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Thus adultery, for example, in one of the elect, though it appear sinful in the sight of men, and be considered universally as an enormous violation of the divine law, yet is not a sin in the sight of God, because it is one of the essential and distinctive characters of the elect, that they cannot do any thing either displeasing to God, or prohibited by the law."
Heathenism has produced nothing equal to this, which confounds every distinction of right and wrong, of virtue and vice, and converts into a virtue, when practised by one denomination of men, that which, when perpetrated by others, is universally reprobated as an atrocious crime.
Without proceeding, however, to the horrors of Antinomianism, many, totally misunderstanding the nature and effects of faith, as taught in the New Testament, seem to have contracted an aversion from the terms morality and virtue, and to have placed every thing essential to salvation in the mere act of faith, as wholly residing in the understanding, or rather, as implying a blind assent, an implicit confidence in the Saviour's merits, without either knowing the grounds of their
a See Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, in Dr. Maclaine's Translation, Cent. xvii. sect. 2, part 2. Crisp was a flaming doctor of this extravagant and pernicious sect. Baxter and Tillotson distinguished themselves by their zeal against them, and they were also completely refuted by Dr. Williams, in his famous book entitled, Gospel Truth stated and vindicated. Ibid. in the note, p. 535, vol. iv. 8vo. edition.
belief, at least in any rational manner, or comprehending the scheme of doctrines which they profess, or regulating their hearts and lives by the precepts of the gospel. They suppose that they honour Christ by relinquishing their reason, "the candle of the Lord;" glorify God by contemning his laws; and prove their zeal for religion by undervaluing its most salutary effects. Hence, the professed contempt of such persons for moral men, moral discourses, and moral preachers. I grant, indeed, that Christian morality rests on very different principles, and is enforced by motives very different from those suggested by mere ethics, or even by natural religion; and that Christian preachers sometimes overlook this peculiarity of gospel practice. The doctrines of our holy faith should furnish the foundation of its precepts, as, far as these are peculiarly characterized by the new circumstances in which Christians are placed by their profession, and suggest the grand enforcements of their obligations, which are infinitely more comprehensive and exalted than those dictated by the mere light of nature. With these qualifications, our Saviour and his apostles were of all men the most moral, because the most upright and holy; of all discourses, theirs breathed the purest spirit of virtue; and they preached that kingdom
a Prov. xx. 27.
of God which is righteousness, that is, morality; and is accompanied by "peace and joy in the Holy Ghost."
From the preceding discussion on the nature and effects of saving faith, it clearly appears that there are two fatal extremes, in regard to this subject, into which men are apt to run; that of placing religion in " faith without works, which is dead ;" and that of confiding for salvation on our own righteousness, which is "as filthy rags.' The former blasts and destroys, in the blossom, all the fruits of pure religion in preparing us for heaven by a course of virtue and holiness on earth. The latter overturns the foundation of Christianity, the necessity of a Saviour, and the corruption of man, and breaks the main spring of every thing truly excellent in our present state of degeneracy,-exalted notions of the divine law, and reliance on God, even for our imperfect obedience.
Those who confide in faith, to the exclusion of good works, may be compared to persons who should continually praise the excellence of a fruit-tree which never bore fruit. Those who exalt virtue and good works, to the exclusion of faith, as their stock, may be compared to such as having gathered some fruit of good relish should hew down the tree that produced it. The fruit
a Rom. xiv. 17.
b James ii. 17, 20.
c Isaiah lxiv. 6.
must prove the goodness of the tree, and the tree of faith is that only which can produce the "fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."a
The faith of a Christian is illumined by the Father of lights," directs the believer in the paths of everlasting life, and "shines in his good works before men, that others seeing them, may glorify his Father which is in heaven." "What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."
COMPARATIVE VIEW OF CHRISTIAN ETHICS AND OF OTHER MORAL SYSTEMS.
It has been pretended that, however pure Christian morality may be, it can claim on this account no preeminent distinction, because its precepts are founded in human nature, and are such as have been inculcated by almost every form of religion, and every human system of morals.
I grant that Christian morality is dictated by right reason, at least is perfectly conformable to
its suggestions, and must be approved by every enlightened mind. But is it on this account less admirable? Or can it be with justice asserted, that almost every religion has prescribed a moral code equally salutary? The contrary of this assertion will appear from the comparative view which I am now to exhibit.
It is an undoubted and melancholy fact, that the most civilized nations of pagan antiquity adopted and practised moral principles deeply tainted by that ignorance of religious matters in which they were involved. There is such an intimate connexion between religion and morals, that if the former is false, it is impossible that the latter can be pure. Accordingly, we find many nations so completely confounding every notion of right and wrong, as to make them depend entirely on established laws and customs; and how many wicked laws, how many barbarous or indecent customs, have prevailed in different ages and countries! Even the best systems of jurisprudence can never be regarded as furnishing complete rules of life, because they comprehend not either our duty to God or to ourselves, and are almost entirely confined to social and civil obligations. Even with regard to these, civil laws prohibit and punish only the most flagrant violations of social and civil rights, such as murder, robbery, theft, fraud, and open calumny; and neither punish nor restrain a variety of