« PreviousContinue »
the sake of others. They literally loved their neighbours as themselves. Some have followed their example in this; and some have, in zeal and energy, followed their example in other methods of doing good. For I do not mean to say, that the particular method of usefulness, which the office of the apostles cast upon them, is the only method, or that it is a method even competent to many. Doing good, without any selfish worldly motive for doing it, is the grand thing; the mode must be regulated by opportunity and occasion. To which may be added, that in those, whose power of doing good, according to any mode, is small, the principle of benevolence will at least restrain them from doing harm. If the principle be subsisting in their hearts, it will have this operation at least. I ask therefore again, as I asked before, are we as solicitous to seize opportunities, to look out for and embrace occasions, of doing good, as we are certainly solicitous to lay hold of opportunities of making advantage to ourselves, and to embrace all occasions of profit and self interest ? Nay, is benevolence strong enough to hold our hand, when stretched out for mischief? Is it always sufficient to make us consider what misery we are producing, whilst we are compassing a selfish end, or gratifying a lawless passion of our own? Do the two principles of benevolence and self interest possess any degree of parallelism and equality in our hearts, and in our conduct? If they do, then so far we come up to our rule. Wherein they do not, as I said before, we fall below it.
When not only the generality of mankind, but even those who are endeavouring to do their duty, apply the standard to themselves, they are made to learn the humiliating lesson of their own deficiency. That such our deficiency should be overlooked, so as not to become the loss to us of happiness after death ; that our poor, weak, humble endeavours to comply with our Saviour's rule should be received and not rejected; I say, if we hope for this, we must hope for it, not on the ground of congruity or desert, which it will not bear, but from the extreme benignity of a merciful God, and the availing mediation of a redeemer. You will observe that I am still, and have been all along, speaking of sincere men, of those who are in earnest in their duty, and in religion; and I say, upon the strength of what has been alleged, that even these persons, when they read in scripture of the riches of the goodness of God, of the powerful efficacy of the death of Christ, of his mediation and continual intercession, know and feel in their hearts that they stand in need of them all.
In that remaining class of duties which are called duties to ourselves, the observation we have made upon the deficiency of our endeavours applies with equal or greater force. More is here wanted than the mere command of our actions. The heart itself is to be regulated; the hardest thing in the world to manage. The affections and passions are to be kept in order; constant evil propensities are to be constantly opposed. I apprehend, that every sincere man is conscious how unable he is to fulfil this part of his duty, even to his own satisfaction; and if our conscience accuse us, God is greater than our conscience, and knoweth all things. If we see our sad failings, He must.
God forbid that any thing I say, either upon this, or the other branches of our duty, should damp our endeavours. Let them be as vigorous and as steadfast as they can. They will be so if we are sincere; and without sincerity there is no hope; none whatever. But there will always be left enough, infinitely more than enough, to humble self sufficiency.
Contemplate, then, what is placed before us; heaven. Understand what heaven is; a state of happiness after death, exceeding what, without experience, it is possible for us to conceive, and unlimited in duration. This is a reward infinitely beyond any thing we can pretend to, as of right, as merited, as due. Some distinction between us and others, between the comparatively good and the bad, might be expected; but, on these grounds, not such a reward as this, even were our services, I mean the service of sincere men, perfect. But such services as ours in truth are, such services as in fact we perform, so poor, so deficient, so broken, so mixed with alloy, so imperfect both in principle and execution, what have they to look for upon their own foundation ? When, therefore, the scriptures speak to us of a redeemer, a mediator, an intercessor for us; when they display and magnify the exceedingly great mercies of God, as set forth in the salvation of man, according to any mode whatever which he might be pleased to appoint, and therefore in that mode which the gospel holds forth; they teach us no other doctrine than that to which the actual deficiencies of our duty, and a just consciousness and acknowledgment of these deficiencies, must naturally carry our own minds. What we feel in ourselves corresponds with what we read in scripture.
MISAPPREHENSION OF THE NATURAL EFFICACY
HEBREWS IX. 26.
Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sac
rifice of himself.
The little that we have to hope for on the ground of right, or desert, or claim, and consequently the much in which we are indebted to spontaneous goodness and mercy, and the much we stand in need of other application and other intercession than our own, of a saviour, a redeemer, and a mediator, I have, in a former discourse, endeavoured to show, from the extreme deficiency and imperfection of our services, even of such as are sincere in their duty.
The same conclusion also arises from the indignity and ag. gravation of our sins. I think it to be true that we are fully sensible neither of one nor of the other; neither of the imperfection of our services, nor the malignity of our sins; otherwise our recourse to Jesus Christ would be stronger and more earnest than it is.
There is another point also nearly connected with these, in which we take up an opinion without foundation, and that is, the natural efficacy of repentance in obtaining the pardon of sins.
I am at present to treat of the malignity and aggravation of our sins, under the circumstances in which they are usually committed.
First, our sins are sins against knowledge. I ask of no man more than to act up to what he knows; by which I do not mean to say that it is not every man's obligation, both to inform his understanding, and to use his understanding about the matter; in other words, to know all he can concerning his duty; but I mean to say that, in fact, the question seldom comes to that; in fact, the man acts not up to what he does know; his sins are against his knowledge. It will be answered, that this may well be supposed to be the case with persons of education and is the author of our being, and of every blessing which belongs
2 DE TA
learning, but is it the case with the poor and ignorant? I believe it to be the case with all. Is there a man who hears me that can say he acts up to what he knows? Does any one feel that to be his case? If he does, then he may reasonably plead his ignorance, his want of education, his want of instruction, his want of light and knowledge, for not acting better than he does; for not acting as he would have acted if these advantages had been vouchsafed to him. But he must first act up to what he does know, before he can fairly use this plea; before he can justly complain that he knows no more. Our sins are against knowledge. The real truth is, and it comprehends both the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the unlearned ; the real truth I say is, that we not only sin, but sin against our own knowledge. There may be nicer cases, and more dubious points, which a man, informed and instructed in religion and morality, would perceive to be wrong; which a man, ignorant and uninformed, would not discover to be so; and there may be many such cases; but what I contend is, that the question never comes to that. There are plain obligations which the same men transgress. They are confessed and acknowledged duties which they neglect. There are sins and crimes committed, which they know to be sins and crimes at the time. Therefore, since they act contrary to what they know, small as their knowledge is, is it in reason to be expected that they would not act contrary to what they know, if that knowledge was increased ? Alas! in computing the number, and weight, and burden of our sins, we need only take into the account the sins which we know. They are more than enough to humble us to the earth upon the ground of merit; they are more than enough to banish that consideration; they are more than enough to humble every one of us to the dust.
Secondly, our sins are against gratitude. Whom do we offend by our sins ? A parent. Him who is much more to us than a parent, a benefactor ; the first, the greatest, the best of our benefactors; Him who, in fact, hath given us all that we have. If we have had any enjoyment in life, it is his bounty. If we have any thing to hope for, it is from his kindness. It is his act and doing alone that we are at all, or in any respect, superior to, or different from, the earth under our feet. It is his will which hath raised us into animated sensitive beings; it is still farther his will which hath made us intelligent rational agents. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.' These words are often repeated to us with little impression; but they contain solid, physical, and philosophical truths. He
to it; directly or indirectly, he is the author of them all. He is the constant preserver of our existence, the constant bestower of the good which we receive, or ever shall receive from existence. It is impossible to sin knowingly without offending this benefactor ; that is, we know at the time that we offend him. Were we not justified, therefore, in asserting that our sins are sins against gratitude? He that loveth me keepeth my commandments.' He that loveth God keepeth his commandnsents. No proposition can be more true, for it means, that he who feels as much gratitude towards his Maker as he ought to feel, must be kept by that gratitude from wilfully offending him; which the transgression of his commandments infallibly does. Yet we sin ; under all these circumstances of aggravation, we still sin; sin in us is exceedingly sinful; yet we sin. When the scripture talks, therefore, of sin requiring atonement and expiation, and of the death and sufferings of Christ as of great and mighty efficacy thereto, does it talk of more than what we should judge to be necessary for us, considering what sin is ?
Thirdly, our sins are sins against forbearance. Is there one of us who might not have been cut off, and called to judgment in the midst of his sins? To the forbearance alone of God we owe that we were not so. We must recollect that there have been with us times and circumstances, when it had been most unhappy for us if we had been seized by death, or visited by punishment; when it had been a fearful thing indeed if our Lord had come. When, therefore, with these recollections upon our mind, we nevertheless continue to sin, it is rightly said that we sin against forbearance, which is a great aggravation. It is expressly taught in scripture, by St Paul in particular, that the longsuffering of God is calculated to work upon the heart of man. If it do not therefore so work; if it do not operate as a principle and motive of amendment, then it brings us exactly under the description which St Paul has left us of contumacy in sin ; that is, we despise,' such is St Paul's word, the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and longsuffering,' disregarding the design of this forbearance and longsuffering; which conduct, as the same St Paul pronounces, is no other than treasuring up unto ourselves wrath against the day of wrath.'
These are characters which belong to sin as such; and every known sin is under the condemnation of these reasons. They are general reasons, not to say universal. But beside these, almost every particular sin has its particular aggravation;