« AnteriorContinuar »
ciples of the scholastic divinity, and were zealous admirers of the law of nature, or moral law; and they were too
dy to appeal to it almost as a superior authority for the decision of matters relating to the holy Scriptures. They attributed too much to that law; they included much in the law of nature, which nature never taught, and much in the moral, which unassisted reason never knew. So far as these laws—of nature and moral law—or, more properly speaking, this law (for they are one and the same) was known to the heathens, it was not learned entirely from unassisted reason, but originally taught, by divine revelation, to their ancestors before their alienation from God, and had been handed down as moral precepts from generation to generation. And among Christians, reason borrowed a purer system from the Bible, or from habitual principles, which revelation had spread, and with which it had imperceptibly leavened the mass of morals even of unbelievers; and reason, in the plenitude of its pride, endeavoured to pass the stolen plumes as its own. I acknowledge the office of reason in examining the evidences of revelation, both internal and external: and I would allow what might be called the law of nature in the mind of such a man as Sanderson-instructed as he was in divine revelation and directed by the Holy Spirit--to sift the Mosaic code, and say what laws are moral and of perpetual obligation. But I cannot agree with him, that the mere law of nature and of reason, entirely exclusive of revelation, and which, in its unassisted state, was guilty of such monstrous contradictions, absurdities, and idolatries—I cannot admit this law as a rule to discriminate between moral and ceremonial laws. The reason of a heathen or of a Mahommedan would be incapable of forming such a decision until he had gained a general knowledge of christian principles.* By what rule, then, are we to sift and sort and discriminate the Mosaic law? I answer : Reason-refined, purified, and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, informed by a general knowledge of holy Scripture, — with renewed sense and taste and feeling of divine matters,—can bring the general tenor of the Scriptures and the concentrated spirit of revelation to bear upon any doubtful passage or any doubtful law, and make the whole a commentator or interpreter of the part. Such a reason, in his own excellent mind, Sanderson mistook for the law of nature. And by his rule, true in itself, although theoretically mixed with a false principle, he accepts the decalogue as binding on the conscience of a Christian. He excepts no part; he does not, with unauthorised hand, put in his scissars, and cut out the fourth commandment; but he receives the whole. And yet this is one of the witnesses produced by his Grace for the abolition of the sabbath.
* Cato's moral law ennobled suicide.
Some of our authors endeavour to disprove the permanency of the sabbath, on the grounds that the law of nature,—the moral law, the perpetual law,- is unchangeable, and cannot be dispensed with ; whereas, say they, the sabbath can be dispensed with, and therefore is not a part of the law of nature, or unchangeable law.
Thus Heylyn instances the laborious works performed by the priests on the sabbath, as a proof that it could not have been a moral law, ' and every part thereof of the same condition. I have shown before that the spirit of the law was not transgressed or dispensed with by those works. But supposing it was; he might set aside the other commandments in the same way. Let us take the sixth as an example,—“ Thou shalt do no murder," or literally,
66 Thou shalt not kill.” Was not this commandment dispensed with or suspended, when the Israelites invaded the land of Canaan, and were ordered (Deut. xx. 16) to “ save nothing alive that breatheth," and to put to death all the women
and children? Was it not dispensed with when, in 1 Sam. xv. 3, Saul was ordered to smite Amalek, and to 6 slay both man and woman, infant and suckling ?" The Jews were allowed, nay, commanded, to put malefactors to death; and fathers were ordered, (Deut. xxi. 18,) if their sons should be rebellious, to bring them to the elders, and accuse them, and they were to be stoned. In the 1 Kings xviii., Elijah put four hundred and fifty of the prophets of Baal to death, at the Brook Kishon. Were all these persons guilty of a breach of the sixth commandment, or did it cease to be moral because it was dispensed with, and was not of universal obligation ?* In Lev. xxiv. 13-16, are particular directions and injunctions for stoning the blasphemer; and yet, in the very next verse (17) it is said, “ He that killeth any man, shall surely be put to death.”
Supposing that Abraham had offered up his son Isaac, at the express command of God, would the command to Noah have ceased to be moral? Did Abraham hesitate against obedience to the command to sacrifice his son, pleading the law of nature, or the commandment to Noah, or the continued revelation which had been vouchsafed to himself ?
The only true and valid foundation of law, is the will and command of God. What is called the law of nature, is a more remote method of determining that will, viz. by observing the constitution of man, and gleaning the few scattered maxims of general tradition. But what are these compared with the direct commands of God?
But my readers will say that I have dwelt longer on the subject of the law of nature than its present estimation in public opinion either requires or warrants; and therefore I dismiss it.
* On the principles of our opponents, we may argue that, because miracles have suspended and dispensed with the laws of nature, which govern the universe, therefore they are no laws of nature !
WHETHER THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT BE A MORAL OR.
A POSITIVE PRECEPT.
ATTEMPTS have frequently been made by the opponents of the sabbath, down to the Archbishop of Dublin, to make a distinction between the moral and positive laws of God. It becomes necessary
us, therefore, in order to remove their objections, to consider this distinction, whether real or supposed. In this question, the expression 66 Moral laws,
» is taken as meaning the laws of nature in Bramhall's first sense, as regards the end ; laws being called moral which regulate (mores) the manners of men; and our opponents condemn the sabbath, on the plea that it is only a positive command of God. They suppose the moral laws to be of their own nature beneficial to mankind; but the positive laws to have been enacted without any such view, or, indeed, without any decided use or object. And they think human reason competent to decide,—what laws are to be considered positive-how long they are to be observed,-and when to be laid aside as obsolete. They think that there is every motive and every sanction for observing the moral law; but that the obligation of the positive law depends solely upon the arbitrary command of the lawgiver. And the conclusion they draw from this distinction is worse than the distinction itself; for they look upon it as an established rule, that to prove, or even pronounce, or assert a law to be positive, divests it at once of all claim on conscience for its observance.
Bramhall says that, . Supposing the observance of the sabbath to have been commanded at the creation, it was only a positive law, and might be dispensed with, and is no part of the law of nature.' Now we doubt very much, whether there be any one of those, which he calls the laws of nature, which may not be dispensed with by the supreme Lawgiver and Governor of the world. We admit that the law of the sabbath may be dispensed with, or altogether abrogated, by the express command of God. But granting this, we say that a law ought to be repealed or abolished with equal formalities to those by which it was enacted. It proves nothing to show that there was a power of repeal: this no one doubts. The question is, whether that power were exercised; whether the law were repealed by the same formalities, or repealed at all ? And I think we have seen sufficient proofs that it has not been abrogated.
The Archbishop of Dublin, alluding to a former essay of his, says, page 6, • The opinion, that Christians are bound to the hallowing of the Lord's-day, in obedience to the fourth commandment, goes to nullify all that I have there urged, since it implies that there is a part at least of the Mosaic law binding on Christians : I should say the whole ; for, since the fourth commandment is evidently not a moral, but a positive precept, (it being in itself indifferent, antecedent to any command, whether a seventh day, or a sixth, or an eighth be observed,) I cannot conceive how the consequence can be avoided that “we are debtors to keep the whole law," ceremonial as well as moral. The dogma of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster-(in their Confession of Faith)—that the observance of the sabbath is part of the moral law, is, to me, utterly unintelligible. Yet, unless we assent to this, adopting some such sense of the term “moral," as it is difficult even to imagine, I do not see on what principle we can consistently admit the