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scribe, or profess to prescribe, formal rules for all specific cases involving particular forms of duty. Equally evident is it that they do not leave us, with a mere naked statement of universal principles, to find out for ourselves, in their light, the specific forms of duty which each particular condition and relation involves. The only remaining supposition is, that a universal system of duty, if revealed at all in the scriptures, is revealed therein according to the method now under consideration. A bare reference to the sacred oracles will be enough to show, that in the respect before us, we have not divined incorrectly in regard to their teachings. In them we find, for example, clearly and distinctly stated, the universal principle which comprehends and involves all forms of duty of every kind, “ All the law,” we are told, “is fulfilled in one word-love." We then have this universal principle, or law, presented in two all-comprehensive precepts, and these given, not as formal rules, but as principles, in the light of which we are to determine all specific duties in respect to God on the one hand, and his creatures on the other. The precepts to which we refer are those which require us to love God with all our powers and our neighbor as ourselves. In the law of the ten commandments we have a more extended and specific statement of the same great law, in precepts given still as principles, in the light of which we are to determine our particular duties in specified relations to God and his creatures. In respect to all particular precepts we are told specifically, that they neither require nor imply any thing but what is involved in the commands requiring us to “ do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.” Such precepts also are most commonly given, not as abstract and formal rules, but in connection with the peculiar circumstances which rendered obedience to them necessary. In what light, then, should they be regarded? As authoritative expositions, to be sure, of the application of the great law of love, in the circumstances to which they pertain, but as given mainly to teach us how to apply the same principle ourselves in determining the particular forms of duty devolved upon us in the ever-varying circumstances of our existence. The law of God thus becomes to us what it professes to be, a full and distinct revelation of a complete and universal system of moral obligation, a system revealed in a manner perfectly adapted to our nature and condition as moral, intelligent beings. The subject, which, as we hope, we have in some degree elucidated, admits of many important applications, to some of which the attention of the reader is now invited.
1. We are all aware that a most careful and diligent study of the system of duty revealed in the scriptures, is therein imposed upon us, as a matter of most sacred obligation. But the question is, how shall this obligation be intelligently discharged? The divine precepts render all those truly wise who come to understand them in their spirit, and in the light of the end for which they are given. To those, however, who mistake either their spirit or design, they will be sources of darkness rather than light. No one will more fearfully err than he who attempts to square his life by the bible, unless he understands the spirit of its moral precepts, and the manner in which they are to be applied, as rules of duty. Let us suppose that an individual solemnly determines, a purpose which every one is most sacredly bound to form, to 'regulate his future existence by the moral precepts of the bible. As a means to this end he resolves upon a careful study of the divine record, for the purpose of attaining to a definite understanding of the duties which it devolves upon him. Let us suppose that he commences his inquiries with the assumption, that every particular form of duty devolved upon him, is specifically required in some formal precept. He of course begins with the assumption, that whatever is not directly and definitely specified, is in no sense a duty to him, and that whatever precepts are found there must be obeyed, not only according to the spirit, but the letter also. Now there are two great rocks lying directly in the course of this individual, upon each of which he will most assuredly be wrecked.
In the first place, through the assumption that whatever is not specifically required is not binding upon the conscience, his conscience will be seared at once to many, and we may add, a vast majority of the most sacred duties devolved upon him. Urge upon him any claim however sacred in itself, and however manifestly implied in the spirit of the entire system of revealed duty, and he sternly demands a specific “thus saith the Lord," as the condition of admitting the validity of that claim. Thus the man is totally afloat from almost the entire field of moral obligation. For every duty, in every form and degree, we can find principles in the bible clearly implying, and thereby most sacredly requiring it. But for a vast majority of such duties we can find no specific command, naming and in this form requiring them as duties. Many have made shipwreck of the faith on this fatal assmption. Errors no less fatal arise from the assumption that whatever precepts are found in the bible they are,under all conditions, to be obeyed, with no reference to
the great law of love as explanatory of the time, circumstances, and mode in which they are to be complied with, but according to their literal import, without reference to such considerations. An individual we will suppose, has adopted this assumption. In conformity to it he commences action in harmony with the precepts of the bible. As among the most prominent, he meets with the following, "Give to him that asketh of thee," a precept which, as far as the form in which it is expressed is concerned, is absolutely universalin its application, and binds the subject to bestow whatever is asked of him, under any circumstances, and for any object whatever. While he is pondering the precept, four individuals present themselves before him as petitioners for his charity. The first, as he learns, wishes to obtain the means of purchasing poison for the purpose of perpetrating the crime of self-murder, the second of gratifying his appetite for the cup of intoxication, the third of rioting in licentiousness, while the fourth is a vile imposter employing his time in preying upon the bounty of the public, through false pretences. If he grants their requests, he becomes directly accessory to the foulest crimes. If he denies them, he, according to his construction of scripture requirements, disobeys a positive command of God. He refuses to “give to him that asketh of him.” The result will probably be that he will either make an infinite fool of himself, by throwing his entire substance before the world as free booty for all the harpies who may choose to prey upon it, or else abandon the bible altogether as a rule of duty, and in the end, float away from all regard to obligation of every kind whatever. We are drawing no fancy picture. Not a few have gone the entire length of surrendering all the bonds of moral obligation, in consequence of having commenced with false assumptions in respect to the nature and manner of applying the moral precepts of the bible. To vast multitudes of others, even of those who have solemnly covenanted to live in implicit obedience to all the commandments and ordinances of the gospel, the bible has practically ceased to be a rule of duty, for the reason that in consequence of such assumptions, they have become perplexed and bewildered in regard to the application of its precepts as rules of action.
Now how perfectly emancipated is the mind from such perplexities when it comes to an intelligent investigation of the law of duty as revealed in the bible. Questions are continu
ally arising in the transactions of life, requiring for their solu. tion the application of principles of the nature and proper manner of applying which the mind is comparatively ignorant. A scientfic treatise is before us in which the nature of those principles together with the mode of their application is clearly elucidated. What would be an intelligent study of such a treatise, as far as the questions under consideration are concerned? What would be the end which a wise student would propose to himself in its study? Now precisely the same end relatively to all practical questions of duty arising in view of the various circumstances and relations in which we find ourselves from moment to moment, will a wise man propose to himself in the study of the system of morality taught in the scriptures. Contemplating this system as sustaining such relations to all such questions, and studying it in view of that relation, and as a means to that end, to wit, an understanding of the principles elucidated therein, together with that of their application to the solution of all practical" cases of conscience, ordinary or special, how soon does the individual that "cries after knowledge and lifts up his voice for understanding," find himself “ able to understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea every good path.” He becomes to himself and others, a wise interpreter of the application of the most important of all principles, the great law of duty, the highest form of wisdom ever attained by any intelligent being. We believe that the great reason why so little progress has hitherto been made in the study of the system of moral duty revealed in the scriptures, has been the want of the true standpoint from which to contemplate and investigate that system.
2. The light in which the great mass of the precepts of the Bible should be regarded, next claims our attention. As precepts morally binding upon us, there are but two points of light in which they can be contemplated—as formal rules to which our conduct is to be conformed or as principles in the light of which we are to determine the forms of duty devolved upon us in the various circumstances and relations in life, as they arise. Contemplated in the point of light first named, a vast majority of the divine requisitions are totally void of meaning. Take as an illustration, the first commandment with promise, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” No acts of any kind are here specified. As specifically requiring such acts, therefore it cannot be regarded as a rule of duty at all. If we say that whatever we perceive to be a proper expression of filial affection and regard, this command requires us to perform towards our parents, we then regard and apply it as a principle in the light of which duty is to be determined, and
not as a rule formally prescribing any specific forms of action of any kind. Now this is the only sense in which such command can be to any moral agent a rule of duty. As a principle it may well be pronounced a “lamp to one's feet, and a light to his path,” that is, not as formally prescribing any particular course of conduct, but as distinctly revealing such course, in all the circumstances and relations rendering it binding upon us. Contemplated in any other point of light it has as a rule of duty, no meaning, or applicability at all. We might still further illustrate the point under consideration by a reference to numerous scripture precepts pertaining to prayer not one of which specifies the time when, nor the forms or attitudes in which we are required to pray. The individual who prays in his family, in the social circle, or in the great assembly in the house of God, and who prays standing or kneeling, can find no precept in the Bible specifying these things as duties. Yet every intelligent and honest reader of the Bible knows perfectly that the individual who restrains prayer" under such circumstances, lives in as open violation of known duty, as if prayer under these circumstances was specifically required in the Bible. The reason is, that all such precepts are revealed in the scriptures, as principles, and not as rules to which an external conformity is demanded. The same remarks are applicable to a vast majority of the precepts of the Bible. Every one who would intelligently study the system of moral obligation revealed in the scriptures, should keep this great fact distinctly in mind.
3. An error to which honest minds are liable, in attempt. ing to solve. 6 cases of conscience,” by an appeal to the scriptures, demands a passing notice here. An individual has begun to recognize the idea of duty as the law of his voluntary existence. The question arises, shall he regard family prayer as coming under this law? For a solution of the question, he turns to the sacred oracles, expecting, if it is the will of God, that the morning and evening sacrifice should be offered upon the family altar, that the duty will be specifically designated as duty in the scriptures. He searches in vain for any such specification, and in consequence of a wrong assumption, is liable to be totally misled, in respect to what would otherwise appear, in the light of the “law and the testimony,” as a most manifest and sacred duty. To numberless forms of moral obligation, are the above remarks applicable. Every one should read the bible, with the deep and distinct impression upon his mind, that whatever appears fit and proper, or bind