Imatges de pÓgina
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which Omnipotence had preserved them amid the universal destruction of their fellow-creatures.

On this second father of mankind, and on his family, the Supreme Being conferred blessings and privileges in most respects similar to those which he had bestowed on their first parents : confirming to them the sovereignty of the earth and of the inferior animated creation; and in one point enlarging the original grant, by permitting to them the use of animal food. To remove the apprehensions of another deluge, by which it might not be unnatural for them or their descendents to be harassed; he solemnly declared, that there never should again be a flood to destroy the earth. And with the most benignant condescension to the weakness of human faith, he farther pronounced, that the rainbow, an appearance uniformly produced by drops of falling rain illuminated by the sun, was ordained to be the sign of this everlasting covenant between himself and his creatures; and when beheld by him, should for ever bring his promise to his remembrance. And in order that he might completely dissipate the suspicious fears of men, that, if not a deluge, yet some other convulsion should afterwards be commissioned to ravage the whole earth and extinguish their race, he made known his merciful and unalterable determination : “I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease.'

Shortly after the deluge, Noah, in consequence of the difference between the conduct of his eldest and

" *

* Gen. viii. 22.

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youngest sons towards him, and that of his other son Ham, was commissioned prophetically to announce to the latter the future subjection which the posterity of Canaan, the child of the offender, should experience under the descendents of Shem and Japheth ; and to foretel that signal blessings should attend the race of these two righteous men. Among the reasons for which the prophecy was emphatically detailed by Moses, we may presume this to have been one — that it was singularly adapted to encourage the children of Israel to prosecute without fear into the land of the Canaanites that impending invasion, by which the judgments proclaimed by Noah were to be accomplished.

In the days of Peleg, who was born about one hundred years after the flood, and was the fourth in descent from Shem, “ the earth was divided.”* Mankind, still forming one great family, speaking the same language, and journeying still towards the west, fixed themselves in the land of Shinar, or Chaldea ; and arrogantly resolved to "build themselves a city, and a tower whose top might reach unto heaven; and to make themselves a name, lest they should be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.” Baffled in their proud design by the diversity of languages, which the Supreme Being suddenly introduced among them, as the instrument both of bringing to confusion their present enterprise, and of facilitating their dispersion into different regions, where they were to become the founders of many nations, they separated in small bodies each from the other, accordingly as Providence impelled them, whether by special command, or by the familiar course of events, through

* Gen. x. 25.

which the Deity influences the proceedings of men no less powerfully and no less efficaciously, for the furtherance of his own purposes, than by interpositions evi. dently miraculous. By the posterity of Japheth, “ the isles of the Gentiles” (many of the maritime countries washed by the Mediterranean Sea) “ were divided in their lands ; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” * The descendents of Ham occupied, among other lands, Assyria, Egypt, Palestine, and part of Chaldea, and of Arabia. Among the possessions of the posterity of Shem, we find Persia, part of Mesopotamia, and other regions of the east.

By this time a striking change had been experienced in the duration of human life. Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years. His posterity before the flood appear to have passed, upon an average, nearly as large a portion of time, and some individuals even a longer period, upon earth. + Noah lived to the age of nine hundred and fifty years. † His son Shem fell far short of antediluvian longevity: and in the days of Peleg, man s appears not to have attained to one half of the original measure of his existence. In succeeding generations a rapid diminution continued to take place: until at length, by the time when the children of Israel came out of Egypt, the length of the pilgrimage of man upon earth was reduced nearly within its present span.

Was this event then the natural result of alterations occasioned by the deluge in the temperature of the air, the fertility of the earth, and the nutritive powers of the sustenance of man? Or was it effected by a secret change wrought in the human frame and constitution by the immediate hand of the Creator? The * Gen. X. 5.

+ See Gen. v. # Gen. ix. 29.

♡ See Gen. xi.

cause is known to God; but immaterial to us. Our concern is to draw from the fact the moral and religious instruction, which it is so well adapted to suggest; that our lives are in the hands of God, and depend for their continuance, moment after moment, solely on his will. We may also discern reasons for concluding that the shortening of the period of human life was intended to be a blessing to mankind; and that, notwithstanding the frailty and corruption of man, it has proved and continues to prove so. Among the circumstances which contributed to swell the wickedness of the ancient world to its enormous magnitude, there were probably few more powerful than the apparent distance to which death was removed. In the present day, when he who has numbered seventy or eighty successive units, has numbered the years within which he and almost all his contemporaries of the human race will be called to stand before the tribunal of their Judge; to what an excess of iniquity do multitudes advance! What, then, would be the measure of their guilt, if they might with reasonable expectation look forward to many additional centuries of life? At present, too, the reign of the oppressor, whether in a private or in a public station, is necessarily short. The hour that shall sweep him away is at hand. Were life restored to its antediluvian period, he might continue for nearly a thousand years to render his fellow-creatures miserable. “ I have seen the wicked,” saith the Psalmist, “ in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay-tree. Yet he passed away, and lo, he was not : yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.” * The common course of nature speedily puts an end to his career : and his place may be filled by the

Psalm xxxvii, 35, 36.

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righteous. To the righteous themselves, more especially if they are burthened with afflictions, the shortness of life is a gracious dispensation. They enter the sooner into the mansions of the “ blessed which die in the Lord : that they may rest from their labours ; and their works do follow them.” *

* Rev. xiv. 13.

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