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ing, in the light of its fundamental principles, is therein devolved upon us, as a matter of most sacred obligation, and that this is the method in conformity to wbich specific forms of duty are chiefly taught in the scriptures.
4. It has already been shown that a large proportion of the particular precepts, of the bible, if regarded as formal rules, to which a literal conformity is at all times to be rendered, are either totally devoid of meaning, or will lead us into the grossest absurdities, not to say crimes. Thus regarded not a few of them stand in palpable contradiction to each other: as for example, "Answer a fool according to his folly," and "answer not a fool according to his folly. Also, "Judge not;" and "Ye shall know them by their fruits." "Judge righteous judgment.” Now by what rules shall we interpret such pre cepts, so that they will become to us, what they were designed to be, intelligent principles of action? a question of infinite moment to every honest enquirer in respect to the real demands of the law of duty. We answer, when any specific precept is given, as falling under the great law of love, and as indicating a particular application of that law, the former can become an intelligent principle of action to us, only as it is placed in the light of the latter, and explained, in all its applications, by a careful reference to it. The precept, for example, "Give to him that asketh of thee,” indicates to us, that there is a class of individuals whose necessities the law of love requires us to relieve, when we have the ability and opportunity to do it. When a particular petitioner for charity presents himself to us, how shall we know whether he does or does not belong to the class under consideration? If on proper enquiry, we find him to be really necessitous, and that the ends of benevolence will be met, by bestowing according to his requests, the precept under consideration, binds us. . Otherwise not. Thus when placed in the light of the great law of love, the precept becomes to us a sacred, as well as rational principle of action.
We all know that a certain form of reply to a manifestation of folly would indicate, that in our judgment, the manifestation proceeded from true wisdom, and thus tend to render the subject wise in his own conceit, as well as induce corresponding folly in ourselves, an end which benevolence prohibits our intending. Another and different form of reply is equally adapted to convict him of his folly, and thus induce him to abandon it, a result at which the law of love requires us to aim. The former is the form of answer prohibited in the precept, (answer not a fool according to his folly," while the latter is included in the opposite requirements.
An individual is before me whose real character it concerns me to understand. With a sincere and honest intention of knowing the man as he is, I make a careful induction of all the facts pertaining to the case within my reach, and draw conclusions accordingly. This is the very course which justice and benevolence require me to take in the premises. This then is the form of judgment referred to by our Savior,when be requires us to “know men by their fruits,” and to “judge righteous judgment.” On the other hand, suppose that that judgment is based upon a careless, partial or prejudiced induction, the principle in conformity to which men commonly judge one another. I have perpetrated an act falling under the prohibition, “ Judge not that ye be not judged." Thus, when placed in the light of the all-comprehensive law of justice and benevolence, all particular precepts, even those which would otherwise involve palpable contradictions, are blended into harmonious and most rational principles of action. Thus contemplated and applied also, that law renders beautifully harmonious and luminous, the entire system of duty revealed in the scriptures, throwing, at the same time, its hallowed light over the vast sphere of moral obligation. No individual can become a wise and prudent interpreter of the moral law, until he distinctly understands and carefully applies the principle of interpretation now under consideration.
5. The question has no doubt risen in the minds of not a few of our readers, are none of the precepts of the moral law, as given in the bible, to be regarded as rules of action de manding formal obedience in strict and literal conformity to such precepts interpreted according to the obvious import of the language in which they are expressed? We answer, there are many such precepts recorded in the scriptures. Among these we notice as examples, the numerous class of prohibitions. Such precepts generally mark out and limit certain spheres of action, all access to which is designed to be barred, Strict literal conformity to them is therefore demanded of us. So when the observance of special ordinances are required, such as baptism and the Lord's supper, literal conformity to such precepts, as far as conformity is specified, is of course required. Similar conformity also to the spirit of all inspired precepts of every kind, together with all forms of duty seen to be such in the light of such precepts, all honest minds will regard as sacredly binding upon the conscience.
Whether, and how far any particular precept is to be regarded as an external rule to which formal obedience is required, or a principle in the light of which the particular forms of duty demanded in particular relations and circumstances are revealed, the mind under the influence of heart-integrity will seldom be at a loss to determine.
6. It may not be unimportant, nor uninstructive, to notice here the manner in which dishonest minds, who still acknowledge themselves bound to yield obedience to what God requires of them in the scriptures, free themselves from the presó sure of conviction in respect to forms of duty which they are determined not to discharge. They shelter themselves at once behind the Bible, anà demand a specific command naming the particular act, and requiring it of all men as a duty. It is perfectly vain to show them that the spirit of every precept of the moral law demands it of them. No, they say, show us the particular precept, naming this identical thing as duty, and we are ready to perform it. In connection with such demand, they will very likely profess great reverence for the bible, and a hearty willingness to do all that it requires. This they refuse to perform, for the exclusive reason that it is no where required of them in the sacred volume. Now what such persons need to convince them of duty, and as a consequence, to induce them to perform it, is not the revelation of a specific command, but the possession of an honest heart. In their present state, if such precept should be presented, they would then show as reckless a disregard for the letter, as they now do for the spirit of the divine law. The world presents no other exhibitions of more manifest, deep-seated and heartless depravity, than is visible in such examples as these. The demand of a specific precept, as the condition of obedience, is the common shield for the conscience, on the part of all apostates from the law of duty.
7. We are now prepared to explain more particularly than we have yet done, the meaning of such declarations as the following, declarations which we meet with in the scriptures in relation to the divine law. “ Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” “By thy precepts I get understanding." "I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation." &c. No individual regulates his conduct by the light, but by the objects revealed to his mind by the light. What light is to all objects revealed to the mind by it, the law of God, when rightly apprehended, is to all particular forms of duty devolved upon us in the va. ried circumstances and relations of life. As an indwelling light in the intelligence, it reveals and makes manifest such forms, as the circumstances and relations involving them come before the mind. But the law becomes such a light to that mind only which profoundly meditates upon its nature and endlessly diversified applications. As it is by a profound study of the principles of any science, that the mind acquires a facility in solving every variety of problems and practical questions, the solution of which depends upon the application of those principles, so wisdom and understanding, in solving questions of practical duty, can be obtained only by meditation deep and profound upon the divine statutes and judgments, in other words, upon the principles of the law of duty revealed in the scriptures. In meditating more profoundly than others upon the divine testimonies, the Psalmist acquired greater theoretical and practical understanding of the law of duty than all his teachers, yes than the ancients even who had gone before him. The highest form of wisdom and knowledge, as we have before said, to which an intelligent being can attain, is an enlarged understanding of the nature and applications of the great law of duty. The individual however that would attain to an "understanding of the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God," that would "understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity, yea every good path,” must“cry after knowledge, and lift up his voice for understanding." He must“'seek for her as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures.” He must “ look into the perfect law of liberty, and continue therein." He must make the study of that law the hallowed dwelling-place of his soul.
9. Another very important thought, as it appears to us, here presents itself, to wit: one great object of the Most High, in revealing the law of duty in such a manner that it should be come to the mind who rightly apprehends it, an indwelling light, in the sense above explained. It is to render the subject wise to discern what is in itself fit and proper, in other words, duty, in the varied circumstances and relations in which himself and other intelligent beings may be placed, or in the language of inspiration, to render the children of God every where, a "wise and understanding people,” and that in reference to the highest form of wisdom possible to intelligent beings. Had the law been given in the form of mere rules, Do light would be shed from it, upon what is in itself “just, lovely, and of good report.” But now its hallowed influence upon the mind is chiefly visible in rendering it of “ quick up
derstanding," to discern, in any given circumstances and relations what is intrinsically demanded therein by equity, justice, truth and benevolence.
10. Hence we notice another principle of equal importance to that above suggested. It is the direction which questions of duty should take in the varied circumstances and relations in which from time to time we find ourselves. The solution of such questions is, as we have already remarked, commonly sought, if reference is had to the Bible at all, by referring to the scriptures for some particular precept giving us specific directions in each particular case. Now this, as it appears to us, is a great mistake. God designs that intelligent beings shall act from a sacred regard to what is in itself fit, proper, just, and benevolent in given circumstances and relations. He has given his law, as we have seen, as an internal light to render the mind quick to discern what in such circumstances, and relations is demanded by “righteousness, and judgment, and equity.” The direction then which all ordinary questions of duty should take is this. What, in the circumstances and relations supposed, is intrinsically demanded by “righteousness, judgment, equity?” Reference should be had to the Bible, not for specific precepts formally prescribing what is duty in the particular case, but for light upon this one great question. Every question of duty thus solved will, ever after, be to the mind, an additional light in the solution of other, and similar, or even different questions. "To understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity,” it should be remembered, is, not to know merely whatis commanded, but what is in itself right, just, and equitable. To be righteous ourselves, implies action from respect to what is in itself right, just, and equitable. In the solution of all ordinary questions of duty, therefore, it should be our fundamental aim to understand what, in the circumstances is demanded by the great law of rectitude, as in itself right and just.
11. The real meaning of our Savior, in the declaration, If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light,” will now very readily occur to our readers. The single eye implies a state of full and entire voluntary harmony with the great law of duty, in other words, that the supreme controlling intention of the mind, in respect to all subjects, is to un derstand perfectly what our duty is, for the purpose of fully meeting ils demands. The important truth taught by our Savior is, that wherever this state of mind exists, all particular forms of action devolved upon us as duties, will then be dis