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you may greatly assist us. If, as heads of families, you were to inquire of your children and servants what they have heard and noticed on the Lord's day, you would often find occasion to second the impressions made by our labours. It is also of great consequence to be endued with that wisdom from above, which dictates a word in season to men, in our ordinary concerns with them. Far be it from us to recommend the fulsome practice of some professors, who are so full of what they call religion as to introduce it on all occasions, and that in a most offensive manner. Yet there is a way of dropping a hint to a good purpose. It is admirable to observe the easy and inoffensive manner in which a patriarch introduced some of the most important truths to a heathen prince, merely in answer to the question, How old art thou? The days of the years of my pilgrimage (said he) are a hundred and thirty : few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers, in the days of their pilgrimage. This was insinuating to Pharaoh that he and his fathers before him were strangers and pilgrims upon the earth—that their portion was not in this world, but in another—that the life of man, though it extended to a hun. dred and thirty years, was but a few days—and that those few days were mixed with evil: all which, if the king reflected on it, would leach him to set light by the earthly glory with which he was loaded, and to seek a crown which fadeth not away.
You are acquainted with many who do not attend the preaching of the word. If by inviting them to go with you, an individual only should be caught, as we say, in the gospel net, you would pave a soul from death. Such examples have frequently occurred. It is an established law in the divine administration, that men, both in good and evil, should in a very great degree draw and be drawn by each other. The ordinary way in which the knowledge of God is spread in the world is, by every man saying to his neighbour and to his brother, Know the Lord. It is a character of gospel times, that Many nations shall come and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Add to this, by visiting your neighbours under affliction, you would be furnished with many an opportunity of conversing with them to advantage. Men's consciences are commonly awake at such seasons, whatever they have been at others. It is as the month to the wild ass, in which they that seek her may find her.
Finally: Enable us to use strong language when recommending the gospel by its holy and happy effects.—Unbelievers con stantly object to the doctrine of grace as licentious ; and if they can refer to your unworthy conduct, they will be confirmed, and we shall find it impossible to vindicate the truth of God without disowning such conduct, and it may be you on account of it: but if we can appeal to the upright, the temperate, the peaceable, the benevolent, the holy lives, of those among whom we labour, it will be of more weight than a volume of reasonings, and have a greater influence on the consciences of(men. A congregation, composed of kind and generous masters, diligent and faithful servants, affectionate husbands, obedient wives, tender parents, dutiful children, and loyal subjects, will be to a minister what children of the youth are said to be to a parent: As arrows in the hand of a mighty man.—Happy is the man that has his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
These, brethren, are some of the principal ways in which we affectionately solicit your assistance in promoting the interest of Christ. In doing this, we virtually pledge ourselves to be ready on all occasions to engage in it. We feel the weight of this implication. Let each have the other's prayers, that we may both be assisted from above, without which all the assistance we can render each other will be unavailing. Should this address fall into the hands of one who is yet in his sins, let him consider that the object of it is his salvation ; let him reflect on the case of a man whom many are endeavouring to save, but he himself with hardened unconcern is pressing forward to destruction ; and finally, should he bethink himself, and desire to escape the wrath to come, let him beware of false refuges, and flee to Jesus, the hope set before him in the gospel.
Vol. VIII. ft
ON MORAL AND POSITIVE OBEDIENCE.
DEAR BRETHREN, In addressing these our Annual Letters to you, it is our desire to lead you on in the divine life, that, not contented with a superficial acquaintance with religion, you may clearly understand its most discriminating principles. The winds of doctrine which abound, by which many, like children, are tossed to and fro and carried away, require that you grow up into Him in all thing, who is the head, even Christ. Concerning the subject of our present address, namely, Moral and Positive Obedience, suffice it to say, we think we perceive some serious evils growing up in certain parts of the Christian world for want of distinct ideas concerning it, and wish to arm your minds against them. All we shall attempt will be to give a clear statement of the distinction, and to point out the use of it in the Christian religion. An unreserved obedience to the revealed will of God, in what. ever form it is delivered, is the scriptural test of faith and love. You have professed to believe in Christ for salvation, and have been baptized in his name; but this is not all : the same commis. sion which requires this, directs also that the disciples should be instructed in the whole mind of Christ; Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. As the command ments of Christ, however, are not all of the same kind, so neither is our obedience required to be yielded in all respects on the same principles. The distinction of obedience into moral and positive, is far from being novel. It has been made by the ablest writers, of various denominations, and must be made if we would understand the scriptures. Without it, we should confound the eternal standard of right and wrong given to Israel at Sinai, (the sum of which is
love to God and our neighbour.) with the body of carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. We should also confound those precepts and examples of the New Testament which arise from the relations we stand in to God and to one another, with positive institutions which arise merely from the sovereign will of the Lawgiver, and could never have been known bad he not expressly enjoined them. Concerning the former, an inspired writer does not scruple to refer the primitive Christians to that sense of right and wrong which is implanted in the minds of men in general; saying, Whatsoever things are Trwe, whatsoever things are Honest, whatsoever things are Just, whatsoever things are I'ure, whatsoever things are Lovely, whatsoever things are of Good Report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. But concerning the latter, he directs their whole attention to Christ, and to those who acted under his authority. Be yefollmcers of me as I also am of Christ. Now 1 praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the Ordinances as I delivered them to you. The one is corn., manded because it is right; the other is right because it is com. manded. The great principles of the first are of perpetual obligation, and know no other variety than that which arises from the varying of relations and conditions: but those of the last may be binding at one period of time, and utterly abolished at another. We can clearly perceive that it were inconsistent with the perfections of God not to have required us to love htm and one another, or to have allowed of the contrary. Children also must needs be required to obey their parents ; for this is Right. But it is not thus in positive institutions. Whatever wisdom there may be in them, and whatever discernment in us, we could not have known them had they not been expressly revealed ; nor are they ever enforced as being right in themselves, but merely as being of divine appointment. Of them we may say, Had it pleased God, he might in various instances have enjoined the opposites: but of the other we are not allowed to suppose it possible, or consistent with righteousness, to require any thing different from that which is required.
The design of moral obligation is to preserve order in the creation; that of positive institutions, among other things, to prove us, whether, like Abraham in offering up his son, we will yield implicit obedience to God's commandments, or whether we will hesitate fill we perceive the reason of them. The obligation of man to lore and obey his Creator was coeval with his existence : but it was not till God had planted a garden in Eden, and there put the man whom he had formed, and expressly prohibited the fruit of one of the trees on pain of death, that he came under a positive ]aw. The former would approve itself to his conscience as according with the nature of things : the latter as being commanded by his Creator.
Having briefly stated our views of the subject, we proceed to point out the uses to which it is applicable in the exercise of Christian obedience.
Far be it from us to amuse the churches we represent with useless distinctions, or speculations which apply not to the great purposes of practical godliness. If we mistake not, brethren, a clear view of the subject, as stated above, will furnish yon with much important instruction.
We need only remind you of the use of this distinction in reducing to a narrow compass the babtismal controversy. Your ablest writers have shown from hence the fallacy of all reasonings in favour of infant baptism from the Abrahamic covenant, from circumcision, or from any ground of mere analogy: and not your writers only: for the principle is conceded by a considerable number of our most learned opponents.* In instituted worship, we have only to understand the will of our divine Lawgiver in relation to the subject in question, and to obey it.
But this is not the sole, nor perhaps the principal use to be made of the distinction. We are not only taught by it to look for express precept or example, in things positive, but not to look for them in things moral. In obedience of the latter description there is not that need of minute rules or examples, as in the former; but merely of general principles, which naturally lead to all the Particulars comprehended in them. To require express precept
'* See Booth's Pcsdobaplum Examined, Vol. I. Chap. t.