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clining it to avarice, pride, envy, or jealousy. It is in our power to resist these passions: but to have, or not to have them, when we come into the world, doth not depend on us. We ought not always to judge of our state by the enemy, whom we have to encounter: but by the vigilance, with which we resist him. In spite of some remains of inclination to pride, we may become humble, if we endeavor sincerely and heartily to become so. In spite of natural inclinations to avarice, we may become generous by endeavoring to become so, and so of the rest. Involuntary passions, when we zealously endeavor to restrain them, ought to be considered as exercises of our virtue prescribed by our Creator; and not as criminal effects of the obstinacy of the The sins, into a commission of which they beguile us, ought always to humble us; indeed they would involve us in eternal misery, were we not recovered by repentance after having fallen into them but neither they, nor transient offences, nor daily frailties ought to be reckoned among those sins, of which St. James says, he who offendeth in one point, is guilty of all. The sins, of which the apostle speaks, are preceded by the judgment of the mind, accompanied with mature deliberation, and approved by conscience. Thus we have divested the text of one vague meaning to which it may seem to have given occasion.
But in what sense may it be affirmed of any sin, that he who offendeth in one point, is guilty of all? The nature of the subject must answer this second question, and enable us to reject the false senses, that are given to the proposition of our apostle. It is plain, St. James neither meant to establish an equality of sins, nor an equality of punishments. It is evident, that as sins are unequal among men, so justice requires an inequality of punishment. The
man, who adds murder to hatred, is certainly more guilty than he, who restrains his hatred, and trembles at a thought of murder. He, whose hatred knows no bounds, and who endeavors to assuage it with murder, will certainly be punished more rigorously than the former.
What then was the apostle's meaning? He probably had two views, a particular, and a general view. The particular design might regard the theological system of some Jews, and the general design might regard the moral system of too many christians.
Some Jews, soon after the apostle's time, and very likely in his days, affirmed, that God gave a great many precepts to men, not that he intended to oblige them to the observance of all; but that they might have an opportunity of obtaining salvation by observing any one of them; and, it was one of their maxims, that he, who diligently kept one command, was thereby freed from the necessity of observing the rest. Agreeably to this notion a famous Rabbi expounds these words in Hosea, Take away all iniquity, and give good, that is, according to the false notion of our expositor, pardon our sins, and accept our zeal for one precept of thy law. What is still more remarkable, when the Jews choose a precept, they usually choose one, that gives the least check to their favorite passions, and one that is least essential to religion, as some ceremonial precept. This, perhaps, is what Jesus Christ reproves in the Pharisees and Scribes of his time, Wo unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye pay tythe 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, Matt. xxiii. 23. Perhaps these words of
our Saviour may be parallel to those of St. James. The Apostle had been recommending love, and at length he tells the Jews, who, in the style of Jesus Christ, omitted mercy, that whosoever should keep the whole law, and yet offend in this one point, would be guilty of all.
But, as we observed just now, St. James did not intend to restrain what he said to love. If he had a particular view to the theological system of some Jews, he had also a general view to the morality of many christians, whose ideas of devotion are too contracted. He informs them, that a virtue incomplete in its parts cannot be a true virtue. He affirms, that he, who resolves in his own mind to sin, and who forces his conscience to approve vice, while he commits it, cannot in this manner violate one single article of the law without enervating the whole of it. A man cannot be truly chaste without being humble: nor can he be truly humble without being chaste. For the same reason no man can deliberately violate the law, that forbids anger, without violating that, which forbids avarice; nor can any man violate the law, which forbids extortion, without violating that, which forbids impurity. All virtues are naturally united together, and mutually support one another. The establishment of one unjust maxim authorizeth all unjust maxims. This is the meaning of the proposition in our text, Whosoever offendeth in one point is guilty of all.
Hitherto we have only explained the sense of our text, it remains now to be proved. The proposition of our apostle is founded on three principal reasons. He, who sins in the manner just now described, he, whose mind resolves to sin, and who forces his conscience to approve vice, while he commits it, sins against all the precepts of the law, while he seems to sin against only one. 1. Because
he subverts, as far as he can, the foundation of the law. 2. Because, although he may not actually violate all the articles of the law, yet he violates them virtually, I mean to say, his principles lead to an actual violation of all the precepts of the law. 3. Because, we may presume, he, who violates the law virtually, will actually violate it, when it suits him to do so. These three reasons establish the truth of our apostle's proposition, and justify the sense, that we have given it. The discussion of these three reasons will be the second part of our discourse.
II. He, who violates one precept of the law in the manner just now described, violates all; because, first, he subverts, as far as in him lies, the very foundation of the law. This will clearly appear by a comparison of vice with error, heresy with disobedience. There are two sorts of errors and heresies: there are some errors, which do not subvert the foundation of faith, and there are other errors, that do subvert it. If, after I have honestly and diligently endeavored to understand a passage of scripture proceeding from the mouth of God, I give it a sense different from that, which is the true meaning of it; if I give it this sense, not because I dispute the authority of an infallible God: but because I cannot perceive, that it ought to be taken in any other sense than that, in which I understand it, I am indeed in an error; but by falling into this error I do not subvert the foundation, on which my faith is built. I always suppose the authority, and infallibility of God, and I am ready to renounce my error, as soon as I am convinced, that it is contrary to divine revelation.
But if, after it has been made to appear with irrefragable evidence, that my error is contrary to
divine revelation, and if, moreover, after it has been made to appear, that revelation came from God, I persist in my error, then, by sinning against one point I become guilty of all, because, by denying one single proposition of revelation, I deny that foundation, on which all other propositions of revelation are built, that is the infallibility and veracity of that God, who speaks in our scriptures. I put in the place of God my reason, my wisdom, my tutor, my minister, whomever, or whatever determines me to prefer my error before that truth, which I am convinced is clearly revealed in a book, that came from heaven.
In like manner there are two sorts of vices, some, which do not subvert the foundation of our obedience to the laws of God, and others that do. In the first class are those sins, which we have enumerated, daily infirmities, transient faults, and involuntary passions. In the second class ought to be placed those sins of deliberation and reflection, of which we just now spoke, and which our apostle had in view. These sins strike at the foundation of our obedience to the law of God.
What is the ground of our obedience to the divine laws? When God gives us laws, he may be considered under either of three relations, or under all the three together, as a sovereign, as a legislator, as a father. Our obedience to God considered as a sovereign, is founded on his infinite authority over us, and our obligation to an entire and unreserved submission to him. Our obedience, to God as a legislator is founded on his perfect equity. Our obedience to God as a Father is founded on the certain advantages, which they, who obey his laws, derive from them, and on a clear evidence, that because he ordains them, they must be essential to our happiness. Now he, who sins coolly and deliberately