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in competition. When the Pharisees blamed him for eating with publicans and sinners, he replied, “Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” This seems to intimate, that he considered seeking the spiritual good of sinners as a morat duty, which ought to be performed in preference to a positive duty. He suggested the same idea in answer to the Pharisees on another occasion, when they complained of his disciples for plucking and eating ears of corn on the sabbath. He first mentioned the case of David in eating the shew bread, and then the conduct of the priests in labouring on the sabbath in performing their official duty, and finally justifies them all, by repeating the text, which he had once before cited. “If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.” He moreover blamed the Scribes and Pharisees for paying tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and omitting the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. But why did Christ give this preference to moral duties? It could not be because they were founded in better reasons than positive duties, and on that account of higher obligation. For we have shown, that positive duties are founded in as good reasons, and enjoined by as good authority, as moral duties. Christ knew. that the Jews paid more regard to positive rites and ceremonies and even human traditions, than to moral injunctions, and he meant to reprove them for their superstition and hypocrisy; but not to weaken their obligation to perform positive duties. Accordingly he adds, “These (moral duties) ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Since then positive duties are as well founded and as expressly commanded as moral duties, they are absolutely equal in point of obligation
and, therefore, the only proper way to determine which qught to give way to the other is, to determine which, at the present time, is of most necessity or importance to be done. When moral duties come in competition with each other, the more important must be done, and the less important deferred. Prayer is a moral duty; but a man ought to defer that duty, if his neighbour's house is on fire and requires his immediate ata tendance. The circumcising of a child on the eighth day was a positive duty under the law, and the necessity of the case required it to be done at that particular time, in preference to a moral duty. The truth is, sometimes one moral duty ought to give way to another moral duty; sometimes one positive duty ought to give way to another positive duty; sometimes one positive duty ought to give way to another moral duty; and sometimes one moral duty ought to give way to another positive duty. This point cannot be determined by any universal rule, but must be left to the decision of every one's conscience, according to the circumstances of the present time.
3. If christians ought to be zealous in maintaining the positive duties and institututions of the gospel; then all who have experienced a saving change are under indispensable obligations to profess religion and attend divine ordinances. There are many, in almost all our congregations, who think they have passed from death unto life and cordially embraced the Saviour, that live in the neglect of naming his name, and of attending the sacraments which he has appointed. Though they mean to perform every moral Juty, and dare not neglect the reading and the hearing of the word of God, nor the duty of calling upon his name; yet they imagine they may safely and excusably live in neglect of baptism and the Lord's supper. But in this
they are greatly deceived. Christ requires them not only to believe his gospel, but to profess his name before the world. “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” Again he says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” It is extremely difficult to see how any, who allowedly live in the neglect of professing religion, and of observing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's supper, can justly entertain a hope of salvation, any more than those, who live in the neglect of faith, repentance, or prayer.
It is true, the mere professing of religion, and the attending upon the sacraments are mere positive duties; but they are founded in reason and commanded by divine authority, which gives them all the weight and obligation of moral duties. And it is presumed, that none have a right to think or say, that men are mori- excusable for neglecting positive duties, than those which are strictly moral. No doubt men may be saved, though they should neglect, for a while, some moral duties, and so they undoubtedly may, though they should neglect for a while, some positive duties; but still they would be highly criminal for their neglect in either, or both cases. And their criminality would certainly weaken, if not destroy their hopes of pardon and acceptance in the sight of God. This ought to alarm all those who are dreaming, that they are the friends of Christ and walking in the path to heaven, while they are afraid or ashamed to do whatsoever he has commanded them.
4. If christians should be zealous to maintain the purity of divine institutions; then they should be very strict and faithful in admitting none into their holy
fellowship, but such as appear, io a judgment of char. ity, to be sincere friends to Christ. None but such are truiy worthy to come to the table of the Lord, and commemorate his dying love. He does not allow any to come to his holy supper, who are not clothed with the wedding garment, or possessed of saving grace. And though christians cannot look into the hearts of proponents to communion; yet they can and ought to judge of their piety by their fruits. Christ has drawn the characters of his true disciples, and they should admit none to unite with them in his holy ordinances, who are destitute of those visible signs of saving grace. It is their indispensable duty to require a credible profession of real holiness of those, whom they admit as members of their body. They have no right to lower the terms of communion, in condescension to any who may desire to come unprepared. And a proper zeal for the honour of Christ, and for the peace and purity of the church, will constrain them to be strict in examining the characters and qualifications of those whom they receive to communion. This is the first and most effectual method they can take to promote the purity, and prevent the corruption of the church. It is much easier to keep corrupt persons out of the church, than to prevent their doing mischief after they are once in it. “A little leaven, says the Apostle in this case, will leaven the whole lump.” It is while men sleep, that the enemy sows tares.
It is while christians grow careless and unfaithful, that bad men creep into the church, and corrupt it. Every minister and private brother, therefore, ought to exercise a peculiar zeal, fidelity, and vigilance, in admitting members into the church, in order to maintain, if possible, all the doctrines, duties, and institutions of the gospel pure and uncorrupt.
5. If christians ought to be zealous in maintaining the purity of divine institutions; then they are responsible for the errors and corruptions, which spring up and prevail in the churches to which they belong. It is generally owing to some fault in them, that unworthy members gain admission into the church; and it must always be their fault, if they do not either reclaim or exclude them, after they become visibly erroneous or corrupt. Christ has clearly pointed out their duty in respect to preserving the purity of his sacred institutions; and if they neglect to perform it, they stand justly responsible for the evil consequences of their neglect. How severely did the apostle reprove the church of Corinth for neglecting to discipline the incestuous person? And how much more sharply did Christ rebuke the seven churches of Asia for their unfaithfulness towards the erroneous and corrupt members, who were bringing reproach and ruin upon them? Christ still walks in the midst of his golden candlesticks, and observes the conduct of his churches. They will have a solemn account to give, if they suffer religion to languish in their hands, and the table of the Lord to become contemptible, by their negligence and unfaithfulness. It highly concerns all the professors of religion at the present day of deep declension, to become more watchful, and to strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die.
6. If christians ought to be zealous in maintaining the purity of divine institutions, then it is a mark of real sincerity in those, who actually manisest such a zeal. It is found by observation and experience, that few, if any, who are strict and conscientious in the exercise of church discipline, escape the displeasure and reproach of not only those whom they censure, but even of all who are inwardly enemies to the cause of