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for the Scripture injoins every moral Virtue. CHAP. In this Respect then they are both upon a I. Level. But the moral Law is, moreover, m 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 Necefsity for the Determination of this Question, as fome 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; yet, 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. Secondiy, 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 negQA

lect

PAR Tlect the former, when they do not interfere

II. with the latter, yet is a plain Intimation, muthat when they do, the latter are to be pre

ferred. And farther, as Mankind are for placing the Stress of their Religion any where, rather than upon Virtue ; left 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 Sabbathday. Upon this Comparison, he has determined expressly, and in Form, which shall have the Preference when they interfere. And by delivering bis authoritative Determination in a proverbial Manner of Expression, he has made it general: I will have Mercy, and not Sacrifice h. The Propriety of the Word, proverbial, is not the thing insisted upon : though I think the Manner of speaking is to be called fo. But that the Manner of speaking very remarkably renders the Determination general, is surely indisputable. For, had it, in the latter Case, been said only, that Matth. ix. 13, and xii. 7;

God

God preferred Mercy to the rigid Observance CHAP. of the Sabbath ; even then, by Parity of I. Reason, most justly might we have argued, w 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 forementioned Occasions, with a Declaration, that the Pharisees did not understand the Meaning of them. This, I say, is very remarkable. For, since it is scarce pofsible, for the most ignorant Person, not to understand the literal Sense of the Passage, in the Propheti; and since understanding the literal Sense would not have prevented Their condemning the guiltlessk; it can hardly be doubted, that the thing which our Lord really * See Matth. xii. 7.

intended

i Hof. vi.

PARTintended in That Declaration, was, that the

II. Pharisees had not learnt from it, as they might, m wherein the general Spirit of Religion con

fists : 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 seally is ; instead of determining beforehand,

from Reason, what the Scheme of it must CHAP. be!. Indeed if in Revelation there be found I. any Passages, the seeming Meaning of which, w 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 * ; or a Precept, which the Law of Nature does not oblige to.

See Ch. ii.

#p. 238, 239.

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