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Ages of the Jewish Dispensation. The Time of the Gospel-Dispensation is in the Old Testament (Isai. ix. 6. according to the best Greek Copies, with which Theodotio and Symmachus agree
in their Versions of the Hebrew Text] callid the future Age or Age to come, in contradistinction to the then present Age or Time of the Jewish Dispensation: and so before the Times of the Ages is the same as before the Ages or Time of the Mofaic Law. I thought it proper to explain this Phrase of the Apostle *, who in like manner says, that the Hope of eternal Life, thro" Christ, was promis’d by God [Trpó xpóvwo aiwriwr] before the World began (Tit. i. 2.) that is again, before the Time or Age of the Levitical Institution. The Apostle's Expression is borrow'd from or refers to the Prophecy of Christ's coming, Mich. v. 2. where his Goings forth or Manifestation is said to have been of old or from the Beginning (of the World) explain’d in the following Words [nuspor ai vos] from the Days of the Age ; which may mean either the Age of the World, or the Age of the Dispensation of the Law, but most probably the first.
It is evident from the whole New Testament, that Christ the Author of it was the End of all the Dispensations and Revelations given in the Old Testament ; and that the eternal Life made manifest by the Gospel was promis'd from the Beginning of the World, and Ages before the Jewish
* The Apostle uses the same Phrase, Rom. xvi. 25. and in the fame Sense the Words áno Twy aicvwv. Ephef, iii.9. Coloff. i. 26.
Law was given. He was promis’d to the Patriarchs before the Law; and was also promis'd by Mofes in the Law, and was foretold by the Prophets after the giving of the Law. Whence it is most certain, that a future State of Life and Immortality was reveald and promis’d to the Hebrews, and was always believ'd by theni: and this Faith in the Promises of God was that which justify'd them, and entitled them to the Blessings of eternal Life, more fully and clearly reveal'd in the Gospel.
And as these Promises of eternal Life were to be confirm'd and establish'd by the Revelation of the Gospel, and by a new Covenant to be made and feaľd by the Sacrifice of Christ's Death, as the Propitiation for Sin, and the Author and Finisher of our Faith, and the great and most divine Lawgiver of this new Dispensation; we may be assured, and it will eatily appear, that this our Redeemer and his Gospel-Dispensation, with all the Blessings which were to attend it, were pre-figur'd and fore-express’d in the other
preceding Dispensations; and the Promises of them were the Foundation of the Faith and Hope of all the Patriarchs, and of Moses and the Jews under the Legal Covenant.
Hence it is that Chrift says (Mat.v. 17.) Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Propkets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil (them.) He was so far from destroying the Law or the Prophets, by teaching any thing contrary to them, that he came on purpose to full all that had been taught and foretold in the
Writings of Mofes and the Prophets concerning the Meffias, and the Gospel-Law to be deliver'd by him.
Hence also St. Paul says (Gal. iii. 23, 24.) Before Faith (of Jesus Christ promis’d before and under the Law, as he argues in the preceding Verses) came, we were kept under the Law, put up unto the Faith which would afterwards be reveald, [by the Coming of Christ:) wherefore the Law was our Schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justify'd by Faith (in him.
We see here, that the Law, by containing the Promises of Justification to eternal Life thro' Faith in Christ, the promis'd Seed of Abraham, did, like a Schoolmaster, teach the Knowledge of that Salvation which was to be reveal'd in the Gospel, and to be obtain’d thro’ Faith in Christ; and so did, in the Apostle's Expression, *. 8th of this Chapter, preach the Gospel to the Jews, and lead them to the Faith of Christ, and to receive his Gospel, whenever he should come and reveal it.
Hence also again the same Apostle (Heb. x. I.) fays, the Law had the Shadow of the good Things to come, (see Colof. ii. 17.) that is, of the Glory and Happiness of the future State ; which, like the Shadow or first Draught of a Picture, was imperfectly represented in the Law: but the full and perfect Image of the heavenly State was finish'd in strong and florid Colours, and exhibited, as it were, to the Life in the GospelDispensation.
So that the whole Tenor of the evangelical Writings supposes, that the future State reveald by Christ was promis'd and believ'd both before and under the Law: and we may thence conclude, that the whole Jereiss Nation did believe in the promis’d Messas, as being the Seed of Abraham, in whom all the Families of the Earth should be blessed; and that thro' Him, as Moses and the Prophets foretold, they Nou'd receive with the temporal Blessings of the Law, the Remission of their Sins (Jerem. xxxi. 34.) for which the Law had provided no express or particular Atonement; and in consequence, the spiritual Blessings of the Life to come, eternal in the Heavens.
As a future State may be demonstrably deduc'd from Principles of natural Reason, so it is contain'd in the Proposition laid down by St. Paul, He that cometh to God (as a Worthipper of him) must believe that he is, and that be is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek him, Heb. xi. 6. Agreeably to this Maxim, it was the universally receiv'd Faith of all Nations at all times, and a primary Article of all Religion, that pious and just Men wou'd be happy, and impious and unrighteous Men miserable in a future State.
This Opinion prevailid from the Beginning wherever the Descendants of Noah were dispers'd and settled, from China in the East as far as to the Western Ocean: nor was any People ever known that believ'd the Existence and Providence of God, but in consequence they also believ'd the future Existence of the Soul, and the Rewards
and Punishments of another Life.
There was not in the most ancient Times of the World
any Nation or any one Man (I believe) ever known, who did not believe a future State: and it is certain, that in later Times, none but Atheists wholly disbeliev'd it. This was not only the Belief of all the Nations bordering on the Country of the Jews, as the Phænicians, Syrians, Chaldæans, Arabians and Egyptians, but their very Superstition and the Idolatry of * Hero-Worship presuppos'd and was built upon it.
It must therefore appear a very strange Paradox, for any to suppose or assert that the Jewish Nation were ignorant of or did not believe this fundamental Article of Religion ; which in their Case wou'd also be attended with this farther unequallid Absurdity, that God deliver'd a Revelation to a Nation of Atheists. But on the contrary to such a Supposition, it is very plain and certain, that the Hebrews had a fuller and stronger Evidence of a future State than any other Nation then had ; an Evidence not only founded on the Principles of natural Reason and Conscience common to them with the rest of Mankind; but they had this Evidence ftrengthened and confirm’d to them by divine Revelation.
From the Writings of Mojis the Hebrews had abundant Evidence to confirm their Belief of a future State, founded on the Light of Nature,
* Quod autem ex hominum genere consecratos, ficut Herculem et cæteros, coli lex jubet, indicat omnium quidem animos immortales efle ; fed fortium bonorumque divinos. Cic. de Leg. lib. 2. p. 412. edit. Gryph.