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this precept in particular, of loving our neighbors, had been loaded with exceptions and limitations by the Jewish doctors, and that he had never esteemed any body to be his neighbor who was not of the same blood, and who did not profess the same religion with himself; for which reason he hated many, who, according to the letter, were his neighbors, as the Samaritans were, who dwelt very near, but were the aversion of every Jew, being esteemed as the corrupters of the faith and true religion. Since therefore life eternal depended on his obedience to the law, as he had heard from our Saviour; and since whether his obedience were such as it ought to be, depended wholly on the Jewish interpretation of the law, and could no otherwise be maintained than by excluding from the rights and privileges of neighborhood all who were not of the stock and faith of Israel; in order therefore to his own justification he very properly puts the question to our Lord, “And who is my neighbor ? for as this question should be resolved, he would be found either to have fulfilled or transgressed the commandment. Had our Lord determined in favor of the Jewish interpretation, and told him that those only were his neighbors who were of the same stock and family, and who worshipped God in the same manner that he did, the lawyer had been justified in his practice, and his obedience might have deserved commendation, as well as his prudent answer out of the law had done before: but when our Saviour had forced him into a confession that even the Samaritan was his neighbor, he stood condemned by his own sentence, and by the example of the Samaritan which he had approved, and was sent away with this short but full reproof and admonition: ‘Go, and do thou likewise.'
The words thus expounded show us on what motives mon act, and what it is that prejudices their minds in the interpretation of God's law : they are willing to justify themselves;' and therefore employ all their force and skill to make the command countenance their practice, and to speak such language only as may be consistent with their inclinations. When our actions are such as the law enjoins, when we do what is commanded, and forbear what is forbidden, then is our obedience perfect. This is so plain a description of obedience, with respect to the law which is to be obeyed, that it cannot be
disputed. A truly virtuous man endeavors to bend all his passions and inclinations towards the command, and to make them intirely submissive to it. The man who loves not his duty is often uneasy and restless under the pain of self-condemnation; and knowing that all would be well, did but his actions and the law agree, he labors to bend the law towards his inclinations, that it may justify him in all his doings, and yield him the pleasure and satisfaction of thinking himself righteous.
It is no great wonder, when men are so deeply engaged in any error either of practice or doctrine, that they should labor to reconcile themselves as far as possible with the commands and injunctions of God's law; for as great as the pleasure of sin is, as large as the profit of iniquity often is, they cannot of themselves sustain the spirit of a man against the girds and lashes of a guilty conscience. Whilst the pleasure is new and in its full vigor ; whilst the gain is counting over and treasuring up, the mind perhaps, lost in the present enjoyment, may want no other comfort ; but the pleasures of vice have their intermission, and are succeeded by cold damps, which seize the spirits. The gains of iniquity are not always pouring themselves in : when the ill-gotten wealth is bagged up, there will be
spare time more than enough for a man to ask himself how he got these mighty riches. In these seasons of reflexion, in these intervals of thought and reason, the soul wants other comforts than such as can arise from pleasures that are past, or from treasures that are hidden in the earth. A man can never long like a bargain which he really thinks he shall suffer for hereafter: and therefore, to quiet and ease himself, he frames many devices how to escape the punishment he dreads : being easy to be persuaded, he soon convinces himself that the laws of God have been too rigorously expounded, and pressed too far; that, in truth, he has not offended against the law of God, but only against the cruel law of the interpreters, whose pleasure it is to lay heavy burdens on other men's shoulders, which themselves care not to touch with one of their fingers. By these means the easy casuist comes to such a temper with himself, that he can at once enjoy and justify his iniquity.
When the young man in the gospel came to our Lord, inquiring on what terms he might inherit eternal life, our Lord
set the commands before him: “Do not commit adultery: Do not kill : Do not steal: Do not bear false witness : Honor thy father and thy mother.' Thus far all was well: these terms he willingly accepted; for he had been virtuously bred, and had observed these things from his youth; and having no guilt to justify, he had no exceptions to make to the commandments. Our Lord, delighted with his towardly disposition, would have led him on to greater perfection : ‘Yet lackest thou,' says he,
one thing : Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.' The young man, who had not committed adultery, nor been guilty of theft or disobedience to his parents, and therefore had no fault to find with the former laws, had, it seems, a great estate, and therefore could by no means digest this : ‘but was exceeding sorrowful, for he was very rich :' sorrowful, not because he was rich, for then he might easily have complied, and eased his sorrow; but sorrowful to find any thing in the gospel inconsistent with his riches. How gladly would be have listened to any softenings of this precept! How would he have adored a teacher who would have made him a consistent title to heaven and his estate! In this instance you see the disposition which makes men strive with the law of God, and labor to render it of a piece with their own affections : in others we will show you the practice.
The Jews had a law, commanding that they should honor their father and their mother; which implied an obligation on children to support and maintain their indigent parents; a precept in itself so just and reasonable, that it is one of the prime laws of nature : but the Jews, who were hard-hearted to their own flesh and blood, were uneasy under this burden ; and yet the law was plain ; and they could not be satisfied till they had made the law comply; and therefore they set up tradition against the express law, and found a way to dissolve the uneasy obligations : for thus they taught, as our Saviour justly reproves them;
• If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is a gift by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me, he shall be free : and ye suffer him no more to do aught for his father or mother, making the word of God of none effect through your
tradition. The law was to be supplanted, you see, to justify
breach and violation of it. But to come nearer our own times, and to still plainer instances : you know in how many places the Scripture expressly forbids us to pay any worship or service to any creature ; but that we should worship and serve the Lord, and him only. In this respect God has declared himself to be a jealous God, and that he will not give his honor to another. Of the Ten Commandments, two are spent in securing this fundamental point of true religion; and the gospel has, not only in many, but in all its parts, confirmed this great article. Notwithstanding all this care, it is well known that no point of doctrine or practice has been more controverted, even among Christians, than this very article. Were the case less notorious than it is, you would say, perhaps, How is this possible? How could it enter into any man's head so to misunderstand the Scriptures ? What could lead to such interpretations ? That they are so interpreted is very plain ; and the account that may be given why they are so is as plain also. It was not misunderstanding or misinterpreting the Scriptures that led to the corruptions in practice: but the corrupt practices first got possession; and men, “willing to justify themselves,' coined new interpretations of Scripture to support their new practices : and how violent the inclination to justify themselves is may be easily understood, when we see it beat down such express, such plain, such often-repeated injunctions of the word of God. There is not, I believe, one man, whether Christian, Jew, or Pagan), who has ever heard or read the gospel, but thinks that all image worship, all creature worship, is absolutely forbidden in it, those only excepted who are involved in the practice. Could the Jews give themselves leave to reproach the gospel with such doctrines as some Christians pretend to maintain out of it, they would desire no better arguments for their rejecting it; nor could they indeed have better. To serve and to worship God in prayer, and praise, and humble adoration, are things hard to be understood to none but scholars; in themselves they are plain ; but the notions have been so refined, in order to justify modern corruptions, that they are become intricate. The com
mand is plain, that God only is to be worshipped : how then must room be made for worshipping any other ? In order to this, worship is to be split into many kinds, and one most religiously preserved to God, in controversy at least, that the others may the more freely be imparted to the creature. To this eagerness of justifying a corrupt practice, we owe the many curious distinctions that have been invented to darken and confound the clearest truths of the gospel.
THERE is nothing more complained of, and yet nothing more commonly practised among all parties, than the perverting the holy Scriptures to support and maintain the opinions and doctrines which are the distinguishing marks and characters of different communions. This holds true of all sects, in proportion as they have departed from the genuine doctrines and practices of Christianity : for all sects equally labor to maintain their tenets, and more or less pervert the Scripture, as they have more or less gone astray from it.
The same disposition is perpetually showing itself in private life. There are not so many self-condemned sinners in the world as is generally thought; for it is much if he who has long continued in any sin has not found out some excuse or 'some justification for his vice. A man who has nothing to judge by but reason and Scripture, would wonder how the Scripture was ever made a party to such a defence; but those who are friends to any vice have something else that guides their judgment, self-love and interest; which are such candid interpreters, that no vice need fear being tried by the Scriptures, su long as they sit as judges.
From what cause it arises that men thus deal with the Scripture and their own reason, has been already observed :