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partaking of bread and wine in remembrance of him. In a word, the light of nature may teach us every moral duty; but it cannot teach us any positive duty. This is the only distinction between moral duties and positive; and this distinction exists only in our minds, and not in the mind of God, who comprehends the relations as well as the nature of things, and who sees as good reasons for positive, as for moral duties. And could we as clearly see the relation and connexion of all things, as we see the nature of some things; we should see as good reasons for positive duties, arising from the relations of things, as we do for moral duties, arising from the nature of things, and should have no more need of a divine revelation to discover positive, than to discover moral duties. It is true, that some moral duties are more important than some positive duties; but since positive duties are founded in as much reason, and enjoined by as much authority, as moral duties, we are under no less obligation to obey all the positive, than all the moral duties required in the gospel.
This leads me to show,
III. How christians may maintain the positive duties, which the gospel enjoins upon them.
It properly belongs to professing christians to maintain all the institutions of the gospel. The great design of their being formed into distinct churches or religious societies, is to make them the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As God formerly committed his sacred oracles and positive institutions to the care and trust of the Jewish church; so he has since coinmitted his word and ordinances to the care and trust of the Christian church. “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, and diversities of tongues.”
Again we read, “God gave some, apostles; some, prophets; some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” It appears from these passages, that all ecclesiastical power, as well as the word and ordinances of the pel, are given to the church, in the first place, and lodged in their hands for their edification and spiritual benefit. And upon this principle, the apostle calls the church, “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The members of every christian church are bound to use all their influence, to maintain the word and worship of God and all his sacred ordinances, in their primitive purity and simplicity. Here then I would observe,
1. That one way, by whieh every member of the church may do something to maintain the positive duties of religion, is by his own exemplary conduct. Zacharias and Elisabeth walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. They strictly and constantly attended upon every divine institution, which had a direct tendency to maintain the honour and practice of all instituted duties. While our Saviour tabernacled in flesh, he paid a sacred regard to all divine institutions. When he went to John to be baptized, the reason he assigned was, that he must fulfil all righteousness. He considered baptism as a positive duty, which, as a Jew and a priest, he was bound to observe. Being made under the law, he meant by his practice to maintain all its positive institutions. Accordingly, he attended not only the passover, but the publick worship of God, and all the rites and ceremonies of divine appointment. This example all his professed friends ought to follow, and in
this way maintain the publick worship of God and all his holy ordinances.
The more strictly and constantly every member of the church observes the Sabbath, attends publick worship, and practises all the positive duties of religion, the more he honours and maintains the special ordinances of the gospel. Every christian may have great influence, by his pious example, to render divine institutions truly amiable and respectable in the eyes of the world. Though the neglect of moral duties is a greater reproach to the professors of religion, than the neglect of positive duties; yet the strict performance of positive duties is a greater honour to their religion, than the performance of moral duties. It is by the strict observance of positive duties, that christians distinguish themselves from the rest of mankind, who generally, for their own reputation, pay regard to the common duties of morality. Men may be very moral and reputable, without paying any respect to divine insti. tutions; but men cannot be very religious, without pay. ing a sacred regard to all the positive duties of christianity. The very first step, therefore, which every member of the church should take, in order to maintain the honour and purity of divine institutions, is to walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, which will give weight to every thing else he may be called to say or do to promote the same end.
2. The members of the church ought to cultivate mutual love and watchfulness, in order to preserve divine ordinances in their purity. They are mutually bound to love as brethren, and to promote each other's spiritual good. As members of the same body, they have engaged to meet together in the same place, to join in the same duties, and to unite in the same
christian communion and fellowship. This gives them peculiar opportunities of exercising all the offices of brotherly love and watchfulness. Brotherly love will produce that brotherly care and watchfulness, which the word of God requires. It is written, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” The apostle also gives a similar admonition to christians. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To-day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” If errors and deviations from the path of duty were seasonably checked and reproved, many great evils might be prevented from coming into and corrupting the church. Christian watchfulness has a direct tendency to prevent the spread of religious errors and corruptions among any church or religious society. This method Christ took to purge the temple. He sharply rebuked those, who presumed to profane his Father's house, and pour contempt upon sacred things. His rebukes carried conviction and produced the desired effect. It becomes the members of every church to be equally watchful and faithful. If they observe any of their brethren going astray, in respect to sentiment or practice, they ought to take the first proper opportunity to converse with them in the spirit of love and tenderness, and faithfully warn them of their danger, and exhort them to reformation and repentance. The apostle suggests a most powerful motive to induce christians to exercise such faithfulness towards each other. "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the
error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shail hide a multitude of sins." I must add,
3. The professors of religion ought to unite in the exercise of that holy discipline, which Christ has appointed for the express purpose of reforming transgressors or excluding them from the church. This mode of discipline we find enjoined upon christians in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew. Though different denominations of christians have adopted different modes of church discipline; yet they have all agreed, that some mode of discipline ought to be maintained and exercised. But as this is a duty, which requires peculiar tenderness, fidelity, and self-denial, churches in general have, from age to age, been too negligent in keeping up a proper care and watchfulness and authority over their delinquent members, which has opened the door to innumerable errors in doctrine and practice. The apostles exhorted christians to be very faithful in maintaining a strict discipline over their brethren, who transgressed the laws of Christ, and violated their own covenant-obligations. And when they were faithful in this respect, their fidelity was crowned with success. This appears from the good effect of christian discipline in the church of Corinth in particular. Let any church properly exercise that discipline over their members, which Christ has appointed, and they will have great reason to hope, that they shall be able to prevent or purge out every essential error in doctrine and practice, and carry conviction to all around them of their own sincerity, and of the beauty and importance of true religion. It now remains to show,
IV. Why christians should be zealous in maintaining the purity and simplicity of divine institutions.