Page images
PDF
EPUB

commandment incur the guilt of breaking all the commandments : that is, their crime is very great, and their condemnation shall be in proportion. For they, who offend but against a single precept, yet if they do it deliberately and habitually, which, you have seen, is the case here supposed, are doubtless faulty to a much greater degree, than such as offend against more, but less frequently, and without design.

Had therefore the words of the text been true only in this looser sense, they had still, considering the genius of the eastern style, been very justifiable. But indeed there is much further truth in them. For guilty of, may mean liable to; the Scripture saith, guilty of death *, as well as of sin: and then, guilty of all, may mean, liable to all the punishments denounced by the law, in his proper degree. Or though we suppose the phrase to signify, as it seems to do, guilty of breaking all the precepts of the law; still, when any person presumptuously transgresses one part, his guilt in some measure extends to the whole. For the whole of God's law is but one system, and every part of it connected with every other; so that, if any is broken, all are weakened. The whole of piety and virtue is but one disposition of mind, one uniform principle of doing what is fit: and if what is unfit may ever be done; there can be no reason assigned, why it may not always be done f. Farther yet: the lawgiver's title to command, from which the law derives its whole force, this too is one and the same throughout: and if he hath not a right to be obeyed in every article, he hath no right to be obeyed at all. The observation, that follows in the verse after the text, is perfectly just: he that said, do not commit adultery, said also, do not kill: nor is there a higher regard due to him in one case, than in the other. Whoever therefore denies the obligation of any precept, which he admits to be a precept, disowns the whole authority of God at once: for he hath not a jot more in the rest, than he hath in this; where he is allowed none *. Or if a person only refuses to obey a commandment, which he thinks is not one: yet, if his thinking so proceeds from his unwillingness to think otherwise, it may be a near approach to the same guilt: for at this rate, he may reject them all, if he dislikes them all. Nay, supposing he doth not set himself to disbelieve his duty, but is prevailed on by temptation to neglect some part; yet then, he not only might, with just as good reason, neglect every part, but probably it is from no principle of conscience, that he performs any. Attention to his interest, or want of inclination, may keep him good in most cases besides : but if the fear of God, or love of virtue, were what kept him so, one should think it would have kept him from one sin, as well as from another. And therefore he that violates any divine command, it may be feared, is guilty in the rest, which he observes, of not observing them on such grounds as he should : which, to the purposes of religion and his own future happiness, is too near akin to not observing them at all. For if an

* Matt. xxvi. 66. + The simile of Max. Tyr. diss. 31. 9 2. edit. 1740, though applied somewhat differently by him, is applicable to this purpose also. Ωσπερ γαρ εν ταις των μελων αρμονιαις, το παραλειφθεν, καν σμικρον και, διαλυει τον κοσμον το μελες, θτω καν τη το βιο αρμονια κ. τ. λ.

Aben התורה כולה הכופר בשבת כאילו כופר בבל

.of the sabbath

The Talmudists observe this particularly concerning a denial

. Esra gives the reason : for he denies the creation. Seld. de Jure Nat. et Gent. I. S. c. 10. VOL. IV.

D

action, which would otherwise be a good one, is done from a motive, that hath no good in it; this cannot be the service that God requires. And on some of these accounts perhaps it is, that Tully affirms, in words pretty like those of the text, that whoever is destitute of any one virtue, is possessed of none *.

But I would not be quite so rigid neither. There are doubtless but too many inconsistent persons, much to be pitied, and often in several particulars to be esteemed, that show a true and great regard to their duty in some things, while in others they are enticed to act very ill. These now are not the most highly faulty, but still really faulty, with respect to the whole of God's law. In those branches, which they transgress, there can be no question of their guilt: and in those, which they observe, they are guilty at least of laying in their own way grievous temptations to transgress them. For the indulgence of any sin strangely leads men at all times, and almost forces them at some times, into the commission of many more, which possibly they little thought of: till at the breach, which appeared small and harmless, there rushes in a torrent, that overwhelms every thing right in them : and thus by offending in one point, they too frequently become, in the strictest sense, guilty of allt. Their guilt, indeed, as to these latter sins, is not complete, till they have committed them: but it began, when they brought themselves

* Ecquid scis igitur-virtutem-si unam confessus sis te non habere, nullam esse te habiturum ? Tusc. Disp. lib. 2. § 13. edit. Davies. Where see other authorities in the notes. See also de Fin. 5-23.

+ Si fatereris scienter januam incendisse, si unum signum, puto, tota domus intelligeretur ex parte. Nec enim quisquam omnia incendit, sed unam aliquam partem, ex qua surgat in omnia se sparsurus ignis. Sen. Excerpt. Declan. lib. 5. controv. 5.

first into the hazard of committing them. And even should they be so happy as to escape, running into danger is no small misbehaviour.

Another fault of theirs, with respect to such parts of God's law, as they do not personally break, is, that their example of offending in some points encourages the world around them to offend in other points. For if you indulge the vice which you like, why may not they indulge the vices they like? And thus, though you are guilty of practising but one sin, you are guilty of promoting the practice of every sin; and will share in the crime, and consequently in the punishment, not only of what you directly do, but perhaps of what you abhor, because you have been the occasion of others doing it.

But there is still a sense left, and a very interesting one, in which the words of St. James are true. The royal law, that he mentions just before the text, and refers to in it, is plainly the law of the kingdom of Christ, that is, the Gospel. Now the Gospel terms of salvation are, that whoever sincerely, though imperfectly, observes the whole of its precepts, is entitled, through faith, to its forgiveness and rewards : but if a person is wilfully guilty of any one sin, so long as he continues in that state, Christ shall profit him nothing * For, even supposing him pardoned before, that pardon was but a conditional one, and cannot become absolute, till the time of his trial is

Every presumptuous transgression opens the account anew, which repentance and amendment had closed; and makes him a debtor once again, for every thing that he hath ever done amiss. Read but the parable of the unmerciful servant, in the 18th chapter of St. Matthew, and you will be perfectly satisfied of this truth. Indeed the very reason of the thing shows, that whoever performs not all the conditions of the Christian covenant, is entitled to none of the benefits of it: but though his case shall doubtless be equitably considered, and with due allowances to his former virtue or penitence, yet it shall not be considered as coming under the promises of the Gospel ; but he remains chargeable, though not with any thing he hath not done, yet with every thing he hath done. And which of God's commandments is there, that we have not, at some time, in some degree, wilfully transgressed? This therefore is a very important sense, were there no other, in which he, who offends in one point, is guilty of all.

* Gal. ii. 2.

over.

You see then, how entirely justifiable this passage of St. James appears, when well examined. And the chief things, to be remembered concerning it, are these. He doth not mean, that committing one sin makes our condition just as bad, as committing ever so many. But he may, reasonably mean, that being vicious in any respect weakens and endangers our virtue in every respect: that deliberately breaking God's law, but in one case, implies in it a denial of his authority in all cases; and not only, in just consequence, may, but daily, in fact, doth, produce an universal disregard to him, both in ourselves and others : nay, supposing the mischief to stop far short of this, yet that a failure in any single condition of the Gospel covenant precludes us from all the rewards, and in a degree proportioned to the greatness of the failure, will bring upon us all the threatenings of it. Let us therefore now consider

II. The inferences, to be drawn from the words, thus explained ; which are two.

1. Since it is neither affirmed by St. James, nor

« PreviousContinue »