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called to the knowledge of Christ Jesus? which question, if pursued through all its views, would open a large field of discourse, but such as would afford rather speculation than profit ; fince the case, however determined, could no way affect us, who have been called to the knowledge of Christ Jesus. Let it then be taken for granted, that Cornelius, had he died in the circumstances before described, would have found rest to his soul from the mercy and goodness of God: and let this other question be considered, which is much more to our purpose, What would have been the case of Cornelius, if he had rejected the call, refused to hearken to St. Peter, and had insisted on his own merit and virtue, in opposition to the grace that was offered him through the Gospel ? Would such a refusal have been a pardonable error ? Could he have maintained the character of one fearing God with all his house, after such an open contempt of the divine call ? Could he ever have prayed more to God to guide and direct his way, after he had abfolutely denied to be guided and directed by him ? Would even his alms have been an acceptable offering to the Almighty, after he had renounced that obedience which is better than sacrifice, and which is the only thing that can sanctify our imperfect works? If reason and natural religion teach us that it is our duty to please and to obey God, what part even of natural religion could this Centurion have exercised, after he had solemnly rejected the counsel of God, and followed his own will in opposition to that of his Maker declared in the heavenly vision? As bad as this supposed case of Cor. nelius would have been, it is the very case of those who, having been betimes instructed in the knowledge of the Gospel, and called to the faith and obedience of Christ Jesus, do despise and reject that faith under the colour of preserving the purity of natural religion, and living according to the dictates of reason and morality. It makes no difference in the case, that their call has been through the ordinary administrations of the church, and that Cornelius's was by a vision directed to himself: the voice of God is the fame, whether he speaks by his apostles, or by his angels : whoever acts by the appointment of God, speaks with his authority : and, the regular powers of the church being ordained by him, when the church speaks to her children conformably to the commission received, it is the voice of God calling men to repentance unto life through Christ Jesus. And, whatever the condition of those may be who have never heard of the Lord who bought them, ours is certainly very bad, if, having heard of him, we reject and despise him. It is one thing not to believe in Christ, because we know him not; it is another to know him, and to disbelieve him. Though such ignorance may be an excuse, yet such knowledge must be condemnation.
MATTHEW xxii. 40.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the
THE two commandments here referred to are set down in the verses immediately preceding the words of the text. At verse 37 we read, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy Soul, and with all thy mind. This is the firt and great commandment, verse 38. At verse 39 follows, And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Then come the words of the text, On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets : the meaning of which saying is plainly this, that the whole reason of religion lies in these two general commandments ; that in these all particular duties and precepts are founded; that nothing can be of any obligation in religion, but as it relates either to the love we owe to God, or the love we owe to our neighbour. In speaking to these words, I shall,
First, Shew you the true meaning and import of them; and,
Secondly, Make some useful remarks on the whole.
In St. Mark's Gospel the same thing is said in different words, though to the same effect. The words parallel to the text are these : There is none other commandment greater than these, Mark xii. 31 : that is, there is nothing in religion of an higher obligation than these two precepts : all the duties of religion must be governed by these two principles : beyond them there is nothing greater, nothing to limit or restrain them; but by them muft every thing else be limited and restrained. The reason of this is plain : for, the relation between God and man being once known, the first conclusion is, That we ought to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our fouls, and with all our minds ; that is, to the utmost of our power: and, until this general principle be established, the particular duties owing to God cannot fall under our confideration. There is no room to inquire after the proper instances of expressing our love to God, till the general obligation of loving God be known and admitted. The same reason holds likewise as to the other general head of religion, the love of our neighbour : for, the relation between man and man, and the common relation of all to one great Master, being supposed, the result is, that we ought to love our neighbour as ourself; that is, to do all we can to promote the happiness of each other : and, unless we have this general sense, we cannot be concerned to know in any particular case what is the proper instance of love which we ought to shew towards our neighbour.
- But, these general principles being once established, the particular duties flow from them naturally. The love of God, and the love of our neighbour, if carefully attended to, will easily grow into a complete system of religion. The duties of religion are all relative, regarding either God or man ; and there is no relative duty that love does not readily transform itself into upon the mere view of the different circumstances of the persons concerned. Love, with regard to a superior, becomes honour and respect, and shews itself in a cheerful obedience and a willing submission to the commands of authority: love, with respect to our equals, is friendship and benevolence: towards inferiors it is courtesy and condescension : if it regards the happy and prosperous, it is joy and pleasure, which envy cannot corrupt: if it looks towards the miserable, it is pity and compassion; it is a tenderness which will discover itself in all the acts of mercy and humanity.
In negative duties this principle is no less effectual than in positive. Love will not permit us to injure, oppress, or offend our brother : it will not give us leave to neglect our betters, or to despise our inferiors : it will restrain every inordinate pasfion, and not suffer us either to gratify our envy at the expence of our neighbour's credit and reputation, or our luft by violating his wife or his daughter ; but it will preserve us harmless and innocent: for love worketh no ill to its neighbour. This deduction of particular duties from this general principle was made by St. Paul long since: Owe no man, says he, any thing, but to love one another : for