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“ Impenitent and unpardoned sinners shall lie eternally in prison and be eternally satisfying the offended justice of God; but in all that eternity there shall never be that moment wherein they may say, as Christ did in His making satisfaction, It is finished, the debt is paid, and justice hath received as much as was due from me. No, that satisfaction must be eternally making; and therefore the punishment must be eternally lasting. For every sin, even the least sin, is committed against an infinite God; and therefore the punishment of it must be infinite: for offences take their measures, as well from the dignity of the person against whom they are committed, as from the heinousness of the fact itself considered. As a reviling word against the king is treasonable, against our equals but actionable; and therefore by the same proportion, the same offence against the infinite majesty of the great God, must needs carry infinite guilt in it; that is, exposeth to infinite punishment.
“ Now then, O sinner, think with thyself, what satisfaction thou canst make to God that can bear a proportion to thy infinite offences. Thou canst not at once undergo an infinite measure of punishment, for thy nature is but finite. Could'st thou do this, then indeed there were hope, yea certainly of relief for thee; for Divine justice will not exact, more than its due. But because this is impossible, thy woes and torments in hell must be eternal, that they may be some way infinite as the justice is which thou hast offended ; infinite, if not in degrees, yet in duration and continuance.
“ And O what dreadful despair will this cause in thee, when thou shalt have been in hell under
most acute and insufferable torments millions of years, and yet the payment of all that sum of plagues and woes shall not be of value enough to satisfy for the least of thy sins, nor to cross out of God's book the least and smallest of thy debts: but thy account shall be as great, and as full as it was at thy first plunging into hell, and still an eternity of torments remains to be paid by thee!
"And now, wretched creatures that we are, whither shall we turn ourselves? What hope, what relief can we find? Shall we flatter ourselves that God will not require our sins at our hands? No: they are debts, and therefore He may; and He is a just God, just to Himself and to the interest of His own glory, and therefore He will. God hath beforehand told us at what rate we must expect to take up our sins, and what we must pay for them at the last. He hath told us, as plainly as the mouth of truth can utter it, that "the wages of sin is death."*
That "the wages of sin is death" eternal, is plainly taught in the Scriptures and in the articles and homilies of our church. O that these were better known! They would afford the best comment on our liturgy, and would prove who are churchmen and who are not. The ignorance of the standard-writings of our church which generally prevails is a reproach to those who boast of their attachment to her constitution.
Before we proceed to consider the second part of our collect, let us pause and inquire whether we have felt the force of our own confessions or not. "For our evil deeds we worthily deserve "to be punished." Doth this correspond with
* Bishop Hopkins on the Lord's Prayer, p. 85.
the conviction of our consciences and with the habitual frame of our minds ? O let us not deceive ourselves in the use of a form of sound “ words,” for God searcheth the heart. How awful are the general insensibility and hypocrisy which prevail in our church! We repeat creeds, make confessions, and utter prayers, with as much carelessness as we read an anecdote in a newspaper, or recite some trifling occurrence in which we are utterly uninterested. Confession without contrition, and prayer without desire, are a mockery of God.
Our collect, in the second place, contains an earnest request founded on the foregoing confession. We pray
We pray “that by the comfort of Di“ vine grace we may mercifully be relieved,
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Distress of conscience, arising from a sense of guilt and obnoxiousness to punishment, is evi. dently supposed in all those who offer up this prayer; for to this the relief which is implored relates. Are our consciences then wounded by a conviction of sin?. And are we indeed solici. tous for relief? It is a scriptural axiom, that “ they who are whole need not a physician, but “ they” only “ who are sick." If the reader's confession has been sincere, the use of our collect will prove “an outlet of trouble, and an « inlet of consolation."
The relief which we implore is a deliverance from guilt and the fear of punishment, including a restoration to peace with God and an assurance of His favour. And Oh, how important a request! for in God's favour is life, and in nothing else. And this relief is asked of God with the highest propriety, since He only can afford it. Of the maxims of philosophy, the
rules of ethics, and the directions of the Divine law, we may truly assert, that, with respect to the relief of a burthened conscience, they are medicines of no virtue, and that those who prescribe them are like Job's friends, “physicians “ of no value" and “miserable comforters.” There is, however, blessed be God, “ Balm in
Gilead, and a Physician there.” But even the Balm of Gilead cannot relieve the sin-sick soul unless it be applied ; and no one can effectually apply it but the great Physician. The minister of the Gospel may promulgate the doctrines of grace, but he cannot give “the com“ fort of God's grace.” This must be sought from God, whose Spirit must communicate its influence to the afflicted heart.
The source from which this relief is implored is “the comfort of Divine grace." And to this we may indeed look with a confident persuasion that we shall not be disappointed. For it has made a full provision for our everlasting consolation. A revelation of this grace to the soul removes all its distresses by removing their cause, even sin. And we are assured that, “ if we “ confess our sins," as we do in the sincere use of our collect, “ God is faithful and just to
forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all “unrighteousness. Let those then, who are truly conscious that they have “worthily de“ served to be punished,” raise their eyes to the
There, and there only, is comfort to be obtained. There God " waiteth " to be gracious.” Let them remember that God can be “ just and the justifier of him that “ believeth in Jesus.” And Oh, “what abundant cause of comfort may this be to all true believers, that God's justice as well as His
throne of grace.
mercy shall acquit them: That that attribute of God, at the apprehension of which they were wont to tremble, should interpose their behalf and plead for them ! Yet through the all-sufficient expiation and atonea ment that Christ hath made for our sins, this mystery is effected, and justice itself brought over from being a formidable adversary to be of our party and to plead for us. Therefore the Apostle tells us, 1 John i. 9, that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins."'*
The channel through which the comfort of Divine grace must flow for our relief is “our “ Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The channel is wide and deep, so that we need not fear lest the supply should be a scanty one.
He is the only medium through which any gracious communication can be made to a sinner; and through Him penitent sinners may expect to receive more than they can ask or think—they may expect “ abundance of grace and of the
gift of righteousness.” " In Him God findeth us, if we be faithful, for by faith we are incorporated into Christ. Then, although in ourselves we be altogether sinful and unrighteous, yet even the man which is impious in himself, full of iniquity, full of sin-him being found in Christ through faith, and having his sin remitted through repentance-him God beholdeth with a gracious eye, putteth away his sin by not imputing it, taketh quite away the punishment due thereunto, by pardoning it, and accepteth him in Christ Jesus, as perfectly righteous, as if he had fulfilled all that was commanded him in the law: shall I say more perfectly righteous,
* Bishop Hopkins on the Lord's Prayer.