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An Exposition of the Moral Law.
HERE I think it will not be foreign to our subject to introduce the ten precepts of the law, with a brief exposition of them. For this will more clearly evince. what I have suggested, that the service which God hath once prescribed always remains in full force; and will also furnish us with a confirmation of the second remark, that the Jews not only learned from it the nature of true piety, but when they saw their inability to observe it, were led by the fear of its sentence, though not without reluctance, to the Mediator. Now in giving a summary of those things which are requisite to the true knowledge of God, we have shewn that we can form no conceptions of his greatness, but his majesty immediately discovers itself to us, to constrain us to worship him. In the knowledge of ourselves we have laid down this as a principal article, that being divested of all opinion of our own strength, and confidence in our own righteousness, and on the other hand discouraged and depressed by a consciousness of our poverty, we should learn true humility and self.dejection. The Lord accomplishes both these things in the law, where, in the first place, claiming to himself the legitimate authority to command, he calls us to revere his Divinity, and prescribes the parts of which this reverence consists: and in the next place, promulgating the rule of his righteousness (the rectitude of which, our nature, being depraved and perverted, perpetually opposes; and from the perfection of which, our ability, through its indolence and imbecility towards that which is good, is at a great distance) he convicts us both of impotence and of unrighteousness. Moreover, the internal law, which has before been said to be inscribed and as it were engraven on the hearts of all men, suggests to us in some measure the same things which are to be learned from the two tables. For our conscience does not permit us to sleep in perpetual insensibility, but is an internal witness and monitor of the duties we owe to God, shews us the difference between good and evil, and so accuses us when we deviate from our duty. But man, involved as he is in a cloud of errors, scarcely obtains from this law of nature the smallest idea of what worship is accepted by God; but is certainly at an immense distance from a right understanding of it. Besides, he is so elated with arrogance and ambition," and so blinded by self.love, that he cannot yet take a view of himself, and as it were retire within, that he may learn to submit and humble himself, and to confess his misery. Since it was necessary therefore both for our dulness and ob- stinacyr the Lord gave us a written law: to declare with greater certainty what in the law of nature was too obscure, and by arousing our indolence, to make a deeper impression on our understanding and memory.
II. Now it is easy to perceive, what we are to learn from the law: namely, that God, as he is our Creator, justly sustains towards us the character of a Father and of a Lord; and that on this account we owe to him glory and reverence, love and fear. Moreover, that we are not at liberty to follow every thing to which the violence of our passions may incite us; but that we ought to be attentive to his will, and to practise nothing but what is pleasing to him. In the next place, that righteousness and rectitude are agreeable, but iniquity an abomination to him; and that therefore, unless we will with impious ingratitude rebel against our Maker, we must necessarily spend our whole lives in the practice of righteousness. For if we manifest a becoming reverence for him, only when we prefer his will to our own; it follows that there is no other legitimate worship of him, but the observance of righteousness, sanctity, and purity. Nor can we pretend to excuse ourselves by a want pf ability, like insolvent debtors. For it is improper for us to measure the glory of God by our ability; for whatever may be our characters, he ever remains like himself, the friend of righteousness, the enemy of iniquity. Whatever he requires of us, since he can require nothing but what is right, we are under a natural obligation to obey; but our inability is our own fault. For if we are bound by our own passions, which are under the government of sin, so that we are not at liberty to obey our father, there is no reason why we should plead this necessity in our defence, the criminality of which is within ourselves, and must be imputed to us.
III. When we have made such a proficiency as this by means of the instruction of the law, we ought, under the same teacher, to retire within ourselves; from which we may learn two things: First, by comparing our life with the righteousness of the law, we shall find, that we are very far from acting agreeably to the will of God, and are therefore unworthy to retain a place among his creatures, much less to be numbered among his children: Secondly, by examining our strength, we shall see, that it is not only unequal to the observance of the law, but a mere nullity. The necessary consequence of this will be a diffidence in our own strength, and an anxiety and trepidation of mind. For the conscience cannot sustain the load of iniquity, without an immediate discovery of the Divine judgment. And the Divine judgment cannot be perceived, without inspiring a dread of death. Compelled also by proofs of its impotence, it cannot avoid falling into an absolute despair of its own strength. Both these dispositions produce humility and dejection. The result of all this is, that the man terrified with the apprehension of eternal death, which he sees justly impending over him for his unrighteousness, betakes himself entirely to the Divine mercy, as to the only port of salvation: and perceiving his inability to fulfil the commands of the law, and feeling nothing but despair in himself, he implores and expects assistance from another quarter.
IV. But not contented with having conciliated a reverence for his righteousness, the Lord hath also subjoined promises and threatenings, in order that our hearts might imbibe a love for him, and at the same time a hatred to iniquity. For since the eyes of our mind are too dim to be attracted with the mere beauty of virtue, our most merciful Father hath been graciously pleased to allure us to the love and worship of himself by the sweetness of his rewards. He announces therefore that he has reserved rewards for virtue, and that the person who obeys his commandments shall not labour in vain. He proclaims, on the contrary, not only that unrighteousness is execrable in his sight, but also that it shall not escape with impunity; but that he will avenge himself on all the despisers of his majesty. And to urgeTis by all possible motives, he promises also the blessings of the present life, as well as eternal felicity, to the obedience of those who keep his commandments, the transgressors of which he threatens not only with present calamities, but with the torments of eternal death. For that promise, "these if a man do, he shall live in them," (g ) and this correspondent threatening, "the soul that sinneth, it shall die,"(A) undoubtedly relate to a future and endless immortality or death. "Wherever we read of the Divine benevolence or wrath, the former comprehends eternal life, the latter eternal destruction. Now of present blessings and curses, the law contains a long catalogue. The penal sanctions display the consummate purity of God, which cannot tolerate iniquity; while the promises not only manifest his perfect love of righteousness, which he cannot defraud of its reward, but likewise illustrate his wonderful goodness. For since we, with all that belongs to us, are indebted to his majesty, whatever he requires of us, he most justly demands as the payment of a debt; but the payment of a debt is not entitled to remuneration. Therefore he recedes from the strictness of his claims, when he proposes a reward to our obedience, which is not performed spontaneously as if it were not a duty. But the effect of those promises on us has partly been mentioned already, and will hereafter more clearly appear in its proper place. Suffice it at present, if we remember and consider that the legal promises contain no mean recommendation of righteousness, to make it more evident how much God is pleased with the observance of it; and that the penal sanctions are annexed, to render unrighteousness more execrable, lest the sinner, amidst the fascinations of sin, should forget that the judgment of the Legislator awaits him.
V. Now since the Lord, when about to deliver a rule of perfect righteousness, referred all the parts of it to his own will, this shews that nothing is more acceptable to him than obedience. This is worthy of the most diligent observation, since the licentiousness of the human mind is so inclined to
(g) Lev. xviii. 5. (A) Ezek. xviii. 4.
the frequent invention of various services in order to merit his favour. For this irreligious affectation of religion, which is a principle innate in the human mind, has betrayed itself in all ages, and betrays itself even in the present day; for men always take a pleasure in contriving some way of attaining righteousness, which is not agreeable to the Divine word. Hence, among those which are commonly esteemed good works, the precepts of the law hold a very contracted station, the numberless multitude of human inventions occupying almost the whole space. But what was the design of Moses, unless it was to repress such an unwarrantable licence, when, after the promulgation of the law, he addressed the people in the following manner? "Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord thy God. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." (?) And before, when he had declared that this was their wisdom and their understanding in the sight of other nations, that they had received statutes and judgments and ceremonies from the Lord, he had added, "Take heed to thyself: and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life." (i) Foreseeing that the Israelites would not rest, but, even after the reception of the law, would labour to produce new species of righteousness foreign from what the law requires, unless they should be rigorously restrained, God pronounces that his word comprehends the perfection of righteousness; and yet, though this ought most effectually to have prevented them, they were guilty of that very presumption which was so expressly forbidden. But what is this to us? We are certainlv bound by the same declaration; for the claims of the Lord on behalf of his law, that it contains the doctrine of perfect righteousness, beyond all doubt remain perpetually the same; yet not contented with it, we are wonderfully laborious in inventing and performing other good works, one after another.
(0 Deut xii. 28, 32. (*) Deut iv. 5, 6,9.