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of rites and ordinances, upon their insignificancy when taken by themselves, or even who insists too frequently, and in terms too strong, upon their inferiority to moral precepts. We are rather called upon to sustain the authority of those institutions which proceed from Christ or his apostles, and the reasonableness and credit of those which claim no higher original than public appointment. We are called upon to contend, with respect to the first, that they cannot be omitted with safety any more than other duties; that the will of God once ascertained is the immediate foundation of every duty; that, when this will is known, it makes little difference to us what is the subject of it, still less by what denomination the precept is called, under what class or division the duty is arranged. If it be commanded, and we have sufficient reason to believe that it is so, it matters nothing whether the obligation be moral or natural, or positive or instituted. He who places before him the will of God as the rule of his life will not refine or even dwell much upon these distinctions. The ordinances of Christianity, it is true, are all of them sig. nificant. Their meaning, and even their use, is not obscure. But, were it otherwise; was the design of any positive institution inexplicable ; did it appear to have been proposed only as an exercise of obedi. ence; it was not for us to hesitate in our compliance.
; Even to inquire, with too much curiosity and impatience, into the cause and reason of a religious command is no evidence of an humble and submissive disposition ; of a disposition, I mean, humble under the Deity's government of his creation, and submissive to his will, however signified.
be seasonable also to maintain, what I am convinced is true, that the principle of general utility, which upholds moral obligation itself, may, in various
instances, be applied to evince the duty of attending upon positive institutions ; in other words, that the difference between natural and positive duties is often more in the name than in the thing. The precepts of natural justice are, therefore, only binding upon the conscience, because the observation of them is necessary or conducive to the prosperity and happiness of social life. If there be, as there certainly are, religious institutions which contribute greatly to form and support impressions upon the mind, that render men better members of civilized community ; if these institutions can only be preserved in their reputation and influence by the general respect which is paid to them; there is the same reason to each of
; us for bearing our part in these observances that there is for discharging the most acknowledged duties of natural religion. When I say “the reason is the same,” I mean that it is the same in kind. The degree of strength and cogency which this reason possesses in any particular case must always depend upon the value and importance of the particular duty ; which admits of great variety. But moral and positive duties do not in this respect differ more than moral duties differ from one another. So that when men accustom themselves to look upon positive duties so universally and necessarily inferior to moral ones, as of a subordinate species, as placed upon a different foundation, or deduced from a different original ; and consequently to regard them as unworthy of being made a part of their plan of life, or of entering into their sense of obligation ; they appear to be egregiously misled by names. It is our business not to aid, but to correct, the deception. Still, nevertheless, it it as true as ever it was that, “except we exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven ;” that “the sab
bath was made for man and not man for the sabbath;" that “the weightier matters of the law are faith, justice, and mercy ;
” but to insist strenuously, and, as some do, almost exclusively, upon these points at present, tends to diminish the respect for religious erdinances, which is already too little ; and, whilst it guards against dangers that have ceased to exist, augments those which are really formidable.
Again ; upon the first reformation from popery, a method very much prevailed, in the seceding churches, of resolving the whole of religion into faith ; good works, as they were called, or the practice of virtue, holding not only a secondary but even distant place in value and esteem, being represented, indeed, as possessing no share or efficacy in the attainment of human salvation. This doctrine we have seen revived in our own times and carried to still greater length. And it is a theory, or rather perhaps a language, which required, whilst it lasted, very serious animadversion ; not only because it disposed nien to rest in an unproductive faith, without endeavours to render themselves useful by exertion and activity ; not only because it was naturally capable of being converted to the encouragement of licentiousness ; but because it misrepresented Christianity as a moral institution, by making it place little stress upon the distinction of virtue and vice, and by making it require the practice of external duties, if it required them at all, only as casual, neglected, and almost unthought of consequences of that faith which it extolled, instead of directing men's attention to them, as to those things which alone compose an unquestionable and effective obedience to the Divine will. So long as this turn of mind prevailed, we could not be too industrious in bringing together and exhibiting to our hearers those many and positive declarations of Scripture which enforce, and insist upon, practical religion ; which divide mankind into those who do good, and those who do evil ; which hold out to the one favour and happiness, to the other repulse and condemnation. The danger, however, from this quarter is nearly overpast. We are, on the contrary, setting up a kind of philosophical morality, detached from religion and independent of its influence, which
be cultivated, it is said, as well without Christianity as with it; and which, if cultivated, renders religion and religious institutions superfluous. A mode of thought so contrary to truth, and so derogatory from the value of revelation, cannot escape the vigilance of a Christian ministry. We are entitled to ask upon what foundation this morality rests. If it refer to the Divine will (and, without that, where will it find its sanctions, or how support its authority ?), there cannot be a conduct of the understanding more irrational than to appeal to those intimations of the Deity's character which the light and order of nature afford, as to the rule and measure of our duty, yet to disregard, and affect to overlook, the declarations of his pleasure which Christianity communicates. It is impossible to distinguish between the authority of natural and revealed religion. We are bound to receive the
precepts of revelation for the same reason that we comply with the dictates of nature. He who despises a command which proceeds from his Maker, no matter by what means, or through what medium, instead of advancing, as he pretends to do, the dominion of reason and the authority of natural religion, disobeys the first injunction of both. Although it be true, what the apostle affirms—that, “when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, they are a law unto themselves ;' that is, they will be accepted together with those who are instructed in the law and obey it: yet is this truth not applicable to such as having a law contemn it, and, with means of access to the word of God, keep themselves at a voluntary distance from it. This temper, whilst it continues, makes it necessary for us to assert the superiority of a religious principle above every other by which human conduct can be regulated : more especially above that fashionable system, which recommends virtue only as a true and refined policy, which policy in effect is, and in the end commonly proves itself to be, nothing else than a more exquisite cunning, which, by a specious behaviour in the
easy and visible concerns of life, collects a fund of reputation, in order either to cherish more securely concealed vices, or to reserve itself for some great stroke of selfishness, perfidy, and desertion, in a pressing conjuncture of fortunes. Nor less justly may we superinduce the guidance of Christianity to the direction of sentiment; which depends so much upon constitution, upon early impressions, upon habit, and imitation, that, unless it be compared with, and adjusted by some safer rule, it can in no wise be trusted. Least of all ought we to yield the authority of religion to the law of honour, a law (if it deserve that name) which, beside its continual mutability, is at best but a system of manners suited to the intercourse and accommodation of higher life; and which consequently neglects every duty, and permits every vice, that has no relation to these purposes. Amongst the rules which contend with religion for the government of life, the law of the land also has not a few, who think it very sufficient to act up to its direction, and to keep within the limits which it prescribes : and this sort of character is common in our congregations. We are not to omit, therefore, to apprise those who make the statutes of the realm the standard of their