« EdellinenJatka »
remainder of the law, given by Moses, was all written in a book ; and was here intentionally, and entirely distinguished, as to its importance, from the Decalogue. The tables of stone, on which these commands were written, were fashioned by the hand of God himself. This, also, forms a peculiar article of distinction between the Decalogue, and the rest of the Jewish law. Nothing but the Decalogue ever received such an honour, as this. It was written on one of these tables by the finger of God. This also is a distinction peculiar to the Decalogue.
When Moses, in his zeal to destroy the idolatry of the Israelites, had broken the two tables of stone, fashioned and written upon in this manner; God directed him to make two other tables of stone, like the first. On these he was pleased to write the same commands a second time. In this act he has taught us, that he was pleased to become, a second time, the recorder of these preeepts with his own hand, rather than that the entire distinction between these precepts, and others, should be obliterated.
Every part of this solemn transaction, it is to be remembered, was the result of contrivance and design; of contrivance and design, on the part of God himself. Every part of it, therefore, speaks a language, which is to be examined, and interpreted, by us. Now let me ask, whether this language is not perfectly intelligible, and perfectly unambiguous. Is it not clear beyond every rational debate, that God designed to distinguish these precepts from every other part of the Mosaic law, both as to their superior importance, and their perpetuity? Is it not incredible, that God should mark, in so solemn a manner, this command, together with the remaining nine, unless he intended, that all, to whom these precepts should come, that is, all Jews and Christians, or all who should afterwards read the Scriptures, should regard these Commands as possessing that very importance, which he thus significantly gave them; should consider them as being, in a peculiar sense, his law; and hold them as being perpetually, and universally, obligatory ?
It is further to be remembered, that this Command is delivered in the same absolute manner, as the other nine. There is no limitation to the phraseology, in which it is contained. Honour thy father and thy mother, is obligatory on all children, to whom this
precept shall come. Thou shalt not steal, is a precept, prohibiting the stealing of every man, who shall know it. Every Gentilc, as well as every Jew, who sinneth under the law, will, according to the spirit of the Apostle's declaration, be judged by the law. Agrecably to this equitable construction, every person, to whom this precept shall come, is bound to remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
But it is acknowledged, that “ all the remaining commands are indeed universally obligatory; being in their own nature moral, and having therefore an universal application to mankind. This, however, is plainly a Command merely positive, and therefore destitute of this universality of application. It may, of course, be dispensed with ; may be supposed to have been delivered to the Jews only, like their ceremonial and judicial law; may have been destined to continuc, so long as their national slate continued; and, thus may have been designed to be of neither universal, nor perpetual, obligation."
To this objection, which I have stated at full length, that I might be sure of doing justice to it, I give the following answer.
First; it appears to me evident, that, so far as my information extends, the distinction between moral and positive commands has been less clearly made by moral writers, than most other distinctions. It will be impossible for any man clearly to see, and to limit, exactly, what they intend when they use these terms. To remove this difficulty, so far as my audience are concerned, and 10 enable them to know what I design, while I am using these words, I will attempt to define them with some particularity.
A moral precept, is one, which regulates the moral conduct of Intelligent creatures, and binds the will and the conscience. It is either limited, or universal; it is universal; or, in other words, is obligatory on the consciences of Intelligent creatures, at all times, and in all circumstances, when their situations and relations are universally such, as to render the conduct required in these precepts their duty invariably, and in the nature of things. of this kind, the number of precepts is certainly very small. We are bound to love God, and our neighbour, invariably. But the fifth command, in its obvious sense, can have no application, where the relations of parent and child do not exist; the sixth,
where rational beings are immortal; the seventh, where the distinction of sex is not found. To these precepts, therefore, the criterion of universality, generally regarded as the principal mark of the moral nature of precepts, is plainly inapplicable ; and it is altogether probable, that these precepts will have no existence in any world, but this. Limited moral precepts are those, which require the duties, arising from such relations and circumstances, as exist only for limited periods, or among certain classes or divisions of Rational beings. Thus various moral precepts found in the judicial law of Moses obligated to obedience none but the people of that nation, and strangers dwelling among them. Thus, also, he, who has no parents, is not required to perform the duties, enjoined upon a child; he, who has no wife, those required of a husband; and he, who has no children, those demanded of a father.
Positive precepts are such, as require conduct of moral beings, which, antecedently to the promulgation of them, was not their duty; and, independently of them, would never have become their duty; hut would have remained for ever a matter of indifference. It ought to be observed here, that some precepts are considered as merely positive, because the duties, enjoined by them, were unknown, and would have continued unknown, to those, of whom they are required, independently of the publication of the precepts. These precepts, however, are no less of a moral nature, than if the duties, which they enjoin, and the relations from which those duties spring, had always been perfectly known. A prccept of a merely positive nature creates a duty, which, but for the precept, would not exist; which does not depend for its existence on the nature of the relations, sustained by the subject as a Rational being; but is intended to promote some useful, incidental purpose, and is not due, nor demanded from the subject in other cases, although sustaining exactly the same relations. Thus the precept, requiring the building of booths at the passover, may be considered as a positive precept. Thus
, also many others, enjoining particular parts of the Jewish ritual.
Secondly; The precept contained in the text is according to thesc definitions a moral, and not a positive, precept. The Sab. bath was instituted for the following ends.
It was intended to give the laborious classes of mankind an opportunity of resting from toil.
It was intended to be a commemoration of the wisdom, power, and goodness, of God in the Creation of the universe.
It was intended to furnish an opportunity of increasing holiness in man, while in a state of innocence.
It was intended to furnish an opportunity to fallen man of acquiring holiness, and of obtaining salvation.
In every one of these respects, the Sabbath is equally useful, important, and necessary, to every child of Adam. It was no more necessary to a Jew to rest after the labour of six days was ended, than to any other man. It was no more necessary to a Jew to commemorate the perfections of God, displayed in the work of creation; it was no more necessary to a Jew to gain holiness, or to incrcase it; it is no more necessary to a Jew to seek, or to obtain, salvation. Whatever makes either of these things interesting to a Jew in any degree, makes them in the same degree interesting to every other man. The nature of the command, therefore, teaches, as plainly as the nature of a command can teach, that it is of universal application 10 mankind. It has then this great criterion of a moral precept; viz. universality of application.
That it is the duty of all men to commemorate the perfections of God, displayed in the work of creation, cannot be questioned. Every living man is bound to contemplate, understand, and adore, these perfections. But we cannot know them in the abstract; or as they exist merely in Him. We learn them, only as displayed in his Works, and in his Word. We are bound, therefore, to learn them, as thus displayed; and that in proportion to the clearness and glory of the display. The clearness and glory, with which these perfections are manifested in the work of creation, are transcendantly great; and demand from all crealures a contemplation proportionally attentive, and an adoration proportionally exalted. To commemorate this glorious work, therefore, is a plain and important duty of all men : this being the peculiar service demanded of them by his character, and his relation to them as their Creator. But this commemoration was the original and supreme object of the command. It cannot
be denied, that this is a moral service ; nor that the precept, requiring it, is a moral precept.
a To perform this service in the best manner is, also, as much a moral duty, as to perform it at all. If any duty be not performed in the best manner; it is only performed in part: the remainder being of course omitted. But no words can be necessary to prove, that we are equally obliged to perform one part of a duty as another.
If we know not, and cannot know, the best manner; we are invariably bound to choose the best which we do know. If, however, the best manner be made known to us; we are invariably obliged to adopt it, to the exclusion of all others.
The best manner, in the present case, is made known to us in this Command. We are assured, that it is the best manner, by the fact, that God has chosen it. No man can doubt whether God's manner is the best; nor whether it is his own duty to adopt it rather than any other. This manner is a commemoration of the perfections of God, thus disclosed, on one day in
That a particular day, or sct time, should be devoted to this important purpose, is indispensable. The duty is a social one; in which the Rational creatures of God, in this world, are universally lo unite. But unless a particular day were set apart for this duty, the union intended would be impossible.
It is of the last importance, that the day should be appointed by God. Men would not agree on any particular day. If they should agree; it would always be doubtful whether the time chosen by them was the best; and the day, appointed by men, would have neither authority, sacredness, nor sanction. In a matter, merely of human institution, all, who pleased, would dissent; and in such a world as ours, most, or all, would choose to dissent. The whole duty, therefore, would be left undone; and the glorious perfections of God, unfolded in the work of Creation, would be wholly forgotten. This precept is, also, entirely of a moral nature, as to the whole End, at which it aims, so far as man is concerned. This End, is the attainment, and the increase, of holiness. Of every man living, and of every man alike, this is the highest interest, and the highest duty. To this