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But it may be asked, Why state this proposition? Was this truth ever called in question? I answer, that the truth of this proposition, though apparently so self-evident that to raise the question may reasonably excite astonishment, is generally denied. Indeed, probably nine-tenths of the nominal church deny it. They tenaciously hold sentiments that are entirely contrary to it, and amount to a direct denial of it. They maintain that there is much true virtue in the world, and yet that there is no one who ever for a moment obeys the law of God; that all Christians are virtuous, and that they are truly religious, and yet not one on earth obeys the moral law of God; in short, that God accepts as virtue that which, in every instance, comes short of obedience to His law. And yet it is generally asserted in their articles of faith, that obedience to moral law is the only proper evidence of a change of heart. With this sentiment in their creed, they will brand as a heretic, or as a hypocrite, any one who professes to obey the law; and maintain that men may be, and are pious, and eminently so, who do not obey the law of God. This sentiment, which every one knows to be generally held by those who are styled orthodox Christians, must assume that there is some rule of right, or of duty, besides the moral law; or that virtue, or true religion, does not imply obedience to any law. In this discussion. I shall:
1. Attempt to show that there can be no rule of right or duty but the moral law; and,
There can be no rule of duty but the moral law.
Upon this proposition I remark:
(1.) That the moral law, as we have seen, is nothing else than the law of nature, or that rule of action which is founded, not in the will of God, but in the nature and relations of moral agents. It prescribes the course of action which is agreeable or suitable to our nature and relations. It is unalterably right to act in conformity with our nature and relations. To deny this, is perceptibly absurd and contradictory. But if this is right, nothing else can be right If this course is obligatory upon us, by virtue of our nature and relations, no other course can possibly be obligatory upon us. To act in conformity with our nature and relations, must be right, and nothing, either more or less, can be right. If these are not truths of intuition, then there are no such truths.
(2.) God has never proclaimed any other rule of duty, and should He do it, it could not be obligatory. The moral law did not originate in His arbitrary will. He did not create it, nor can He alter it, or introduce any other rule of right among moral agents. Can God make anything else right than to love Him with all the heart, and our neighbor as ourselves? Surely not. Some have strangely dreamed that the law of faith has superseded the moral law. But we shall see that moral law is not made void, but is established by the law of faith. True faith, from its very nature, always implies love or obedience to the moral law; and love or obedience to the moral law always implies faith. As has been said on a former occasion, no being can create law. Nothing is, or can be, obligatory on a moral agent, but the course of conduct suited to his nature and relations. No being can set aside the obligation to do this. Nor call any being render anything more than this obligatory Indeed, there cannot possibly be any other rule of duty than the moral law. There can be no other standard with which to compare our actions, and in the light of which to decide their moral character. This brings us to the consideration of the second proposition, namely:
That nothing can be virtue or true religion but obedience to the moral law.
That, every modification of true virtue is only obedience to moral law, will appear, if we consider:
(1.) That virtue is identical with true religion:
(3.) That the Bible expressly recognizes love as the fulfilling of the law, and as expressly denies, that anything else is acceptable to God. "Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10). "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (love), I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity (love), it profiteth me nothing" (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Love is repeatedly recognized in the Bible not only as constituting true religion, but as being the whole of religion. Every form of true religion is only a form of love or benevolence.
Faith is the receiving of, or confiding in, embracing, loving, truth and the God of truth. It is only a modification of love to God and Christ. Every Christian grace or virtue, as we shall more fully see when we come to consider them in detail, is only a modification of love. God is love. Every modification of virtue and holiness in God is only love, or the state of mind which the moral law requires alike of Him and of us. Benevolence is the whole of virtue in God, and in all holy beings. Justice, truthfulness, and every moral attribute, is only benevolence viewed in particular relations.
Nothing can be virtue that is not just what the moral law demands. That is, nothing short of what it requires can be, in any proper sense, virtue.
A common idea seems to be, that a kind of obedience is rendered to God by Christians which is true religion, and which, on Christ's account, is accepted of God, which after all comes indefinitely short of full or entire obedience at any moment; that the gospel has somehow brought men, that is, Christians, into such relations, that God really accepts from them an imperfect obedience, something far below what His law requires; that Christians are accepted and justified while they render at best but a partial obedience, and while they sin more or less at every moment. Now this appears to me, to be as radical an error as can well be taught. The subject naturally branches out into two distinct inquiries:
The first of these questions has been fully discussed in the preceding lecture. We think that it has been shown, that obedience to the moral law cannot be partial, in the sense that the subject can partly obey, and partly disobey, at the same time. We will now attend to the second question, namely:
Can God, in any sense, justify one who does not yield a present and full obedience to the moral law? Or, in other words, Can He accept anything as virtue or obedience, which is not, for the time being, full obedience, or all that the law requires?