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whereas others relate to things, the moral nature of which depends on a variety of extrinsic circumstances. Thus, there is no obstacle arising from the nature of things to married persons separating at pleasure, and marrying a second time. This plainly might be done, and still no immediate violation of any law take place. But if it were permitted, several consequences would instantly result from such a practice, which would transgress all moral propriety: Thus, the children would be neglected, and left to indulge in vicious pleasures; the female sex would be exposed to the tyranny of their husbands, and bad temper would be unrestrained, when the parties knew they could abandon each other's society. These consequences evidently violate the first principles of morality, and therefore, to prevent such violation, the cause of them is a fit subject for a moral precept. The necessity of this distinction will appear, when we consider the Ten Commandments, which are so many heads of morality, exemplified in the highest acts of the kind, to which all the subordinate acts of that kind are likewise to be reduced.
(2.) As to the Commandments of the Decalogue. The foundation of morality is religion. The acknowledgment of the existence of God, and that he is a rewarder and punisher, is the foundation of religion. Now, this must be supposed antecedent to his laws, since we obey these from our innate persuasion of the Being and Justice of God. The two first commandments, therefore, are directed against two different kinds of idolatry. With respect to the first, no one can question, that it is immoral to worship a false God, since it is robbing the great God of the honour that is due to him, and exalting another thing to a rank that cannot belong to it. With respect to the second, it is no less immoral to propose the true God to be worshiped under appearances that are derogatory to his nature, and that tend to give us low thoughts of him. The reasons, too, ou which the prohibition is fonnded in Scripture, are taken from the nature of things, and therefore show that it is a moral precept. Thus, it is said, “ to whom will ye liken me.” (Is. Ix. 18.) And in this very com
a See Bishop Mant's Paraphrase on the Book of Common Prayer,
This distinction into two kinds of idolatry, is warranted by Scriptare. Thus, whep Aaron made the Golden Calf, he calls it,
thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt." (Ex. xxxii. 4, 5.) Hence, it is plain that the Jews did not then intend to worship any false God, but merely the true God under an image. Now this is confessedly the practice of the Papists; yet it is expressly called “idolatry.” -(1 Cor. x. 7.) Compare also Deut. iv. 25 and 28, where the grosser idolatry of worshiping a false Deity, is inflicted as a punishment on the less heinous kind of image wor
mand the reason assigned is, his jealousy of giving his honour to another. This precept, therefore, is perpetually obligatory.
The third precept is against false swearing, (in which sense the word vain is frequently used in Scripture.) The morality of this command is very apparent, for since God is the God of truth, and every oath is an appeal to him, it must, therefore, be a gross wickedness to call upon him to vouch for lies.
The fourth commandment cannot be called moral in the first or highest sense, since no reason can be given from the nature of things why the seventh, more than any other day, should be applied to the service of God. But it is moral that a man should pay homage to his Maker, and since sensible objects are apt to wear better things out of our thoughts, it is necessary that some solemn time should be set apart for meditating on this subject. This time should be universal, as otherwise the engagements of some men might interfere with the devotions of others; it should have such an eminent character upon it, as a cessation from business, both to awaken curiosity and give opportunity for meditation; and it must not return too often, so as to interrupt our avocations, nor too seldom, lest the impressions of religion should be worn out. The exact proportion of time, however, is known only to God. It is evident, also, that no breach is made in the good or moral design of this law, by transferring the celebration of it to the first day of the week,a so that even a less occasion than our Lord's resurrection, and a less authority than the Apostles, would have been sufficient to authorize this alteration.
These four commandments constituting the first table, have been reduced to three in the Roman Catholic Catechisms, on the ground, that the first and second relate to the same subject. But there is a great difference between them; much more than between the coveting our neighbour's wife, and the coveting his house. These are plainly two distinct acts of the same species, as in Exodus, the house is put before the wife, and stands for the whole substance, which is afterwards branched out into particulars. There is, therefore, no reason for their separating this into two precepts.
Considered in the character of a member of society, a man has four kinds of property, his
* It should be observed, that the blessing is annexed to the institution of the Sabbath itself, not to the day on which it was held. “ The Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Ex. xx. 11. See Dwight's Theol. ser. 105.
b It is not improbable that the Jewish Sabbath was held on the day preceding that of its first institution in Paradise. If this be true, we observe the original Sabbath. See Jenning's Jew. Ant. v. 2. p. 146. Ed. 1766.
person, his wife and family, his goods, and his reputation. In each of these, he is secured by a negative precept against killing, adultery, stealing, and bearing false witness, to which, as the chief acts of their kind, are to be reduced all those of a similar nature, such as injuries to a man's person, every temptation to uncleanness, all acts of injustice, and all defamation. Besides these, there are also two laws to secure the performance of them, which constitute an exterior and an interior fence, the one regarding men's conduct, the other their thoughts. Thus, the fifth commandment enforces obedience to the heads of families, and by implication, to the civil powers which preside in the country; and the tenth restrains the inward desires, which if uncontrolled, might lead men to commit a breach of morality in order to gratify them. The latter is only a moral precept in the second order, for St. Paul says, “ he had not known it to be a sin, if it had not been for the law that forbids it." (Rom. vii. 7.)
(3.) This law is obligatory on Christians. Our Saviour expressly declared, that “ he came not
The object of Christ's coming was to atone for the violation of the moral law by Adam and his posterity. Had he, therefore, annulled that law, he should have contradicted the design of his coming, since an abrogated law cannot be violated, and he should, consequently, have no objects to intercede for.