Obrázky na stránke

virtue, and forcing them to submit to your usurped authority, but leading them to admire the grace of God, to adore him in the purity and goodness of his law, and to emulate the example you have set them.

The expositions of the law, which the Saviour has given in the remaining paragraphs of this discourse, sufficiently illustrate his meaning in the verses now before us. From them we learn the morality of the christian system; whilst we see that this ever has been, and ever must be, the virtue which God requires

from men.

Various reasons concur in urging us to a series of illustrations on this subject, — principally the two following:

First, The general ignorance of the meaning of the law of God, and its melancholy results. The reality of this ignorance we need not prove: its effects are manifest. It is the fruitful source of irreligion on the one hand, and of superstition on the other. In some instances, it produces the murmurings of the sceptic, and the declamations of the infidel; in others, the presumption of the self-righteous moralist, or the illusions cherished by the fiction of a future purgatory. We trace it in all the objections which have been pressed against any doctrine essential to the gospel, in all the perversions to which these doctrines have been subjected, in all the excuses which are made for every kind of sin, by every class of

persons. Whence this ignorance, so various and so pernicious in its consequences, arises, it is not difficult to say. In most cases it is voluntary-men will not give themselves the trouble to read and think about such irksome matters. In all cases, this ignorance is increased by the pride of the heart, by the maxims of society, by absurd modes of education, and by satanic influence.

Secondly;—The subserviency of such inquiries to all the purposes of the christian ministry, is another of our reasons for entering on this course.

The preachers of the gospel generally lament the partial success of their exertions. The unwelcome truth is forced on our view, by the senseless indifference of the multitude, by the extreme jealousy towards the peculiarities of the gospel displayed in the reflecting classes, by the stationary kind of piety which prevails with numbers by whom these peculiarities are professedly admired, and by the comparatively lifeless and unproductive state of those for whom our better hopes are cherished. There is much outward decency; much observance of divine institutions ; much professed regard to the Bible and all its principles; much interest taken in the tone, and style, and other circumstances, incidental to the preaching of the gospel; much excitement and promise in the state of mind with which these things are attended to; but where is the result, the proof of being saved from sin, and enjoying fellowship with Christ, and triumphing in the hope of the gospel, and bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit in righteousness and true holiness?

We are led to think that there are some points on which all our hearts and consciences need to be more earnestly impressed, and these points we believe to be connected with the requirements and denunciations of the law of God.

But, there is a dread of legal preaching. If, by this phrase be meant, the preaching which fosters the hope of salvation because of our obedience to the law, such preaching is most solemnly proscribed in Scripture, for it is destructive of the very elements of the gospel. We are persuaded, however, that men would never venture on such preaching, if they understood the law of God; neither did others understand it, could they endure to listen to such preaching. The best antidote to these delusions, then, is an exposition of the law, in all the breadths and lengths of its requirements.

But, if by legal preaching is meant, the faithful and fervid enforcement of these commands on every man's conscience, as the standard by which he is to walk now, and to be judged hereafter, whence, we demand, the dread of such a style of preaching? Surely not from an enlightened regard to the honour of God; we know nothing of that honour, but as we study and obey his law. Surely, not from an enlightened attachment to the gospel; we do not understand the gospel, but as it enlarges our conceptions of the divine law, and constrains us to fulfil it. If the gospel had not been intended to exalt the character of the law in our esteem, to enhance its authority, and, by relieving the conscience from the guilt of having broken it, to influence the heart to a steady observance of its precepts, the whole genius of the gospel must have been the reverse of what it is. In proportion as the law is explained, and really understood, God is honoured; the conscience is enlightened; the gospel is valued; the necessity of holiness is acknowledged; the grief of penitence is awakened; the corruption of the heart is felt; the atonement of the Saviour is embraced ; the influence of the Spirit is implored; the heart is purified; the soul is saved. These are the objects for which we preach; and, with a view to these, in reliance on that blessing, without which our efforts must be useless, we purpose, with special minuteness and fidelity, to illustrate and enforce, in some following discourses, the laws of God. They will be found to meet all the subtleties of the heart, and to affect all the relations we sustain, whether towards God, as our Creator and Governor, or towards each other, in the various connexions and dependencies of the present state. They will derive illustration from the pages of history, and from passing events; will be enforced by all the motives that can touch the conscience, influence the affections, or persuade the will; and will have a dis, tinct reference to the disclosures of the last day, and the decisions of eternity.

The present lecture is introductory: for the sake of explaining the nature of the law, to which our appeal is to be made, and the purposes to which it is adapted in the scheme of christian instruction. Having explained this, some remarks will be offered, illustrative of the extent to which obedience is demanded. Afterwards, we shall point out its sanctions, and conclude with establishing the perpetuity of its obligations.

First. The nature of the law.

A law is that which directs, prescribes, or controuls. The Supreme Being orders all things “ according to the counsel of his own will;" that counsel" is the law by which his perfect nature acts, for his own glory. In subserviency to this end he has established laws in every part of his universe. The operation of matter on matter is guided by Him, according to certain fixed regulations, which have been called physical laws, or the laws of nature. The order in which mind is affected by external excitements, or by internal changes, is called intellectual, or a law of mind. The rules according to which rational intelligences voluntarily act, are called moral, or laws of reason. By these latter, angels are governed; by these man is governed : because the actions of angels and of men are free, that is, regulated by their own choice, the law of their conduct is addressed to the mind, in order to regulate the choice, and, through the choice, to regulate the conduct. This law was made known to angels in a way which we are unable, and it does not concern us, to investigate. It was made known to man, in the first instance, by direct revelation; was preserved by tradition and repeated intimations, until the shortening of the period of human life, when it was committed to writing ; and it has been elucidated in all the successive records of inspiration, by the prophets, by the evangelists who have written the life and the discourses of the Redeemer, and by the apostles whose instructions close the sacred canon.

The law of God, contained in the Scriptures for the government of our conduct, is a part of that

supreme will by which all things are directed. “Of law,” says the eloquent Hooker, in closing the first book of his Ecclesiastical Polity,' “ of law there can be no less acknowledged, than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world: all things, in heaven and earth, do her homage; the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempted from her power; both angels and men, and creatures of what condition soever, though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy."

The law of righteousness was the original standard of the character of man. He was created in the image of God. That law, therefore, is as a mirror, in which the character of God is reflected. It constitutes the rule of human thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. As the law of God, it is authoritative, and ultimate. Addressed to beings capable of thinking and understanding, it is intelligible. Designed for such as are to choose either right or wrong, and are held accountable for their choice, it is accompanied by motives. Since it is a compendium of universal duty, it is comprehensive: insisting on certain great and original principles which lie at the spring of


action. As obedience was at first the happiness, and must for ever be essential to the happiness of rational beings, it is as benevolent as it is authoritative and comprehensive.

To be acquainted with the law, then, is to be acquainted with God, as your Governor and Judge. This knowledge produces the conviction of sin; and this alone can lead you to form any just conception of the necessity of the atonement of Christ. Where this knowledge is vividly impressed on the mind of a Christian, how deeply does he feel his obligations to the Saviour, and to the grace of the gospel! How humbly will he walk with God! How closely will he cling to the promises of spiritual influence to increase his light, and sanctity, and comfort! How

« PredošláPokračovať »