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endless. Here, voluntary usefulness is for ever unknown, and unheard of; while selfishness in all its dreadful forms assumes an undisputed, an unresisted, dominion, a terrible despotism; and fills the world around her with rage and wretchedness, with terror and doubt, with desolation and despair.
4thly. How delightful a view do these observations give of Headen!
Heaven is the world of voluntary usefulness. The only disposition of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, is to do good; their only employment, to produce happiness. In this employment all the energy of sanctified and perfect minds is exerted without weariness, and without end. How vast, then, how incomprehensible, how endlessly increasing, must be the mass of happiness, brought by their united efforts into being! How ample a provision must it be for all the continually expanding wishes, the continually enlarging capacities, of its glorious inhabitants ! How wonderfully, also, must the sum of enjoyment be enhanced to each, when we remember, that he will experience the same delight in the good enjoyed by others, as in that which is immediately his own! Who would not labour to gain an entrance into such a world as this ? Who would not bend all his efforts, exhaust all his powers, encounter any earthly suffering, and resolutely overcome every earthly obstacle, to acquire that divine and delightful character of voluntary usefulness, which makes heaven such a world; which makes it the place of God's peculiar presence, the means of his highest glory, and the mansion of everlasting life, peace, and joy, to his children?
THE LAW OF GOD.-THE DECALOGUE.-THE FIRST COMMAND
EXODUS XX. 3 — Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.
In the series of discourses, which I have lately delivered concerning the two great commands of the Moral Law, it has, if I mistake not, been sufficiently shown, that the disposition, required by the Creator of his Intelligent creatures in this law, is Disinterested Love, or the Spirit of doing good. The tendency of this disposition is always to do what is right. It will not, however, follow, that the mind, in which it exists, will be able always to discern the course of conduct, which it ought, upon the whole, to pursue. The disposition may, with absolute correctness, dictate what is absolutely proper to be done in a case, already before the view of the mind; and yet the mind be wholly ignorant, whether that case, or the conduct in question, is such, as would, upon the whole, be best for it to pursue; or whether superior wisdom would not be able to devise for it other, and much more desirable, courses of action. A child may be perfectly holy; and yet possess too little understanding to know in what way he may best act; in what way he may most promote the glory of God, the good of his fellow-creatures
, or the good of himself. His disposition may prompt to that, which is exactly right, in all the conduct, which is within the reach of his understanding. Yet, if he had more comprehensive views, he might discern far more desirable modes of action, in which he might be much more useful, than in any which he is at present able to devise. He may be able to apply the two great commands of the Moral Law, which have been so extensively considered, with exact propriety to all such cases, as are actually within his view; and yet be utterly unable to devise for himself those kinds of conduct, in which his obedience to these commands might be most profitably employed.
What is true of a child, is true, in different degrees, of all Intelligent creatures. God only, as was shown in a former discourse, is able to discern, and to prescribe, the conduct, which, upon the whole, it is proper for such creatures to pursue. He sees from the beginning to the end; and perfectly understands the nature, and the consequences, of all Intelligent action.
This knowledge, which he alone possesses, and which is indispensable to this purpose, enables him to accomplish it in a manner absolutely perfect.
What is true, in this respect, of Intelligent creatures universally, is peculiarly true of Sinful creatures. The disposition of sinners leads them, of course, to that conduct, which is wrong and mischievous. They are, therefore, always in danger of erring from mere disposition. Besides, sin renders the mind voluntarily ignorant; and in this manner, also, exposes it continually to error. A great part of all the false opinions, entertained by mankind concerning their duty, are to be attributed solely to the biasses of a sinful disposition. None are so blind, none so erroneous, as those who are unwilling to see.
From a merciful regard to these circumstances, particularly, of mankind, God has been pleased to reveal to them his pleasure, and their duty; to disclose to them all those modes of moral action, all those kinds of moral conduct, in which they may most promote his glory, and their own good. The importance of this Revelation is evidenced, in the strongest manner, by the moral situation of that part of the human race, to whom it has never been published. I need not inform you, that they have been wholly ignorant of the true God, and of a great part of the principles and precepts, of the moral system; that they have worshipped men, animals, evil spirits, and gods of gold and silver, of wood and stone. I need not inform you, that they have violated every moral precept, and every dictate of natural affection. I need not inform you, that without Revelation we should have been heathen also; and should, in all probability, have been this day prostrating ourselves before an ox or an ape, or passing children through the fire unto Moloch.
Among the several parts of the Revelation, which has raised our moral condition so greatly above that of the heathen, the Decalogue, is eminently distinguished. The decalogue is a larger summary of our duty, than that which is contained in the two great commands, already considered. The same things, in substance, are required in it; but they are branched out into various important particulars; all of them supremely necessary to be known by us. ''To enforce their importance on our minds, God was pleased to utter the several precepts, contained in this summary, with his own voice; and to write them with his own finger on two tables of stone, fashioned by himself. They were published, also, amid the thunderings and lightnings of Mount Sinai, from the bosom of the cloud, by which it was enveloped, and out of the flame, which ascended from its summit.
The four first of the commands, contained in the decalogue, reg. ulate our immediate duty to God; the six last, our duty to men. The former were written on one, properly called the first, table ; the latter on another, usually styled the second, table.
Two of these commands, one of the first and one of the second table, are positive, that is, direct injunctions of our duty: the remaining eight are negative, or prohibitory. Both classes, however,
are of exactly the same extent: those, which are positive, forbidding the conduct, which is contrary to what they enjoin; and those, which are negative, requiring that, which is contrary to what they forbid.
The first of these commands is the text. The duty, enjoined in it, is of such a nature, that, to a mind governed by the dictates of reason, an express injunction of it would seem in a great measure unnecessary, if not altogether superfluous. So vast is the difference between the real God, and every possible substitute, that sober contemplation would scarcely suspect it to be possible for a man, who is not bereft of Reason, to put any other being into his place, even under the influence of the most wandering fancy. How unlike all other beings must He evidently be, who made the heavens and the earth; whose breath kindled the sun and the stars; and whose hand rolls the planets through immensity! How infinitely superior does he obviously appear to every thing, which he has made ; and how infinitely remote from any rival, or any second! Still, experience has amply testified, that mankind have, almost without ceasing, substituted other Gods for JEHOVAH. Nay, it has clearly evinced, not only that we need to be taught the duty, required by him in the text, but that no precepts, no instructions, and no motives, have been sufficient to keep the world in obedience to this first and greatest law of moral conduct. Nothing, indeed, has so strongly evinced the madness of the human heart, as the conduct, which it has exhibited towards the Creator ; and the idolatry, which it has rendered to a vast multitude of the works of his hands.
The word, gods, in this passage, may be regarded as denoting not only the various objects of religious worship, but also all the objects of supreme regard, affection, or esteem. The command, it will be observed, is expressed in the absolute, or universal, manner, and may be fairly considered as including every thing, to which mankind render, or can be supposed to render, such regard. The phrase, before me, is equivalent to the expressions, in my sight, in my presence; and teach us that no such gods are to be admitted within the omnipresence, or within the view of the omniscience, of Jehovah. With these explanations, it will be easily seen, that the text indispensably requires us to acknowledge the real God as our God; and forbids us to regard any other being in this character.
To acknowledge Jehovah as our God is to love him supremely, to fear before him with all the heart, and to serve him throughout all our days; in absolute preference to every other being. In this manner we testify, that we esteem him infinitely more excellent, venerable, and deserving of our obedience, than all other beings. After the observations, which I have heretofore made concerning these subjects, it will be unnecessary to expatiate on them at the present time. I shall only observe, therefore, that this is the
highest, the noblest, and the best, service, which we can render to any being, and the only way in which we can acknowledge any being as God. When we render this service to Jehovah, we acknowledge him in his true character. He is infinitely the greatest, and the best, of all beings; and we are under infinitely greater obligations to him, than to any other. Of course, his claims to this service from us, and from all other Intelligent creatures, are supreme, and exclusive. When it is rendered by them, God is acknowledged to be what he is ; thus divinely great and excellent. At the same time, and in the same manner, we declare, that by his character, and by his blessings, he has laid us under the highest obligations to such conduct.
As this is the only true, naturals and proper, acknowledgment of God; so, when we render the same service to any creature, we acknowledge that creature as our God. In this conduct we are guilty of two gross and abominable sins. In the first place, we elevate the being, who is thus regarded, to the character, and station, of a God: and, in the second place, we remove the true God, in our heart, from his own character of infinite glory, and excellence, and from that exalted station, which he holds as the infinite Ruler, and Benefactor, of the Universe. This sin is a complication of wickedness, wonderfully various and dreadful. In truth, it is a comprehensive summary of iniquity, and the basis of all the crimes which are committed by Intelligent creatures. The evil, involved in it, may, in some measure, be learned from the following obseryations.
1st. We are in this conduct guilty of the grossest Falsehood.
We practically deny, that Jehovah is possessed of those attributes, which alone demand such service from Intelligent creatures; and, on the other hand, assert in the same manner, that the being, to whom we render this service, is invested with these attributes. No falsehoods can be so gross, or so abominable, as these. Nor can they be uttered in any
manner, so forcible, so provoking, or so guilty. Our practice is the real interpreter of our thoughts. The tongue may utter any thing at pleasure; but the heart is always disclosed by the language of the life.
2dly. In this conduct, also, we are guilty of the greatest Injustice.
This evil is likewise two-fold. First; we violate the rightful claim of Jehovah to the service of Intelligent creatures : and ondly; we render to a creature the service which is due to Him alone. The right, which God has to this service, is supreme, and unalienable. He is our Maker, and Preserver. We are in the most absolute sense his property; and are bound, therefore, by the highest obligation, to be voluntarily his; cheerfully to resign ourselves to his
pleasure, and to be employed in doing his will, The obligations, arising from this source, are not a little enbanced by the fact that the service, which he actually requires of us, is in