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may reach me as to render it my duty to devote it all to the cure of that distress.
I may have barely bread enough to feed my family; but I may hear that some family is starving near me, and may be obligated to divide that bread, which is my own, and which I may in ordinary circumstances lawfully give to my children, with that starving family. I may have with me only the raiment that can warm me, and it is my own, to be used as I wish, and still a higher law may require me to divide that covering with my neighbour.
Nor does it essentially alter the case that the misery is near me, and moves my sympathy. It may be far offi and still my perfect knowledge of its existence may render this higher law obligatory. Men need not cherish the persuasion that God makes no other claim upon their prosperity than that of being honest. Admit that this is the first claim, the second is like unto it, that we be benevolent. And how came we by the persuasion that the latter claim is not as binding as the former ? If one had an estate of fifty thousand dollars, and he owed one thousand, how could he presume to count that he has forty-nine thousand to bequeath to his children, till he had inquired whether the law of benevolence did not levy its claim to five or ten thousand dollars more, previously to his deciding what portion he might leave to his children? Or may one give his whole estate to his children, and leave them to discharge all his obligations of charity? If so, he should have educated them accordingly, and be sure, before his death, that he has a benevolent offspring, who will obey the law of love. Or is the law of benevolence more loose and undefined than the law of righteousness, a law that we may or may not fulfil? No. We are as strongly obligated to be benevolent, as to be honest. Paul would obey the statute requiring him to abstain from meat, if the salvation of his brother required it, as promptly and perfectly, as the statute of honesty, requiring him to pay for the cloak or the parchment he had purchased. Is it that the law of man has required honesty, and fixed a penalty to its violation, while the law of benevolence is a law of God, that men have made the distinction they have? I answer, the law of God binds the good man firmly as any municipal statute. When he says, To do good and to communicate forget not, the statute takes hold of the conscience of the good man equally with that municipal statute requiring him to discharge the note to which he put his hand and seal.
My life is my own, and God has made.it my duty to preserve it, but the case may happen when a higher law may obligate me to lay down my life for the good of others. It may be my duty, at the greatest risk, to attempt the rescue of others from death by fire or flood ; or there may come again a period of the church, when the good of Zion, the glory of God, and the advance of truth, may require the sacrifice of life. And this higher law must be obeyed. While the law of God allows us to provide for our own interest, there is in the same statute-book a law to this effect, • None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.” Now by what argument shall one free himself from obligations of obedience to this statute, while yet he feels the authority of that other statute in the same book, “Thou shalt not steal ?"
This making the whole of religion to consist in honesty, (we will not now stop to inquire whether the sticklers for this religion are more honest than others,) is virtually denying that there is any law of benevolence; that there is any case when God himself requires us to give back a right he has given us. And yet this is the very law that governed the apostle. God had given him a right in common with others to eat meat, and even the very meat that had been devoted to an idol, but God commanded him, if his brother's good required it, to forego this right, and abandon the very privilege that had been given him by charter and by oath.
We have here, probably, one of the most wide and glaring distinctions found among the professors of godli
There are those who obey and those who do not obey this law of benevolence. And the pretence for disobedience is, that the law is not definite. God has required me to pay that I owe; here the debt measures exactly the obligations. But the law which reads, "Lend, hoping for nothing again," leaves it doubtful how much I must lend. And that law, “Give early of thy substance to the Lord," leaves it doubtful how much we must give. And that law, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye even so to them," leaves it doubtful how much we must do from the difficulty of deciding how much we would have done. And still these statutes require us to lend and give and do, and are as obligatory as the laws of honesty. Paul determined to obey these higher requisitions, and be governed by the law of benevolence.
THE ENLIGHTENED CONSCIENCE UNBENDING.No. II.
1 Corinthians viïi. 13. If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world
To have discriminating views of the obligations of the divine law, is one of the first prerequisites to a healthful growing piety. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” The renewed heart must have a relish for obedience, as far as the rules of obedience are known. And he is the wisest believer who can discern the most accurately the bearing of the divine precepts upon the common every-day concern of human life. Perhaps it would not be asserting too much to say that in the want of this is seen the grand cause why so many professed believers are of so little use to the church of Christ. They have some general knowledge of the divine precepts, but do not take the pains they should, or have not the means that would be desirable, in learning to trace the law into its ramifications of bearing and of import. They know they should not worship idols, but do not discern when wealth, or honour, or pleasure is pursued idolatrously. They know they should not perform common labour on the Sabbath day, but do not discover exactly when their conversation or employment has become too worldly to comport with the sanctification of that holy rest. They know they should not steal, but do not discern when exactly their covetous practices or hard dealings have transcended the limits of honesty.
They know they should not lie, but how often can they be seen hovering on the very line of demarcation between falsehood and truth. They may not swear profanely, but when exactly their hasty and passionate dialect transcends the bounds of Christian soberness, they may not be very skilful to discern. The church have embosomed some whose language had all the coarseness and repulsion of profaneness, except that the name of God was not used.
Now nothing can be more desirable than that the Christian character be better purified. And this would be the sure result of a better knowledge of the spirit and extent of the divine precepts.
I proposed, in the preceding discourse, to illustrate the conduct of the apostle in the case before us, and vindicate and apply the principle on which he acted. I remarked, under the first particular, that he could not mean that one
man should make another man's conscience his guide; nor that one man's conscience should abridge another man's liberty; nor did he mean to palliate ignorance; nor that one conscience might lean in its testimony to that of other consciences.
In vindicating the principle on which the apostle acted, I observed that it evinced a deep knowledge of the obligations of the divine law. I now observe,
SECONDLY. The apostle evinced expanded benevolence. He allowed his love to the brethren to abridge his freedom. What otherwise was lawful he would not do, if it would injure them. He acted on the broad Christian principle that he was to regard in all his conduct the sanctification and salvation of his fellow-men. He must look around him, before he acted, to see on whom the influence of his example would bear, and shape his actions, and even abridge his liberties by this considera