Robert Morehead.

A series of discourses on the principles of religious belief as connected with human happiness and improvement (Volume 2) online

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From these lofty meditations, the great-
est to which the mind of man can aspire,
we now descend into that world in which
we live, and perceive the same principle
of duty which connects us with God, like-
wise branching out into all the different
relations in which we stand towards each
other. The first Moral feelings of the
heart resemble those of Religion : they are



216 ON THE MORAL LAW.

the mixed emotions of gratitude and of
reverence ; love mixed with awe ; the af-
fections of a weak and a dependent being
towards one on whom it depends, and
under whose authority it lives. There is
much wisdom, therefore, in placing the
Commandment which requires duty to
parents, immediately after those which
relate to the duties of Religion ; and we
may thus see the beautiful gradation by
which religious and social duty run into
each other.

It is likewise with great wisdom, that
duty to parents is placed at the head of
the Moral law, as it is not only the earliest,
but, undoubtedly, one of the most import-
ant of duties ; and according as it is
performed well or ill, we may judge of
the soundness of the whole character. -
It is with this law, more particularly,
that you, my young friends, are concern-
ed. You live under the protection and
the guidance of your Parents, and to them



ON THE MORAL LAW.



your eyes are directed as to the Fountains
of your being, and the guardians of
your early years. This is the state in
which Nature has placed you, and it is
here you are met by the first lessons of
duty. " Honour thy father and thy mo-
" ther" is the rule which you are taught
before every other, and which you can
most easily comprehend ; and according
to the regard which you give to it, we
may form conjectures concerning your
future progress in virtue. If you are re-
gardless of this law, to which can we ever
expect that you will attend? But if
you are now obedient children, we can
have little doubt that, in your progress
through life, you will equally attach your-
selves to all the other duties which your
stations in society may require. Perhaps,
myyoung friends, you now sometimes wish
that you were going forth into the world,
and were freed from all the trammels of



218 ON THE MORAL LAW.

. |

Parental rule. Alas ! when you are ad-
vanced on the journey of life, how often will
you look back to those quiet days which you
now pass under the roofs of your parents ;
and, when their venerable forms return
to your imaginations, after, perhaps, they
themselves have been laid in the dust,
how mild will that authority then seem
to have been, which never checked your
innocent amusements, but only protect-
ed you from vice and folly ; and how bit-
ter will be the reproaches of your con-
sciences, if, which God forbid, you should
ever feel that any part of your conduct
contributed to " bring down their grey
" hairs to the grave !"

Under family government, the infant
mind is first trained to ready and affec-
tionate obedience ; and in this view, like-
wise, there is much wisdom in placing
the Commandment which we have been
considering at the head of the laws of so-



ON THE MORAL LAW. 219

cial duty, as it is by its means that those
habits of self-command and moral re-
straint are best formed, which are so ne-
cessary for checking the irregular pas-
sions of the individual, and for preserving
the peace and good order of society.

The first duty of men in society is, to ab-
stain from injury ; and the Command-
ments to which we now come, bring for-
ward a very perfect enumeration of the
different kinds of injustice from which it
becomes us to refrain. In this enu-
meration, the extreme cases are alone
expressed ; but it is very easy to per-
ceive under what head each of these
cases may be comprehended. In the
Commandment which forbids the horrible
outrage of " murder," we are required, in
general, not to injure our neighbour in his
person: in that which stigmatizes the crime
of" adultery," we are forbid, in general, to
wound our neighbour in his affections and



ON THE MORAL LAW.



domestic happiness : when we are com-
manded not to " steal," we are required not
to injure him in his property: and when we
are forbid to " bear false witness against
" our neighbour," we are likewise forbid to
do him any injury in his character. Under
these heads, probably, may be brought
every kind of injury which can be com^
mitted ; and we here have an occa-
sion to admire the complete and compre^
hensive nature of these familiar rules of
duty.

There is a question, my brethren,
which we are often disposed to ask, es^
pecially when we witness any of the more
flagrant violations of the laws of justice
and humanity : What in nature can so far
overcome all the best feelings of the hiir
man heart, as to make men rim into the
commission of enormities which are even
horrible to name ? In the last Command-
nient, this question is answered the



ON THE MORAL tAW. 221

source of human wickedness is pointed
out and we are sent into our own bo-
soms, and there required to check the
evil in its rise. Before we can be unjust
in action we must be so in desire ; we
must have injured our neighbour in our
hearts ; and if we strive not to cleanse our
imaginations from irregular desires, there
is no degree of wickedness into which
we may not possibly be betrayed. " Thou
" shalt not covet," is a rule, therefore,
of the utmost wisdom, and would, if it
were observed, infallibly free the world
from that guilt with which it is stained.

How beneficent are the arrangements
of Nature, if man would but act in sub-
servience to them ! How kind is she to all
her children, and how abundant the en-
joyments which each by his own exer-
tions might acquire, without interfering
with those of others ! It is in overlook-
ing the provision which she makes for



222 ON THE MORAL LAW.

the happiness of all, that we are tempted
to gratify our wishes by irregular means,
and to aim at seizing upon that forbid-
den fruit, which inevitably ruins us when
we taste it !

Such, my brethren, is a short view of
the truths contained in the Second Table
of the law. Our Saviour has compre-
hended them all under the words of the
text, " Thou shalt love thy neighbour as
" thyself." To this issue, indeed, all the
laws of social duty point, and from this
principle they are best derived* We shall
not injure those whom we love, and it is
not sufficient to refrain from injury, but it
is likewise incumbent on us to do good. In
this rule, therefore, the precepts of morali-
ty begin and terminate. It affords us the
strongest motive to their fulfilment, and
points out their measure and extent. It
is evidently, too, the source of the purest
Happiness, as well as of the most perfect



ON THE MORAL LAW. 223

Virtue ; for there is no happiness that de-
serves the name, unconnected with our
social affections.

* The second," we are told, " is like
" unto the first ;" and both together open
an aspect of the system of the Universe,
not more sublime than it is delightful.
At the head of this system, we behold
ONE who diffuses happiness throughout
the whole, and who seeks the love of his
creatures, only that they may become still
more happy. To Him their affections are
in the first instance guided, and then they
are told, that, if they love Him, they must
also love one another. Each individual is
taught, that he must live not to himself a-
lone, but to God and to his fellow-creatures,
and that when he is thus actuated, he will
then likewise live best to himself. The sys-
tem of God, therefore, is the system of uni-
versal happiness: the false systems of men
produce all the misery of their being.



ON THR MORAL LAW.

Wherever private affections gain the mas-
ter y, there violations of justice open the
bitterest springs of human wretchedness.
Man then becomes the enemy of man.
Love is banished from his breast, and all
the dark and malignant passions occupy
its room.

Before you, my young friends, this
scene is opened. Two ways are pointed
out to you ; the one, which leads into
the course appointed by Heaven, and
which, under the favour of God, and
amidst the gratitude of man, will conduct
you to " life, and honour, and immortality."
The other path is that which your own
passions will recommend the path of
private gratification, of selfish interest,
of unconcern for the good of mankind.
Every thing that is great and generous in
your nature calls you into the first of
these ways ; and be assured, if you perse-
vere in it, your ultimate reward will be



ON THE MORAL LAW.

great beyond every thing that it has en-*
tered into your hearts to conceive. To
the other you are drawn by all the low
and little affections, by worldly views, and
temporary interests ; when you yield to
these, your minds at present will be de-
based and degraded, and they will lose
all the aspiring hopes which point to
futurity.

It is our earnest prayer, my brethren,
when we look upon the young, that they
may be enabled to keep the right road,
and to avoid every path that is destruc-
tive ! When we look back upon our own
conduct, we shall too often find, that we
have ourselves followed the road which
ought to have been avoided. In the mean
time, life is advancing, years are casting
their shade over us, and we are going for-
ward to that final country from which
there is no return. How important, then,
that we should pause in our journey, and

VOL. II. P



ON THE MORAL LAW.

meditate, with serious resolution, on the
course which is yet before us ! Whatever
laws we have infringed, it is yet in our
power to make reparation ; whatever du-
ties we have neglected to perform, in
these we may yet bestir ourselves with
more strenuous exertion.

If it is possible that any meditations
can awaken such resolutions of amend-
ment, those in which we have, of late,
been engaged, and which we are now
entering upon with still more pro-
found feeling, will surely not be in vain.
The day is approaching when we shall
.contemplate the death of the Son of God,
and shall behold that love which binds,
in one connected chain, all the universe
of goodness and innocence, making one
mighty effort to restore whatever is cor-
rupted and fallen ! If so great an effort
has been made, shall not we exert our-*
selves along with it; and shall all the



ON THE MORAL LAW. 227

pains of the Cross, and all the triumphs
of the Resurrection, be to us of no avail ?
Go, my brethren, to the altar of your
Saviour, and ask the assistance of his Spi-
rit, to strengthen you in your labours of
duty : go to him, with sincere hearts, and
he will be found of you : he will lift your
souls above this narrow and empty scene,
and lead you to his Father, whom he re-
quires you to " love with all your hearts,
" and with all your souls, and with all
" your minds :" and to your and his bre-
thren of mankind, whom He alone can
teach you w to love as yourselves 1"



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;^ 8i DISCOURSE xiv. mi



* rra trrt*rl W4-rff* Httw rmif >- *v - -
ON TUE fiUTlfiS OF THE YOUNG. *

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HEBREWS, vL 12.
Tuj :



" Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying
" on of hands."



THERE cannot, my brethren, be a more
interesting rite, than that by which the
infant is at first initiated into the Church
of Christ. It is of the simplest kind in it-
self, but it signifies privileges of the most
important nature ; and we cannot too of-
ten call to mind the benefits which are



* Preached on the Sunday before Easter, and after a
General Confirmation.



ON THE DUTIES OP THE YOUNG. 229

thus ^conferred on us* If we are born by
nature into a world where we shall cer-
tainly be assailed by corruption and im-
'purity, the rite of Baptism implies, that
we are likewise born into a greater world
of purity and holiness, and that the
shedding abroad of the Spirit of God will
'finally remove every stain from our souls,
even as the body is cleansed by the wash-
ing of water.

The rite is rendered still more interest-
ing by the period of life at which it is
performed. It is pleasing to think that
we have scarcely entered upon existence,
when we are met by the Gospel of our
Lord, that now, also, as of old, he
takes the little children in his arms and
blesses them, and that the Spirit of the
Most High " descends as a dove" upon
the bosom of infant innocence. They
who would defer this rite to an after age,
rob it of much of its interest and beauty ;



230 ON THE DUTIES OF THE YOUNG.

and it is not, I believe, going too far to
say, that those aspects of Christianity,
which are the most affecting to our
hearts, will, in general, be found likewise
to be the truest and the best.

The privileges of baptisrh are not, how-
ever, bestowed without promises on our
parts. The Spirit of God will not dwell
with those who do not endeavour to be-
come temples meet for his presence ; and
when he deigns to descend to purify the
human heart, man is required to promise
that he will exert himself to be holy and
pure. These promises are made for us
at baptism by our sureties, and it is the
part of those to whose care the infant
mind is entrusted, to see that those pro-
mises are fulfilled, in as far as depends
on them, by every wise means of Chris-
tian instruction, and by cultivating all
the best principles of virtue and true ho-
liness.



ON THE DUTIES OF THE YOUNG.

There is, however, a very interesting
period of life, when the young may be-
come fully aware of their own moral and
religious obligations ; and when they are
called upon to profess before the Church
of Christ, their own determination to be-
come his faithful servants. On this so-
Jemn occasion, the privileges of their bap-
tism are confirmed to them by " the lay-
" ing on of the hands" of God's ministers ;
a rite derived from the earliest ages
of Christianity ; and significant of that
fatherly hand, under whose care they
profess to live, and by whose guidance
they are now willing to be led.

We have lately returned, my brethren,
from witnessing this holy ami affecting
rite ; and we are now assembled with
several of the young of our congregation,
to whom it was administered, in grateful
meditation dh the prospects which were
then opened to them ; and in the pleas-
ing hope that they will " lead the rest of



ON THE DUTIES OF THE YOUNG.

" their lives according to this beginning.**
It was not, I trust, without thought
and consideration, that they advanced to
this sacred service ; and that the resolu-
tions which they then formed, will appear
in their conduct by all the* best fruits of
virtue and piety. It is fitting, however,
that they should not immediately lose
sight of the religious duty in which they
have been engaged, or of the impressions
which it was designed to leave upon their
hearts ; and it may not, perhaps, be an
useless attempt, if I endeavour, with all
the simplicity in my power, to lay before
them some views of faith and of conduct,
which may not be inapplicable to their
present reflections, and to the character
of their years.

In the first place, then, the young are
now called upon to cultivate the dispo-*
sitions of piety, with a m6re fixed and
steady application of mind than they
may hitherto have bestowed upon them.



ON THE DUTIES OP THE YOUNG. 233

There are various prejudices of the world
which find their way even into the young-
est minds, in consequence of which this
part of duty is apt to seem distasteful to
them, and perhaps gloomy. The minds
of the young, we know, are alive to every
present impression of gaiety and vivaci-
ty ; the pleasures which are scattered
around them, or the incitements of a ro-
mantic imagination, fill all their thoughts,
and seem alone adapted to their years ;
and when they are called to more se-
rious contemplations, they appear, per-
haps, to be carried out of the natural
sphere of their existence. It would be
cruel, no less than unwise, to throw any
chill upon the spring and the ardour of
youth, to entangle the easy flow of its
thoughts in the net of inexplicable mys-
tery, or to darken its hopes and its pro-
spects by images of supernatural terror,
Youth is happy by nature, and true



34 ON THE DUTIES OP THE YOUNG.

ligion calls upon it to rejoice; it only
wishes to render its rejoicing permanent,
and to fix its happiness for ever. It seeks
to add a new zest to enjoyment, by unit-
ing it to gratitude, by raising the
youthful mind to the source from which
all its happiness flows, to that unchang-
ing goodness in which it " lives, and
" moves, and has its being," to that gra-
cious Father, from whom life itself, and all
the capacities of joy, are derived, and who
looks down with paternal delight on the
genuine happiness of all his children.

Is it unsuitable, let me ask, to the glow-
ing affections of Youth, to raise its
thoughts, at times, to this high contempla-
tion ? To look abroad upon universal ex-*
istence, and to behold all creation rejoi-
cing in the bounty of its God ? To view
Material Nature clothed in every form of
beauty, and animated Being enjoying every
variety of happiness ? To feel, amid the



ON THE DUTIES OF THE YOUNG. 235

mighty scene, that itself is not forgot-
ten, that its own light spirits, and active
limbs, and ardent hopes, are gilts from
the same bounteous hand, and to suffer
the flame of love and of gratitude to kindle
amidst the glow of youthful joy ? Is there
any severity, then, in the demand, that
the young should " remember their Crea-
tor in thedays of theiryouth?" Anddoes
the world give them a more generous
lesson, one better adapted to the warm
impulses of their hearts, when it would
confine their thoughts to the mere sel-
fishness of enjoyment, when it would
draw them, by degrees, into the gross
circle of sensuality, and close their eyes
for ever to all that Divine splendour of
beneficence which surrounds them, and
check every emotion of gratitude that
throbs within ?

From the cultivation of piety, my
young friends, you are, in the second



236 ON THE DUTIES OP THE YOUNG.

place, naturally led td thafof every other
duty ; and surely the demand which is now
made upon you, " if there be any virtue,
" and if there be any praise," to think of
these things, is neither unfitting the
character of your reflections, nor the ge-
nerous sentiments of your years. Even
at your years you must have perceived,
that life, with all its capacities of enjoy-
ment, is not designed to be a dream of
pleasure, that something is to be done
in existence, no less than to be enjoyed,
and that the heart of man can less en-
dure the sense of degradation and con-
tempt, ? than all the sufferings and sor-
rows of his uncertain and perishable
being. While, then, you are called by Re-
ligion as well as by Nature, to " rejoice
* 4 in your youth," remember that you
are likewise called upon to act a part on
the theatre of human life ; and if you will
listen to the voice of your own hearts.



ON THE DUTIES OF THE YOUNG. 257

you will hear it assure you, that more hap-
piness must accrue to you from acting
that part well, than from all the intoxica-
tion of pleasure, or all the splendours of
fortune. You will hear it assure you*
that the true honours of your nature have,
in every age, been won by resolution and
self-command ; and the examples in his-
tory, to which your eye involuntarily turns,
and which rouse every sympathetic emo^
tion of your uncorrupted minds, are those
of the hero, the patriot, or the sage, not
the degraded minions of pomp, or plea-
sure, or power.

To such examples, even human wis-
dom, amid all its imperfection, invariably
directs you ; but you are now led, by a
wisdom greater than that of man, to the
contemplation of a still higher morality,
and a more perfect example. You are
called by the holy voice of the Son of
God himself, to the cultivation of every



238 ON THE DUTIES OF THE YOUNG.

pure, and gentle, and elevated principle
of conduct ; you hear him entreat you,
not as a Master, but as a Friend, to
take his " easy yoke upon you, and his
" light burden,'* and you see Him walk-
ing before you in every path of duty,
wherever man is to be blessed, or God
is to be honoured. At your age, the
duties required of you are not, in ge-
neral, hard to be exercised ; you are ra-
ther preparing for the business of life, than
have actually entered upon it. You are
not yet assailed by violent temptations, nor
have to struggle against habits long con-
firmed ; yet you have knowledge and
wisdom to acquire, passions to regulate,
innocence to guard, virtue to improve,
and on the success of your present ex-
ertions depends, more than you can now
conceive, the future honour and hap-
piness of your being. " Whatsoever
u things, therefore, are true, whatsoever



12



ON THE DUTIES OF THE YOUNG. 239

things are honest, whatsoever things
" are just, whatsoever things are pure,
" whatsoever things are lovely, whatso-
" ever things are of good report ; if there
" be any virtue, and if there be any
" praise, think on these things ; those
" things which ye have both learn-
" ed, and received, and heard, and seen,
" do, and the God of Peace shall be with
" you !"

There is, in the third place, another
view of human life, of which even the
youngest among us cannot be ignorant
that man is subject to suffering of differ-
ent kinds, both such as arises from his
own misconduct, and such as belongs
to his frail and precarious existence. I
will not suppose, that you, my young
friends, are acquainted with vice in any
of its more disgraceful forms yet you
have " done those things which you
" ought not to have done, and left un-
'' done those things which you ought to



240 ON THE DUTIES OF THE YOUNG.

" have done." There is a feeling of Help-'
lessness and despondency naturally ac-
companying the reproaches of conscience^
and although it may make but a tran-
sient impression on the careless spirits
of youth, it is a feeling which all must,
in some degree, have experienced. No-
thing more enfeebles the mind for any
good or virtuous exertion ; and it is thus
that vice produces vice, by making the
attainment of virtue despaired of, and, by
drawing around the soul that circle of en-
chantment, from which it cannot disco-
ver the means of emancipation.

It is the glory of that Religion, of
which you have now professed your-
selves the disciples, that it has burst these
unworthy fetters of the soul. He who
came to guide you to duty, came like-
wise to save you from sin ; and if you
feel that you have offended, and long to
regain that path which you have left,
you are called by the voice of Heaven



ON THE DUTIES OF THE YOtJXG. 241

itself, to throw away every desponding
apprehension, " to arise at once, and go
" to your Father ;" and the blood which
was shed upon the Cross, is the pledge
that your Father is ever ready to receive,
and that the Spirit of consolation and of
strength is ever willing to conduct you !

But is it the evils of life that appal
you, and are even your young spirits no
strangers to affliction ? Then look to the
Master whom you have 'vowed to serve !
In Him, behold " a man of sorrows, and
" acquainted with grief," and hear him
say to all his sorrowing disciples, " Come
" unto me all ye that are weary and heavy
" laden, and I will give you rest." Is it
the close of mortal existence which you
contemplate with horror ? Have the pa-
rents whom you revered, or some youth-
ful companion, dropped from before your
eyes into the grave ? And is the natural
gaiety of your hearts clouded by the gloom

VOL. n. Q



242 ON THE DUTIES OF THE YOUNG.

of " the shadow of death?" Come, then,
with thankfulness, my young friends, and
fix your eyes upon the glorious discoveries
which have now been unveiled to you.
Behold in the Conqueror of Sin, the Con-
queror likewise of Death ! See his Divine
form bursting from the tomb, in all the
radiance of a celestial nature, and listen
to these words of exulting Faith, " O
" Death, where is thy sting? O Grave,
" where is thy victory ?"

Such is the Religion which you have now
acknowledged to be yours ; and I trust in
God, that no perversion of heart, and no
imagination of vanity, will ever tempt you
to desert it. Yet you may probably hear
voices that will endeavour to win you to
other impressions of opinion and of con-
duct ; and in the seductions of present
pleasure, to drown all your high views of


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Online LibraryRobert MoreheadA series of discourses on the principles of religious belief as connected with human happiness and improvement (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 18)