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LAWS OF THE JEWS, AND THEIR SANCTIONS.
The laws of the Jews are of three kinds, the Moral, Ceremonial, and Judical; and they claim our attention on account of their intrinsic worth, great antiquity, and divine authority. Let us then attend to them in succession.
The Moral Law.
Clearly revealed to our first parents; became obscured through the prevalence
of sin ; was promulgated anew from Mount Sinai. THE Moral law is contained in the ten commandments, which are a summary of that law of nature which was written originally on the heart of our first parents. It was then clear and distinct, and capable of being observed by them had they remained in their state of innocence. But their apostacy obscured it, and it became less and less legible in the hearts and lives of their posterity; till, at the flood, all flesh had corrupted their way, and the imaginations of their hearts were only evil continually. It was then that God appeared in a visible manner to punish the universal depravity, and place the subsequent generations of men in more favourable circumstances. · He saw that the rays of knowledge had diverged so much, and become so faint, that they were incapable of guiding men in the way of duty. The light of prophecy, indeed, had been gathering strength
among the few who were favoured of the Lord; but the light of the moral law had become completely darkened among the multitude, through the ignorance and corruption that were in them. Their fate was therefore fixed. An universal deluge destroyed those who were too wicked to reform : and from Noah and his family, as from a new centre, proceeded the generations of men, the chain of prophecy, and the republication of religion. But Noah and his family stood in very different circumstances from our first progenitor. He himself was indeed perfect in his generations, and set a comparatively perfect example of piety to the generations before and after the flood, but it was neither as the federal head of his posterity, nor free from glaring inconsistency. He, who had been firm as a rock in the midst of a corrupt and degenerate age, fell in solitude, and was guilty both of drunkenness and incest; and his family but too soon showe the revival of those vices which had been fatal to the antediluvians. We need not trace minutely the progress of iniquity between the times of Noah and the giving of the law; but every one, in the least conversant with the subject, will be ready to acknowledge that, whatever progress the nations made in science and the arts, they made none in religion and morals. Having left the sublime doctrine of the Unity of God, they created to themselves numberless local deities. The light of revelation accordingly became again obscured: and, though the chain of prophecy had acquired strength by new revelations after the flood, which served to confirm the faith of the pious, the duties that mankind owed to God and their neighbour were generally neglected. Insomuch, that when the Israelites left Egypt, the state before the flood had nearly returned ; darkness had covered the earth, and gross darkness the people, so that it became the divine Majesty to appear and show that there was a God who ruled in the earth. Hence those signs which he performed in Egypt, and mighty works in the field of Zoan, where he vanquished the pretended deities of the heathen; brought his people from thence with a strong hand and outstretched arm; led them triumphantly by a pillar of fire and of cloud; divided the Red Sea; completely discomfited their enemies, and carried them into the wilderness to receive a new system of instruction, and place them as a lamp to give light to the nations. There God appeared in a visible manner; delivered in awful majesty, and with an audible voice, from the top of Mount Sinai, the ten commandments; wrote them with his own finger on two tables of stone," and ordered them to be kept as a sacred deposit. Thus was God pleased to give to man a more sure directory for duty than that of tradition, which, at best, was uncertain, even when aided by the general longevity of the patriarchs, and visible appearances of the divine Majesty; and was then become doubly so, by the contracted limits of human life. On the written word, therefore, were they called to depend; to the law and the testimony were they bound to resort. It is needless to dwell on the meaning of the different precepts in the decalogue, since they are generally known; but we ought to notice the very great importance in which these precepts were held by Jehovah, since they were selected by him, and delivered in so public and solemn a manner. Indeed, when rightly explained, in connection with the principles from which they proceed, they are a summary of every religious and moral duty. Nor should it be forgotten, that they are universally and perpetually binding; for, although our Saviour came to abolish the ceremonial and judicial laws, he came to confirm and fulfil that which is moral.
a Orpheus seems to have heard of these; for, in the first of the Fragmenta ascribed to him, and entitled nego Ossy, he calls them ditt navode ser pov, v. 33, 34. 2 1 Peter ii. 2. Rom. xii. 1,
The Ceremonial Law.
1st. Taught the Jews the leading doctrines of religion in a sensible and impres
sive manner. 2d. Served to preserve them from idolatry-by removing that ignorance of God which introduced it-by giving them a full and perfect ritual of their own—by appointing certain marks to distinguish them from idolators-by restricting most of their rites to particular places, persons, and times—by prohibiting too familiar an intercourse with the heathen nations—and by the positive prohibition of every idolatrous rite. Here the singular laws of the Jews explained, such as sacrificing to devils, making the children pass through the fire to Moloch, using divination, observing times, eating with, or at the blood, seething a kid in its mother's milk, rounding the corners of their heads, and marring the corners of their beards, making cuttings in their iesh for the dead, confounding the distinctive dresses of the sexes, sowing their fields with divers seeds, plowing with an ox and an ass together, allowing cattle of different kinds to gender, using garments of linen and woollen, condemning eunuchism, bringing the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, to the house of the Lord. 3d, The ceremonial law served to prepare their minds for a brighter dispensation. Reasons assigned for its comparative obscurity. The gradual abolition of the ceremonial law.
Some writers on Jewish antiquities have thought that the ceremonial laws were merely arbitrary, and that the reasons of them were only to be sought for in the will of God, which he has not chosen to reveal; making them thereby to differ essentially from the Christian institutions, which are said to be hoyixov yana, rational milk, and hoyixov harpela, a rational service. But this is surely derogatory to the character of God, and hurtful to that obedience which he required. A more natural reason is therefore to be found in our ignorance of history, and of the relations that existed between the Jews and the neighbouring nations; nor should we overlook the natural language in which laws are expressed, which is authoritative and absolute, in order to give them the greater weight, and prevent those cavils which might be raised against the reasons assigned by the lawgiver. Yet, the study of the ceremonial law is pleasant, both on account of its very great antiquity, its frequent reference to the laws of neighbouring nations, its suitableness to the state of the Jews to whom it was given, and its utility in explaining many parts of the old Testament, and showing us the liberty wherewith Christ has made his people free. Let us attend therefore to it particularly, and see what the intention of Jehovah was in giving it to the Jews.
There are three ends which it evidently served. It taught the leading doctrines of religion in a sensible and impressive manner : it served as a defence against idolatry; and prepared their minds for a brighter dispensation.
It was said, in the first place, that the ceremonial law taught the Jews the leading doctrines of religion in a sensible and impressive manner. Thus, it taught the unity of God by having only one presence; one most holy place as the seat of that presence; one altar at which all the priests were to minister, and all the sacrifices to be offered ;* and only one tabernacle and temple consecrated to that one Jehovah, the creator of all things, of what power or dignity soever they were conceived to be.—And, as it taught the unity of God, so it also taught the doctrine of a general providence. The throne in the tabernacle and temple was only the figure of his throne in the heavens; and the daily sacrifices, the burnt offerings appointed for the sabbaths every week, for the new moons every month, and for the feast
a Lev. xvij. 1-9.