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« The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy. There is none that doeth good, no, not one,” Psalm xiv, 2, 3. But were not the disciples of our Lord to be considered in a different point of view ? No.
Even after the extraordinary assistance afforded them by the Son of God, the apostles themselves did but confirm the sad assertion of the psalmist. Our Lord, upon whom no appearances could impose, once testified to James and John that, notwithstanding their zeal for his person, they were unacquainted with his real character; and that, instead of being influ. enced by his Spirit, they were actuated by that of the destroyer, Luke ix, 55. “ Ye, then, being evil,” said he to all his disciples, Matt. vii, 11. “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil ?" John vi, 70. “One of you shall betray me,”—Peter, who is the most resolute to confess me, shall “ deny me thrice--and all ye shall be offended because of me,” Matt. xxvi, 21, 34, 31. Lastly: our Lord constantly represented the unregenerate as persons diseased and condemned. They that are whole,” said he, “ have no need of the physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,' Mark ii, 17. “ Ye are of this world, therefore I said unto you that ye shall die in your sins; for if ye believe not that I am He,” and refuse to observe the spiritual regimen I prescribe, “ye shall die in your sins," John viii, 23, 24. “Except ye repent, ye shall perish,” Luke xiii, 5.
It is notorious, that John the Baptist prepared the way of his adorable Master by preaching the same doctrine. “O generation of vipers," said he to the Pharisees and Sadducees, to the profane and professing part of the nation, “ who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come ? Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance,” Matt. iii, 7, 8.
It is equally well known that the disciples were instructed by Christ himself to tread in the steps of his forerunner. “It behooved,” said he, “ Christ to suffer ; and that repentance should be preached in his name among all nations,” Luke xxiv, 46, 47. Hence an apostle was heard to cry out : “God now commandeth all men every where to repent,” Acts xvii, 30. And at other times, the same divine teacher was inspired to write as follows : “We, who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, were by nature the children of wrath even as others,” Gal. ii, 15; Eph. ii, 3. “For we were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another,” Tit. iii, 3.
The same doctrine was constantly held forth by the other apostles, as well as by St. Paul. “In time past,” saith St. Peter, “we have wrought the will of the Gentiles, walking in lasciviousness, lusts, revellings," &c. 1 Pet. iv, 3. “The whole world lieth in wickedness," saith the beloved John, 1 John v, 19; and St. James solemnly testifies, that every “ friend of the world is the enemy of God," James iv, 4.
This humiliating doctrine, which the world universally abhors, is a light too valuable to be hidden under a bushel : and till it be raised, as it were, upon a candlestick of gold, we can never hope to see the visible Church enlightened and reformed.
Observations upon the repentance of worldly men. Ir it be inquired, Do not all ministers preach repentance ? we answer, that, ordinarily, true ministers alone preach true repentance. The preachers of the day, as they are conformable to the world in other things, so they are perfectly contented with practising the repentance of worldly men. Now, as he who receives only base coin, cannot possibly circulate good money, so he who satisfies his own heart with a shortlived sorrow for sin, cannot possibly give free course to that evangelical repentance which the Gospel requires. And it is observable, that the hearers of such ill-instructed scribes generally fix those bounds to their repentance which are satisfactory to their impenitent pastors.
The repentance we here condemn may be known by the following marks :
1. It is superficial, and founded only upon the most vague ideas of our corruption. Hence, it cannot, like that of David and Jeremiah, trace sin to its source, and bewail the depravity of the whole heart, Psalm li, 5 ; Jer. xvii, 9.
2. It is Pharisaical, regarding only outward sins. The righteousness of the Pharisees rested upon the most trifling observances, while they neglected those weighty commands of the law which respect the love of God and our neighbour, Matt. xxiii, 23. They afflicted themselves when they had not scrupulously paid the tenths of their herbs: but they smote not upon their breasts when they had rejected the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the same dangerous circumstances are those penitents of the present day who are less sorrowful on account of having offended God and rejected Christ, than that they are become objects of ridicule, contempt, or punishment, by the commission of some impious or dishonourable action. We frequently hear these false penitents bewailing the condition to which they have reduced themselves, and giving vent to the most passionate expressions of sorrow. But when are they seen to afflict themselves because they have not been wholly devoted to God? Or when do they shed a single tear at the recollection that they have not cherished their neighbour as themselves ? Are they ever heard to lament the want of that faith in Christ " which worketh by love ?” Gal. v, 6.
Are they ever engaged in seeking after that com. munion of saints by which believers become of one heart and one soul ? Alas! so far are they from this, that they continue equally tranquil under the maledictions of the Gospel as under those of the law. They hear, without terror, those dreadful words of the apostle, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha,” i Cor. xvi, 22. And though they neither love nor know him, yet they vainly look upon themselves as godly mourners and unfeigned penitents.
3. This repentance is unfruitful, inasmuch as those who repent after this manner, are utter strangers to compunction of heart. None of these are constrained to cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do ?” Acts ii, 37. They come not to the Redeemer among such as "are weary and heavy laden,” Matt. xi, 28. They have no experience of that godly sorrow by which the true penitent dies to sin: and so far are they from being born again of the Spirit
, that they neither expect nor desire any such regeneration. In short, this repentance is rarely ag sincere as that of Judas, who confessed his sin, justified the innocent, subdued his ruling passion, and returned the money he had so dearly obtained.
Evangelical repentance is an incomprehensible work to the generality of ministers. Wherever it appears they are prepared to censure it; and are earnest in exhorting men to flee from it, rather than request it as a gift from God. Thus, when they behold any one truly mourning under a sense of sin, smiting upon his breast with the publican, stripping off, with St. Paul, the covering of his own righteousness, and inquiring, with the convicted jailer, “ What must I do to be saved ?" Acts xvi, 30, they suppose these to be certain signs of a deep melancholy. They imagine the conversation of some enthusiast has driven the man to despair, and will not scruple to affirm that he has lost the proper use of his reason. So true it is, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God," 1 Cor. ii, 14; nor is even able to form any just ideas of that repentance, which is the first duty imposed upon us by the Gospel, and the first step toward that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord,
The moralists of the present time acknowledge that all men are sinners; but they neglect to draw the just consequences from so sad a truth. To be found a sinner before an infinitely holy and just God, is to forfeit, at once, both our felicity and existence. To appear as an offender in the eyes of our all-seeing Judge, is to lie in the condition of a broken vessel, which the potter throws aside as refuse : it is to stand in the circumstances of a criminal, convicted of violating the most sacred laws of his prince. The two most important laws of God, are those which require piety toward himself, and charity toward our neighbour. Now if we have violated both the one and the other of these laws, and that times without number, it becomes us not only to confess our transgression, but to consider our danger. When a traitor is convicted of treason, or an assassin of murder, he immediately expects to hear his sentence pronounced. And thus, when a sinner confesses himself to be such, he makes a tacit acknowledgment that sentence of death might justly be pronounced upon him.
Some persons are naturally so short sighted, that they can only discover the most striking objects about them. Many in the moral world are in similar circumstances, to whom nothing appears as sin, except impieties of the grossest kind. If we judge of God's commands according to the prejudices of these men, idolatry is nothing less than the act of prostrating ourselves before an idol ; and murder is merely the act by which a man destroys the life of his fellow creature. But if these deluded persons could contemplate sin in a Scriptural light; if they could avail themselves of the law of God, as of an observatory erected for sacred meditation, their moral view would be sufficiently strength. ened to discover the following truths :
1. If we have not, at all times, placed a greater confidence in the Creator than in any of his creatures; if we have either feared or loved any one more than our celestial Parent, we have then really set up another God, in opposition to the Lord of heaven and earth.
2. If, neglecting to worship the Almighty in spirit and truth, we have suffered ourselves to be seduced by any splendid vanity of the age, we have sinned in the same degree, as though we had fallen down before a molten image.
3. If, in our conversation, our reading, or our prayers, we have ever irreverently pronounced the name of God,” we have then taken that “ sacred name in vain :" and God himself declares that he will not hold such a one guiltless.
4. If we have refused to labour diligently, through the week, in the work of our particular calling; or if we have ever made the Sabbath a day of spiritual indolence and frivolous amusement; then we have neglected and broken that law which we are peculiarly commanded to “ remember and keep."
5. If we have, at any time, been wanting in obedience, respect, or love to our parents, our pastors, our magistrates, or to any of our superiors; or if we have neglected any of those duties, which our relations in society, or our particular vocation has imposed upon us, we have merited that God should cut us off from the land of the living.
6. If we have weakened our constitution by excess of any kind ; if we have struck our neighbour in a moment of passion; if we have ever spoken an injurious word; if we have ever cast a look directed by malice; if we have ever formed in our hearts a single evil wish against any person whatever, or if we have ever ceased to love our brother ;we have then, in the sight of God, committed a species of murder, 1 John ïïi, 15.
7. If we have ever looked upon a woman with any other feelings than those of chastity, Matt. v, 28; or if we have at any time cast a wishful glance upon the honours and pleasures of the world; we have sufficiently proved the impurity of our nature, and must be considered as living in enmity with God, James iv, 4.
8. If we have received the profit annexed to any post or employment, without carefully discharging the duties incumbent upon us in such situation; or if we have taken advantage either of the ignorance or the neces. sity of others, in order to enrich ourselves at their expense; we may justly rank ourselves with those who openly violate the eighth command.
9. If we have ever offended against truth in our ordinary conversa. tion; if we have neglected to fulfil our promises ; or have ever broken our vows, whether made to God or man; we have reason, in this respect, to plead guilty before the tribunal of immutable truth.
10. If we have ever been dissatisfied with our lot in life; if we have ever indulged restless desires, or have given way to envious and irregular wishes; we have then assuredly admitted into our hearts that covetousness which is the root of every evil.
When St. Paul considered the law, in this point of view, he cried out, “ It is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin,” Rom. vii, 14. And when Isaiah, passing from the letter to the spirit, discovered the vast extent of the decalogue, he exclaimed, “Wo is me! for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips,” Isa. vi, 5. If our self-applauding moralists would be persuaded to weigh their piety in the same balance, they would find it as defective at least as that of Isaiah and St. Paul.
Here, perhaps, some objecting Pharisee may say, “If I have sinned
in some degree, yet I have not committed such crimes as many others have done, and I trust that God will not be severe in attending to trifling sins.” But, (1.) These pretended trifling sins are ordinarily of so great a number, that the multitude of them becomes equivalent to the enormity of those crimes which are rarely committed; so mountains and seas are but collections of grains of sand and drops of water.
2. Every voluntary transgression argues a real contempt of the legislator's authority; and in such contempt there is found the seed of every sin that can possibly be committed, in opposition to his express command. All the commands of God, whether they be great or small, have no other sanction than that which consists in his Divine authority, and this authority is trampled under foot by every petty delinquent, as well as by every daring transgressor.
3. Those which we usually esteem trivial sins, are the more dangerous on account of their being less attended to. They are committed without fear, without remorse, and generally without intermission. As there are more ships of war destroyed by worms than by the shot of the enemy, so the multitude of those who destroy themselves through ordinary sins, exceeds the number of those who perish by enormous offences.
4. We have a thousand proofs that small sins will lead a man, by insensible degrees, to the commission of greater. Nothing is more common among us than the custom of swearing and giving way to wrath without reason; and these are usually regarded as offences of an incon. siderable nature. But there is every reason to believe, that they who have contracted these vicious habits, would be equally disposed to perjury and murder, were they assailed by a forcible temptation, and unre. strained with the dread of forfeiting their honour or their life. If we judge of a commodity by observing a small sample; so by little sins, as well as by trivial acts of virtue, we may form a judgment of the heart. Hence the widow's two mites appeared a considerable oblation in the eyes of Christ, who judged by them how rich an offering the same woman would have made, had she been possessed of the means. For the same reason, those frequent exclamations, in which the name of God is taken in vain, those poignant railleries, and those frivolous lies, which are produced in common conversation, discover the true disposition of those persons, who, without insult or temptation, can violate the sacred laws of piety and love. The same seeds produce fruit more or less perfect, according to the sterility or luxuriance of the soil in which they are sown. Thus the very same principle of malice which leads a child to torment an insect, acts more forcibly upon the heart of a slanderous woman, whose highest joy consists in mangling the reputation of a neighbour; nor is the cruel tyrant actuated by a different princi. ple, who finds a barbarous pleasure in persecuting the righteous and shedding the blood of the innocent.
If prejudice will not allow these observations to be just, reason declares the contrary. The very same action that, in certain cases, would be esteemed a failing, becomes, in some circumstances, an offence; and, in others, an enormous crime. For instance: if I despise an inferior, I commit a fault; if the offended party is my equal, my fault rises in magnitude ; if he is my superior, it is greater still: if he is a respecta.