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sinner, is to believe against reason and the whole scope of Scripture, the express example of Christ's life, and the end of his death, which was, that we might walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Of the grace of repentance we stand in need every moment of our lives, for we sin every moment against God: we are so beset with temptation, and of ourselves so weak, that we should be continually on the watch, lest we fall, and continually praying for strength to enable us to persevere in well-doing.
But some may say, We have need of a still more positive assurance of our being in a state of forgiveness, and of obtaining this promise of deliverance, in order that we may in future serve God with a quiet mind; for Christ hath said, My peace I leave with you: not as the world giveth, give I it unto you: it passeth all understanding; that is, it exceeds, not only all human knowledge or attainments, that may contribute to supply happiness here, but all comprehension of it by persons of a mere worldly mind.
We grant this: and to form a judgment of this peace or assurance, let us compare the two following cases, and see which promises best to assure true peace of mind. Now, the man who looks up to HIM whence his help cometh, speaks thus: I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: I perceive that I have a
law in my mind, opposing the law of my members. I am thankful for this portion of light, as I know every inclination and power for good must come from God; and in this I am further confirmed, by the word of his divine revelation, which tells me that without him I can do nothing good; I pray, therefore, for a greater measure of this good will and gracious help. As to the means or instrument of my conviction, it is indifferent, whether from the latent seeds of an early good education, or the vicissitudes of life, or domestic misfortunes, or bodily complaints, or any other providential occurrence. Be that as it may, I do certainly find an essential change in my way of thinking: I cannot attribute it to any sudden influence, or partial preference; nor do I pretend to any enthusiastic feelings; but I am sure of the fact, and I place it to the account of God's grace or favour, thus opening my eyes to see my state by nature, and the necessity of turning unto God, and walking in his ways with all my heart: and the further proof I have of this change is, that the pleasures, the company, the amusements, of which I was fond to an extreme, and the pursuing of which did not affect me with any remorse, are not only indifferent, tiresome, and even disgusting, but I am alarmed at the very prospect of renewing them; and that, when compelled to hazard the temptation, continual anxiety is the conse
quence, and a dread of exceeding the bounds of strict decorum and innocent relaxation, and that on any accidental slip or trespass I am miserable. Further, even the employments that were once most irksome to me, and which I invented a variety of pleas to excuse myself for pursuing, are now become pleasant to me: I embark in them with eagerness, and am assiduous in increasing them. From all these circumstances, I am led to consider my state by nature, before I experienced this willingness to reform. I repent, therefore, and am sorry for my past conduct, under the former state of darkness, or, perhaps, my own wilful perverseness. I can but admire and magnify that goodness which had shown such long forbearance; and this inclines me to obey in future from love, instead of fear; for, to whom much is forgiven, they will love much; and perfect love casteth out fear. So that my hope becomes daily strengthened by this Spirit of grace growing in me. Weighing, therefore, the necessity of this aid, and reflecting upon my manifold former failures without it— though I think I stand, I still take heed lest I fall: and, from this precaution, I find the truth of the Apostle's observation, that, when I am weak, then I am strong; that is, doubting the virtue of my own power, and from the strength I find when I do not wholly depend upon it. I am ready to acknowledge the gracious favour of
That I may, and do
fall, it is true; but I humbly trust it is more through surprise, than from wilful provocation of my heavenly Benefactor; and that it serves, instead of hardening, to humble and correct me, and make me more vigilant, and less confident of my own perfections; and of this, my hope is strengthened, because I strive for daily advancement, being the deeper smitten by every such shock, and urged, of course, to apply to Him for pardon and recovery, who is able to carry me on to still higher perfection. And surely it is a great gift of God to fear losing his love, to dread lest we should fall from the straight way.
Here, my brethren, is the picture of one who entertains a just notion of repentance, and the necessity of God's grace to reform his life, and prepare him for final pardon and accept
And now let us take an equally fair view of that character which supplies the other case we alluded to. The man who does not hold the doctrine of repentance and good works, as an absolute condition of forgiveness, or perhaps, to speak more properly, an effect and fruit of justification, or acceptance, through the merits of the Redeemer; he will naturally go on in a dissolute, unclean, and unjust career. And how that can be consistent with any expectation of
pardon, at the great day of account and final récompense, when every man shall be rewarded according to his works, appears difficult to be resolved. But I will show you on what principle such a person reasons. He contents himself, that, as the satisfaction of Christ is infinite, and all-sufficient in its effect, if it can atone for one sin, it can equally satisfy for all; and that if he can produce some detached parts of Scripture to assist his notion, that man may be saved, or condemned, unconditionally, by the fixed decrees of a Being whose power is absolute, and especially if he finds others equally governed by his spirit of delusion; why, then the consequence will be, that, as he thinks himself secure in one case, he is indifferent as to his conduct in the other; and so he continues averse from the true faith, giving heed to the doctrine of devils; for surely none can better deserve this character, than that which teaches that God will clear the obstinate guilty; who, on the contrary, though he keepeth mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin (to all who confess, repent of, and forsake it), yet denounces vengeance on the ungodly, and threatens to visit the iniquity of such fathers on their children, who walk on in their sinful ways. Nor can the evil spirit desire better help to increase the number of his kingdom, than false security and despair.