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stract truth, or what he calls the differences of things: Another, will hear of none, but an instinctive moral sense: And a third, entrenches himself within the narrow circle of private happiness. These several systems have been laid down, each in its turn, as the only proper basis of moral action: But could the patrons of them be made to agree in any one; or could their several schemes be made, as perhaps they might, to consist together: still, they could only serve to acquaint us what the nature of virtue is; they do but slenderly provide for the practice of it.
Let the philosophers, then, debate this mat ter among themselves. It is enough for us to learn of Solomon, to fear God: To fear HIM, who is everywhere and essentially present; who is conscious to all our actions and all our thoughts; from whose knowledge there is no escape, from whose justice there is no appeal, and to whose power there is no hope, or pos sibility of resistance.
With this principle, an unquestioned principle of reason, if there be any, deeply rooted in the mind, we have indeed an adequate rule of life; or, what is better, a controuling motive to put in practice whatever rule of life we
chuse to follow. Moral systems, taken by themselves, are poor ineffective things; even virtue's self is but a name, till the religious principle be infused into her. Then it is, that she lives and acts, and by her powerful influence inclines the hearts of men to depart from evil.
Nor let any man apprehend that this religious fear will degrade, or servilize his virtue. To be free from sin, and only the servants of God, is the truest and noblest liberty.
Dismissing, then, all other rules of life, let us adhere to that, which Solomon prescribes It had been venerable from any hands, but comes with an extraordinary grace and propriety from HIM, who delivers it. So that none of the parties, concerned in this discourse, can excuse themselves from paying a peculiar deference to his judgment.
1. The MEN OF THE WORLD can have no pretence for declining this determination. The author of it is no obscure sordid moralist, whose views of life are confined to a cloyster or a cottage. He addresses them from the throne of Israel, when it was the pride of the East; and from the center of a court, which he
had made the envy of the surrounding nations. The followers of fashion will then act but agreeably to their own principles, if they respect the example of such a court, and the authority of its sovereign.
2. The POLITICIANS will reflect, that their instructor is himself a great magistrate, consummate in the arts of government; who yet could find no secret, but that of the fear of God, by which he could reign securely himself, or promote the real welfare and prosperity of his people. With what complacency do they sometimes urge a political aphorism, taken from Aristotle! But a greater than Aristotle is here.
3. Lastly, to you, the sages of the world, who are, or account yourselves PHILOSOPHERS, nothing can be so respectable to you, as the authority of ONE, whose name is the name itself of wisdom; of ONE, who, like you, had given his heart to know wisdom a; who had an understanding, at least, equal to yours, and an experience of life, far greater. Yet even HE delivers it, as the result of all his knowledge, That by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.
a Eccles. i. 17. and vii. 25.
It is indeed this principle only, which gives its proper direction and integrity to every other. It controuls Fashion; supplies the defects of Law; and enforces the conclusions of Reason. It rectifies all our systems, and gives sense and solidity to all our speculations.
To conclude, Let us all be wise enough to reverence the plain doctrine of the text, and to act upon it: The rather, as that doctrine is not only just and reasonable in itself, but proceeds from one, whom the Spirit of God had been pleased to inform with celestial wisdom.
PREACHED MAY 31, 1772.
1 COR. vi. 12.
All things are lawful unto me; but all things are not expedient: All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of any.
IT would be taking up too much of your time, and of this discourse, to explain minutely the occasion of these words, and the connexion they have with the general argument of this chapter. Let it suffice to say, that they are introduced as an answer to something which the Corinthian Christians did, or might alledge for their neglect of the instructions, given