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Chapter II.

Of the same among the Jews, and of the duty of that people distinct from their church officers.

Concerning the Jews after the giving of Moses’ law: The people of God were then gathered in one, and a standard was set up for all his to repair unto, and the church of God became like a city upon a hill, conspicuous to all, and a certain rule set down for every one 11to observe that would approach unto him. As, then, before the law, we sought for the manner of God’s worship from the practice of men, so now, since the change of the external administration of the covenant, from the prescription of God. Then we guessed at what was commanded by what was done; now, at what was done by what was commanded. And this is all the certainty we can have in either kind, though the consequence from the precept to the performance, and on the contrary, in this corrupted state of nature, be not of absolute necessity; only, the difference is, where things are obscured, it is a safer way to prove the practice of men by God’s precept, charitably supposing them to have been obedient, than to wrest the divine rule to their observation, knowing how prone men are to deify themselves by mixing their inventions with the worship of God. The administration of God’s providence towards his church hath been various, and the communication of himself unto it, at “sundry times,” hath been in “divers manners;” especially, it pleased him not to bring it to perfection but by degrees, as the earth bringeth forth fruit; “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”1414   Mark iv. 28. Thus, the church, before the giving of Moses’ law, seems to have had two main defects, which the Lord at that time supplied; — one in discipline or government, in that every family exercised the public worship of God within itself or apart (though some do otherwise conclude from Gen. iv. 26), which was first removed by establishing a consistory of elders; the other in the doctrine, wanting the rule of the written word, being directed by tradition, the manifold defects whereof were made up by a special revelation. To neither of these defects was the church since exposed. Whether there was any thing written before the giving of the law is not worth contending about. Austin thought Enoch’s prophecy was written by him;1515   Aug. de Civit. Dei, lib. xv. Cap. 23. and Josephus affirms that there were two pillars erected, one of stone, the other of brick, before the flood, wherein divers things were engraven;1616   Joseph. Antiq. lib. i. cap. 3. Sixt. Senens. Bib. lib. ii. and Sixtus Senensis, that the book of the wars of the Lord was a volume ancienter than the books of Moses; — but the contrary opinion is most received: so Chrysost. Hom. 1. in Mali.1717   The only place in the works of Chrysostom in which we can find this opinion, is in “Ad. Pop. Antioch., Homil. ix.” It is upon Ps. xix. 1, and “in Mali” seems a misprint for “in ‘Cœli, etc.,’”— “Cœli enarrant gloriam Dei.” — Ed. After its giving, none ever doubted of the perfection of the written word for the end to which it was ordained, until the Jews had broached their Talmud to oppose Christ, and the Papists their traditions to advance Antichrist; doubtless the sole aim of the work, whatever were the intentions of the workmen.

The lights which God maketh are sufficient to rule the seasons for which they are ordained. As, in creating of the world, God” made 12two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night;” so, in the erection of the new world of his church, he set up two great lights, the lesser light of the Old Testament to guide the night, the dark space of time under the law, and the greater light of the New Testament to rule the glorious day of the gospel. And these two lights do sufficiently enlighten every man that cometh into this new world. There is no need of the false fire of tradition where God sets up such glorious lights. This be premised for the proneness of men to deflect from the golden rule and heavenly pole-star in the investigation of the truth, especially in things of this nature concerning which we treat, wherein ordinary endeavours are far greater in searching after what men have done than what they ought to have done; and when the fact is once evidenced from the pen of a rabbi or a father, presently to conclude the right. Amongst many, we may take a late treatise, for instance, entitled, “Of Religious Assemblies and the Public Service of God,”1818   Herbert Thorndike, a learned divine, and one of Walton’s assistants in the preparation of his Polyglott, published a treatise under this title in 1642. It is clear that it is to this treatise Owen alludes. — Ed. whose author would prescribe the manner of God’s worship among Christians from the custom of the Jews; and their observations he would prove from the rabbis, not at all taking notice that from such observances they were long ago recalled to the “law and to the testimony,” and afterward for them sharply rebuked by Truth itself.1919   Isa. viii. 20; Matt. v., vi. Doubtless it is a worthy knowledge to be able, and a commendable diligence, to search into those coiners of curiosities; but to embrace the fancies of those wild heads, which have nothing but novelty to commend them, and to seek their imposition on others, is but an abusing of their own leisure and others’ industry. The issue of such a temper seems to be the greatest part of that treatise; which because I wait only for some spare hours to demonstrate in a particular tract, I shall for the present omit the handling of divers things there spoken of, though otherwise they might very opportunely here be mentioned, — as the office and duty of prophets, the manner of God’s worship in their synagogues, the original and institution of their later teachers, scribes and Pharisees, etc., and briefly only observe those things which are most immediately conducing to my proposed subject.

The worship of God among them was either moral or ceremonial and typical. The performances belonging unto the latter, with all things thereunto conducing, were appropriated, to them whom God had peculiarly set apart for that purpose. By ceremonial worship I understand all sacrifices and offerings, the whole service of the tabernacle, and afterward of the temple; all which were typical, and established merely for the present dispensation, not without purpose of their abrogation, when that which was to be more perfect should 13appear. Now, the several officers, with their distinct employments in and about this service, were so punctually prescribed and limited by Almighty God, that as none of them might ἀλλοτριοεπισκοπεῖν, without presumptuous impiety, intrude into the function of others not allotted to them, as Num. xvi. 1–10; so none of their brethren might presume to intrude into the least part of their office without manifest sacrilege, Josh. xxii. 11–20. True it is, that there is mention of divers in the Scripture that offered sacrifices, or vowed so to do, who were strangers from the priest’s office, yea, from the tribe of Levi: as Jephthah, Judges ix.; Manoah, chap. xiii.; David, 2 Sam. vi., and again, chap. xxiv.; Solomon, 1 Kings iii., and again, chap. ix. But following our former rule of interpreting the practice by the precept, we may find, and that truly, that all the expressions of their offerings signify no more but they brought those things to be offered, and caused the priests to do what in their own persons they ought not to perform. Now, hence, by the way, we may observe that the people of God under the New Testament, contradistinct from their teachers, have a greater interest in the performance of spiritual duties belonging to the worship of God, and more in that regard is granted unto them and required of them than was of the ancient people of the Jews, considered as distinguished from their priests, because their duty is prescribed unto them under the notion of these things which then were appropriate only to the priests, as of offering incense, sacrifice, oblations, and the like; which, in their original institution, were never permitted to the people of the Jews, but yet tralatitiously and by analogy are enjoined to all Christians But of these afterward.

The main question is about the duty of the people of God in performances for their own edification, and the extent of their lawful undertakings for others’ instruction. For the first, which is of nearest concernment unto themselves, the sum of their duty in this kind may be reduced to these two heads:— First, To hear the word and law of God read attentively, especially when it was expounded; secondly, To meditate therein themselves, to study it by day and night, and to get their senses exercised in that rule of their duty: concerning each of which we have both the precept and the practice, God’s command and their performance. The one in that injunction given unto the priest, Deut. xxxi. 11–13 “When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law; and that their children, which have not known, may hear and learn.” All which we find punctually performed on both sides, Neh. viii. 1–8. 14Ezra the priest, standing on a pulpit of wood, read the law and gave the meaning of it; and the “ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” Which course continued until there was an end put to the observances of that law; as Acts xv. 21, “Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath-day.” On which ground, not receding from their ancient observations, the people assembled to hear our Saviour teaching with authority, Luke xxi. 38; and St Paul divers times took advantage of their ordinary assemblies to preach the gospel unto them. For the other, which concerns their own searching into the law and studying of the word, we have a strict command, Deut. vi. 6–9, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” Which strict charge is again repeated, chap. xi. 18, summarily comprehending all ways whereby they might become exercised in the law. Now, because this charge is in particular given to the king, chap. xvii. 18–20, the performance of a king in obedience thereunto will give us light enough into the practice of the people. And this we have in that most excellent psalm of David, namely, cxix.; which for the most part is spent in petitions for light, direction, and assistance in that study, in expressions of the performance of this duty, and in spiritual glorying of his success in his divine meditations; especially, verse 99, he ascribeth his proficiency in heavenly wisdom and understanding above his teachers, not to any special revelation, not to that prophetical light wherewith he was endued (which, indeed, consisting in a transient irradiation of the mind, being a supernatural impulsion, commensurate to such things as are connatural only unto God, doth of itself give neither wisdom nor understanding), but unto his study in the testimonies of God. The blessings pronounced upon and promises annexed to the performance of this duty concern not the matter in hand; only, from the words wherein the former command is delivered, two things may be observed:— 1. That the paternal teaching and instruction of families in things which appertain to God being a duty of the law of nature, remained in its full vigour, and was not at all impaired by the institution of a new order of teachers for assemblies beyond domestical, then established. Neither, without doubt, ought it to cease amongst Christians, there being no other reason why now it should but that which then was not effectual.

15Secondly, That the people of God were not only permitted, but enjoined also, to read the Scriptures, and upon all occasions, in their own houses and elsewhere, to talk of them, or communicate their knowledge in them, unto others. There had been then no council at Trent to forbid the one; nor, perhaps, was there any strict canon to bring the other within the compass of a “conventicle.” But now, for the solemn public teaching and instructing of others, it was otherwise ordained; for this was committed to them, in regard of ordinary performance, who were set apart by God; as for others before named, so also for that purpose. The author of the treatise I before mentioned concludeth that the people were not taught at the public assemblies by priests as such, — that is, teaching the people was no part of their office or duty; but, on the contrary, that seems to be a man’s duty in the service or worship of God which God requires of him, and that appertains to his office, whose performance is expressly enjoined unto him as such, and for whose neglect he is rebuked or punished. Now, all this we find concerning the priests’ public teaching of the people; for the proof of which the recital of a few pertinent places shall suffice. Lev. x. 11, we have an injunction laid upon Aaron and his sons to “teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord had spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.” And of the Levites it is affirmed, Deut. xxxiii. 10, “They shall teach Jacob thy statutes, and Israel thy law.” Now, though some restrain these places to the discerning of leprosies, and between holy and unholy, with their determination of difficulty emergent out of the law, yet this no way impairs the truth of that I intend to prove by them; for even those things belonged to that kind of public teaching which was necessary under that administration of the covenant. But instead of many, I will name one not liable to exception: Mal. ii. 7, “The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts;” — where both a recital of his own duty, that he should be full of knowledge to instruct; the intimation to the people, that they should seek unto him, or give heed to his teaching; with the reason of them both, “For he is the Lord’s messenger” (one of the highest titles of the ministers of the gospel, performing the same office), — do abundantly confirm that instructing of the people in the moral worship of God was a duty of the priestly office, or of the priests as such, especially considering the effect of this teaching, mentioned verse 6, the “turning of many away from iniquity,” the proper end of teaching in assemblies: all which we find exactly performed by an excellent priest, preaching to the people on a pulpit of wood, Neh. viii. 1–8. Farther; for a neglect of this, the priests are threatened with the rejection from their office, Hos. iv. 6. Now, 16it doth not seem justice that a man should be put out of his office for a neglect of that whose performance doth not belong unto it. The fault of every neglect ariseth from the description of a duty. Until something, then, of more force than any thing as yet I have seen be objected to the contrary, we may take it for granted that the teaching of the people under the law in public assemblies was performed ordinarily by the priests, as belonging to their duty and office. Men endued with gifts supernatural, extraordinarily called, and immediately sent by God himself for the instruction of his people, the reformation of his church, and foretelling things to come, — such as were the prophets, who, whenever they met with opposition, stayed themselves upon their extraordinary calling, — come not within the compass of my disquisition. The institution, also, of the schools of the prophets, the employment of the sons of the prophets, the original of the scribes, and those other possessors of Moses’ chair in our Saviour’s time, wherein he conversed here below, being necessarily to be handled in my observations on the fore-named treatise, I shall omit until more leisure and an enjoyment of the small remainder of my poor library shall better enable me. For the present, because treating “in causâ facili,” although writing without books, I hope I am not beside the truth. The book of truth, praised be God, is easy to be obtained; and God is not tied to means in discovering the truth of that book.

Come we, then, to the consideration of what duty in the service of God, beyond those belonging unto several families, were permitted to any of the people not peculiarly set apart for such a purpose. The ceremonial part of God’s worship, as we saw before, was so appropriated to the priests that God usually revenged the transgression of that ordinance very severely. The examples of Uzzah and Uzziah2020   2 Sam. vi. 6, 7; 2 Chron. xxvi. 18, 19. are dreadful testimonies of his wrath in that kind. It was an unalterable law by virtue whereof the priests excommunicated2121   “Cast him out,” John ix. 34. that presumptuous king. For that which we chiefly intend, the public teaching of others, as to some it was enjoined as an act of their duty, so it might at first seem that it was permitted to all who, having ability thereunto, were called by charity or necessity. So the princes of Jehoshaphat taught the people out of the law of God, as well as the priests and Levites, 2 Chron. xvii. 7–9. So also Nehemiah and others of the chiefs of the people are reckoned among them who taught the people, Neh. viii. 9. And afterward, when St Paul at any time entered into their synagogues, they never questioned any thing but his abilities; if he had “any word of exhortation for the people,” he might “say on.”2222   Acts xiii. 15. And the scribes, questioning the authority of our 17Saviour for his teaching, were moved to it, not because he taught, but because he taught so and such things, — with authority and against their traditions; otherwise, they rather troubled themselves to think how he should become able to teach, Mark vi. 2, 3, than him be cause he did. There are, indeed, many sharp reproofs in the Old Testament of those who undertook to be God’s messengers without his warrant; as Jer. xxii. 21, 22, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran; I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel,” etc.; — to which, and the like places, it may satisfactorily be answered, that howsoever, by the way of analogy, they may be drawn into rule for these times of the gospel, yet they were spoken only in reference to them who falsely pretended to extraordinary revelations and a power of foretelling things to come, whom the Lord forewarned his people of, and appointed punishments for them, Deut. xiii. 1–6; with which sort of pretenders that nation was ever replenished, for which the very heathen often derided them. He who makes it his employment to counterfeit God’s dispensations had then no more glorious work to imitate than that of prophecy; wherein he was not idle. Yet, notwithstanding all this, I do not conceive the former discourse to be punctually true in the latitude thereof, as though it were permitted to all men, or any men, besides the priests and prophets, to teach publicly at all times, and in all estates of that church. Only, I conceive that the usual answers given to the fore-cited places, when objected, are not sufficient. Take an instance in one, 2 Chron. xvii. 7–9, of the princes of Jehoshaphat teaching with the priests. The author of the book before intimated conceives that neither priests nor princes taught at all in that way we now treat of, but only that the priests rode circuit to administer judgment, and had the princes with them to do execution. But this interpretation he borroweth only to confirm his πρῶτον ψεῦδος, that priests did not teach as such. The very circumstance of the place enforces a contrary sense. And in chap. xix. 5–7, there is express mention of appointing judges for the determination of civil causes in every city; which evidently was a distinct work, distinguished from that mentioned in this place. And, upon the like ground, I conceive it to be no intimation of a movable sanhedrim; which, although of such a mixed constitution, yet was not itinerant, and is mentioned in that other place. Neither is that other ordinary gloss more probable, “They were sent to teach, that is, to countenance the teaching of the law,” — a duty which seldom implores the assistance of human countenance; and if for the present it did, the king’s authority commanding it was of more value than the presence of the princes. Besides, there is nothing in the text, nor the circumstances thereof, which should hold out this sense unto us; neither do we find any other 18rule, precept, or practice, whose analogy might lead us to such an interpretation. That which to me seems to come nearest the truth is, that they taught also, not in a ministerial way, like the priests and Levites, but imperially and judicially, declaring the sense of the law, the offences against it, and the punishments due to such offences, especially inasmuch as they had reference to the peace of the commonwealth; which differs not much from that which I rest upon, — to wit, that in a collapsed and corrupted state of the church, when the ordinary teachers are either utterly ignorant and cannot, or negligent and will not, perform their duty, gifts in any one to be a teacher, and consent in others by him to be taught, are a sufficient warrant for the performance of it; and than this the places cited out of the Old Testament prove no more. For the proceedings of St Paul in the synagogues, their great want of teaching (being a people before forsaken of the Spirit, and then withering) might be a warrant for them to desire it, and his apostolical mission for him to do it. It doth not, then, at all from hence appear that there was then any liberty of teaching in public assemblies granted unto or assumed by any, in such an estate of the church as wherein it ought to be. When, indeed, it is ruinously declining, every one of God’s servants hath a sufficient warrant to help or prevent the fall; this latter being but a common duty of zeal and charity, the former an authoritative act of the keys, the minister whereof is only an instrumental agent, that from whence it hath its efficacy residing in another, in whose stead, and under whose person it is done, 2 Cor. v. 19, 20. Now, whoever doth any thing in another’s stead, not by express patent from him, is a plain impostor; and a grant of this nature made unto all in general doth not appear. I am bold to speak of these things under the notion of the “keys,” though in the time of the law; for I cannot assent to those schoolmen2323   Aquin., Durand. who will not allow that the keys in any sense were granted to the legal priests. Their power of teaching, discerning, judging, receiving in and casting out, import the thing, though the name (no more than that of “regnum cœlorum,” as Jerome and Augustine observe) be not to be found in the Old Testament; and, doubtless, God ratified the execution of his own ordinances in heaven then as well as now. What the immediate effect of their services was, how far by their own force they reached, and what they typified, how in signification only, and not immediately, they extended to an admission into and exclusion from the heavenly tabernacle, and wherein lies the secret power of gospel commissions beyond theirs to attain the ultimate end, I have declared elsewhere.2424   Tractatu de Sacerdotio Christi, contra Armin. Socin. et Papistas, nondum edito. [See Prefatory Note.]

Thus much of what the ancient people of God, distinguished from 19their priests, might not do; now briefly of what they might, or rather of what they ought, and what their obedience and profession declared that they thought themselves obliged unto. Private exhortations, rebukings, and such dictates of the law of nature, being presupposed, we find them farther “speaking often one to another” of those things which concerned the fear and worship of the Lord, Mal. iii. 16; by their “lips feeding many with wisdom,” Prov. x. 21; discoursing of God’s laws upon all occasions, Deut. vi. 6, 7; by multitudes encouraging each other to the service of God, Zech. viii. 20, 21, Isa. ii. 2, 3; jointly praising God with cheerful hearts, Ps. xlii. 4; giving and receiving mutual consolation, Ps. lv. 14; and all this, with much more of the same nature, at their meetings, either occasional or for that purpose indicted; — always provided that they abstained from fingering the ark, or meddling with those things which were appropriated to the office of the priests, and concerning them hitherto.


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