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SERMON XI.

CHRISTIAN CASUISTRY.

Proverbs iv. 26.

Ponder the path of thy feet, and all thy ways shall be established.

THE

HE sentence, which we have now read, includes a subject of immense magnitude, more proper to fill a volume than to be comprized in a single sermon: however, we propose to express the substance of it in this one discourse. When we shall have explained the subject, we will put it to proof; I mean, we will apply it to some religious articles, leaving to your piety the care of applying it to a great number, and of deriving from the general application this consequence, if we ponder the paths of our feet, all our ways will be established.

I suppose, first, you affix just ideas to this metaphorical expression, ponder the path of thy feet. It is one of those singular figures of speech, which agrees better with the genius of the sacred language than with that of ours. Remark this once for all. There is one, among many objections made by the enemies of our religion, which excels in its kind; I mean to say, it deserves to stand first in a list of the most extravagant sophisms: this is, that there is no reason for making a difference between the genius of the Hebrew language and the

idiom of other languages. It would seem, by this objection, that a book not originally written in the idiom of the language of scepticism cannot be divinely inspired. On this absurd principle, the scripture could not be written in any language; for if a Greek had a right to object against inspiration on this account, an Arabian, and a Persian, and all other people have the same. Who doth not perceive at once, that the inspired writers, delivering their messages at first to the Jews, to whom were committed the oracles of God, Rom. iii. 2. spoke properly according to the idiom of their language? They ran no risk of being misunderstood by other nations, whom a desire of being saved should incline to study the language for the sake of the wisdom taught in it.

How extravagant soever this objection is, so extravagant that no infidel will openly avow it, yet it is adopted, and applied in a thousand instances. The book of Canticles is full of figures opposite to the genius of our western languages; it is therefore no part of the sacred canon. It would be easy to produce other examples. Let a modern purist, who affects neatness and accuracy of style, and gives lectures on pronunciation, condemn this manner of speaking, ponder the path of thy feet; with all my heart. The inspired authors had no less reason to make use of it, nor interpreters to affirm, that it is an eastern expression, which signifies to take no step without first deliberately examining it. The metaphor of the text being thus reduced to truth, another doubt rises concerning the subject, to which it is applied, and this requires a second elucidation. The term step is usually reștrained in our language to actions of life, and never signifies a mode of thinking: but the Hebrew language gives this term a wider extent, and it in

cludes all these ideas. One example shall suffice. My steps had well nigh slipped, Psal. lxxiii. 2. that is to say, I was very near taking a false step: and what was this step? It was judging that the wicked were happier in the practice of licentiousness, than the righteous in obeying the laws of truth and virtue. Solomon in the words of my text, particularly intends to regulate our actions; and in order to this he intends to regulate the principles of our minds, and the affections of our hearts. Ponder the path of thy feet, and all thy ways SHALL BE established, for so I render the words. Examine your steps deliberately before you take them, and you will take only wise steps: if you would judge rightly of objects, avoid hasty judging before you fix your affection on an object, examine whether it be worthy of your esteem, and then you will love nothing but what is lovely. By thus following the ideas of the wise man we will assort our reflections with the actions of your lives, and they will regard also, sometimes, the emotions of your hearts, and the operations of your minds.

We must beg leave to add a third elucidation. The maxim in the text is not always practicable. I mean, there are some doctrines, and some cases of conscience, which we cannot fully examine without coming to a conclusion that the arguments for, and the arguments against them are of equal weight, and consequently, that we must conclude without a conclusion; weigh the one against the other, and the balance will incline neither way.

This difficulty, however, solves itself; for, after I have weighed, with all the exactness of which I am capable, two opposite propositions, and can find no reasons sufficient to determine my judg ment, the part I ought to take is not to determine at all. Are you prejudiced in favor of an opinion,

so ill suited to the limits, which it hath pleased God to set to our knowledge, that it is dangerous or criminal to suspend our judgments? Are your consciences so weak and scrupulous as to hesitate in some cases to say, I do not know, I have not determined that question? Poor men, do you know yourselves so little? Poor christians, will you always form such false ideas of your legislator? And do you not know that none but such as live perpetually disputing in the schools make it a law to answer every thing? Do you not know that one principal cause of that fury, which erected scaffolds, and lighted fires in a church, that ought to breathe nothing but peace and love, was a rash decision of some questions, which it was impossible for sensible men to determine? Are you not aware that one of the most odious ideas, that can be formed of God, one the least compatible with the eminence of his perfections, is, that God requireth of us. knowledge beyond the faculties he hath given us? I declare, I cannot help blushing for christians, and especially for christians cultivated as you are, when I perceive it needful to repeat this principle, and even to use precaution, and to weigh the terms in which we propose it, lest we should offend them. To what then are we reduced, Great God, if we have the least reason to suspect that thou wilt require an account, not only of the talents, which it hath pleased thee to commit to us, but even of others which thou hast not committed to us? To what am I reduced, if, having only received of thee, my Creator, an human intelligence, thou wilt require of me angelical attainments? Whither am I driven, if, having received a body capable of moving only through a certain space in a given time, thou, Lord, requires me to move with the velocity of ærial bodies? At

this rate, when thou in the last great day shalt judge the world in righteousness, thou, Judge of the whole earth! wilt condemn me for not preaching thy gospel in Persia the same day, and the same hour, in which I was preaching it in this assembly? Far from us be such detestable opinions! Let us adhere to the sentiments of St. Paul, God shall judge the Gentile according to what he hath committed to the Gentile; the Jew according to what he hath committed to the Jew; the Christian according to what he hath committed to the Christian. Thus Jesus Christ, unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more, Luke xii. 48. Thus again Jesus Christ teacheth us, that God will require an account of five talents of him to whom he gave five talents, of two talents of him to whom he gave two, and of one only of him to whom he gave but one. What did our Redeemer mean, when he put into the mouth of the wicked servant this abominable pretext for neglecting to improve his Lord's talent? Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, or, as it may be better translated, a barbarous man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed. I return to my subject. When we have examined two contradictory doctrines, and can obtain no reasons sufficient to determine our judgment, our proper part is to suspend our judgment of the subject, and not to determine it at all.

It will be said, that, if this be possible in regard to speculative points, it is not applicable to matters of practice. Why not? Such cases of conscience as are the most embarrassing are precisely those, which ought to give us the least trouble. This pro

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VOL. IV.

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