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creatures, and systems of creatures, through differing series of circumstances, or to place them under the action of differing trains of moral influence, under which they would yield uninterrupted obediences, but obediences varying as greatly as their circumstances, in the manifestations they would involve of regard to God, and differing accordingly, in an equal degree in their value; and that such a difference of the worth of obediences lays a proper foundation for the consistent desire of one, which, if rendered, would secure the greatest good, without desiring, or taking measures, if that is not rendered, effectually to secure another of inferior value, when the greatest good may still be attained by a different system of administration.
These great principles, which furnish, it is believed, the true solution of the divine administration in respect to sin, are worthy of a fuller consideration.
I. The first theme on which I shall dwell, is the fact, that different acts of obedience differ essentially in their value, or in the strength and decisiveness of the expression which they involve, of devotedness to God.
That there are various degrees of affection, or diversities in the energy with which obedient feelings are exercised at different times, is a fact of which none can be unaware. Depending chiefly, as they do, for their strength on the nature of the objects by which they are awakened, the relations in which those objects are contemplated, and the extent and vividness of the mind's apprehensions, their diversities in depth and intenseness are as great as the differences are of the strength and clearness of the perceptions and accuracy and extent of the knowledge from which they spring. Those differences are, accordingly, every where recognized in the scriptures and the language of common life, and denoted by as specific and
numerous terms, as are employed to designate differences in the energy of any other mental acts, or in the strength of natural endowments.
From these differences, however, in the energy of their exercises, equal differences must obviously exist in their value. If they are virtuous, and are for that reason estimable, as the intenser they are, the larger is the virtue with which they are fraught, the greater in a corresponding degree, must be their merit of esteem. The superior strength of some, is as just a reason for ascribing to them an equally superior value, as the inferior excellence of others is for the regard of which they are made the objects.
It is, accordingly, a matter of common feeling that virtuous actions differ in their excellence in proportion to their intenseness, and the certainty with which they demonstrate attachment to right; in the same manner as acts of friendliness are esteemed, according to the strength of the affection which they exhibit, and as favors that are conferred at the price of danger or self-denial, are felt to be entitled to a regard proportional to the energy of the good-will from which they are seen to proceed.
This diversity accordingly, in the worth of obedient acts, is clearly recognized in the scriptures, and is the ground, as will be seen in the progress of the discussion, of many of the most peculiar and conspicuous measures of the divine administration.
"And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury; and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples and saith unto them, verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in
more than all they which have cast into the treasury. For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want, did cast in all that she had, even all her living." Christ here plainly taught that he placed a higher moral estimate on that act, than on all the richer offerings with which it was accompanied, and on the ground of the superior manifestation which it involved of regard to God. "This poor widow hath cast in more than all they which have cast into the treasury;"—not that her gift exceeded theirs in amount, as it was of little significance in that respect compared with theirs, but that in being all that she had, it presented an indubitable demonstration of her devotedness. That demonstration was doubtless still more decisive to the eye of Christ, who saw all its attendant circumstances, than to his disciples. She had previously passed it seems through many and severe trials, had been bereft of her husband, and probably of all other near friends on whom she could rely for support, and suffered the loss perhaps of wealth or competence, until her earthly resources were at length reduced to two mites; and yet after having thus surrendered every thing else, when called to the question whether, at the appointed season of presenting offerings to the treasury of God, she should resign her last possession in token of allegiance to him, or withhold that visible expression of submission which the law required, she preferred the former, and cheerfully gave her all. That act-not of thoughtlessness, or mere inconsiderate habit, but the result of deliberation and conscientiousness, and doubtless preceded by prayer, and a formal surrendry to God of all her interests, was thus a sublime instance of obedience, decisively evincing a supreme devotedness, and readiness whenever called to the test, to relinquish all for God. It was obviously fraught
therefore with a far higher degree of moral excellence than the gifts of the rich, whose offerings, even if obedient, involved no such manifestation; as being from their abundance, they subjected them to no decisive self-denial, and furnished no certainty therefore of their continued obedience, if called, like her, to give up all for God.
The fact is thus clearly taught in this distinguished example, that acts of obedience differ essentially in their moral value, and that God accordingly places a far higher estimate on some than on others, and makes the strength of attachment to right which they exhibit, and the decisiveness of the demonstration which they present of supreme regard to him, the measure of their worth.
A still more illustrious exemplification of this fact is seen in his treatment of Abraham's obedience in offering Isaac. "And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him-take now thy son, thine only son Isaac whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning and saddled his ass and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt-offering, and rose up and went unto the place of which God had told him—And Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar on the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven and said, Abraham, Abraham; and he said, here am I. And he said, lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for, now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy
son, thine only son, from me. And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord; for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies: And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice."
He thus treated that eminent act as of far higher worth than any other portion of Abraham's obedient agency; and in distinction from other acts, counted it to him-we are assured in the New-Testament-for righteousness, or a qualification for a gracious acceptance, on the ground that it presented an indubitable demonstration of his unwavering faith, and supreme devotedness and submission. "Now I know that thou fearest God, because thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. I have sworn because thou hast done this thing, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." And such is the estimate likewise which we ourselves necessarily form of the act. We see and feel resistlessly both that in resigning his son, the only son of his hopes and of God's promise, in that manner, in consenting himself to inflict the stroke of death and kindle the devouring fire, he gave the highest proof of which his condition and nature were capable, that he was ready at the call of God to give up all for him; and that that act was fraught with a far higher share of excellence than one that involves no such decisive proof of inflexible attachment to God. And such are doubtless the sentiments likewise of all other beings who beheld