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Most of the other Commandments speak of the outward action, and forbid some sin in the life, but this last lays the axe, as it were, to the very root, for it forbids even those covetous desires which are seated in the heart. It is said, “ Thou shalt not covet any thing which is thy neighbor's.” What is it then that we most like? The taste of people differs. One is in danger of coveting his neighbor's money; another, his neighbor's consequence and power; a third, of coveting the praise and honor which he sees given to another. How apt, especially, are many of the poor, to covet all the comforts and supposed enjoyments of the rich! They have peculiar cause to beware of breaking this Commandment. Both rich and poor, however, are apt to covet the possession of any thing for which they happen to have a taste. They no sooner behold it, than they are ready to cry out, "I wish it was mine."
It is melancholy to think how few there are in the world, who are thoroughly contented with their lot. The young and the old, the rich and the poor, the married and the unmarried, the prosperous and the afflicted, are all of them apt to have some unsatisfied desire. There is always some one thing, at least, which is possessed by our neighbor, and which Providence has denied to us, and we are disposed to fix our whole attention on that single point. If we are under no temptation to covet our neighbor's house, nor his wife, nor his manservant, nor his maid-servant, yet we covet, perhaps, some ox of his, or some ass, some inferior thing or other in which we happen to take delight; and we may possibly be as wretched at the thought of not possessing it, as if we had coveted his whole fortune and estate. Thus Ahab, although he was king of all Samaria, being unable to get the little vineyard of Naboth, which would have made him a convenient cabbage garden, “laid him down on his bed and refused to eat.” Ahab was as unhappy as any poor man in Samaria, who might be at that time envying the king, and coveting the possession of his whole kingdom.
Now all this complaining and dissatisfied spirit is forbidden in the Tenth Commandment; and the things required by it are, thankfulness and contentedness of heart, patience under trials, resignation under afflictions, a mind free from envy and repining, and a spirit of submission to the whole will of God. How eminently did St. Paul possess the temper which I have been describing! “I have learned,” said he, “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content, for I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where, and in all things, I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
This Commandment, as was observed before, is extremely strict, because it applies immediately to the heart. It will effectually convict every man of being a sinner, who will pay attention to it. We can regulate our actions, perhaps, tolerably well; we can maintain our character; we can do every thing with such an appearance of propriety and exactness, that our fellowcreatures can hardly discern a flaw in us. But which of us duly regulates his heart? To call away our thoughts from every forbidden thing; to govern well our various affections and desires, and to fix them always in their due degrees on their lawful and proper objects; to suppress even the wish for what God sees not fit to give; to wait his time, to leave all to his providence, and to consider all his appointments as ever wise and good; to purify, in short, the secret springs of action, and “to bring,” as the scriptures express it, “every imagination into subjection to the obedience of Christ,”—this is the great point.
To the heart then, to the heart, and not merely to the actions of the life, let our attention be directed. Thousands, it is to be feared, have been sinners all their days, and have nevertheless been quite unsuspicious of their sinful state, because they have looked no further than to their outward actions, and have never examined duly into the motives of their conduct, nor watched the secret motions of their hearts. Through this cause they have continued ignorant of God, ignorant of themselves, and ignorant of that salvation which has been provided by the gospel.
Thus have we endeavored to explain these laws of God. And here let me ask, whether any one can deny the perfect excellency of them? Are they not such as it is fit for God to give, and for man to obey? We have shown that love to God and love to man form the foundation of them all. And yet who can deny that he has disobeyed them every day? Now it is one great object of these laws of God to convince men of their guilt, and thus to prepare them for the grace and mercy of the gospel. “Cursed,” says the scripture, “is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." But “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." “ The law therefore is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.” “ By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” But we are “justified freely by his grace, through the redernption that is in Jesus,” and thus “we obtain peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Man, then, is to be considered as a criminal under sentence of condemnation. God's righteous law has already condemned him. God, nevertheless, hath “so loved the world as to send his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, might not perish, but have everlasting life.”
But this faith in Christ is so far from leading men to neglect that holy law which we have been explaining, that it becomes a new motive to obedience; for the Christian now receives, as it were, again from the hand of Christ, those same Commandments which were first given to man through the hand of Moses. He receives them from that Saviour who died for him. “If ye love me,” said this merciful Redeemer to his disciples, “ keep my Commandments.” It should here indeed be observed, and it is a point which has been partly proved already, that the precepts which are given by Christ and his apostles in the New Testament, as the rule of life for every Christian, are, for the most part, the very same in substance, and are sometimes expressed in the same words, as the law or the ten Commandments, for it is the object equally of the Old Testament and of the New, to bring back the corrupted heart of man to the love of God and of his neighbor. The Christian, therefore, is one who studies diligently, and observes carefully, all the Commandments of God and of his Saviour : day by day he exercises himself in examining his life by them; he brings all his actions, great and small, and his very thoughts and desires, to this test. He prays for grace to walk agreeably to that will of God, which he finds revealed in the several parts of the holy Scriptures, and the very knowledge of his redemption constrains his heart to obedience. Still, indeed, his best services are imperfect, and he understands so well the great extent of his duty, that he discovers much corruption in himself, where another man would not at all discern it. He therefore does not trust in his good works, though he is diligent in them, and sees the necessity of performing them. The language of his heart may be well expressed by a quotation from a judicious and eminent divine of the last century. “We can do nothing,” said he, “ that is meritorious and worthy to be rewarded. God, indeed, doth liberally promise whatever pertains to a blessed life, to as many as sincerely observe his law, though they be not exactly able to keep it. Wherefore, we acknowledge a dutiful necessity of doing well, but the meritorious dignity of doing well we utterly renounce. how far we are from the perfect righteousness of the law; the little fruit which we have in holiness is, God knoweth, corrupt and unsound; we put no confidence at all in it; we challenge nothing in the world for it; our continual suit to God must be, to bear with our infirmities, and pardon our offences."
FRIENDLY TALK WITH A RELIGIOUS
“ SUPPOSE the case of a hard-hearted boy, who could take pleasure in the grossest acts of cruelty. Imagine him amusing himself by putting to torture some innocent animal, a dove, for example—really enjoying the struggles of agony, which he produces. Let some person remonstrate with him, and try to show him the guilt of such conduct. The boy understands it all. He does not need to have his guilt explained. But it is in vain to try to make him feel it. He will struggle to free himself from your detention, and will make an effort, perhaps, to suppress a laugh while you talk with him. It is plain that he cares nothing about it. We should look upon such an individual as a monster. A person of or