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On the Moral Law.
“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and
good."- Romans, vii. 12. THE great Creator and possessor of heaven and
earth has an indisputable authority to make laws for the government of his creatures, and to require their obedience. Since every thing that they have is received from his hands, and held under him at his pleasure, it therefore behoves them to inquire upon what terms they hold it. And if God has given them laws, it is their duty to study them, and their interest to obey them. If there be any sanctions to enforce these laws, any rewards or punishments, they should inquire where these things are to be known, and by what means discovered, that they may obtain the reward and escape the punishment.
Whenever a serious unprejudiced person desires to be satisfied in these points, which so nearly concern his present peace of conscience, and his future happiness, he will soon be convinced that God has made a gracious provision for his instruction. God has opened his mind and will in this matter. He has recorded his laws and published them. The sacred volume of divine statutes is in our hands, and in our mother tongue. It is so very short that none can want time to peruse it; and it is so Aery plain and
intelligible, as to the rule of duty, that none can plead ignorance. He that runs may read it, and the simple may understand it and learn knowledge : for upon a very cursory view of this divine treatise, it will appear
that there are three distinct bodies of law mentioned in it, namely, the moral law, the ceremonial law, and the law of faith. We are all highly concerned to inquire into the nature of these laws, and therefore I purpose, through God's assistance, to inquire into the scope and design of each of them. At present I shall confine myself to the moral law, which alone is spoken of in my text. The apostle is treating of its usefulness to discover the sinfulness of sin: “1 had not known sin,” says he, “but by the law.” The law must first lay down a rule, before it can be known what sin is, which is the transgression of that rule: “ for I had not known lust,” and that the first rising and motion of evil in the heart was a sin, unless the law had said, " thou shalt not covet.” This is the law of the tenth commandment; from whence it is very evident that St. Paul is here treating of the moral law, which is of such perfect purity as to reach to the desires and covetings of the heart, and which, by restraining them, makes them appear more sinful and grow more outrageous.
66 But sin took an occasion by the commandment, and wrought in me all manner of concupiscence: for, without the law, sin is dead;" although it be in us, yet it is not perceived, until it be held before the holy spiritual law of God, and then it begins to stir and rage: for as it follows, “ I was once alive without the law," says the apostle—when I knew not the law I thought myself alive, my conscience never troubled me, nor did I apprehend the deadly nature of sin; “but when the commandment came,” when I began to understand the commandment in its spiritual nature, and it came to my conscience, and was applied with a divine power to my heart, then sin revived and I died.” I found myself dead in trespasses and sins: “for the same commandment which was ordained unto life was found to be unto me, unto death: but 'sin took occasion by the commandment,” not through any fault in the commandment, but entirely through my own fault, “ deceived me, and by it slew me.
What shall we say then ? Is the law and the commandment sin? God forbid. The law is holy:" all the fault is in us who abuse the law, “and the commandment is holy, just, and good.” The occasion of the words, and the context thus in part opened and explained, may help us to determine:
First, what the moral law is.
Fourthly, what is the penalty due to the breach of it; and then I shall draw. some practical inferences from these particulars. And may the Spirit of the living God apply what shall be spoken. May he enlighten all your understandings with a clear view of the spiritual nature of the moral law, that by it you may be brought to the knowledge of sin, and to see and feel your want of a Saviour. Under the teachings of this good spirit let us consider,
First, what the moral law is. I define it to be the holy, just, and good will of God made known and promulged to his creatures in all these particulars wherein he requires their perfect obedience in order to their happiness. The law is the discovery of his will; for the almighty Creator and sovereign Lord of heaven and earth governs all his works and creatures according to the good pleasure of his own will. His will is the absolutely perfect law of the natural world. He hath given to the inanimate works of his hands, a law which shall not be broken. The ac tive powers in nature shall work, and passive matter shall obey by an unalterable rule, until the heavens be folded up like a scroll, and the earth and all the works therein shall be burnt up. 'And his will is as absolute a law to his rational creatures, as to the natural agents: because he can enact no laws but what partake of his own adorable perfections. His law
is his will made known. It is a copy of his infinitely pure mind. It is a fair transcript of his holiness, justice, goodness, and of every other divine attribute: for by the law he discovers to his creatures, what it is his will they should be, and do, in order to preserve his favour. He would have them holy, just, and good, and the law makes known to them the rule of their obedience; by an exact conformity to which, they are holy, just, and good. The will of God revealed in the law is holy, and conformity to it is holiness. Holiness in the old testament language signifies a separation from impurity, and when applied to the divine nature, it rather expresses what God is not than what he is. · It is a negative idea, denota ing an entire separation from every thing which can defile. Holiness in God excludes all possibility of pollution. In him there neither is, nor can be, the least impurity. He is of purer eyes than to behold the least iniquity. He cannot even look upon any thing which is the least unclean : for without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Now the law is an exact copy
of God's holiness. It is the outward discovery of his most holy mind and will, informing his creatures how perfectly pure they must preserve themselves, if they would preserve his favour. The law discovers to them what God is, and shows how like him they ought to be in holiness. And since God cannot behold the least impurity, consequently his law cannot, because it is his mind and will revealed concerning this matter. He will not suffer
deviation from his law, no, not in thought: for the language of the law is positive and express, out of the mouth of the supreme lawgiver himself" Be ye holy, for I am holy." And are you, my brethren, thus holy? This should be a matter of close examination. Are you what the law requires you to be? Do you look upon the law as perfecily, infinitely holy in itself, even as holy as God is? and have you considered sin as an offence against the holiness of God and of his law, even such an unpardonable offence
that you could never make the least satisfaction for it? It is very evident these things are not well understood, because the practice of mankind shows what low ideas they entertain of them. What makes sin appear light and little, and some offences small ?. Is it not because sinners are ignorant of the absolutely perfect holiness of the law? And, after they have broken it, how mean an opinion have they of its holiness, when they think that a little sorrow and some few tears, that repentance and amendment, can make them holy, and satisfy the demands of the broken law? If any of you entertain these unworthy ideas of God and of his law, you should consider, that although God does require you to be perfectly holy, yet he can require nothing of you but what is just. The law is just, as well as holy, just in all its demands, and just in the rule of its process in rewarding obedience and punishing transgression. The scripture word for justice is taken from human affairs, and from thence is applied to divine. In the first ages of the world money was paid and received by weight, and he who kept an even balance in paying and receiving was a just man. His justice consisted in keeping the scales even, in weighing all things with an equal balance, and in giving and taking only what was lawful and right. Now the law holds this balance of justice in its hands, that it may prove the judge of all the earth does right, and will be glorified in all that he requires of his creatures : for the holy obedience which he demands of them is a just obedience. He had a sovereign authority to require it, and he gave them power to repay it to him, and therefore they could not complain of any injustice, if he should inflict the punishment threatened to the disobedient, any more than if he should bestow the reward promised to the obedient. Thus the law is just. It is an exact copy God's justice, and is as perfectly just as God is. "It can no more require or do an unjust thing than God can: for the law only discovers what is the infinitely just mind and will of