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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 36". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ numbers-36.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 36". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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THE LAW FOR THE MARRIAGE OF HEIRESSES
Let us notice—
I. The case stated.
“And the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead, the son of Machir,” &c. (Numbers 36:1-4). The daughters of Zelophehad were heiresses, according to the law stated in Numbers 27:1-11 (see pp. 509, 510). There was a probability of their marriage, and it might have been to persons of some of the other tribes. (a) And, as Matthew Henry points out, it is probable that the heads of the tribe of Manasseh knew, that “at this time, great court was made to them by some young gentlemen of other tribes, because they were heiresses, that they might get footing in this tribe, and so enlarge their own inheritance. This truly is often aimed at more than it should be in making marriages, not the meetness of the person, but the convenience of the estate, to ‘lay house to house and field to field.’ ‘Wisdom indeed is good with an inheritance;’ but what is an inheritance good for in that relation without wisdom? But here, we may presume, the personal merit of these daughters recommended them as well as their fortunes.” But if they married to persons of another tribe, their inheritance would pass away from the tribe of Manasseh to the tribe or tribes to which their husbands belonged. It was in order to guard against this that the heads of the fathers’ houses of the family of Gilead the Manassite appealed unto Moses. In so doing they were actuated, not by selfish concern for their personal interests. Their respective inheritances would not be diminished by the marriage of these heiresses. But they urged that, if they married to persons of any of the other tribes,—
(1) The Divine allotment of the land would be invaded. “They said, The Lord commanded my lord to give the land for an inheritance by lot to the children of Israel,” &c.
(2) The territory of the half-tribe of Manasseh would be diminished. “If they be married to any of the sons of the other tribes,” &c. (Numbers 36:3-4). In this way the wealth and importance and power of the half-tribe would be lessened.
These proceedings of the heads of this family were orderly, respectful, reasonable, and commendable.
II. The case adjudicated.
“And Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of the Lord,” &c. (Numbers 36:5-9).
1. The righteousness of the case was acknowledged. “The tribe of the sons of Joseph hath said well.” The conduct of the elders was commended, &c.
2. The difficulty of the case was removed. The law by which the difficulty was removed comprised two simple clauses:—
(1) That the daughters of Zelophehad were not to be coerced in marriage. “This is the thing which the Lord doth command concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, Let them marry to whom they think best.” “Now if God left them to their liking,” asks Bishop Babington, “should men force their children against all love and liking? No, no, it is a sin, and not a small one, bitter to the child all the days of life, and not very sweet to the parents after they see the fruits of their violence. Let children dutifully regard parents, and parents charitably and religiously regard their children, who will beg with better will where they like than live without love in world’s abundance. We have known too often the child cry, the father cry, and the mother die for this fault, when it was too late.” (b)
(2) That the daughters of Zelophehad were to marry persons of their own tribe. “Only to the family of the tribe of their fathers shall they marry. So shall not the inheritance,” &c. Thus, while the former provision secured to them freedom in their marriages, this provision, by restricting the extent of their choice, secured their inheritance to the tribe of Manasseh.
3. The decision in this case was made the law for all similar cases “And every daughter that possesseth an inheritance in any tribe,” &c. (Numbers 36:8-9).
4. The decision of this case was of Divine authority. “Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of the Lord, saying, … This is the thing which the Lord doth command,” &c. Hence the decision was binding both in the case which gave rise to it, and in all similar cases in subsequent times.
III. The adjudication acted upon.
“Even as the Lord commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad,” &c. (Numbers 36:10-12). “They married their fathers’ brothers’ sons. By this it appears,” says Matthew Henry,—
1. That the marriage of cousin-germans is not in itself unlawful, nor within the degrees prohibited, for then God would not have countenanced these marriages. But,
2. That ordinarily it is not advisable; for, if there had not been a particular reason for it (which cannot hold in any case now, inheritances being not disposed of as then by the special designation of Heaven), they would not have married such near relations. The world is wide, and he that walks uprightly will endeavour to walk surely.”
(a) Marriage has in it less of beauty, but more of safety, than the single life; it hath not more ease, but less danger; it is more merry and more sad; it is fuller of sorrows and fuller of joys; it lies under more burdens, but is supported by all the strengths of love and charity; and these burdens are delightful. Marriage is the mother of the world, and preserves kingdoms, and fills cities and churches, and heaven itself. Celibacy, like the fly in the heart of an apple, dwells in perpetual sweetness, but sits alone, and is confined, and dies in singularity; but marriage, like the useful bee, builds a house, and gathers sweetness from every flower, and labours and unites into societies and republics, and sends one colonies, and feeds the world with delicacies, and obeys their king, and keeps order, and exercises many virtues, and 618 promotes the interest of mankind, and is that state of good to which God hath designed the present constitution of the world.—Jeremy Taylor.
(b) The marriage life is always an insipid, a vexatious, or a happy condition. The first is, when two people of no genius or taste for themselves meet together, upon such a settlement as has been thought reasonable by parents and conveyancers, from an exact valuation of the land and cash of both parties. In this case, the young lady’s person is no more regarded than the house and improvements in purchase of an estate; but she goes with her fortune, rather than her fortune with her. These make up the crowd or vulgar of the rich, and fill up the lumber of the human race, without beneficence towards those below them, or respect towards those above them.
The vexatious life arises from a conjunction of two people of quick taste and resentment put together for reasons well known to their friends, in which especial care is taken to avoid (what they think the chief of evils) poverty, and insure to them riches, with every evil besides. These good people live in a constant constraint before company, and too great familiarity alone. When they are within observation, they fret at each other’s carriage and behaviour; when alone, they revile each other’s person and conduct. In company, they are in purgatory; when only together, in a hell.
The happy marriage is where two persons meet and voluntarily make choice of each other, without principally regarding or neglecting the circumstances of fortune or beauty. These may still love in spite of adversity or sickness: the former we may, in some measure, defend ourselves from; the other is the portion of our very make.—Sir R. Steele.
We may notice briefly, by way of introduction,—
i. That marriage is a Divine institution. It was ordained by God (Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:18-24; 1 Corinthians 11:9). It was solemnly confirmed by our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 19:3-12), and by His Apostles (1 Corinthians 7:2; Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7).
ii. That the obligations involved in marriage are binding and sacred. Marriage itself is not obligatory. There are circumstances in which celibacy is undoubtedly commendable (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:8). But when the marriage relation has been entered into, obligations of the most tender and sacred character have been incurred. These obligations are not simply those imposed by the civil authority, but those which pertain to it as an ordinance of God: Divine in its origin, it is Divine also in its obligations (Genesis 2:18; Genesis 2:24; Malachi 2:14-16; Matthew 19:4-6; Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7).
But, to confine ourselves to the text, two observations are here warranted on marriage in general:—
I. That persons should not be coerced in marriage.
“This is the thing which the Lord doth command … saying, Let them marry to whom they think best.” Here we have—
1. Personal choice as opposed to compulsion. Parents “who force their daughters into marriage,” said Lord Rochester, “are worse than the Ammonites, who sacrificed their children to Moloch—the latter undergoing a speedy death; the former suffering years of torture, but too frequently leading to the same result.”
“For marriage is a matter of more worth
Than to be dealt in by attorneyship;
For what is wedlock forcèd but a hell,
An age of discord and continual strife?
Whereas the contrary bringeth forth happiness,
And is a pattern of celestial bliss.”—Shakespeare.
Moreover, such coercion is a sad degradation of marriage; a grievous wrong to the persons coerced; and a heinous sin against God. But further, it seems to us that the text suggests that marriage should be entered into from—
2. Personal affection as opposed to mere convenience. In the clause now under consideration, it is the person, not the property, which is spoken of. “Let them marry to whom they think best.” Marriage is far too sacred a thing to be treated as a matter of mere convenience and arrangement. “I regard a man and a woman that come together in the marriage state as coming together in the most sacred of all possible conjunctions before God.” And to enter into this union without pure and strong affection, is an injury to the person married, and, as we said of marriage by coercion, a degradation of marriage itself, and a sin against God. (a)
II. That there are important considerations which should regulate the choice in respect to marriage.
One such consideration is mentioned in the text. The daughters of Zelophehad must marry whom they liked best; but they were not to marry any one of another tribe; for if they did so they would injure their own tribe by diminishing its Divinely allotted territory. “Only to the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry.” The inference is a just one, that while persons are to be free in their marriage, they are not to be rash or thoughtless; they should not overlook either their own true interests or the interests of others. (b) In the marriage choice, due weight should be given to considerations—
1. As to property. By this we do not mean that in marriage, money or other possessions should be a primary consideration, or that persons should not marry until they are in “well to-do” or easy circumstances. (c) But in marriage persons should pay due attention to the temporal interests of themselves and their families. No one is at liberty to injure by his marriage the interests of his family or of others. On this point the teaching of our text is indisputable.
2. As to consanguinity. In the Bible marriage is prohibited between “any that are near of kin” (Leviticus 18:1-18), with the exception of first cousins; and marriage between them as a rule is not desirable. (d)
3. As to health. Persons having within them the seeds of hereditary disease, should think long and deeply and unselfishly before they determine to enter the marriage state. It is an awful thing for any one to transmit disease to the next generation in his own children.
4. As to suitability. This applies to age, to tastes, to tempers, to station, to pursuits. In innumerable instances where there has been no open disagreement, no bitterness or strife, lives have been impoverished, disappointed, and beclouded by unsuitable marriages. (e)
5. As to character. The rule for Christians is expressly laid down by St. Paul: “She is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). And expositors, both ancient and modern, are almost universally agreed that the expression “only in the Lord,” means, “within the limits of Christian connexion.… let her marry a Christian” (Alford) And Barnes: “That is, only to one who is a Christian; with a proper sense of her obligations to Christ, and so as to promote His glory.” Many and weighty reasons may be adduced to enforce this. We mention only two—
(1) In marriages in which this rule is violated, the deepest and holiest aspects of the relationship are unrealised; because in such unions there can be no mutual sympathy on those subjects which are most important and most precious to the heart of the Christian.
(2) Such unions involve the most serious peril to the Christian character. (f)
Consider well the ancient inquiry, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” And let Christians “marry to whom they will; only in the Lord.”
(a) How thoroughly unprincipled are frequently the inducements to this connexion. I denounce every marriage as unprincipled that is not based on mutual esteem and love—every marriage that is not a bona-fide union of hearts. When such a connection is entered into for the sake of external symmetry and beauty merely, the selection being made solely by the eye, which sees no more, and looks for no more, than the well-proportioned form or “the blooming tincture of the skin,” without regard to the qualities of the mind and heart, “the spirit of the union” is, in such cases, a false fire, without the hallowed purity and warmth of genuine heart love: and it is many a chance to one that it speedily cools down even to extinction, leaving only the cold, heartless, lifeless form, without a spark of the living and glowing fire—the spirit, the soul, of connubial love and joy. What, indeed, could be left remaining of that which never had any real existence? And money! money! money! what shall I say of that vilest of degradations and abuses, by which the most sacred, intimate, tender, and indissoluble of earth’s relations, one which ought to be cemented and secured by the very finest and most delicate sensibilities and most inviolably honourable sentiments and feelings of the heart, is reduced to a base and sordid summing up of cash columns and bank interest, or a problem in land measuring and farm stock. “The love of money” (not money, observe, but the love of money) is said, by the highest authority, to be “the root of all evil”; and of the many evils that have sprung from this productive root, the one I am now noticing is assuredly none of the least. A money marriage is a marriage in form only; recognised indeed in human courts, but hardly owned as legitimate in the court of heaven. It is a mere mercantile bargain, a trading co-partnery, a union of purses (and hardly even that, for purses are kept with great jealousy where money is the object, and that object is to get a purse rather than to give one—the eager and covetous aspirant having often none to give), and not at all a union of affections. Now, if men and women will be thus unprincipled, as well as foolish, in forming the connection, is it wonderful that they should find but little happiness in it? Would not the greater wonder be that they found any at all?—Ralph Wardlaw, D.D.
(b) With what hasty, light, foolish inconsideration do men and women jump at random into a connection that is to last for life, and of necessity most intimately and most unceasingly to affect the happiness of all their future days. How often is this done as if it were a mere holiday frolic, which could be broken off at will, as soon as they get tired of it! They hope they are to be happy. They have no doubt of it. But the reason of their having no doubt is their never having bestowed a single reflection on the grounds that exist for the hope. Had they done so, they might have found them much more scanty than those for fear. But it is a wedding, and that is enough. They have got married. The charm is in the word. As to congeniality of sentiment, and feeling, and desires, and habits, and pursuits, with all else that comes amongst the likelihoods of social harmony and happiness, such things have never entered into the calculation. Indeed there has been nothing of calculation or forethought in the matter. And is it to be wondered at, then, that they who thus wed in haste should repent at leisure?—Ibid.
(c) I do not believe any man was ever happier than when, having married early (and early marriages are usually virtuous marriages), and married for love, he and his companion went down into life together, and every day was a day of engineering to fit their means to their necessities, in their single slenderly furnished room, where they conferred together how to put scrap with scrap, and eke out pittance with pittance, and everything was calculated by pennies. How often, in later life, when people become rich, do the husband and wife look at each other and say, “After all, my dear, we never shall be happier than when we first started out together.” Thank God, a man does not need to be very rich to be very happy, only so that he has a treasure in himself. A loving heart, a genuine sympathy, a pure, unadulterated taste, a life that is not scorched by dissipation or wasted by untimely hours, a good sound body, and a clear conscience—these things ought to make a man happy.—H. W. Beecher.
(d) The use of such expressions (as, “near of kin,” Heb. “flesh of his flesh,” Leviticus 18:6), undoubtedly contains an appeal to the horror naturalis, or that repugnance with which man instinctively shrinks from matrimonial union with one with whom he is connected by the closest ties both of blood and of family affection. On this subject we need say no more than that there is a difference in kind between the affection that binds the members of a family together, and that which lies at the bottom of the matrimonial bond, and that the amalgamation of these affections cannot take place without a serious shock to one or the other of the two; hence the desirability of drawing a distinct line between the provinces of each, by stating definitely where the matrimonial affection may legitimately take root.—W. L. Bevan, M.A., in Bibl. Dict.
(e) In this great whirligig of the world, there is nothing stranger than the mating and mismating of men and women. There is no question that is more insoluble, and more often asked, than this, “What on earth ever tempted that woman to marry that man?” You cannot answer it, I cannot, and she cannot. There is but one other question like it, and that is, “What on earth tempted that man to marry such a woman?” He cannot tell, and she cannot, and nobody can. So it is, and so it will be, all the time, here and there, and everywhere. And, while there are some who, disappointed, rebound and break away into immoralities, or into an indifference which is an immorality in the realm of love, there are others of a greater soul, who give their whole life to fidelities in their relation. They know that they do not love. They know that there is that in them which is capable of development, but which they have never known. There are prophecies in themselves, which they do not want to awaken, of what their soul is capable of. If they read a book where the heroism of love is described, they shut the book, and tears flow from their eyes, and they say, “Oh! what might have been.” But that is not safe, and they banish it, and go on in the usual way. Early and late they are faithful.—H. W. Beecher.
(f) I need not say that much of the happiness of human life depends upon the marriage unions which are formed. It is one thing to view the subject of marriage in the light of passion or convenience, and another to regard it as an institution by which human life may be developed and trained to the highest uses and enjoyments. I do not hesitate to lay down the broad principle that where there is incongruity of religious conviction between man and woman, happiness of the deepest and purest kind is entirely out of the question. This principle is impartial in its application, having equal reference to the woman as to the man, and to the man as to the woman. Take the case of a young woman who has deep religious convictions and sympathies: she has been trained under religious influences, her habits have been identified with the sanctuary from very early life: she has taught in the school, she has served in connection with many agencies of the Church, and altogether her name has become honourably associated with benevolent operations; she is sought in marriage by a young man who has no religious convictions or sympathies, who, in fact, is worldly-minded, grovelling, earthly; he may, indeed, be a man of education, literary refinement, of good social position, of captivating address; nay, more—I will go further, and say, he may be a man against whom society is unable justly to point the finger of reproach. Wherever he is known he is respected for many social excellencies. Viewed in a worldly sense, the young man may be pronounced an eligible candidate for the lady’s hand, yet, in the presence of such conditions, I have distinctly to give it as my opinion that happiness of the highest kind is impossible in such a connection. There must, on the woman’s part, be more or less of sacrifice of the convictions and sympathies which have distinguished her whole life. Her religious emphasis will he modified; more or less of a chill will subdue her Christian zeal; her works of benevolence will be in some degree impaired; there may not be any great outward difference in her manner, but her soul must have felt the desolation of an impoverishing influence.
We know the ordinary excuse that is made when the Christian marries one who has no devotional sympathies: the generous, hopeful, self-sacrificing woman openly avows her belief that in a very little time she will be able to bring her intended husband to a right decision; she knows (poor creature!) that there is something good in him; she has heard (O mocking ear!) him say words which she construed into a noble intention on his part; she is sure all will be right by and by; a little patience, a little humouring, and a little instruction—then all will be right! This is the dream of her love, the inspiration of her ill-directed hope. Don’t account me cruel when I denounce it as an imposition—a deceit—a lie.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
MAN’S NEED OF MORAL DIRECTIONS, AND GOD’S COMMUNICATIONS TO MAN
This verse refers to all the laws which were given in the plains of Moab (chap. 25–36), and concludes the record of that legislation in the same way as the record of the legislation at Sinai was concluded (Leviticus 26:46; Leviticus 27:34). The text suggests—
I. Man’s need of moral direction.
It is here implied that man requires “commandments and judgments” from the Lord. He needs moral guidance.
1. Conscience is not a reliable guide. Conscience has been deteriorated by sin. It sometimes slumbers, as in the case of David after his great crimes (2 Samuel 12:1-6). It sometimes leads astray, as in the case of Saul the persecutor (Acts 26:9). “It is a safe guide only when it is directed by the commandment of the Lord.” (a)
2. The light of nature is not an adequate and reliable guide. It seems to us that many persons ascribe to the light of nature what unassisted human reason would never have discovered, had it not been previously revealed in the Scriptures. (b)
But taking “natural religion to signify that religion which men discover in the sole exercise of their natural faculties, without higher assistance,” we pronounce it an inadequate moral and spiritual guide for man. There are great obligations which the light of nature does not reveal; e.g., that of worship to God, and that of universal benevolence to man. Human nature has deep cravings to which natural religion offers no response. We cry out for forgiveness of sin; but natural religion can afford no satisfaction to our anxious hearts. Over the graves of our beloved dead we ask earnestly and importunately, “If a man die shall he live again?” but nature is silent as those graves. The state of religious knowledge amongst even the most distinguished minds, who had not been blessed with a spiritual and Divine revelation, affords conclusive evidence of the inadequacy of natural religion for man’s moral and spiritual guidance, (c)
II. Man’s need of special direction when entering upon new enterprises and experiences.
The commandments and judgments referred to in the text were given to “the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho.” They were about to set forward to take possession of the Promised Land; and these commandments and judgments were for their guidance and control in the novel scenes and engagements to which they were advancing. And as we go forward into untrodden ways and new undertakings, we need directions from Heaven. We may obtain such directions by studying the revealed will of God; by seeking for them at the throne of grace; and by carefully observing the indications of Divine providence, (d)
III. God’s communications to man.
The Lord met Israel’s need of guidance and control by His gracious communications.
1. Their nature. “Commandments and judgments.” This implies His supreme authority. He has a right to command men. This right rests upon,—
(1) His relations to man. He is our creator, &c. (e)
(2) His personal character. He is infinitely righteous and wise and kind. He is supreme in authority because He is supreme in excellence.
2. Their method. “The Lord commanded by the hand of Moses.” He makes known His will to man through man. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
Since God has graciously revealed His will for our guidance, it is both our obligation and advantage to follow it fully and at all times.
(a) Conscience, as an expression of the law or will and mind of God, is not now to be implicitly depended on. It is not infallible. What was true to its office in Eden, has been deranged and shattered by the Fall, and now lies, as I have seen a sun-dial in the neglected garden of an old desolate ruin, thrown from its pedestal, prostrate on the ground, and covered by tall rank weeds. So far from being since that fatal event an infallible directory of duty, conscience has often lent its sanction to the grossest errors, and prompted to the greatest crimes. Did not Saul of Tarsus, for instance, hale men and women to prison; compel them to blaspheme; and imbrue his hands in saintly blood, while conscience approved the deed—he judging the while that he did God service? What wild and profane imaginations has it accepted as the oracles of God! and as if finds had taken possession of a God-deserted shrine, have not the foulest crimes, as well as the most shocking cruelties, been perpetrated in its name? Read the “Book of Martyrs,” read the sufferings of our own forefathers, and under the cowl of a shaven monk, or the trappings of a haughty churchman, you shall see conscience persecuting the saints of God, and dragging even tender women and children to the bloody scaffold or the burning stake.
With eyes swimming in tears, or flashing fire, we close the painful record, to apply to Conscience the words addressed to Liberty by the French heroine, when passing its statue, she rose in the cart that bore her to the guillotine, and throwing up her arms, exclaimed, “O Liberty, what crimes have been done in thy name!” And what crimes in thine, O Conscience! deeds from which even humanity shrinks; against which religion lilts her loudest protest; and which furnish the best explanation of these awful words, “If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!”
So far as doctrines and duties are concerned, not conscience, but the revealed Word of God, is our one only sure and safe directory.—Thos. Guthrie, D.D.
(b) When truths are once known to us, though by tradition, we are apt to be favourable to our own parts, and ascribe to our own understanding the discovery of what, in reality. we borrowed from others; or, at least, finding we can prove what at first we learned from others, we are forward to conclude it an obvious truth which, if we had sought, we could not have missed. Nothing seems hard to our understandings that is once known; and because what we see we see with our own eyes, we are apt to overlook or forget the help we had from others who showed it to us, and first made us see it, as if we were not at all beholden to them for those truths they opened the way to, and led us into. For knowledge being only of truths that are perceived to be so, we are favourable enough to our own faculties to conclude that they, of their own strength, would have attained those discoveries without any foreign assistance; and that we know those truths by the strength and native light of our own minds, as they did from whom we received them by theirs; only they had the luck to be before us. Thus the whole stock of human knowledge is claimed by every one as his private possession as soon as he, profiting by other’s discoveries, has got it into his own mind; and so it is; but not properly by his own single industry, nor of his own acquisition. He studies, it is true, and takes pains to make a progress in what others have delivered; but their pains were of another sort who first brought those truths to light which he afterwards derives from them. He that travels the roads now, applauds his own strength and legs, that have carried him so far in such a scantling of time, and ascribes all to his own vigour, little considering how much he owes to their pains who cleared the wood, drained the bogs, built the bridges, and made the ways passable, without which he might have toiled much with little progress. A great many things which we have been bred up in the belief of from our cradles, and are now grown familiar and, as it were, natural to us, under the Gospel, we take for unquestionable, obvious truths, and easily demonstrable, without considering how long we might have been in doubt or ignorance of them had Revelation been silent. And many others are beholden to Revelation who do not acknowledge it. It is no diminishing to Revelation that reason gives its suffrage, too, to the truths Revelation has discovered; but it is our mistake to think that, because reason confirms them to us, we had the first certain knowledge of them from thence, and in that clear evidence we now possess them.—John Locke.
(c) They who speak of the sufficiency of human reason in matters of morals and religion, owe all their best views to that fountain of inspiration from which they so criminally turn aside. For how otherwise is in that those fundamental principles in morals and religion which modern philosophers have exhibited as demonstrable by the unassisted powers of the human mind, were either held doubtfully, or connected with some manifest absurdity, or utterly denied, by the wisest moral teachers among the Gentiles, who lived before the Christian revelation was given? They had the same works of God to behold, and the same course of providence to reason from; to neither of which were they inattentive. They had intellectual endowments, which have been the admiration of all subsequent ages; and their reason was rendered acute and discriminative by the discipline of mathematical and dialectic science. They had everything which the moderns have, except the Bible; and yet on points which have been generally settled, among the moral philosophers of our own age, as fundamental to natural religion, they have no just views, and no settled conviction. “The various apprehensions of wise men,” says Cicero, “will justify the doubtings and demurs of sceptics; and it will then be sufficient to blame them when others agree, or any one has found out the truth. We say not, that nothing is true; but that some false things are annexed to all that is true, and that with so much likeness, that there is no certain note of judging what is true, or assenting to it. We deny not that something may be true; but we deny that it can be perceived so to be; for what have we certain concerning good and evil? Nor for this are we to be blamed, but nature, which has hidden the truth in the deep.”
On this subject Dr. Samuel Clark, though so great an advocate of natural religion, concedes that, “of the philosophers, some argued themselves out of the belief of the very being of a God; some by ascribing all things to chance, others to absolute fatality, equally subverted all true notions of religion, and made the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and a future judgment, needless and impossible. Some professed open immorality; others, by subtle distinction, patronised particular vices. The better sort of them, who were most celebrated, discoursed with the greatest reason, yet with much uncertainty and doubtfulness, concerning things of the highest importance,—the providence of God in governing the world; the immortality of the soul; and a future judgment.”—Richard Watson.
(d) For notes and illustrations on this point, see pp. 152–154, 164.
(e) This point is illustrated on pp. 38, 39.