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eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. The cause which I knew not I searched out, I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth," Job xxix. 12, 15, 16.
And you know, that there are many such exhortations propounded to Christians in the New Testament: that "every man should look not on his own things only, but on those of others also that they should rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep: that they should bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
But I shall not farther multiply precepts and directions of this kind, nor instance in any other cases, which the course of things will present to us; and he who is of a merciful and generous disposition will take notice of, and act accordingly. I shut up this article therefore with those words of Isaiah containing a description of the different temper and conduct of base and narrow, indeed wicked minds, and of such as are truly generous, and public spirited. the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the Lord," that is, to pronounce false judgments, which are contrary to the express command of God in his law: "to make empty the soul of the hungry, and to cause the drink of the thirsty to fail. The instruments also of the churl are evil. He deviseth wicked devices, to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right. But the liberal," the merciful, the generous, the bountiful "man, deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things shall he be established," Is. xxxii. 6-8.
The last thing in this text, said to be required of men, is "to walk humbly with God:" or, as the Hebrew is, literally, "and to humble thyself to walk with thy God. In the ancient Greek version, made before the coming of our Saviour, it is rendered: "and be ready to walk with thy God." The meaning, I presume, in the general, is: and to resolve to obey all God's ' commandments, and to continue and persevere therein always to the end of life.'
I shall briefly mention several particulars comprehended in this article.
First, it is to resolve to worship the true God, and him alone. In the text it is the Lord thy God: meaning the God that has made us, and preserves us the God that has dealt bountifully with us, who has supplied and provided for us, who has helped and delivered us in times of danger and difficulty.
This, certainly, is one thing intended by the prophet: to engage the people of Israel, according to the commandment of the law, as well as the dictates of reason, to fear the Lord their God, and serve him only: even God, the creator of the heavens and the earth, who had brought them out of the house of servants, and had ever since conferred upon them many favours and benefits.
Secondly, it includes a respect to all God's commandments, and a readiness to submit to his authority in all things, without any exception.
Thirdly, this humbling ourselves to walk with God, or walking humbly with the Lord our God, includes dependence on him, trusting in him, and committing ourselves to him: believing, and hoping, that he will continue to protect and defend us, and afford us all those things which are needful and convenient.
Fourthly, it includes contentment with our state, and worshipping and serving God in a time of affliction and trouble, as well as in a day of ease and prosperity: blessing him not only when he gives, but also when he takes away: and acknowledging the wisdom and the righteousness of all his dealings with us.
This is implied in devoting ourselves to his service. Under the former particular I mentioned dependence upon God, and committing ourselves to him. This contentment under afflictions, now mentioned, when they befall us, in the course of divine providence, is acting and exercising that dependence which we have made a profession of, and performing according to the engagements we have entered into.
Fifthly, to walk with God includes continuance and perseverance in the service of God, and obedience to his holy laws and commandments, throughout the whole of our life, notwithstanding the temptations we may meet with, and though others should prove false to their engagements, and forsake the Lord their God.
Sixthly, it includes serving God with a lowly humble apprehension of ourselves: considering the sins we have been guilty of, the defects of our obedience, the imperfections of the services. we perform for the honour of his name, or the good of others: and that when we have acted according to the best of our ability, we have done no more than our duty, and what we were
under many obligations to perform: and humbly and thankfully owning the goodness of God in the encouragements he has given us, and the promises he has made of accepting our sincere obedience, and rewarding it greatly beyond its merit.
II. I shall now add a word or two by way of application, and conclude.
1. We perceive, that the holy obedience, required of us, is of great extent: comprehending justice, mercy, and piety, with the several branches of each. It can therefore be no very easy thing to be truly religious. It must be a difficult, and an high attainment. We have need, as our Lord directs, to strive, to exert ourselves, and do our utmost, to "enter in at the strait gate." One came to our Lord, desirous to know what he should do that "he might obtain eternal life," and saying, that "he had kept all the commandments from his youth." But Jesus perceived that "he lacked one thing," Matt. xix. And the event shewed, that his heart was governed by an inordinate love of this present world: and that he was not disposed to do all that is requisite to secure riches in heaven. Let us consider, and examine ourselves, whether this be our case.
2. Let us seriously attend to this representation of true religion, and remember, that the things here insisted on are of absolute necessity.
There is no making up the controversy between God and sinful men, but by repentance. and amendment, or a return to real, and universal virtue and piety.
The displeasure of God is not to be appeased by costly oblations. But repent, and turn to the Lord with all the heart unfeignedly: break off every sinful course: cease to do evil, and learn to do well: seek judgment, love mercy, humble yourselves before the Lord your God: and take upon you the obligation of his reasonable and excellent laws and commandments: then he will receive you graciously, and love you freely. All your sins shall be blotted out: they shall be as if they never were. They will be remembered against you no more.
And all this is of absolute necessity; nothing else will avail for our acceptance. We cannot substitute any thing else in the room of true virtue and goodness. Long abstinence, painful mortifications of the body at certain seasons, will not suffice: nor some short transports of devotion, however warm and lively nor any zeal for the externals of religion, or for the right faith, and for spreading the principles of religion in the world. Nothing but a regular course of sincere and undissembled virtue in the several branches of righteousness, mercy and piety, can recommend us to the favour and acceptance of a wise and holy God.
"Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body, for the sin of my soul?"
Or, shall I fast twice in the week, and pay tithes of all that I possess?"
Shall I confess my sins once, or twice, or every month in the year, to a person in holy orders, and submit to all the bodily pains and penances he appoints?
Shall I increase the number and length of my prayers to a double, or treble proportion more than ordinary? and hear, or read over an abundance of sermons, and other treatises of religion?
Shall I erect a costly and magnificent edifice, wherein men may meet, and unite together in the worship of the great God and King of the world?
The point is already resolved. Natural reason and divine revelation agree in one and the same answer to this solicitous and important inquiry. "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?"
I have now explained the words of the text, and added an inference or two by way of reflection. But I propose to discourse again upon this subject, and farther shew the nature and extent, the excellence and importance of virtue, or moral righteousness
THE NATURE, EXCELLENCE, AND IMPORTANCE OF MORAL RIGHTEOUSNESS.
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good. And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah vi. 8.
HAVE already shewn the coherence, and distinctly explained the several particulars in the text. It will not be unsuitable to this portion of scripture, if we proceed to consider, in a more general way, the nature, extent, and obligation of virtue. In doing this I shall observe the following method.
I. I will endeavour to shew the nature and extent of virtue, or moral righteousness.
II. I shall shew the excellence and importance of virtue, or righteousness and true holiness. III. After which I shall conclude with some inferences in the way of application.
But I do not intend a discourse, or dissertation, upon this subject, containing abstruse and profound notions, for the entertainment of metaphysical minds, and such as have thought, or read much concerning these matters, and have penetrated far into the speculative points of religion. But my intention is to explain this matter, so far as I am able, in a clear and intelligible way, for the sake of meaner capacities, and such as are but little acquainted with these points.
For one main reason of this design is, that I have been apprehensive, that we, in the modern language of our ordinary discourses, frequently using expressions not found in scripture, are not understood by all and that, whereas we often lay a much greater stress upon some things than others, when these also are commanded by the Divine Being; the reason of this is not perceived, though such conduct be perfectly agreeable to the scriptures of the Old and New Testament.
My aim therefore is to set this matter in a clear light, in a few words, that we may be the better understood in our ordinary discourses, without repeated explications of the phrases and expressions made use of.
I. I begin with some observations concerning virtue, or moral righteousness.
1. Morality always supposes rational, intelligent, and free beings. In order to any action being morally good or evil, it must be the act of a being capable of distinguishing things, and of choosing or refusing. Such a being, or agent, we suppose man to be. We perceive ourselves to have the powers of thinking, understanding, reasoning, choosing or refusing. And the scripture always supposeth these powers in man. God says to sinful men by his prophets :
Repent and turn yourselves from all your transgressions: so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart, and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God; wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye,” Ezek. xviii. 30-32. And Moses reminded the people, who had been long under his care, and to. whom he had with divine authority delivered a system of laws: "See, I have set before thee life and good, and death and evil I call heaven and earth to witness this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore chocse life, that thou mayest live," Deut. xxx. 15-20. And our Lord said to the Jews, his hearers: "Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life," John v. 40.
2. The word, morality, is used in two senses: the one more restrained, the other more comprehensive. In the restrained sense of the word are included sobriety, justice, equity, goodness, and mercy; or the duties more especially respecting ourselves, and other men, our neighbours. In the more enlarged and comprehensive meaning of the word are included not only the duties just mentioned, but likewise the duties owing to God.
This comprehensive sense of these terms and expressions, morality, virtue, moral righteousness, as including all the necessary duties of a rational being, I take to be the more proper sense and meaning of the terms, as they are generally used by wise and knowing persons.
I suppose this to be evident from these two considerations: first, that we often speak of the moral perfections of God, as distinguished from natural. And when we do so, by his moral perfections we mean every kind of perfection that is virtuous and righteous, or the whole rectitude of the divine will. Secondly, when we speak of moral righteousness, or obedience to rules of moral virtue, as distinct from positive appointments, and a ritual, ceremonial righteousness or holiness; we must mean our duty to God, as well as to ourselves and other men: or all virtue, and every duty, which has a foundation in the reason of things.
These two considerations, I think, evidently shew, that this is a common sense of the word. And as the love of God and our neighbour is comprehended in morality, or that which we call moral good, so the contrary is moral evil: living in the neglect of any duty toward God or man, or the transgression of any reasonable law or commandment, regulating and prescribing such duty.
The design of this observation is to shew the sense of some terms and expressions made use of concerning this matter.
We are next to observe the nature of morality or to shew, wherein moral good, moral righteousness, or virtue consists, and how it may be known and discerned.
3. The things, said to be morally good, are such as are fit and reasonable in themselves, according to the case and circumstances which any being is in, and the relations he bears to others. To mention some instances. It is, and appears to be, fit and reasonable, that a rational and intelligent being should preserve the use and exercise of his rational powers, and not lose the government of himself by excess and intemperance, or by any passions and affections, excited by external things, whether good or evil.
It is also fit and becoming, that rational creatures should, according to their abilities, humbly praise and adore the Author of their being; acknowledging the power, wisdom and goodness, of which they see manifold proofs and traces in themselves, and in all things around them: and that they should be thankful to him for all his benefits, and fear and reverence him, and acquiesce in his disposals.
It is likewise fit and reasonable in itself, that these rational, intelligent beings should bear good will and kind affection to one another: as they all share in the like powers and benefits, and are all exposed to the like casualties, weaknesses, and wants, and are dependent upon each
All these things appear on the first view to be fit and reasonable. Moreover moral good and evil are known by their tendencies. All the things just mentioned are beneficial, conducive to the perfection, and the happiness of individuals and societies. And the things contrary to them are, and appear to be evil, inasmuch as they weaken those who allow of them, and are detrimental to others around them."
We may here observe farther, that it is in itself fit and reasonable, that God, the one eternal being, perfect and happy in himself, if he form a world, or worlds of beings, should concern himself for them, provide for them, and overrule and direct all things with wisdom, righteousness and goodness.
Thus then, virtue, or moral righteousness, is, and appears to be, in itself fit and reasonable, and has a tendency to promote the happiness of particular beings, and of societies.
1. This fitness and reasonableness of things is itself an obligation; or lays an obligation upon every rational being by whom it is perceived. For whatever is fit, reasonable, and equitable, must be right, and the contrary wrong. He therefore that does what is fit, reasonable, and equitable, and which he discerns to be right, approves himself, and his conduct, and his satisfaction therein. He that does otherwise, knows he has done wrong: and, if he reflect, will condemn himself.
5. Beside the forementioned obligation, (of intrinsic fitness and reasonableness) there is another, arising from the will of God, the creator and the governor of the universe, and particularly of his rational creatures. These fitnesses of things, before-mentioned, are a rule of action to the Deity himself. And it must be his will, that the fitness, or reason of things should be observed by his rational creatures: or that they should do those things which are conducive to their own, and each other's welfare.
And when it is considered, that moral good is the will of God, and moral evil contrary to his will; even to the will of him who is supreme, and Lord of all; it is reasonable to conclude, that he should bestow rewards or inflict punishments, either now immediately, or hereafter in some future time, upon those who observe or neglect the reason of things and the welfare of
their fellow-creatures: that is, who obey, or transgress the law of nature: which is also the law of God, the author of nature.
6. Virtue, morality, or moral righteousness, is a thing of great extent, comprehending every thing that is in itself fit and reasonable: men's duty to God and to each other: the duties of every relation, and the due regulation of thoughts and affections, as well as outward actions.
For in the more ordinary and just sense of the expression, as before shewn, it takes in every thing that is fit and reasonable: and therefore must include honourable sentiments, as well as outward worship, and reverential expressions concerning the Deity. It requires likewise kind affections, as well as good offices to men. It comprehends not only strict justness, but goodness, and mercy, and equity: yea forgiveness of injuries and offences, when acknowledged. For this also is fit in a world of creatures, that are weak and fallible, and often offend against each other, through mistake, or passion.
This law of nature, or reason, does moreover teach repentance to all those who offend. For, since virtue is right, as before shewn, he who has transgressed, and done what is wrong, must turn from his course, and amend it. It is the only way of becoming good, and of being accepted in the sight of the holy, wise and impartial Sovereign and Judge of all.
7. It is commonly said of the law of nature, that it is of eternal obligation: but yet I would add, that every branch of moral righteousness cannot be practised in every state.
The law of reason, I say, is of eternal obligation: that is, supposing such cases and circumstances, or beings, to bear such and such relations to each other; such and such actions will be always obligatory. Supposing a world, in which there are parents and children, masters and servants, rich and poor, some in prosperous, others in afflictive circumstances, some governors, others governed, and a great variety of other circumstances subsisting: such and such a behaviour toward each other is fit and reasonable. And though there be no such beings, with those several relations; yet it is true, that if there were such beings, such actions would be in themselves fit and reasonable. Nor can any authority dissolve, and set aside their obligation.
Thus these things are of everlasting obligation. But when those relations and circumstances cease, divers branches of duty must cease also. So in a future state of recompense, for such as have been truly and sincerely good in this world, many branches of duty, necessary here, will cease. Where there is perfect holiness, and perfection of happiness, there cannot be the exercise of forgiveness to offenders, nor of mercy to the miserable. Nor will there be room for patience under afflictions, and such like virtues which are necessary in this state of frailty: though still the love of God, and the love of each other, the great and essential virtues with branches suitable to a state of glory and happiness, will be always fit, and reasonable, and incumbent upon every one.
8. The duties of moral obligation are discernible by rational beings with a due exercise of their powers and faculties. For those duties being founded in the powers and circumstances of those very beings themselves, and their relations to each other, and being therefore fit and reasonable in themselves; they may be discerned by such as exercise their reason, and attend to the nature, and circumstances of things.
There may be perplexed cases, when what is duty, what is best and fittest cannot be determined without some difficulty: and the evidence of what is right amounts to no more than probability, or is short of certainty. But the general obligations of virtue, the great branches of duty toward God and men, are discernible by such as think sedately and maturely, as the importance of the thing deserves.
It is reasonable to think it should be so. And the Scriptures teach the same. For St. Paul says: "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them: for God has shewed it unto them." He is speaking of the heathens, who had not the benefit of revelation. "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead. So that they are without excuse: because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God; neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened," Rom. i. 19-21. And afterwards: "For when the gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law are a law unto themselves: who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or else excusing one another," ch. ii. 14, 15.