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commendation of so pure and perfect a morality?
The civil laws of the Jews were suited to the state of mankind, and of the nation, at the time of their institution: they were also connected and interwoven with their religious ordinances; and contributed, with them, to the preservation of Israel, for important purposes, as a separate people from the rest of the world.
But the positive institutions of Judaism make a great part of this system: can they be defended also, and shown to be worthy of God? We answer in the affirmative without hesitation; and hope to prove they are excellently fitted for confirming our faith jn the divine original, and safe transmission of the Scriptures in general, and for enhancing the value and displaying the glory of the Gospel.
It is not denied, that the Apostle Paul, in speaking of the ceremonial law, calls it the rudiments, or first beginnings of religion, and weak and empty, or "beggarly elements,"
as as our translation strongly expresses it: he also says, " nothing was made perfect by the "law." But we should remember the same apostle extols the privileges of the Jews; and to shew the conformity of the Jewish religion with the Christian, is the great design of his large epistle to the Hebrews. St. Paul, then, did not despise this religion, or think it unworthy of God: but some false brethren had endeavoured to corrupt the word of God: they were willing to pass for Christians, while they retained their attachment to the law of Moses; they insisted, that its positive institutions were essential to salvation. Christianity, by their management, dwindled into a mere appendage of the law: the faith of many was undermined and subverted. St. Paul knew the characters of these pretended friends, but dangerous enemies, of the Gospel*. Fear of persecution, love of the world, superstition, ignorance of the law and of the Gospel, distinguished, and account for the conduct of these Judaising teachers; and explain the apostle's indignation against them and their doctrine. He establishes the faith of the churches: he
teaches them, that, compared to the Gospel, or opposed to the Gospel, in which the ritual was in many things fulfilled, and by which it was superseded, the law was instruction for children, instead of grown men; that the attempt to restore or preserve the practice of it, was injurious to the church, was impious towards God, and therefore deserved the severest animadversion.
Thus we easily vindicate the Apostle Paul: but can Moses be vindicated in the instituting of the rites and ceremonies of Judaism? To Christians this is saying, Are they consistent with the wisdom and goodness of God?
Whoever believes the divine original of the law, rests assured, that it answered valuable purposes, though he may not be able to perceive them all. Some are obvious: I turn your attention to the following.
The positive institutions, preserved alive in the minds of the nation, the interposition of God in behalf of their progenitors. The history of civilization has of late been the frequent and favourite study of our philosophers:
phers: they have anxiously marked, and endeavoured to account for, the condition of society in its different periods and stages. It is very possible that inattention to this matter is the source of prejudice against the Hebrew worship. We are but too ready to judge of the propriety or impropriety of any thing, by the modes of thinking, and the manners of our own times. We are in danger of overlooking the education, the government, the religion, the practices, that prevailed in distant periods-; and, therefore, we naturally pronounce very wrong judgements on what was fit, or unfit, for them, in their peculiar circumstances. When we consider the Jewish ritual, we ought to recollect, that the knowledge of books, and of alphabetical writing, was very infrequent in early ages: attending to this fact, we discover the necessity of positive institutions, If it was necessary to preserve the history of the interpositions of Providence in behalf of Israel, what could more certainly secure this end, and the natural effects of it, than such institutions as circumcision, memorials, and festivals?
The usefulness of preserving these histories will not be questioned by those who reflect on the general prevalence of superstition, idolatry, and immorality, in the Heathen world. Observe, too, that the rites which shewed the Israelites they were set apart by the Lord for himself, served, at the same time, to keep them a separate people; for they were not only different from the religious rites of the nations, but it has been proved, in many instances, directly opposite. There is good reason to believe, a more full and perfect knowledge of the religions and manners of the nations surrounding Judea, would account for, and shew the propriety of, a greater number of the peculiar rites of Judaism, than we are apt to imagine, or has hitherto been discovered.
Thus the multiplicity of the Jewish ceremonies may be explained and vindicated, in a great measure: there is another advantage of their frequency, and extending to the most ordinary actions of life; thereby the Jews were habitually, and almost constantly, reminded of their religion and of their duty.