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ble magistrate-a beneficent prince--if that prince is my sovereign lord, whose lenity I have experienced after repeated acts of rebellion; who has heaped upon me many kindnesses; who means to bestow upon me still greater favours : and if, after all, I have been led to deny and oppose him, my crime is undoubtedly aggravated, by all these circum. stances, to an extraordinary degree. But if this offended benefactor is Lord of lords, and King of kings--the Creator of man—the Monarch of angels—the Ancient of days, before whom the majesty of all the monarchs upon earth disappears, as the lustre of a thousand stars is eclipsed by the presence of the sun—if this glorious Being has given his beloved Son to suffer infamy and death, in order to procure for me eternal life and celestial glory—my crime must then be aggravated in proportion to my own meanness, the greatness of benefits received, and the dignity of my exalted Benefactor. But our imagination is bewildered, when we attempt to scan the enormity which these accumulated circumstances add to those acts of rebellion, denominated sins.
They who are not working out their “salvation with fear and trembling,” Phil. ii, 12, must necessarily live in the practice of some consti. tutional sin; and this self indulgence, however secret it may be, will not suffer them to perceive the demerit of their daily transgressions. An old debauchee, whose chief delight has been in seducing women, or an infamous murderer, who has shed human blood like water, may as easily conceive the horror that adultery and murder excite in virtuous souls.
Before we can form a rational judgment of sin, and the punishment it deserves, it becomes us to entertain just ideas of moral order, to mark the obligation laid upon the supreme Legislator to maintain that order by wholesome laws, and to discover, in some degree, the sanctity, the excellence, and the extent of those absolute commands. It is necessary to understand the dependence of the creature upon the Creator ; since the image formed by the presence of an object before a mirror, is not more dependent upon that object, than all orders of created beings depend upon the Creator; if he withdraw his protecting hand, they are no more; if he stretch out the arm of his vengeance, they are plunged, at once, into an abyss of misery. We must reflect upon all the various obligations under which we lie to the Almighty, as Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, and Comforter. We must consider those examples of his vengeful justice, which he has placed before our eyes, on purpose to awaken our fears, together with the unmerited favours by which he has constantly sought to engage our grateful affections. It becomes us likewise to observe the vanity of all those appearances by which we are allured into sin : and lastly, it is necessary to remember that “God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing,” Eccles. xii, 14. While we pay not a proper attention to every one of these circumstances, we must necessarily form an imperfect judgment concerning the nature of sin, the severity with which God has determined to punish it, and the greatDess of that expiatory sacrifice by virtue of which his justice and his mercy unite in pardoning the penitent.
When the law of God is wilfully transgressed, it is ridiculous in any man to attempt the justification of himself, by pleading that he has committed no enormous crimes; or that, if ever he has been guilty of any Fuch offences, his good actions have always been sufficient to counter
balance their demerit. Frivolous excuses! Is not one treasonable act sufficient to mark the traitor? Is not that soldier punished as a deserter, who flies his colours but a single time? And does not a woman forfeit her honour by one moment of weakness?
Though we grant, there are some sins of a peculiarly atrocious kind; yet as murder will always appear, before an earthly tribunal, accord. ing to its horrible nature, so sin will ever be considered as such before an infinitely holy God. If a man, accused of having wilfully poisoned a fellow creature, should address his judge in terms like these : « The charge brought against me is just ; but let it be considered that the person I have destroyed was only an infant—that he was the child of a common beggar-and that this is the only murder I have committed through the whole of my life. On the other hand, I have been a con. stant benefactor to the poor; and surely a thousand acts of charity will abundantly outweigh one little dose of arsenic.” “No:" the judge would answer, “when you prolonged the life of the indigent by your alms, you merely performed a duty which is universally required of every worthy citizen; and the law allows you nothing on this account. But if you have given the smallest dose of poison to any human creature, with an intent to destroy his life, the law pronounces you a murderer, and will punish you as such."
After our first parents had offended by eating the forbidden fruit, they had but vainly excused themselves in saying, “We have only gathered that which appeared to be of little worth: we have tasted it but once : more. over, our labour in the garden is of much greater value than the fruit we have taken. Lord ! condemn us not to death for so inconsiderable an offence.” Such, however, are the frivolous excuses with which every blinded moralist contents his seared conscience, and with which he hopes to satisfy his omniscient Judge. When St. Paul was one of this class, he practised upon himself the same delusions. Capable only of natural sentiments, the hidden truths of a spiritual law were not only incomprehensible, but vain and foolish things in his estimation. This we learn from the following passage in his Epistle to the Romans: “I was alive without the law once,” paying little attention to the spirituality of its precepts, or the severity of its threatenings, and indulging no sus. picion either of my corruption or of my condemnation. “But when the commandment came,” in its spiritual energy, “ sin revived," assuming an appearance suited to its infernal nature, and, receiving a sentence of death in myself, “I died. I had not then known sin, but by the law; for I had not known lust,” which is the source of every evil, and the first cause of our condemnation, “except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet,” Rom. vii, 9, 7.
Every sincere Christian, in imitation of this apostle, may with pro. priety say, There are various sins, which I had never seen as such, but by the light of the Gospel : for example, I had lived in security with respect to abusing the faculty of speech, and had never known the Almighty's intention of judging me upon that article, if Christ himself had not openly declared, “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment: for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned,” Matt. xii, 36, 37. If those who trust in their own righteousness would seriously examine themselves by the twofold law of Moses and of Christ, they would form a new judgment of their spiritual circumstances, and pass, with St. Paul, from the state of the Pharisee into that of the publican.
Farther : sins of omission, as well as those of commission, are sufficient to draw upon us the maledictions of the law, which equally com. mands us to do good and to abstain from evil. Offences of this nature are seldom regarded as sins by the generality of mankind : and hence they are wholly unalarmed at the recollection of them. To lack dili. gence in our duties, moderation in our joys, attention in our prayers, and zeal in our devotions; to live without gratitude toward our Divine Benefactor, without resignation under losses, patience in affliction, confidence in God during times of danger, and content in the state to which he has called us; to want humility toward our superiors, courtesy toward our equals, affability toward our inferiors, meekness toward those who dis. please us, faithfulness to our word, strict truth in our conversation, or charity in the judgment we form of others : all these are things that never disturb the repose of a worldly man; nor does he esteem them as real offences in the sight of God. He considers not, that an inattentive nurse may as effectually destroy a child by withholding from it proper nourishment, as though she obliged it to sip a poisonous draught; that a soldier would be condemned to death, if the enemy should surprise a town whiie he was sleeping on his post, equally as though he had been busy in opening the gates for their admission; and that Christ represents the want of a holy fervour as the grand reason why lukewarm Christians excite in him the utmost detestation and abhorrence, Rev. iii, 16. An entire chapter in the Gospel is employed to teach us, that sins of omission will constitute the principal cause of a sinner's condemnation at the last day. The slothful servant is cast into outer darkness, not for having robbed another of his talents, but for the non-improvement of his own : the foolish virgins are excluded from the marriage feast, not for having betrayed the bridegroom, but because they were unprepared to receive him: and every Christian is acquainted with that terri. ble sentence, which shall one day be pronounced upon the wicked: “ Depart from me, ye cursed; for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat,” &c, Matt. xxv. To have that religion, “which is pure and undefiled before God,” it is not only necessary that we “ keep ourselves unspotted from the world,” but we must also “ visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction," James i, 27; relieving the unfortunate to the utmost of our ability, and exerting our whole power in spreading truth and happiness among all around us.
Thus hunted, at length, from many a dangerous shelter, unhumbled sinners will still presume to adopt the following plea: “We pray, we fast, we give alms, we receive the holy sacrament; and what more do you require ?” Such was the foundation of the ancient Pharisees' hope : but Christ and his apostles overthrew their vain confidence, by the same arguments which evangelical ministers are still obliged to turn against multitudes of religious professors, who indulge an exalted opinion of their own contemptible merits.
The Gospel requires, say these faithful pastors, that to the external marks of religion, you should be careful to add humility and charity : and if these two capital graces are wanting, your religion is but a body without a soul. You have received the holy sacraments of our Church : but what salutary effects have they produced in your life and conversation? The circumcision, which saved the Jews, was not the circumcision of the flesh, but that of the heart, Rom. ii, 29: and the baptism, which saves Christians, is not that by which the body is sprinkled with water, but that which purifies the soul, 1 Pet. iii, 21. So the passover, which was acceptable to God on the part of the Jews, consisted not simply in eating the paschal lamb, but in penetrating their souls with gratitude, on recollecting the many wonderful deliverances which the Almighty had wrought for his people. And the communion, which is acceptable on the part of Christians, consists not merely in receiving the consecrated elements, as various classes of sinners are accustomed to do; but in uniting themselves to the Lord by a living faith, and to all his members by an ardent charity. You pray—and did not the Pharisees so ? Yea, they were remarkable for their long and zealous prayers : but, alas! while they acknowledged “God with their lips, their hearts were far from him," Isaiah xxix, 13. You give alms, but, if you mean with these to purchase heaven, you do but deceive your own souls, while your pretended charity degenerates into insolence: or, if you merely seek to procure the reputation of being charitably disposed; you have your reward. You fast-but if you do this chiefly through custom, or through respect to the orders of your prince, your fast can no more be counted religious than the regimen prescribed you by a physician. And if these facts have not produced in you a sincere repentance, and a true conversion, however you may regard them as acts of devotion, they are in reality no other than acts of hypocrisy. Moreover, the Pharisees fasted twice in the week ; while you, it may be, are among the number of those who imagine they have made a valuable sacrifice to God, by abstaining from a single repast in a year.
As Pharisaical moralists “ have sought out so many inventions,” Eccles. vii, 29, to evade the necessity of an unfeigned repentance; and as philosophizing Christians rise up with one consent against this doctrine of the Gospel, we shall conclude this subject by disclosing the sources of their common error.
1. There are phantoms of virtue, or virtues purely natural, which pass in the world for Divine. But who ever imagined the dove to be really virtuous because she is not seen, like the eagle, to make a stoop at birds of a weaker frame than herself? Or who supposes wasps to be generous insects, because they are observed mutually to defend themselves when their nest is attacked? Is not the conjugal and maternal tenderness of the human species apparent, in an eminent degree, among various tribes of the feathered kind? And do we not see among bees and ants that ardent patriotism which was so highly extolled among the Romans? Does not the spider exhibit as manifest proofs of ingenuity and vigilance as the most industrious artist? And do not carnivorous animals discover all that fearless intrepidity which is so universally boasted of by vain-glorious heroes? Let us not mistake in a matter of so much importance: as nothing but charity can give to our alms the value of good works, so nothing less than the fear of God, and a sincere intention of pleasing him, can give to our most valuable propensities the stamp of solid virtues. If we could completely expose the worthless alloy, which worldly men are accustomed to pass off as sterling virtue, many of those who now esteem themselves rich in good works, would be constrained to “abhor themselves, and repent in dust and ashes,” Job xlii, 6.
2. Many persons indulge too favourable ideas of the human heart, through their ignorance of that unsullied purity which God requires of his intelligent creatures. They judge of themselves and others as a peasant judges of a theme replete with solecisms, who, far from ex. pressing the discernment of a critic, admires the vast erudition of the voung composer. Thus some external acts of devotion are applauded by undiscerning Christians as commendable works, which, in the sight of God, and before holy spirits, appear altogether polluted and worthy of punishment.
3. If we are sometimes deceived by our own ignorance, we more frequently impose upon others by our innate hypocrisy. Unregenerate men, after having thrown a cloak over their distinguishing vices, are anxious to make a parade of virtues which they do not possess. The proud man is sometimes observed putting on the garb of humility, and with the most lowly obeisance, professing himself the very humble ser. vant of an approaching stranger. Immodesty is frequently masked with an affected air of chastity and bashfulness; hatred, envy, and duplicity, veil themselves under the appearances of good nature, friendship, and simplicity: and this universal hypocrisy contributes to render its practitioners less outwardly offensive than they would otherwise be; as an unhandsome woman appears less defective to a distant beholder, after having nicely varnished over the blemishes of her face.
4. It frequently happens, that one vice puts a period to the progress of another. Thus vanity, at times, obliges us to act contrary to the maxims of avarice, avarice contrary to those of indolence, and indolence contrary to those of ambition. A refined pride is generally sufficient to overcome contemptible vices, and may influence its possessor to the performance of many apparently virtuous actions: hence the impious and sordid Pharisee went regularly to the temple: he prayed, he fasted, he gave alms; and, by all these appearances of piety and benevolence, acquired the commendation of the world. Society makes a kind of gain by these acts of dissimulation, which are as the homage paid to virtue by vice, and by impiety to devotion. But, notwithstanding every plausi. ble appearance that can possibly be put on, when the minister of the Gospel declares the fall of man, together with the absolute need of regeneration, he is supported at once by revelation, reason, and ex. perience,
5. If the moral disorder, with which human nature is infected, appear not always at its utmost height, it is because regeneration having com. menced in many persons of every rank, the wicked are overawed by the influence of their example. Add to this, that God restrains them, as with a bridle, by his providence, and by those motions of conscience which they vainly endeavour to stifle. It is notorious, that the fear of public contempt and punishment is sometimes able to arrest the most abandoned in their vicious career; since they cannot discover what they really are, without arming against themselves the secular power. Thus the terror which prisons and gibbets inspire, constrains ravening wolves