Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

so far

danger of being betrayed, than if left to themselves. Those who have not reason enough for this, must be governed by other methods. It is certain that general errors have been perpetuated by traditionary instruction, as well as general truths; but if an end must for this reason be put to all instruction, what single thing of use can be preserved in life? Must the world be starved, because some have suffered by intemperance? or left in ignorance, because some, through false teachers, have been miserably deceived ? But the strougest objections lie against the use of correction in matters of religion. All allow the magistrate to punish crimes which injure the state, or private persons; a concession not to be despised in behalf of religion, since our duty to God and to our neighbor so concurs that he who punishes offences offered to men, will punish vice and immorality. Hence the plea for excluding the magistrate from matters of religion can only affect such cases where the honor of God alone is concerned, as profaneness, impiety, and the like. The reason assigned for this is, that human punishments cannot make men religious : they can make men comply outwardly with the law, but cannot reach to the purifying their hearts, in the integrity of which the virtue of religion consists. But, first, it ought to be considered that such impiety is prejudicial to the public, by the contagion of ill example. The reverence men have for God is the best foundation of obedience to temporal governors : this point enlarged on, with the ill consequences of taking away this reverence for God. But, secondly, it is want of the knowlege of human nature, which leads men to make this objection : for though it is true that the sinner who abstains from vice through fear of temporal punishment, cannot be said to act on a religious principle in so doing; yet we must consider the consequence which punishments produce. If you keep a sinner from vice at first through fear, he will by degrees habitually do well; his relish for vice will abate, and by length of practice

he will take pleasure in virtue. We see that this is the case with children. And will it be said, that when a man is

grown to be habitually virtuous, he has no true religion in him, because he was reclaimed at first by temporal fears? If not, it must be allowed that these fears are not destructive of religion. Enough has been said to show, and also to justify the means necessary to be used in discharging the duty recommended in the text; it remains to exhort every one to do his part, and to make all, as far as he is able, keep the way of the Lord, and do justice and judgment. And first, the magistrate is to be watchful over the manners of the people, and jealous for the honor of God. In this consists the stability of nations; for righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is the reproach of the people. This case descends from the supreme head of justice to every officer of the kingdom, in proportion to his power. But leaving this part of the exhortation, it is to be added that private men, though vested with no public authority, can do much by showing themselves pleased that others should do their duty. Next to the magistrate, the chief care of virtue and religion lies on fathers and masters of families. The kingdom is one great family, which is made up of the small ones; in which if care be taken for the instruction of youth, the public will soon see and feel the happy effects of it: this point enlarged on, first, with respect to the duty which we owe to God, who, if they perish, will require their souls at our hands: secondly, with respect to our country, which is deeply concerned that its youth should be trained up to virtue and industry; else how can we hope to see the nation supplied with honest and worthy men ? thirdly, with respect to our children, whom we have brought into the world, and whom we are obliged, by the strongest ties of natural affection, to guard against the certain miseries of this life and of the next: this point enlarged on. What strong obligations then are parents under to be diligent in the discharge of this duty! and what happy days might we promise ourselves, did the

performance answer to the obligations! In many cases ignorance and poverty preclude the performance; hence the institution of public schools, maintained by contributions for the instruction and education of the poor ; calculated to promote nobler views than those of private interest to any one set of men, and tending directly to the public good. The passions of men considered, it is not to be expected that those who are permitted to go wild in their youth, should prove harmless, much less useful to society in after years. Necessity is a great temptation to wickedness; and when they have nothing but their corrupt affections to direct them, how can they withstand these temptations? Idle and undisciplined boys often prove vicious young men, and fall a sacrifice to the severity of the law before they become old ones. Thieves and robbers must be punished, or the innocent will be ruined: is it not then a reproach to a Christian country, that great care should be taken to punish crime, and little or none to prevent it? yet this is the case where the instruction of the poor is neglected. This mischief is in some measure provided for by the charity-schools; and, thus the rich are saved from the violence of wicked necessitous men; the poor from wickedness and its punishments; and so many useful hands are gained to the public. But farther, the peace of the church is thus also provided for; an end which every sincere Christian must take pleasure in promoting: the consequent happiness obtained by such an education, must give us an idea of its usefulness, and encourage us in its support. If every gift thus bestowed shall have its reward, how abundantly shall the charity be recompensed which serves all these purposes at once ! This point enlarged on : concluding exhortations.

DISCOURSE LXIII.

GENESIS, CHAP. XVIII.--VERSE 19,

For I know him, that he will command his children, and his house

hold after him ; and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring on Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.

6

The words of the text are the words of the Lord concerning Abraham, the father of the faithful; and they contain the reason why the Lord made choice of Abraham, to distinguish him from the rest of the world, to make of him a great and mighty nation,' a nation to whom should be committed the oracles of God.' Abraham,' says the Lord in the verse before the text, “shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.'

It has been matter of great difficulty with curious inquirers to assign the reasons of God's particular regard to Abraham and his posterity, to whom he made himself known in a very particular manner; whilst the rest of the nations of the earth were permitted to continue in ignorance and superstition. I intend not to examine all the reasons that have, or may be assigned for this dispensation of providence; but since God himself has been pleased to give one reason for his particular regard to Abraham, it highly concerns us to consider it, as holding forth to us the very best instruction by what means we may render ourselves acceptable to God, and draw down a blessing on ourselves and our posterity: ‘Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the . earth shall be blessed in him : for I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; VOL. III,

L

SHERL,

that the Lord may bring on Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.'

You see now the connexion of the text with the verse that goes before it, and the reason given for the distinguishing mercy bestowed on Abraham: God saw that Abraham would so rule and govern his children and his household, as to make them keep the way of the Lord, and do justice and judgment; and therefore he determined to raise him into a great and mighty nation. This reason is plainly founded on these two propositions, and supposes the truth of them, viz.-first, that it is the duty of every father and master of a family so to command his children and household that they shall keep the way of the Lord; and, secondly, that the same duty is incumbent on the governors and magistrates of all nations. If you suppose that the virtue commended in Abraham is proper only to fathers and masters of families, and has no relation to the duty of a public magistrate, the reason given in the text for making Abraham ' a great and mighty nation’ is a very absurd one ; for if the magistrate has nothing to do to command the observance of the ways of the Lord, Abraham's disposition so to govern and command could be no reason for making him the head of a great nation : nay, it would rather be a very good reason to keep all public authority out of his hands : for if the magistrate transgresses the limits of his authority, whenever he uses his authority for the preservation of religion, to raise a man to be the head of a nation because you foresee he will so use his authority, is to raise him to be a magistrate because you foresee he will transgress the limits of his commission. Since then God has declared that he raised Abraham to be a great nation, because he foresaw that he would command those under his authority to keep the way of the Lord, he has at the same time declared it to be the duty of every magistrate so to command and govern the nation, the great family committed to his care, that the ways of the Lord, that justice and judgment may be observed.

It has been matter of great dispute whether government is derived from the paternal authority, and is only the extension of it, or from the consent and choice of the people : a point of greater curiosity than use; since the rights of nations will be

« AnteriorContinuar »