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power, do we countenance religion, virtue, and merit; and discourage the worthless and profligate ? or only wonder the world is so bad, when we have contributed to make it so: or conclude it can never be good, when indeed we have tried no means to reform it?
Further, in this situation, are we careful what sort of example we set others to copy after? and sufficiently apprehensive (for we can hardly be too much), that not only our sins, but our imprudences, actions that are imprudent only as they endanger others, may produce an incredible deal of evil in those around us and beneath us; whereas God expects all persons to be his ministers for good, in proportion to the abilities and opportunities, with which he hath intrusted them?
Nor should we stop at considering, what our faults have been that alone would be a speculation of little use: but proceed to think what must follow from them. Indeed, have we not already some of us found our characters, our fortunes, our healths, impaired by them? or at least will they not of necessity in a little time? Hath not the happiness, we promised ourselves from our transgressions, proved very insignificant, or very short-lived? Have they not often brought upon us dreadful anguish and distress; and sometimes forced us into most destructive methods of trying to get rid of the torment of thought? Or, how joyfully soever we go on at present, yet the further we go, must not our return be more difficult; and unless we return, our end more deplorable? Nay indeed, will not the less blamable, the allowable indulgences of this world, if we pursue them eagerly, and live chiefly to them, exclude or wear out from our souls, those impressions of and attentions to serious
piety, which alone will bring us peace in our last hour? We can affect, it may be, to talk of death with much indifference; but have we in earnest brought it near to us, and considered what it is? an immediate passage, without recall, into that state, where small and great shall stand before God: who, as surely as he governs the world with justice and wisdom, will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil *, and recompense us all according to our use of every talent committed to us. Are we then prepared against that day? ready for the Searcher of hearts, were he to call us now to our final account? If not: do we reflect, how soon we may be called, how soon we must, and what the consequences will be for ever? Do we then at length resolve against all sin, all occasions of sin, all supineness and negligence from this time forwards? Are we unfeignedly sorry, that we have resolved it no sooner? Are we deeply sensible, that, in all we have done amiss, we have provoked a most holy God; and have no claim to pardon, much less to happiness hereafter, but through the mercy, procured by our blessed Redeemer? And will we accordingly fly to Him alone, with an humble faith in the atonement of his death, and the efficacy of his grace: or boldly hazard all, on the sufficiency of our own strength, which hath deceived us so often, and the imagined merits of our own righteousness, or our own repentance, imperfect and defective as they both are?
Think not any of these, harsh and ill natured questions they are the very friendliest, that can be proposed. Think them not gloomy and melancholy inquiries: they are the ground-work of all true comfort.
* Eccl. xii. 14.
No one indeed hath a right to require an answer to them from another: but God hath full right to command, as he doth by his word and the preachers of it, that every one put them home to his own soul. They carry still more terror to those, who are bound by their office to utter them, than to those who sit and hear them: but terror inexpressible to all, who provide not to answer them well; and joy inexpressible to all, that do. Let us therefore conscientiously search and try our ways, and turn unto the Lord our God*. Let us beg of him fervently, to show us what manner of persons we have been, are, and ought to be; and say to him, in the words which he himself hath dictated, Who can tell how oft he offendeth? O cleanse thou me from my secret faults †. Try me, O God, and seek the ground of my heart: prove me, and examine my thoughts. Look well, if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting 1.
Lament. iii. 40. + Ps. xix. 12.
Ps. cxxxix. 23, 24.
2 COR. V. 21.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
THESE words contain that great article of the Christian faith, that the death of our blessed Saviour hath obtained for us pardon, grace and everlasting life: which important truth is so strangely disregarded, even by many who call themselves his disciples, that I think it necessary
I. To confute the prejudices, that lead men to think slightly of their need of the satisfaction, which he made on our behalf: before I proceed
II. To explain and defend this part of the Christian doctrine.
I. Our condition with respect to God is infinitely the most important of all our concerns, for we are absolutely in his power alone: and the forgiveness of our sins is the most important article in that condition. Were we innocent creatures, we could only doubt, what happiness we had to hope for from him : and about that we might be, though not indifferent, yet free from anxiety. But as we are all guilty, the first question, and a very alarming one, is, what
punishment we have to fear? Thoughtlessness and partiality may indeed dispose us to imagine, that however right in speculation the laws of religion and virtue may be, yet in practice great allowance is due to inclination; this being as truly part of our nature And when persons find many others that seem to judge in the same manner, (especially if some of them be of that rank, which is admitted in most things to set the pattern ;) then, in companies together they can go almost any lengths: decide in a moment, that this is superstition, and that preciseness; that such restraints are absurd, such others unnecessary; and take fancy and fashion, mixed together as it happens, for the only rules of life; without a single reflection whether they are acting as they ought; or the least apprehension, that if they are not, any harm will follow, provided they guard against a few present inconveniences. Yet many of these perhaps are people of conscience in some things: but in others, they despise all mention of it: and for the most part, if they behave tolerably well to their fellow-creatures, have scarce the notion of any duty they owe to their Creator at least beyond the mere propriety of attending his worship now and then, in compliance with a custom, that is not yet quite worn out.
Now would but such men venture on a very safe thing, a little serious thought; they would soon perceive, that though inclination is a part of our nature, yet every inclination must not be gratified; for this would be mischievous both to all around us, and to ourselves that therefore we ought to have some rule, which to indulge, and which to restrain: that fancy and fashion can never be the rule; for both are continually varying, and would often lead us to dishonour and ruin; that we have within us a natural sense of