« PreviousContinue »
THE following Discourse was delivered by Mr. ORTON at the close of his Exposition of the historical part of the Old Testament. Several of his friends whom the Editor has consulted, think it should be printed with the Exposition, and that it wil be a very useful and acceptable addition to the work : but as the third volume will probably be larger than this, he has ventured to give it to the public in this place, hoping the remaining part of the historical books may be read with more advantage in families, after a serious and attentive perusal of it. KIDDERMINSTER, Fan, 1, 1789.
USEFULNESS OF THE HISTORICAL PART OF THE
ROMANS XV. 4.
Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our
learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. AVING proceeded thus far in the work of expounding to
you the historical part of the Old Testament, I think it may be peculiarly seasonable and necessary, to lay before you a few thoughts on the usefulness of that history. To introduce what I have to say upon this subject, I have chosen an important and useful remark of St. Paul. Having exhorted the christians to whom he wrote, to bear with one another's infirmities, to consult each other's edification, and always to sacrifice their own inclination and humour, and oftentimes their own secular interest, to the good of others ; he enforces the exhortation, by observing, that even Christ pleased not himself, but submitted to many instances of great self-denial for the good of mankind : and this he illustrates by a quotation from Psalm lxix. 9. where it is said, The reproaches of them that reproached thee, are fallen upon me. That is, “ I have so great a zeal for thine honour, that I have been much affected and disturbed with the reproaches that have been cast upon thee, and the dishonours that have been offered to thy name, worship, and laws.” It might be objected to this quotation, that it referred immediately to David, and was his language. In answer to this, the apostle lays down as a general and important rule in the text, that whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning : that we may naturally and justly accommodate what was said to good men under a former dispensation to our own circumstances, or the circumstances of the christian church, where there is a just and natural resemblance ; and that those things were recorded for our benefit, that we might cultivate the tempers which are there approved, and derive many useful lessons for the conduct of our lives : and particularly, that we through patience, which the examples of saints in the Old Testament strongly recommend, and that consolation, which arises from a view of their supports and deliverances, might have hope in God, and particularly the hope of eternal life. I shall consider the words only in this view, as a general assertion of the usefulness of the Old Testament, and particularly of the historical part of it ; which, as the apostle obe serves in another place, was written for our admonition. And it will appear very useful, and worthy of our careful perusal and diligent study, if we consider, that it is a faithful and agreeable record of ancient events ; that it tends to explain and illustrate many other parts of the holy scriptures ; and that it conveys to us many important and profitable instructions. I will consider each of these distinctly ; and then add some reflections upon the subject, chiefly of a practical tendency.
I. The historical part of the Old Testament contains a faith, ful and entertaining record of ancient events.
History in general has always been allowed to be very useful, and capable of being improved to many excellent purposes. We may discover many useful truths, and learn many important branches of duty, by the reasonings of our own minds, and the contemplation of those objects with which we are surrounded. But for the knowledge of past events we are beholden to the report and record of others; the proper use of which is, to promote our improvement in goodness, and fit us for services to mankind. It is to teach us by example, and to prepare us for making wise remarks, and manifesting a becoming conduct ; and, by knowing the things that have been, to be better judges of the things that are.
Some who have taken great pains to sink the credit of the sa: cred history, have acknowledged, that history is philosophy, teaching us, by example, how to conduct ourselves in all the stations of private and public life. Nay, they have carried the matter so far as to say, that it is of all means the most proper to train us up to public and private virtue. But if this should not be allowed, (as I think it cannot) yet every one that is able to read, and reflect on what he reads, is able to make a good use of his: tory. It affords a kind of map of the country through which we are passengers ; and by it we may learn in many instances to guide ourselves, and choose the direct road to happiness.
The history of ancient times, and of the first ages of the world, is peculiarly agreeable. We have a natural curiosity to know the state and circumstances of the earliest ages, the origin of mankind, the establishment of kingdoms and nations, and the revolutions and changes of those which have been the most remarkable and extensive. This knowledge of antiquity is very useful ; and learned men are glad to make up the defects of history by ancient medals, monuments, &c,
Now the histories of the Old Testament are very valuable, as they are the most ancient histories, There are no heathen writers of greater antiquity, than one or two who were cotempora, ries with Ezra and Nehemiah, the last of the Old Testament historians ; and they could not write, with any great degree of cer. tainty, of events much before their own time. The histories we are now considering have this further and peculiar advantage, that they are all true in themselves, and have, in the main, been faithfully handed down to us. They were chiefly written by persons who were concerned in many of the transactions which they relate. This was particularly the case of Moses, the first and the oldest of them : and though he lived several centuries after the creation of the world, yet, considering the long lives of men in those days, a traditionary account might be easily handed down to him, and with much greater certainty than it can be at present. The learned tell us, that the heathen divided their time, before their histories began, into two periods. One they called the dark age, of which they knew nothing ; and the other, the fabulous age, of which their traditionary accounts were very uncertain and fabulous. But of this whole period we have an authentic account in the scriptures, delivered by wise and judicious men : yea, by men divinely inspired, and therefore secure from any important and dangerous mistake. I shall only add, that these histories have great internal evidence of truth. The simplicity of their style and manner, the honesty of the writers, in not giving favourable accounts of their own nation, or particular families, or of the chief heroes whose' actions they relate ; their very particular account of their own imprudences, and faults, and the transgressions and calamities of their countrymen, all speak the integrity of their hearts. The manner in which the history is written, is agreeable. The narrations are plain, and yet beautiful ; the style grave and manly ; the stories are told in a clear and concise manner, it has all the advantages of common history; and some peculiar to itself; particularly, the sublime idea it gives us of the great God, and constant expressions of reverence for his name, and regard for his providence. These at once prevent our thinking it to be a fraud, and render it extremely agreeable and useful to wise and serious minds. Its antiquity, its truth, and the manner in which it is written, all render this history worthy of our perusal and study, and very serviceable ; indeed other histories have no glory, in comparison with the excellent glory of this. · II. They explain and illustrate many other parts of the holy scriptures.
We shall have occasion hereafter to observe the consistency of their several parts, and that they all center in one grand, leading design : consequently the several parts of the sacred volume must illustrate, and be illustrated by, one another. In this view the historical part is useful. There are frequent references in the Psalms and Prophets and the New Testament, to the original state of mankind ; to the fall ; the deluge ; the call of Abraham, with whom the covenant of grace respecting the Jewish church was made : to the whole history of the Israelites, and the circumstances of many of their kings, especially David. These references could not be understood without the history of these things. The book of Psalms, is of admirable use to enkindle and assist our devotions ; but the beauty of many of these would be lost, in a great measure, if we had not the histories of Moses, David, and the state of the Israelites, which some of the latter Psalms plainly refer to. It throws light and beauty upon many of those composures, to know upon what occasion, and in what circumstances, they were written. The history of the authors illustrates their own tempers ; we enter into their sentiments with peculiar pleasure, know how, as it were, to feel with them, and can better accommodate them to our own circumstances, as we better discern the resemblance between theirs and our own.
Again ; these histories throw great light upon the prophecies of the Old Testament. The account we have of the state of the Israelites under their kings, and amidst their captivities and depressions, illustrates the prophecies of Moses concerning them. The history of the kings of Israel, and of good men under the reigns of their several princes ; the attacks of the neighbouring nations, and the calamities they suffered by them, is a key to explain the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel
, and several of the minor prophets. And, had we as particular an account of the neighbouring nations, it would illustrate those prophecies concerning them which the Jewish prophets delivered, and which, for want of a further acquaintance with the history of these nations, are, and must be, very obscure. We have had occasion to refer to many prophecies, in the course of our exposition, which have been accomplished ; and when we consider the prophecies themselves, it will, I hope, further appear, of what service the histories are to explain them.
Further ; these histories are serviceable to illustrate the whole New Testament. Many of the Old Testament heroes were figures of Jesus Christ ; the sacrifices and other rituals under the law were types of him, and of the institutions and blessings of the gospel. The most material facts in the Old Testament history are referred to, and argued upon, in the New. What was said to encourage the faith and patience of God's ancient people, is accommodated to the circumstances of christians.
And our encouragement rises, in proportion to the degree in which we understand the histories, and consider the cases of those ancient saints, to whom favourable and merciful dispensations were made. To this the apostle seems particularly to refer, where he says, These things were written, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
III. They convey to us many important and profitable instructions : their great design and tendency is to make us wise and good.
And here let it be observed, that these histories give us clear and striking ideas of God's government of the world ; they furnish us with many examples of piety and goodness ; they set before us the danger, to which the best of men are liable, of being overcome by temptation ; they represent to us the great evil of