new establishment of the world, in Noah and his posterity, has been already considered. We are now advancing to times of greater light, to clearer and more distinct prophecies, and more nearly relating to God's great dispensation of mercy and goodness towards mankind, manifested by the revelation of his Son. This period begins at the call of Abraham, and runs through the Law and the Prophets, ending where the Gospel of Christ Jesus commences. It contains such a variety and number of prophecies, that I cannot propose to myself so large and extensive a subject to be the matter of Thort discourses from this place. But it may perhaps be of some use to inquisitive minds, to suggest to them the great and general design of Providence in the prophecies of this period; to Thew them the state of religion during this season ; and how well the light of prophecy, afforded to this generation, corresponded to the state and necessity of the times. If in this method of inquiring we can arrive at the knowledge of God's design in giving the word of prophecy to the old world, we shall the more eafily discern of what use these ancient oracles are to the present world; and how far the truth of the Gofpel, which we believe and profess, depends upon the authority and evidence of ancient prophecy. In order to this inquiry, it is necessary, first, to consider the state of true religion, and the supports it had during this period; for prophecy being relative to the state of religion in the world, we must know the one to understand the other.
How soon the world after the deluge corrupted their ways, and lost the knowledge of the true God, and changed the glory of the incorruptible—into an image made like to corruptible man, we cannot certainly know; but this we certainly know, that in Abraham's time idolatry had spread far and wide, and taken deep root even in the family of Shem, and in that branch of it particularly from which Abraham descended. This being the case, it is highly probable that true religion had entirely failed in the world, had not God visibly interposed to preserve such a sense of it as was necessary for the accomplishment of his great design to restore mankind.
Necessary I say to this end; for most evident it is, that it was not the intention of Providence in the call of Abraham, or in giving the law of Moses, to propagate or restore true religion among all nations of the old world; fo far from it, that the covenant with Abraham is founded upon the condition, not of reforming, but of destroying the idolatrous nations in the land of Canaan; and the sign of circumcision was given to separate Abraham and his posterity from the rest of mankind; which hews that the rest of mankind were not called to that covenant, of which circumcision was the fign or sacrament. Moreover, the law of Moses was established in such rites and ceremonies, and many of them to be performed only in the land of Canaan, that there is no room to suppose that it was ever intended to be a general law for mankind. Add to this what Paul and Barnabas tell the people at Lystra, that God in times paft fuffered all nations to walk in their own ways, Acts xiv. 16: and what St. Paul says to the people of Athens ; God winked at the times of ignorance ; but now commandeth all men every where to repent, Acts xvii. 30. And it will be most evident, that the call of Abraham, and the law of Moses, consequent to it, were not intended as general calls to mankind, but were subservient to some other view and design of Providence.
If we consider now the whole world lost to all sense of religion, estranged from God, and void of all hopes towards him; and suppose one family chosen out merely for their own fakes to be delivered from the general corruption and misery, without any view or design towards the general good of mankind, it gives so mean, so partial a view of God, that I think no religion can consist with such a notion.
But if the law of Mofes was neither intended to be a general law for mankind, nor yet intended as a partial favour and benefit to the Jews only, exclusive of all mankind, what remains, but that we must consider it as a method of Providence, working towards the great end always in view, the general restoration of mankind from the curse of the fall ? as the open- , ing of that scene which was to bring a blefling upon all nations of the earth ? Accordingly we find this
to be the case; when Abraham was called and received the promises, he had assurance given him, not only of peculiar blessings to himself and posterity, but likewise of a general blessing to be conveyed through him to all mankind: I will make of thee, says God, a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee. Immediately it follows, And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed, Gen. xii. 2, 3. It is of great importance in the present question to distinguish rightly these promises.
The promise of temporal prosperity to Abraham and his posterity is sufficiently explained in the course of his story: at the seventh verse of this chapter, God tells him, he would give to his feed the land of Canaan ; and in chap. xv. 18. that he would give the land unto his feed, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates. In the seventeenth chapter, that he would multiply him exceedingly; that he should be a father of many nations, and kings should come out of hin. These were great promises, and great inducements to obedience; but, except the particular gift of the land of Canaan, (and there were probably other parts of the world as good as that,) there was nothing in them peculiar to Abraham and his posterity only. There were be. fore Abraham's time, and have been fince, many great and powerful nations of another kindred; the sons of Ham and Japhet, and those descended by other branches from Shem, have arrived to great prosperity, and left a numerous issue behind them, in virtue of the common blessing bestowed on their ancestors after the flood, to whom God said, Be ye fruitful and multiply, and bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein; to them likewise he gave the promise of fruitful seasons, and sustained them with corn and with wine. Thus far then the
promise to Abraham was derived from the temporal covenant established with Noah and his sons after the flood, in which other nations and people had a share as well as himself, and some of them in some respects a much greater; as he must needs judge, who knows any thing of the ancient or present empires of the east and west. But, if we look forward, we shall see the distinction between the several promises grow plain, when God renews the covenant, and limits the peculiar blessing of Abraham to the fon which should be born of Sarah his wife. In the seventeenth of Genesis the Lord appears to Abraham, and says, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect: then follows, I will niake my covenant between me and thee, and I will multiply thee exceed. ingly;—and thou shalt be a father of many nations. At the seventh and eighthi verses God promises to establish an everlasting covenant with him and his feed after him, to give him and them all the land of Canaan for an everlasting polesion, and to be their God. Here are either two covenants mentioned together in the compass of a few lines, or else the same covenant repeated with this difference ; that in the last place it is styled an everlasting covenant, and the land of Canaan is assigned for an everlasting pofSeffion, with this remarkable addition, that God
promises to be the God of Abraham, and of his feed after him. And this is the first time that this. peculiar