The Revelation Of Law, Strictly So Called, Viewed In Respect To The Time And Occasion Of Its Promulgation.
A PRINCIPLE of progression pervades the Divine plan as unfolded in Scripture, which must be borne in mind by those who would arrive at a correct understanding, either of the plan as a whole, or of the characteristic features and specific arrangements which have distinguished it at one period, as compared with another. We can scarcely refer in proof of this to the original constitution of things, since it so speedily broke up—though, there can be no doubt, it also had interwoven with it a principle of progression. The charge given to man at the moment of creation, if it had been in any measure executed, would necessarily have involved a continuous rise in the outward theatre of his existence; and it may justly be inferred, that as this proceeded, his mental and bodily condition would have partaken of influences fitted in definitely to ennoble and bless it. But the fatal blow given by the fall to that primeval state rendered the real starting-point of human history an essentially different one. The progression had now to proceed, not from a less to a more complete form of excellence, but from a state of sin and ruin to one of restored peace, life, and purity, culminating in the possession of all blessing and glory in the kingdom of the Father. And, in accordance with this plan of God for the recovery and perfecting of those who should be heirs of salvation, His revelation of spiritual and divine things assumes the form of a gradual development and progressive history—beginning as a small stream amid the wreck and desolation of the fall, just enough to cheer the heart of the fallen and brace it for the conflict with evil, but receiving additions from age to age, as the necessities of men and the purpose of God required, until, in the incarnation and work of Christ for the salvation of the world, it reached that fulness of light and hope, which prompted an apostle to say, ‘The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.’
It may seem strange to our view—there is undoubtedly in it something of the dark and mysterious—that the plan of God for the enlightenment and regeneration of the world should have been formed on such a principle of progression, and that, in consequence, so many ages should have elapsed before the realities on which light and blessing mainly depended were brought distinctly into view. Standing, as we ourselves do, on a point of time, and even still knowing but in part the things of God’s kingdom, we must be content, for the present, to remain ignorant of the higher reasons which led to the adoption of this principle as a pervading characteristic of the Divine administration. But where we can do little to explain, we are able to exemplify; for the ordinary scheme of providence presents us here with a far-reaching and varied analogy. On the same principle of progression is the life-plan of each individual constructed; so that, on an average, a half, and in the case of multitudes greatly more than a half, of their earthly life is spent before the capacity for its proper employments has been attained. In the history, also, of nations and communities, of arts and sciences, we see the principle in constant operation, and have no difficulty in connecting with it much of the activity, enjoyment, and well-being of mankind. It is this very principle of progression which is the mainspring of life’s buoyancy and hopefulness, and which links together, with a profound and varied interest, one stage of life with another. Reasons equally valid would doubtless be found in the higher line of things which relates to the dispensations of God toward men, could we search the depths of the Divine counsels, and see the whole as it presents itself to the eye of Him who perceives the end from the beginning.
It is the fact itself, however, which we here think it of importance to note; for, assuming the principle in question to have had a directive sway in the Divine dispensations, it warrants us to expect measures of light at one stage, and modes of administration, which shall bear the marks of relative imperfection as compared with others. This holds good of the revelation of law, which we now approach, when placed beside the manifestation of God in the Gospel; and even in regard to the law itself the principle of progression was allowed to work; for it might as well be said, that the law formed the proper complement and issue of what preceded it, as that it became the groundwork of future and grander revelations. To this, as a matter of some importance, our attention must first be given.
Considering the length of the period that elapsed from the fall of man to the giving of the law, the little that remains in the Divine records of explicit revelation as to moral and religious duty, appears striking, and cannot be regarded as free from difficulty when contemplated from a modern point of view. It may be so, however, chiefly from the scantiness of our materials, and our consequent inability to realize the circumstances of the time, or to take in all the elements of directive knowledge which were actually at work in society. This deficiency is certainly not to be supplied, after the fashion of Blunt, by combining together the scattered notices in the early history of the Bible, and looking upon them as so many hints or fragmentary indications of a regularly constituted patriarchal church, with its well furnished rubric as to functions, places, times, and forms of worship. (Some of these, as might be expected, are obtained in a very arbitrary manner, and look almost like a caricature of the text of Scripture:—as when in Esau’s‘goodly raiment,’ furtively used by Jacob, is found the sacerdotal robes of the first-born,* and something similar also in Joseph’s coat of many colours—as if this mere boy were already invested with priestly attire, and not only so, but in that attire went about the country, since he certainly wore it when he visited his brethren at Dothan. Can any parallel to this be found even in the complicated legislation of the Mosaic ritual? The priests who were ministering at the tabernacle or temple had to wear robes of office, but not when engaged in ordinary employments. * ‘Scripture Coincidences,’ p. 12.) These are not the points on which the comparatively isolated and artless families of those early times might be expected to have received special and unrecorded communications from Heaven. It had been as much out of place for them as for the early Christian communities, while worshipping in upper chambers, hired school-rooms, and sequestered retreats, to have had furnished to their hand a ritual of service fit only for spacious cathedrals and a fully developed hierarchy. We are rather to assume, that brief as the outline which Scripture gives of the transactions of the period, it is still one that contains whatever is to be deemed essential to the matter as a history of Divine revelation; and that only by making proper account of the things which are recorded, not by imagining such as are not, can we frame to ourselves an adequate or well-grounded idea of the state of those earlier generations of mankind, as to the means of knowledge they possessed, or the claims of service that lay upon them, in respect to moral and religious duty. Let us endeavour to indicate some of the leading points suggested by Scripture on the subject, without, however, dwelling upon them, and for the purpose more especially of apprehending the relation in which they stood to the coming legislation of Sinai.
1. At the foundation of all we must place the fact of man’s knowledge of God—of a living, personal, righteous God—as the Creator of all things, and of man himself as His intelligent, responsible creature, made after His image, and subject to His authority. Whatever effect the fall might ultimately have on this knowledge, and on the conscious relationship of man to his Maker, his moral and religious history started with it—a knowledge still fresh and vivid when he was expelled from Eden, in some aspects of it even widened and enlarged by the circumstances that led to that expulsion. ‘Heaven lies about us in our infancy:’— it did so pre-eminently, and in another sense than now, when the infancy was that of the human race itself; and not as by ‘trailing clouds of glory’ merely, but by the deep instincts of their moral being, and the facts of an experience not soon to be for gotten, its original heads knew that ‘they came from God as their home.’ Here, in a moral respect, lay their special vantage-ground for the future; for not the authority of conscience merely, but the relation of this to the higher authority of God, must have been among their clearest and most assured convictions. They knew that it had its eternal source and prototype in the Divine nature, and that in all its actings it stood under law to God. Goodness after the pattern of His goodness must have been what they felt called by this internal monitor to aim at; and in so far as they might fall beneath it, or deviate from it, they knew—they could not but know that it was the voice of God they were virtually disobeying.
2. Then, as regards the manner in which this call to imitate God’s goodness and be conformed to His will was to be carried out, it would of course be understood that, whatever was fairly involved in the original destination of man to replenish and cultivate the earth, so as to make it productive of the good of which it was capable, and subservient to the ends of a wise and paternal government, this remained as much as ever his calling and duty. Man’s proper vocation, as the rational head of this lower world, was not abolished by the fall; it had still to be wrought out, only under altered circumstances, and amid discouragements which had been unknown, if sin had not been allowed to enter into his condition. And with this destination to work and rule for God on earth, the correlative appointment embodied in God’s procedure at creation, to be ever and anon entering into His rest, must also be understood to have remained in force. As the catastrophe of the fall had both enlarged the sphere and aggravated the toil of work, so the calm return of the soul to God, and the gathering up of its desires and affections into the fulness of His life and blessing, especially on the day peculiarly consecrated for the purpose, could not but increasingly appear to the thoughtful mind an act of homage to the Divine will, and an exercise of pious feeling eminently proper and reasonable.
3. Turning now, thirdly, to the sphere of family and domestic life, the foundation laid at the first, in the formation of one man, and out of this man one woman to be his bosom companion and wife, this also stood as before—and carried the same deep import. The lesson originally drawn from the creative act, whether immediately drawn by Adam himself or not—‘therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh’ (Gen_2:24.) was a lesson for all time. Our Lord (who as the creative Word was the immediate agent in the matter) when on earth set to His seal, at once to the historical fact, and to the important practical deduction flowing from it; and He added, for the purpose of still further exhibiting its moral bearing, ‘So then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’ (Mar_10:8-9.) Thus was impressed on the very beginnings of human history the stamp of God’s appointed order for families—the close and endearing nature of the marriage-tie—the life-union it was intended to form—the mutual sympathy and affection by which it should be sustained—and the common interest it created, as well as the loving regard it naturally tended to evoke, in behalf of the offspring that might issue from it. All this, though not formally imposed by definite rules and prescriptions, was yet by the moral significance of that primeval fact laid upon the consciences of men, and indicated the place which the family constitution and its relative duties were to hold in the organization and progress of society. (The objections that have been made to the sacred narrative respecting the fact of Eve’s formation out of a rib of Adam, as that it was unworthy of God; that his posterity are not deficient in that part of their bodily organization, which they would have been if Adam had been actually deprived of a rib; that we have therefore in the story not a fact but a myth, teaching the companionship of the woman to man—are entitled to no serious consideration. It is the very foundations of things we have here to do with, in a social and moral respect, and for this, not shadowy myths (the inventions, always, of a comparatively late age) but great outstanding facts were necessary to furnish the requisite instruction. Since important moral ends were in view for all coming time, why could not God have taken a portion of Adam’s frame for the formation of his partner in life, and afterwards repaired the loss? or, if the defect continued in him as an individual, prevented its transmission to posterity? Somehow, the formation of the first woman, as well as the first man, had to be brought about by a direct operation of Deity; and why not thus rather than otherwise, if thus only it could be made the symbol of a great truth, the embodiment of an imperishable moral lesson? No reason can be shewn to the contrary.)
4. Of devotion as consisting in specific acts of religious worship, the record of man’s creation, it must be admitted, is altogether silent, nor does anything appear in the form of a command for ages to come. This cannot, however, be fairly regarded as a proof, either that nothing in the matter of worship was involved in the fundamental grounds of moral obligation, or that the sense of duty in that respect did not from the first find some fitting expression. The hallowing of a particular day of the week, and connecting with its observance a peculiar blessing, evidently implied the recognition of the religious sentiment in man’s bosom, and formed an ever-recurring call to exercises of devotion. For what is devotion in its proper nature, and stript of its mere accessories? It is just the Sabbath idea realized, or, in the simple but expressive language of Bishop Butler, (Sermons, Ser. XIV.) ‘Devotion is retirement from the world God has made, to Him alone: it is to withdraw from the avocations of sense, to employ our attention wholly upon Him as upon an object actually present, to yield ourselves up to the influence of the Divine presence, and to give full scope to the affections of gratitude, love, reverence, trust, and dependence, of which infinite power, wisdom, and goodness is the natural and only adequate object.’ The constitution of man’s nature, and the circumstances in which he was originally placed, could not but lead him to cherish and exercise the feelings of such a spirit of devotion—though with what accompaniments of outward form we have no indication, nor is it of any practical moment, since they can only be under stood to have been the natural and appropriate manifestations of what was felt within. With the fall, however, matters in this respect underwent a material change; for the worship which became a sinner could not be the same with that which flowed spontaneously from the heart of one who was conscious only of good, nor could it be left entirely to men’s own unaided conceptions; for if so left, how could they be assured that it was accepted of their Maker? how know it to be such as He would bless? Somehow, therefore—apparently, indeed, in connection with the clothing of the shame of our first parents by means of the skins of slain victims—they were guided to a worship by sacrifice as the one specially adapted to their state as sinners, and one which probably from the very first (by means of the supernatural agencies associated with the entrance to Eden and its tree of life, viz., the flaming sword and the cherubim), received upon it the marks of Divine approval. At all events, in the history of their earliest offspring, worship by the sacrifice of slain victims becomes manifest as the regular and approved mode of access to God in its more formal acts of homage. Here then, again without any positive command, far less any formally prescribed ritual, there still were in the Divine procedure, taken in connection with men’s moral convictions and feelings, the grounds of moral obligation and specific duty—not law, indeed, in the formal sense of the term, but the elements of law, or such indications of the Divine will as were sufficient to guide truly humble and God-fearing men in the earlier ages of the world to give expression to their faith and hope in God by a mode of worship suited to their condition and acceptable to Heaven.
5. Another thing also ought to be borne in mind in respect to those varied materials of moral and religious duty, which is this—that while they belonged to the origination of things on earth, to things of which the first heads of the human family were either the only witnesses, or the direct and immediate subjects, they had the advantage of being associated with a living testimony, which was capable of preserving it fresh, and unimpaired for many generations. The longevity of the first race of patriarchs had doubtless many important ends to serve; but we cannot be wrong in mentioning this among the chief. He who had received his being direct and pure from the hand of God, to whom had been revealed the wonders of God’s work in creation, who had himself walked with God in paradise, was present with his living voice to tell of all he had seen and heard, and by his example (as we can scarcely doubt) to confirm and com mend his testimony, down even to the times of Lamech, the father of Noah. So that, if the materials of knowledge respecting God’s will to men were comparatively few, and were in many respects linked to the facts of a primeval past, this continuous personal testimony served to render that past a kind of perpetual present, and so to connect, as by a living bond, the successive generations of men with the original grounds of faith and hope for the world. There were, also, as is clear from the case of Enoch and other incidental notices, closer communings occasionally maintained by God with believing men, and for special seasons more definite communications made of His will. Sparse, therefore, as the memorials are, in a religious respect, which belong to this period, as compared with its great length, God still did not leave Himself without a witness; and men who were alive to the responsibilities of .their position, and disposed to follow the impulses of their moral nature, could not complain of being without any sure direction as to the great landmarks of truth and duty.
6. Yet, it is impossible to carry the matter further; and to speak of law in the moral and religious sphere—law in some definite and imperative form, standing outside the conscience, and claiming authority to regulate its decisions, as having a place in the earlier ages of mankind, is not warranted by any certain knowledge we possess of the remoter periods of God’s dispensations. That ‘all human laws are sustained by one that is divine’ (a saying ascribed to Heraclitus), seems, as several others of a like kind that might be quoted, to point to a traditional belief in some primitive Divine legislation; and in a well-known noble passage of Cicero, which it is well to bring into remembrance in discussions of this nature, there is placed above all merely local and conventional enactments of men, a law essentially Divine, of eternal existence and permanent universal obligation, (De Republica, III. 22.) Est quidem vera lex, etc. ‘There is indeed a true law, right reason, conformable to nature, diffused among all, unchanging, eternal, which, by commanding, urges to duty; by prohibiting, deters from fraud; not in vain commanding or prohibiting the good, though by neither moving the wicked. This law cannot be abrogated, nor may anything be withdrawn from it; it is in the power of no senate or people to set us free from it; nor is there to be sought any extraneous teacher or interpreter of it. It shall not be one law at Rome, another at Athens; one now, another at some future time; but one law, alike eternal and unchangeable, shall bind all nations and through all time; and one shall be the common teacher, as it were, and governor of all God, who is Himself the Author, the Administrator, and Enactor of this law.’ Elsewhere, he expresses it as the opinion of the wisest men, (De Leg., II. 4.) that ‘this fundamental law and ultimate judgment was the mind of Deity either ordering or forbidding all things according to reason; whence that law which the gods have given to mankind is justly praised. For it fitly belongs to the reason and judgment of the wise to enjoin one thing and prohibit another.’ And in thus having its ground in right reason, which is the property of man as contradistinguished from beasts, and is the same in man as in God, he finds the reason of this law being so unchanging, universal, and perpetually binding. But the very description implies that no external legislation was meant coming somewhere into formal existence among men; it is but another name for the findings of that intelligent and moral nature, which is implanted in all men, though in some is more finely balanced and more faithfully exercised than in others. Under the designation of the supremacy of conscience, it appears again in the discourses of Bishop Butler, and is analysed and described as ‘our natural guide, the guide assigned us by the Author of our nature,’ that by virtue of which ‘man in his make, constitution, or nature, is, in the strictest and most proper sense, a law to himself,’ whereby ‘he hath the rule of right within; what is wanting is only that it be honestly attended to.’ But this has already been taken into account, and placed at the head of those moral elements in man’s condition which belonged to him even as fallen, and which, though possessing little of the character of objective or formal law, yet carried with them such directive light and just authority as should have had the force of law to his mind, and rendered inexcusable those who turned aside to transgression. (It is only in this sense, and as connected with the means of instruction provided by the course of God’s providential dealings, that we can speak of the light possessed by men as sufficient for moral and religious duty. The light of conscience in fallen man by itself can never reach to the proper knowledge of the things which concern his relation to God and immortality.)
7. The result, however, proved that all was insufficient; a grievous defect lurked somewhere. The means of knowledge possessed, and the motives to obedience with which they were accompanied, utterly failed with the great majority of men to keep them in the path of uprightness, or even to restrain the most shameful degeneracy and corruption. The principle of evil which wrought so vehemently, and so early reached an over mastering height in Cain, grew and spread through a continually widening circle, till the earth was filled with violence, and the danger became imminent, unless averted by some forcible interposition, of all going to perdition. Where lay the radical defect? It lay, beyond doubt, in the weakness of the moral nature, or in that fatal rent which had been made by the entrance of sin into man’s spiritual being, dividing between his soul and God, dividing even between the higher and the lower propensities of his soul, so that the lower, instead of being regulated and controlled by the higher, practically acquired the ascendency. Conscience, indeed, still had, as by the constitution of nature it must ever have, the right to command the other faculties of the soul, and prescribe the rule to be obeyed; but what was wanting was the power to enforce this obedience, or, as Butler puts it, to see that the rule be honestly attended to; and the want is one which human nature is of itself incompetent to rectify. For the bent of nature being now on the side of evil, the will, which is but the expression of the nature, is ever ready to give effect to those aims and desires which have for their object some present gratification, and correspondingly tend to blunt the sensibilities and overbear the promptings of conscience in respect to things of higher moment. In the language of the apostle, the flesh lusts against the spirit, yea, and brings it into bondage to the law of sin and death. And the evil, once begun, is from its very nature a growing one, alike in the individual and in the species. For when man, in either respect, does violence to the better qualities of his nature, when he defaces the Divine image in which he was made, he instinctively turns away from any close examination of his proper likeness—withdraws himself also more and more from the thoughts and the companionships which tend to rebuke his ungodliness, and delights in those which foster his vanity and corruption. Hence, the melancholy picture drawn near the commencement of the epistle to the Romans, as an ever deepening and darkening progression in evil, realizes itself wherever fallen nature is allowed to operate unchecked. It did so in the primitive, as well as the subsequent stages of human history: First, men refused to employ the means of knowledge they possessed respecting God’s nature and will, would not glorify Him as God (γνόντες τὸν θεὸν οὐχ θεὸν ἐδόξασαν); then, having thus separated themselves from the true light, they fell into the mazes of spiritual error and will-worship, became frivolous, full of empty conceits, mistaking the false for the true, the shadowy for the real; finally, not thinking it worthwhile to keep by the right knowledge of God (οὐκ ἐδοκίμασαν τὸν θεὸν ἔχειν ἐν ἐπιγνώσει), treating it as comparatively a thing of nought, they were themselves made to appear worthless and vile given up by God to a reprobate mind (ἀδόκιμον νοῦν), whereby they lost sight of their true dignity, and became the slaves of all manner of impure, hurtful, and pernicious lusts, which drove them headlong into courses equally offensive to God, and subversive of their own highest good.
8. This process of degeneracy, though sure to have taken place anyhow, had opportunities of development and license during the earlier periods of the world’s history, which materially helped to make it more rapid and general. If there were not then such temptations to flagrant evil as exist in more advanced states of society, there were also greatly fewer and less powerful restraints. Each man was to a larger extent than now the master of his own movements: social and political organizations were extremely imperfect; the censorship of the press, the voice of an enlightened public opinion in any systematic form, was wanting, and there was also wanting the wholesome discipline and good order of regularly constituted churches; so that ample scope was found for those who were so inclined, to slight the monitions of their moral sense, and renounce the habits and observances which are the proper auxiliaries of a weak virtue, and necessary in the long run to the preservation of a healthful and robust piety in communities. The fermentation of evil, therefore, wrought on from one stage to another, till it reached a consummation of appalling breadth and magnitude. And yet not for many long ages—not till the centuries of antediluvian times had passed away, and centuries more after a new state of things had commenced its course—did God see meet to manifest Himself to the world in the formal character of Lawgiver, and confront men’s waywardness and impiety with a code of objective commands and prohibitions, in the peremptory tone, Thou shalt do this, and Thou shalt not do that: A proof, manifestly, of God’s unwillingness to assume this more severe aspect in respect to beings He had made in His own image, and press upon them, in the form of specific enactments, His just claims on their homage and obedience! He would rather—unspeakably rather—that they should know Him in the riches of His fatherly goodness, and should be moved, not so much by fear, as by forbearance and tenderness, to act toward Him a faithful and becoming part! Hence He delayed as long as possible the stringent and imperative revelation of law, which by the time alone of its appearance is virtually acknowledged to have been a kind of painful necessity, and in its very form is a ‘reflection upon man’s inconstancy of homage and love.’ (‘Ecce Deus,’ p. 234.)
God did not, however, during the long periods referred to, leave Himself without witness, either as to His displeasure on account of men’s sin, or the holiness in heart and conduct which He required at their hands. If His course of administration displayed little of the formal aspect of law, it still was throughout impregnated with the principles of law; for it contained manifestations of the character and purposes of God which were both fitted and designed to draw the hearts of men toward Him in confiding love, and inspire them with His own supreme regard to the interests of righteousness. Of law, strictly so called, we find nothing applicable to the condition of mankind generally, from the period of the fall to the redemption from Egypt, except the law of blood for blood, introduced immediately after the Deluge, and the ordinance of circumcision, to seal the covenant with Abraham, and symbolize the moral purity which became those who entered into it. But even these, though legal in their form, partook in their import and bearing of the character of grace; they came in as appendages to the fresh and fuller revelations which had been given of God’s mercy and loving-kindness—the one in connection with Noah’s covenant of blessing, and as a safeguard thrown around the sacredness of human life; the other in connection with the still richer and more specific covenant of blessing established with Abraham. Indeed, during the whole of what is usually called the patriarchal period, the most prominent feature in the Divine administration consisted in the unfoldings of promise, or in the materials it furnished to sinful men for the exercise of faith and hope. God again condescended to hold familiar inter course with them. He gave them, not only His word of promise, but His oath confirming the word, that He might win from them a more assured and implicit confidence; and by very clear and impressive indications of His mind in providence, He made it to be understood how ready He was to welcome those who believed, and to enlarge, as their faith and love increased, their interest in the heritage of blessing. It is the history of grace in its earlier movements—grace delighting to pardon, and by much free and loving fellowship, by kind interpositions of providence and encouraging hopes, striving to bring the subjects of it into proper sympathy and accord with the purposes of Heaven.
Yet here also grace reigned through righteousness; and the righteousness at times ripened into judgment. There was the mighty catastrophe of the Deluge lying in the background—emphatically God’s judgment on the world of the ungodly, and the sure presage of what might still be expected to befall the wicked. At a later period, and within the region of God’s more peculiar operations in grace, there was the overthrow of the cities of the plain, which were made for their crying enormities to suffer ‘the vengeance of eternal fire.’ So still onwards, and in the circle itself of the chosen seed, or the races most nearly related to them, there were ever and anon occurring marks of Divine displeasure, rebukes in providence, which were designed to temper the exhibitions of mercy, and keep up salutary impressions of the righteous character of God. And it may justly be affirmed, that for those who were conversant with the events which make up the sacred history of the period, it was not left them to doubt that the face of God was towards the righteous, and is set against them that do wickedly.
9. Such, certainly, should have been the result; such also it would have been, if they had wisely considered the matter, and marked the character and tendency of the Divine dispensations. But this, unfortunately, was too little done; and so the desired result was most imperfectly reached. So much so, indeed, that at the close of the patriarchal period all seemed verging again to utter ruin. The heathen world, not excepting those portions of it which came most in contact with the members of God’s covenant, had with one consent surrendered themselves to the corruptions of idolatry; and the covenant seed themselves, after all the gracious treatment they had received, and the special moral training through which they had passed, were gradually sinking into the superstitious and degrading manners of Egypt—their knowledge of Jehovah as the God of their fathers become little better than a vague tradition, their faith in the promise of His covenant ready to die, and all ambition gone, except with the merest remnant, to care for more than a kind of tolerable existence in the land of Goshen. (Exo_2:14; Exo_5:21; Exo_16:4. Eze_23:25; Eze_23:39.) A change, therefore, in the mode of the Divine administration was inevitable, if living piety and goodness were really to be preserved among men, and the cause of righteousness was not wholly to go down. This cause had come to be quite peculiarly identified with the people of Israel. God’s covenant of blessing was with them; they were the custodiers of His word of salvation for the world; and to fulfil their calling they must be rescued from degradation, and placed in a position of freedom and enlargement. But even this was not enough. The history of the past had made it manifest that other securities against defection, more effectual guarantees for righteousness than had yet been taken, would require to be introduced. Somehow the bonds of moral obligation must be wound more closely around them, so as to awaken and keep alive upon their conscience a more profound and steadfast regard to the interests of righteousness. And when, looking forward to what actually took place, we find the most characteristic feature in the new era that emerged to be the revelation of law, we are warranted to infer that such was its primary and leading object. It could not have been intended—the very time and occasion of its introduction prove that it could not have been intended to occupy an independent place; it was of necessity but the sequel or complement of the covenant of promise, with which were bound up the hopes of the world’s salvation, to help out in a more regular and efficient manner the moral aims which were involved in the covenant itself, and which were directly contemplated in the more special acts and dealings of God toward His people. It formed a fresh stage, indeed, in the history of the Divine dispensations; but one in which the same great objects were still aimed at, and both the ground of a sinner’s confidence towards God, and the nature of the obligations growing out of it, remained essentially as they were.
10. This becomes yet more clear and conclusively certain, when we look from the general connection which the revelation of law had with preceding manifestations of God, to the things which formed its more immediate prelude and preparation. The great starting-point here was the redemption from Egypt; and the direct object of this was to establish the covenant which God had made with the heads of the Israelitish people. Hence, when appearing for the purpose of charging Moses to undertake the work of deliverance, the Lord revealed Himself as at once the Jehovah, the one unchangeable and eternal God, and the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, (Exo_3:6; Exo_3:9; Exo_3:13; Exo_3:15-17.) who was going at last to do for their posterity what He had pledged His word to accomplish for them. And as soon as the deliverance was achieved, and the tribes of Israel lay at the foot of Sinai, ready to hear what their redeeming God might have to say to them, the first message that came to them was one that most strikingly connected the past with the future, the redeeming grace of a covenant God with the duty of service justly expected of a redeemed people: ‘Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; (Exo_19:3-7.) Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.’ They were, indeed, words of profound significance and pregnant import, comprising in substance both the gospel and the law of the covenant. Primarily, indeed, the gospel; for Jehovah announces Himself at the outset as, in a quite peculiar sense, the God of Israel, who had vindicated them to Himself by singular displays of His power and glory—had raised them to the position of a people, given them national existence, for the very purpose of endowing them with the richest tokens of His favour and loving-kindness. It drew a broad distinction between Israel as a nation, and all merely worldly kingdoms, which spring into existence by dint of human powers and earthly advantages, and can attain to nothing more than that kind of secondary glory and evanescent greatness, which such inferior means and resources may be able to secure. Israel, however, stands related from the first to a higher sphere; it comes into being under special acts of Divine providence, and has both its place of peculiar honour assigned it, and the high prerogatives and powers needful for fulfilling aright its calling by reason of its living connection with Him who is the eternal source of all that is great and good. Considered, therefore, in its now ransomed and independent position among the nations, Israel is the creation of God’s omnipotent goodness—the child, in a manner, which He has taken to His bosom, which He will endow with His proper inheritance, (Lev_25:23.) and whose future safety and well-being must be secured by Divine faithfulness and power. But for this very reason that God identified Himself so closely with Israel, Israel in return must identify itself with God. Brought into near relationship and free intercommunion with the Source of holiness and truth, the people must be known as the holy nation; they must even be as a kingdom of priests, receiving from His presence communications of His mind and will, and again giving forth suitable impressions of what they have received to the world around them. This, henceforth, was to be their peculiar calling; and to instruct them how to fulfil it—to shew them distinctly what it was (as matters then stood) to be a kingdom of priests and an holy nation the law came with its clear announcements of duty and its stern prohibitions against the ways of transgression. What, then, are the main characteristics of this law? and how, in one part of its enactments, does it stand related to another? This naturally becomes our next branch of inquiry.