Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

9. We now perceive the difference between moral precepts, and ritual, ceremonial ordinances and appointments. Moral precepts are fit and reasonable in themselves. They are always obligatory, and are discernible by reason. But none of those properties belong to ritual, or ceremonial ordinances, of which there were many in the law of Moses, concerning bodily purifications, certain attendances at Jerusalem, numerous sacrifices, and the like: and under the gospel-dispensation, baptism and the eucharist. To these, I say, do not belong the fore-mentioned properties. They are not fit and reasonable in themselves. They are not always obligatory. They may be set aside, and others appointed in their room. Nor can they be discerned by reason. For their obligation depends upon express or positive appointment. I shall illustrate this by two instances only.

It was fit that the people of Israel should remember, and be thankful for, their deliverance from Egyptian bondage: but the duty to celebrate a memorial of it by eating the paschal lamb, owed all its obligation to divine appointment: and another method of commemorating that deliverance might have been ordained.

So likewise, supposing the coming of Christ, and his teaching in Judea, and dying, as he did, and rising again: this great transaction, and particularly the great event of his death, should be thankfully remembered by his disciples and followers: but the way of commemorating it, by eating bread and drinking wine, is of divine determination, and obligatory only by posi tive appointment.

10. The duties of morality, or moral righteousness, are taught and learned two ways, by reason and revelation. They are taught by reason, as before shewn, being fit and equitable in themselves, and appearing so to such as exercise their rational faculties. They may be also taught and enforced by revelation: as we know they are in the Old and the New Testament, by Moses and the prophets, by Jesus Christ and his apostles.

11. Though several expressions and phrases, made use of by us in discoursing on these points are different from those which we find in scripture, yet there also the same things are said and taught.

We do not find in scripture the words morality and immorality, moral good and evil: very seldom that of virtue, never that of vice. These expressions are chiefly taken from Greek and Roman authors: and owe their original and use, in good measure, to the different way of learning these principles, by reason, rather than revelation.

The word virtue is indeed sometimes found in the New Testament; but yet very rarely in the sense we now use it in, for holiness in general, or every branch of good conduct in itself reasonable and excellent. In one place it seems to be so used by St. Paul, in an exhortation to the Philippians: "If there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things," Philip. iv. 8. As if he had said: and whatever else is virtuous, really good and excellent, and praise-worthy, think of it, and attend to it.

[ocr errors]

And St. Peter in his first epistle: "But ye are a chosen generation, a peculiar people, that you should shew forth the praises," literally, virtues, "of him, who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light," 1 Pet. ii. 9. But though the original word signifies, literally, virtues; it does not exactly answer to our use of it: and seems to be well enough rendered in our translation, praises.

66

Again, in the second epistle of the same apostle- "through the knowledge of him who has called us to glory and virtue," 2 Pet. i. 3. But this text would be more properly rendered : through the knowledge of him who has called us by glory and power," or by his glorious power. Here virtue is equivalent to power. And the meaning is, that God had brought us to partake in the privileges of his church by a glorious display and manifestation of his power in supporting and spreading the gospel.

Once more, in the same context: "And beside these, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge," ver. 5. "But here it is evident, that virtue does not signify all virtuous conduct in general, but is put for some one virtue, or good disposition only. It seems to be used in the restrained sense of fortitude, courage, or resolution in the profession of the truth.

There is therefore scarce any text in the New Testament, where the word virtue is used in the general sense, of whatever is virtuous, and excellent, or in itself reasonable; except that one place of St. Paul, before cited from the epistle to the Philippians.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

But though several terms and phrases, now used by us in speaking of these matters, are not found in scripture, the same things are there said, and there are equivalent expressions. Righteousness sometimes includes both justice and goodness, and even piety likewise. And then it is the same as virtue, or morality, or moral righteousness. Says the Psalmist : " A little that a righteous man has," that is, a good, or virtuous man," is better than the riches of many wicked," Ps. xxxvii. 16. And, "the righteous Lord loveth righteousness: his countenance does behold the upright," Ps. xi. 7. And in the like manner, very often.

And though we do not find the words virtue and vice, moral good and evil: yet the scripture often speaks of good and evil, such good and evil as are really and intrinsically so by which the characters of men are distinguished, rather than by the observation of any positive appointments and ritual ordinances. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices, saith the Lord-Bring no more vain oblations: incense is an abomination unto me-Wash you, make ye clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do well-Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed." Is. i. 11, 17. In another place: "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter," Is. v. 23. Our text speaks of justice, mercy and piety, as good: that is, intrinsically so; good, in a superior degree to all the sacrifices and oblations before-mentioned.

The design of the gospel dispensation is represented after this manner: "that we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life," Luke i. 74, 75. In holiness and righteousness, that is, in a righteous holiness: as kingdom and glory is glorious kingdom: life and immortality is immortal life. So here, holiness and righteousness is a righteous holiness or sanctity: or in modern language, the practice of virtue, or moral righteousness. For there is a ritual, ceremonial, legal holiness or sanctity, consisting in a conformity to ritual precepts, the ordinances and appoint. ments of positive law. But the design of the coming of Christ is here, agreeably to innumerable other texts of the New Testament, represented to be, that we might serve God in a righteous sanctity, or the practice of real holiness. There is a like expression in the epistle to the Ephesians: "That ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness," Eph. iv. 24.

And by the prophets, men were often called upon in such expressions as these: "Amend your ways and your doings," Jer. vii. 3; and, "Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good," ch. xviii. 11, and, "Amend now your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God," ch. xxvi. 13. Which is exactly the same as that they should amend their manners, and return to the sincere practice of virtue, or moral righteousness.

Though therefore we do not find in the scripture all the same words and phrases which are now frequently made use of by us in treating on this subject: yet the same things are there said, and there are also equivalent, or like expressions with those made use of in modern language.

SERMON V.

THE NATURE, EXCELLENCE, AND IMPORTANCE OF MORAL RIGHTEOUSNESS.

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good. And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah vi. 8.

HAVING explained these words, I endeavoured in a late discourse, to shew in several propositions the nature and extent of virtue, or moral righteousness.

II. I am now to shew the excellence and importance of virtue, or righteousness and true holiness.

66

1. This righteousness, as to the main parts of it, has a place in every state and condition: or is of constant, perpetual and everlasting obligation: as has been already shewn, it being fit and reasonable in itself. This is one reason why St. Paul gives the preference to charity or love above faith and hope, that the virtue, or principle of love, will subsist even in the future state : whereas the other two, though very reasonable and beneficial now, will entirely cease, and be no more, when the objects of present faith and hope are possessed and enjoyed. Charity," says he, "never fails." But whether there be prophecies, they shall fail: whether there be tongues, they shall cease: whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." The way and manner of knowing here is so slow and tedious: the knowledge, we attain in this state, is so defective and inadequate, that he scruples not to say, "it shall vanish away:" and concludes: "Now abideth faith, hope, charity. But the greatest of these is charity.”

2. Moral perfection, or righteousness, is the glory and perfection of God himself: consequently, it must be the chief excellence of all rational beings. I say, moral perfection is the glory and perfection of God himself. Hereby he is truly excellent and amiable: forasmuch as beside his power, knowledge and understanding, he is a being of unvariable truth, everlasting righteousness, inflexible equity, and abundant goodness. When Moses desired to see God, the divine glory and character were represented to him after this manner: "The Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed: The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." Exod. xxxiv. 6. The Psalmist observes: "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness: his countenance does behold the upright," Ps. xi. 7. And in another place: Rejoice before the Lord, for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness will he judge the world, and the people with equity," Ps. xcviii. 9. In one of the prophets it is written: "Let him that glorieth, glory in this; that he knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth." "For in these things do I delight, saith the Lord," Jer. ix. 24. Our blessed Lord recommends it to us, "to be perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect," Mat. v. 48; that is, to imitate him in truth, righteousness, and goodness: to aim at a holiness resembling the holiness of God. And, says St. Paul: "That ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness," Eph. iv. 24.

66

This clearly shews the excellence of real holiness, that is the perfection of the divine nature : and that by becoming truly holy, we gain a resemblance of God himself.

3. The excellence and importance of real holiness, or moral righteousness, are evident from the frequent declarations in scripture concerning its absolute necessity to our acceptance with God, and our obtaining the heavenly inheritance. We have seen at large, how the necessity of this holiness to acceptance with God, is represented in this text and context. In the New Testament, where future recompences are more insisted on, it is plainly declared, that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord," Heb. xii. 14. And "blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." And " he that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, as he is pure."

4. Virtue, or true holiness, is represented in scripture as the end of all ordinances, and of all the revelations of God's will made to mankind. "Jesus Christ gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works," Tit. ii. 14. And "for this purpose was the Son of God manifested, to take away our sins," and "to destroy the works of the devil," 1 John iii. 8. Through the knowledge of Christ, God has "given us all things conducive to life and godliness," or suited to promote a godly life that we might "be partakers of the divine nature," 2 Pet. i. 3, 4. And St. Paul expressly says, that "Charity is the end of the commandment," 1 Tim. i. 5.

5. This farther appears from the earnestness with which true holiness is recommended in every part of the word of God; and from the preference which is constantly given to such holiness above obedience to ritual ordinances. This is evident to every one who is at all acquainted with the scriptures.

:

God himself says, he "desired mercy, and not sacrifice and the knowledge of himself, more than burnt offerings," Hos. vi. 6.

The several branches of moral righteousness are the things principally insisted on by our blessed Lord in that which is called his sermon on the mount. The like things are also earnestly recommended to Christians in the latter part of all the apostolical epistles.

Our Lord declared, the love of God and our neighbour, and not ritual ordinances and ap

1

pointments, to be the sum and substance of the law and prophets. Matt. xxii. 40. It is also the sum of his own doctrine, and of the preaching and writings of his apostles.

From all which particulars we evidently discern the excellence and importance of virtue, moral righteousness, or righteousness and true holiness.

III. I shall now conclude with some inferences by way of application.

1. We hence perceive the ground of the preference which is always given by wise men, and by the scriptures, to righteousness and true holiness above obedience to positive precepts, or ritual appointments. The obligation of these is founded in the will of God: but the former are reasonable in themselves, having a real excellence. And besides, they are also the will and commandment of God: and his will more especially, above, and in preference to all other

laws and commandments.

2. We perceive also why men's characters are chiefly determined by the practice of virtue: and true holiness, or the contrary; and why future rewards and punishments are to be dispensed accordingly. As our Lord declares, "the wicked will go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal," Matt. xiii. 49; xxv. 46. So it will be. And we now perceive, why it must, and should be so. The righteous have fulfilled the will of God, and performed that obedience which was the end of positive appointments, the others not. The righteous, the virtuous, have acted right, with sincerity, in their state of trial. They have attained some resemblance of the divine nature, and some preparedness for the heavenly state, of which the others are destitute.

3. What has been said upon this argument may be of use to shew the mistake of those who despise, and speak lightly of morality. Possibly, they do not thereby mean the same thing which those do who magnify it and earnestly recommend it. But they should consider that morality, in its more proper sense and meaning, is not merely honesty in the traffick and commerce of this world; nor is it only outward action. But virtue, or morality, in its comprehensive meaning, as before observed, takes in the love of God and our neighbour, or every thing that is fit and reasonable in itself. Its laws and precepts regulate thoughts, as well as. outward actions. It is true holiness. It is the image of God in man: it is a meetness for the rewards and happiness of another life.

4. We may conclude from what has been said upon this subject, that the promoting of virtue, or righteousness and true holiness, or a right moral conduct, will be one great design of any revelation that comes from God: forasmuch as these things are truly excellent, and useful in their natural and genuine tendency. And since these things are always obligatory, it is very probable, that one great design of revelation will be to perfect men in virtue, or moral righteousness, to encourage and enforce that righteousness by new and powerful motives and arguments, and to deter men from the contrary unrighteousness. And, as before observed, we do evidently perceive this to be the great design, the sum and substance of the law, the historical writings, the book of Job, the Psalms and Prophets of the Old, and of the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles of the New Testament.

5. He that has some just sentiments of God, and a serious regard to moral obligations, is in a great measure fitted and prepared for revelation. For he must be disposed to pay a regard to one who speaks in the name of God, and gives proof of a divine commission by works of mighty power, and teaches a doctrine enforcing real holiness. This is what our Lord declares when he says: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine; whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself," John vii. 17. And when one had acknowledged, "that there is one God, and that to love the Lord with all the heart, and his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices;" he declared, that he was "not far from the kingdom of God." Mark xii. 32-34. This is what he teaches also, when he says: "No man can come unto me, except the Father which has sent me draw him :" and, "every man that hath heard and learned of the Father, cometh unto me," John vi. 44, 45.

6. From what has been said, it appears to be a dreadful thing for any man to lessen the obligation of virtue and true holiness, or moral righteousness: or to abate men's regard thereto by any means whatever, or with a view to any particular and favourite scheme of his own, or of other men's invention. Our blessed Lord has declared, that such "shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven," Matt. v. 19. And he freely reproved the scribes and pharisees, who

taught for doctrine the commandments of men, and made void the law of God by traditions, which they received, and recommended, Matt. xv. 16.

7. We are likewise carefully to avoid misrepresentations of the Divine Being, and to be very cautious of admitting any principles derogatory to the moral perfection and righteousness of God, the creator and the governor of the world. We are not only to be concerned for the honour of God, as perfect in knowledge and power: but we should also maintain his moral perfection, as a being perfectly true, righteous, good, merciful. Are these perfections in some men? Would men want what is their greatest glory and excellence, if they should be arbitrary and unequal? And can we suppose the divine government to want justice and equity? Are great and good men merciful and forgiving? And can we deny those properties to God, the source of all being and perfection? It is easy to observe, that in scripture the greatness and majesty, and the goodness and mercy of God, are often joined together. "Thus saith the high and lofty One, that inhabiteth eternity: I dwell in the high and holy place: with him also, who is of a humble and contrite spirit-For I will not contend for ever. Neither will I be always wroth. For the spirit should fail before me, and the souls that I have made," Is. lvii. 15, 16. And Elihu strongly argues: "Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity-Yea surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment," Job. xxxiv. 10, 12.

8. We may hence infer the difficulty of describing particularly and exactly the services and enjoyments of good men in the heavenly state. They will be then perfect in holiness, and complete in happiness. Consequently a love of God and our fellow-creatures will abide, and be in great perfection. But many branches, various exercises of virtue, necessary and reasonable on earth, can have no place in heaven, where we are to be as the angels of God.

Particular descriptions therefore of the future happiness of good men, however agreeable and entertaining, will be for the most part conjectural and uncertain. We know enough from reason and scripture, to fill us with great hopes and expectations, and inspire us with the utmost zeal and diligence in perfecting holiness. The future happiness is, we know, the perfection of soul and body: it is freedom from all the imperfections of this condition. It is immortality, everlasting life, a glorious kingdom, a crown of glory that fadeth not away, an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, reserved in heaven. We are then to see God, and to be like unto Jesus Christ. But it is observable, that neither Jesus Christ, nor his apostles, have delivered particular and precise representations and descriptions of the glories of the other world, or of the services and enjoyments of good men therein. And St. Paul, who was caught up into the " third heaven and paradise," 2 Cor. xii. 3-5, absolutely declines a representation of the things he had seen and heard, and considers them as unspeakable.

9. By what has been said we may be led in some measure to the knowledge and understanding of those words of St. Paul: "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father: when he shall have put down all rule, and all authority and power. And when all things shall be subdued under him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all," 1 Cor. xv. 24—28.

Notwithstanding these expressions of the apostle, certainly Jesus Christ, the second Adam, will continue to be the head of his church and people, and the glory of the human nature, and will in all things have the pre-eminence, 1 Cor. xv. 45. There will for ever be given to him honour, respect, and gratitude, for what he has done for us. His people will be with him. And his presence with them will be a main source of their happiness. For, as St. Paul says: "So shall we ever be with the Lord," 1 Thes. iv. 17. And our Lord prayed, saying: "Father, I will, that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me, where I am, that they may behold the glory which thou hast given me," John xvii. 24.

The meaning of that passage I apprehend to be this: that the design of Christ's undertaking is then accomplished. And as the motives and arguments taken from his life on earth, from his death, resurrection, and ascension, were especially suited to a state of weakness and imperfection, temptation and affliction: those motives and considerations will then in a great measure And the people and followers of Jesus, brought to a state of perfection, will for the future be entirely governed by the reason of things, and the will of God. . Yet still they will be for ever thankful for the gospel dispensation, and for all the condescension and humiliation of the

cease.

« ZurückWeiter »