Page images
PDF
EPUB

sprang up in connection with elegance and luxury. Various indications are given, among the fragmentary traditions relating to this period, of rebellion against God, and the profane assumption of divine names and titles: while it is asserted that idolatry arose, with all its evil influence, to shed its withering curse over the family of man. This is the root of all social and political evil. A rejection of God, an abandonment of his service, an idolatrous substitution of earthly or imaginary creatures on his throne, must, in the very nature of things, induce, in any age, or among any people, degradation and ruin.

In the present case, this was accompanied by other evils. Licentiousness prevailed : the moral dignity of woman was not respected. She was not sought as a help meet for man. Her loveliness and amiability, her angel power to support the distressed mind, and to minister blessings to man in every circumstance of life, as his partner, as the friend of his bosom, his wife--were all overlooked, and only served to raise and to fan a base and sensual desire. Under this malign influence, pride and power trampled on order and right, and ravished the daughters of men. Polygamy was introduced, and all its concomitant evils were realized.

This point is specially important, and marks in a peculiar manner the operation of the providentíal government of God. This irregular association of the sexes, however offensive to our moral / sensibilities, does not in itself appear likely to injure the physical or intellectual character of society, or in any way, directly, to affect the great elements of moral and social life. Yet, wherever it has prevailed, in ancient or in modern times, whether accompanied by the elegancies of refinement, or attended by labor and suffering, it has wrought ruin to the social system of mankind; and the result proves the vile practice to be an infraction of the divine law, even as plainly as it is declared to be by revealed truth itself. It was so in the period under consideration. The sensual desires of proud and lustful men outraged the purpose and the prescribed will of God, and, like deadly poison, poured in at the fountain-head of life, it ran through every social relation, affecting and perverting all that was elevated and honorable, until at length the world of mankind became entirely corrupt, and “every imagination of the thought of their heart was only evil continually."

In close association with this subject, another evil prevailed. Men, in the pride of their power, trampled at once both on the

rights of God and on the rights of man. Casting aside all subjection to his sovereignty, they arrogated to themselves profane titles, rejected his authority, and spake “hard speeches" against his laws; while, on the other hand, they subjected their weaker fellow-men to their will, and tyrannized over those whom they were bound to protect. Thus “the earth was filled with violence," and "the wickedness of man was great in the earth.”

We have not data sufficient to show to what an awful extent these several evils prevailed, any further than they are portrayed in the terrible result; in which they are dreadfully manifest. The anger of God was kindled; and a world, with all its elements of intellect and power, was buried in one common destruction.

13

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

CHAPTER IV.

THE RELIGION OF THE ANTEDILUVIANS.

Interest of the subject-DOCTRINES AND DUTIES BELIEVED AND PRACTICED BY THE

Pious PATRIARCHIS—Being and government of God-Fall and depravity of man -Promise of a Redeemer --Animal sacrifice-Case of Cain and Abel-Reality and perpetnity of a future state--Other doctrines-DivinE LAWS ACKNOWLEDGED-Substance of them-Law of the sabbath-Eating of animal food-Intellectual position and mental cultivation-Doctrine of redemption - Possible origin of idolatry-Enoch. We have already made some observations on the religious character and position of the first human pair ; but these have been almost entirely in relation to their primitive condition, the immediate consequences of their fall, or the circumstances connected with their expulsion from Eden. We may occasionally find it necessary to refer to these topics. But our principal object at present is to regard the first man as a fallen being, and the parent of a sinful race, which gradually multiplying on the earth, became at length so notorious for sin, and so incorrigible in wickedness, that they were all, with the exception of one single family, swept away from the face of the earth. This people stood in some spiritual relation to God: they were favored with religious privileges, and had received divine laws; they had been brought under the influence of the general economy of redeeming grace; some of them became eminently pious; while, notwithstanding the salutary influence of their example, the great bulk of the people sunk into universal depravity.

This subject must appear to every serious person deeply interesting and important. A thousand inquiries arise in the mind respecting these particulars, and others which they involve; and we feel anxious to investigate, in detail, all the circumstances and results connected with this first experimental application of redeeming mercy to sinful man.

Inviting and useful as the subject may appear, it is confessedly difficult and obscure. Our data of a strictly religious nature, directly connected with the antediluvian generations, are very limited; and our only means of obtaining the desired information is, to study them in the light which the entire revelation of divine truth affords. This we shall endeavor to do, comparing scripture with scripture, that we may, if possible, obtain a tolerably

[ocr errors]

accurate, if not a perfect and complete, understanding of the subject. In endeavoring to effect this purpose, it will not be possible for us to proceed consecutively with the Mosaic narrative: the reason already assigned will be sufficient to show that, if we confine ourselves to the statements found in the Book of Genesis, we cannot obtain an enlarged and sound view of the religion of the early inhabitants of the world.

We propose, therefore, in the first place, to ascertain, if possible, the character and extent of the religious knowledge possessed during the antediluvian period, hy an examination into the doctrines and duties generally received and believed by the religious patriarchs of that age.

We consider the entire period from the creation to the time of Moses to have been essentially one dispensation. We are aware that direct communications were made by God to Noah, Abraham, and perhaps to others also: the extent and importance of these we shall fully consider, when we come to treat of the times in which these distinguished men lived. But we do not think that the admission of this fact affects the general principle. We simply mean that, throughout this entire period, there were certain religious doctrines revealed by God to be believed by men, certain rites enjoined which stood essentially connected with the acceptable service of God, and certain laws commanded to which implicit obedience was required.

Many persons will be disposed altogether to reject, if not to treat with ridicule, the idea that the inhabitants of the world at this time were favored with a revelation of the divine will. This period is frequently, if not generally, regarded as a time when there was no law, a period prior to that in which it pleased God to make known to the children of men his revealed truth. Without going into any formal proof, we remind the reader that the period immediately under consideration (namely, from the creation to the deluge) extended over two thousand two hundred and sixtytwo years; that during a great portion of this time the world was very populous; that multitudes of people had in this era risen up into life, and passed away into eternity; and that the Lord invarial.ly acted with this people as if they were well acquainted with his will. He dealt with man in mercy and in judgment, manifesting his favor to the pious, and punishing the sin of the wicked. The transgression of Adam was visited, and the Lord arraigned the conduct of Cain. The mode of treatment adopted in these

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

cases clearly proves that each of the delinquents knew his duty, that both violated a well-known law. Now these cases, as well as those which exhibit the righteousness of Noah, the faith of Abraham, the holiness of Lot, or the general wickedness of the old world, and of the inhabitants of the cities of the plain, all attest that these people stood in some acknowledged relation to God: they knew something of his will, felt they were under some obligations to obey him, and must therefore have had some distinct ideas of what God required of them. This knowledge would refer either to religious doctrines, or to divine laws.

If these views be just, it will not only appear that the notion which supposes the first revelation of the divine will to have been made to mankind through Moses is incorrect, but that the common practice of regarding the early ages as ignorant of all religious truth, until it is specifically stated in the Bible, is unwarrantable. Under the influence of this last error, many writers have denied to the early patriarchs that divine knowledge which is alone compatible with the most remarkable events in history. It must indeed be admitted, that, if some of the most important religious doctrines were ever authoritatively revealed by God to mankind, the medium, and even the fact, of such revelations are not stated in Holy Scripture. This is the case with the doctrines of the immortality of the soul, of the existence of angels, and of the influence of the Holy Spirit: all these, and many others, are evidently alluded to, are constantly presupposed, and are even regarded as of most essential importance. Yet it cannot be said, that the sacred record contains any enunciation of these doctrines which can be regarded as a primitive revelation of them. It cannot be supposed that the notices and allusions which refer to these subjects in Holy Scripture are the media through which they were originally revealed. It therefore follows that the Holy Spirit in the beginning made mankind well acquainted with these divine truths; and when, through the prevalence of ungodliness and wickedness, they were in danger of being obliterated from the public mind, he, by renewed revelations, caused them to be committed to writing, in order to reassert their truth, and confirm and extend their influence in the world. The incidental manner in which some of the most important doctrines are mentioned in the early Scriptures, strongly supports this opinion. But the subject can only be satisfactorily discussed by referring to particulars.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »