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three dispensations, I say, are of divine origin, they must have some mutual connection; for otherwise, with reverence be it spoken, the counsels of God would more resemble an unsightly piece of patch-work, than a single grand and harmonious scheme gradually developing itself from period to period and thus by its strict coherence approving itself worthy of infinite wisdom.
It may easily be perceived, even by the most superficial observer, that one and the same extraordinary and mysterious personage is alike the hero, if I may so speak, of all the three dispensations. He is conspicuously introduced, at the very commencement of the first: he is pointed out, both by Moses himself, and again with gradually increasing clearness by his successors in the prophetic office, under the second: and he constitutes at once, the perpetual theme, and the indispensably necessary key-stone, of the third. From the ancient prophecies, the Jews firmly expected, as they still expect, his visible manifestation under the name, which Daniel's prophecy has rendered specially familiar: and, by the synonymous Greek appellation of the Christ, the whole civilized world of these latter ages revere, as already come in the flesh, the Messiah of the Hebrews.
Such being the case, as we might anticipate from mere abstract fitness that three divine dispensations must be connected with each other; so we may now be perfectly sure, that the mode, in which they are thus connected, is by their mutual and general relation to that common object, who is alike,
though with different degrees of clearness, the Sun of each succeeding system.
IV. The drift then of all the three dispensations is the very same.
A single purpose is uniformly pursued through the whole succession. Some diversity in the use of means may be observed, according to the diversity of the three periods allotted to the three dispensations but, as the same end is kept steadily in view through them all, this diversity, so far from being any impeachment of the divine wisdom, is in fact its strongest demonstration. The means are uniformly suited to the period. But the same means are not adapted to every period alike. Hence, the change of means, which under a different name is the same thing as the abrogation of one dispensation in favour of another, destined to succeed it, argues neither mutability nor defect of wisdom in the supreme moral governor. Even among ourselves, the regulation of the same people by widely different laws at different periods, instead of being deemed a mark of vacillating imbecility, is felt and acknowledged to be the true line of political sagacity: and that man would be esteemed but a shallow legislator, who should attempt to moderate an infant and semi-barbarous race by a code of statutes adapted only to a country in a high state of civilization, and who should vindicate to himself the approving suffrage of posterity on the avowed plea that his laws, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, tolerated no alteration. After the lapse of a full ·
century, spent under a succession of princes for the most part singularly wise and prudent, Russia were ill administered by the common law of England; not however from any want of intrinsic excellency in that law, but because it is not fitted for the present condition of the half-tamed Muscovite. Yet, when years shall have rolled over years, and when the Herculean childhood of that vast empire shall be succeeded by the universally dif fused knowledge of its political manhood; the code of a race of full-grown men, who require not the checks and restraints of boyhood, may then be found adapted to its altered wants and necessities. If such then be our own acknowledged principles of wise legislation; why should we think it strange or incongruous, that the blessing of the promised Messiah should be gradually and variously unfolded under three successive dispensations? Why should we feel any surprize, when we behold the ordinances of God abrogated by himself? Why should we fondly imagine, that any single dispensation of his, merely because it is a divine dispensation, should be destined for cternity? Since he has been pleased to adopt the plan of successive dispensations, we cannot à priori confidently pronounce any dispensation to be the last. We must receive the ultimate dispensation's absolute testimony to its own perpetuity, and we must have it shewn to us that this testimony corresponds with the testimony of its predecessors; ere we can peremptorily determine, that the really consummating dispensation is the ultimate.
Now the Christian dispensation bears this precise testimony of itself: and its testimony is checked, as it were, by the concurring testimony both of the Patriarchal and of the Levitical dispensation. Hence we look not out for any new revelation of God's will; though we are taught to expect, in what is usually called the millennian state, that the Gospel will flourish, both with greater personal holiness on the part of Christians and to a wider extent in point of its territorial reception, than it has ever yet been our fate to witness. And hence the Mohammedan deception stands self-convicted of imposture, even on its own avowed principles: for it recognizes the divinity of all the three dispensations, each of which declares that the Christian will be the last; and yet impudently claims to be a still more perfect dispensation, predetermined in the counsels of God to supersede the Christian.
V. As the drift and object of all the three dispensations is the same, however diversified may be the modes of their administration; it will be proper to state, what that drift is, and under what aspect that object is with more or less distinctness set before us.
1. Man was at first created pure and upright; but he was endowed with a freedom of will, which rendered him capable of falling. A positive commandment, in itself insignificant, but rendered of infinite importance as being the test of man's obedience, was proposed to our first parents as the trial of their virtue. This commandment they
transgressed and the very circumstance, of the matter which it respected being so trivial, enhanced, rather than extenuated, the guilt of transgression.
Had they been required to do some great matter, or had they been enjoined to undergo some tedious and painful task of self-denial, as a test of their obedient devotedness to God; there had been some excuse for their failure: but, when, in the midst of a beautiful garden, surrounded by every object pleasing to the eye or grateful to the taste, they were commanded to shew their fealty by the trifling homage of abstinence from a single particular tree; the breach of such an injunction was plainly aggravated by the mere circumstance of its lightness, for to violate it might well seem to be. violation for the sole pleasure of violation. Most idly therefore do those talk, and most ignorant do. they shew themselves of the principles of all rational and acceptable obedience, who cavil at the divine authority of the Pentateuch, on the ground that death and alienation from God should be made the penalty of merely eating an apple. In the bare act of eating any particular fruit, there was doubtless no moral turpitude: but the sin of Adam did not consist in the naked abstract deed of tasting the production of a tree. Had there been no prohibition, the deed would have been as harmless as the eating any other fruit: but, as a prohibition with its annexed penalty had been solemnly and explicitly set forth, the tasting of the forbidden apple became a complex deed, in