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from our charity; and that privileges are then best made use of, when they are used to edification,
43. (4.) In all matters of doubt, when the case seems equal to the conscience on either hand, so that the conscience cannot determine there the examples of wise and good men are of great use to cast the balance, and to determine the actions : for to an equal scale every grain, that is added, will be sufficient to make the determination. If it be disputed, whether it be lawful to rely upon the memory of our good works, and make them as an argument of confidence in God; and the rules of conduct seem antinomies, and when we think God's goodness and justice is warrant for the affirmative, and yet the ules and precepts of humility bear us to the negative; between these two, if they stand on equal terms, the example of Hezekiah is sufficient to make the determination.
44. (5.) The greatest use of examples is in the interpretation of laws: when the letter is equivocal, and the sense secret, or the degrees of action not determined; then the practice of good men is the best external measure we can take; for they are like 'sententiæ judicatæ? in the law: the sentences of judges and the precedents in the like cases, by which the wisest men do often make their determinations. Thus the example of David in dividing the spoil between them that fought, and them that guarded the stuff, as being a sentence in a question of equity, became a precedent in the armies of Israel for ever after.
45. These are the uses we may make of examples in Holy Scriptures, and ecclesiastic writers; which uses are helps to our weakness, but no arguments of the imperfection of Christ's law; for all these uses are such, which suppose us unable to make use of our rule, as in the case of a doubting eonscienee, -or not to understand it, as in case of interpretation ;-or else are concerning such things, which are not direct matter of duty, but come in by way of collateral obligation; as in matter of decency and personal proportions: for which, although examples may apply to them, yet the laws of Christ have given us the general measures.
46. But then, since there is this use to be made of them, and the actions of men in Scripture are, upon so many accounts, as I before reckoned, inimitable and unfit precedents: the next inquiry is, What are the positive measures,
by which we may know what examples are imitable and fit to be proceeded in ?
The positive Measures of Example, and which may be safely
47. (1.) In this, the answer hath but little difficulty, not only because of the cautions already given in the negative measures, but because the inquiry is after examples in cases where the rule is not clear and evident, not understood, or not relied upon; and they being in some sense used only in the destitution of a rule, may, with the less scruple, be followed, because if there be no rule clear enough to guide the action, neither will there be any to reprove the example: therefore, that which remains, is this :
48, (2.) That example is safe, whose action is warranted by God's blessing. Thus the piety of the Egyptian midwives was imitable, in that they refused to kill the Lord's people at the command of Pharaoh; for it is said, “ Therefore God did build them houses;" it was mingled with an officious lie, but that was but accidental to their action, and no part of its constitution, and therefore not relative to the reward: but whatsoever God says he rewards with a blessing, that, in equal circumstances, may be safely imitated. I do not say whatsoever is blessed or is prosperous, is imitable; for it may be prosperous, and yet unblessed in one regard, and accursed in another; or successful to-day, and blasted to-morrow; or splendid in this world, and damned in the next; or permitted for the trial of God's servants, or the extinction of their sins; or the very thriving of it may be the biggest curse, and nurse up the sin into its monstrous ugliness, and is no other but like the tumour of an ulcer; it swells indeed, and grows very great, but it is a sore all the way, and is a contradiction to prosperity; and sin never thrives, unless it be in the most catachrestical and improper way of speaking in the world: but I say, when it is said, or plainly enough signified in Scripture, that God did bless the man for so doing; that for which he was blessed, that I say is only imitable. And on the other side, though an action be described in story without its mark of good or bad, it is a great condemnation of the action, if the event was intolerable, and the proper production was a mischief: and thus was the drunkenness of Lot condemned, because incest was the product ;—and of Noah,-because shame and slavery were the two daughters of it.
49. (3.) Because in these examples, for which there is no perfect rule, the concernment is not a direct, but a collateral duty, not matter of direct obedience, but fame and reputation, that “things honest in the sight of all men be provided;" and therefore such examples only are to be followed, which “are of good report.” A man shall not be called a just person, if he invades his neighbour's rights, and carries war to dispossess a people that live in peace, upon pretence because we find in Scripture that Nimrod did so, because he was an infamous person: but when Joshua kept the Gibeonites alive, because, though he was deceived by them, yet he swore to them, and yet did make them to be slaves to his people; he is very imitable both in one part and in the other; and we may not break our words upon pretence we were deceived, but yet we may do all that we can justly do for the interest of our relatives : and all this can well depend upon the example of Joshua, because his fame is entire and illustrious, he is accounted a good and a brave man.
50. (4.) We must be careful to distinguish the examples of things lawful, from the examples of things good and just: and always imitate these, but with caution follow those; not only because what was lawful in the Old Testament is not always so in the New ;-but that what is lawful at all times, at some times is not fit to be done. But then, let every example be fitted to the question. If the inquiry be, whether this action be holy or no,-an example that declares it lawful, does not answer that question; but if it be asked, whether it be lawful,—the example, proving it to be holy, does conclude the other more strongly.
5. When evident signs of piety, like veins of silver in the grosser earth, are mingled with the example, it adds many degrees of warranty to the determination. Thus our blessed Saviour, in his apology made for his disciples, appealed to the example of David eating the bread of proposition; it was, indeed, an argument to them depending upon the fame of the patriarch; but yet our blessed Saviour knew there was in it great charity, and lines of piety to his hungry followers,
when David neglected a ceremony, that he might do a charity and relieve a necessity, and therefore Christ did it, not because David did it, but because he might. David's action was not Christ's warrant, but the piety of the thing was warrant to them both. And, indeed, this is the right use of examples: by the advantage of the man's fame they may reprove an adversary, but by the great lines of piety mingled with the body of the action, they may become a precedent for our imitation.
I have now given accounts concerning that principle (mentioned in Num. 25) which affirms every thing to be imitable, if done and described in the Scripture, unless it be signally forbidden. Concerning the other - That nothing is safe or warrantable that is not, -I reserve it for its proper place.
OF THE INTERPRETATION AND OBLIGATION OF THE LAWS OF
In negative Precepts the Affirmatives are commanded; and in the affirmative Commandments, the Negatives are included.
1. Not he that gives the law only, but he who authoritatively expounds the law, becomes to us a lawgiver; and all who believe in God and in Jesus Christ, confess themselves subjects of the Christian laws; but all do not obey alike, who confess themselves equally bound, and are equally desirous to obey: because men, by new or false or imperfect interpretation of laws, become a law unto themselves or others, giving them measures which our blessed Lord never intended; and yet an error in these things is far more dangerous than in a thousand others, in which men make greater noises. I shall therefore endeavour to describe plain and rational measures of interpretation, that we may walk securely.
2. It is observable, that, in the decalogue, and so in the whole law of Moses, there are more negative precepts than affirmative. The Jewish doctors say, that there are six hundred and thirteen precepts given by Moses, according to the number of letters in the decalogue, which are six hundred and thirteen. But of these, two hundred and forty-eight are affirmative, according to the number of the joints of a man's body: but three hundred and sixty-five are negative, according to the number of the days of the year: but to omit these impertinent and airy observations of the Jews, it ministers some useful and material considerations, that in the decalogue, all the moral precepts, one only excepted, are negative (for that of the sabbath is the caput ceremoniarum'); but that of obedience to our superiors is only positive and affirmative. The reasons were these, by which also we can understand the usefulness of the observation.
3. (1.) Because this, being the first great reformation of the world, was to proceed by the measures of nature; from imperfection to growth; from the beginnings of religion to its greater excellencies: but in nature, the first step of our progression is to abstain from evil;
Virtus est vitium fugere, et sapientia prima
and therefore the face of the commandment was covered with the robe of discipline, and God would so secure their services, that they should not displease nor anger him; but the excellencies of holiness, by which he was to be endeared to mankind, were especially the glories of Christ, not the horns of Moses, the perfections of evangelical sanctity, not of the beginnings of the law.
4. (2.) The great sanction of the law was fear of punishment; and therefore God chose to represent his law to them in negatives, that according to the endearment, so might be the obedience. Now to abstain from evil is the proper effect of fear, but to do good for fear of punishment, is as improper as to threaten a man into love. Fear is the bridle of servants and boys; love is the spur of brave and good men.
a Hor. Ep. i. 1, 41.