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heard with effect. And sin will sometimes do it, when outward righteousness will not: I mean by outward righteousness, external decency of manners, without any inward principle of religion whatever. The sinner may return and fly to God, even because the world is against him. The visibly righteous man is in friendship with the world : and the “ friendship of the world is enmity with God," whensoever, as I have before expressed it, it soothes and lulls men in religious insensibility.
But how, it will be said, is this? Is it not to encourage sin ? Is it not to put the sinner in a more hopeful condition than the righteous ? Is it not, in some measure, giving the greatest sinner the greatest chance of being saved? This may be objected : and the objection brings me to support the assertion in the beginning of my discourse, that the doctrine proposed cannot, without being wilfully misconstrued, deceive or
First, you ask, is not this to encourage sin ? I answer, it is to encourage the sinner who repents; and, if the sinner repent, why should he not be encouraged ? But some, you say, will take occasion, from this encouragement, to plunge into sin. I answer, that then they wilfully misapply it: for if they enter upon sin intending to repent afterwards, I take upon me to tell them, that no true repentance can come of such intention. The very intention is a fraud : instead of being the parent of true repentance, it is itself to be repented of bitterly. Whether such a man ever repent or not is another question, but no sincere repentance can issue, or proceed, from this intention. It must come altogether from another quarter. It will look back, when it does come, upon that previous intention with hatred and horror, as upon a plan, and scheme,
and design to impose upon and abuse the mercy of God. The moment a plan is formed of sinning with an intention afterwards to repent, at that moment the whole doctrine of grace, of repentance, and of course this part of it amongst the rest, is wilfully misconstrued. The grace of God is turned into lasciviousness. At the time this design is formed, the person forming it is in the bond of iniquity, as Saint Peter told Simon he wasin a state of imminent perdition; and this design will not help him out of it. We
We say, that repentance is sometimes more likely to be brought about in a confessed, nay, in a notorious and convicted sinner, than in a seemingly regular life: but it is of true repentance that we speak, and no true repentance can proceed from a previous intention to repent, I mean an intention previous to the sin. Therefore no advantage can be taken of this doctrine to the encouragement of sin, without wilfully misconstruing it.
But then you say, we place the sinner in a more hopeful condition than the righteous. But who, let us inquire, are the righteous we speak of? Not they, who are endeavouring, however imperfectly, to perform the will of God; not they, who are actuated by a principle of obedience to him ; but men, who are orderly and regular in their visible behaviour without an internal religion. To the eye of man they appear righteous. But if they do good, it is not from the love or fear of God, or out of regard to religion that they do it, but from other considerations. If they abstain from sin, they abstain from it out of different motives from what religion offers ; and so long as they have the acquiescence and approbation of the world, they are kept in a state of sleep; in a state, as to religion, of total negligence and unconcern. Of these righteous
men there are many; and, when we compare their condition with that of the open sinner, it is to rouse them, if possible, to a sense of religion. A wounded conscience is better than a conscience which is torpid. When conscience begins to do its office, they will feel things changed within them mightily. It will no longer be their concern to keep fair with the world, to preserve appearances, to maintain a character, to uphold decency, order, and regularity in their behaviour ; but it will be their concern to obey God, to think of him, to love him, to fear him ; nay, to love him with all their heart, with all their mind, with all their soul, with all their strength ; that is, to direct their cares and endeavours to one single point, his will : yet their visible conduct may not be much altered; but their internal motives and principle will be altered altogether.
This alteration must take place in the heart, even of the seemingly righteous. It may take place also in the heart of the sinner; and, we say (and this is, in truth, the whole which we say), that a conscience pricked by sin is sometimes, nay oftentimes, more susceptible of the impressions of religion, of true and deep impressions, than a mind which has been accustomed to look only to the laws and customs of the world, to conform itself to those laws, and to find rest and satisfaction in that peace, which not God, but the world
USE AND ABUSE OF THE MERCY OF GOD IN THE
REDEMPTION OF MANKIND BY CHRIST.
ECCLES. V. 5, 6.
Concerning propitiation, be not without fear to add sin
unto sin ; and say not, his mercy is great, and he will be pacified for the multitude of my sins; for mercy and wrath come from him, and his indignation resteth upon sinners.
I know not so much good advice drawn up in so little compass any where as in the chapter which we have quoted; nor of that advice, any part so important as that which I have read to you in the text. We are all naturally inclined to lean and
the mercy of God; and this presumption cannot be combated by any general arguments, because the foundation of it is right. It is certainly true, that the frame of nature, the multitude which we see of contrivances, evident contrivances, and provisions for the happiness of sensitive beings, bespeak the good will and kindness of the Creator; and of that good will, a plain and obvious part and consequence is, condescension to our infirmities, and mercy to our faults. It is not only rational, but unavoidable to expect this. The language of Scripture, if we go to that for information, comes up in this respect to the intimations of nature. Throughout the whole book, God is described as loving, affectionate, patient, compassionate, and long suffering to his human creation : so that when we conceive of God as a merciful being, we think of him very truly. But then the question is, in what manner, and to what extent, we may apply this consideration to our own conduct.
First, then, when we apply it to console ourselves under any imperfection of character, owing to invincible weaknesses either of body or mind, we apply it rightly. God has not fixed a certain measure or standard of virtue, which every person of every sort and degree must come up to, in order to be saved ; that were not the part of a merciful judge. He proportions his demands of duty to our several capacities, justly estimated, and faithfully exerted. It may be true, that he who has employed extraordinary endowments well, will be recompensed with a higher reward than he who has employed inferior endowments well ; but still one as well as the other will be rewarded. He who had doubled the ten talents which were entrusted to him was set over ten cities; whilst he who had doubled the five talents was set over five cities; but both were rewarded, both also highly rewarded, though differently. Therefore, any inferiority to others in our natural abilities, any difficulties or disadvantages we labour under, which others do not labour under, need not discomfort us at all. They are made up to us by God's mercy, who will finally accommodate his judgement to those diffi. culties and disadvantages so far as they are real. And the same allowance, which we hope will be vouchsafed to our constitutional infirmities (so far as they are both real infirmities and invincible infirmities), will also be extended to the difficulties we labour under, by reason of the circumstances and condition in which we are placed ; whether these difficulties be ignorance for want