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Those, therefore, who would enjoy the privileges promised to believers in the present life, and lay hold of their eternal reward in the life to come, must strive to avoid, in every respect, the character which has now been depicted. If we take a just view of our own lost condition, humble ourselves in the sight of God, trust in his mercy and power, and submit to his spiritual government - if we give diligent heed to the word of his truth, as well as to the evidences on which it rests—if, above all, we freely open our hearts to that pure light of heaven, which condemns for iniquity, and leads into all honour, glory, virtue, and peace—we shall never be numbered amongst those who believe not, and who, therefore, perish. Although we may be sometimes harassed with doubts, and cast down, for the trial of our faith, into mental darkness and distress, that faith will, nevertheless, be found a substantial, inherent, principle, and will never be destroyed. Finally, since faith is a moral qualification
-a Christian grace-a fruit of the Spirit-and, therefore, unquestionably, a divine gift - let us seek it where it may be found, at the throne of mercy-let us not cease to pray, that, together with hope and charity, it may more and more abound in us, to our own peace, and to the glory of God our Saviour!
Since God is the Author of our existence, and of every mental and bodily faculty of which we are in possession-since his power and authority over us are unlimited and supreme-and, since he is himself
a perfect as well as an infinite Being-.we cannot for a moment hesitate to acknowledge, that he has a right to dispose of us as he pleases, and to regulate all our conduct according to his will; and our conformity to that will, although it may involve the surrender of ourselves, and of all our degenerate inclinations, is plainly nothing more than our “ reasonable service."
This doctrine lies at the foundation of true morality, which does not consist in our adherence to any system of human invention, however plausible or excellent it may be, but solely in obedience to the revealed will or, in other words, to the law of the moral Governor of the universe. Such, under a variety of forms, is the clear and frequent declaration of the book of God. In the Bible, and primarily in the Bible only, we are explicitly taught, that all our virtue and happiness depends upon our being conformed to the will of bim who is the Creator and Lord of all things, and who is holy, just, and true. While the Stoics lay the stress of their moral philosophy on the “eternal fitness of things,"—the Academics, on that which may be supposed to resemble “ the highest good,” and the Epicureans, on the pursuit of happiness—the sacred writers have superseded all speculation on the subject, by declaring, that the law of God is the only true rule of life-that obedience to his law is righteousness, and the transgression of it sin.
In the beginning God imparted his commandments to our first parents; and while they continued in all things to obey their divine Master, they preserved his image in themselves—they maintained their original character of perfect righteousness. But they were made liable to temptation, and the transgression of his laws—their first act of disobedience-was the sin
OUR RULE OF ACTION ;
which caused their own degradation, and the fall of their whole species. But, degraded as man is under the baneful influence of this mournful event, God has been pleased to bestow upon him, in all ages, those “ reproofs of instruction,” which “ are the way of life :” Prov. vi, 23. He has graciously communicated to us a law, by which we may so regulate our conduct in the world, as to obtain happiness, both here and hereafter.
It will, I presume, be without difficulty allowed, that these observations are in a general, yet very important, sense, applicable to all men, whether they are partakers in the benefit of an outward revelation, or are left to that which is usually described as the light of nature. If we admit that mankind, without an outward revelation, are nevertheless sinners, we must also admit that mankind, without such a revelation, are nevertheless in possession of the law .of God; for we are expressly told by one apostle, that " where no law is, there is no transgression;” (Rom. iv, 15;) and by another, that “ sin is the transgression of the law;" (I John iii, 4;)— declarations which obviously correspond with the dictates of sound reason.
The law to which I now allude, and which is universally bestowed upon men, is that moral sense of right and wrong, by which the natural conscience is directed and illuminated, and to which, unless perverted by prejudice, or seared by the fatal operation of vice, it never fails to “ bear witness." The apostle Paul has adverted, in a clear and forcible manner, to the law which is thus written by the finger of the Deity on the heart of man; he has also described its operation, and has declared, that those persons who
BOTH UNDER THE LIGHT OF NATURE,
obey it “ shall be justified.” “For not the hearers of the law,” he says, “ are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For, when the Gentiles, which have not the law, (i. e. have not the written law,) do by nature the things contained in the law; these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which shew the work of the law written in their hearts; their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another;” (Rom. ii, 13–15;) and, again, in addressing the Jews, he soon afterwards says, “ shall not uncircumcision, which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?” ver. 27.
Thus it appears, that there were individuals, in ancient times, destitute of an outward revelation, who nevertheless obeyed the will of our Heavenly Father, as it is made manifest in the heart-persons who were taugbt of God, to fear him and to “work righteousness;" and, on the other hand, the multitude of the Gentiles, who gave themselves up to idolatrous and other vicious practices, were condemned for this very reason, that they sinned against the light of nature; and both practised and promoted iniquity, although they knew “ the judgment (or the righteous decision*) of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death:” Rom. i, 32.5
But, the declarations of Scripture respecting obedience, like those concerning faith, relate, for the
4 gò dixciwwa tou so.—These words are well translated in the Horæ Romanæ of R. Cox, M.A., (a valuable little work lately published,) “ the rule of right (ordained) by God."
5 For á further elucidation of this branch of the subject, the reader may peruse Bishop Butler's dissertation on the Nature of Virtue, printed as an appendix to his admirable work “on the Analogy of Religion, natural and revealed, to the constitution and course of Nature.”
518 AND UNDER THE LIGHT OF REVELATION.
most part, to those persons only who enjoy the benefit of an outward revelation. It would be difficult now to determine, in what degree the general mass of inankind are still benefited by the traditional influence of such a revelation ; but it will not be disputed by any persons who bow to the authority of Scripture history, that during all ages, from the beginning of the world to the present day, God has preserved for himself, from among men, a visible church -consisting of persons, on whom he bas bestowed, by means of extraordinary communications, a far clearer and more definite knowledge of his will, than can be obtained through the medium of merely natural religion. That a part if not the whole of mankind, before the flood, were favoured with successive declarations of the law of God, may be safely concluded from the assertion of the apostle Peter, that Christ
went and preached” unto them“ by the Spirit"—that is, doubtless, through the appointed instrumentality of an inspired ministry; (I Pet. iii, 18, 19;) and Noah is, by the same apostle, expressly described as a “preacher of righteousness :" II Pet. ii, 5. Nor can it be reasonably questioned, that the same character attached to many of his descendants such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job-and that the moral law of God, in connection with some obscure, yet animating, indications of his Gospel, continued to be promulgated on divine authority, within the limits of the Lord's visible church, from the days of the flood to those of the Mosaic institution.
It is probable, that under that institution the moral law was more fully developed, than it had ever before been, since the fall of our species. It was also placed upon record, for the perpetual instruction of