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Again, in the second epistle of the same apostle-" through the knowledge of him who has called us to glory and virtue," 2 Pet. i. 3. But this text would be more properly rendered : “ through the knowledge of him who has called us by glory and power,” or by his glorious power. Here virtue is equivalent to power. And the meaning is, that God had brought us to partake in the privileges of his church by a glorious display and manifestation of his power in supporting and spreading the gospel.
Once in the same context: “ And beside these, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge,” ver. 5. “ But here it is evident, that virtue
” does not signify all virtuous conduct in general, but is put for some one virtue, or good disposition only. It seems to be used in the restrained sense of fortitude, courage, or resolution in the profession of the truth.
There is therefore scarce any text in the New Testament, where the word virtue is used in the general sense, of whatever is virtuous, and excellent, or in itself reasonable ; except that one place of St. Paul, before cited from the epistle to the Philippians.
But though several terms and phrases, now used by us in speaking of these matters, are not found in scripture, the same things are there said, and there are equivalent expressions. Righteousness sometimes includes both justice and goodness, and even piety likewise. And then it is the same as virtue, or morality, or moral righteousness. Says the Psalmist : “ A little that a righteous man has," that is, a good, or virtuous man, “ is better than the riches of many wicked," Ps. xxxvii. 16. And, " the righteous Lord loveth righteousness: his countenance does behold the upright," Ps. xi. 7. And in the like manner, very often.
And though we do not find the words virtue and vice, moral good and evil: yet the scripture often speaks of good and evil, such good and evil as are really and intrinsically so: by which the characters of men are distinguished, rather than by the observation of any positive appointments and ritual ordinances. “ To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices, saith the Lord Bring no more vain oblations : incense is an abomination unto me-make ye clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes.
Cease to do evil, learn to do well-Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed,” Is. i. 11, 17. In another place: “ Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter," Is. v. 20. Our text
speaks of justice, mercy, and piety, as good : that is, intrinsically so; good, in a superior degree to all the sacrifices and oblations before mentioned.
The design of the gospel-dispensation is represented after this manner : “ that we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life,” Luke i. 74, 75. In holiness and righteousness, that is, in a righteous holiness : as kingdom and glory is glorious kingdom, life and immortality is immortal life. So here, holiness and righteousness is a righteous holiness or sanctity: or in modern language, the practice of virtue, or moral righteousness. For there is a ritual, ceremonial, legal holiness or sanctity, consisting in a conformity to ritual precepts, the ordinances and appointments of positive law. But the design of the coming of Christ is here, agreeably to innumerable other texts of the New Testament, represented to be, that we might serve God in a righteous sanctity, or the practice of real holiness. There is a like expression in the epistle to the Ephesians : 6 That ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” Eph. iv. 24.
And by the prophets, men were often called upon in such expressions as these: “ Amend your ways and your doings," Jer. vii. 3; and, “ Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doing's good,” ch. xviii. 11. and, “ Amend now your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God,” ch. xxvi. 13. Which is exactly the same as that they should amend their manners, and return to the sincere practice of virtue, or moral righteousness.
Though therefore we do not find in the scripture all the same words and phrases which are now frequently made use of by us in treating on this subject: yet the same things are there said, and there are also equivalent, or like expressions with those made use of in modern language.
THE NATURE, EXCELLENCE, AND IMPORTANCE OF
He has shewed thee, O man, what is good. And what doth
the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love
mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Mich. vi. 8. HAVING explained these words, I endeavoured in a late discourse, to show in several propositions the nature and extent of virtue, or moral righteousness.
II. I am now to show the excellence and importance of virtue, or righteousness and true holiness.
1. This righteousness, as to the main parts of it, has a place in every state and condition: or is of constant, perpetual, and everlasting obligation: as has been already shown, it being fit and reasonable in itself. This is one reason why St. Paul gives the preference to charity or love above faith and hope, that the virtue, or principle of love, will subsist even in the future state : whereas the other two, though very reasonable and beneficial now, will entirely cease, and be no more, when the objects of present faith and hope are possessed and enjoyed. Charity,” says he, never fails.
But whether there be prophecies, they shall fail : whether there be tongues, they shall cease: whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” The way and manner of knowing here is so slow and tedious: the knowledge, we attain in this state, is so defective and inadequate, that he scruples not to say, " it shall vanish away:" and concludes : “ Now abideth faith, hope, charity. But the greatest of these is charity."
2. Moral perfection, or righteousness, is the glory and perfection of God himself: consequently, it must be the chief excellence of all rational beings. I say, moral perfection is the glory and perfection of God himself. Hereby he is truly excellent and amiable: forasmuch as beside his power, knowledge, and understanding, he is a being of unvariable truth, everlasting righteousness, inflexible equity, and abundant goodness. When Moses desired to see God, the divine glory and character were represented to him after this manner : “ The Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed: The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious,
long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,” Exod. xxxiv, 6. The Psalmist observes: “ The righteous Lord loveth righteousness: his countenance does behold the upright,” Ps. xi. 7. And in another place: “ Rejoice before the Lord, for he cometh to judge the earth : with righteousness will he judge the world, and the people with equity," Ps. xcviii. 9. In one of the prophets it is written : " Let him that glorieth, glory in this: that he knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth.” “ For in these things do I delight, saith the Lord,” Jer. ix. 24. Our blessed Lord recommends it to us, “ to be perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect,” Matt. v. 48; that is, to imitate him in truth, righteousness, and goodness: to aim at a holiness resembling the holiness of God. And, says St. Paul: “ That ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” Eph. iv. 24.
This clearly shows the excellence of real holiness, that it is the perfection of the divine nature: and that by becoming truly holy, we gain a resemblance of God himself.
3. The excellence and importance of real holiness, or moral righteousness, are evident from the frequent declarations in scripture concerning its absolute necessity to our acceptance with God, and our obtaining the heavenly inheritance. We have seen at large, how the necessity of this holiness to acceptance with
God, is represented in this text and context. In the New Testament, where future recompenses are more insisted on, it is plainly declared, that á without holiness no man shall see the Lord,” Heb. xii. 14. And “ blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” And “ he that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, as he is pure.
4. Virtue, or true holiness, is represented in scripture as the end of all ordinances, and of all the revelations of God's will made to mankind. “ Jesus Christ gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works,” Tit. ii. 14. And “ for this purpose was the Son of God manifested, to take away our sins," and " to destroy the works of the devil,” 1 John iii. 8. Through the knowledge of Christ, God has “ given us all things conducive“ to life and godliness,” or suited to promote a godly life: that we might “ be partakers of the divine nature, 2 Pet. i. 3, 4. And St. Paul expressly says, that " Charity is the end of the commandment,” I Tim. i. 5.
5. This farther appears from the earnestness with which true holiness is recommended in every part of the word of God; and from the preference which is constantly given to such holiness above obedience to ritual ordinances. This is evident to every one who is at all acquainted with the scriptures.
God himself says, he “ desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of himself, more than burnt offerings," Hos. vi. 6.
The several branches of moral righteousness are the things principally insisted on by our blessed Lord in that which is called his sermon on the mount. The like things are also earnestly recommended to christians in the latter part of all the apostolical epistles.
Our Lord declared, the love of God and our neighbour, and not ritual ordinances and appointments, to be the sum and substance of the law and the prophets, Matt. xxii. 40. It is also the sum of his own doctrine, and of the preaching and writings of his apostles.
From all which particulars we evidently discern the excellence and importance of virtue, moral righteousness, or righteousness and true holiness.
III. I shall now conclude with some inferences by way of application.
1. We hence perceive the ground of the preference which is always given by wise men, and by the scriptures, to righteousness and true holiness above obedience to positive precepts, or ritual appointments. The obligation of these is founded in the will of God: but the former are reasonable in themselves, having a real excellence. And besides, they are also the will and commandment of God: and his will more especially, above, and in preference to all other laws and commandments.
2. We perceive also why men's characters are chiefly determined by the practice of virtue and true holiness, or the contrary; and why future rewards and punishments are to be dispensed accordingly. As our Lord declares, “ the wicked will go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal,” Matt. xii. 49; xxv. 46. So it
. will be. And we now perceive, why it must, and should be so. The righteous have fulfilled the will of God, and performed that obedience which was the end of positive appointments, the others not. The righteous, the virtuous, have acted right, with sincerity, in their state of trial. They have attained some resemblance of the divine nature, and some preparedness for the heavenly state, of which the others are destitute.