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SERM () N LI.
I PETER iv. 18.
If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear!
dicious men to describe religion in amiable colours, as the child of God and the friend of man; easy in its services, benevolent in its duties, and advantageous in its end; and thus to invite and allure men to the love and
practice of a system of duties, all whose ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths peace. And happy were it for the cause of religion, had all its advocates been disposed to pursue the same wise plan.
But there never have been wanting gloomy and injudicļous zealots, preachers of a sad countenance, who have taken a pleasure in representing it not as lovely, and of good report; but as severe and forbidding;
full of difficulties and dangers; supported by a God of terrors; hard in its performance, and hazardous in its issue.
And perhaps nothing has afforded greater countenance to the injudicious opinions of these men, than a misapplication of the words of the text." St. Peter," say they, lays et it down as a certain and undeniable truth, “ that the sinner and the ungodly have every
thing to fear from the justice and anger of “ God; and that even the most perfect Chris" tians, even the righteous themselves, will
scarcely, and with much difficulty, be saved.” And from hence they take occasion to expatiate upon the many temptations to evil, the difficulty of observing the precepts of the Gospel, and the severity of the Judge, to whom we are to give an account of our thoughts and actions.
Were this representation true, melancholy indeed and miserable would our situation be! dark and gloomy would our prospect appear ; joyless and insupportable the path that leads to the grave, if to the miseries of the present life were added these alarming uncertainties of happiness in the next. Little encouragement should we have to endeavour to conquer our infirmities, to subdue our lusts, to struggle against the
power of temptation, if after all our pains, the event of our labours were precarious and doubtful. Small reason also should we have to bove God, little ground to rely on his
mercy, if, after so many repeated declarations of his goodness and love to all men, he should scarcely, and as it were with reluctance and regret, suffer even the righteous to be saved.
But I hope I shall be able to make it appear, that this rash and inhuman opinion is neither countenanced by the general scope and design of the Gospel, nor by the words of St. Peter contained in the text.
And, first, let it be previously remarked, that by the righteous here mentioned, St. Peter cannot mean those who are perfectly and altogether righteous, who have never committed sin, but have fulfilled the law of God without offending even in one point: for such a righteousness belongs to the Son of God alone, who knew no sin : and were it possible that men should be possessed of it, they would be so far from being scarcely saved, that heaven would be their just right, and the due reward of their virtue. But by the righteous are here meant those who sincerely, though imperfectly, endeavour to arrive at perfection; who have put
off the old man, with his deeds, and have put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. And that this is the true signification of the word righteousness, appears by the opposition made in the following words of the text. For as by the sinner and the wicked we are to understand those who are generally and habitually so; who refuse to submit to the yoke of Christ and obey his Gospel; so by the righteous we must understand those who are sincerely and habitually obedient to the dictates of Christ; who endeavour to live, not after the flesh, but after the spirit; though with such stains and mixtures of imperfection as will ever cleave to this our frail and mortal nature.
Now if such righteous men as these shall scarcely be saved, the difficulty of their salvation must be ascribed to one of these three causes : either to the holiness and justice of God, which hinders their happiness; or to our Saviour, who has not sufficiently provided for their salvation; or, lastly, to the severity of the Gospel precepts, and the difficulty of fulfilling the conditions upon which salvation is offered: all which reasons, upon a fair examination, will appear very trifling and insufficient.