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sinners, connect with his holy abhorrence of, and righteous indignation against their sins; and contain some intimations of that change, which his grace effects in those who share his pardoning love. Yet even this would be insufficient to render the exercise of nrercy, (especially in that extent spoken of in Scripture) consistent with the perfection of his holiness and justice : for should mercy be shown to such as merit vengeance (without any provision made on that behalf), justice would appear imperfect, its rights violated, and its glory eclipsed; the law would be in a measure degraded, and the Divine purity would not shine forth in its full splendour. Some intimations, therefore, were given from the beginning, that mercy would be exercised in harmony with justice; and that Jehovah would, through the promised Seed, be “a just God and a Saviour;" yet, under the old dispensation, his servants seem rather to have believed that it would be so, than to have had clear perceptions of the mysterious way in which it would be effected; but the New Testament hath removed the veil from the subject itself, provided the veil do not still remain upon our hearts. This, however, seems to be the only way in which the Divine character could be displayed to us, in all its glory : at least, all created understanding must for ever have proved incapable of conceiving, in what way the largest exercise of pardon and love to the vilest sinners could consist with, and illustrate the infinite justice and holiness of God, and establish his law in honour and authority. Infinite wisdom alone could devise a plan adequate to these purposes; it must spring from boundless love; and we may be sure, that the plan revealed to us was the most approved of all that were possible, by infinite wisdom and love.
Every intimation, therefore, of a Messiah, a Mediator, a mercy-seat, a high priest, or an atoning sacrifice, should lead our minds to the great doctrine of redemption through Emmanuel's blood, as the central point in which every part of the revelation God hath made of himself to man must meet. But without farther anticipating this part of the subject, we may observe, that the Scriptures everywhere describe our God as perfect in wisdom, holiness, justice, truth, goodness, and mercy in all its manifold exercises; they represent these attributes as the glory of his nature, and as constituting him the proper object of our supreme love, adoration, and service ; as all harmonizing in his consummate character, and each of them subserving the exercise and glory of all the rest.
II. In more exactly investigating the Scriptures, we find these attributes exemplified in the works and dispensations recorded of our God. The display of his omnipotence, and other natural perfections, in the works of creation; or the miracles he wrought in delivering his servants, or punishing his enemies, is too obvious to need a particular discussion in this place: nor is it requisite to enlarge on his providential goodness. But that combination of justice, holiness, truth, and mercy, which hath been stated as comprising the character of God, is manifested in his dealings with his rational creatures. Infinite in holiness and justice, “he spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell.” He denounced on fallen Adam and his race, the awful sentence, “ dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return;" and unnumbered millions have been swept into the grave, by most dire and torturing diseases. The destruction of the old world by the deluge; that of Sodom, &c. by fire; the plagues of Egypt; the vengeance executed on the Canaanites; and all the judgments inflicted on the rebellious Israelites in the wilderness, in the promised land, and through every age, are such exhibitions of these awful attributes, that our minds naturally turn from the narrative with aversion; nor can any man fully understand them, till he hath acquired a deep sense of the evil of sin, and the justice of God. Nay, the corrections inflicted on Lot, David, and other offending believers, whose sins were eventually pardoned, display the same attributes, and authorize the same conclusions ; so that the Psalmist might well say, “My flesh trembleth for fear because of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments.” On
the other hand, his patience, compassion, mercy, and grace, are exhibited in all his dealings with fallen man: “ he endured with much long-suffering even the vessels of wrath :” he ever appeared ready to forgive the penitent, to pity the wretched, to relieve the distressed, to lift up the self-abased, and comfort the broken-hearted. “ His mercy was upon those that feared him from generation to generation :” his dealings with Israel as a nation, and with individuals, proved this : nor did any sinner ever humbly seek his face in vain. The faithfulness of God is so illustrated in accomplishing his promise concerning the seed of the woman, &c. four thousand years after it was given, that other instances need not be adduced: his judgments coincided with his threatenings, except as repentance intervened ; and a reserve of mercy was in that case implied in them all. The manifold wisdom of God is also most conspicuous in arranging these displays of justice and mercy, so as to secure the glory of all his attributes, and to leave no man any ground to presume, or to despair. And the whole of the discoveries given us of the future judgment, and the eternal state of happiness or misery, most perfectly coincides with the declarations relative to his harmonious perfections. But of this, and redemption by the incarnation of Emmanuel, and his atoning blood, we must forbear to speak further in this place. We may, however, observe, concerning this last (which is doubtless the greatest of all the discoveries that God hath given of himself), that it leads us to contemplate those mysteries of the Deity, which are so peculiar to revelation, that they who “ lean to their own understandings" would represent them as contradictory and impossible. Yet it will be shown, that they are certainly revealed in Scripture; and thence it will follow, that they are appropriated to the true Object of all adoration, and distinguish him from every idol : so that they cannot be said to worship the God of the Bible, who reject the peculiar mysteries which it reveals, and adore not the One Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, into which Christians are baptised. And as all the Divine perfections are only seen in perfect harmony “ in the face of Jesus Christ;" so they “ whose eyes are blinded, that they should not see the light of this glory," (2 Cor. iv. 3–6), certainly worship the invention of their own minds, and not the God who hath revealed himself to man, in the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed this is manifest from the imperfection of the object of their worship, whom they imagine so clement, that he cannot hate and punish sin as it deserves ; by the blasphemies which they often utter against God's justice and holiness, and the judgments which he hath executed and threatened. Let us then regard this as a matter of the greatest possible importance, and seek the knowledge of God from his word, and the teaching of his Spirit, as the fundamental concern in all our religious inquiries, that so we may be engaged, above all things, to fear, love, confide in, worship, and serve him; and to seek all our happiness in enjoying his favour, and glorifying his name.
A Brief Exposition of the Ten Commandments, as comprising the substance of
the Moral Law.
From the Scripture character of God, we proceed to the consideration of his moral government, as made known to us by revelation ; and a clear knowledge of his holy law is peculiarly requisite in forming our judgment on this subject. This was delivered to Israel by Jehovah himself, from Mount Sinai, with most tremendous displays of his majesty, power, and justice; and though other Scriptures must be adduced as a divinely inspired comment, yet the decalogue may properly be taken for our text, in examining the demands of the moral law. It is evident, that there is a distinction between moral precepts and positive institutions. Some things are in themselves so indifferent, that the same authority which commanded might have forbidden them; as the use of bread and wine in one ordinance, and that of water in another: but it is absurd to suppose, that God could have required his creatures to despise him, or to hate one another; or have forbidden them to speak truth and to do justice.
Some traces of the moral law are discoverable by our natural reason, and the whole accords to it; it has its foundation in the nature of God and man, in the relations men bear to him and to each other, and in the obligations that result from them : so that it is immutable in its nature, and demands obedience from all mankind, as far as they have an opportunity of becoming acquainted with it. Different circumstances may indeed occasion a coincident variation; as the entrance of sin hath rendered patience and forgiveness of injuries exercises of our love to God and our neighbours; but though these will cease in heaven, yet the grand principles whence they are deduced will continue the same to eternity.
The law is also spiritual; it takes cognizance of our inmost and most secret thoughts, desires, purposes, and dispositions, and demands the exact regulation of the judgment, will, and affections. Love is its principal requisition, without which the best external obedience is condemned as hypocrisy. This is peculiar to the law of God, who alone can search the heart; but, in common with other laws, it requires entire, uninterrupted, and perpetual obedience, for no law can tolerate the transgression of itself. From the entrance to the close of life, the Lord enjoins upon us exact conformity to every precept; every omission or commission, excess, defect, or deviation from this perfect rule is sin, and every sin deserves wrath, and needs forgiveness, Rom. iii. 19-23).
As the ten commandments are divinely commented upon in all the preceptive parts of Scripture, so the substance of them is summed up in the two great commands of " loving God with all our hearts,” and of " loving our neighbours as ourselves :" and we are authorised, by our Lord's example, to interpret every one of them in the strictest, most spiritual, and most extensive sense of which it is capable. Indeed, repentance, faith in Christ, and all other evangelical graces and duties, are exercises of supreme love to God, and required of a sinner, as placed under a dispensation of mercy, though originally the law had nothing to do with redemption, but lay at the foundation of another covenant. We may, therefore, drop the controversy concerning the rule of duty, whether it be the ten commandments, or the whole word of God; for the one, properly understood, will be found as “ broad" as the other, seeing we cannot love God with all our hearts, unless we love every discovery he is pleased to make of his glory, believe every testimony, and embrace every promise which he gives, and seek his favour in the use of all the means he is pleased to appoint. Yet this relates only to the law, as the rule of duty, and as given in subserviency to the gospel ; for originally it contains nothing about mercy, repentance, or acceptance of imperfect obedience; but only says, “ do this and live,” and “ cursed be every transgressor.'
Thus the law was given to Israel, not only to show them their real condition, according to the covenant of works, but also with reference to their national covenant, and as the rule of duty to redeemed sinners; and therefore mercy is mentioned in the second commandment; not, indeed, as communicated by the law, but as shown by the Lord to his obedient people. The remainder of this Essay will consist of a compendious exposition of the ten commandments, as introductory to a further consideration of the Divine government.
The great Lawgiver préfaced his injunctions, by proclaiming his essential glory and immutable excellency, “ I am Jehovah.” Being the source of
existence, and consequently of all power, wisdom, justice, truth and goodness, he is the standard of excellence and beauty, from whom all created amiableness is an emanation, of whose glory it is a feeble reflection. To him alone the throne belongs; he only is qualified to be the universal lawgiver and judge ; and he has the
sole and unalienable title to that love and service which his law demands. To this he added, “ thy God,” to express Israel's relation and obligations to him. We all are his rational creatures, and every benefit he bestows binds us more forcibly to love and obedience. We, like Israel, are his professed worshippers ; and if we be what we profess, He is our portion and everlasting felicity; and this still enhances our obligations to devote ourselves to his service. The redemption of Israel from the house of bondage was typical of our redemption by Jesus Christ from sin and misery: and though all are bound to obey the law of God, yet none render any spiritual obedience to it, except his redeemed people. After this solemn introduction, Jehovah first added, “ Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The commandments are addressed, in the singular number, to each person, because every one is concerned in them on his own account, and each prohibition implies a positive duty. This first requires a disposition and conduct suited to the relation in which we stand to “ the Lord our God." He alone is the adequate object of our love, and able to satisfy our capacity of happiness; all we have and are belong to him, and he has an unalienable right to prescribe the use that we should make of all his gifts. He has so clear a title to our love, gratitude, reverence, adoration, submission, credence, confidence, and obedience, that we cannot withhold them, without the most manifest injustice. Considering “ who He is, and what He hath done for us," except we love him to the full extent of all our natural powers, we do not render him his due ; and if we thus loved him, all contrary affections would be excluded, all inferior affections subordinated. Admiring his excellency, desiring and delighting in him and his favour, being grateful for his kindness, and zealous for his glory, with all the energy of our whole souls, it is evident that we should love other objects only for his sake, and according to his will; no creature could then rival Him in our affections, or prevail with us to neglect his service : and whilst we rendered Him the tribute of adoring love and praise, and so glorified Him, we should possess unalloyed felicity in the enjoyment of his favour. This is the reasonable state in which things ought to be; and all that deviate from it is sin, and the effect of man's apostacy:
In the preceding Essay, some thoughts have been offered on man's propensity to idolatry. To the disgrace of the human understanding, the grosser species of it have been very general in the world; and a more refined and plausible kind of idolatry hath often supplanted it, in those few places where something more rational hath prevailed. We need not, however, enlarge on this violation of the first commandment; or show particularly how the Pagans, and Israel, and some parts of the professing church of Christ, by worshipping creatures, have ascribed to them the glory of those attributes which Jehovah incommunicably possesses. This must be allowed to be the grand transgression of this law; and all pretences to witchcraft, fortune-telling, &c., partake in a measure of the same guilt; as information or assistance are professedly sought from creatures, where God should be wholly depended on, or submitted to. But this spiritual precept reaches much further. To love, desire, delight in, or expect good, from any forbidden indulgence, even in the smallest degree, must be a violation of it: and to suffer the most excellent or amiable of creatures to rival God in our affections, must be a proportionable contempt of him. Atheism and irreligion violate this law; for by them men set up themselves as gods, aspire to independence, reject subordination, and refuse to render homage or worship to any superior being; as if they had created themselves, and were sufficient for their own happiness! The proud man idolizes himself, and offers incense to his own deity; and therefore God resistèth him as his rival. The ambitious pay ho
mage to the opinions of men, and seek happiness in their applause, or in such honourable distinctions as they can bestow; the revengeful usurp, the throne of God, and invade his prerogative, to “ whom vengeance belongeth.” The covetous defiles his wealth ; the sensualist his vile appetites, and the rapturous lover his mistress; he lives on her smiles, his heaven is placed in her favour, and her frown would make him the most wretched of all creatures. Nay, the doating husband, or fond parent, may deify the object of their affections ; for though they ought to love them tenderly, yet it should be in subordination to the will and glory of God.
But no comment can equal the extent of this command : whatsoever consists not with the most perfect love, gratitude, reverence, submission, and devotedness of the whole heart to God, is a transgression of it: and it requires us to love the Lord, and all his creatures, according to their real worthiness; not more nor less, except as finite beings cannot love infinite excellency in an adequate manner. "Obedience to it enthrones the Lord in our judgment and affections; and the whole of our love being thus given to Him, we should love all others for his sake, and according to the measure that he hath enjoined ; whilst the violation of it destroys this regular subordination, and gives the creatures the throne in our hearts. Well, therefore, may it stand foremost in the decalogue, as our obedience in all other things depends on it: other transgressions injure the subject, and affront the sovereign; but the violation of this law is high treason against the Majesty of heaven; and it is equally destructive to the happiness of all who transgress it. The expression, “ before me,” implied, that idolatry could not be kept so secret, but it would be known to the Lord; it would at all times affront him to his face; but especially when committed by Israel, who had his glory continually displayed before their eyes.
II. The second commandment requires us to render him a worship and service, suited to his perfections, and honourable to his name. His incomprehensible nature cannot be represented by any similitude. The most exquisite painting or sculpture can only give an external resemblance of a man : even animal life, with its several functions, cannot be thus exhibited, much less can a likeness be made of the soul and its operations : how dishonourable then must be every attempt to represent the infinite God, by silver, or gold, graven by art and man's device! The general disposition of mankind, to form such similitudes of the Deity, proves that low apprehensions of him are congenial to our nature; and the practice hath exceedingly increased the confusion and grossness of men's conceptions concerning him. Only the more stupid of the heathens worshipped the picture or image itself; others used it as a visible representation of the invisible Numen or Deity: and all that ingenious papists have urged in behalf of their images, is equally applicable to Israel's worship of the golden calves, or that of the Ephesians paid to the image of Diana, which fell down from Jupiter: and as a material image of the Deity is also an affront to the person of Christ, the only adequate “ image of the invisible God ;" so the worship of saints and angels, as mediators and present deities, by images, in every respect robs him of his mediatorial glory. The commandment does not prohibit the making of all images and pictures for other purposes (as some have ignorantly supposed): for God commanded several to be made even in the construction of the tabernacle: but the making of them, in order to men's bowing down before and worshipping them; so that both the image maker, and the image worshipper, are, in this case, involved in the guilt. The prohibition includes every kind of creature, because all are utterly unfit to represent the infinite Creator : and there are some devices common among us, as emblematic of the Trinity, &c., which seem not to accord with the strictness of this injunction. But the spiritual import of the commandment reaches much farther : superstition and human inventions in religious worship, as if they could procure us acceptance with God, are evident violations of its spirit and intent. The use of things indifferent in religion, without any command from God, leads men's