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1. It appears evident that men from the beginning were acquainted with the being and government of God.
On this point it will not be necessary to give any formal or extended proof. If the Mosaic account of the first pair, and of their immediate descendants, be admitted, no doubt can be entertained that God had distinctly revealed himself to man as the Creator and Governor of this world, and especially of the human family. The law given to our first parents; the manner in which Jehovah entered into judgment with them; their doom, and the promise of a Redeemer; the acceptance of Abel's offering; the expostulation with Cain, and his punishment;—these give the most satisfactory evidence on this subject. And if this knowledge was then revealed, surely it would be perpetuated, at least for many generations. Hence, we find in the speech of Lamech a distinct recognition of this doctrine. The same is seen in the case of Enoch. The character of his life was not merely that of moral excellence we do not read of purity, or benevolence, or other virtues, although there can be no doubt that he possessed all these ; but they did not make up his character; this was formed by his free and uninterrupted communion with his heavenly Father: he walked with God, and the nature of his reward corresponded with the character of his life; for God took him. The history of Noah elucidates the same truth, and shows, in the most clear and convincing manner, that God did take cognizance of human actions, and that man was well acquainted with this truth. The information supplied by the New Testament places the subject beyond all doubt. St. Paul, when speaking of the religion of this very people, says, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Heb. xi, 6. And, in immediate connection with this declaration, he speaks of the faith of Abel, Enoch, and Noah; and asserts that they “died in faith,” showing that they believed not only in the being of God, but also in his gracious government of the world, and his merciful manifestation of blessing to those who “seek him.” And if these patriarchs were favored with this knowledge, there can be no reason for believing that their cotemporaries had not equal means of attaining it. They are not in Holy Scripture celebrated for their knowledge, but for their obedience and faith.
II. The fall and depravity of man were also known and believed
at this period.
A variety of circumstances concur to confirm us in this opinion. Adam himself must have been aware of the great change which sin had produced in his condition. He knew that he was created in the image of God, and had enjoyed, through holy intercourse with him in Paradise, the most perfect happiness; that he had forfeited the divine likeness, had been cut off from this happy intercourse, expelled from the garden, which was the scene of his primitive felicity, and cast out into a barren world, doomed to labor, sorrow, and death. Adam and his wife, we repeat, must have known all this, and also the change that had passed upon their moral nature. There is no reason for supposing that their thoughts or feelings were different from those experienced in analogous circumstances by their descendants. We now find that, if a person of exalted piety neglects his duty, cleaves to worldly pleasure, and falls into sin, he becomes painfully conscious of the height from which he has fallen, and of the depth of darkness into which he has plunged himself. Can it, then, be supposed that our first parents, who had fallen from a much higher state, could have been less conscious of the change which had passed over them? While the subjection of the woman, and the doom of the man, pronounced in awful judgment by Jehovah, were yet ringing in their ears, can it for a moment be imagined that they were unacquainted with the doctrine of the fall and of human depravity ?
It appears equally certain that they communicated this knowledge to their descendants. These, indeed, had before their eyes sufficient evidence of the fact. There stood the garden; but human feet trod not its soil. The cherubim, replete as their mission was with mercy, bore, nevertheless, unequivocal evidence to the sin of man. Their appearance attested the fact of the fall, and exhibited intelligible witness to the altered condition of humanity. And, even in the infancy of the world, the murder of Abel, and the punishment of Cain, must have given an awful support to these truths.
We find the same doctrines distinctly recognized in the address of Jehovah to Noah: “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Gen. vi, 5. This language shows the corrupt nature of man, and implies that his corruption was well known. The whole tenor of the communication proves that, at this particular period, this impure nature rose in universal
rebellion against every counteracting influence, until at length the Almighty declared, “ My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” verse 3; and the world was consigned to ruin.
What is here advanced may suffice to establish the fact, that, in the early patriarchal ages, mankind had a knowledge of the fall, and believed in the universal depravity of human nature.*
III. From the beginning men believed in a promised Redeemer, and offered animal sacrifices to typify the nature and efficacy of his death.
This is a most important particular, and demands serious attention; but it is one of considerable difficulty. We will take the two parts separately, and first endeavor to prove that they believed in a promised Redeemer.
The promise given by God to our great progenitors—that the Seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent-must be first considered. It may be admitted that this was intended to minister a measure of hope to the guilty pair, amid the pain and degradation to which they had subjected themselves: we can form no idea of any other purpose having been designed. It is, indeed, difficult to define with precision the extent to which Adam and Eve understood this promise. But, taken in connection with these circumstances, and regarded as a part of the great economy of grace, there can exist no reasonable doubt that God by these words intended to give to fallen man some knowledge of a Redeemer. It appears to us that, in joint reference to this purpose and this promise, Christ is termed “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." If this be admitted, (and we do not see how it can be rejected by any believer in the atonement) then it would seem that the woman might understand from these words that her Seed was to suffer some sorrow or pain from the power of the tempter, but that eventually this power should be broken by his instrumentality. As we cannot think that on such an occasion the divine Being would make an unintelligible or an unimportant communication, a sense fully equal to that just given appears to be necessarily implied in this original promise. Taking into account the previous condition of Adam and Eve, their intercourse with God and acquaintance with his will; and considering their knowledge of the tempter, his subtilty and power;
* Those who desire to see this subject more fully discussed, may consult Magee on the Atonement, vol. ii, p. 59; Holden on the Fall, pp. 300–306; Dr. Lee's Introduction to Job, pp. 58, 59; and Watson's Conversations, pp. 44-46.
they must have been led to form an exalted opinion of this promised Seed. He was to possess wisdom and strength sufficient to defeat all the machinations of that enemy who had succeeded in seducing man when in his best estate. He was to crush that evil energy that had, at this very moment, so completely triumphed over all human power. They must, therefore, even if not fully informed of the intended association of his divine nature with human flesh, or of all the glorious results of his mission, have looked forward, with strong faith and hope, to the interposition of this Redeemer. Hence, we find Eve, on the birth of her firstborn, exclaiming, “I have gotten a man the Lord,” or, “from the Lord,” Gen. iv, 1; as believing that the promised Seed was then given; or, which is, perhaps, after all, more probable, receiving this offspring of her body as a pledge of his future appearance, and as, at least, making a part of what had previously been a subject of faith matter of certainty. As much as this appears evident; while it is probable that other revelations, not recorded, would throw a stronger light upon the subject. The New-Testament illustrations of the faith of Abel, Enoch, and Noah, seem to intimate that those patriarchs possessed a much clearer knowledge of the promised Redeemer than anything we have ventured to record in the preceding observations.
We derive strong corroboration of the opinions advanced, from a general view of the doctrine of atonement. From the moment man became a sinner, he needed pardon; and in every age, however the external circumstances of the dispensations of grace may have varied, there has been no change in the great procuring cause of blessing to fallen man; this has always been the atonement of Christ. If, therefore, men received salvation, and walked in the beauty of holiness, they must, as they experienced redemption, have had some knowledge of a Redeemer. It is not our province to inquire to what extent final salvation may be granted to persons whose means of spiritual instruction have been limited, and whose religious attainments have been partial and not clearly defined. This does not apply to the case under consideration. It would be difficult to select, from the entire Bible, language descriptive of religious attainment more ex. plicit, or more extensive in its import, than that which applies to some antediluvian patriarchs; except, perhaps, in a few cases which are found in the noonday glory of apostolic times. This is an undoubted fact. These men had experience of practical
godliness, to an extent which has invested their character with everlasting honor even in the pages of revelation; and this is explicitly declared to have been attained through faith, which doubtless had the promised Redeemer for its object: yet, after all this, that it should now be questioned whether these men had any knowledge of this Redeemer, appears to us the most absurd and unreasonable doubt that was ever expressed. In such circumstances, the interrogation of the apostle comes with invincible force: “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” Rom. x, 14. If these facts, and the reasonings founded on them, are fairly considered, it will be admitted, that the antediluvian world received the promise of a Redeemer, and understood its import.
This opinion will be further confirmed by what we have now to offer in respect of the origin, nature, and object, of animal sacrifice.
This subject has been generally regarded as involving two questions—the appointment of sacrifice, and its typical relation to the sacrifice of Christ. In our remarks we shall blend these inquiries into one. If, in the early ages, the origin of animal sacrifice was merely an effort of the human mind, then its typical character seems placed entirely out of the question ; while, if it was divinely appointed, it seems almost impossible to doubt that from the beginning it sustained the same character with which it was unquestionably invested under the Mosaic institution.
This subject is one of great importance. It affects the whole character of patriarchal religion, and is, in fact, the centre of its entire
economy. We are anxious to proceed with great caution. The process must necessarily be one of induction. We have no explicit statement of the origin of sacrifice in Holy Scripture: we must, therefore, gather our information from admitted facts. We collect a few of the most prominent for our guidance.
1. In the full and perfect dispensation of the gospel, the great procuring cause of all blessing is set forth as a sacrifice—the sacrifice of Christ. He is the Lamb of God that beareth away the sin of the world. There is redemption; but it is “through his blood.” Eph. i, 7. There is pardon; but it is because “ He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John ii, 2. It is therefore evident, that the grand basis of the economy of grace is vicarious sacrifice. This is the distinguishing element of the religion of the New Testament.