« FöregåendeFortsätt »
particular ones are pitched upon, rather than others. Whoever, therefore, instead of cavilling at words, will attend to the thing itself, may clearly see, that positive institutions, in general, as distinguished from this or that particular one, have the nature of moral commands; since the reasons of them appear. Thus, for instance, the external worship of God is a moral duty, though no particolar mode of it be so. Care then is to be taken, when a comparison is made between positive and moral duties, that they be compared no farther than as they are different; no farther than as the former are positive, or arise out of mere external command, the reasons of which we are not acquainted with ; and as the latter are moral, or arise out of the apparent reason of the case, without such external command. Unless this caution be observed, we shall run into endless confusion.
Now, this being premised, suppose two standing precepts enjoined by the same authority; that in certain conjunctures, it is impossible to obey both; that the former is moral, i.e. a precept of which we see the reasons, and that they hold in the particular case before us ; but that the latter is positive, i. e. a preeept of which we do not see the reasons : it is indisputable that our obligations are to obey the former, because there is an apparent reason for this preference, and none against it. Farther, positive institutions, I suppose all those which Christianity enjoins, are means to a moral end; and the end must be acknowledged more excellent than the means. Nor is observance of of these institutions any religious obedience at all, or of any.value, otherwise than as it proceeds from a moral principle. This seems to be the strict logical way of stating and determining this matter ; but will, perhaps, be found, less applicable to practice, than may be thought at first sight.
And therefore, in a more practical, though more lax way of consideration, and taking the words, moral law and positive institutions, in the popular sense; I add, that the whole inoral law is as much matter of revealed command, as positive institutions are ; for the Scripr ture enjoins every moral virtue. In this respect, then, they are both upon a level. But the moral law is, moreover, written upon our hearts ; interwoven into our very nature. And this is a plain intimation of the Author of it, which is to be preferred, when they interfere.
But there is not altogether so much necessity for the determination of this question, as some persons seem to think. Nor are we left to reason alone to determine it. For, first, Though mankind have, in all ages, been greatly prone to place their religion in peculiar positive rites, by way of equivalent for obedience to moral precepts ; yety, without making any comparison at all between them, and consequently without determining which is to have the preference, the nature of the thing abundantly shews all notions of that kind to be utterly subversive of true religion ; as they are, moreover, contrary to the whole general tenor of Scripture, and likewise to the most express particular declarations of it, that nothing can render us accepted of God, without moral virtue. Secondly,, Upon the occasion of mentioning together positive and moral duties, the Scripture always puts the stress of religion upon the latter, and never upon the former; which, though no sort of allowance to neglect the former, when they do not in, terfere with the latter, yet is a plain intimation, that when they do, the latter are to be preferred. And, farther, as mankind are for placing the stress of their religion any where, rather than upon virtue, lest both the reason of the thing, and the general spirit of Christianity, appearing in the intimation now mentioned, should be ineffectual against this prevalent folly ; our Lord himself, from whose command alone the obligation of positive institutions arises, has taken occasion to make the comparison between them and moral precepts, when the Pharisees censured him for eating with publicans and sinners ;; and also when they censured his disciples for plucking the ears of corn on the Sabbatha day. Upon this comparison be has determined express, ly, and in form, which shall have the preference when they interfere. And by delivering his authoritative determination in a proverbial manner of expression, he has made it general : I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.* The propriety of the word proverbial is not the thing insisted upon, though, I think, the manner of speaking is to be called so. But that the manner of speak. ing very remarkably renders the determination general, is surely indisputable. For, had it, in the latter case, been said only, that God preferred mercy to the rigid observance of the Sabbath, even then, by parity of reason, most justly might we have argued, that he preferred mercy, likewise, to-the observance of other ritual institutions, and, in general, moral duties to positive ones. And thus the determination would have been general, though its being so were inferred, and not expressed. But as the passage really stands in the gospel, it is much stronger ; for the sense, and the very literal words of our Lord's answer, are as applicable to any other instance of a comparison, between positive and moral duties, as to this upon which they were spoken. And if, in case of competition, mercy is to be preferred to positive institutions, it will scarce be thought, that justice is to give place to them. It is remarkable, too, that, as the words are a quotation from the Old Testament, they are introduced, on both the fore-mentioned occasions, with a declaration, that the Pharisees did not understand the meaning of them. This, I say, is very remarkable ; for, since it is searce possible for the most ignorant person not to understand the literal sense of the passage in the Prophet, 7 and since understanding the literal sense would not have prevented their condemning the guiltless, I it can hardly be doubted, that the thing which our Lord really intended in that declaration was, that the Pharisees had not learnt from it, as they might, wherein the general spirit of religion consists; that it consists in moral piety and virtue, as distinguished from forms and ritual observances. However, it is certain we may learn this from his divine application of the passage, in the gospel;
But, as it is one of the peculiar weaknesses of human nature, when, upon a comparison of two things, one is found to be of greater importance than the other, to consider this other as of scarce any importance at all ; it is highly necessary that we remind ourselves, how great presumption it is to make light of any institutions of divine appointment; that our obligations to obey all God's commands whatever, are absolute and indispensable ; and that commands merely positive, admitted to be from him, lay us under a moral obligation to obey them; an obligation moral in the strictest and most proper sense.
To these things I cannot forbear adding, that the account now given of Christianity most strongly shews and enforces upon us the obligation of searching the Scriptures, in order to see what the scheme of revelation really is, instead of determining beforehand, from reason, what the scheme of it must be. * Indeed, if in revelation there be found any passages, the seeming meaning of which is contrary to natural religion, we may most certainly conclude such seeming meaning not to be the real one. But it is not any degree of a presumption against an interpretation of Scripture, that such interpretation contains a doctrine, which the light of nature cannot discover, t or a precept, which the law of nature does not oblige to.
* See Chap. 3.
Pages 158, 159
Of the supposed Presumption against a Revelation,
considered as miraculous.
HAVING shewn the importance of the Christian reve. lation, and the obligations which we are under seriously to attend to it, upon supposition of its truth or its credibility; the next thing in order is, to consider the supposed presumptions against revelation in general; which shall be the subject of this chapter ; and the objections against the Christian in particular, which shall be the subject of some following ones. For it seems the most natural method to remove these prejudices against Christianity, before we proceed to the consideration of the positive evidence for it, and the objections against that evidence. +
It is, I think, commonly supposed, that there is some peculiar presumption, from the analogy of nature, against the Christian scheme of things, at least against miracles ; so as that stronger evidence is necessary to prove the truth and reality of them, than would be sufficient to convince us of other events or matters of fact. Indeed, the consideration of this
supposed presumption cannot but be thought very insignificant by many persons ; yet, as it belongs to the subject of this treatise, so it may tend to open the mind, and remove some prejudices; however needless the consideration of it be, upon its own account.
* Chap 3, 4, 5, 6.
+ Chap 7: