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Directions for forming a System of Christian Morality. Advantages of the
In my last lecture, I made it my business to point out a proper method for conducting the study of holy writ, in such a manner, as that from it the student may form to himself, uninfluenced by the opinions of fallible men, a digest of the truth, as it is in Jesus. I purpose in the present discourse, to shew how he may proceed to form a system of christian morality. This, though properly first in intention, (for we seek knowledge to direct our practice) is last in execution ; it being that, to which every other part in this economy points, as to its ultimate end. The great and prima. ry aim of the whole is to renew us again after the image of him that created us, in righteousness and true holiness; faith itself, and hope, however impor. tant, act in a subserviency to this. It may indeed be thought, that as there are much fewer disputes concerning the duties required by our religion, than concerning the doctrines which it teaches, the examination of the former, as the easier task, ought to precede the examination of the latter. And indeed this remark would have so far weighed with me, that if I had judg. ed it expedient to begin our inquiries into the christian theology by the study of systematic and contro
versial writers, I should have adopted this method, on account of its greater simplicity and easiness. But if, waving for a time all attentions to the comments, glosses, traditions, questions, and refinements of men, recourse is had only to the divine oracles, there is not the same necessity ; the difference in point of difficulty, if any, will be found inconsiderable ; on the other hand, the progression from knowledge to faith, from faith to love, from love to obedience, is more conformable to the natural influence of things upon the human mind. Besides, the subject of christian morals is not without its difficulties nor its controversies, though they have been neither so great nor so many, as those which have been raised in relation to several points supposed to belong to the christian doctrine. But even this subject is not in all respects uncontroverted; witness the many differences in point of practice that not only subsist, but are warmly contested by the different sects in Christendom, one party thinking he doth God good service, by an action which another looks on with abhorrence, and justly stigmatizes as at once impious and inhuman. With how many still, are matters of full as little account, as tithing mint, anise and cummin, exalted above the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and fidelity? It is sacrificed with some, which with others is accounted sacrilege; and in too many places of what is called the christian world, those absurd austerities and self-inflicted cruel. ties, which degrade human nature, dishonour religion, and could only become the worshippers of dæmons, such as Baal or Moloch, are extolled as the sublimity of christian perfection. I mention these things only by the way, in order to shew that the unanimity among christians, in regard to moral duties, is not so complete, as is commonly imagined. Not that I would have the student at first to enter into these questions in relation to morality, any more than into such as are of a speculative nature and relate to doctrine. Let it be his first aim in both provinces, to inquire impartially into the mind of the spirit, as it appears in revelation itself, without admitting any interruption from the visions and speculations of men. Something of a plan or outline has been suggested to assist him in his inquiries into the doctrine of scripture ; it will not be improper to proceed in the same way in what regards the system of duty which may be collected from the same volume. Only it will be proper to premise, that though the law of the gospel be not as was the law of Moses, what the apostle styles a law of commandments or a law of ordinances, yet there are some things (as is absolutely necessary in every religious institution calculated for a creature such as man) of a ceremonial, and some of a mixed nature partly ceremonial and partly moral, as well as some things purely moral. Of the first kind are what we now call the christian sacraments, baptism and the Lord's supper; of the second what regards social and public worship and the separation of particular times for the purpose; and of the third, all the duties directly comprehended under charity or the love of God and man. As to the doctrine of the New Testament in regard to the two first, I meant to comprehend them under the sixth head of the sketch I gave in relation to the christian doctrine, which I termed the regeneration or the recovery of man. Under this was comprised the consideration of the external means, their use, their difference under different dispensations, and their connection with the effect to be produced. The subject to which I here confine myself is christian morality, or the pure ethics of the gospel. Every thing that is of a positive nature falls much more properly under the former part. In regard to this, it is evident, that different methods may be adopted for classing the different branches of duty, and there may be a conveniency in viewing the same subject in a variety of lights.
The only method which I shall take notice of at present, and which is both the simplest and the most obvious, is that which results from the consideration of the object, God, our neighbour, and ourselves. This division the apostle Paul has given of our duty in a passage well deserving the christian's most serious attention, as intimating the great and ultimate end of the gospel dispensation : “ The grace of God,”
of God,” says he, “ that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.” The whole of christian morality is here divided into three great branches; sobriety, or the duty which every man owes to himself, and which consists in what we may call self government in the largest acceptation of the word, implying.two great articles, a due command, first of appetite, secondly of passion; which we may distinguish by the titles of temperance and moderation, the former as it stands opposed to these vices, intemperance, incontinence, and sloth, which are different branches of voluptuousness; the latter as it stands opposed to pride, anger, avarice, and the love of life, being distinguished by these several names, humility, meekness, contentment and fortitude.
Again, the second general branch into which the christian morality is divided, is righteousness, or that duty which every man owes to all mankind. This may be subdivided from a regard to what is implied in the nature of the subject, into these two virtues, justice and beneficence. The former, that is justice, however highly valued and rarely found, is but at best a kind of negative virtue, and consists in doing no ill to others, in not injuring them in their persons, property, virtue, or reputation, which is but the lowest effect of that love, which every man owes to another. “ For this,” says the apostle, “ thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour.” It proves an effectual check to injury in thought, word and action. But I call it the lowest attainment of that divine principle, not to injure those, to whom it obligeth us to do all the good we can. This constitutes the nature of that beneficence, which was mentioned as the second branch of that duty, which we owe to other men. Justice or equity is sufficient to prevent our doing that to another, which on a change of circumstances we could not approve, or think just and equitable if done to ourselves; but be