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PBLIVERED TO AN EUROPEAN AUDIENce, IN the warehouse of A PAGAN CHINESE, November 23, 1822.
A law is a rule of action, given by power, or by a just authority. The law of which we shall to-day speak, is the law given by the great Creator to human creatures. When he formed the vast universe, he gave laws to matter and to motion, to things animate and inanimate, to the incalculable variety of organized beings which fill the earth, the sea, the air; he gave laws to suns and to systems of starry worlds; to angels and to man. The preservation of the order and harmony of the vast universe, depends on obedience or conformity to those laws. In the physical world, the law was impressed upon matter; and in the moral world, the law of God was written upon man's heart. But man, by transgression, fell, and the heart became depraved, and the letters of God’s law scarcely legible; the adversary of mankind induced a disregard of, and a disobedience to the law, with a perversion of the reasoning faculty, and beclouded the perception of truth; in consequence of which, the law of God was misinterpreted, and wrested, so as to be made to sanction things it really and originally did not. To restore the knowledge of the divine law in our world, heaven was pleased, at different times, and in divers manners, to grant reiterated elucidations of the law of God to man by direct revelation; and this revelation, in the usual way of the diffusion of knowledge, by tradition and books, has preserved that portion of acquaintance with the divine law, which is possessed, in different degrees, amongst the several nations of mankind. Now, reason, honestly exercised, can ascertain much of the original law, and man, having what we call the light of nature, is by no means left without law; still no system of morality or ethics, merely reasoned out by the human mind, can ever be set up as of equal authority with the divinely revealed law, contained in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, nor does any other code of morals contain so clear and so accurate a preceptive rule of human duty. Of the right of any one to make laws, that of our Creator is most indisputable. That his laws are designed for man's happiness, is most surely inferred from the divine benignity; God is love : His tender mercies are over all his works. That God’s laws, had they been obeyed by man, would have ensured the happiness designed, is certain, from the infinite wisdom of the Law-giver. He must have made the means adequate to the end. These propositions require not any laboured proof; it is self-evident that the Almighty Creator has a right to prescribe laws to his creatures, and that his laws must be “holy, just, and good.” The point which our text requires us to illustrate and enforce is, that “the law is spiritual.” The word spiritual denotes that which has a relation to spirit, to the Divine Being, and to the soul of man; to angels and the heavenly world. The word itself, apart from its connexion, does not denote either moral good or evil; for bad angels, or devils, as well as good angels, are spirits; but they are unclean spirits, and their deeds constitute spiritual wickedness. Spiritual is understood in contradistinction to what is material, the acts of the mind in contradistinction from the acts of the body. The faculties of the mind, or soul, the will, the affections, and so on, in contradistinction from the organs of the body, the senses, the touch, the taste, and so forth. Thus also spiritual and carnal, flesh and spirit, are opposite terms; resembling which distinction is the “Heavenly principle and human passion” of Chinese moralists. Human laws can take cognizance only for the actions of men; of theft, of murder, of fraud, of rebellion. Whenever they attempt to legislate for the operations of mind, they quit their proper sphere, and are ever liable to err. They cannot detect, and therefore cannot punish malice, so long as there is no overt act. An implacable enmity and desire to murder may exist in a human breast; but so long as no attempt is made to kill, human laws cannot apply; for spirit, or mind, is beyond their cognizance. In contradistinction from such laws, it is said in our text, that the law, viz. the law which God has given as the rule by which man must be judged, is spiritual. This law also indeed commands what is right in action, and forbids what is wrong; but it does much more, it is a rule for the “ thoughts and intents of the heart;” its precepts reach to the will, directing what man ought to choose, and what he ought not; to the affections, what man should love and what he should hate, what he should desire and what he should abhor, what he should reverence and what he should despise; and it reaches to man's motives, and requires not only rectitude of conduct, but also rectitude of principle and intention; not only the honest action, but also the purely honest design; not only the charitable deed, but likewise the benevolent heart. Moreover, one half of that law, of which we speak, refers solely to spiritual things, to spiritual vice or spiritual virtue; to man's duty to his Maker, who is the Great Spirit, the Father of Spirits, and from whom the human spirit is derived. In this class of man's duties, merely “bodily service,” the bended knee, the serious look, the solemn accents of audible prayer, profit nothing; unless the soul, the spirit, be there, the spiritual law is violated, and it condemns the transgressor. Let us take the Decalogue, and look over its precepts, remembering that the law is spiritual, and the subject will thereby be illustrated. And to begin, take the First commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This precept does not only mean that man shall not nominate the sun, moon, or stars, or any imaginary beings, gods, and go and offer worship to them; but it also denotes, that the reverence, submission, and awethe gratitude, esteem, and admiration, which constitute worship—the affection, love, devotedness, and the trust, hope, and dependance, which are due from man to God, shall not be given to any other object whatever; whether to the distinctions and honours of the ambitious, the pride of life, the pomps and vanities of this world, or the hoards of the covetous—riches, and all their attendant luxuries and attractions; or inordinate affection to any human creature—such as the devotion of the impassioned lover, or a parent's excessive attachment to a favourite child; for, in the estimation of the heart, all must be subordinated to the Great Supreme. The spiritual law says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and soul, and strength, and mind; this is the first and great commandment. He whose heart departs from the living God, who trusts in any creature, any power, instead of the Almighty arm, who does not, at all times, and in all circumstances, cherish supreme love, with all the workings of mind that the divine perfections deserve—gratitude, esteem, and adoration—has violated the spiritual law, and is condemned thereby, as a transgressor of the first commandment, first in order, and first in dignity and importance ; the great commandment, which has, indeed, been violated by the whole human race. Again, although a man does not carve a graven-image, and set it up to worship, he may set up an idol in his heart; although he does not curse and swear, he may want that reverence for the Divine Name, which the third commandment implies; and in these cases, he is convicted, by the spiritual law, of having broken the second and the third commandments. The Sabbath-day is not only a rest from bodily labour, but is designed as a spiritual rest from secular concerns and worldly pursuits, that the eternal interests of the soul may be attended to, and that man may not forget his rela
tion to the world of spirits. Hence the law says, “Thou shalt not do thine own pleasure on my holy day, but shalt call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lold, honourable, and shall honour him, not doing thine own ways, not finding thine own pleasure, not speaking thine own words.” “The Lord blessed the Sabbath-day and hallowed it,” as a memorial of the wonderful works of creation; and the Lord's day, observed by Christians, is in commemoration of the resurrection of the Saviour, and the wonders of redemption ; on that day, therefore, the mind should be turned to the study of the divine perfections, as displayed in creation, providence, and redemption, in the public and private exercises of devotion, and in the perusal of the Bible, or of religious books, otherwise the spiritual import of the fourth commandment is violated. Further, None can ever imagine that the precept, “honourthy father and thy mother,” is obeyed by merely external acts of respect. Even the Chinese, (who indeed place filial duty at the head of all the virtues,) inculcate the spiritual meaning of the law, and teach that the most complete attention to external forms of respect, and the most abundant supply of bodily comforts, is still not a fulfilling of the law, unless the heart of the child honour, and be deeply interested in the parent. But they err egregiously in not subordinating duly, filial piety, towards an earthly parent, to what all owe to the great Parent of mankind, our Father in heaven; for the law requires that in the performance of the social duties we should still have a supreme reference to the Divine Being; and not only so, but whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God. o The same principle of spiritual obedience applies to the remaining precepts of the Decalogue, in a manner similar to the cases which have been exemplified. Actual murder is happily not often committed; but divine revelation so expounds the law as to declare, “He that hateth his brother is a murderer.” (1 John iii. 15.) And thus he who maliciously harbours in his breast a spirit of hatred and enmity against another man, although he may not have