Зображення сторінки

were to be actuated. They were required to serve him with the ready and cheerful compliance of the heart, not with the cold, though servile, the reluctant, but ceremonious conformity of external deportment. In short, it is evident from this preface, that the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and Jacob, proposes his goodness and beneficence as constituting a much stronger obligation to obedience than his absolute sovereignty and irresistible power. Not less blasphemous, therefore, than absurd, is the claim of despotic potentates, to derive their authority exclusively from God, and to employ it in direct opposition to the ends of the divine government itself, the supreme happiness of the moral creation, and thereby the glory of the great Creator. Equally irrational and opprobrious to the Deity are the views of certain theologians, who, either in their speculative schemes of religion, or in their enforcements of duty, regard no other of the divine attributes but omnipotence, and render terror the sole spring of moral obedience. It is true that, under the Old Testament dispensation, the Deity is exhibited as a “mighty God, and a terrible ;"and that, even under the new and better covenant, men are also persuaded by the “terror of the Lord,” and admonished to consider that it is a “ fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," Our race must be influenced by fear as well as by hope, be intimidated from transgression, as well as moved to obedience, by the nobler principles of their nature. These last, however, are the only true springs of conduct really moral, of such as will both be acceptable to the Deity and honourable to man. Whatever proceeds not from the heart, can possess no moral estimation. Before men can yield that willing and free submission to a law which renders submission moral or laudable, and deserving of regard, there must be a sincere approbation of the precept, and an entire esteem of the legislator. These feelings can be produced only by a solid conviction of the justice and beneficial tendency of the former, and of the wisdom, goodness, and just dominion of the latter. Hence, even under the Mosaical dispensation, these two aphorisms of the gospel were completely established ; “Love is the fulfilling of the law ;'!and, “ They that worship God, must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

a Deut. vii. 21.

b 2 Cor. v. 11.

c Heb. X. 31.

It may be justly alleged, that the only motive to obedience urged in the preface to the decalogue, the deliverance from Egyptian bondage, is not, strictly speaking, applicable to Christians whose forefathers were not of Jewish extraction. But as the precepts which it contains, not even excepting the fourth, properly. understood, are of a moral nature, they must be equally obligatory on all mankind.

a Rom. xiii. 10.

b John iv. 24.

This obligation arises from man's intellectual and moral constitution, from his relations to his Creator, and to all his own species. Accordingly this moral law has been more fully explained, more powerfully enforced, and more completely exemplified in the New Testament, than it ever was by Moses or any of the Jewish prophets. What is more, the motive itself, urged on the Jews, has, in regard to Christians, a complexion of still more powerful cogency.

The Israelites were delivered from temporal bondage, which, however rigorous, could not affect their internal frame, the rectitude of their minds, or their connexion and intercourse with their Creator. Christians have, by the grace of God operating through the gospel, been delivered from the most dreadful of thraldoms, that of moral corruption. They are freed from the terrors of death, and from the distracting apprehensions of the “wrath to

“ There is henceforth no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. They enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God.” “ Christ hath made them free." Their religion is distinctly styled “the perfect law of liberty,”_liberty, as far surpassing that which regards the civil condition of mankind, as the soul surpasses the body. It is indeed that liberty which qualifies for the enjoyment of the latter, and without which, this can neither be obtained nor preserved.


a 1 Thess. i. 10. Rom viii. 1, 21. Gal. v. 1. James i, 25.

Thus, it is evident that this grand motive to obedience to the law of God, suggested in the preface to the ten commandments, is in a still higher degree applicable to Christians, and ought to enforce their compliance in a more powerful, though more liberal manner. Gratitude to God is, in fact, one of the strongest incitements to Christian practice.

As the decalogue is not intended merely for the regulation of external conduct, but is a moral rule of life, the scope, object, and spirit of

every precept are to be considered, and the whole of its moral complexion, as extending to the springs of action and the dispositions of the heart, is to be constantly kept in view. Whatever, therefore, is commanded or prohibited, is to be understood in its full latitude, and as directed more to form an habitual sense of duty in the soul, by compliance with every particular command and prohibition, than to secure obedience to the mere letter of the law. Hence, the prohibition of any crime implies the practice of the opposite duty; and, on the other hand, the injunction of any duty infers the prohibition of the opposite sin. Every injunction and prohibition extends to all degrees of obligation, not solely in regard to external practice, but also to internal dispositions, inclinations, and propensities, which are the sources whether of virtue or of vice, and every mean of cultivating the one and avoiding the other, is also included in the object of the commandment. The moral nature of the divine law carries along with it the further obligation to promote, to the utmost of our power, the observance of it among mankind. For, if we are intimately persuaded of its salutary tendency, and of its intimate connexion with universal happiness, we must be anxious for the extension of its influence, and assiduous in promoting it.

AU these observations are no less applicable to the first four commandments, which prescribe the duties of piety, or prohibit the violation of them, than to the succeding, which prescribe and prohibit, with regard to the two other branches of duty already considered.

The first commandment, while it condemns in express words polytheism, or the acknowledgment of any other being whatever as the object of adoration and divine honours, but the one only God, the creator, the preserver, and the governor of the universe, evidently injoins the acknowledgment and worship of that ever-blessed being. The first and most shocking transgression of this commandment, is that of having

« НазадПродовжити »