« PreviousContinue »
is that king Ahaz,” 2 Kings xiii. 2 Chron. xxviii.
· Both these princes were bad men; but was their behavior equally displeasing to God in the day when trouble came upon them? Was he not more displeased with Ahaz for his contemptuous refusal of a sign, and for confidence in flesh, and wood, and stone, than with the prayers of Jehoahaz? No man will say so that regards the authority either of common sense, or of the word of God.
Although no unregenerate person can perform any work ihat is spiritually good, yet the religious performances of men of this description are very different from one anoth
I here are some who, for pretence, make long prayers, and seek only to recommend themselves to men, while they pretend to worship God. There are some who fast to smite with the fist of wickedness. There have been some who preached Christ out of strife and envy, and there are still some who serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own bellies, in the performance of sacred ministrations. The wickedness of all such persons is extreme. They insult the Most High under pretence of serving him, and may, too justly, be compared to that detested traitor, who betrayed the Son of man with a kiss.
It is not of persons of this description that we now speak, but of those men who, though not renewed in the spirit of their ininds, wish
to be saved. They cannot serve God with godly sincerity, but they endeavor to serve him with all that sincerity which results from a real regard to their own eternal welfare. Their desires after the blessings of grace are mot pure and spiritual, but selfish and carnal. Their works at the best are but dead works; because they have no principle of spiritual life, without which ii is impossible to serve the Holy God with acceptance.
But undoubtedly there is a great difference between the principles that actuate gross hy, pocrites who wilfully trifle with God, and those by which men are actuated, whose consciences are awakened and active, though not purified by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are not sure that Abimelech, king of Gerar, *was a saint, although he had God's own testimony for a certain part of his behavior, that he had acted in the integrity of his heart, Gen. xx. for there is a species of integrity which may be the fruit of natural principles. Without sanctifying grace, we may desire to be approved of God our Judge; and acting under the influence of this desire in our religious services, (although we are not entitled to the acceptance of our works, as if they were agreeable to the divine will,) yet the doing of them is not so bad as the omission of them would be. We read of some kings of Judah, who did " that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not like David their father, or “not with
a perfect heart.” While they continued to behave in this manner, they were not treated by God like those other kings, who are said to have done that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.” They enjoyed the blessings of Providence as long as their outward conduct was conformable to the law of God, although: they never lived under the influence of spiritual principles. Their services were not accepted, in the sense in which the good works of believers are accepted. God did not, and could not, approve of them as services well pleasing to him, through his beloved Son ; but they were sustained for what they really were. They were not regarded by him as evidences of love to his own name, and to his law, but as works conformable, in the matter of them, to his law, and expressions of those inward principles of conduct from which they proceeded.
It is not generally believed, nor is it proba. ble, that the men of Niniveh generally repented unto salvation at the preaching of Jonah. They saw that they were exposed to destruction by their iniquities; and to prevent, if possible, their ruin, they turned from the wickedness of their ways, and from the violence that was in their hands. If repentance unto salvation had been the attainment of the body of the people, it is not to be supposed that they would have become so wicked as they were in the days of Nahum, or of Pul, king of Assyria. Yet God pitied them when he saw their repentance at the preaching of Jonah, and repented of the evil which he thought of doing unto them. If they had not repented in the manner they did, vengeance would have been taken upon them at the time named by the prophe: Jonah. For at what instant God speaks concerning a nation or a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy, the judgment denounced must be executed, unless that nation or kingdom repent, Jer. xviii.
Some would make all sinners equally criminal. This is not the judgment of God, who says that “ Jehoram did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, but not like his fa. ther or mother;" that Hoshea, the last king of the ten tribes, “ did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, but not as the kings of Israel that were before him." From the history of Hezekiah, we have reason to believe that the reason (one reason at least) why Hoshea's wickedness is spoken of with this limitation is, that he was not so great an enemy to the institutions of God as his predecessors. He suffered his people to come up to Jerusalem, to worship the Lord according to his appointment.
This leads us to the principal view in which we are at present to consider the good works of those unregenerate persons, which are the fruits of moral seriousness. In these works
they make use of those divine ordinances which God hath appointed for the conversion of sinners, as well as for the edification of them that believe. They, in some sense, approach unto God, Isa. Iviii. 2. We often read in the book of Leviticus of the approaches made to God by the priests, the Levites, and the people. To these approaches, ceremonial purity was required. Spiritual purity was indeed requisite to an acceptable approach unto the Lord, whether they did it in a right manner or not; because God dwelt in his sanctuary. Now the Lord still dwelleth in Zion. He hath said, “This is my rest, here will I dwell forever ; for I have desired it." It is impossible that unregenerate persons should come unto God himself as their exceeding joy, 1 John i. 6. But they may come unto his tabernacles; and that God who loveth the
gates of Zion may command his blessing upon them. They attend those institutions by which God gathers to himself those of his chosen people that are not yet gathered to him. They make frequent use of the word of God in private, by reading it, by talking ofthe truths of it, by thinking of them. Now the word of God is able to save the soul, because it is the ministration of the Spirit. He makes the gospel the power of God for salvation to every one that believeth, and he makes it the seed of faith to his chosen.