Page images

neficence goes further and applies the golden precept of our Lord in its full extent, “ Whatsoever ye would, that men should do unto you, do ye also so unto them.” This leads to all the different exertions of love, which the different situations of the object, or the different relations, which the object bears to us, require at our hands, and which are distinguished by the names of generosity, benevolence, patriotism, hospitality, friendship, natural affection, brotherly love, humanity, gratitude, clemency, mercy and forgiveness.

The third branch in the general division is godliness or piety; which has the great author of our being for its immediate object. The duties which we owe to him, and which constitute that spiritual worship which the devout soul habitually at all times and in all places pays him, are reverence, love, trust and resignation. The object of the first, which is reverence, is the supereminent excellency of all the divine attributes, considered in themselves : that of the second, which is love, is his goodness and mercy, particularly as they appear in his works of creation and redemption; the object of the third, which is trust, is in a special manner the veracity and faithfulness of God, considered in conjunction with his wisdom and power; and the object of the fourth and last, which is resignation, is providence, that is to say, all the divine perfections considered as employed in the government of the world, and in overruling all events in such a manner, as that they shall fulfil the ends of infinite wisdom and goodness, and complete at last the happiness of God's people. This view of the christian plan of morals is the more agreeable, that it exhibits to us our duty in a kind of scale or climax, not unlike the ladder which Jacob saw in his dream, whose foot was fixed upon the earth, and whose top reached the heaven. It begins at self, at the regulation of the inferior appetites and passions, the great hindrances to spiritual illumination, and to all moral improvement, and at the acquisition of those virtues which are in effect little other in themselves than the negation of vices; and from these, it rises and expands itself so as to embrace the human race, thence again it ascends even to the throne of the most high God.

The end of the christian religion is often represented as being the assimilation of the soul to God, by which alone we can be qualified for the enjoyment of him. Now as virtue in man, so the moral perfections of God have been represented as concentering in the single character of love. “Love is of God,” says the apostle John," and God is love.” Agreeably to this doctrine, the acquisition of this quality is represented as the end of the whole christian dispensation, which our apostle styles “the commandment” by way of eminence. “Now the end of the commandment is charity,” (or love, for the word in the original is the same) “out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” To the same purpose we are told that it is “ the bond of perfectness,” or that which must consummate the christian character. You need not be told, that in the love of God and the love of our neighbour our duty to both is in the New Testament commonly comprehended, and these two constitute the second and third classes of duty in the gospel system above enumerated.

With regard to the virtues of the first class, which have self for the object, and which consist in temperance with regard to bodily appetite, and moderation in what concerns the passions of the soul, these cannot be considered as bearing in themselves a direct resemblance to any thing in the divine mind. They result purely from the peculiarities of our nature and circumstances ; at the same time, they are absolutely prerequisite to the acquisition of that resemblance. They prepare the heart for its reception, by the exclusion of whatever might tend to obstruct its access. Nor can any thing more effectually block up the avenues of the heart to prevent the entrance of the celestial guest, christian love, than sensuality and inordinate affection. Thus I have given you a kind of skeleton of the ethics of the gospel, not to preclude your own assiduous endeavours on this most important topic, but to serve on the contrary as hints to promote them. In forming a digest upon such a plan, it would be proper to observe carefully the same things, which were pointed out as meriting your attention on the former head. They were principally three, toʻmake scriprure serve as its own interpreter ; not to indulge a spirit of philosophizing, or disposition to refine upon the several articles; and lastly, to adopt as nearly as possible the scripture language, only preferring the plainest and simplest expressions to those which are figurative, or may be thought in any respect ambiguous or obscure.

It will not be improper in such a system, to attend a little to what may be called the order of subordination in duties, and to point out in cases wherein there may be an interfering, which ought to give place to the other. I do not mean, that he should enter into all the curious discussions of casuistry, an art, which when all things are duly considered, will be found, I fear, to have done more disservice to religion and morals than benefit. In matters of right and wrong, it has been observed with reason, that our first thoughts are commonly the best. God hath not left the discovery of practical truths, or what regards our duty, in the same way, as those truths that are of a theoretic nature, to the slow and precarious deductions of the rational faculty ; but has in our consciences given such clear intimations of what is right and amiable in conduct, that where there have been no prejudices to occupy the mind, and pervert the natural sense of things, it commands an immediate and instinctive approbation. Recourse is rarely had to the casuist for the sake of discovering what is our duty, but very often that we may find a plausible pretext for eluding its commands. The christian scheme in this particular will be found, it is hoped, exactly conformable to the purest dictates of the unprejudiced mind, to be truly perfective of our nature, which it evidently tends to purify, expand and raise, from every thing that is sordid, contracted or low. The casuistic art, as it is commonly managed, is in fact but a child of the metaphysical theology of the schools, and has taken a considerable tincture from the secular considerations which have influenced the parent. Hence the term casuistical reasoning has, with judicious people, fallen very much into disgrace, and is considered at present as very nearly synonimous with sophistical and jesuitical reasoning. I do not say indeed, that there may not sometimes happen complicated cases, in which even a sensible and good man might be perplexed on which side he ought to determine. But these do not frequently occur ;

and to

employ oneself in imagining them before hand, and in devising the various possible circumstances in which transgression may be either extenuated or excused, will, I am afraid, be found a more effectual expedient for insinuating vice, than it is for making us understand the just limits of virtue.

I come now to point out the advantages, which will redound to the student from his employing so much • of his time and labour on the scriptures, as the exer

cises, which I have enjoined, will necessarily require. The first and most manifest advantage is a knowledge of the scriptures. If any thing whatever can contribute to this end, the method I have proposed must certainly do it. Every thing that is remarkable in the sacred volume may almost be comprised in these three particulars, the history it contains, the scheme of doctrine, and the system of precepts. In order to make a proper abstract of each, it is necessary that we should be attentive to, and get acquainted with every part. Some parts indeed are more essential for one of these purposes, and other parts for another ; but there is no portion of sacred writ, of which we may not say with justice, that it is conducive for our improvement, either in the biblical history, doctrine, or morals, if not in more than one of them, or even in all the three.

Another advantage well deserving the student's serious attention is this. It puts him upon a method, by means of which he can hardly be in a situation where. in he may not have it in his power to employ his time profitably in the acquisition of useful knowledge, and in forming habits of composition. I can easily conceive, and I believe many of you, gentlemen, may have experienced what I am going to mention, I say,

I can

« PreviousContinue »