Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

a

obtain, is “the bread which God hath given us,” with which we should be satisfied. But men's passions crave more, and sloth refuses to labour : hence force and fraud are employed to get possession of the property of others, without their free consent. We need not enumerate those violations of which human laws take congnizance: but men may in various ways break the Divine law, and yet escape present punishment. Fraudulent bargains, which impose on the ignorant, credulous, or necessitous; abuse of confidence, extortion, exorbitant gain, deceitful combinations to enhance the price of goods, or lower the wages of the poor, will be condemned at God's tribunal, as violations of it. The overgrown ravager of nations and provinces, will be condemned as a principal thief and robber, without other distinction. Plundering the public, whether by oppressive rulers, and exorbitant exactions ; or by smuggling, evading taxes, &c. ; contracting debts to support vanity and luxury, in pursuit of some scheme of aggrandizement, or for any thing not absolutely necessary, without a fair prospect of paying them; taking advantage of humane laws, to evade payment, when the insolvent are again able to do it; all extravagance, beyond the sober allowance of man's income ; and slothfulness, or unnecessary subsistence upon charity,are violations of this law, in different ways. Indeed it cannot consist with it to withhold from real objects of compassion proper relief; or to squeeze the poor so low in their wages, that they can scarce subsist, that men may live in affluence, and enrich their families. In short, it excludes covetousness, luxury, and the pride of life; and it requires industry, frugality, sobriety, submission to God's providence, and a disposition “ to do to all others," in respect of worldly property, as we would they should do unto us.”

IX. This commandment is the law of love, as it respects our neighbour's reputation : though, in the connection of human affairs, the violation of it may affect his property and life; and bearing false witness, in a court of justice among us, may be perjury, robbery, and murder, as well as calumny. In such important concerns, we should testify nothing, of which we have not the fullest assurance; and every human passion should be watched over, that our evidence may not be warped by them. We should be exact to a word in reporting what we know, and in speaking the truth, and no more than the truth, and equal caution is required in juries, and in the judge who decides the cause. T'he malicious invention and circulation of slanderous reports, to the injury of a man's character, has a large proportion of the same atrocious guilt; to do this in sport is an imitation of the madman, who throws about arrows, firebrands, and death, for his diversion; to spread such as others have framed, when we suspect them to be false or aggravated; or even if we suppose or know them to be true, when there is no real occasion for it (such as the detection of a mischievous hypocrite or designing villain) is prohibited by this law: for the practice of retailing injurious reports results from pride, self-preference, malevolence, or conceited affectation of wit and humour. All severe censures, bitter sarcasms, ridicule, harsh judgements, ascribing good actions to bad motives, inuendos, misrepresentation, collecting and vending family anecdotes, &c., consist not with it Much transgression of it is found in religious controversy (as well as in other books, as a lie or slander is far worse when printed than when only spoken); for bigots of all parties agree in mis-stating the actions, misquoting the books, and misreporting the words of their opponents. All lies class under the violation of this law; which are always an abuse of speech, and of our neighbour's confidence, and a derogation from the value of truth; and almost always injurious to mankind. Envy of others' praise runs counter to the spirit of the law; which requires sincerity, truth, fidelity, candour, and caution; with a disposition to honour what is holourable in all men, and to be as tender of their reputation as we could reasonably expect them to be of our's, and our feelings will instruct us how far this rule would carry us.

X. Lastly, we are commanded, not to covet any thing that is our neighpour's. This restriction is placed as the fence of all the rest ; and the

a

a

apostle's reference to it, (Rom. vii. 7, 8) shows, that it comprises the utmost spirituality of the law; and it is a perpetual confutation of all those systems by which the outward gross crime is considered as the only violation of the command. We must not so much as desire any thing whatsoever which God forbids, or which his providence withholds: and so far from leveling property, or seizing violently on our neighbour's possessions, we must not so much as hanker after them. The most secret wish for another man's wife violates this precept: but to desire an union with an unmarried woman only becomes sinful when it is excessive, and when the will of God is not submitted to, if he render it impracticable. We may desire that part of a man's property which he is inclined to dispose of, if we only think of equitable terms: but what he chooses to keep we may not covet. The poor man may desire moderate relief from the rich : but he must not hanker after his affluence, or repine, even if he do not relieve him. Men exposed to equal hazards, may agree to a proportionable contribution to him that suffers loss; for it accords with the law of love to help the distressed ; and this exculpates insurance when fairly conducted; but all gaming, public or private*, is coveting our neighbour's good to increase our wealth by his loss, and is therefore a direct violation of the command. In fine, discontent, distrust, love of wealth, pleasure, and grandeur, desire of change, the habit of wishing, and every inordinate affection, are the evils here prohibited ; and we know them to be the sources of all other crimes, and of man's misery; and the command requires moderation in respect of all worldly things, submission to God, acquiescence in his will, love to his commands, and a reliance on him for the daily supply of all our wants, as he sees good. We cannot close this explication of the law, (in which we find nothing redundant, defective, or injurious, but all things holy, just, and good) more properly, than by the words of our church service, “ Lord have mercy upon us,” (forgiving all our past transgressions), “ and write all these thy laws in our hearts, we beseech thee.”

ESSAY V.

On Man's Situation as a Sinner in this present world.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Tue apostle defines "sin to be the transgression of the law,” (1 John iii. 4); and whatever in any respect or degree deviates from this perfect rule is sin, and exposes a man to condemnation. By the law," therefore, “ is the knowledge of sin,” (Rom. iii. 20): the better we understand the holy, just, and good commandments of God, the more enlarged will be our acquaintance with the vast variety of sins that are continually committed, as well as with the evil and desert of every transgression; and a comprehensive knowledge of our whole duty is essential to a just estimate of our own character, or our situation in respect to the eternal world.

But we should not only attend to the requirements and prohibitions of the divine law; its sanctions' also demand our most serious consideration. Indeed, the law, strictly speaking (as distinguished from the gospel), is merely a rule and a sanction: a rule formed by infinite wisdom, holiness, and goodness, and enforced by supreme authority; a sanction to be awarded by immutable justice and almighty power, according to the declarations of eter

* Not excepting lotteries, or even tontines, these latter constitute a kind of complicated wager about longevity, to be decided by Providence in favour of the survivors; and must, therefore, be equally culpable with other games of chance. Coveting other men's property, contrary to the law of love, and en. riching the survivors, commonly at the expense of the relatives of the deceased, are intimately connected with them; whilst they lead men into strong temptations secretly to wish for the death of others, for the sake of advantages, which they inordinately desire, and irregularly pursue.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

rence,” but “

nal truth. Repentance and amendment are right, and accord to the spirit of the commandment; but they make no compensation for transgression, and are not noticed by the law : and the mercy exercised by the lawgiver has reference to the provisions of another covenant. Perfect obedience is the uniform demand of the precept; condemnation inevitably follows transgression. “ Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all,” (James ii. 8—11); even as a man is condemned for violating one of the many statutes of the realm, in a single instance, though no other offence be charged upon him. The apostle, therefore, declares, that “ as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse ; for it is written cursed is every one that continueth not,” (during his whole life) “ in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them,” (Deut. xxvi. 15—16 ; Gal. iii. 10); and the moral law must be included at least in this general language. They alone who have at all times perfectly kept the whole law, are entitled to the reward according to it ; for “ the man that doeth them shall live in them, but the soul that sinneth shall die ;” and “as all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," (of rendering to him the glory which is due to his name); so in this respect “ there is no diffe

every mouth shall be stopped, and all the world shall become guilty before God,” (Rom. iii. 9—23); though an immense difference subsists between some men and others, in respect of the nature, number, and aggravations of their offences. All attempts, therefore, in a sinner to justify himself, must result from ignorance of God and his law, and of himself; or from a disposition to impeach the strictness of the law, and the justice of the lawgiver. Our Lord explains the import of the curse of the law (from which he redeemed his people, by becoming a curse for them), when he forewarns us, that he will say to the wicked at the day of judgment, “ Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels ;-and these shall go away into everlasting punishment.” (Matt. xxv. 41-46). We are constitu of body and soul; the soul purposes the act of disobedience, and the body executes its purpose: so that it is reasonable to suppose, that the soul will at least share the punishment which the law denounces against the offender. When, therefore, the apostle reminded his brethren of their obligations to the Lord Jesus, he says, “ who delivered us from the wrath to come,” (1 Thess. i. 10): whence it is evident, that he considered himself, and all the Christians in the world, to have been previously exposed, not only to present effects of the Divine displeasure (from which Jesus does not deliver his people), but also to future condemnation. The original transgression (through which by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin”) was indeed a violation of a positive injunction; but love to God, himself and his posterity, absolutely required Adam to obey it, and therefore by disobedience, he fell under the curse of the law : and the event sufficiently proves, that all his posterity were interested in that transaction, and fell with him; for it is an undeniable fact, that men are universally prone to break the law of God, and universally liable to pain, suffering, and death. All that believe the Bible will rest satisfied with the Scripture account of this mysterious subject: others will never be able to account for the state of the world on any principles that are more rational: and the proper answer to those who object to an evident fact, as inconsistent with divine justice, wisdom, and goodness, has been already given by the apostle, “ Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God?"

But our situation as sinners in this present world, will not here be considered so much the effect of Adam's sin, as of our personal transgressions ; for whatever we might argue concerning those “ who have not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression," by willingly and knowingly preferring their own inclinations to God's express commandment, such as are capable of reading this Essay, will hardly pretend that they never once sinned in this manner. It is evident, that it is appointed to all men once to die;" the sentence “ dust ye are, and to dust ye shall return,” overtales

:

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

IN THIS PRESENT WORLL..

every one; no vigour, power, wisdom, learning, wealth, efforts, or virtue,
can rescue any man from this 'common lot of our fallen race: only two ex-
'ceptions have hitherto been made to the general rule, no more are to be ex-
pected till the coming of Christ; and few have ever been so absurd as to
think of eluding or overcoming this universal conqueror. But “after death
is the judgment;" and though few are willing to believe the solemn truth,
yet it would have been found equally impossible for any sinner to escape
condemnation at the decisive season, had not mercy brought in another hope
by Jesus Christ.

If we judge of dispositions and actions by the holy law of God, we shall not
long be able even to doubt, but that men are born in sin, and by nature pro-
pense to evil and averse to good: “ that which is born of the flesh is flesh;”.
and the carnal mind, which is natural to us, is “ enmity against God,"
(Rom. viii. 5—9). It is the universal law of the whole creation, that every
plant or animal, possesses the properties of that from which it was derived.
When Adam became a sinner, he begat sons“ in his own likeness ;" that
which the Creator had pronounced very good soon became very bad ; “ the
imagination of men's hearts were only evil continually ;" “ the earth was
filled with violence" and wickedness, and so it evidently continues to this
day. If men argue, that all this results from education, habit, and example,
we might inquire how it came to pass, that bad education, example, and ha-
bits became so general, if the nature of man be not bad also ? But the im-
possibility, in the ordinary course of things, of “ bringing a clean thing out
of an unclean,” shows us how the world comes to be so full of all vice and
wickedness.

But (however this may be determined) it must be allowed, that men in general in all parts of the earth, are very different in their dispositions and conduct, to what the law of God requires them to be. It is also most certain, that they are liable to a vast variety of miseries and pains; that anxiety, vexation, disappointment, and dissatisfaction, are inseparable from every earthly condition, pursuit, possession, and connection; that life itself is short and uncertain; that the approach and stroke of death must be connected with grievous sufferings, if not with terror and dismay: that every earthly pursuit and enjoyment must shortly be thus terminated; and that the body (however active, vigorous, comely, pampered, or decorated it may now be) must then be consigned to the dark and noisome tomb, there to moulder to its original dust. All this would be very gloomy and dreary, even if it could be certainly known that nothing farther was to be apprehended ; but a future state of righteous retribution must exceedingly enhance the horror of the prospect, to such persons as are condemned at the bar of their own consciences. The expectation of a future state seems congenial to the human mind; and the arguments of various kinds, which have been urged in proof of the immortality of the soul, and other doctrines connected with it, are so cogent, as to evince such expectations to be the result of serious reflection, and not the offspring of credulity, superstition, or imposture; nay, facts manifestly show, that no ingenuity or efforts can wholly erase the idea, even from the minds of such persons as are most deeply interested, and most earnestly desirous, to find it a mere groundless imagination.

But as this expectation of a future state is too vague and confused to answer the practical purposes of that doctrine, so the ignorance of men in general concerning the character, commands, and government of God, united to the self-flattery that is natural to us all, preserves them from that terror which the thoughts of a future judgment would otherwise inspire, if considered apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ; so that the more men know of God and of themselves, the greater horror will be associated with the prospect of death and judgment, except it be overcome by “peace and joy in believing,” (Rom. xv. 13).

The immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, a future judgement, and a state of righteous retributions, are doctrines most evidently

:

confirmed to us by “ the sure testimony of God:” and so clear and explicit are the Scriptures on these topics, that scarce any thing but the consciousness of such conduct, as weakens the hope of eternal felicity, connected with reluctance to admit the dread of eternal misery, seems sufficient to induce men to deny or argue against the real eternity of that state, which commences at death, and shall be confirmed and completed at the day of judgement; whilst the absurdity of reasoning against the justice or goodness of those things which God hath done, or declared he will do, seems the summit of man's pride, presumption, and folly. The Greeks were a speculating people, and could not but have the idea of duration without end (and this is all the idea of eternity to which we can attain): the strongest words in that copious language are employed by the sacred writers on this subject; and I apprehend that the expression translated for ever and ever, always means eternal in the strictest sense of that word : however, he that should make the trial would scarce find more energetic phrases in the whole compass of the Greek language, as authorised by the example of ancient writers, to express the idea of eternal misery, than are to be found in the New Testament. The same words are used on this awful subject, by which the eternity of heavenly felicity, and the eternal existence of God are expressed, and in the same manner. The repeated declarations concerning the wicked, that “ their worm never dieth” (which must denote eternal consciousness and self-res flection); that “ their fire shall never be quenched,” with the words “eternal punishment,” “ the blackness of darkness for ever,” most obviously imply this alarming doctrine. It may hereafter be shown, that sinful creatures must continue guilty and polluted, yea, must increase in evil propensities, and multiply crimes to all eternity (whatever they suffer), unless they are changed by an exertion of almighty power, and pardoned by an act of free mercy: not the most remote hint is given through the whole Scriptures, that mercy or grace will be vouchsafed to any who die in their sins, or that God will ever annihilate his rebellious creatures, but every thing warrants the opposite conclusion. It evidently answers the purpose of the enemies of our souls, and forwards their work of temptation and destruction, to persuade men that they will not be finally miserable, though they continue impenitent and indulge their lusts till death : and the folly and madness of those who profess to believe the Bible to be the word of God, yet sin on, in hopes of finding all the denunciations false or unmeaning, which it contains to this effect, and who bolster up their own and other men's confidence with vain reasonings and sophistical arguments, is great beyond expression.

As our sentiments will not alter the purposes of God, so it is as irrational as uncandid to charge those with want of sensibility, compassion, or philanthropy, who explain such Scriptures in their most obvious meaning; and who warn and ade men, by “ the terror of the Lord," to repent and seek the salvation of Christ. If several persons were fast asleep in a house that was on fire, we should best express our compassion for them by alarming them speedily, and even violently, and so forwarding their escape, not by leaving them to sleep on, lest they should be too much terrified. They who really believe that all impenitent and unbelieving sinners will be for ever miserable, suppose such men to be in a condition infinitely more tremendous than the persons alluded to, and they cannot but endeavour to convince them of their danger, ere it be for ever too late ; the more they love them, the greater will be their earnestness in warning them to “ flee from the wrath to come;" and they often show their philanthropy, by spending their time in incessant labours, and by distributing their property in relieving the miseries of mankind, and sometimes by laying down their lives for their good.

We may also observe, that the Scripture uniformly speaks of two ways, tuo descriptions of men, and two places, to which they are removed at death; and never intimates a middle path, state, or character (though there be degrees both of happiness and misery): nor does it mention any alteration in the

« AnteriorContinuar »