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VIII. Here is a remarkable controversy and dispute among christians, whether the promise or covenant, made by God to, and with the seed of Abraham in Gen. xvii. and in many other places, where God promises to be the God of Abraham and his seed, is to be construed to extend to his carnal seed, the Jews, in any of the spiritual blessings signified thereby? Or whether the spiritual blessings signified thereby, belong only to his spiritual seed, who are the imitators of his faith and obedience, whether they be Jew or gentile. And then it is debated also, whether the spiritual seed of Abraham, under the New Testament, that is, true christians have any spiritual blessings promised, or entailed to their children by the strong assertions of St. Paul, concerning their interest in Abraham's covenant, and whether their carnal seed or offspring, have any general and indefinite title to spiritual blessings, by virtue of these and the like promises to Abraham, as the father of the faithful: But I am not willing to embarrass this short essay with any such long and unhappy controversies.
IX. Let it be observed that these three early dispensations of grace, are called the patriarchial dispensations, because they were first communicated to those three patriarchs, Adam, Noah and Abraham.
CHAP. V.-The Mosaical Dispensation; or, the Jewish Religion.
I. The same gracious covenant or gospel, was revealed further to the seed of Abraham, or the Israelites by Moses, together with all the same seals or emblems of sacrifice and circumcision, which signified atonement for sin, and sanctification or purification of our nature, God was pleased to discover this to Moses, as a fourth edition of the covenant of grace, and by him to the family of Jacob, who was the grandson of Abraham; that is, to the nation of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai; but not to the other nations of mankind: Though the other nations might and did reap considerable advantages by God's setting up this one nation in the earth as a beacon on a hill to spread the light of truc religion far around. This was called the Levitical or Mosaical or Jewish dispensation. And it is plain from Heb, iv. 2. That the gospel, that is, the true covenant of grace, or way of salvation, was preached unto them, as well as unto us, though their dispensation is oftentimes for special reasons, called the law in scripture*.
It is necessary to take notice here, once for all, that the word "law," is used in various senses in St. Paul's epistles. Sometimes it signifies the moral law, or ten commandments, sometimes the five books of Moses, and sometimes, the whole Old Testament; sometimes it means the peculiar covenant of Sinai, and at other times, it includes the whole Jewish dispensation, or the covenant of grace, as it was exhibited to them, with all its legal or Levitical appendices. Now it is only the connection in which this word stands, that can distinguish and ascertain to us, in which of these senses the word "law" is used; and I hope
II. Under this Jewish dispensation, the moral law, in all its duties, and the will of God in many and various particulars of his authority and his mercy, were more explicitly set before men: Their encouragements also to repentance and hope in divine grace for eternal life, grew greater by the many precious promises and blessings, both of pardoning and sanctifying grace, revealed to them, and many intimations and discoveries of the mercy of God, which they enjoyed. This was also eminently signified by the dwelling of God amongst them, both as their God and their King, in a visible glory, in his tabernacle or temple, upon the mercy seat, in the holy of holies.
III. Here also, there were a multitude of new emblems added, that is, new ceremonies, new signs and pledges, both of the blessings of God and of the duties of man, as well as types and figures of the characters and offices of the Messiah or Mediator; all which are usually called the Jewish ceremonies, and are too many to be enumerated here. The chief designs of them were, first, to give the Jews a ceremonious worship in that infant state of the church, that they might not be tempted by the pomp and ornaments of heathen worship, to run into their idolatry. Secondly, to unite them as a nation in one form of religion and government, and to make and maintain an evident distinction of them from the rest of the nations round about them, who are called Gentiles, which in the Latin, Greek and Hebrew languages, signifies the nations. Thirdly, to typify and figure out to them the various glories of the Messiah, and of the gospel, in the duties and blessings of it, under the veils and shadows, and figures of that age, which are more clearly explained under the New Testament.
IV. As this dispensation was begun by Moses, so it was earried on in the nation or church of Israel, during all the time of the judges, the kings and prophets, till the coming of Christ, or rather till his ascension to heaven, and pouring down of the Spirit. The business and design of the prophets, was not to introduce any new dispensation among the Jews, but to give them further assurances of the coming of the Messiah, or the promised Saviour, to keep him in their view in every age, and keep their hopes alive, even in their lowest estate. The prophets gave them also, more particular descriptions of his character and offices, in order to prepare them for believing in him, when he should come. They spoke more particularly of the promises of pardon of sin, of the sanctification of our natures by the Holy Spirit, with hints of a future state of recompence for the good and bad among
what I have here written, will go a great way towards shewing us, what the holy writer means by it, in any particular text, and how to understand his sense and his reasoning, which is of great importance, in learning the difference between the law and the gospel.
mankind; all which appear more eminently, in the writings of David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.
V. It was also a further design of the prophets, to put them in mind of their duty, to reprove them for sin, and by many motives and examples, by invitations, threatenings and promises of every kind, both temporal and spiritual, to encourage, to warn, and to reform them, to awaken them to repentance and trust in divine mercy, and the practice of holiness, in order to their temporal benefit, and their eternal salvation; and with all, to maintain their obedience to the law of Moses, or the whole Levitical dispensation, which carried in it, the covenant of grace. So saith Malachi, the very last of the prophets, in the end of his prophecy; Mal. iv. 4. Remember ye the law of Moses, my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb, with the statutes and the judgments; for these were appointed to continue till the Messiah came, even till the Lord, who was the messenger or angel of the covenant should come to his temple, who was to be introduced by John the baptist, under the name and character of Elijah the prophet, as is expressed, chapter iv. verses 5, 6. compared with chapter iii. verse 1.
CHAP. VI.-The Peculiar Covenant of Sinai.
I. But it must necessarily be observed here, that in this dispensation of Moses, there was several outward precepts or ordinances, which were partly ceremonial or sacred, and partly civil or political, together with divers promises of a carnal and temporal kind, superadded to the gospel of grace and salvation; which precepts and promises, together with all the ten commands, considered distinctly and apart from the gospel, made up that Sinai covenant, which separated the Jews from the rest of the nations, and which was really in the nature of it a covenant of works. This is evident, because their works of obedience were to be their justifying righteousness, so far as to preserve their lives and comforts, in the land of Canaan, as Moses expressly teaches them; Deut. vi. 24, 25. "And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as at this day: And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments, before the Lord our God." Now this is very different language from what St. Paul speaks to the Romans, and to the Galatians, when he describes our righteousness for justification before God, according to the covenant of grace and salvation.
And if in any instances, the Jews had broken the rules or laws of this Sinai covenant, in outward actions, or ceremonial deflements, they were bound to offer particular sacrifices, or to apply themselves to special washings or fastings, or other methods of purification or atonement, and to a visible reformation;
and then in the way of a law of works, they were absolved from the penalties threatened, that is, they were pardoned and freed from outward punishments, by the performance of these works.
III. But this Sinai covenant considered alone, was never designed to be that covenant of grace, whereby they should obtain salvation, or heaven and eternal life from God, as the Lord of souls and consciences. St. Paul expressly says, that these sacrifices, or rites of purification, could not make them perfect, as pertaining to the conscience, nor could they take away sin, or reach any further than the purifying of the flesh; Heb. ix. 9, 13. and this evidently appears to reach only to the present life, from this consideration among others, that in the law of Moses, there were no sacrifices, atonements or purifications, ever appointed for capital crimes, such as adultery, murder, blasphemy, idolatry, &c. nor for spiritual sins, such as pride, malice, envy, atheism of heart, and such like; nor indeed for any offence whatsoever of a moral kind, which was not visible and injurious to the public welfare.
Nor did any of their sacrifices, do any more than set them right, as to the state or visible church. St. Paul gives a hint of this, when in Acts xiii. 39. he says, ye who believe, are justified from all those things, by Jesus Christ, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. This Sinai covenant, therefore, was made only between God, as the political Head or King of that people, and the Jews, as his national subjects, or at most, but as sitting on the mercy seat, on a cloud of glory, as the visible Head of a national visible church: And it was not designed to reach to the concerns of another world. It was as I have said, by the works of obedience to this political or outward covenant, that the Jews, whether considered as a nation, or a visible church, or as single persons, were entitled to long life and peace, in the land of Canaan, and temporal blessings therein; and then by notorious violations of it, either as a nation, or as single persons, they forfeited these blessings*.
*It is not improper, to make this observation by the way, viz. that God's dealing with whole communities, with societies, cities, or nations, through all ages of the world, in the visible dispensations of his common providence and government, has been very much, according to the tenor of this covenant of works, which he made with the Jews at Sinai, that is, according as their public outward behaviour should be, whether virtuous or vicious, so bis visible blessings, or visible punishments should attend them as proper recompences. And if they should by their iniquities, provoke God to punish them, yet upon their visible repentance and reformation, there should be a release from their bonds of punishment, and a restoration of their blessings; always provided, that they had not sinned in so very provoking a manner, as to be given up by God the Governor of the world, to utter ruin and desolation. Plain evidences of this may be derived from the Canaanites, Sodom, Nineveh, Babylon, and some others.
And there is this plain reason, for this part of divine conduct, viz. whatso ever single persons or individuals, have practised either virtue or vice, if they are not rewarded or punished in this world, there is another world, or a future
IV. Let it then be well considered, that this Sinai covenant between God, as their national king, and the Israelites as his subjects, which is often called the law in scripture, and sometimes the first covenant, taken separately and apart by itself, was a very distinct thing from the covenant of grace, and was but a temporal appendix to it. Yet the covenant of grace, or that gospel of pardon of sin and eternal life, which more evidently or more secretly ran through all the dispensations of God since the fall, was included in the Jewish dispensation also, as the most eminent part of it: This gospel related to their eternal concerns with God as the Lord of conscience. This in some clear expressious, and in many types and dark hints, was witnessed by the law and the prophets, as Rom. iii. 21. And it was this gospel, by which both Abraham and David, and the pious Jews were pardoned, and saved with an eternal salvation: St. Paul proves
this in Rom. iv.
That great apostle in his epistles to the Romans and Galatians and Hebrews, is often teaching them, that this Sinai covenant, this law of Moses with all the ceremonies of it, could not give them life; Gal. iii. 21. that is, peace of conscience, with pardon of sin and eternal salvation; nor was this Sinai covenant ever intended or designed by God himself for this end, and it was in due time disannulled for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof; Heb. vii. 18. yet the carnal Jews were very fond of applying it to this sense and purpose, expecting that the blood of bulls and goats should take away their sins, and this law of ceremonies should make the comers thereunto perfect, and cleanse their conscience in the sight of God, as the Lord of souls and consciences.
And this is the reason why St. Paul gives them so frequent warnings against this mistake; particularly in the third and fourth chapters to the Galatians, where he represents the law as a covenant of works, which curses them who continue not in all things written in the law to do them; chapter iii. verse 10. and he represents the difference between this law and the gospel, by the difference between mount Sinai and mount Zion or Jerusalem in which Zion stood, the one as leading to bondage, and leaving the Jews under guilt and fear, the other as giving liberty, and life, and peace, chapter iv. verses 21-31. And it is for the same reason that Paul says; Gal. v. 3. that he that is
state, in which the righteous God, as the Judge of All, can, and will reward or punish them: But communities, cities or nations, belong only to this world, and are all dissolved, and have no being in the other, and can neither be rewarded or punished there as public bodies: And therefore God who exercises visible judgment on earth, when he pleases, will frequently reward or punish communities visibly in this world, to shew his love to virtue and piety, and his aversion to all sin, and to preserve an awful sense of his holiness and government among the children of men.