« PreviousContinue »
cial duty, as it is by its means that those habits of self-command and moral restraint are best formed, which are so necessary for checking the irregular passions of the individual, and for preserving the peace
and good order of society. The first duty of men in society is, to abstain from injury; and the Commandments to which we now come, bring forward a very perfect enumeration of the different kinds of injustice from which it becomes us to refrain. In this enum meration, the extreme cases are alone expressed; but it is very easy to perceive under what head each of these cases may be comprehended. In the Commandment which forbids the horrible outrage of “ murder," we are required, in general, not to injure our neighbour in his person: in that which stigmatizes thecrime of “ adultery,” we are forbid, in general, to wound our neighbour in his affections and domestic happiness: when we are commanded not to “steal,” we are required not to injure him in his property: and when we are forbid to “ bear false witness against “our neighbour,” we are likewise forbid to do him any injury in his character. Under these heads, probably, may be brought every kind of injury which can be committed ; and we here have an occan sion to admire the complete and compre hensive nature of these familiar rules of duty.
There is a question, my brethren, which we are often disposed to ask, especially when we witness any of the more flagrant violations of the laws of justice and humanity :-What in nature can so far overcome all the best feelings of the human heart, as to make men run into the commission of enormities which are even horrible to name ? In the last Commandment, this question is answered--the source of human wickedness is pointed out and we are sent into our own bosoms, and there required to check the evil in its rise. Before we can be unjust in action we must be so in desire ; we must have injured our neighbour in our hearts; and if we strive not to cleanse our imaginations from irregular desires, there is no degree of wickedness into which we may not possibly be betrayed. 6 Thou “ shalt not covet,” is a rule, therefore, , of the utmost wisdom, and would, if it were observed, infallibly free the world from that guilt with which it is stained.
How beneficent are the arrangements of Nature, if man would but act in subservience to them! How kind is she to all her children, and how abundant the enjoyments which each by his own exertions might acquire, without interfering with those of others! It is in overlooking the provision which she makes for
the happiness of all, that we are tempted to gratify our wishes by irregular means, and to aim at seizing upon that forbidden fruit, which inevitably ruins us when we taste it! Such, my brethren,
brethren, is a short view of the truths contained in the Second Table of the law. Our Saviour has comprehended them all under the words of the text, “ Thou shalt love thy neighbour as
thyself.” To this issue, indeed, all the laws of social duty point, and from this principle they are best derived. We shall not injure those whom we love,-and it is not sufficient to refrain from injury, but it is likewise incumbent on us to do good. In this rule, therefore, the precepts of morality begin and terminate. It affords us the strongest motive to their fulfilment, and points out their measure and extent. It is evidently, too, the source of the purest Happiness, as well as of the most perfect
Virtue; for there is no happiness that deserves the name, unconnected with our social affections.
“ The second,” we are told, “ is like “ unto the first;" and both together open an aspect of the system of the Universe, not more sublime than it is delightful. At the head of this system, we behold ONE who diffuses happiness throughout the whole, and who seeks the love of his creatures, only that they may become still more happy. To Him their affections are in the first instance guided, and then they are told, that, if they love Him, they must also love one another. Each individual is taught, that he must live not to himself alone, but to God and to his fellow-creatures, and that when he is thus actuated, he will then likewise live best to himself. Thesystem of God, therefore, is the system of universal happiness: the false systems of men produce all the misery of their being