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JOHN V. 39. SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES.
THE OBEYING OF THE ORACLES OF GOD.
Hitherto the way of our discourse hath been easy, though among the prejudices of men. In claiming for the Almighty's voice a due preparation and a full attendance of the human faculties, we have been handling a question of religious formality rather than of religious conduct.-Conduct doubtless it is duly to wait upon the Lord, the conduct of the heart as well as of the outward man, but it is a conduct which may be assumed at little expense. It requires a sacrifice of convenience and of attention, which many would be content to render, if it would purchase them the favour of God: and many there be who give themselves with all diligence to the lessons already handled, of making ready and giving ear to the divine Word, but stop short when summoned to the obedience of what they have heard. Then interest comes in to play its part, and custom, and the fear of change, with all the aversions of Nature to the will of God. The divine word, in old times, commended itself to the fears of men, while the emblems of omnipotence overhung them. The rebellion of Korah soon ceased when the earth opened her mouth; and the people left murmuring when the fiery serpents made havoc of the camp ; and though these emblems have ceased, the Scriptures have around them so much of hereditary reverence, and so much of intrinsic recommendation, that the pleadings which we have made seem to us easy, compared with that upon which we have now to enter. We have now to contest it with the most stubborn habits and the most pleasing desires of Nature. It is no longer a matter of words to be listened to, but of deeds to be performed. The law promulgated with such solemnity, and listened to with such devotion, has now to be obeyed. Then, brethren, lend us a favourable ear, and give to our words a generous welcome: the cause is difficult, the issues' most momentous; the instrument is weak, and your interests are at stake; therefore may God, who sustaineth the right, not absent himself from the cause of l is own holy law, but give efficacy to weakness, that his. glory may the more abound.
There prevails universally against divine institutions not only a strong reluctance, but also a delusive prejudice that they are an invasion upon the liberty of man's estate. The question is conceived to be, whether we shall be at our own liberty or at the disposal of God-a question between freedom and compulsion. This prejudice we shall first expose, and bring the fair statement of the question before you. Then we shall account for the reluctance which we feel to the law of God
when we enter to its obedience. Then set before you the fatal result of persisting against it ; and close this oration by contesting it with your demurs and oppositions.
The portion of truth which one can for himself examine is so mere a scantling of what is needful for the service of his life, and has in it such instability when not under the helm of authority, human or divine, that men have found it necessary to lay up and patronize a store of common truth, out of which each may be furnished ready to hand when he comes to need it, without the trouble of discovering for himself. This common store consists of the customs established, the opinions popular, the laws instituted, the private duties expected, and the manners approved. These are a grand legacy transmitted from successive generations, the accumulated wealth of the wit and wisdom of our fathers-in which to become conversant we are for nearly a third of our life regarded as under age, wards of our parents, and incompetent in great matters to act for ourselves. If we set any of these traditions aside, following our own inventions or giving scope to our personal freedom, we are eyed with suspicion or punished as defaulters, and, in capital matters, banished from good society, from our native land, and from life itself. 'Thus it fares with human kind; they are knit generation to generation. Our fathers bind us, and we shall bind our children. No man is free. All men are constrained by an authority over which they have no control, and are in their turn controlling others who have yet to be.
Let no man, therefore, in the pride of his heart, revolt from the traditions of God as an imposition upon the freedom of his estate. If the wisdom of God take no hand in the ordination of our life, then the wisdom of our fathers will do it all. But for us we shall be the same governed and shackled creatures as before. We may change the place of our residence for a country where God's traditions are unknown, and thereby change the degree or form of the bondage, but the necessity of it for peace and enjoyment will still remain. We may change our sphere in life to one where God's traditions are trampled under foot, and find a momentary release, but soon the habits of our new condition will become as peremptory as those of the old.-In truth, there is no deliverance. Society is beforehand with us; and along with its beautified fields and happy inventions and manifold conditions of comfort, hands down to us as the price of these a thousand laws and restraints upon. the freedom of our conduct.
Such being the hereditary bondage of all agesand of all nations, those are the happiest whom have had the wisest and most virtuous ancestors, to derive to them only wholesome restraints upon the uncertainty of individual judgment and the waywardness of individual will;—those being the most blessed of all, who have been favoured with laws and institutions from the perfection of wisdom which is with Him who knows the bounds
of man's capacity, and the limits within which his happiness and honour reside. For, the wisest men being little acquainted with the secret workings of their own heart, whose mysterious organization is deep seated beyond our observation, are still less able to comprehend another's nature, so as to prescribe with infallible certainty for its government. The best they can do is to point out some palpable errors to be avoided, some gross delinquencies to be shunned, some common rights to be revered, some noble actions to be honoured, some base ones to be disgraced. They can buoy some few of the shoals and rocks of life, but the tides and currents which pervade it are beyond their management. They can construct ports and havens for us to touch at, but the manning and equipping and propelling the vessel is with God alone. He who gave the soul her powers, and to all his works their properties, can alone sweetly accommodate them with ordinances. The best attempts of lawgivers are but bungling artifices for compassing coarse designs, aiming at the security of some visible and external good, and that attaining not without great waste of private liberty and happiness : whereas God, being perfectly acquainted with our most inward principles, and with all the shortest and safest ways to happiness, can, with no more effort than is necessary, carry us through all the departments and degrees of excellence. He therefore is the only fit lawgiver; his statutes the only liberty; all other obedience, being an acquiescence in that of whose perfect