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We ought to obey God.-ACTS v. 29.
The proposition which I am about to announce as my text is one to whose truth I am confident of an unanimous assent, and you may be surprised, when you hear it, that a proposition so unhesitatingly admitted by all, and which moreover is supposed to be perfectly understood by every one, should have been selected by me, to be the subject of particular remark on this occasion. “ We ought to obey God." Yes, yes, most certainly, is the universal response, from every judgment, and conscience, and heart; and it is immediate, as well as universal. There is no time required for considering the proposition. It is a truth seen by intuition. If there be a God, and he has any will respecting our conduct, and there is any way of coming at his will, we ought to obey him. It is reasonable, right, fit, obligatory; it is the first and most sacred of obligations. We owe him obedience on every account. He is our Maker and proprietor and benefactor, and a being infinitely perfect, incapable of willing any thing inconsistent with the strictest rectitude. We ought to obey him. Ought we! Then why have we disobeyed him, and not through ignorance, inadvertence, or infirmity, but knowingly,
deliberately, willingly? We always were aware of this obligation. And why are so many of us disobeying him now, disobeying him in so many respects, in such a multitude of instances, in the face of so much moral light, in opposition to our clearest and strongest convictions of duty, and against such a weight of motive, and with so little concern too? Why do we tread so heavily and trample so contumaciously on an obligation which we confess to be so sacred ? Ought we to obey God? Do you admit it? Then out of thy own mouth will he judge thee, and on thine own admission condemn thee. You say that you ought to obey God, and you speak sincerely; you believe it; it is the decision of your reason; it is one of the plainest dictates of common sense, and yet you do not obey him; nor care to obey him; you are neither curious to know, nor careful to do his will. But perhaps you think that you are rendering obedience to God. Many, I am persuaded, think they are, when in fact they are not, and it is principally to expose and correct this practical error, that I have determined on this passage for my text. I propose to show you what that is, which God esteems and accepts as obedience to him; and you will perceive that in not a few particulars it is distinguished from that which frequently passes among men for obedience.
2. The mere doing of what he commands us to do does not constitute obedience to him, unless we also abstain from what he forbids us to do. Negative precepts, that is, those which prohibit, are as obligatory, and as essential to constitute obedience, as posi
tive precepts, which enjoin something to be done: The remark is so obviously correct, that it may seem superfluous to have made it, as it is certainly unnecessary to dwell upon it. I remark,
2. That obedience to be acceptable must bc ung versal. It must not only have respect to what is forbidden, as well as what is required, but it must have respect to all that is forbidden and all that is required. No principle is more manifestly scriptural, none more entirely reasonable. If we ought to obey God in any respect, we ought to obey him in every respect. The same reasons exist why we should be conformed to the whole will, as to any part of the will of God. Every part of his will is of equal authority, and equally wise and just. If therefore any one habitually and intelligently disobeys God in any respect, he forfeits the character of obedience; and hence it is written, “cursed is every one who continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.” And does not this remark convict many ? Do you not habitually neglect some known duty, or at least something which might be known, and would be perceived to be a duty, but that you shut your eyes against the light? Are you not habitually liv. ing, and allowing yourself in the practice of some known sin ?
3. The acting and refraining to act in all respects in conformity to the requirements and prohibitions of God, does not necessarily constitute obedience to God. It does not, unless it be not only done, but done out of regard to God. This is a very important principle to be regarded by you. To obey God, is not simply
to act according to his will, but to act according to his will, because it is his will. An accidental conformity of the will of man to the will of God is not obedience. It must be intentional. There is rectitude in the conformity of the will of man to the will of God, whether it be intentional or unintentional, but obedience exists not unless the conformity be intentional. There is a difference between doing right and obeying God. I speak of the external part of right doing. To sin is much more than to do wrong. An atheist may do some things which the law of God requires, but you would not therefore say that he obeys God, for he does not even acknowledge that there is a God. A man may do some things which the law of God requires, without knowing that the law of God requires them. This man acts right, so far at least as his external conduct is concerned, but he does not obey God, nor intend to obey him. One cannot obey God without knowing that he obeys him, without having in his mind a regard to God. There is another case still. A man may do some things which the law of God requires, knowing that the law of God requires them, and yet not do them because the law of God requires them, but from some other and inferior consideration, as because some inferior authority commands them, a legislature, or a parent, or a master, or because his interest, his honor, or his credit requires they should be done, or the welfare of the community. Thus, for example, all the respect which some persons pay to the Christian Sabbath is on account of the acknowledged utility of that institution, not from any regard
to the author of the decalogue. And some are scrupulously honest in their dealings, because dishonesty is disgraceful, or from a better motive, an inherent principle of integrity, in consequence of which they act uprightly in cases in which detection and exposure are impossible. I do not say that it is wrong to be influenced by such considerations, especially if they stand in subordination to the authority of the Supreme Lawgiver, but I do say that unless the primary and principal consideration with us be a regard to God, not any thing we do should be accounted as obedience to him. And this is no novel and strange principle. The very same elements go into the constitution of filial obedience. A dutiful son is one who intentionally conforms to the will of his parent, who does what his parent instructs him to do, not because it falls in with his own inclination, or because he is to gain any thing by it, but out of regard to the will and command of his parent.
It is apparent then that there may be a great deal of virtue and morality and right acting among men, at the same time that there is no obedience to God in it all, because, though there may be an acknowledgement of God, and an acquaintance with his laws, yet regard to him and to his law is not the reason of the conduct in question. Now a man may not rely for acceptance with God on any right course of acting, even though regard for God should be the motive of it. How much less may it be relied on, when this is not the motive, and when it does not constitute obedience to God. And yet is not this the dependence of multitudes?