« VorigeDoorgaan »
that may give us a satisfactory account why men so often and so widely differ on the plainest points of duty, and whence the difficulties and scruples grow, which perplex even the clearest precepts of Christian morality.
The text, if carefully attended to, will discover to us the cause to which this evil owes its growth and increase; and the parable which our Saviour put forth, instead of a direct answer to the lawyer's question, will teach us where to seek and find the remedy.
Interpreters are not agreed in the meaning of the former part of the text, But he, willing to justify himself, said;' for it does not appear what occasion he had for any justification of himself: no accusation had been brought against him; nobody had charged him with any neglect or contempt of the law: so far otherwise, that our Lord had commended his wise answer, and promised him life if he obeyed the terms which he himself had proposed: And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right; This do, and thou shalt live:' on which immediately follow the words of the text, But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, and who is my neighbor? Besides, it does not presently appear how any justification of himself could arise out of this question, or any answer that might be given to it. What fault did he mean to excuse by asking, Who is my neighbor?' or how did his virtue or innocence depend on the answer that should be returned to this inquiry? These difficulties, I say, have led interpreters into different sentiments: but without examining their opinions, I shall propose to you one that seems to be the true, because the most easy and natural exposition of the place.
This lawyer came to our Lord, and tempting him, said, • What shall I do to inherit eternal life?' Our Lord returns him to the law for an answer to his question, saying, ' What readest thou?' He readily answered, that in the law he found that he was to love the Lord his God with all his might, and his neighbor as himself.' This account our Saviour approves, and says unto him, 'Thou hast answered right;' and adds, that if he would practise the law as well as he seemed to understand it, he was in no danger: This do, and thou shalt live.' But in this part, relating to practice, the lawyer well knew how
this precept in particular, of loving our neighbors, had been loaded with exceptions and limitations by the Jewish doctors, and that he had never esteemed any body to be his neighbor who was not of the same blood, and who did not profess the same religion with himself; for which reason he hated many, who, according to the letter, were his neighbors, as the Samaritans were, who dwelt very near, but were the aversion of every Jew, being esteemed as the corrupters of the faith and true religion. Since therefore life eternal depended on his obedience to the law, as he had heard from our Saviour; and since whether his obedience were such as it ought to be, depended wholly on the Jewish interpretation of the law, and could no otherwise be maintained than by excluding from the rights and privileges of neighborhood all who were not of the stock and faith of Israel; in order therefore to his own justification he very properly puts the question to our Lord, ' And who is my neighbor?' for as this question should be resolved, he would be found either to have fulfilled or transgressed the commandment. Had our Lord determined in favor of the Jewish interpretation, and told him that those only were his neighbors who were of the same stock and family, and who worshipped God in the same manner that he did, the lawyer had been justified in his practice, and his obedience might have deserved commendation, as well as his prudent answer out of the law had done before: but when our Saviour had forced him into a confession that even the Samaritan was his neighbor, he stood condemned by his own sentence, and by the example of the Samaritan which he had approved, and was sent away with this short but full reproof and admonition: Go, and do thou likewise.'
The words thus expounded show us on what motives men act, and what it is that prejudices their minds in the interpretation of God's law they are willing to justify themselves;' and therefore employ all their force and skill to make the command countenance their practice, and to speak such language only as may be consistent with their inclinations. When our actions are such as the law enjoins, when we do what is commanded, and forbear what is forbidden, then is our obedience perfect. This is so plain a description of obedience, with respect to the law which is to be obeyed, that it cannot be
disputed. A truly virtuous man endeavors to bend all his passions and inclinations towards the command, and to make them intirely submissive to it. The man who loves not his duty is often uneasy and restless under the pain of self-condemnation ; and knowing that all would be well, did but his actions and the law agree, he labors to bend the law towards his inclinations, that it may justify him in all his doings, and yield him the pleasure and satisfaction of thinking himself righteous.
It is no great wonder, when men are so deeply engaged in any error either of practice or doctrine, that they should labor to reconcile themselves as far as possible with the commands and injunctions of God's law; for as great as the pleasure of sin is, as large as the profit of iniquity often is, they cannot of themselves sustain the spirit of a man against the girds and lashes of a guilty conscience. Whilst the pleasure is new and in its full vigor ; whilst the gain is counting over and treasuring up, the mind perhaps, lost in the present enjoyment, may want no other comfort: but the pleasures of vice have their intermission, and are succeeded by cold damps, which seize the spirits. The gains of iniquity are not always pouring themselves in: when the ill-gotten wealth is bagged up, there will be spare time more than enough for a man to ask himself how he got these mighty riches. In these seasons of reflexion, in these intervals of thought and reason, the soul wants other comforts than such as can arise from pleasures that are past, or from treasures that are hidden in the earth. A man can never long like a bargain which he really thinks he shall suffer for hereafter : and therefore, to quiet and ease himself, he frames many devices how to escape the punishment he dreads: being easy to be persuaded, he soon convinces himself that the laws of God have been too rigorously expounded, and pressed too far; that, in truth, he has not offended against the law of God, but only against the cruel law of the interpreters, whose pleasure it is to lay heavy burdens on other men's shoulders, which themselves care not to touch with one of their fingers. By these means the easy casuist comes to such a temper with himself, that he can at once enjoy and justify his iniquity.
When the young man in the gospel came to our Lord, inquiring on what terms he might inherit eternal life, our Lord
1. A truly virtuous man endeavors to bend all his and inclinations towards the command, and to make irely submissive to it. The man who loves not his duty ineasy and restless under the pain of self-condemnation ; ring that all would be well, did but his actions and the 5, he labors to bend the law towards his inclinations; ay justify him in all his doings, and yield him the ud satisfaction of thinking himself righteous.
great wonder, when men are so deeply engaged in ither of practice or doctrine, that they should labor
themselves as far as possible with the commands ions of God's law; for as great as the pleasure of ge as the profit of iniquity often is, they cannot of ustain the spirit of a man against the girds and uilty conscience. Whilst the pleasure is new and or; whilst the gain is counting over and treasuring perhaps, lost in the present enjoyment, may want ort: but the pleasures of vice have their interare succeeded by cold damps, which seize the ains of iniquity are not always pouring them a the ill-gotten wealth is bagged up, there will nore than enough for a man to ask himself how ighty riches. In these seasons of reflexion, in of thought and reason, the soul wants other uch as can arise from pleasures that are past, or jat are hidden in the earth. A man can never cain which he really thinks he shall suffer for herefore, to quiet and ease himself, he frames v to escape the punishment he dreads: being led, he soon convinces himself that the laws
too rigorously expounded, and pressed too , he has not offended against the law of God, the cruel law of the interpreters, whose
heavy burdens on other men's shoulders, are not to touch with one of their fingers. easy casuist comes to such a temper with at once enjoy and justify his iniquity. ; man in the gospel came to our Lord, ms he might inherit eternal life, our Lord
set the commands before him : Do not commit adultery: D not kill: Do not steal: Do not bear false witness : Honor th father and thy mother.' Thus far all was well: these term he willingly accepted; for he had been virtuously bred, and had observed these things from his youth ; and having no guil to justify, he had no exceptions to make to the commandments. Our Lord, delighted with his towardly disposition, would have led him on to greater perfection ; ‘Yet lackest thou,' says he,
one thing : Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. The young man, who had not committed adultery, nor been guilty of theft or disobedience to his parents, and therefore had no fault to find with the former laws, had, it seems, a great estate, and therefore could by no means digest this : but was exceeding sorrowful, for he was very rich ;' sorrowful, not because he was rich, for then he might easily have complied, and eased his sorrow; but sorrowful to find any thing in the gospel inconsistent with his riches. How gladly would he have listened to any softenings of this precept! How would he have adored a teacher who would have made him a consistent title to heaven and his estate! In this instance you see the disposition which makes men strive with the law of God, and labor to render it of a piece with their own affections : in others we will show you the practice.
The Jews had a law, commanding that they should honor their father and their mother, which implied an obligation on children to support and maintain their indigent parents; a precept in itself so just and reasonable, that it is one of the prime laws of nature : but the Jews, who were hard-hearted to their own flesh and blood, were uneasy under this burden; and yet the law was plain ; and they could not be satisfied till they had made the law comply; and therefore they set up tradition against the express law, and found a way to dissolve the uneasy obligations : for thus they taught, as our Saviour justly reproves them;
• If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is a gift by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me, he shall be free : and ye suffer him no more to do aught for his father or mother, making the word of God of none effect through your
tradition. The law was to be supplanted, you see, to justify
breach and violation of it. But to come nearer our own times, and to still plainer instances: you know in how many places the Scripture expressly forbids us to pay any worship or service to any creature ; but that we should worship and serve the Lord, and him only. In this respect God has declared himself to be a jealous God, and that he will not give his honor to another. Of the Ten Commandments, two are spent in securing this fundamental point of true religion; and the gospel has, not only in many, but in all its parts, confirmed this great article. Notwithstanding all this care, it is well known that no point of doctrine or practice has been more controverted, even among Christians, than this very article. Were the case less notorious than it is, you would say, perhaps, How is this possible? How could it enter into any man's head so to misunderstand the Scriptures ? What could lead to such interpretations ? That they are so interpreted is very plain ; and the account that may be given why they are so is as plain also. It was not misunderstanding or misinterpreting the Scriptures that led to the corruptions in practice: but the corrupt practices first got possession ; and men, 'willing to justify themselves,' coined new interpretations of Seripture to support their new practices : and how violent the inclination to justify themselves is may be easily understood, when we see it beat down such express, such plain, such often-repeated injunctions of the word of God. There is not, I believe, one man, whether Christian, Jew, or Pagan, who has ever heard or read the gospel, but thinks that all image worship, all creature worship, is absolutely forbidden in it, those only excepted who are involved in the practice. Could the Jews give themselves leave to reproach the gospel with such doctrines as some Christians pretend to maintain out of it, they would desire no better arguments for their rejecting it; nor could they indeed have better. To serve and to worship God in prayer, and praise, and humble adoration, are things hard to be understood to none but scholars; in themselves they are plain; but the notions have been so refined, in order to justify modern corruptions, that they are become intricate. The com