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The perpetual Obligation of the Moral Law; the Eril of Sin,
and its Desert of Punishment.
1 John iii. 4. Sin is the transgression of the Law.- -And Rom. vi. 23.
The wages of sin is death. THE blessed God has an undoubted right to command and govern his creatures, and when he makes known his will or lays the knowledge of it within their reach, this becomes a law to them, this determines what is their duty; and a transgression of this law, or disobedience to it, is sin; and sin carries in it the notion of moral evil, which deserves some penalty to be inflicted on the sinner. Now that the moral law is such a law as I have described, and has such consequences attending the transgression of it ; I shall endeavour to shew in the following method :
I. I shall consider what we mean by the moral law, and where this law is to be found.-II. I shall prove that it reaches to all mankind, and is of perpetual obligation.—III. That sin or the transgression of it, -is a very great and heinous evil.-IV. That it justly deserves punishment from the hands of God. I shall pursue each of these in their order.
The first enquiry is, What we mean by the moral law? To which I answer, The moral law signifies that rule which is given to all mankind to direct their manners or behaviour considered merely as they are intelligent and social creatures, as creatures who have an understanding to know God and themselves, a capacity to judge what is right and wrong, and a will to chuse and refuse good and evil. This law, I think, does not arise merely from the abstracted nature of things, but also includes in it the existence of God, and his will manifested some way or other, or at least put within the reach of our knowledge; it includes also his authority, which obliges us to walk by the rule he gives us. The commands or requirements of the moral law may be represented in different views, but all agree in the same desigu and substance. Sometimes the moral law is represented as requiring us to seek after the knowledge of that God who made us, as obliging us to believe whatsoever God discovers to us, and as commanding us to perform those duties he prescribes, and to abstain from those things which he forbids.
Sometimes again this moral law is represented by distinguishing it into those duties which we owe to God, to our neighbours, and to ourselves. The duties which we owe to God, are fear and love, trust and hope, worship and obedience, prayer and praise, doing every thing to liis glory, and patience under his providences in life and death. The duties which we owe to our neighbours are submission to our superiors, compassion to our inferiors, truth and fidelity, justice and honesty, benevolence and goodness toward all men. The duties which we owe to ourselves are sobriety and temperance; and in general the moral law requires a restraint of our natural appetites and passions within just bounds, so that they neither break out to the dishonour of God, to the injury of our neighbour, or to hinder us in the pursuit of our own best interests.
There is yet another general representation of the moral law, which is used in scripture both in the Old and New Testa
It is mentiond by Moses ; Deut. vi. 5. Lev. xix. 18. and repeated and confirmed by our blessed Saviour; Mat. xxii. 37. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul, and thy neighbour as thyself; on these two commandments hang all the law and prophets : And therefore St. Paul, Rom. xiii. 10. tells us, love is the fulfilling of the law. For he that loves God and his neighbour as he ought, will perform all necessary duties toward them, as well as govern himself aright in obedience to God his Maker.
Having explained what I mean by the moral law, we come to enquire where it is to be found? I answer, it is found in the ten commands given to the Jews at Sinai ; it is found in the holy scriptures, scattered up and down through all the writings of the Old and New Testament, and it may be found out in the plainest and most necessary parts of it, by the sincere and diligent exercise of our own reasoning powers. It was written by the finger of God in tables of stone; it is written by the inspiration of God in the holy bible; and it is written in the hearts and consciences of mankind by the God of nature. The voice of God from heaven proclaimed this law, the voice of the prophets and apostles confirm it, and the voice of conscience, which is the vicegerent of God in the heart of man, speaks the same thing*. See Rom. ii.
* That which is in the heart of man is called the natural law, because it arises from our natural principles of reason; that which was given at Sinai is more frequeoily termed the written law : Both are called the moral law, yet with these few differences. 1. The written law i more clear and express ist en particular commands; the patural is more secret and less evident, especially among
14, 15. which must be thus explained. When the Gentiles who have not the written law are admonished by nature and their own consciences to do things contained in the written law, their hearts and reasoning powers are a natural law to themselves, which shews or discovers the work of the written law or ten commands impressed on their hearts; their very consciences bearing witness for or against themselves, and accusing or ercusing them, according as they have obeyed or broke that natural law within them.
The second general head of my discourse leads me to prove that this moral law is of universal and perpetual obligation to all inankind, even through all nations and all ages. The will of God their Maker concerning their conduct being revealed to them, or laid within the reach of their knowledge as I said betore, becomes a law or rule of life to men. Now this moral law is so far discovered to all, whether Jews, Gentiles, or christians, both by the light of reason, and by the writings of the Old and New 'l'estament, and thus it becomes an universal law which requires the obedience of all mankind. And as it hath universal authority over all men, so its obligation is perpetual and everlasting; there cannot be any dissolution of it, nor a release from its commands or requirements; which will appear if we consider the following reasons :
I. “It is a law which arises from the very existence of God and the nature of man:” It springs from the very relation of such creatures to their Maker and to one another. Every crcature must owe its all to him that made it; and therefore all its powers ought to be employed so as to bring some honour to its Maker God. He is the supreme Lord and Ruler, and he ought to be reverenced and obeyed : He is all-wise and almighty, lie ought to be feared and worshipped : He is in himself the most excellent of beings as well as merciful and kind to us, and the spring of all our present comforts and our future hopes; he ought therefore 10 he loved above all things, and to be addressed with prayer and praise: nor can it ever be said that a creature is under no obligation to love and obey, to fear and worship his Creator, or to render what is due to his fellow-creatures, even according to his utmost powers.
II. “This law is so far wrought into the very nature of man as a reasonable creature, that an awakened conscience will the greatest part of mankind. 2. The written law was a more peculiar favour of God given to the Jewish nation; the natural law lies within the reach of all men winnye consciences are not grossly blinded or hardened by sin. 3. The natural law contains nothing but moral piecepts or rules of life to meu as' intelligeur, seasible, and sociable creatures ; the written law includes in it something Ceremonial, that is, the seventh day sabbath, and other modes of expression peculiar to the Jewish siate and people. But the grand requirements and the desiun of both these are the sagar, as appears in many scriptures, especially Mund. 11. , !..
require obedience to it for ever.” Wheresoever the reason-, ing powers of man are diligent and sincerely attentive to his most important concerns, he must acknowledge the great God demands our best obedience, our honour and our love, and he deserves it: Every conscience acting on reasonable principles must confess that truth and honesty ought to be practised towards our neighbour, and temperance and sobriety with regard to ourselves; that we are bound to restrain our vicious appetites and passions within the rules of reason and our better powers ; that we must not be savage or cruel to others, nor must we abuse our understanding and our senses which God has given us for better purposes, and by drowning them in wine and strong liquors, or by any intemperance belave like the brutes that perish. As long as man is man, and reason is reason, so long will this law be a rule to mankind.
III. This law must be perpetual, for “ it is suited to every state and circumstance of human nature, to every condition of the life of man, and to every dispensation of God :" And since it cannot be changed for a better law, it must be everlasting. It is suited to the state of man in innocence, and of man fallen from his happiness : It is suited to every tribe and nation of mankind : All are required to yield their utmost obedience to the commands of God. It began in paradise as soon as man was created, and it will never cease to oblige in this world or the other. Neither Jew nor Gentile, neither saint nor sinner on earth, por Epoch, nor Elijah, nor the blessed spirits in heaven, nor the ghosts of the wicked under the punishments of hell, are released from their obligation to this law which requires them to love and honour God, and to be faithful and just to man: For if any persons whatsoever were released from the bond of this law, they would not be guilty of sin, nor do amiss in neglecting the practises of virtue and godliness.
IV. It appears yet further that this law is perpetual, because whatsoever other law God can prescribe, or man can be bound to obey, it is built upon the eternal obligation of this moral law. Every possitive command of rites and ceremonies and sacrifices given to the patriarchs, or the Jews; every command of faith in the Messiah, trust in the blood of Jesiis and obedience to him in his exalted state; every institution of the Old Testament and the New, circumcision and baptism, the feast of the passover and of the Lord's-supper, with all the forms of worship and duty towards God and man which ever were prescribed, receive their force and obligation from the moral law. It is this law which requires all men to believe whatsoever God shall reveal with proper evidence, either by the exercise of their own reason, or by his divine revelation : It is the moral law that requires ou phearts
and hands to yield obedience to all the positive laws God lias given to men: Some of those rites and ceremonies so far as we can discover, seemn not to be of any great importance in theinselves; but a wilful neglect of the least of them is a disobedience to the great God, and a violation of this law; and I think we may say that if this law were abolished no other could bind us : for it is one of the first and strongest requirements of this law, that a creature must obey his Maker in all things. And for this reason it was that our blessed Saviour wiso had no need to be washed from sin, yet submitted to baptism under the ministry of John his forerunner,, even when John seemed to dissuade him from it; Mat. iii. 15. Suffer it to be so now said he, for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness, ihat is, to obey whatever God commands.
V. I would add in the last place, that scripture asserts the perpetuity and everlasting obligation of the moral law; Luke xvi. 17. it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for the least tittle of the law to fail; and our blessed Saviour declares ; Mat. v. 17. that he came not to destroy the law but to fulfil it; by which he cannot mean the Jewish ritual which was soon abolished, but he means eminently the moral law, for it is the precepts of that law he proceeds to explain. And it is in conformity to this doctrine, the apostle Paul makes use of this law to convince Jew and Gentile, and all mankind in all ages, that they are sinners and guilty before God, in the second and third chapters to the Romans. By the law is the knowledge of sin, whether the natural law of the heathens or the written laws of the Jews: All have broken this moral law of God, every mouth is stopped and all the world lies guilty before God.
I know that there are some contrary opinions rising up in the heart of man against this doctrine. Some have objected here, that since the fall of Adam no mere man is able perfectly to comply with the demands of it, for it requires universal obedience in thought word and action, and a perfect abstinence from every sin; but since no man is able to yield this obedience, it can never be supposed that a righteous and gracious God can continue to require it. To this I answer, first,
Answer I.--That man has not lost his natural power to obey this law; he is bound then as far as his natural powers will reach: I own his faculties are greatly corrupted by vicious inclinations or sinfil propensities, which has been happily called by our divines a moral inability to fulfil the law, rather than a natural impossibility of it. But though the powers of man be vitiated, and his inclinations to evil are so strong that they will never be effectually subdued without divine grace, yet the great and holy Goll continues still to demand a perfection of obedience ; he call