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uniform observance of all those differences between good and evil, just and unjust, honest and base, which are essential to things that are the objects of human power. On these foundations must every religious institution be built ;- from these roots it must spring and shoot up, that it may flourish, and yield its proper fruits. Laws, dispensations, and sacred institutions, are only secondary or subservient to natural religion ;--they may assist, but they cannot contradict it ;—they may extend its influence, but they cannot restrain or overthrow it.
Mankind are divided into different nations or communities, each of which has had dispositions, tempers, customs, and languages, peculiar to themselves, and distinct from the others :—and according to these circumstances, the institutions of religion in the world have been varied and diversified. The wisdom of God carries on the scheme of providence, and conducts it, in the best and most beneficial manner, adapting the forms and outward appendages of religion to times and seasons, and to the orderly government of the world. But all the forms enforced by his authority are inwardly and fundamentally the same,-partaking, in greater or less degrees, of the same divine energy and the same vital principle, without which all that is really good and exalting must quickly droop and decay.
The religion of nature was implanted in the human species from their first creation. It was a law written in the hearts of men,- their inward consciences suggesting rules of action and proper methods of behaviour, sufficient in themselves to make men happy, and to train them up to perfection. This was the religion of Abel, to whom Christ himself has given the title of “righteous,” (Matt. xxii. 35.) This was the lively faith that raised Enoch from the earth, and that was the qualification of his removal to heaven. This preserved Noah in the universal deluge, and enabled him to survive the ruins of the world. This made Abraham and the patriarchs acceptable to God; and for two thousand years, from the creation of the world to the time of Moses, it was the only method of pleasing him, and of obtaining his favour, so as to ensure the happiness of individuals, and to give them hopes of heaven.
The particular discoveries, which God was pleased to make of himself in this portion of time, were not so much revelations, as promises and prophetical. presages of some that were approaching. To Adam, after the Fall, the promise was made, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. To Noah, one positive command was given,—which was, to abstain from blood as an article of food. To Abraham, a more explicit revelation was made than any that had been before ; for he was informed, by divine communication, that “in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed.” His grandson Jacob was enabled to prophesy by inspiration, when he delivered his dying charge to his twelve sons ; and he, accordingly, foretold, in speaking particu
larly of the future fortunes of his son Judah, that “the sceptre should not depart from Judah, till Shiloh came."
About four hundred and thirty years after the promise of blessings to his posterity had been made to Abraham, all of his lineal descendents were in a state of bondage in Egypt ;-when Moses was commissioned by the Almighty to deliver them from that oppressive yoke. The great object of this deliverance was to separate them from the rest of the world, who were, at that time, sunk in idolatry and superstition, and to give them, accordingly, a law of such a nature as to keep them firm in their allegiance and duty to God. He always addressed them in the name of God, by whose authority alone he represented himself as acting ;-and he proved the reality of his mission, by such miracles as could not be disputed. He was a person of a meek and quiet temper, diffident of himself and of his own abilities, --cautious in all his proceedings,-not excited by ambition, or zeal, or the thirst of renown, but acting entirely in resignation to the will of God. He communicated to his countrymen the Israelites the message he received from the Almighty; and he delivered to Pharaoh the commands which had also been dictated to him from heaven. The children of Israel were, at length, by his guidance, brought safe into the desert ; where after a conference with God, he brought them their law, digested into two Tables, the work of Divinity itself. This, an infidel might say, was the policy of an ambitious man, to obtain an influence over vulgar minds. Visits from heaven have been the common pretensions of such men as were desirous of gaining authority and respect for their own inventions. But this cavil does not apply to the case of Moses, who, as was observed before, was not a bold, a sanguine, and an ambitious person. He merely obeyed the commands of God ;--and he wrought incontestable miracles to verify his divine mission,—which were such proofs as an impostor could never have exhibited. It may, however, be urged, that his Egyptian opponents also wrought miracles by sorcery and magic. But this proves plainly that his miracles were not performed by the same means. For as Moses and the magicians, being in opposition to each other, could not have acted by the same means, it follows, that as they must have been assisted by evil demons, he must have been assisted by God himself ; unless, indeed, it be said that Moses too was favoured by those evil beings ;--which is dividing a house against itself, and is the most effectual way to ruin and subvert it. Besides it must be recollected that Moses afterwards denounced immediate death upon every one who was convicted of such wicked practices.
When he had safely conducted the Israelites to Mount Sinai, by the powerful and outstretched arm of the Almighty, the Ten Commandments were published there, in all the pomp of terror and majesty. The angelic trumpets sounded,--the lightnings darted abroad, and the thunders roared !--the mountain
smoked, while its summit was wrapped in clouds and thick darkness. The intention of all this was to impress upon the Israelites an awful sense of the Divine Power ; and to make them adhere steadfastly to his commandments, from the dread of offending him and of incurring his displeasure. These Ten Commandments were the principal part of the Jewish law; and all of them have their foundation in the law of nature, in the duties which men owe to God and to each other. 6. These words God spoke ;-and he added no more.” (Deut. v. 22.) That we should love the Lord our God with all the powers and affections of our minds, and that we should love our brethren with the same sincerity that we love ourselves, are declared, by our blessed Saviour himself, to be the two great precepts of the law, and the very hinge and support of all that the law enjoined, or that the Prophets afterwards taught. And it is supposed by some writers, and not altogether without reason, that Moses intended to have left them no larger a rule of practice than is contained in those Commandments, till he discovered by the speedy revolt of that rebellious people, in making the golden calf, that severer injunctions than those of mere morality were necessary to confine them strictly to the worship of the One True God.
This opinion is very much countenanced by the words of the Almighty in the 7th chap. of Jeremiah, ver. 22; where he says, “I spake not unto your fathers nor commanded them, in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt,