Imágenes de páginas

cends to the owner's posterity or heirs. From this and similar causes, combining their effects for ages, originates the difference in men's outward circumstances. That portion which we honestly obtain is “ the bread that God hath given “ us ;” and with this we should be satisfied. But men's passions crave more ; and sloth refuses to labour: hence force and fraud are employed to get possession of the property of others, without their free consent. We need not enumerate those violations of which human laws take cognizance : but men may in various ways break the divine law, and yet escape present punishment. Fraudulent bargains, which impose on the ignorant, credulous, or necessitous; abuse of confidence, extortion, exorbitant gain, deceitful combinations to enhance the price of goods or labour, or to lower the wages of the poor ; will be condemned at God's tribunal as violations of this command. The overgrown ravager of nations and provinces will be adjudged a principal thief and robber, without any other distinction. Defrauding the public (whether by oppressive rulers, who burden the people with merciless exactions ; or by those who embezzle the treasures committed to their stewardship ; or by smuggling, and in various other ways evading the payment of taxes :) constitutes a most atrocious transgression of this law. Contracting debts to support vanity and luxury, or in pursuit of some scheme of aggrandizement, or for any thing not absolutely necessary, without a fair prospect of paying ; taking advantage of humane laws to evade payment, when the insolvents would be again able to pay, were they contented with a frugal maintenance; all extravagance beyond the sober allowance of a man's income ; and slothfulness, or unnecessary subsistence upon charity; are violations of it in different ways. Nay, to withhold from real objects of compassion proper relief; or to reduce the wages of the poor so low as hardly to allow them a subsistence, in order that men may live in affluence and enrich their families ; by no means consists with its evident demands. In short, the spirit of it prohibits the “ love of the world, and the things which are in “ the world,” covetousness, luxury, and the pride of life; and requires industry, frugality, sobriety, submission to providence, and a disposition “ to “ do to all others,” in respect of worldly property, “ as we would they should do unto us.”

IX. The ninth commandment is the law of love, as it respects our neighbour's reputation ; though, in the connexion of human affairs, the violation of it may likewise affect his property and life; and bearing false witness in a court of justice among us, may be perjury, robbery, and murder, as well as calumny. In such important concerns, we should attest nothing of which we have not the fullest assurance; and every

human passion should be watched over, , that our evidence may not be warped. We should be exact to a word in reporting what we know, and in speaking the truth, and no more than the truth: and equal caution is required in juries, and in the judge who decides the cause.—The malicious invention and circulation of slanderous reports, to the injury of a person's character, is a heinous violation of this commandment. To do this in sport, is an imitation of the madman, who “throws about fire

no brands, arrows, and death,” for his diversion. To spread such stories as others have framed to the discredit of our neighbour, when we suspect them to be false or aggravated; or, even if we suppose or know them to be true, where there is no real occasion for it; (such as the detection of a mischievous hypocrite, or designing villain,) is prohibited by this law; for the practice results from pride, self-preference, malevolence, or conceited affectation of wit and humour. Severe censures, bitter sarcasms, ridicule, harsh judgments, ascribing good actions to bad motives, inuendos, misrepresentations, collecting and venting family anecdotes, and various other practices of the same na'ture, consist not with it.—This commandment is frequently violated by authors: a lie or slander is far worse when printed than when only spoken ; and religious controversy is too generally disgraced by the most abominable calumnies : for bigots of all parties agree in mistating the actions, misquoting the writings, and misreporting the words of their opponents. All lies are a violation of this law. They are in every possible case an abuse of speech and of our neighbour's confidence, and a derogation from the value of truth; and always in some degree injurious to mankind. Envy likewise of the praise conferred on others runs counter to the spirit of the law. In short, it requires sincerity, truth, fidelity, candour, and caution ; with a disposition to honour what is honourable in all men, and to be as tender of their reputation, as we could reasonably expect them to be of ours. With this in constant view, our feelings will instruct us how far the rule should extend its influence on our conduct.

X. Lastly, we are commanded “ not to covet" any thing that is our neighbour's. This restriction is placed as the fence of all the rest; the apostle's reference to it? shews that it comprises the utmost spirituality of the law; and it is a perpetual confutation of all those systems, by which the outward gross crime is considered as the only violation. We must not desire any thing whatever which God forbids or withholds : and, so far from levelling property, or seizing violently on our neighbour's possessions, we may not so much as hanker after them. The most secret wish for another man's wife violates this precept: but to desire an union with an unmarried woman, becomes sinful only when excessive, and when it is not submitted to the will of God, if he renders it impracticable. We may desire that part of a man's property which he is inclined to dispose of, if we mean to obtain it only on equitable terms; but what he chooses to keep we may not covet. The poor man may desire moderate relief from the rich : but he must not hanker after his affluence, or repine even if he do not relieve him. Men exposed to equal hazards may agree to a proportionable contribution to him who suffers loss ; for it accords with the law of love to help the distressed. This exculpates insurance. when fairly conducted. But every species of gaming originates from an undue desire and hope of increasing our property, by proportionably impoverishing others; and is therefore a direct violation of this law. Public gaming by lotteries, so far from being less criminal than other species of that vice, is the worst of them all: for it abets and sanctions, as far as example and concurrence can do it, a practice which opens the door to every species of fraud and villany; which is pregnant with the most extensive evils to the community and to individuals ; which seldom fails to bring several to an untimely end, by suicide or the sentence of the law ; which unsettles an immense multitude from the honest employments of their station, to run in quest of imaginary wealth ; and which exposes them to manifold temptations, unfits them for returning to their usual mode of life, and often materially injures their circumstances, breaks their spirits, sours their tempers, and excites the worst passions of which they are susceptible. Indeed the evils, political, moral, and religious, of lotteries are too glaring to be denied, even by those who plead necessity for continuing them; and two numerous to be recapitulated in this place. Can it therefore consist with the law of God, “Thou shalt not covet," or with the character of a Christian, to concur in such an iniquitous and nefarious system, from a vain desire of irregular gain? Whatever argument proves it unlawful for two or three men to cast lots for a sum of money, or to game in any other way, much more strongly concludes against a million of persons gaming publicly by a lottery for a month or six weeks together, to the stagnation, in a great measure, of every other business : whilst the gain made by government and by individuals, from the stakes

i Rom. vii. 7,8.


Many alterations have, since this was written, been adopted, to prevent the mischief; and perhaps these may have some effect: but the whole concern is radically and deeply evil, and nothing can possibly render it any other than evil, atrociously evit.

« AnteriorContinuar »