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ON THE DUTY OF NEITHER ADDING TO THE WORD, NOR DIMINISHING AUGHT FROM IT.
DEUT. IV. 2.
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it; that ye may keep the Commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you.
UNDER the temporary dispensation, with which the Jews were favored, as God's chosen people,-as the depositaries of his revealed. word, and the fulfillers of his Divine Will, every thing was calculated to impress them with reverence, and to enforce the great duty of obedience. The inspired Legislator himself was invested with miraculous power, which was exerted chiefly in punishing Pharaoh, and in
* Preached as a Visitation Sermon at Swaffham, June 12th, 1823.
rescuing the people of Israel from the sufferings and degradation of Egyptian bondage. In addition to this, the manifestation of the divine Presence, both by day and night, assured them that they were under the especial protection of the Almighty; and the awful grandeur, which accompanied the delivery of the law from mount Sinai, gave a sanction to its authority, which alone must have distinguished the theocracy of the Hebrews from every other institution.
But, farther, Moses, knowing the frailties of the human mind, and the ardent temper of the Jews, shewed his consummate wisdom in marking, on various occasions, the just measure of their duty, and in guarding them equally against the errors of deficiency and excess. Aware of the excellence of that golden mediocrity, in which true wisdom and virtue consist, he warned his people against the presumptuous sin of adding to the word of God, and of "diminishing aught from it," intimating, also, in the latter part of the verse, that we can only keep, or fulfil, the commandments of the Lord, by understanding them in their just sense, and original purity, equally free from the pernicious errors of extremes, and the many false biasses of human passions and infirmities.
Notwithstanding this providential care, and the frequent interposition of divine authority both for the spiritual and temporal welfare of this chosen people ;"-notwithstanding the striking feature of the Mosaic dispensation was, the pious belief and devout worship of Jehovah, the one true God; yet we learn, from the incident of the molten calf, and other events in the early part of their history, as well as from the testimony of the prophets in later ages, that they indulged a strange, perverse, and unaccountable propensity to depart from the very first principle of their religion, and to adopt the gross practices and absurd superstitions of idolatry. When brought to a just sense of their past follies, and shameful apostacy, by the miseries of a long captivity, and the signal judgments of the Almighty, though they abandoned the worship of strange gods to the heathens; yet they were still unmindful of the admirable precept of their Divine legislator, adding to the word, which he gave them, and diminishing from it, just as selfwill, prejudice, and passion prevailed.
It is by no means necessary to mention the many foolish superstitions, with which the Pharisees encumbered the law, nor shall I notice the opposite extreme of the Sadducees, who
made it subservient to their own worldly-minded passions, and reduced the whole to a sort of barren and unprofitable Theism :-it is sufficient to know, that the latter had derived no instruction from the inspired wisdom of the prophets, and that the former, in the time of our blessed Lord, had made the word of God of none effect through their traditions; adding to it many absurd superstitions, many legendary fables, and many idle ceremonies, and, at the same time, diminishing its authority, its purity, and holiness.
But, to view the subject in a light that more nearly concerns us, the impartial observer cannot help remarking how Christianity itself, pure and simple as it came from the lips of its Divine Author, was in a few centuries overwhelmed by the superstitious follies and fraudulent inventions of men. While we grieve, on the one hand, for the mass of corruption, and the great burden of idle rites and ceremonies, which the Romish church has added to the Gospel of Christ, we cannot, on the other, but contemplate, with extreme regret, the sinful presumption of the Socinian, who has dared to mutilate it, stripping it of some of its peculiar and essential doctrines, and depriving the sincere worshipper of some of its divine sanctions.
In the midst of errors of opposite extremes, it should be a source of comfort to us, that we can appeal, for our guidance and instruction, to the doctrines and discipline of our own Protestant, reformed Church; which, by rejecting, with equal disapprobation, the errors of superstition, the visions of ignorant fanaticism, the corruptions of priestcraft, and the narrow, selfish views of the proud sectarist, has established a form of worship and belief, approaching as nearly, perhaps, to the perfection of apostolical wisdom, purity, and holiness as human passions and infirmities will permit.
But, notwithstanding the authority of the Holy Scriptures, to which we can appeal on all occasions, and the great advantages of an esta blished Creed, we see men continually offending against that soundness and sobriety of mind, which the precept of Moses in the text so strongly enforces-I mean not, on the present occasion, by inventing, or adding, any thing new to the word of God; but by narrowing, or enlarging, just as their own propensities lead, doctrines, and duties, which are avowedly taught and believed.
The consideration of this may lead to a practical improvement of the general subject before