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selves very happy, and have cause to be thankful. If there be any such occasions or temptations more than we can withstand, or in fact do withstand, it is the command of our Saviour, and the express command which none can alter, that we fly from them, though it oblige us to suffer as much as the loss of a right hand or eye; though we give up an advantage ever so great, or part with a pleasure we are ever so fond of.
V. A SENSE OF SIN TO BE KEPT UP IN OUR, MINDS.
PsALM XL. 15.
For innumerable troubles are come about me; my sins have taken such hold upon me that I am not able to look up ; yea, they are more in number than the hairs of my head, and my heart hath failed me.
A conviction of sin is oftentimes the beginning of religion in the heart. It is oftentimes a source of anguish and despair. Yet, with all its bitterness and all its danger, it produces a frame of mind more hopeful as to salvation than insensibility. I do not mean that it is more hopeful than the reasonable satisfaction and assurance which arises in the heart from the recollection of a well spent life, or even of sincere, broken, and imperfect endeavours after such a life; but it is more comfortable than unconcernedness, for that has no recollection to build upon. It is the property of a man, and, God knows, there are millions such, who, when danger is at hand, seeks security by shutting his eyes against danger.
Now all who feel within themselves a strong conviction of their sin, I desire they will go to the text I have read to you. It describes their case ; it exposes their feeling and their susferings, and it leads them into the right direction. The words of the text bear about them the marks and tokens of reality. It seems impossible to entertain a doubt but that the person who wrote them, was at that time laboring and struggling under powerful workings and impressions of conscience; under a deep sense of guiltiness before God, and of the shame and misery, self condemnation and debasement, which belong to such a condition when it is perceived. Perhaps it is more than we ought to presume, and more than the truth, that this person was a greater sinner than the generality of men. It might be only that he perceived his condition; and there is as much difference between the man who does, and the man who does not perceive his situation, as between two sinners of very unequal magnitude. so Let us now see how the inward compunctions and stirrings of the writer’s conscience operated ; what thoughts it raised in him, what expressions it drew from him. First, he is covered, not only with remorse and fear, but with confusion. “My sins have taken such hold upon me, that I am not able to look up.’ It is a strong, significant expression, “ have taken such hold upon me,’ for they do indeed take hold ; they seize the mind. The remembrance of sin, with the reflections which belong to it, possesses, where it enters, the whole soul; and it ought to do so. As they take hold of the thoughts, so they do of the spirits. Men are disturbed in their spirits by the evils of life; but sin, when understood, makes the evils of life nothing; it displaces them, by presenting something more near to us than they are. The force with which sin perceived, sin understood, seizes the spirits and the thoughts, is well expressed by the Psalmist, when he tells of their taking hold of him. “And they overwhelm him with shame and confusion.” It was not the shame of men, for his sins might be unknown to them ; it was not that sort of confusion which he alludes to, but it was shame and confusion before God. And this very often exists in reality; nay, so much so, that the man who has never felt it, ought to doubt with himself whether religion be indeed within him. It is a different thing from the shame of men; it is a secret humiliation and debasement, when we call to mind our behaviour, as towards God. The Publican in the gospel would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven. He felt his humiliation and self debasement; yet was it entirely between his God and him. The Pharisee saw him afar off, but it is not said that he saw the Pharisee, or that he was moved by the presence of men, or by any consideration of the presence of men; nay, the contrary must be taken for granted, to give proper force and significance to the parable. It must be taken on the Publican’s part, to have been a secret and close communication with his Maker. Now observe the progress of the Psalmist’s meditations; ‘My sins have taken such hold upon me, that I am not able to look up;' and why? You hear the reason; ‘They are more in number than the hairs of my head.’ This is to perceive sin. When we begin to see our sins as they are, they crowd and multiply upon us beyond number. An ordinary mind, or a man in an ordinary state of mind, bears nothing, possibly, in his memory as touching his sins, but a few flagitious, very vicious actions, if he has in the course of his life been guilty of any. But these cannot, in the worst men, be said to be more in number than the hairs of his head. It is only when a man comes to think more deeply and closely upon the subject, that he is made to perceive the number of his sins, and understand them, as the Psalmist did. Let us place fairly and fully before our eyes the laws of God. Let us call to mind, not slightly, but thoroughly, our thoughts, our affections, our desires, and passions; what has passed within, as well as what has passed without us; and lastly, our words, and actions, and conduct; not in a few great instances of flagrant offences, which may, indeed, or may not be really more sinful, but are more strikingly such, because coming under human laws and opinions. I say, letus not confine our attention to these, which we are apt to do; but direct it to the examination of our conduct in its ordinary course. Let us do this, and we shall see that our sins are more in number than the hairs of our head. For example; What is it which we owe to God, which we know to be due to him 2 “To love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength.’ Have we done so Have not, on the contrary, our lives been a constant failure of duty in this very article 2 Wherein have we come up to this rule Wherein have we not come short of it 2 Yet it is both our rule and our reason. The rule carries our obligation no farther than reason carries it. Such a being, such a benefactor as God is, is entitled to our love, and to be loved with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength. Deficiencies, therefore, in this respect, are sins truly and actually such. Then, as to mankind, our benevolence is to be as strong as our self interest; we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. Self interest is a motive of action usually strong and powerful enough ; benevolence ought to be equally strong and powerful. It ought to be so; for that is the meaning of the rule. Yet is it so? is it any thing like it? Here, therefore, we must see in ourselves a humiliating deficiency of duty. Again :- Look to the ten commandments themselves; look not to their letter, but their spirit; look to them as expounded, in some instances, by our Lord himself in his sermon upon the mount, and consequently as justly admitting the same exposition in other instances ; look to their comprehension and extent, to what has been well called their spirituality ; and then bring your conduct to the touchstone, that is to say, the test and criterion of rectitude, and we shall want little to convince us of the multitude of our sins, to humble us under the hand of God. It makes no difference, that others have as much cause for as much self accusation as we have, or some more, and even greater ; it makes, in reality, no difference in the case. We ought to recollect this in particular, because we are ever ready to think it does. But we must look to ourselves alone. We must make no comparison, except that between our conduct and our duty. This comparison being honestly made, our failings and offences will appear numerous beyond calculation. And can this be thought upon without concern, a deep and fixed concern ? What says the Psalmist? “My heart hath failed me ; ’ and contemplation of his sins made his heart sink within him. If it be not so with us, is it that our sins are less and fewer, or is it not that we care less about them 2 We do not choose to review or contemplate them at all. When we find ourselves in danger, we wish to become insensible of it. We have it in our power to turn away our thoughts and attentions from subjects that we dislike ; and we exercise this power with respect to our sins. If it were not so, it would be with us as it was with the Psalmist, “our heart would fail us;’ the number and vileness of our sins, our failure of duty to God, our transgressions of the purity of his laws, our deficiency to man for God’s sake, would overpower us. But, thirdly, what was the turn and direction of thought which these reflections produced in the mind of the Psalmist It was a flying to God, the Almighty, for aid and mercy; “Withdraw not thou thy mercy from me, O Lord. O Lord, let it be thy pleasure to deliver me; make haste, O Lord, to help me.’ He felt that his situation demanded mercy and assistance, mercy that would spare, mercy that would forbear to inflict the punishment due to past sins; and assistance to be delivered from their power for the future. And there was no time to be lost; ‘Make haste, O Lord, to help me.” The bonds and burden of his sins were what he groaned under. The deliverance, therefore, which he meant, was the deliverance from that burden and from those bonds. The help he called for, was divine aid in working that deliverance. Now if this turn and direction of thought was rightly and properly produced in the Psalmist's mind, by the recollection of his sins, much more do they befit a Christian; because Christ, the author and high priest of our religion, came expressly into the world to save sinners, to enable them to turn to God, and to call upon them to do so.
If the sinner under the law, which the Psalmist was, could cry out for mercy, much more the sinner under grace. If the Psalmist could hope for aid and help to be delivered from sin, much more the Christian for the aid and help which is promised of the Holy Ghost. But then this recourse to God by Christ, this prayer and supplication, must be sincere. Without sincerity no good can be expected from the prayer; and if it be sincere, it must necessarily import and include a resolution against sin. For no man can pray sincerely against sin, while he is wilfully and voluntarily indulging himself in it. It is contradictory and impossible, equally under the law as under the gospel; equally under our dispensation as another, under the law or under the gospel. Can we wonder that nothing comes of such prayers ? But if we truly withstand our sins, let them have been what they will, aid, and help, and mercy may be asked for. Indeed they will be asked for, and sought with earnest strivings and contentions of the spirit in prayer. In every heart, touched as the Psalmist’s was with the perception of sin, his feelings will produce his prayers; and blessed be God, we have in Christ the best assurance that the thing asked, so asked, will be obtained.
USE AND ABUSE OF THE MERCY OF GOD IN THE REDEMPTION OF MANKIND BY CHRIST.
EccLESIASTICUs W. 5, 6.
Concerning propitiation, be not without fear to add sin unto sin; and say not His mercy is great, and he will be pacified for the multitude of my sins; for mercy and wrath come from him, and his indignation resteth upon sinIlê S.
I KNow not so much good advice drawn up in so little com
pass any where as in the chapter which we have quoted ; nor
of that advice, any part so important as that which I have read
to you in the text. We are all naturally inclined to lean and