« PreviousContinue »
THE SMALL DUTIES OF RELIGION.
Matthew xxiii. 23.
Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
N order to form a just notion of the little duties
of religion, of which we are about to treat, we must avoid a disposition to fastidious nicety, and an inclination to panics or groundless fears.
Nothing is more opposite to the genius of religion than what I call a fastidious nicety, a sort of trifling spirit. It is incompatible with the greatness of God, whom we serve, and the excellence of rational creatures, to whom religion is proposed. It is inconsistent, too, with the importance of those engagements, to which the gospel calls us, and with the magnitude of those objects, which it proposes to our faith.
What condemns a trifling spirit censures also an inclination to groundless fears. For example, a christian seriously prepares himself for the Lord's supper; when he partakes of it, a wandering thought alarms him, and he is filled with terror, as if he had committed a high crime against God. But can we imagine, that God is setting snares for us, while he is giving us tokens of his love? Who
can presume to approach the table of the Lord, I do not say worthily, but possibly, if there were any ground for such panics, as these? Do you think, you do honor to God by attributing to him a turn for such comparatively insignificant niceties, (forgive the expression, I cannot convey my meaning without it,) a disposition, I think, which you would hardly suppose in a sensible man? Can you suppose, that God loves you with less wisdom and less con'descension than you love your children? Far from us be such odious thoughts! Remember, the spirit, which ye have received, is not a spirit of bondage to fear: but a spirit of adoption, Rom. viii. 15. Remember ye are not children of the bond-woman; but of the free, Gal. iv. 31. Stand fast then in that inestimable liberty, wherewith Christ hath made you free, chap. v. 1. Give of such things as ye have, and behold all things are clean unto you. Luke xi. 41. Be fully persuaded that in a religion of love, love excuses much infirmity, and sets a value on some seemingly inconsiderable actions, which appear to have only a very remote connection with the disposition, whence they proceed.
In what, then, you will ask, consist what we call small, or little duties? What are the less weighty things of the law, which Jesus Christ says we ought not to leave undone, after we have done the more weighty things? My brethren, the duties, of which we speak to-day, ought not to be accounted little, except when they are compared with other duties, which are of greater importance; and, as we said last Lord's day, because they are consequences more remote from original primitive right. However, though little duties do not proceed so directly and immediately as great duties do, yet they do proceed from the same origin, and though they are not the first links of the chain of christian vir
tues, yet they are as truly connected with the origin as the first.
Choose of the list of moral virtues any one, that seems the least important, and I will justify my idea of it. For instance, to be affable and accessible, to give attention to the tiresome tale of a tedious fellow christian in some difficulty, this is one of the very least duties that we can enjoin you, this is one of the less weighty matters of the law. Who will pretend to compare this with what you ought to do for this man in other cases? You ought to supply his wants, when he is in a sick-bed, to defend his reputation, when he is attacked, to support and provide for his family, when it falls to decay. The first little duty, however, small as it may appear, proceeds from the same principle of primitive law as the last great duties do. This law is expressed in these words, All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them, Matt. vii. 12. Would any one of you be convinced of this? Put yourself in the place of this man. Suppose a person elevated as much above you, as you pretend to be above him. Would it not mortify you, if he either refused to hear you at all, or gave you only a careless negligent audience? Let each of you, my brethren, enlarge this thought, and by applying it to himself, let him judge whether my proposition be not sufficiently clear.
I carry my proposition further still. I affirm, not only that there is no duty so small in the moral law as not to proceed from primitive original right: but that God never prescribed an observance so insignificant in the ceremonial law as not to proceed from the same origin. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, Deut. vi. 5. this is the first principle of primitive law. If we ought tọ
love God with all our hearts, we ought carefully to observe all the means, which he hath appointed to cherish this love. Now, these means vary according to the various circumstances in which they, to whom the means are prescribed, may be. A wor ship, charged with ceremonies, would serve only to extinguish emotions of love, if prescribed to people in some conditions: yet the same sort of worship would inflame the love of other people in different circumtances. The Jews were in the last cast. Born and brought up in slavery, employed, as they were, in manual occupations, they would have been destitute of all ideas under an economy without ceremonies. Surrounded with idolatrous nations, and naturally inclined, as they were, to idolatry, it was necessary, in order to prevent their copying such wretched examples, to which they had strong propensities and inducements, I say, it was necessary, if I may venture to speak so, not to give them opportunity to breathe, to keep them constantly employed in some external action every moment of the time devoted to religion.
Christians, I allow, are in circumstances altoge ther different. A mass of ceremonies would serve only to vail the beauty of that God, whom no man. kad seen at any time before the advent of Christ, and whom the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of his Father, hath declared, John i. 18. Whatever contributes to the concealment of the prefections of this God damps that love, which a contemplation of them inspires. Yet, as we are full of infirmities on this earth, we want a few signs to produce and cherish in us the love of God. Where is the man, who is capable of a devotion all disengaged from sense? Who can fix his eyes immediately on the 'sun of righteousness, Mal. iv. 2. Where is the man, who is capable of such abstract meditations,
and pure emotions, as constitute the worship of angels and seraphims? Alas! my soul, how difficult is recollection to thee, even with all the assistance of a religious ceremonial! How hard dost thou find it, to maintain a spirit of devotion even in this place, in this concourse of people, with all these voices, and with those ordinances, which are appointed for the maintenance of it! What wouldest thou do, wert thou left to thine own meditations only, to practise a piety altogether spiritual and free from external action?
Let us finish this article. The least important parts of ceremonial worship, as well as the least virtues of morality, which we call little duties, or the less weighty matters of the law, preceed from primitive law, by consequences more remote, but as real as those of the most important duties.
What we have been saying, of the nature of little duties, demonstrates the obligation of them. They all proceed from primitive law. You cannot, therefore, neglect the performance of them without confining what ought to be infinite.
But this is too vague. We will treat of the subject more at large, and in order to enable you more fully to perceive your obligation to little duties, I will speak of them in four different views, each of which will open a field of reflections.
I. They contribute to maintain a tenderness of conscience.
II. They are scources of re-conversion after great falls.
III. They make up by their frequency what is wanting to their importance.
IV. They have sometimes characters as certain of real love as the great duties have.
Now my brethren, whatever engages us to the