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We believe in Jesus Christ, who was born of the virgin Mary, who was crucified, dead, and buried, we can hear of these great mysteries with indifference; we can persist in the very sins, that brought our Redeemer to the cross : we can refuse to give up a few inches of earth, a small sum of money, the playing of an idle game, or the gratifying of an absurd passion, to him who sacrificed for us his person and his life; we can do despite unto the Spirit of grace, and count the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, Heb. x. 29. God is witness of all these things; God holds the thunders in his mighty hands; wars and plagues, and famines and earthquakes, wait only for the first signal of his will to avenge those numerous indignities; yet God, who beholds those indignities, bears with them. This man, saith the love of God, is precipitated by the heat and vigor of youth, perhaps he may
reflect when he arrives at the tranquillity of mature age; he shall be spared then till he arrives at maturity; or, perhaps he may recollect himself in the coolness of old age, he shall be
spared then till the grave coolness of old age comes. That man hath been a rebel in his health, perhaps he may submit when he is sick, he shall be spared till sickness comes; and he shall be sought, exhorted, conjured; I will say to him, O that thou hadst hearkened unto me i Psal. lxxxi. 13. Be thou instructed, least my soul depart from thee ! Jer. vi. 8. O thou who killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thee even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldest not ! Mat. xxiii. 37. And it is the great God, who speaks in this manner to his ungrateful creature, who is insensible to such tender language!
3. The third mystery of love, which the wisest philosophers could never have discovered, is the union that God forms with man in religion. What tender relation canst thou imagine, which God hath not determined to form with thee in religion? Art thou sensible to the vigilance of a shepherd ? The Lord is thy shepherd, thou shalt not want, Psal. xxiii. ]. Art thou sensible to the confidence of a friend? I call thee not a servant, but a friend ! John xv. 15. Art thou sensible to the tenderness of a parent? Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon thee, that thou shouldest be called a son of God! 1 John ii. 1. I should alledge many other images of the love of God to believers, if I could flatter myself, that the imaginations of my hearers would be as pure as those of the sacred authors who have described them.
Art thou disgusted with human connections ? Are thine ideas of friendship so refined that they render thee superior to human unions, and make thee wish for a friendship formed on a nobler plan? God hath determined that thou shalt be united to him as Jesus Christ and he are united, John xvii. 20, 21. an union at present inconceivable, but which we shall happily experience in the enlarged sphere of an immortal life. Let us acknowledge then that all the penetration of the wisest philosophers could never have discovered the extent of the love of God in the dispensation of the gospel. My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Secondly, We address the next to the gloomy mind of a melancholy person, who having failed in the courage necessary to resist temptations, fails again in that which is necessary to bear the thought of having fallen into them. But, before we oppose or describe this weakness, let us grant, there is something in it which deserves respect. The greatest part of those, who treat it as an extravagance, seem to me far more extravagant than those who fall into it. Yes, the utmost excess of grief, that can be occasioned by the remembrance of sin, seems to me incomparably less blameable than the excessive tranquillity of some other people's minds. Who (think ye ?) is most extravagant, he who is too much affected with the enormity of his sins, or he who is not affected enough? Is it he who, notwithstanding his sorrows and regrets, dare not venture to believe himself an object of divine compassion or he who, having no contrition, nor shedding any tears of repentance, presumes on that compas. sion ? Is it he whom the bare probability of being punished for his sins, of being eternally confined in chains of darkness, of being an eternal prey to the worm that never dieth, 2 Pet. ii. 4. and of becoming fuel for that fire which shall never be quenched, Mark ix. 44, 45. depriveth of his rest, of a relish for the sweets of society, and of all inclination to enjoy the most insinuating pleasures; or, is it he who, in spite of so many reasons to fear his dangerous state, eats, drinks, diverts himself, runs from company to company, from circle to circle, and employs the moments, that are given him to avoid his miseries, in inventing the most effectual means of forgetting them? I repeat it again, a melancholy occasion by the remembrance of sin, hath something respectable in it, and the greatest part of those, who treat it altogether as an absurdity, are more absurd than those who fall into it.
I intend, however, in this part of my discourse, to oppose this melancholy gloom. And thanks be to those divine mercies, the grandeurs of which I am this day commending, for furnishing me with so many means of opposing this disposition, independently on the words of
text. What a multitude of reflections present themselves beside those which arise from the subject in hand!
What madness possesseth thy melancholy mind? The holy Spirit assures thee, that though thy sins be as scarlet, he will make them as white as snow ; that though they be red like crimson, he will make them as white as wool, Isa. i. 18. and dost thou think thy sins are too aggravated to be pardoned in this manner ?
The holy Spirit gives thee a long list of the most execrable names in nature; a list of idolaters, murderers, extortioners, adulterers, persecutors, highway robbers, and blasphemers, who obtained mercy when they desired and sought it : and art thou obstinately bent on excluding thyself from the number of those sinners, to whom mercy is
promised ; and because thou dost not believe it attainable, dost thou obstinately refuse to ask for it?
The holy spirit hath lifted up an ensign for the nations, Isa. xi. 12. or, to speak without a figure, the holy Ghost hath lifted up a cross, and on that cross a Redeemer, who is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, Heb. vi. 25. and who himself saith to all sinners, Come unto me, all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, and ye shall find rest unto your souls, Matt. xi. 28, 29. And dost thou flee from this cross, and rather choose to sink under the weight of thy sins than to disburden them on a Redeemer, who is willing to bear them?
But passing all these, let us return to the text. My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the
heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. This is sufficient to refute, this is enough to subvert and to destroy, the whole system of a despairing mind. The perfections of God are infinite: By what rule then dost thou pretend to limit the holy one of Israel ? Psal. lxxviii. 14. Canst thou by searching find out God ? Job. xi. 7. Canst thou find out the eternity of him, with whom a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years ? 2 Pet. iii. 8. Canst thou find out the extent of his wisdom ; a wisdom that first invented, then created, that governs now and will for ever govern, both the material and the intelligent worlds ? Behold his understanding is infinite ! Psal. cxlvii. 5. Canst thou find out the power of him, who weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance, who taketh up the isles as a very little thing ? Isa. xl. 12. 15.
The mercy of God is no less inconceivable than the rest of his attributes. The nature of the thing proves it ; reason declares it; revelation places it in the clearest light ; experience confirms it ; and of his mercy God saith in the text, My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Your thoughts have formed a gloomy system, and you think God can pardon a first, or a second, cr perhaps a third sin, but you cannot believe that he can forgive the hundredth, or even the fortieth offence: But God's thoughts are, that he can abundantly pardon ; that he can forgive the hundredth offence, yea the thousandth and the ten thousandth, as well as the first and the second, if you be sincere