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Some of our moral philosophers, and our divines, have endeavoured to establish principles of moral obligation exclusive of the aid of Revelation, such as universal benevolence, moral sense, expediency, the eternal fitness of things, &c. &c. It is sufficient to mention these for the purpose of understanding some of the objections urged by opponents of the sabbath, who take upon them to try the sabbath and its permanency by the law of nature, a light, at best, obscurely dim. And if they cannot find it founded in that law, they deny its permanent obligation.
Bramhall raises two questions which concern the sabbath. 1st. Whether the law of nature, which is properly the moral law, prescribes to all mankind the sanctification of this or that seventh day in particular, or any seventh day in the week indefinitely. 2ndly. If the law of nature do not prescribe it, whether it were imposed on mankind by any positive law of God.'
As to the first, he says, A law may be called moral from the end, as it regulates the manners of men. In this sense, both the sabbath and Lord's-day are moral laws.'
A law may be called moral from its duration,—when not made on temporary respects, not alterable according to various exigencies of times or persons. A perpetual law is a moral law, although it be not a precept of the law of nature. In this respect the law of the sabbath was a moral law to the Jews, because it was perpetual so far as regarded them, and to last as long as their polity, and therefore called a perpetual covenant, (Exod. xxxi. 16, 17,) a sign between God and them for ever.'
The moral law, in the most strict and proper sense, signifies the law of nature, that is, the dictate of right reason. In this respect the sabbath is a moral law, because the law of nature prescribes that a particular day be set apart for the worship of God; and in pursuance thereof
the positive law of God, or of the church, doth set apart one day in seven.' He says also, that the law of nature is of perpetual obligation, common to all men, and cannot be dispensed with.' He then goes fully into the question of the moral law. But as I do not rest any part of my case on the moral law, as it means the law of nature, or submit the question to its jurisdiction, it is unnecessary to quote any farther. I beg to refer those who wish to go farther into its consideration to the author himself. He concludes (page 911) that because the grounds of the sabbath are not moral and perpetual, the law of the sabbath was no law of nature.'
The law of nature may be made a convenient engine for the infidel to attack the bible. But I write not for infidels, -I appeal not to the only law they pretend to acknowledge,-I write for all denominations of Christians. The sabbath is not neutral but common ground,—it is friendly, and therefore pleasant ground, on which all Christians can meet together as friends and as brethren. And here we are, all met together, and in the name of all I solemnly protest against the laws of God being made subject to the revision, decision, sanction, or approbation, of a court presided over by the natural man, who receiveth not the
things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them :" (1 Cor. ii. 14:) "and by the carnal mind which is enmity against God, which is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." And at the same time, while we are all met together, I protest against the sabbath-day being separated from the Lord'sday, and cast out as a decayed branch. And I protest against the union and identity of both being removed from the basis of an authority which all acknowledge, and placed on the confined basis of any particular church.
Baxter raises a question, How far we are bound by the
decalogue?" which he answers thus:- 1. As it is the law of nature;-2. As owned by Christ and made part of his law; 3. As it was a law of God to the Jews, [Israelites,] and was given to them upon a reason common to them with us, or all mankind. We must still judge that it was once a divine determination of what is most meet, and an exposition of the law of nature.'
My readers will please to recollect, that I have not quoted any human authorities upon the subject of the sabbath, except either those who are decided opponents of the sabbath, or those who have been summoned as witnesses, and recommended as authorities, by the Archbishop of Dublin, in support of his side of the question. In the latter class is Sanderson, whose opinion on this part of our case is not altogether in his Grace's favour.-See Sanderson's 'Cases of Conscience,' vol. ii. p. 215, on the subject of 'The Adequate Rule of the Conscience defined.'
Sanderson says, 'We are sensible that the holy writings contain precepts of a very different nature. Some respect the moral, others the ceremonial law. Some are common, and universally oblige; others are limited to a peculiar nation, to a person, or to a particular order of men. Some are to continue for a time; others are of perpetual obligation. Some are delivered by way of advice about things expedient to be done, as the exigence of the case requires. Others are positive commands about things absolutely or simply necessary. So that if there were not some other rule beside the Scripture, to distinguish moral precepts from ritual,-temporary from perpetual,peculiar from common; the conscience would often be at a stand, and doubtful in her determination; especially when laws of a quite different nature are delivered, as it were, in one breath, and immediately follow one another in the same tenor of discourse, and continued connexion of words. For
instance, there is a command in the Levitical law, (Lev. xix. 18,) that we "should love our neighbour as ourselves;” and in the next verse it follows immediately, "Thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed, neither shall a garment of linen and woollen come upon thee." The first precept in this place is moral and universal, and the others but ceremonial or judicial, and peculiar only to the nation of the Jews. But when these laws are read in our churches it does not appear from the text how there can be so remarkable a difference between them. In another verse (30) of the same chapter, the sanctification of the sabbath, and the reverence of the sanctuary, are equally commanded in a continued course of expression, and under the same solemn sanction of right. "I am the Lord." And yet we know that it is the opinion of most that one of these precepts lays an obligation on the conscience, but the other does not. Now, there can be no reason assigned for the wide difference of these two commandments, being in all appearances the same, and of equal force, but we are guided by discretion and prudence, which is the only rule to discover what laws are obligatory, and what not, and without which the conscience will often be in suspense, and unable to decide what she is commanded to do and what to avoid.'
And again in page 245, 'The old law which we call the Mosaic law is distinguished into three parts, the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial. Many and different have been the opinions concerning the obligation they lay on the conscience: but I shall speak freely my own sentiments, and leave every one to judge for himself. I observe, therefore, in the first place, that no law delivered by Moses does directly, formally, and of itself, oblige the conscience of a Christian, because every Mosaical law was positive, and a positive law obliges only those upon whom it is imposed. Since, therefore, the laws delivered by Moses were imposed
only on the particular nation of the Hebrews, as will evidently appear from the beginning of them, "*Hear, O Israel,” and from the address that follows it is certain they have no force such as are upon strangers to the commonwealth of Israel," purely because they were delivered by Moses. But if any of these laws have now an obligation on Christians, (as the precepts in the decalogue certainly have,) it is by accident only, and by reason of the contents of them, not because they were commanded by Moses, but because what he commanded was either agreeable to the law of nature, or afterwards confirmed by the new law of Christ.'
And page 250, I affirm in the fourth place that the moral law delivered by Moses, I mean the precepts of the decalogue, oblige Christians, as well as Jews, to the observation of them. And this is what every Protestant that I know in the world confesses. This is the testimony of a witness produced by the Archbishop! I am afraid that we shall find some exceptions to such Protestants in our day, although he knew none in his.
The old divines, just emancipated from the divinity of the schoolmen, were still strongly imbued with the prin
* It does not follow from this expression that the commands to which this was prefixed were to be confined to the Jews. They certainly were communicated to them alone. They only were present, and it was natural to address them. Besides in very many places of Scripture, "hear," means obey. Deut. v. 1, 27; xii. 28 ; Josh. iii. 9. The expression is also in many places applied to those, to whom a message is given to be communicated to others; and therefore is no argument that the Israelites were not to communicate these commands to others. Ezek. iii. 10, 11. "Hear with thine ear, and go get thee to them of the captivity unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them and tell them," &c. Joel i. 2, 3. "Hear this, ye old men. Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation."