« 前へ次へ »
mits of great variety. But moral and positive duties do not in this respect differ more than moral duties differ from one another. So that when men accustom themselves to look upon positive duties as universally and necessarily interior to moral ones, as of a subordinate species, as placed upon a different foundation, or deduced from a different original ; and consequently to regard them as unworthy of being made a part of their plan of life, or of entering into their sense of obligation, they appear to be egregiously, misled by names. It is our business, not to aid, but to correct, the deception. Still, nevertheless, is it as true as ever it was, that except we exceed the righteousness of the scribes and phari. sees, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven:” that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath;' that “the weightier matters of the law are faith, justice, and mercy;" but to insist strenuously, and, as some do, almost exclusively, upon these points at present, tends to diminish the respect for religious ordinances, which is already too little ; and whilst it guards against dangers that have ceased to exist, augments those which are really formidable.
Ågain ; Upon the first reformation from popery, a method very inuch prevailed in the seceding churches, of resolving the whole of religion into faith ; good works, as they were called, or the practice of virtue, holding not only a secondary but even distant place in value and esteem, being represented, indeed, as possessing no share or ef ficacy in the attainment of human salvation. This doctrine we have seen revived in our own times, and carried to still greater lengths. And it is a theory, or rather perhaps a language, which re. quired, whilst it lasted, very serious animadversion; not only because it disposed men to rest in an unproductive faith, without endeavours to render themselves useful, by exertion and activity ; not only because it was naturally capable of bein? converted to the encouragement of licentiousne
but because it misrepresented Christianity as a
moral institution, by making it place little stress
poa the distinction of virtue and vice, and by me king it require the practice of external duties, if it required them at all, only as casual, neglec. ted, and almost unthought-of consequences, of chat faith which it extolled, instead of directing men's attention to them as to those things wbich alone compose, an unquestionable and effective obedience to the divine will. So long as this turn of mind prevailed, we could not be too industrious in bringing together and exhibiting to our hearers those many and positive declarations of Scripture, which enforce and insist upon practical religion; which divide. maukind into those who do good, and those who do evil; which hold out to the one, favour and happiness, to the other repulse and condemnation. The danger, hower. er, from this.quarter is nearly overpast. We are, on the contrary, setting up a kind of philosophjeal morality, detached from religion and inde. pendent of its influence, which inay be cultivated, it is said, as well without Christianity, as with it; and which, if cultivated, renders religion and religious institutions superfluous. A mode of thought so contrary to truth, and so derogatory
le value of revelation, cannot escape the of a Christian ministry. We are enti
pon what foundation this morality fer to the divine will (and, without ill it find its sanctions, or how sup. ity ?), there cannot be a conduct of ding more irrational, than to appeal iations of the Deity's character which i order of nature afford, as to the rule 'e of our duty, yet to disregard, and rlook, the declarations of his pleasure istianity communicates. It is imposstinguish between the authority of natuvealed religion. We are bound to reprecepts of revelation for the same rea* comply with the dictates of nature.
He who despises a command which proceeds from his Maker, no matter by what means, or through what medium, instead of advancing, as he pretends to do, the dominion of reason, and the au. thority of natural religion, disobeys the first injunction of both. Although it be true what the apostle affirms that “when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, they are a law unto themselves ;' that is, they will he accepted together with those who are instructed in the law and obey it: yet is this truth not applicable to such, as having a law contemn it, and with the means of access to the word of God, keep themselves at a voluntary distance from it. This temper, whilst it.continues, makes it necessary for us to assert the superiority of a religious principle above every other by which human conduct can be regulated; more especially above that fashionable system, which recommends virtue only as a true and refined policy, which policy in effect. is, and in the end commonly proves itself to be, nothing else than a more exquisite cunning, which, by a specious be. haviour in the easy and visible concerns of life, collects a fund of reputation, in order either to cherish more securely concealed vices, or to reserve itself for some great stroke of selfishness, perfidy and Jesertion, in a pressing conjuncture of fortunes. Nor less justly. may we superinduce the guidance of Christianity to the direction of sentiment; which depends so much upon constitution, upon early impressions, upon habit and imitation, that unless it be compared with, and adjusted by, some safer rule, it can in no wise be trusted. Least of all, ought we to yield the au. thority of religion to the law of honour; a law (if it deserve that name, which, beside its continual inutability, is at best but a system of manners suited to the intercourse and accommodation of higher life ; and which consequently
glects every duty, and permits every vice, that has no i to these purposes. Amongst the j'l
contend with religion for the government of life, the law of the land also has not a few, who think it pery sufficient to act up to its direction, and to keep within the limits which it prescribes; and this sort of character is common in our congregations. We are not to omit, therefore, to apprise those who make the statutes of the realm the standard of their duty, that they propose to them. selves a measure of conduct totally inadequate lo the purpose. The boundaries which nature has assigned to human authority and control, the par. tial ends to which every legislator is obliged to confine his views, prevent human laws, even were they, what they never are, as perfect as they might be made from becoming competent rules of life to any one who advances his hopes to the ato tainment of God Almighty's favour. In contradistinction, then, to these several systems which divide a great portion of mankind, amongst them, We preach “ faith which worketh by love," that principle of action and restraint which is found in a Christian alone. It possesses qualities to which none of them can make pretensions. It operates where they fail; is present upon all occasions, firm upon the greatest; pure as under the inspection of a vigilant omniscience; innocent where guilt could not be discovered ; just, exact, and upright, without a witness to its proceedings; uniform amidst the caprices of fashion ; unchanged by the vicissitudes of popular opinion; often applauded, not seldom misunderstood, it holds on raight and equal course, through “good re
? evil report,” through encouragement ot, approbation and disgrace. If the
r or the politician can point out to us ce but that of Christianity which has
erties, I had almost said which does hem all, we will listen with reverence siruction. But until this be done, we
tred to resist every plan which
upon any other foundation, or through any other median,
than faith in Jesus Christ. At least whilst an inclination to these rival systems remains, no good end, I am apt to think, is attained by decrying faith under any form by stating the competition between faith and good works, or by pointing out, with too much anxiety, even the abuses and extravagances into which the doctrine of salvation by faith alone has sometimes been carried. The truth is, that, in the two subjects which I have considered, we are in such haste to fly from enthusiasm and superstition, that we are approach. ing towards an insensibility to all religious influ. ence. I certainly do not mean to advise you to endeavour to bring men back to enthusiasm and superstition ; but to retard, if you can, their progress towards an opposite and a worse extreme: and both in these, and in all other instances, to regulate the choice of your subjects, by the particular bias and tendency of opinion which you perceive already to prevail amongst your hearers, and by a consideration, not of the truth only of what you deliver, which, however, must always be an indispensable condition, but of its effects, and those not the effects which it would produce upon sound, enlightened and impartial judgments, but what are likely to take place in the weak and preoccupied understandings with which we have to do.
Having thus considered the rule as it applies to the argument of our discourses, in which its principal importance consists, I proceed to illustrate its use as it relates to another object--the means of exciting attention. The transition from local to occasional sermons is so easy, and the reason for both is so much the same, that what I have farther to add will include the one as well as the other And though nothing more be proposed, in the few directions which I am about to offer, than to move and awaken the attention of our audience, yet is this a purpose of no inconsiderab! magnitude. We have great reason to com of listlessness in our congregations. "