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SERMON L X X X.
THE NECESSITY OF ZEAL IN MAINTAINING DIVINE
AND his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house bath
eaten me up. -- Joen, ii. 17.
The occasion which led the disciples of Christ to recollect and quote this passage from the sixty-ninth Psalm, was a bold and astonishing act of duty, which they saw him perform in the temple at Jerusalem. When he came to that city to attend the Passover, which he never failed to attend at the proper time,“ He found in the temple those that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money, sitting. And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Faiher's house an house of merchandise.” This was a surprizing act of zeal for the glory of God and the sanctity of divine institutions. The temple had been solemnly separated from a common to a sacred use, and consecrated to the peculiar service of God. No common or secular business ought to have been done in this sacred house; but some of the professed people of God had become so corrupt and presumptuous as to buy and sell in it, even in the presence of the priests, whose sacred office required them to maintain the purity of holy places and of holy things. But though they neglected their duty, yet Christ determined to maintain the honor of his Father's house and the purity of his instituted worship. Having made a scourge of small cords, he boldly went into the temple, where
he not only drove out the sheep and oxen, but the buyers and sellers, whom he reproved with so much authority and solemnity that they lost all power to reply or to resist. " It is written," said he, “My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye
have made it a den of thieves.” This extraordinary act of purging the temple, demonstrated his holy and ardent zeal to maintain all the positive precepts and institutions of his Father's house, and at the same time exhibited a bright example, which all his followers ought to imitate. They ought to maintain, pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has appointed in his word. To explain and enforce the duty of christians to be zealous in maintaining the positive duties of religion, it will be necessary,
I. To mention some of the positive duties of religion under the gospel.
II. To point out the distinction between positive and moral duties.
II. To consider how christians may maintain positive duties. And,
IV. To show why they should be zealous in maintaining these duties.
I. I am to mention some of the positive duties of religion under the gospel.
The duties of this kind were much more numerous under the legal, than they are under the gospel dispensation. Under the law, the times and places of public worship, together with a multitude of sacrifices, purifications, rites and ceremonies, were positively appointed. But all these positive duties which the laws of Moses enjoined, are now superseded and abolished by the Christian dispensation. It is not easy, however, to determine how far some positive duties, which were given before the law and under the law, are still binding upon christians. But since there is no occasion, in this discourse, to consider any such doubtful cases, I will mention only some of the plain and principal positive duties, which are enjoined in the New Testament.
Here the first duty to be mentioned is the observation of the Sabbath, or the keeping of one day in seven as holy time. Our Saviour not only observed the Sabbath himself, but declared that “the Sabbath was made for man," plainly intimnating its perpetual obligation upon all men in the present life. With this duty the public and social worship of God is intimately connected. Christ attended the duties of the sanctuary on the Sabbath, and undoubtedly commanded his apostles, and through them all his followers, to keep the first, instead of the seventh day of the week, as a day of sacred rest and public worship. Accordingly we know that his apostles and his followers in general have, ever since his ascension, attended public worship on the first day of the week, which is emphatically styled the Lord's day. Christ expressly required his friends to profess his religion before the world; which is a duty binding upon all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Christ commanded that those who professed his religion publicly, should be baptized with water in the name of the sacred Trinity. Christ enjoined it upon his professed and baptized friends, to partake of bread and wine in commemoration of his death. And he moreover instituted a standing visible church, to be composed of such visible believers as can conveniently meet together in one place, to hear the gospel, observe its ordinances, and to exercise that mutual watch and discipline over one another, which tends to promote their purity, peace, and edification. To sum up the whole in a word, to keep the Sabbath, to worship God in public, to make a public profession of religion, to be baptized, to commemorate the death of Christ, to form into a church, or religious society, and to exercise a proper watch and discipline over one another, are the principal positive duties enjoined upon christians under the gospel dispensation.
II. The next thing proposed is, to point out the difference between positive and moral duties.
Though we may properly divide all duties into moral and positive, yet we ought not to magnify this distinction beyond reasonable bounds. It is often said, that moral duties are founded in the nature of things, and that they differ from positive duties principally in this respect. That there is a reason in the nature of things for moral duties, prior to their being commanded of God, is readily granted. But it is equally true, that there is a reason in the relation of things for all positive duties, prior to the divine precept which enjoins them. There is, indeed, some difference between the nature of things, and the relation of things. The relation of things is mutable, and the nature of things is immutable. But there may be as good a reason for a positive duty, arising from the relation of things, as for a moral duty, arising from the nature of things. As God is a being perfectly wise and holy, so he can no more act without reason, than he can act contrary to reason. He always sees a reason for every thing he does, before he acts; and he always sees a reason for every thing he requires, before he commands.
This holds equally true in regard to both moral and positive precepts. He requires moral duties, because he sees a good reason for them in the nature of things; and he requires positive duties, because he sees a good reason for them in the relation of things. He required his people of old to love him with
all the heart, because he saw a good reason for it in the nature of things; and he required the same people to offer sacrifices, because he saw as good a reason for it in the then relation of things. God never acts capriciously or arbitrarily, from mere will or pleasure; but his will or pleasure in all his commands is founded in a solid reason, arising either from the nature of things, or from the relation of things, which renders his will or pleasure perfectly wise and good.
The proper distinction, therefore, between moral and positive duties is this: Moral duties are founded in reasons which we are able to discover by the mere light of nature; but positive duties are founded in reasons which we cannot discover without the aid of divine revelation. This may be illustrated by a contrast between these two species of duties. The light of nature teaches us that we ought to love God; but it does not teach us that we ought to rest one day in seven from all worldly employments. The light of nature teaches us that we ought to worship God; but it does not teach us that we ought to worship him in a public and social manner. The light of nature teaches us that we ought to obey God; but it does not teach us that we ought to bind ourselves to obey him, by publicly and solemnly engaging to obey him. The light of nature teaches us that we ought to fulfil our engagements to God; but it does not teach us that we ought to ratify our engagements by the rite of baptism. The light of nature teaches us that we ought to love Him who has died to save us; but it does not teach us that we ought to commemorate his love, by partaking of bread and wine in remembrance of him. In a word, the light of nature may teach us every moral duty; but it cannot teach us any positive duty. This is the only distinction between moral duties and positive; and this distinction exists only in our minds, and not in the mind of God, who comprehends the relations as well as the nature of things, and who sees as good reasons for positive, as for moral duties. And could we as clearly see the relation and connection of all things, as we see the nature of some things, we should see as good reasons for positive duties, arising from the relations of things, as we do for moral duties, arising from the nature of things; and should have no more need of a divine revelation to discover positive, than to discover moral duties. It is true, that some moral duties are more important than some positive duties; but since positive duties are founded in as much reason, and enjoined by as much authority, as moral duties, we are under no less obligation to obey all the positive, than all the moral duties required in the gospel.
This leads me to show,
III. How christians may maintain the positive duties which the gospel enjoins upon them.
It properly belongs to professing christians to maintain all the institutions of the gospel. The great design of their being formed into distinct churches, or religious societies, is to make them the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As God formerly committed his sacred oracles and positive institutions to the care and trust of the Jewish church, so he has since committed his word and ordinances to the care and trust of the Christian church. “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, and diversities of tongues.” Again we read, “God gave some, apostles; some, prophets ; some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the
perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” It appears from these passages, that all ecclesiastical power, as well as the word and ordinances of the gospel, are given to the church in the first place, and lodged in their hands for their edification and spiritual benefit. And upon this principle, the apostle calls the church, “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." The members of every Christian church are bound to use all their influence to maintain the word and worship of God and all his sacred ordinances, in their primitive purity and simplicity. Here then I would observe,
1. That one way by which every member of the church may do something to maintain the positive duties of religion, is by his own exemplary conduct. Zacharias and Elizabeth walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. They strictly and constantly attended upon every divine institution, which had a direct tendency to maintain the honor and practice of all instituted duties. While our Saviour tabernacled in flesh, he paid a sacred regard to all divine institutions. When he went to John to be baptized, the reason that he assigned was, that he must fulfil all righteousness. He considered baptism as a positive duty, which, as a Jew and a priest, he was bound to observe. Being made under the law, he meant by his practice to maintain all its positive institutions. Accordingly, he attended not only the Passover, but the public worship of God, and all the rites and ceremonies of divine appointment. This example all his professed friends ought to follow, and in this way maintain the public worship of God and all his holy ordinances.
The more strictly and constantly every member of the church observes the Sabbath, attends public worship, and practices all the positive duties of religion, the more he honors and main