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The fallen nature of man, that inherent source of corrupt dispositions and corrupt practice, remained unaltered by the flood. There does not indeed appear to have been any circumstance in that dispensation, awful and stupendous as it was, which could reach the internal constitution of the soul. The truth of this conclusion is ascertained by the unequivocal declaration of God himself; who, when speaking immediately after the deluge concerning the future race of mankind, which was to spring from the family that descended from the ark, and even when promising to that future race his continual protection and bounty, characterises them collectively in terms similar to those which he had applied to their wicked ancestors whom he had recently destroyed : “ the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth.” * The uniform tenor of the Holy Scriptures, and the universal testimony of experience, concur in evincing the undiminished power of the original depravity.
The sacred historian, hastening to record events so interesting to his own people and to all mankind, as the vocation of Abraham and the Divine promises confirmed to the succeeding patriarchs, passes rapidly over the period intervening between the deluge and
* Gen. viii. 21.
the call of the father of the Jewish race. The slight notices, however, which he gives of the conduct of men, are such as seem to indicate the general prevalence of presumptuous guilt. Their attempt to build the tower of Babel was evidently in direct opposition to an humble dependence upon God. And the terms, in which the Supreme Being manifests his indignation on that occasion, strongly suggest the idea, that men were arrived at a very advanced stage of general and daring wickedness : “ This they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." * In the fulness, therefore, of wisdom and mercy, the Lord God, in order to preserve true religion alive among mankind, and to prepare the way for the coming of the promised Redeemer, had determined to select to himself from among the families of the earth a peculiar people; to place them in a country which should belong to them from generation to generation; to reveal to them a clear knowledge of his attributes and perfections ; to deliver to them a system of laws and sacred rites adapted to answer the purposes both of rendering those who should receive them religious, and of shadowing out the future sufferings of Jesus Christ, and the blessings thereby to be purchased; and to reward the obedience of the chosen race with temporal mercies so signal, and to chastise their disobedience by temporal calamities so severe, as might be suited to preserve this people faithful to their Divine Benefactor, to reclaim them when they should revolt from him, and to convince the inhabitants of surrounding countries that He was the only God.
Accordingly the Supreme Being, nearly two thousand years before the Christian era, appeared to Abraham, the son of Terah, and the ninth in descent from the patriarch Shem, and an inhabitant of Ur in Mesopotamia, and said to him: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee. And I will make of thee a great nation : and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing : and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” To these glorious promises, which were to be the consequences of Abram's obedience, the Deity added another infinitely more glorious; that from him should descend the Redeemer of mankind : “And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."* Abram, at the time when this divine communication was made to him, was very probably an idolater. The country of the Chaldees, which he inhabited, appears to have been distinguished from the earliest annals of Pagan antiquity for magic and superstition. Joshua † seems nearly to remove the possibility of doubt on the point under consideration by the following address to the Israelites, which proves the idolatry of Abram's family : “ Thus saith the Lord God of Israel : Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood,” (the river Euphrates, so denominated from its extraordinary magnitude,) “ in old time, even Terah the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor ; and they served other gods." Abram, however, convinced of the reality of the Divine command, and of the truth of the Divine promises, immediately prepared to depart. After the death of his father Terah, who accompanied him on his journey towards the promised country, but died on the way at Haran, Abram proceeded with his nephew Lot, and their families, into the land of Canaan : and on his arrival there, God * Gen. xii. 1-3. Acts, vii. 2. of Joshua, xxiv. 2.
* Gen, xi. 6.
appeared to him again ; and said, “ Unto thy seed will I give this land.” * Abram had at this time no child : and the expectation of an offspring was for a very long period a continual and decisive trial of his faith. Some years after the time when the promise was originally given, it was twice renewed to him in terms which foretold an innumerable multitude of descendents: and “ Abram believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness." + At length, about eleven years after his arrival in Canaan, he was rejoiced by the birth of his son Ishmael. Four years afterwards Abram was informed that the son indicated by the Divine promise was yet to be born to him: and at the same time his own changed to Abraham, and that of his wife to Sarah ; an alteration which, according to Hebrew etymology, alluded to the incalculable number of their posterity. But it was not until about fourteen years after the birth of Ishmael, when the age of Abraham and Sarah precluded, according to the common course of nature, all prospect of a child being born to them, that they were blessed with Isaac, the long expected son, who was to inherit the promises made to his father, particularly that of being the ancestor of the Messiah.
The Almighty in the mean time imparted to Abraham several prophetic intimations of the future fortunes of his descendents. He had informed the patriarch that one branch of his posterity should dwell as strangers in a land that was not theirs, (namely, in the land of Canaan, while it was as yet in other hands, and afterwards in Egypt,) during a period of four hundred years; but should then be brought forth in great triumph and prosperity from the scene of their distress. I And concerning Ishmael, God * Gen. xii. 7.
of Gen. xiii. 14, &c. and xv. 4-6. Gen. xv. 13, 14.
declared that, though he should be a wild man, an uncontrolled inhabitant of the deserts, his hand against every man, and every man's hand against him, he should be the father of twelve princes and of a great nation, and should dwell in the presence of all his brethren. In this case, as in the case already noticed of Canaan, and conformably to the general import of scriptural prophecies in similar instances, the prediction delivered respecting the individual was designed to be descriptive of the characteristic events, which were to distinguish the fate of his posterity. Succeeding generations were witnesses, as we ourselves are in this our day, of the accurate fulfilment of this prophecy in the lot of the Arabians, the descendents of Ishmael. The twelve tribes of the Arabians are specified in Pagan history. Dwelling, like their progenitor, in the deserts ; wild men, their hand against every man, and every man's hand against them; engaged in perpetual hostility one with another and with every neighbouring power ; they have steadily maintained their national independence. In vain have the most formidable armies of the greatest empires endeavoured to overturn it. They have retired baffled and dismayed; or have perished by the sword and famine in the wilderness. The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Macedonians, the Romans, the Turks, have successively confirmed by their fruitless efforts the veracity and omnipotence of God. After sustaining the most active enmity of the most powerful nations for three thousand seven hundred years, the Arabians still live, unsubdued and fearless, in the presence of all their brethren.
* Gen. xvi. 12. xvii. 20. and xxv. 16. See Bishop Newton's Dissertation on the Prophecies, vol. i. pp. 37–63. 3d edition, 8vo.