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In the present age and nation, systems of morality, and discourses on moral virtues, have almost excluded, not only the doctrines of Christianity, but even the preceptive part of scripture: though they fall vastly below the high standard of the divine law, and are destitute of its sanctions ; and of the motives, encouragements, and assistances proposed to us in the gospel. In many of these books utility to man is made the test and measure of virtue, and the criminality of vice is supposed to consist in the injury done to our fellow creatures.
And this seems to be one of the most dangerous and ruinous evils of the day: as, if carried to its evident consequences, it would supersede the whole religion of Christ, and in fact abrogate the Bible. For it cannot be denied, that the sacred oracles address us in far different language. The first and great commandment of the law is, “Thou “shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, “ and mind, and soul, and strength.” The first requirement of the gospel is, “My son, give me
thy heart.” “Repent and turn to God.” “Be“ lieve in the Lord Jesus Christ.” And the general rules laid down for a Christian's conduct are such as these: “ Whether therefore ye eat, or “ drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory “ of God." “ Whatsoever ye do, in word or in
deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus “ Christ.” “ With good will doing service, as to “ the Lord, and not unto men."
No doubt, such are the holy commands of God, and the way in which we are required to glorify him, that, the more exactly we fulfil these supe
rior obligations, the greater benefit we shall eventually render to mankind: but to reverse the order of scripture, is “turning things upside “ down,”1 and placing the glory of the great God below the petty interests of sinful man! Certainly we ought to do good to man “ for the Lord's “ sake ;” and not to glorify God for the sake of
of the age.
But it will soon appear that these anti-scriptural views in great measure supersede the necessity of the gospel ; and by feeding self-complacency, and the pride of virtue, have had a powerful effect in producing that disregard to evangelical principles, which forms in many places the peculiar character
“ If righteousness come by the law, “ then Christ died in vain ;” and he who feels no need of his salvation is already prepared, not only to neglect, but to reject and oppose the Gospel.
There is in the natural consciences of men a far greater susceptibility of conviction and guilt, in what relates to their conduct towards each other, than in respect to their behaviour towards God. For too commonly “ God is not in all their
thoughts.” And, besides this, the sense of the injury done to society by several crimes associates itself with all the ideas on these subjects, which we receive from education, study, and conversation : because the sentiment prevails in the world. Men generally cry shame of those who grossly violate their obligations to their neighbours ; and consider them as unfit for society: but they are not thus affected by the conduct of those who
1 Isa. xxix. 15.
most atrociously and habitually disregard the authority, and are ungrateful for the goodness, of God. Hence it becomes natural for us to connect the idea of criminality with all actions of the former kind, but not with those of the latter.
This indeed forms one ground of the opposition which is every where excited against the doctrines of the gospel. Men are used to judge themselves and their own characters, as they stand related to one another, and according to the rules and maxims established in their circle of society. Weighed in this balance, they are not “ found wanting.” With a little aid from self-flattery, they conclude that they never did harm to any one, that their hearts are good, and their lives good ; and are therefore disposed to take offence, when addressed as sinners needing salvation; and eagerly to dispute against the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as well as against many other truths of Christianity. Indeed it might be conceded to some among them, that if they had only to do with their fellow-creatures, and with the interests of men in this present world, their pleas would at least be plausible. But if such persons would consider their obligations to God, and call themselves to account, how far they have or have not fulfilled them; if they were disposed to condemn themselves for all that his word condemns; weighed in this balance they must certainly be “ found want
ing;” and would soon be led to cry out, “ God “ be merciful to me a sinner!” And then every part of Christianity would gradually open to their view, as most needful, most gracious, most suitable, and “ worthy of all acceptation.”
The young man, who respectfully addressed our Lord, and inquired “what he must do to “ inherit eternal life;" having over-looked the first table of the law, and interpreted the several precepts of the second as a mere moralist would do, without hesitation replied, “ All these have I kept “ from my youth.” Yet the event shewed that he loved his riches better than the God who made him.
When our Lord, speaking to a lawyer who asked the same question, inquired of him, “What “is written in the law? How readest thou?" he replied by quoting the two great commandnients: and our Lord said, “Thou hast answered right; “ this do and thou shalt live.” But “he, willing
to justify himself, said unto Jesus, and who is
my neighbour ?” He seemed not conscious of having violated his obligations to God, and so made no inquiry about “ the first and great com“mandment;” but, desiring “ to justify himself,” he appears to ask for a limitation of the too extensive meaning of the second, without which he could not possibly accomplish his object.
This being the case with men in general, it cannot at all be wonderful, that even serious inquirers after salvation are for a time in some measure embarrassed by the same mistake; and find it very difficult to judge of their conduct according to the rules of scripture, and with respect to their relations and obligations to the Almighty; and still more so, to be affected with a humbling sense of guilt on this account, answerable to the views and feelings which they hear described by those who preach the gospel to them.
Indeed it is probable, that conviction of sin, at first, commonly arises from a consciousness of having acted in certain instances contrary to our views of moral obligation ; rather than from an accurate comparison of our whole conduct and the state of our hearts, with the law of God and our obligations to him. But afterwards deeper reflection and further inquiry produce a sense of guilt in those thoughts, words, and actions, which once were considered as entirely innocent.
The intention of these remarks, my brethren, is to impress your minds with the immense importance of the subject before us ; for the want of duly understanding or adverting to it often keeps serious persons long in a state of hesitation as to the doctrines of the gospel, and exposes them to great danger from the artifices of those who continually are starting objections against the truth.
Indeed even true and established Christians are seldom so deeply affected with a sense of guilt, when betrayed into such sinful inclinations, or actions, as appear insulated from all connexion with men, and never likely to injure any one, or to be known except to the omniscient God alone ; as they do for those evils which fall under human observation, interfere with the comfort or interest of others, and incur their censure.
But, in proportion to the degree in which this erroneous judgment influences us, it must unquestionably militate against the exercise of genuine repentance, humility, and simple faith in the mercy
of God, and the merits of Christ : it must prevent that admiring, adoring love of the divine Redeemer, who shed his blood on the cross as an