« PreviousContinue »
The Excellence of the Mosaic Institutions.
Behold I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord
that ye should do so in the land whither
to posefs it. Keep therefore and do them. For this is ycur wisdom and understanding, in the fight of the nations which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so near unto them as the Lord your God is, in all things that ye call upon for; and what nation is there so great that hath statutes and judgments fo righteous, as all this law which I set before you this day?
Deut. iv. 5-8.
Having, in the two preceding discourses, given you a view of the religions of the ancient heathen nations, I shall now, by way of contrast, give you a similar view of that of
the Hebrews; and this it will be the easier to do, as the original records of it are extant in the writings of Moses, which were composed at the time of its institution ; so that there cannot be any difficulty in distinguishing the genuine principles of this religion from the corruptions and abuses of it. No other nation can give such an account of the origin of their religion. For it is not pretended that
any other has writings coeval with their institutions. All the accounts of them are traditional, and their traditions are derived from the most remote antiquity; so that much is necessarily left to conjecture with respect to them.
The superior excellence of the system of Hebrew religion and policy, for they had the fame source, and the most intimate connection, is strongly asserted by Moses in my text. On the other hand, Voltaire, followed by the generality of unbelievers, says, that " the
Jews were an ignorant and barbarous people, “ who have for a long time joined the basest “ avarice to the most detestable superstition.
They have done much hurt,” he says, " to themselves, and to the human race. This writer had, no doubt, read the books of
Mofes, and the other books of the Old Testament, for he frequently quotes them ; but many persons, without ever reading these books themselves, take for granted that what he says of them is true. But, my brethren, be persuaded to make use of your own eyes, and judge for yourselves. To assist you
in this, I shall, as briefly as possible, lay before you the most important particulars of which the institutions of Moses consist, and occasionally compare them with particulars of a fimilar nature in the systems of the heathens, which were cotemporary with them.
In order to throw the greater odium on the Hebrew nation, Voltaire says, “ they “ were ignorant and barbarous, that they “ were never famous for any art, they never
were natural philosophers, geometricians, 66 or astronomers.” Admitting this to be the case, if there be any wisdom or superior excellence in their religious or political institutions, it will be the more probable that they had some other source than any
knowledge of their own. But I do not desire to take any advantage of this circumstance.
It is not true that, in ancient times, the Hebrews were much, if at all, inferior to other nations with respect to the arts. In the art of war, which, even in the
of Moses, comprised, many other arts, it will hardly be denied that the Hebrews, if there was nothing miraculous in their history, must have excelled. For, to say nothing of their emancipating themselves from the yoke of the Egyptians, then the most warlike people in the world, when they were wholly unprovided for the contest, they completely expelled the inhabitants of Canaan, ten times more numerous than themselves, who had horses and chariots of iron, and whose cities are said to have been fenced up to heaven, when they only fought on foot. The whole land of Canaan was of no great extent, and yet David conquered, and held in subjection, all the neighbouring nations; and it is probable that they continued tributary to the Ifraelites all the reign of Solomon. There are few nations in all antiquity that can boast of two such princes as David and Solomon, with all their faults.
The construction of the tabernacle in the time of Moses, and of the temple in the time of Solomon, shows that there were ingenious artists among them, as well as in other coun
tries; and the knowledge that any people in these early ages had of real science, that is, of the laws of nature, and the application of that knowledge to any useful purpose, was very inconsiderable. Knowledge of this kind would have prevented that miserable superstition in which, as I have shewn, the ancient heathen religion conGfted.
As to what is properly called literature, or the art of writing, and composing books, no ancient nation can pretend to vie with the Hebrews. We have no account of so old as those of Moses; and though there is not in them the least appearance of art, or studied composition, they are written with that engaging simplicity, which has not yet been exceeded by any writings whatever. The pathos in the address of Moses to his nation, in the book of Deuteronomy, written just before his death, is inimitable. It is not possible to read it, if I may judge of the feelings of other persons by my own, without the strongest emotions. The incidents in the history of Joseph were not the invention of Mofes ; but they have lost nothing in going through his hands.
There is not, in all antiquity, so affecting a narrative.