Imatges de pàgina

cused by any earthly sovereign, master, or parent; nor can it be expected to be so by the supreme Lord and judge of all.

The apostle James argues this case more particularly, James ii. 10. " Whosoever shall keep the « whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is « guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit « adultery; faid also, Do not kill. Now if thou «c commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art be« come a transgressor of the law."

We are by no means, however, to infer from this, that all crimes and neglects are equal, and will be punished with equal severity ; for it is the doctrine of the scriptures, as well as of reason, that there is a difference in offences, and some are spoken of with much more indignation than others; in the same manner, as more stress is laid upon some vir. tues than others. Undoubtedly, therefore, a difference will be made between even wilful offences of any kind, and universal profligacy of character and conduct. If a state of perfectly exact retribution be naturally impossible, we may, however, conclude, that in the future life there will be a near approach to it; and that the proper reward af christians will be assigned to those only who fincerely endeavour to do the whole will of God, without distinction or reserve.

For the same reason no bounds are set to our attainments in virtue, but we are required to aim at


the highest degrees of perfection, “ to cleanse our« selves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and " to perfect holiness in the fear of God;" 2 Cor. vii. J. " to stand perfect and complete in all the 56 will of God;" Col. iv. 12. “ to abstain from all appearance of evil,” i Theff. v. 22. and to propose to ourselves the imitation of the all-perfect God himself. This was expressly inculcated by our Saviour, Matt. v. 28. “Be ye perfect, even " as your Father who is in heaven is perfect;" by the apostle Paul, Eph. v. I. Be ye followers of “ God, as dear children;" and the apostle Peter, 1 Pet. i. 15. « As he that has called you is holy; “ fo be ye holy in all manner of conversation; For « it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy," referring to Lev. xi. 2. xix. 2. xx. 7.

These precepts appear, at first view, to be very strict; and considering the imperfe&lions of human nature, to be unreasonably severe; but considering that, in all cases, sufficient allowance is made for every natural defect, for whatever is consistent with a sincere endeavour to do the whole will of God, . there is the greatest wisdom and propriety in these exhortations.

Had any particular pitch of virtue been defined, upon our'arrival at which we had been encouraged to be satisfied with ourselves, without attempting any thing farther; many persons, abounding in conceit and presumption only, would soon have


arrogated to themselves that character, and have been dupes to the most fatal delusion and self-conceit. We even see that absolute perfection has been pretended to by many.

Besides, since moral character is a thing which, in its own nature, admits of no precise boundary, but advances, by insensible degrees, from the most extreme profligacy, to such purity and excellence as only the divine being himself is capable of; and fince it is essential to a genuine good disposition to with the attainment of the greatest degrees of excellence, there would have been an impropriety in nioral precepts of any other kind. The man whose chief study it is to recommend himself to God, by a conformity to his whole will, cannot but be senfible, that whatever his attainments are, or may be, there will still be something more that he might, and ought to have done; his moral discernment (being improved by the greater attention which he will continually give to his character and conduct.

Indeed, this is the case with all inferior arts of various kinds, as well as this great art of life. What poet or painter ever thought his piece absolutely faultless and perfect, with whatever admiration it might be considered by others: and could he remove all the blemishes he now sees in it, he would still,' by more attention to it, discover more. Now, for the same reason, this must necessarily be the case

with every man whose object is to excel in virtue, and who studies propriety and perfection of moral character.

The apostle Paul discovers this just discernment in his own cafe, Phil. ii. 13. • Brethren, I “6 count not myself to have apprehended: but 66 this one thing I do, forgetting those things “ which are behind, and reaching forth unto those " things which are before, I press toward the « mark, for the prize of the high calling of God “ in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as 66 be perfect, be thus minded.” He, and other apostles, give many excellent precepts to this purpose, to those christians to whom they wrote, 2 Pet. i. 5. " And besides this, giving all dili“ gence, add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, “ knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and " to temperance, patience; and to patience, god“ liness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; 66 and to brotherly kindness, charity. For if these " things be in you, and abound, they make you " that ye shall neither be barren, nor unfruitful “ in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is agreeable to the same general maxim, that perseverance till death is absolutely required of all who expect the rewards of the gospel; and a backfider at any period, is always represented as even in a worse condition than one who had never known the right way; since the knowledge he had of the excellence of it ought to have been an additional motive with him to continue in it.


To this purpose the divine being addresses the children of Israel by Ezekiel, ch. xviii. 24. " When the righteous turneth away from his “ righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and " doth according to all the abominations that the 66 wicked man doth, shall he live? All his righ66 teousness that he hath done shall not be men« tioned : in his trespass that he hath trespassed, 66 and in his fin that he hath finned, in them shall so he die.” It is also our Saviour's doctrine, John viii. 31. “ That if we continue in his word, then « are we his disciples indeed." The aggravation of apostacy is particularly pointed out by the apostle Peter, 2 Pet. ii. •20. “ If after they have escaped " the pollutions of the world, through the know“ ledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they 66 are again entangled therein, and overcome; the " latter end is worse with them than the beginning, " For it had been better for them not to have “ known the way of righteousness, than after « they have known it, to turn from the holy como mandment delivered unto them.”

On this account the apostles urge their fellowchristians to constancy in the profession of the gora pel, viz, left they should lose their reward, and enhance their future condemnation. Gal. vi. g. « Let us not be weary in well-doing : for in due

66 season

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