« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
law, the praises of his people, the sprinkling of the blood of the atonement, setting forth bis infinite grace. How well adapted all this to secure the end of the Sabbath, to benefit man in the highest sense. To do all this there must be an altar and a service, a victim and a priest, the fuel and the fire. To provide these would require acts of labor technically prohibited for the good of man, but under the circumstances the greater good is secured by disregarding the prohibition; the spirit of the law was kept by breaking the letter. The man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath and kindled his fire, and the Levites who prepared the wood and kindled the flames on the altar, did precisely the same physical acts and on the same day; yet the former died for his transgression, while the latter were blest for their service.
The same rule of interpretation will hold good in regard to other moral precepts. “Thou shalt not kill.” Life is the special gift of God, which no man has a right to trifle with; hence it is guarded by the penalty, life for life. “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed!"
In this rule the strict application of the prohibition is laid aside, to guard the larger number, which is the greater good. The one life of the murderer is taken, yet the hands of the avenger are guiltless of blood.
“Thou shalt not steal,” protects that which we have purchased or labored for. Having thus obtained possession, it is ours to enjoy. But who would stop to hunt up the owner of the loaf, when one was starving for the want of bread? The disciples neither violated the fourth nor the sixth commandments, when they plucked the ears of corn on the Sabbath day. Their necessities justified both transactions.
These laws, like that of the Sabbath, were made for man, and are to be obeyed as the general rule, as most conducive to the well-being of society, and the honor and glory of God. But when these ends can be obstained in a higher degree of perfection by their exceptional technical disregard, there is no transgression of their spirit, the end of the law is obtained. Thus, the application of the moral code being general, there was no necessity for minute and specific details; hence the moral law is embraced in ten brief specifications, only the central act being mentioned, leaving to time and circumstances the breadth of the application necessary to secure the greatest possible happiness. They are to be strictly observed or broadly interpreted as truth and benevolence may demand. It gives no sanction to a departure from the strict rule for mere personal ends, whether of gratification or profit; but when the life and true happiness of mankind are concerned, it
does not allow the self-righteous or legal bigot to place its interdictions between a benevolent heart, and an object of real need. It is lawful to do good on any day, and against all technical objections.
This principle goes even lower than this; the ox that lows for his fodder on the Sabbath-day, tells us that we do not profane its sanctity when we fill his manger. We must not reply to his lowing, “It is corban,” when he cries for his food, or is struggling in the pit. God requires no such strict interpretation of that law which was ordained that we should “live by it." In its very nature it is holy, just, and good. Use it only for these ends and the law is fulfilled.
But in seeking to fix our responsibilities, the other form of precept-a positive command — meets us oftener and unexpectedly. Thus it came to Adam. Being in the image of his Maker, he was living under the perfect law of love. Happy in the divine relation, Adam dressed the garden and kept it. He needed not the motives of the moral law, Thou shalt do this, or Thou shalt not do that. In this happy state, he could not feel the need nor anticipate the nature of a divine command; and when such an injunction was received, it could serve only to establish the strength of his allegiance to his Creator. Whether that command would be to refrain from a certain fruit, or from visiting some particular part of the garden of Eden, was alike unforseen. When such a law was given, therefore, it derived all its authority from the sovereign will of God, both as to the thing to be done and the manner of doing it. In other words, it was positive and specific from the very nature of the case, conditions which must apply to all instances of this nature. It is the absolute condition existing between those who possess legitimate authority and its subjects. The former to hold the latter to any just responsibility, must clearly set forth the acts to be performed, as to time, place, and manner, so that all shall be clearly understood by them; and then it becomes the duty of the latter to meet these conditions without question or modification. To do otherwise is not only disobedience, but usurpation. There is no justification for a departure from these conditions but the occurrence of some unforseen circumstance which renders literal obedience an impossibility. This hindrance will not justify the substitution of something else in the place of the thing required, or the doing of it in some manner quite otherwise than the way specified. All this is obvious from the first law ever laid upon man.
When God placed Adam in paradise, his first gracious provision was limitless : “And God said, Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” How long Adam lived under this unrestricted enjoyment, we are not informed; but while it continued he could commit no offence by indulgence. He could pluck and eat at will, from all the trees of the garden, without fear of incurring the divine displeasure. But when God said: “Of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” this liberty was restricted. What was entirely permissable before, would be a flagrant transgression now.
Now Adam could see no reason why this command was given, nor understand why this particular tree was interdicted ; quite otherwise. He thought it pleasant to the eyes, and desirable to give him knowledge. The necessity for this command did not exist in the nature of things, as coming within the scope of man's apprehension ; hence he could have no conception of its form or intent; there was, therefore, an absolute necessity for the specific language used by the divine Lawgiver. Nothing is left indefinite. The place and character of the tree are carefully described: it is “in the midst of the garden," and the "tree of knowledge of good and evil.” The acts to be restrained are just as distinctly specified: “Ye shall not eat of it,
" , neither shall ye touch it.” To secure implicit obedience, the penalty is positively announced: “The day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” A penalty, some have argued, altogether beyond the nature of the forbidden act. The act in itself was a small matter, but as regarded as a direct violation of God's positive injunction, it has a turpitude equal to the authority thus treated with contempt.
Every candid reader will see the force of these statements, and admit that all questions of expediency are altogether untenable. Strict obedience to the very letter of the law is all that can be accepted. This alone will establish the sovereign authority of God. Let us urge, for a moment, whatever of justification Adam could have resorted to for a palliation of his offence, and first, the expediency of the thing. The injunction required a restraint, an act of selfdenial in deference to Divine authority. This, we will suppose, is fully admitted; but exact conformity to the stipulations does not lie so completely within the compass of Adam's inclination as some other analagous act, which he might proceed to substitute in the place of the thing commanded. Thus, the law forbade him to touch or eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but gave full liberty in reference to all others. To this he might have urged, after the manner of some in modern times under precisely similar circumstances, when one of God's positive commands is in question,—the letter of the law is nothing, it is the spirit that demands regard. These trees all grow under the same conditions, they are rooted in the same ground, watered by the same rains, the sun warms them alike; what difference then? The act of refraining is the thing required, which can be done under the largest scope of liberty and convenience admissable. Now the particular tree named in the prohibition is nearest, and its boughs hang the lowest, while those made free for use are on the outskirts of the garden, and more inaccessable. The spirit of the divine command will be kept though I eat of the exact tree forbidden, yet sacredly refrain from touching or eating of one of those on the other side of the Euphrates. This is not an overstatement of the dangerous rule of expediency. In the case of Adam, every one will admit the justice which would have ignored the shallow plea, and held him to a strict accountability. Indeed, this is just what occured in his case, yet men have failed to regard the sad lesson.
Wherein are the conditions changed when the question of baptism is to be adjusted ? The authority is the same, the command as explicit, and the duty as easy of performance. Let those answer who dare trifle with God's authority by this false mode of expediency, The thing done is not so much the end of the command, as respect for Him who made it. We dishonor God when we make void his law by our traditions. If you cannot keep the command as God enjoins, you will never be held as a transgressor; but if you can, and yet substitute something else, neither will you by virtue of that substitution be held as having fulfilled its requirements, and must yet stand as not having obeyed the law, as much so as though no effort of observance had been made. The plea of expedience, therefore, will not hold.
But Adam urged personal gratification: “The tree was good for food," and "pleasant to the eyes." His reasoning was the first utterance of the modern sentiment of the so-called liberal school: “The end of the law is enjoyment.” If it is good for food, wherein is the harm in so using it? God is not inconsistent.
God is not inconsistent. He does not make a thing for a good use, and then forbid using it. His command, therefore, must be so understood as to avoid this inconsistency. The scope of the command must have reference to quantity or season.
To fast does not mean to abstain from all food, but from usual gratification as to daintiness and quantity; so "not to eat," does not necessarily imply a positive restiction, but a limited use. Taste may be gratified, though indulgence would be wrong. This režisoning would not, did not, shelter the offer.der.
But Adam might have urged a still more plausible reason. a "tree to be desired to make one wise," and in that very regard where wisdom is most valuable,—the “knowledge of good and evil.” All knowledge is desirable and commendable, but its higliest form is that which distinguishes moral relations; thereby, in a sense, we “ become as gods." Certainly the beneficent Creator did not mean to shut the door of wisdom on mankind and forbid their entrance to its sacred temple. Ah, false reasoning, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Whatever is learned by an act of trangression not only brings a knowledge of evil, but a realization of its pains and penalties.
But Adam's resources are not yet exhausted, if he had followed modern examples. The penalty is disproportionate to the offence. No' great moral principle was involved, and by exact performance no great good was secured. Could, therefore, a failure in so small a matter bring so fearful a retribution? This begs the whole question. The sacredness of God's authority is the greatest of all moral principles, and his blessing the supreme good. There is no room to make à comparison between causes and results. The spirit that would tamper with the least of his commands, because interest or convenience so dictated, would, when occasion arose, treat with impunity the whole law and will of God, a fact abundantly proved by the whole experience of life. This false reasoniig has made void the law of God, displaced his ordinances, corrupted his church, divided his heritage; and the few who presume to insist that the divine prerogatives shall be respected, are stigmatized as bigots and sticklers for non-essentials.
The act of Adam, in itself, was but a small matter; but as it stood related to God's anthority, it was a crime so momentous that no apology could be found to lessen its turpitude or ward off its terrible penalty : “ By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin!”
The positive law which establishes an ordinance, is as obligatory as that which forbids an act; and to omit or change the one as directly infringes on the divine authority as to commit the other. All attempts to justify the procedure, will be as fallacious in the one case as in the other. It is no small matter, therefore, to trifle with God's holy ordinances, or to give sanction to such a transgression by a mistaken judgment or morbid charity. It is true charity to insist that all things be made according to the pattern. God nowhere gires us the right to exercise charity at the expense of truth and his authority. We can only determine the light in which God regards his positive precepts by the manner in which he has administered