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For indeed the Christian law, or the practick part of our holy religion, is no other than the perfection of the law of nature; or those practical notions and dictates which God hath made connatural to mankind, and impressed upon their minds, to be as their guide and direction how to act agreeably to their nature, and attain the good and happiness of the rational life; as other animals are directed by sensitive instincts and propensions to attain the good of the sensitive life.
Now, that there was such an internal law as this, written upon the heart of man, and, as it were, born with him, before God revealed a more public rule and measure of men's obedience to him, and behaviour in their intercourse with one another, there is no question. St. Paul is plain in the case, Rom. ii. 14, 15. When the Gentiles, says he, which have not the law, meaning that revealed to Moses, do by nature the things contained in the law, i. e. the moral part of it, for which many of the heathens were deservedly famous, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves : which shew the work of the law, or that part of it which related to moral practice, to be written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts between themselves, or privately in their own breasts, accusing or else excusing one another, as observers or violaters of this natural law.
And indeed, had mankind for so long a time as was from their creation to the first public revelation of the will of God to Moses, been left without any such internal guide and director to what was most conducive to their happiness; men would have been worse provided for, by much, than the beasts that perish; who, we daily see, are wonderfully directed by a natural instinct, in the pursuit of what is their chief good and happiness, according to their several kinds.
It is true, when men grew corrupt and degenerate, disobedient to their Maker, regardless of their reason, and vain in their imaginations, changing the truth of God into a lie, and not retaining him in their knowledge, but serving the creature more than their Creator 8, as the apostle expresses it, their foolish heart was darkened, this candle of the Lord in their souls burnt dim, and gave a feeble and uncertain light, and this natural law was so defaced, as to become at length to the generality of mankind scarce legible; professing themselves to be wise, they became fools; wherefore God gave them
for a great while, to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, and to vile affections and a reprobate mind, or a mind devoid of that sagacity and judgment which was at first impressed upon their souls : that is, he gave them over as desperate and irreclaimable, to do those things that were not convenient, such things as were so far from procuring the good of the rational nature, that they were the very bane of it, and would make it extremely miserable; things naturally destructive of the happiness of man, both in his private and political capacity; and which, had they observed the law written in their hearts, they would have been taught to avoid and shun, with the greatest care and diligence, as the worst of evils.
After the generality of mankind had for a long time lain in this forlorn condition, covered with dark
g Rom. i. 19-32.
ness and the shadow of death, God, of his infinite pity and compassion, brought that law again publicly to light, by the ministry of his servant Moses, and explained it to his people Israel, and enforced it by the sanctions of rewards and punishments, and for a long time they rejoiced and walked in it; it was their glory in the sight of the nations round about them, which, how great soever, had not comparably such righteous statutes and judgments, as those which Moses set before the posterity of Jacob.
And it was from this admirable code and digest of nature, (as I may call it,) that the wisest of the heathens (though they would not own it) transcribed and copied out their best notions in morality and the government of communities.
But this primitive law, though first retrieved by the Mosaic revelation, and very illustrious, in comparison with that thick darkness which had for so long time before overspread the miserably benighted world; yet was not wrought up to its perfection till many ages after. There was then, indeed, light enough to guide men safely in their goings, and discover the horrible precipices which had before ruined so many ; but the glorious work of bringing it to its full splendour was reserved for him who first implanted it in the soul, and is the true Light, that enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world i.
At his coming, the clouds that were still remaining removed apace, and the glimmerings and imperfect dawn of the law was swallowed up in the perfect day of the gospel. Now is the Sun of Righteousness exalted to his meridian, and showers down a perfect light to all the dark recesses of the world; the lost guide is now fully restored, and the way to happiness become plainer and more perspicuous than ever; and it is not a new way, but the old one completed and perfected; it is still the law of nature, as the moral part of Moses's law was the law of nature; only what' was before wanting is now superadded and filled up; and the whole promulgated as the standing, unalterable law of God, to be observed by all men to the end of the world; and is now become a light to lighten the Gentiles, as well as then the glory of the people Israel : God, as the apostle says, having provided some better thing for us, that they, without us, should not be made perfect k.
Deut. iv. 8.
i John i. 9.
And lest we should again prove careless, and unattentive to this law, it is collected into a system, and made visible to the eyes of our body as well as of our mind, and like the book in the prophecy of Ezekiel, chap. ii. is written without as well as within ; that so our drowsy souls may be roused up by the ministry of the senses, and by all means possible we may be preserved from sliding back again into our former misery and confusion.
The Christian religion then, as to the moral part of it, being the perfection of the law of nature, that guide which God himself hath placed in our souls, and which, if heedfully followed, will conduct men safely to their true happiness; it must follow, that in itself it is a yoke that is easy, and a burden that is light. For what is most natural to a man must, without question, be most easy to him, and that way to happiness which has a natural tendency to the well-being of man, in all the parts of his life,
k Heb. xi. 40.
throughout his whole duration, and in all his capacities and relations, can never be in itself dolorous and afflicting; for then the insisting in it would not make him happy, but miserable.
That which was so very burdensome in the law of Moses was the numerous rites and ceremonies of it, and so far as it was a revival of the defaced law of nature it was easy to be done, and a reasonable service: and those great burdens that were laid upon the Jews were only designed for a time, to inure that stubborn people to obedience, and secure them from the idolatry of the neighbouring nations, and, like a schoolmaster, to train them up to the times of the Messias, and make them long the more earnestly for that glorious liberty, which the prophets foretold they should enjoy in his days; and incline them the more readily to submit to his far easier yoke and lighter burden.
A yoke like that which Adam wore in the state of innocence: a service rational and spiritual, such as best becomes a man to pay to the Father of spirits; such as is directly conducive to his happiness in all respects, and which every sensible man is capable of doing, though not perfectly, yet acceptably, through the divine grace and assistance, which is never wanting but to the incorrigibly obstinate: and, finally, a duty which when we have no regard to misery of all sorts does naturally and unavoidably follow in the conclusion.
Thus we see what our holy religion is in itself, how light a burden and easy a yoke in its own nature; and were we to prove this by an induction of the particular duties it lays upon us, they would all appear, to any sober, unprejudiced person, so
BRAGGE, VOL. IV.