« PreviousContinue »
Of debasing the true Value of Morality, under pretence of higher things, and mistaking, in great measure, the very end of Christ's coming.
Br morality, I understand virtuous living, purity of manners; that justice, temperance, truth, charity, and blameless. ness in conversation, out of conscience and duty to God and man, which may well denominate the man that lives that life, a man just, virtuous, and pious : in short, one that “ does unto all men, as be would have all men do unto him :"* This is my moral man.
It is notorious how small an estimate two sorts of people have put upon him; the profane and the professors, the publicans and the pharisees : the first despise him, as too squeamish, nice and formal; they deride his regularity, and make a jest of his preciseness. And thinking no man can be good, because they are naught, and that all must needs fall by those temptations they will not resist, they construe sobriety to be a trick to decoy mankind, and put a cheat upon the world. If they hear any one say, "Such a man is a sober and just person,' they have learned, by themselves, to call him knave; that he has a design upon somebody, by being just in little things, to cheat in things of more moment. This man is very unfashionable among men of inmoral principles ; for his very looks and life carry a reproof with them upon vicious men ; who, as if virtue were their common enemy, are in combination against the lovers and entertainers of her: the reason is, because such true virtuoso will neither do the ill things they would bave them, nor flatter them in the ill they do; and therefore where ill men have the power, good men are sure to be made the common enemy.
But the reproaches that men of morality receive at the hands of lewd men, are more their honour than their suffering: that which is most of all anxious, is, “That morality is denied to be Christianity; that virtue has any claim to grace ; and that those who glory to be called Christians, can be so partial and cruel as to renounce a mere just man their so. ciety, and send him packing among the heathen for damna. tion.' And pray what is the matter? Why! though this person be a sober liver, yet he is but a general believer; his faith is at large. It is true, he believes in God, but I hear little of his faith in Christ. Very well, does he not therefore believe in Christ? or must he therefore be without the pale of salvation ? Is it possible that a man can truly believe in God, and be damned? But as he that believes in Christ, believes in God, so he that believes in God, believes in Christ: “ For he that believes on him that raised up Jesus from the dead, his faith shall be imputed to him for righteousness;" and says Christ himself: « He that believeth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, bath everlasting life :"* has he that believes in God no interest in this expression ? But more particular is that place of the apostle to the Hebrews, vizit “For he that cometb to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Now if those who so believe can come to God, the moral man's condition is not dangerous, even in the strictest sense of the word; not only such as have a general faith of Christianity, and never adhered to any particular party, (a sense we shall anon consider) but even those who never heard the history of Christ, nor had a distinct knowledge of him, as we profess him.
* Mat. yü, 12
For it seems a most unreasonable thing, that faith in God, and keeping bis commandments should be no part of the Christian religion : but if a part it be, (as upon serious reflection who dare deny it?) then those before and since Christ's time, who never had the external law nor history, and have “ done the things contained in the law, their coir sciences not accusing, nor hearts condemning, but excusing them before God,” are in some degree concerned in the character of a true Christian. For Christ himself preached and kept his Father's commandments, and came to fulfil, and not to destroy, the law; and that not only in his own person, but † “ that the righteousness of the law might be also fulfilled in us.”
Let us but soberly consider what Christ is, and we shall the better know whether moral men are to be reckoned Christians. What is Christ, but meekness, justice, mercy, patience, charity, and virtue in perfection? Can we then deny a meek man to be a Christian; a just, a merciful, a patient, a charitable, and a virtuous man to be like Christ? "By me kings reign, and princes decree justice," || saith wisdom; yea, the “ wisdom that is from above;" so may I say here, · By Christ men are meek, just, merciful, patient, charitable, and virtuous;' and Christians ought to be distinguished by their likeness to Christ, and not their nations of Christ; by his holy qualifications, rather than their own lofty professions and invented formalities. What shall we * Rom. iv. 22, 23, 24. + John v. 24. Heb. xi. 6. Rom. viïi 4.
# Prov. vii. 15.
say then of that extravagancy which those men are guilty of, who, upon hearing a sober man commended, that is not of any great visible profession, will take upon them to cast him off with this sentence; "Tush! he is but a moral man; he knows nothing of saving grace; he may be damned for all his morality.' Nay, some have gone so far, as to say
and preach, if not print, that there are thousands of moral men in hell.'
But it is worth our while to consider, that he that sins is not saved by grace in that state, and that the virtuous man is the gracious mau; for it is the nature and end of true grace to make men so. Unanswerable is that passage of the apostle to the Romans, * “ Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncireumcision be counted for circumcision ? And shall not uncircumcision, which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.” So that he who keeps the law. of God, and abstains from the impurity of the world, is the good man, the just liver; he is the apostle's true Jew and circumcision.
Wherefore it is not ill expressed by that extraordinary man, J. Hales of Eton : . The moral man,' says he, 'is a Christian by the surer side :'
, as if he had said, speculations may fail, notions be mistaken, forms wither, but truth and righteousness will stand the test; and the man that loves them will not be moved. He tells us, 'That the fathers had that opinion of the sincerity of the life of some heathens, that they believed God bad in store for such even his saving grace, and that he would make them possessors of his everJasting kingdom.' And measuring your satisfaction by the pleasure I took in reading what the author both quotes and comments upon this subject, I will venture to transcribe him at large, whose authority ought to go as far as his reason, and he claims no more ; nor indeed does any reasonable man, since God himself seems to submit to that method of overcoming us, to wit, conviction, viz.
* Let it not trouble you,' saith he, that I intitle them to some part of our Christian faith, and therefore without scruple to be received as weak, and not to be cast forth as dead. Salvianus, disputing what faith is ; Quid est igitur credulitas vel fides ? saith, Opinor fideliter hominem Christo credere, id est, fidelem Deo esse, hoc est, fideliter Dei mandala servare. What might this faith be said he, I suppose it is nothing else, but faithfully to believe in Christ; and this is to be faithful unto God; which is nothing else but faithfully to keep the commandments of God. Not therefore only a bare belief, but the fidelity and trustiness of God's servants, faithfully accomplishing the will of our master, is required as a part of our Christian faith.
* Rom. ii. 26, 27, 28, 29. + J. Hales of Eaton, Golden Remains, of dealing with erring Christians,' pages 36, 37.
Now, all those good things which moral men by the light of nature* do, are a part of God's will written in their hearts; wherefore so far as they were conscientious in performing them (if Salvianus's reason be good) so far have they title and interest in our faith. And therefore Regulus, that famous Roman, when he endured infinite torments, rather than he would break his oath, may thus far be counted a martyr and witness for the truth. For the crown of martyrdom site not only on the heads of those who have lost their lives, rather than they would cease to profess the name of Christ; but on the head of every one that suffers for the testimony of a good conscience, and for righteousness' sake. And here I cannot pass by one very general and gross mistake of our age. For in our discourses concerning the notes of a Christian man, by what signs we may know a man to be one of the visible company of Christ, we have so tied ourselves to this outward profession, that if we know no other virtue in a man, but that he hath conned his creed by heart, let his life be never so profane, we think it argument enough for us to account him within the pale and circuit of the church. On the contrary side, let his life be never so upright, if either he be little seen in, or peradventure quite ignorant of, the mystery of Christ, we esteem of him but as dead. And those who conceive well of those moral good things, as of some tokens giving hope of life, we account but as a kind of Manichees, who thought the very earth had life in it. I must confess that I have not yet made that profi. ciency in the schools of our age, as that I could see why the second table, and the acts of it, are not as properly the parts of religion and Christianity, as the acts and observations of the first? If I mistake, then it is St. James that hath abused me; for he, describing religion by its proper acts, Or the light which comes with us into the world, and grows up
with as we are of a capacity to discern the teachings of it. Sce John i. 9. chap. viii. 12. Rom. i. 19 Ephes. v. 13. 1 John i. 7. All agree in it, as to its universality; but the beloved disciple instructs us of its original, nature and in the first chapter of his Evangelical History, deeply and clearly : they had it before Christ's coming, as may be seen Job xviii, 5, 6. chap. xxi. 17. chap. xxiv. 13. 16. Psalm xxvii. 1. 36. 9.
tells us, that “ Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted of the world.” So that the thing wbich is an especial refined dialect of the new Christian language, signifies nothing but morality and civility, that, in the language of the Holy Ghost, imports true religion. Thus far J. Ħales.
He hath said so well on this account, that there is little need I should say any more ; yet let me add thus much : did men mind the language of the Holy Ghost more than their own conceits, they would not style those mere moral men, in a way of disgrace, who are not of their persuasion : it would suffice, that those that “ fear God and work righteousness in all nations are accepted of him;" that Christ himself had said,* “ he that doth the will of my Father which is in heaven, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven;" and of them that work iniquity, “ Depart from me, I know you not.”
My friends, let us not deceive ourselves; “ God will not be mocked; such as we sow. we shall certainly reap.”+ The tree is known by its fruits, and will be judged according to its fruits. “ The wages of sin is death :'men will find it so; and every man shall receive his reward suitable to his work. For people to talk of special grace, and yet be carried away by common temptations; to let pride, vanity, covet. ousness, revenge, &c. predominate, is provoking to God : but to conceit that the righteous God will indulge his people in that latitude which he condemns in other men, is abominable. It is sanctification that makes the saint, and self-denial that constitutes the Christian ; and not filling our heads, and elevating our fancies, by applying those promises to ourselves, which, as yet, we have no interest in, though we may think they belong to nobody else : this spiritual flattery of ourselves is most pernicious. I cannot but say, with the apostle,|| " It is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, jew nor gentile (this nor the other thing) but the new creature, created after Christ Jesus in holiness : for without holiness no man shall ever see the Lord.” And what is holiness, but abstaining from wickedness? And what is that, but keeping the law of God? have they that love thy law,” said David, that had known the trouble of breaking it: therefore it is that " grace and truth are come by Jesus Christ,” to help us to fulfil the law, not to excuse our disobedience to the law: and what before • Acts X. 34, 35. Mat. vii. + Gal. vi. Mat. vii. Rom. vi. 23.
# Rom. ii. 29. Gal. vi. 17. Heb. xii. 14,
Psalm cxix. Psalın clav. John i. 16, 17.
« Great peace