« PreviousContinue »
by the divine law. In other words, it is to discharge him from all obligation to be virtuous. What end must we then suppose Christians are intended to answer, while they continue in the world ? Certainly, none worthy of God, none worthy of the mediation of Christ, none worthy of the Christian character.
Antinomians forget that he who is born of God, loveth God, and knoweth God;' that he who loveth not, knoweth not God;' and that this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.' They forget that Christ died ' to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.?
4. We are here furnished with one interesting proof of the divine revelation of the Scriptures.
It is perfectly obvious to all who hear me, that a book professing to be a Revelation, must, whether false or true, depend in a great measure on its own internal character for evidence of its divine origin. The things which it contains must be such as become the character of God. Many of them may be mysterious and inexplicable ; because the nature of the subjects may be such as to transcend the human comprehension, or lie beyond the reach of human investigation. There are subjects also of which it may be necessary to know a part; and that part, though sufficiently disclosed, if considered by itself only, may yet be connected with others, whose existence it will indicate, but whose nature it will not at all disclose. When subjects of this kind are presented to us, we may, if we are disposed to inquire into them extensively, be easily perplexed, and easily lost.
But whatever is revealed must consist with the character of God; or it cannot be admitted as a Revelation. Some things also contained in a real Revelation, must be plainly worthy of their Author, and not merely not unworthy; must be honourable to his character, superior to the discoveries of the human mind, and such as: eannot be reasonably believed to have been the inventions of men.
Perfectly correspondent with all these remarks is the law under contemplation. This truth will advantageously appear by a comparison of it with the most perfeet buman laws. I shall select for this purpose those of Great Britain.
The statute laws of that kingdom are contained, if I mistake not, in about eighteen or twenty folio, or about fifty octavo volumes. The common, or as is sometimes styled, the unwritten law, occupies a number of volumes far greater. To understand them is a work of deep science; the employment of the first human talents, and the labour of a life. The great body of them can never be known by the generality of men, and must therefore be very imperfect rules of their conduct.
In the mean time, multitudes of cases are continually occurring which they do not reach at all. Those which they actually reach, they affect in many instances injuriously; and in many more imperfectly. The system of happiness which they propose is extremely defective, a bare state of tolerable convenience; and even that attended with many abatements. They also extend their influence only to a speck of earth, and a moment of time. Yet these laws were devised, reviewed, and amended, by persons of the first human consideration for learning and wisdom.
The law which we have been examining, is comprised in two commands only; is so short, so intelligible, so capable of being remembered and applied, as to be perfectly fitted to the understanding and use of every inoral being. At the same time, it is so comprehensive, as to reach perfectly every possible moral action, to preclude every wrong and to secure every right. It is equally fitted to men and angels, to earth and heaven. Its control extends with the same efficacy and felicity to all worlds, and to all periods. It governs the universe, it reaches through eternity. The system of happiness proposed and accomplished by it is perfect, endless, and for ever progressive. Must not candour, must not prejudice itself, confess with the magicians of Egypt, that here is the finger of God?'
But if this is from God, the Scriptures must be acknowledged to have the same origin. In the Scriptures alone is this law contained. Nay, the Scriptures themselves are chiefly this law, expanded into more minute precepts, and more multiplied applications; enforced by happy comments, and illustrated by useful examples ; especially the example presented to us in the perfect and glorious life of the Son of God.
THE LAW OF GOD.
THE FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT.
LOVE TO GOD.
AND ONE OF THE SCRIBES CAME, AND, HAVING HEARD THEM REA
SONING TOGETHER, AND PERCEIVING THAT HE HAD ANSWERED
AND JESUS ANSWERED HIM, THE FIRST OF ALL THE
MARK XII. 28-30.
In the last Discourse I made a number of general observations on the perfection of the divine law. I shall now proceed to consider, somewhat more particularly, the nature and import of the first and greatest commandment of that law; the command which regulates our piety to God.
In the text we are informed, that a scribe, a man learned in the scriptures, and accustomed to expound them to others, pleased with Christ's refutation of the Sadducees, and the proofs which he had unanswerably given of a future existence, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?' that is, the first in rank, obligation, and importance. Christ, quoting Deut. vi. 4, informs him, that the first command in this sense is, • Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.'
In this command, it is to be observed, there is one thing only required; and that is love. It is, however, Love in a comprehensive sense; including several exercises of the mind, easily and customarily distinguished from each other, as might indeed be naturally expected from the phraseology of the command.
It is further to be observed, that the love here enjoined is required to exist in a such a degree as to occupy the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole mind, and the whole strength. The word, here rendered soul, seems originally to have been used to denote the principle of animal life, and to have been commonly used in this sense by the Greeks; as the two corresponding words of their respective languages were by the Jews and Romans. The word, translated mind, is commonly used to denote the understanding, and seems plainly to have been used in this manner here ; since the scribe expresses this as the meaning of it in his answer. The import of this command may, then, be stated thus: “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thine understanding, and with all thy strength, throughout all thy life.” In other words, we are required, under the influence of this disposition, to devote, throughout our lives, all our faculties and services to the glory of Jehovah. Our hearts and voices, our understandings and our hands, are to be entirely and voluntarily dedicated to his service.
I have already observed, that love, in this comprehensive sense, includes several exercises of the mind, easily and cústomarily distinguished. It will be one object of this Discourse to exhibit them with this distinction.
1. Love to God, as required by this command, is good-will to him, his designs, and interests.
By good-will, in this case, I intend the very same benevolence, formerly described as one of the attendants of regeneration, and then mentioned as extending to the Creator and his intelligent creatures. Not a small number of divines have supposed, that love, in this sense, is neither required nor exerted towards the Creator. God,” say they, “ being supremely and eternally blessed ; and the success of his designs, and the prosperity of his interests, being perfectly secured by his power, knowledge, and presence, there can be no necessity nor room for any exercise of our good-will towards him or them. Benevolence is with propriety exercised towards man, because he needs it; but cannot with any such propriety be exercised towards God, who is so far from needing any thing,' that he gives unto all life, and breath, and all things."
These observations are undoubtedly specious. Yet the reasoning contained in them is totally erroneous; and the conclusion intended to be derived from them false and mistaken. To admit it is to give up the first duty of man.
Benevolence depends not, either for its obligation or exercise, on the supposition that the person towards whom it may be directed needs either our benevolence or its effects. Happiness, its immediate object, is always and everywhere supremely delightful and desirable in itself; delightful, whenever it exists; desirable, whenever it may exist hereafter. The greater the degree in which it exists, or may exist hereafter, the more delightful, the more desirable, must it be of course. It is desirable that two persons should be happy, other things being equal, rather than one; twenty than two; an hundred than twenty. It is in a continually increasing proportion desirable, that a person should be twice as happy as he is at present, ten times, an hundred times. On the same grounds it is delightful to find happiness existing in one degree, more delightful in two, and still more in twenty, or an hundred. To delight in happiness, in this manner, is in the same manner to exercise good-will towards the being who is thus happy.
The happiness, or blessedness of God, as it is more commonly termed, is no other than his enjoyment of his own perfect attributes, and of the effects produced by them in that glorious system of good which is begun in the work of creation, and will be completed in the work of providence: or, in other words, his sufficiency for accomplishing, the certainty that he will accomplish, and the actual accomplishment of a perfect system of good. This is an object infinitely desirable to the divine mind. Were it to fail, this desire would be ungratified, and the divine mind would be proportionally unhappy.