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SERMON X X X VIII.
NATURE OF SIN.
For sin is the transgression of the law.-- 1 Joun, iii. 4.
The whole verse is this : “ Whosoever committeth sin, transgresseth also the law; for.sin is the transgression of the law."
Taking the text as an independent declaration, I shall,
I. Let us consider what law the apostle mentions in the text. God has given a great many laws. to mankind at different times. He gave a positive law to Adam, forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He gave him another positive law, requiring him to keep the Sabbath. He gave him another positive law, requiring him to labor and cultivate the earth. He gave him another positive law, requiring him to offer vicarious sacrifices to make atonement for sin. He gave a positive law to Noah, forbidding him to commit murder. Afterwards he gave a code of laws to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai, by the hand of Moses. This code of laws comprised the moral law, the ceremonial law, and the civil law. The question now is, which of all these divine laws does the apostle mean in the text ? There is no reason to think that he means any law given to Adam, or any law given to Noah, or any law given by Moses, except the moral law, which is founded in the reason of things, and is of perpetual obligation. This he calls the law, in distinction from all positive laws and particular precepts. By the law, therefore, he means the first supreme and universal law of God's moral kingdom, which is
binding upon all rational and accountable creatures. The apostle John means the same law that the apostle Paul meant, when he said, “ Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law ; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." The law by which both Jews and Gentiles stood condemned, could not be either the ceremonial or civil law given by Moses ; for the Gentiles were never under either of those laws; consequently it must mean the moral law, in distinction from all other laws given under either the Mosaic or christian dispensation. Any mere positive law which God has given to any of his creatures, he has a right to abolish or repeal when a change of circumstances requires it; but the moral law he has no right to abolish or repeal under any change of circumstances, because it is founded in the immutable relation which he bears * to his creatures and they bear to him. 'He must cease to be their Creator and they to be his creatures, before the obligation of the moral law can cease to bind them. This appears to be true from plain, acknowledged facts. All the civil and ceremonial laws given by Moses have actually been superseded and abolished by the christian dispensation. This the apostle John knew; and therefore by the law in the text he could mean no other divine law but the moral law, which is as binding under the christian dispensation as ever it was under the Mosaic. I now proceed,
II. To consider what this moral law, which is binding upon all mankind, requires. It certainly requires something that is reasonable, because it is founded in reason; and it will appear to require what is reasonable, according to an infallible exposition of it, by an infallible judge. Our Saviour perfectly understood the true import and perpetual obligation of the law, and came to fulfil and magnify it. He said to his hearers in his sermon on the mount, “ Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." The Sadducees, who were enemies to the divine law, came to him on a certain occasion. “ Then one of them, who was a lawyer," or Jewish teacher, "asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” According to this divine exposition of the divine
law, it requires all men to love God and one another; and implies that all who do love God and their fellow men perfectly, obey the law. And the apostle Paul gives the same exposition of the law. He says, “ Owe no man any thing, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” We have now found that the law requires love; and that love is the fulfilling of the law, or all that the law requires. But in order to determine the true meaning and import of the law, we must still farther inquire what kind of love the law requires. There are two kinds of love; selfish love, and benevolent love. Selfish love is interested love; but true benevolent love is disinterested love. It is most reasonable to suppose, that our Saviour means by love to God, supreme love to him; and by love to man, disinterested love to him. For no man can love God supremely from selfishness, nor his neighbor as himself from selfishness. Besides, we cannot suppose that Christ meant to say that the divine law requires selfish love to God and man; for he had before expressly condemned all selfish love to God and man. He said in his sermon on the mount, “ Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy : But I say unto you, Love
your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father, which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father, which is in heaven, is perfect.” Here it is evident that the love which God requires in his law is the same kind of love that he feels and expresses towards all mankind, which is a love of disinterested benevolence towards his enemies, as well as his friends. Selfishness disposes men to hate, and not to love their enemies. And if God were not possessed of pure, disinterested benevolence, he would not love those who hate him. No man's conscience approves love in himself, or in others, but what is disinterested. All holy, virtuous love is disinterested, whether it be holy benevolence, or holy complacency. Holy benevolence embraces all mankind, whether they are holy or unholy ; but holy complacency embraces none but those who appear to be holy. There are but two things really valuable and desirable in their own nature. One is happiness, and the other is holiness. Happiness is valuable and desirable in its own nature, or for what it is in itself. And holiness is valuable and desirable in its own nature, or for what it is in itself. The moral law, therefore, which is founded in the nature of things, requires men to love and seek holiness and happiness for themselves and others. It requires them to love and seek the holiness and blessedness of God supremely; because he is supremely great and good. And it requires men to love and seek one another's holiness and happiness as their own. And when they exercise such disinterested love to God and man, they fulfil the law, or do all that the law requires them to do. For while they feel disinterested love to God and man, they will spontaneously perform all those external actions which are a proper expression of love to God and man. That love to God which the divine law requires, will dispose those who possess it to read his word, call upon his name, remember his Sabbath, attend his ordinances, and employ their time, their talents, their property and influence, in his service. And that love which the divine law requires will dispose those who possess it to perform every external duty that they owe to their fellow men. The divine law which requires true love to God and man, virtually and necessarily requires all those external actions which are a proper expression of true love to God and man. For the law of God does not require any external actions, but such as naturally flow from love to God and man. Christ severely and pointedly condemned those who performed external acts of religion without love to God. “ Wo unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and 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. Wo unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee! cleanse first that which is within the cup and the platter, that the outside of them may be clean also." * God approves of no external conduct towards him, but what flows from pure disinterested love to him; and he approves of no external conduct towards men, but what flows from pure disinterested love to them. So that all that the divine law requires, may be summarily comprehended in pure, disinterested love to God and man. Having ascertained what the divine law requires, it remains to consider,
III. What it forbids. Every law has both a precept and prohibition. It forbids whatever is directly contrary to what it requires, and requires whatever is directly contrary to what it forbids. The law which requires men to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, forbids whatever is directly contrary to remembering and keeping the Sabbath properly. The law which says, “ Thou shalt not kill,” requires men to preserve their own lives and the lives of others. After we have ascertained what any law forbids, it is pretty easy to ascertain what it requires; and after we have ascertained what any law requires, it is pretty easy to ascertain what it forbids. It must forbid what is directly contrary to what it requires. It appears from what has been said under the last head, that the divine law requires disinterested love to God and man; and from this we may justly conclude that it forbids whatever is directly contrary to disinterested love to God and man. And what can be more directly contrary to disinterested love, than interested love? Or what can be more directly contrary to disinterested benevolence, than selfishness? The divine law, therefore, necessarily forbids all internal selfishness and all external expressions of it. Selfishness, and nothing but selfishness, is the transgression of the law of love. For selfishness, and nothing but selfishness, is sin; and nothing but sin is a transgression of the law. As disinterested love is the fulfilling of the law, so interested love is the transgression of the law. Selfishness is the only thing that the law forbids; and therefore the transgression of the law wholly consists in selfishness. This appears not only from the nature of the law and the nature of selfishness, but from the general representation of scripture. Paul says, “I had not known sin, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." He did not know what sin was, until he knew what was a transgression of the law; and he did not know what was a transgression of the law, until he knew that covetousness, which is selfishness, is a transgression of the law. As the law forbids selfishness, so selfishness must be a transgression of it. Again, the apostle says, “ The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." But why cannot the carnal mind be subject to the law of God? No other reason can be given for it, but that the carnal mind consists in selfishness, which is a solid reason why it cannot be subject to the law of God; for it is impossible that selfishness should be obedience, or submission to the law that forbids it, as the divine law does. Again, the apostle represents selfishness as the source of all sin and iniquity. “ This know, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their ownselves, covetous, boasters, proud, blas