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little moment to trouble themselves with the remembrance of what is past and gone; since God requires nothing but their amendment, and even sorrow and repentance are no farther valuable, than as they tend to reformation. I shall not enter into speculations on this subject; let men enjoy their reasonings; but this I say, it is impossible to have a sense of religion, to think of God and ourselves as we ought to do, without being affected with the deepest sorrow for our offences. When men are truly concerned, they do not consider what they are to get by their tears, or what profit their sorrow will yield : the soul must vent its grief; and godly sorrow is as truly the natural expression of an inward pain as worldly sorrow, however they differ in their causes and objects. St. Peter, when he went out and wept bitterly, did not stay to consider whether he ought to weep or no ; or to reflect what use his tears would be to him : his heart was too full for such reflexions; he saw the goodness of his Lord and his own baseness, and his grief came as naturally into his eyes, as when a man bemoans the loss of a father or a mother. Some indeed have learnt how to make a trade of repentance, and can balance sin and sorrow as exactly as a merchant does his accounts: and repentance is indeed their richest merchandise. But the gospel has taught us no such art: there only we learn how gracious our God is, how much it is our duty and interest to obey; and from thence we learn how base and how miserable we are when we offend. What is beyond this is the work of nature, which will ever start and grow afflicted at the sight of misery, and knows how to lament its own afflictions without a guide. When therefore we find ourselves truly affected with the sense of our sins, and in good earnest lament our disobedience and ingratitude to God, we have the best indication that we can have, that the spirit of religion is still alive within us, and that we are not given up to a reprobate obdurate heart.
Lastly, there is one observation of a more general concern, that naturally offers itself on the view of this case. The instruction of this example to private Christians is very great; but yet there seems to me to be something more intended in the transmitting this history to all ages in the sacred writings.
The gospel was the work of God; and though we were to
receive it by the hands of men, yet was our faith to be founded not in the strength or policy of man, but in the power and wisdom of God : for this reason God chose the weak things of the world to confound the strong.' The disciples, on whom the weight of the gospel was to rest, and on whose management the success seemed to depend, were men of no distinguished characters ; their simplicity and honesty were their best commendation: these our Lord elected, well knowing, the weaker the instruments were, the more evidently the hand of God would appear in the mighty things performed by them. Among these St. Peter plainly had the greatest spirit and the strongest resolution ; his readiness and vivacity distinguished him in every step; he was the mouth of the Apostles, and always ready to undertake and execute the commands of his Lord. If there was any of the number that could be thought capable of entering into and managing so great a design as the propagating a new religion in the world, it was St. Peter: he therefore is called to the trial. And how able he was of himself to encounter the difficulties that were to attend the gospel in every step, you have already seen. Had the gospel been left to have
, been conducted by him merely, it is probable that the fame of it would not have reached our times. And yet this same man, not many weeks after, appears before the tribunal of the magistrates, preaches to his judges, and testifies that of a truth Jesus was the Christ, and that whom they slew, and hanged on a tree, God had raised from the dead, and exalted him to the right hand of his glory. Whence this mighty difference? or to what can it be ascribed but to that great Spirit for whose coming their Lord commanded them to wait in Jerusalem, and not to enter on their office till they should receive
from on high? If the gospel was an imposture, and if Christ died to rise no more, what gave this fresh courage to St. Peter ? Had he more confidence in a dead man than in his Master whilst on earth? If he had not seen Christ come from the grave, nor received the power of the Spirit, what could move him to expose
himself for the sake of Christ, for whose sake whilst on earth, and whilst the hopes of his being the Son of God were strong, he dared not to expose himself?
This plainly shows that the hand of God was with him, and
is an evidence to us that our faith is the work of God, and not of man. And thus, whether we consider St. Peter's case
as an instruction to ourselves, it affords us many useful lessons and many encouragements to direct and support us in our spiritual warfare; or whether we consider it in a more general view, and as affecting his character as he was a minister of the gospel, and an apostle of Christ Jesus, it yields us a great assurance and confidence in our faith, whilst, through the weakness of the man we evidently discern the power of God, which wrought effectually with him; so that, knowing in whom we have trusted, we need not be ashamed.
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XXXI.
MATTHEW, CHAP. XIV.-VERSES 1, 2.
INTRODUCTION, showing how it came to pass that, whilst others were rejoicing in the hopes of having a great prophet among them, Herod alone was perplexed and dismayed; and how, when there were such various accounts of the great personage who had appeared, he alone took up with the most improbable of them all, and for which there was not the least foundation: the reason of this was his guilty conscience : he had murdered a holy man to please a lewd woman; and no sooner did he hear that there was one in the country who wrought miracles, but he concluded that John the Baptist was come from the grave to take vengeance for his iniquities.
The use here made of this passage of holy Scripture, is to set forth such considerations as naturally arise from it, and are applicable for the direction of ourselves.
First, we may observe from hence the great force and efficacy of conscience. It is reasonable to suppose that, if God intended us for his service, and designed us for another state of happiness or misery, according to our present good or ill behavior, he should make himself known to us by some clear manifestation, and should promulge the laws which were to be the rule of our obedience, so that all might know and acknowlege their duty. There are many demonstrations of his existence in the works of nature and the operations of our own minds : but the plainest of these proofs sometimes escape the lower classes of mankind, who are not in the habit of exercising their reason : but then there is an internal proof of a Deity arising from con
science, and reflexion on the good or evil we do, which amounts to the fullest declaration of the power of God, and is the completest promulgation of his law to mankind that can be desired; for it is made at every man's door, nay, in his very heart. As speculation helps us to other proofs, so does it also help some persons to get rid of them : a man of subtle wit
refine on any subject, till there be little left for the mind to rest on with any satisfaction ; but this proof of a superior Being, to whom we are accountable, which dwells in every man's breast, no art or subtilty can ever expel. As long as men continue to judge of their actions; as long as good or evil is attended with peace and satisfaction, or anxiety and fear; so long it will be plain that God has not left himself without a witness : this point enlarged on.
Secondly, the moral law is promulged in the same manner to every rational creature: the work of the law is written in the heart, as the conscience beareth witness, and the thoughts, which either accuse or excuse. The promulgation here is stronger than that of any human laws, for it is renewed to every individual; and the meaning is so preserved, that nothing but great skill, joined with little honesty, can pervert or obscure it; for the rebukes of conscience will, sooner or later, restore its true sense to the law, which was darkened by false reason serving the inclinations of a sinful heart. An honest man would grieve to see how the plainest laws have been treated by corrupt casuists; particularly in the obligation of an oath, of which the text furnishes us with an instance : but conscience proves generally an honester casuist, and pulls off the thin disguise. Herod had promised with an oath to give whatever she should ask to the daughter of Herodias : and though he was troubled when she asked the head of John the Baptist, yet, for his oath's sake, &c. he commanded it to be given her; calmly dipping his hands in blood, under the comfort of a conscientious regard for his oath! But the scene is quickly changed : Herod is alarmed