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THE LAW OF GOD.
THE LAW PERFECT.
THE LAW OF THE LORD IS perfect.
PSALM XIX. 7.
In the whole preceding series of Discourses I have examined with attention the principal DOCTRINES contained in the Scriptures. Particularly, I have exhibited the existence and pertections of God, and his works of creation and providence; the character and circumstances of man, both before and after his apostasy, and the impossibility of his justification by his personal obedience. I have considered at length the character and mediation of Christ, and the nature of evangelical justification through his righteousness; the character and agency of the Holy Ghost ; the necessity and nature of regeneration ; its antecedents, attendants, consequences, and evidences. All these united constitute the body of those peculiarly important truths, to which the Scriptures have required us to render our religious faith.
The second great division of subjects in such a system is formed of the scriptural PRECEPTS, requiring of us those internal and external acts, commonly termed the duty or duties of mankind. We are not, however, to suppose that faith in the doctrines of the Scriptures is not itself a prime duty of
The contrary has, I trust, been amply proved. Nor are we to suppose that any one of these doctrines has not naturally an important practical influence on mankind. The
contrary to this also has, it is presumed, been extensively shown. Finally: We are not to suppose that faith in Christ, and repentance towards God, are duties of fallen beings, less real, less necessary, less essential, or less acceptable, than any other duties whatever. The conformity of the understanding and the heart to every doctrine of the Scriptures is, by the authority of God, made equally a duty with obedience to every precept. All that can with propriety be said of this nature is, that those which are customarily called the doctrines of the Scriptures, are usually presented to us rather in the form of truths which we are to believe, than of commands which we are to obey; and that the precepts are commonly given to us in their own proper form, requiring our obedience directly.
At the same time, it is to he observed, that a conformity of our hearts and lives to the doctrines of the Gospel is often expressly enjoined by the Scriptures. To repent of our sins, and to believe in Christ, are the immediate objects of the great precepts of the Gospel. It is farther to be observed, that every precept becomes, by a slight alteration in the phraseology, a doctrine. For example ; · Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,' is easily altered into a mere truth, only by changing the phraseology into “ It is right, or it is thy duty, to love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart.” A cordial faith in this declaration is here, as with respect to every other precept, the spirit whence is derived all genuine obedience.
Truth is commonly divided into that which is practical, and that which is speculative. But moral truth cannot, in the strict sense, be justly divided in this manner. Every moral truth is of a practical nature. Its influence, I acknowledge, is in some cases indirect; while in others it is direct. But it can never be truly denied in any case that its influence is really of this nature.
The observations, which I intend to make on the several subjects, included in the second great division of the System of Theology, I propose to preface with a general account of the divine law. The doctrine which I mean to discuss in this account is that which the text expresses in the very best terms which can be chosen ; viz.
THE LAW OF JEHOVAH IS PERFECT.
In proof of this truth I allege the following considerations.
1. The law of God is the result of his infinite wisdom and goodness.
It cannot be supposed, that infinite wisdom and goodness would form a rule, for the government of moral beings, which did not possess such attributes as must render it a perfect directory of their moral conduct. It may easily be believed that God may make moral beings, of many different classes ; some of superior, and some of inferior capacities; but it cannot be imagined that he would not require of all such beings a character and conduct the best of which they were naturally capable. Inferior wisdom and goodness might be unable to devise, or uninclined to require, the best conduct and character in moral creatures; or to point out the means by which this character could be most easily and perfectly formed, or the conduct in which it would most advantageously operate. But none of these things are attributable to infinite wisdom and goodness thus employed. They of course must require the best character and conduct, must point out the best means of forming it, and the best modes in which it can operate. To suppose a law which is the result of these attributes not to be perfect, is to suppose, either that God did not know what would be the best character in his moral creatures, or did not choose to require it of them. Both parts of this alternative are too obviously absurd to need a refutation.
Further : A law is always the expression of the will of the lawgiver; and is of course an expression of his own character. This is pre-eminently applicable to the law of God. In forming it, he was under no necessity, and could have no motive beside what is involved in his own pleasure, to induce him to form it in any given manner. The things which it requires are the things which he approves, and is seen to approve; the things in which he delights, and is seen to delight; the things therefore which entirely show his real character. But the things actually required include all which are due from his moral creatures to him, to each other, and to themselves ; or, in other words, all their internal and external moral conduct.
But it cannot be supposed, that God would exhibit his own perfect character imperfectly, in a case of this magnitude. That in a law expressing thus his own character, and seen to express it; a law from which they must of necessity learn his character more certainly than from any thing else ; a law which regulated and required all the moral conduct ever required of them, he should not prescribe a perfect collection of rules, a collection absolutely perfect, is a supposition amounting to nothing less than this; that in exhibiting his character to the intelligent universe he would present it in a false light, and lead them by a solemn act of his own necessarily to consider him either as a weak or as an immoral being.
2. The law of God is perfectly fitted to the state and capacity of intelligent creatures.
The divine law is wholly included in two precepts ; ' Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart; and thy neighbour as thyself.' These are so short, as to be necessarily included in a single very short sentence; so intelligible, as to be understood by every moral being who is capable of comprehending the meaning of the words, God and neighbour ; so easily remembered, as to render it impossible for them to escape from our memory, unless by wanton, criminal negligence of ours; and so easily applicable to every case of moral action, as not to be mistaken, unless through indisposition to obey. At the same time, obedience to them is rendered perfectly obvious, and perfectly easy to every mind which is not indisposed to obey them. The very disposition itself, if sincere and entire, is either entire obedience, or the unfailing means of that external conduct by which the obedience is in some cases completed. The disposition to obey is also confined to a single affection of the heart, easily distinguishable from all other affections : viz. love. Love,' saith St. Paul, • is the fulfilling of the law. The humblest and most ignorant moral creatures, therefore, are in this manner efficaciously preserved from mistaking their duty.
In the mean time, these two precepts, notwithstanding their brevity, are so comprehensive, as to include every possible moral action. The Archangel is not raised above their control, nor can any action of his exceed that bound which they prescribe. The child who has passed the verge of moral agency is not placed beneath their regulation, and whatever virtue he may exercise is no other than a fulfilment of their requisitions. All the duties which we immediately owe to God, to our fellow creatures, and to ourselves, are by these precepts alike comprehended and required. In a word, endlessly various as moral action may be, it exists in no form or instance in which he who perfectly obeys these precepts will not have done his duty, and will not find himself justified and accepted by God.
3. The law of God requires the best possible moral character.
To require and accomplish this great object, an object in its importance literally immense, is supremely worthy of the wisdom and goodness of this glorious Being. To make his mural creatures virtuous is unquestionably the only method of rendering them really and extensively useful, and laying the only solid foundation for their enduring happiness. But all virtue is summed up in the fulfilment of these two commands; * Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart ; and thy neighbour as thyself.' In doing this, every individual becomes as amiable, excellent, dignified, and useful, as with his own capacity he can be. Should he advance in his capacity through endless duration, all the good which he will ever do, all the honour which he will ever render to his Creator, all the excellence, amiableness, and dignity which he will ever acquire, will be nothing but obedience to these two commands. The beauty and glory of the evangelical character, the rapturous flame which glows in the breast of a Seraph, the transcendent exaltation of an Archangel, is completely included in loving God with all the heart, and his neighbour as himself.' Nay, the infinite loveliness, the supreme glory of the Godhead is no other than this disposition, boundlessly exerted in the uncreated mind, and producing, in an unlimited extent and an eternal succession, its proper and divine effects on the intelligent universe. • God,' saith St. John, “is love.'
4. The law of God proposes and accomplishes the best possible end.
The only ultimate good is happiness; by which I intend enjoyment ; whether springing from the mmd itself, or flowing into it from external sources. Perfect happiness is perfect good; or, in other words, includes whatever is desirable; and