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The author has reason to believe that some of the works referred to have been considered
too voluminous for the habits of reading that obtain in the present day; some too brief, dry, and systematic, to excite much interest, -and others, either in danger of being overlooked, from their being surrounded by more tempting themes occurring in the Bodies of Divinity in which they have had a place,or likely to produce a baneful impression by detaching the commandments from the doctrines of the Scriptures.
The writer has frequently been asked for some single work, in which the requirements of the divine law were stated and discussed in an evangelical spirit; and being unable to find any thing likely to meet the inquiries, he was encouraged, after much deliberation, to supply, as well as he could, what many had felt to be a deficiency in this department of religious reading.
The objects kept in view, in this publication, are the developement of those feelings to which the authority of each commandment is opposed, as they display themselves in the existing state of society, whether without or within the pale of the professing christian church; and the earnest enforcement of those dispositions which the Divine Author of the Law approves, by motives drawn from the discoveries of the gospel.
As the Introductory Lecture exhibits the general views sustaining the conviction,that it is the duty of christian teachers to obey the commandments of God themselves, and to urge them with all solemnity and plainness on their fellow-men, it would be superfluous in a preface, to vindicate a design arising from such views.
How far the writer has succeeded in the attempt will be determined by the judgment of the impartial reader. As the first publication of a young man, it has not been committed to the press without anxiety and fear. He wishes to benefit by the suggestions of the candid critic :-and for that success, without which the approbation of the wisest is a poor reward, he invokes on behalf of every reader the influences of the Holy Spirit, who alone can write the Law upon our hearts, and enable us to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.”
MATTHEW, v. 17-20.
* Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am
not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach (them,) the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For 1 say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed (the righteousness) of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
The Sermon on the Mount, of which these words form a part, was delivered by Jesus Christ at the commencement of his public ministry. He explains, in this discourse, the nature of that economy which he was introducing. On this subject there were many popular mistakes: among others, it seems to have been thought, that the authority of former dispensations was to be overturned, that the obligation of established principles was to be relaxed. To confute this notion, the Divine Teacher asserts, that the design of his coming was “not to destroy but to fulfil" the ancient revelations, to substantiate the typical importance of the sacred ceremonies,—to accomplish the predictions of the holy seers,—to obey, and teach others to obey, the commandments of the moral law. He affirms the immutable nature, and the irreversible requirements, of the will of God. He assures his disciples, that he who in the slightest degree departs from the most rigid demands of that will, and, either directly or indirectly, teaches others so to do, shall scarcely be esteemed as belonging to the christian church, or, if belonging to it, as the least worthy and consistent of its members; whilst, on the other hand, he who is obedient in all things, and by his instruction, persuasion, or example, influences others to the same obedience, shall be honoured as an enlightened, decided, and useful subject of “the kingdom of heaven.”
The scribes and pharisees gave the tone to the moral sentiments and habits of the time; and the mass of people were content to follow, at humble distance, in their steps. But this was not sufficient for the disciples of Christ,--would not admit them to the privileges of the new dispensation he was explaining, -would never secure their enjoyment of eternal life. “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." Your righteousness must exceed their's, in the principle from which it springs,-not, like their's, from pride and self-sufficiency, but from love ;-in the motives by which it is influenced, --not the applause of mortals, but by the approbation of God, and the promotion of his glory in the standard by which it is regulated --not the traditions and specious explanations of the scribes and pharisees themselves, but by the full and spiritual meaning of the law; --in the extent to which it is carried,--not merely to the visible observance, but also to the secret thoughts and feelings ;-in the effect it produces on others, not securing their admiration of your ostentatious