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Of the administration of holy things among the patriarchs before the law.
Concerning the ancient patriarchs: From these, some, who would have Judaism to be but an intercision of Christianity,66 Euseb. Eccles. Hist. lib. i. Cap. 4; Ambr. de Sacra. lib. iv. derive the pedigree of Christians, affirming the difference between us and them to be solely in the name, and not the thing itself. Of this, thus much at least is true, that “the law of commandments contained in ordinances”77 Eph. ii. 15. did much more diversify the administration of the covenant before and after Christ than those plain moralities wherewith in their days it was clothed. Where the assertion is deficient, antiquity hath given its authors sanctuary from farther pursuit. Their practice, then, were it clear, can be no precedent for Christians. All light brought to the gospel, in comparison of those full and glorious beams that shine in itself, is but a candle set up in the sun; yet for their sakes who found out the former unity, I will (not following the conceit of any, nor the comments of many) give you such a bare narration, as the Scripture will supply me withal, of their administration of the holy things and practice of their religion (as it seems Christianity, though not so called). And doubt you not of divine approbation and institution; for all prelacy, at least until Nimrod hunted for preferment, was “de jure divino.”
I find, then, that before the giving of the law, the chief men among the servants of the true God did, every one in their own families, with their neighbours adjoining of the same persuasion, perform those things which they knew to be required, by the law of nature, tradition, or special revelation (the unwritten word of those times), in the service of God; instructing their children and servants in the knowledge of their creed concerning the nature and goodness of God, the fall and sin of man, the use of sacrifices, and the promised seed (the sum of their religion); and, moreover, performing τὰ πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, things appertaining unto God. This we have delivered concerning 8Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Jethro, Job, and others.88 Gen. iv. 26, v. 22, vi. 8, 9, etc., viii. 20, ix. 25–27, xviii. 19, xix. 9, xxviii. 1, 2, xxxv. 3–5; Exod. xviii. 12; Job i. 5, xlii. 8–10. Now, whether they did this as any way peculiarly designed unto it as an office, or rather in obedient duty to the prime law of nature, in which and to whose performance many of them were instructed and encouraged by divine revelation (as seems most probable), is not necessary to be insisted on. To me, truly, it seems evident that there were no determinate ministers of divine worship before the law; for where find we any such office instituted? where the duties of those officers prescribed? or were they of human invention?99 Tho. 22, æ. q. 87, ad 3. God would never allow that in any regard the will of the creature should be the measure of his honour and worship. “But the right and exercise of the priesthood,” say some, “was in the first-born;” but a proof of this will be for ever wanting. Abel was not Adam’s eldest son, yet, if any thing were peculiar to such an office, it was by him performed. That both the brothers carried their sacrifices to their father is a vain surmise.1010 Jacob. Armin. de Sacerd. Ch. Orat. Who was priest, then, when Adam died? Neither can any order of descent be handsomely contrived. Noah had three sons: grant the eldest only a priest; were the eldest sons of his other sons priests, or no? If not, how many men fearing God were scattered over the face of the earth utterly deprived of the means of right worship! if so, there must be a new rule produced beyond the prescript of nature, whereby a man may be enabled by generation to convey that to others which he hath not in himself. I speak not of Melchizedek and his extraordinary priesthood; why should any speak where the Holy Ghost is silent? If we pretend to know him, we overthrow the whole mystery, and run cross to the apostle, affirming him to be ἀπάτορα ἀμήτορα, Without father, mother, or genealogy. For so long time, then, as the greatest combination of men was in distinct families (which sometimes were very great1111 Gen. xiv. 14.), politics and economics being of the same extent, all the way of instruction in the service and knowledge of God was by the way of paternal admonition, — for the discharge of which duty Abraham is commended, Gen. xviii. 19; whereunto the instructors had no particular engagement, but only the general obligation of the law of nature. What rule they had for their performances towards God doth not appear. All positive law, in every kind, is ordained for the good of community. That then being not, no such rule was assigned until God gathered a people, and lifted up the standard of circumcision for his subjects to repair unto. The world in the days of Abraham beginning generally to incline to idolatry and polytheism,1212 “Eccles. malignantium.” — Aug, con. Faust. lib. xix. cap. 11. the 9first evident irreconcilable division was made between his people and the malignants, which before lay hid in his decree. Visible signs and prescript rules were necessary for such a gathered church. This before I conceive to have been supplied by special revelation.
The law of nature a long time prevailed for the worship of the one true God. The manner of this worship, the generality had at first (as may be conceived) from the vocal instruction of Adam, full of the knowledge of divine things; this afterward their children had from them by tradition, helped forward by such who received particular revelations in their generation, such as Noah, thence called “A preacher of righteousness.” So knowledge of God’s will increased,1313 “Per incrementa temporum crevit divinæ cognitiones incrementum.” — Greg. Hom. xvi. in Ezek. a med. until sin quite prevailed, and “all flesh had corrupted his way.” All apostasy for the most part begins in the will, which is more bruised by the fall than the understanding. Nature is more corrupted in respect of the desire of good than the knowledge of truth. The knowledge of God would have flourished longer in men’s minds had not sin banished the love of God out of their hearts.
The sum is, that before the giving of the law, every one in his own person served God according to that knowledge he had of his will. Public performances were assigned to none, farther than the obligation of the law of nature to their duty in their own families. I have purposely omitted to speak of Melchizedek, as I said before, having spoken all that I can or dare concerning him on another occasion. Only this I will add: they who so confidently affirm him to be Shem, the son of Noah, and to have his priesthood in an ordinary way, by virtue of his primogeniture, might have done well to ask leave of the Holy Ghost for the revealing of that which he purposely concealed to set forth no small mystery, by them quite overthrown. And he who of late makes him look upon Abraham and the four kings, all of his posterity, fighting for the inheritance of Canaan (of which cause of their quarrel the Scripture is silent), robs him at least of one of his titles, a “king of peace,” making him neither king nor peaceable, but a bloody grandsire, that either could not or would not part his fighting children, contending for that whose right was in him to bestow on whom he would.
And thus was it with them in the administration of sacred things: There was no divine determination of the priestly office on any order of men. When things appertaining unto God were to be performed in the name of a whole family (as afterward, 1 Sam. xx. 6), perhaps the honour of the performance was by consent given to the first-born. Farther; the way of teaching others was by paternal admonition (so Gen. xviii. 19); motives thereunto, and rules of their 10proceeding therein, being the law of nature and special revelation. Prescription of positive law, ordained for the good of community, could have no place when all society was domestical. To instruct others (upon occasion) wanting instruction, for their good, is an undeniable dictate of the first principles of nature, obedience to which was all the ordinary warrant they had for preaching to any beyond their own families; observed by Lot, Gen. xix. 7, though his sermon contained a little false doctrine, verse 8. Again; as special revelation leaves a great impression on the mind of him to whom it is made, so an effectual obligation for the performance of what it directeth unto: “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?” Amos iii. 8. And this was Noah’s warrant for those performances from whence he was called “A preacher of righteousness,” 2 Pet. ii. 5. Thus, although I do not find any determinate order of priesthood by divine institution, yet do I not thence conclude, with Aquin. 12. æ. quest. 3. a 1. (if I noted right at the reading of it), that all the worship of God (I mean for the manner of it) was of human invention, yea, sacrifices themselves; for this will-worship, as I showed before, God always rejected. No doubt but sacrifices and the manner of them were of divine institution, albeit their particular original in regard of precept, though not of practice, be to us unknown. For what in all this concerns us, we may observe that a superinstitution of a new ordinance doth not overthrow any thing that went before in the same kind, universally moral or extraordinary, nor at all change it, unless by express exception; as, by the introduction of the ceremonial law, the offering of sacrifices, which before was common to all, was restrained to the posterity of Levi. Look, then, what performances in the service of God that primitive household of faith was in the general directed unto by the law of nature, the same, regulated by gospel light (not particularly excepted), ought the generality of Christians to perform; which what they were may be collected from what was fore-spoken.
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