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HARVARD COLLEGE LICRARY
JAN 9 1935
I Since this work was put to pross, it has been suggested to the publisher, by a number of subscribers, that some might prefer having it bound in two volumes. For the convenience of such he has here made a suitable division of the volume for that purpose, and inserted a second titlepage
PROVERDS iv. 20. Ponder the path of thy feet, and all thy ways shall be established. THE sentence which we have now read, in- | truth, another doubt arises concerning the cludes a subject of immense magnitude, more subject, to which it is applied, and this reproper to fill a volume, than to be comprised quires a second elucidation. The term #ep is in a single sermon; however, we propose to usually restrained in our language to actions express the subject of it in this one discourse. of life, and never signifies a mode of thinking; When we shall have explained the subject, but the Hebrew language gives this term a we will put it to proof; I mean, we will ap- wider extent, and it includes all these ideas. ply it to some religious articles, leaving to One example shall suffice. My steps had your piety the care of applying it to a great well nigh slipped,' Ps. lxxiii. 2, that is to number, and of deriving from the general say, I was very near taking a false step; and application this consequence, if we • ponder what was this step? It was judging that the the paths of our feet, all our ways will be wicked were happier in the practice of licenestablished.
tiousness, than the righteous in obeying the I suppose, first, you affix just ideas to this laws of truth and virtue. Solomon, in the metaphorical expression, "ponder the path of words of my text, particularly intends to rethy feet.' It is one of those singular figures gulate our actions; and in order to this he inof speech, which agrees better with the tends to regulate the principles of our minds, genius of the sacred language than with that and the affections of our hearts. • Ponder of ours. Remark this once for all. There the path of thy feet, and all thy ways shall is one among many objections made by the be established, for so I render the words. enemies of religion, which excels in its kind; Examine your steps deliberately before you I mean to say, it deserves to stand first in a list take them, and you will take only wise of the most extravagant sophisms: this is, that steps ; if you would judge rightly of objects, there is no reason for making a difference be. avoid hasty judging; before you fix your aftween the genius of the Hebrew language fection on an object, examine whether it be and the idiom of other languages. It would worthy of your esteem, and then you will seem, by this objection, that a book not love nothing but what is lovely. By thus originally written in the idiom of the lan- following the ideas of the Wise Man, we will guage of scepticism can not be divinely in- assort our reflections with the actions of your spired. On this absurd principle, the Scrip- | lives, and they will regard also, sometimes, ture could not be written in any language; the emotions of your hearts, and the operafor if a Greek had a right to ohject against tions of your minds. inspiration on this account, an Arabian, and a We must beg leave to add a third elucidaPersian, and all other people have the same. tion. The maxim in the text is not always Who does not perceive at once, that the in- practicable. I mean, there are some doctrines, spired writers, delivering their messages at and some cases of conscience, which we cannot first to the Jews, to whom were committed fully examine without coming to a conclusion, the oracles of God, Rom. iii. 2, spoke pro- that the arguments for, and the arguments perly according to the idiom of their lan- against them, are of equal weight, and conseguage? They ran no risk of being misunder- quently, that we must conclude without a constood by other nations, whom a desire of be- clusion; weigh the one against the other, and ing sayed should incline to study the language the balance will incline neither way. for the sake of the wisdom taught in it. This difficulty, however, solves itself; for,
How extravagant soever this objection is, after I have weighed, with all the exactness of so extravagant that no infidel will openly which I am capable, two opposite propositions, avow it, yet it is adopted, and applied in a and can find no reasons sufficient to determine thousand instances. The book of Canticles is my judgment, the part I ought to take is not to full of figures opposite to the genius of our determine at all. Are you prejudiced in favour western languages; it is therefore no part of of an opinion, so ill suited to the limits which the sacred canon. It would be easy to produce it has pleased God to set to our knowledge, other examples. Let a modern purist, who that it is dangerous or criminal to suspend our affects neatness and accuracy of style, and judgments ! Are your consciences so weak and gives lectures on punctuation, condemn this scrupulous as to hesitate in some cases to say, manner of speaking, ponder the path of thy I do not know, I have not determined that quesfeet;' with all my heart. The inspired au- tion? Poor men! do you know yourselves so thors had no less reason to make use of it, nor little? Poor Christians! will you always form interpreters to affirm, that it is an eastern ex- such false ideas of your legislator? And do you pression, which signifies to take no step with- not know that none but such as live perpetually out first deliberately examining it. The me disputing in the schools make it a law to answer taphor of the text being thus reduced to every thing? Do you not know, that one prin
cipal cause of that fury, which erected scaffolds, science with such speculative points as we just and lighted fires in the church, that ought to now mentioned. The most difficult points of breathe nothing but peace and love, was a rash speculation ought to give us the least concern; decision of some questions which it was impos- | I mean, we ought to be persuaded that ignosible for sensible men to determine? Are you rance on these subjects cannot be dangerous. not aware that one of the most odious ideas that The reason is plain: if God intended we should can be formed of God, one the least com- see these truths in their full depth and clearpatible with the eminence of his perfections, is, ness, he would not have involved them in so that God requires of us knowledge beyond the much obscurity, or he would have given us faculties he has given us? I declare I cannot greater abilities, and greater assistances, to help blushing for Christians, and especially for enable us to form adequate and perfect ideas Christians cultivated as you are, when I per
of them. In like manner, in regard to cases ceive it needful to repeat this principle, and of conscience attended with insurmountable even to use precaution, and to weigh the terms difficulties, if our salvation depended on the in which we propose it, lest we should offend side we take in regard to them, God would them. To what then are we reduced, Great have revealed more clearly what side we God, if we have the least reason to suspect that ought to take. In such cases as these, intenthou wilt require an account, not only of the tion supplies the place of knowledge, and protalents which it has pleased thee to commit to bability that of demonstration. us, but even of others which thou hast not So much for clearing the meaning of the committed to us? To what am I reduced, if, Wise Man; now let us put his doctrine to having only received of thee, my Creator, a proof. • Ponder the path of thy feet, and all human intelligence, thou wilt require of me thy ways shall be established.' 'Wouldst thou angelical attainments? Whither am I driven, take only sure steps, at least as sure as is posif, having received a body capable of moving sible in a world where in many things we ofonly through a certain space in a given time, fend all,' weigh all the actions you intend to thou Lord, requirest me to move with the ve. perform first with the principle from which locity of aerial bodies? At this rate, when thou they proceed; then with the circumstances in in the last great day shalt judge the world in which you are at the time; next with the righteousness, thou, Judge of the whole earth, manner in which you perform them ; again wilt condemn me for not preaching the gospel with the bounds which restrain them; afterin Persia, the same day and the same hour in ward with those degrees of virtue and knowwhich I was preaching it in this assembly! ledge at which you are arrived ; and lastly, Far from us be such detestable opinions! Let with the different judgments which you your. us adhere to the sentiments of St. Paul, God self form concerning them. shall judge the gentile according to what he I. An action good in itself may become has committed to the gentile ; the Jew accord criminal, if it proceed from a bad principle. ing to what he has committed to the Jew; the II. An action good in itself may become crimiChristian according to what he has committed nal, if it be performed in certain circumstances. to the Christian. Thus Jesus Christ, • Unto Ill. An action good in itself may become whomsoever much is given, of him much shall criminal by the manner in which it is perbe required; and to whom men have commit. formed. ted much, of him they will ask the more,' IV. An action good in itself may become criLuke xii. 48. Thus again Jesus Christ teaches minal by being extended beyond its just limits. us, that God will require an account of five V. An action good in itself, when performtalents of him to whom he gave five talents, ed by a man of a certain degree of knowledge of two talents' of him to whom he gave two, and virtue, may become criminal, if it be perand of one only of him to whom he gave but formed by a man of inferior knowledge and one. What did our Redeemer mean when virtue. he put into the mouth of the wicked servant VI. In fine, an action good in itself now, may this abominable pretext for neglecting to im- become criminal at another time. prove his Lord's talent? •Lord, I knew thee These maxims ought to be explained and that thou art a hard man,' or, as it may be enforced ; and here we are going, as I said at better translated, a barbarous man, 'reaping first, to apply the doctrine of the Wise Man to where thou hast not sown, and gathering where a few subjects, leaving to your piety the care thou hast not strawed. I return to my sub- of applying them to a great number, which will ject. When we have examined two contra- necessarily occur in the course of your lives. dictory doctrines, and can obtain no reasons I. We ought to ponder our steps in regard sufficient to determine our judgment, our pro- to the principle from which they proceed. An per part is, to suspend our judgment of the action good in itself may become criminal, if subject, and not determine it at all.
it proceed from a bad principle. The little atIt will be said, that, if this be possible intention we pay to this maxim is one principal regard to speculative points, it is not applica- cause of the false judgments we make of ourble to matters of practice. Why not? Such selves. Thus many, who allow themselves cases of conscience as are the most embarrass- very expensive luxuries, say, they contribute ing are precisely those which ought to give us to the increase of trade. To increase trade, the least trouble. This proposition may ap- and to employ artists, considered in themselves, pear a paradox, but I think I can explain and are good works I grant; but is it a desire of prove it. I compare cases of conscience with doing these good works that animates you? Is points of speculation ; difficult cases of con- it not your vanity? Is it not your luxury? Is