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FAITH AND PRACTICE.
By the Divine Laws, in general, are meant, those which have been delivered to mankind by the authority of God, as a rule and criterion by which good is to be discerned from evil, virtue from vice, what is profitable from what is unprofitable, what is to be done, from what is to be left undone ; or for some special and temporary purpose: the end end object of such enactments being the glory of God, as well as the present and eternal happiness of mankind. These laws are partly inscribed on the mind and conscience of men, and belong to the Law of Nature: but they are extant at large in the books of Moses and of the Gospel; and the sanctions under which they require implicit submission and universal obedience are more or less clearly revealed in all the inspired writings of the Old and the New Testaments.
§ 2. Since Christians, under the reign of grace, are liberated from the yoke of the Mosaic ceremonial and judicial Law; and the obligation of that Law, which was given for an especial purpose, altogether ceased, when the purpose was fulfilled in the advent of the Messias—who, according to prophecy, sprang from the bosom of the Jewish nation—since this freedom from
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a code, that laid heavy burthens on God's former people, is one of the great privileges of the Christian dispensation, it is highly necessary to distinguish those precepts which are peculiarly Mosaic, and are consequently abrogated, from those which belong to the Law of Nature, or the Moral Law, and are still of universal obligation.
§ 3. The Mosaic Laws may be considered as of three kinds; namely, those which were giveji to the Jews, not as Jews, but as men,—which constitute the Moral Law, and are binding upon every human being ;—those which were given to them as Jews,—the ceremonial and Levitical statutes, which were not to extend beyond the limits of the Israelitish nation;— and those which were given to them as inhabitants of Palestine, and members of a separate community,—the civil and forensic, which have no authority and force at present, further than as they declare the general and immutable principles of social right.
The Moral Law appertains to all people, as. that essential branch of the Mosaic code, which is generally founded in the Law of Nature—is universally binding—and is written by God himself in the human heart. It contains the rule of virtuous living ; and as the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, given on Mount Sinai, is a summary of moral precepts drawn up by God himself, all such precepts wherever found, dispersed as they are throughout the sacred volume, are properly referred to the Decalogue itself. All the aphorisms and injunctions of the Gospel, are but explications of the great Moral Law of Nature ; or an adaptation of the first principles of religious and social duty—namely, to love God above all things, and our neighbour as ourself,—to the spiritual and comprehensive character of the religion of Jesus Christ; and, for order's sake they may all be reduced under the several heads of duty prescribed in the Decalogue.
The Ceremonial Law, relating to sacred persons, places, and rites, was calculated to surround the Jewish nation with an impenetrable barrier against the idolatry and polytheism of the people with whom they would be most liable to have intercourse— being the ritual of an outward profession of faith in the one true God,—the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; it was also an economy of types and shadows, designed to point out and represent the long-promised Messias. In both these points of view the Ceremonial Law has ceased to have any force: for the Mosaic covenant ended with the pe. riod for which it had been made,—the Old Testament gave place to the New, to the full establishment of which it was preparatory,—and the figurative representations were all merged in the reality, when the Son of God assumed our nature, and suffered for the whole world, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Judicial Law, relating to matters of civil polity, had reference, in many respects, to the peculiar character and situation of the people for whose regulation it was enacted, under the immediate government of God himself for a certain period; and after the termination of this theocracy, still under an especial superintendance of the Almighty. Many of these Laws were of an arbitrary and local nature, and are not applicable to other people under different circumstances. In short,—the whole of the Mosaic economy was constituted principally that it might provide an asylum for the Church of God, and a cradle for the Gospel. The Ceremonial and Judicial Laws were accommodated to this design. After the advent of Christ, however, the Mosaic polity was destroyed, and with it also these laws, which were peculiarly instituted for its support. But the Moral Law, or Decalogue, except in those parts of it which have a ceremonial character, is the eternal and immutable rule of wisdom and justice, even in God himself, obliging all rational creatures either to obey it, or to submit to the penalties of disobedience.
§ 4. The term Decalogue, of Greek derivation, significs Ten Words, or sentences, and is particularly assigned to the Ten Commandments given by divine authority, as the standard and rule of our duty towards God, and towards our neighbour—that is, all mankind. The Decalogue comprizes the fundamental articles of religious faith, as well as the principles of virtuous conduct; it is the compendium and epitome of the Moral Law, founded upon the belief and worship of the one true God,—the author of its terms, and the enforcer of its sanctions. It may, however, also be considered as partly of a mixt nature, not being entirely moral, but containing some matters ceremonial, and relating solely or chiefly to the Jews. Of this description are portions of the Second and Fifth Commando.cuts. It is consequently the pure part alone, which has no especial relation to the circumstances of the Jews, that is equally applicable to Jews and Christians.
$ 5. With regard to Christians, the Decalogue not only possesses its full force, but it has acquired additional authority from its having been constantly declared by our blessed Lord the rule of those good works which are necessary to the attainment of salvation,—from its having been more fully explained and illustrated, more clearly displayed in its spiritual and comprehensive sense to His disciples, than it ever had been by Moses and the Prophets to the children of Israel. Christian liberty, therefore, consists . in entire free. dom from the obligations of the Mosaic Ceremonial and Judicial Laws ;—in qualified liberation from the exactions of the Moral Law: that is—not liberation from its obligations, for the Decalogue is adopted into the Gospel;—not total liberation from its penalties—for punishment is yet denounced against obstinate disobedience: but in freedom from the exaction of sinless obedience ; and in freedom—on the condition of faith and repentance—from the fear of death, as either annihilation or eternal misery.
§ 6. The nature of the Decalogue being that of a brief and comprehensive summary, of which the spirit, and not the letter only, is the measure of obligation, it is necessary, in order to ensure such an interpretation as is consistent with the tenour of the revealed will of God, and with the light of reason ,which he has shed upon the conscience of mankind, to adhere to certain rules of acknowledged necessity and truth. These being previously laid down and assented to, will form a standard to which every general precept may be brought, in order to ascertain its bearing upon any particular question ; and to deduce from such comparison the strongest motives for practical obedience.
The principal and most important rules of interpretation are the following:—Precepts which are not limited in their application by God himself, are not to be limited by us; but must be received in their B3 • ."