« PreviousContinue »
SUMMARY OF DISSERTATION II.
phets; and of the later writers none treat expressly on the subject; their mention of it is only occasional. All assistance in this case must come from hints and allusions, which refer to ancient things. Collection and comparison of these to the end.
THE SENSE OF THE
ANCIENTS BEFORE CHRIST ON THE
CIRCUMSTANCES AND CONSEQUENCES OF THE FALL,
My intention is not to search after passages in heathen authors, which may seem to bear some resemblance to the Mosaic history of the fall, but to trace the sense of the Jewish church as far as it can be collected.
As there are no records left but the books of the Old Testament to give light to this inquiry, and no book of the Old Testament after Moses treats directly of this subject, it cannot be expected that I should produce a full and regular exposition of the circumstances and consequences of the fall from so few remains, and in this respect so very imperfect. All that can be done is to gather up the little which fell from these old writers, rather accidentally than purposely; and to try whether, from their references and allusions to this history, we can with any tolerable degree of probability collect their sense, or the sense of the times in which they lived, on this subject. The historical writers of the Old Testament were never led within view of this ancient story by the occurrences in which they are concerned ; from them consequently no light is to be expected. Moral writers had sometimes occasion to reflect on the state of the world, and to consider how things came into the state and condition in which they found them : prophets, likewise, who were teachers of religion, were in the same case ; from these we may expect some assistance.
You see within how narrow a compass we are reduced ; but yet no help is to be refused which can be had in so material a concern.
The moral and theological difficulties relating to this point will not be stated or discussed on the foot of this inquiry. It was the wisdom of antiquity to bury all such difficulties in the abyss of infinite wisdom and power, and there to leave them till God should think proper to bring them to light; and had we something of the same spirit, it would be the better for us. But the most curious and inquisitive have no reason to expect a solution of all the difficulties of this sort from the teachers of the gospel; for what has the gospel to do with them? The moral and natural evils in the world were not introduced by the gospel ; why then must the gospel be called on to account for them, rather than any other religion or sect of philosophy? If there had never been an Old Testament, never a New one, mankind would have been at least as corrupt and miserable as they are at present. What harm then have the Old and New Testaments done to you, that you perpetually challenge them to account to you for the evil you suffer? You mislike perhaps the story of Adam and Eve, and can by no means digest the account of the serpent's tempting and prevailing against our first parents, Very well; let this account then be laid aside, and what are you now the better?
Is there not the same evil remaining in the world, whether you believe or believe not the story of the fall ? And if so, what account do you pretend to give of it ? for if you pretend to any religion, you are as liable to be called to this account as any professor or teacher of the gospel. Nobody is exempt in this case but the atheist; and his privilege comes from hence, that he has no account to give of any thing; for all difficulties are alike on his scheme.
Leaving then these difficulties, which are common to all religions, and not peculiar to our present inquiry, let us proceed to trace the history of the fall in the ancient writers.
The oldest book we have remaining is the book of Job; there is all the appearance that can arise from internal characters, that it was written before any of the books of Moses. The testimony therefore of this book is distinct from the authority of Moses, since it was not derived from the books of Moses, but was itself an original account of the state of nature and religion in the old world, before Moses had committed any thing to writing. I know that some have endeavored to bring down this ancient writer to the times of the Babylonish captivity, and suppose the book to have been written for the consolation of the captives in their distress. But if you suppose it written for the sake of the Jews, is it not strange that there should not be, in a discourse of such a kind, one single word of the law of Moses; nor so much as one distant allusion to any rite or ceremony of the law, or any one piece of history later than Moses ; nor to any of the forms of idolatry for which the Jews suffered at the time of their captivity? The conjecture would be as ingenious and as well founded, should any critic suppose
that the Iliad of Homer was written to celebrate the military expeditions of the Goths and Vandals. Besides, were it proper to enter into the discussion of this point, it might be easily shown that the Book of Job had quite another view than this opinion supposes. The patience of Job is much talked of, and we seldom look farther for any use of this book; but in truth the book was written in opposition to the very ancient opinion, which introduced two independent principles, one of good, the other of evil.
For this reason Satan, the author of Job's misfortunes, is brought in with a permission from God to afflict Job; and the moral of the history lies in Job's reflexion : the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away :' and again, shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil ?' In all which, as the history expressly observes, Job did not sin with his lips ;' intimating how
prone men were to sin with their lips when they talked of the evils of life and the author of them. The learned Grotius supposes
this book to be written for the consolation of the descendants of Esau, carried away into the Babylonish çaptivity. He saw plainly, I suppose, that the book could by no means answer to the case of the Jews, as well for the reasons already mentioned as for this likewise, that the Jews undoubtedly suffered for their iniquity; and the example of Job is the example of an innocent man suffering for no demerit of his own. Apply this to the Jews in their captivity, and the book contradicts all the prophets before and at the time of their captivity, and is calculated to harden the Jews in their sufferings, and to reproach the providence of God. But suppose it written for the children of Esau; they were idolaters, and yet is there no allusion to their idolatry in all this book; and what
ground is there to think that they were so righteous as to deserve such an interpretation to be put on their sufferings as the book of Job puts on them, if so be it was written for their sakes? or can it be imagined that a book written about the time supposed for the use of an idolatrous nation, and odious to the Jews, could ever have been received into the Jewish canon ? Whatever therefore we may think of the book in its present state, there is little doubt but that it was formed on authentic records of greater antiquity than any book now remaining.
The antiquity of the book supposed, two questions arise to be considered, 1. whether the fall of Adam was known to this ancient writer : 2. what notion he had of the circumstances and consequences of the fall.
The twentieth chapter of Job contains the discourse of So. phar the Naamathite on the state and condition of the wicked : he takes his rise from the very beginning; his words in our translation are these : Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed on the earth, that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment ? Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish for ever like his own dung.' The first verse might as well have been rendered, since Adam was placed on the earth. There is no reason to doubt but that this passage refers to the fall, and the first sin of man: the date agrees, for the knowlege here taught is said to arise from facts as old as the first placing man on earth ?' The sudden punishment of the iniquity corresponds to the Mosaic account
- the triumphing of the wicked is short, his joy but for a moment. Above all, the nature of the crime and of the
punishment here described are strong presumptions on this side : Adam's ambition was to be like God, and he had the tempter's word to assure him he should be so : how aptly is this ambition described in the passage before us? • Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds :' that is, (as the Syriac and Arabic versions render the verse,) ' though in his pride he ascend up to heaven, yet shall he perish for ever.' Adam's punishment was death : 'to dust shalt thou return.' The punishment, as described in the book of Job, is," he shall perish for ever:' but how or in