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the fanction of a righteous, but violated law. The one feels himself a miserable creature ; the other confesses him. self a guilty sinner. The one is terrified, and the other is humbled.
It is some doubt with me, whether in fruitless convicti. ons there is any sense at all of fin, as such; I mean, as truly meriting punishment from a just and holy God. Such persons ordinarily are displeased at the holiness of God's nature, and murmur at the strictness of his law; and therefore, however much they may dread suffering here or hereafter, they cannot be said to be convinced of fin. We have seen some who, when afflictions brought their fins to remembrance, were but driven on, by despair, to higher degrees of guilt, and, the more they seemed to fear the approaching judgment of God, only increased in the impatience of blafpheming rage.
However, as there is a great measure of deceit in the human heart, some may be ready to flatter themselves, on the one hand, that they have seen the evil of fin in itself; and some, on the other, to fear that they have not seen it as they ought, because their forrow has not risen to the requisite degree. Many have expressed uneasiness that they never mourned for fin in a manner corresponding to the strong scripture declarations of its odious and hateful nature, or to the following description of gospel penitents : “ And I will pour upon the house of David, and “ upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and “ fupplication, and they shalliook upon mewhom they have “ pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth “ for his only fon, and shall be in bitterness for him, as “ one that is in bitterness for his first born.”* For this reason I shall make an observation or two on the degree of forrow for fin in true penitents, which may enable us to judge in every question of the same nature.
1. One thing, in general, must be carefully remembered, that we ought not to lay down one rule for all persons. We are not to measure the sorrow of any true penitent, and make a standard from it for the effects or expressions
* Zech. xii. 10.
of sorrow in any other. The strength of all the passions, and their readiness to express themselves, is greater naturally in some than in others. There is nothing of which men may be more sensible from daily experience. Love and hatred, joy and grief, defire and aversion, shew themselves by much more violent emotions in some than in others. It would be wrong, therefore, to reduce all to one rule, and none ought to look upon it as a just cause of disquiet, that they have not had the same degree or depth of distress and anguish, which others have hac!, of whom they have read or heard. Another circumstance may also be the occasion of diversity. In some, convictions may have been more early and gradual, and, therefore, less vi. olent and sensible. It is not to be supposed that Sanivel, whose very conception was the answer of prayer, who was called from his mother's womb, and served in the temple from his being a child, should have experienced the same depth of humiliation with such as Manasseh, for example, who had been guilty of many atrocious crimes, and continued long in a hardened and insensible state. Therefore,
2. Suffer me to observe, that the great and principal evidence of a proper degree of conviction and sorrow for sin, is its permanency and practical influence. Genuine conviction is not a flash of fervor, however strong, but a deep, abiding, and governing principle, which will shew its strength, by its habitual power over its opposite. Every true penitent will join in these words of Elihu : “ Surely “ it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chaslife“ ment, I will not offend any more; that which I see “ not, teach thou me ; if I have done iniquity, I will do " no more.”* Nothing else will be a sufficient evidence of penitence, where this is wanting ; and where this is the case, nothing can be wanting that is really necessary. This may, perhaps, as I observed on another part of this discourse, be thought too general, but I am persuaded it is the only safe ground to build upon, according to the scriptures. Every other claim of relation will be rejected at last by our Saviour and Judge, as he hath plainly told
us: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, lord, shall " enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the “ will of my father which is in heaven. Many will say “ to me in that day, Lord, lord, have we not prophesied " in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils ? and in “thy name done many wonderful works? And then will “ I profess unto them, I never knew you, de part from me, “ ye that work iniquity."*
Would any know, therefore, whether their forrow for sin hath been to the requisite degree, let me intreat them to suffer conscience to answer honestly to the following interrogatories. Has your conviétion of sin been such as to make you abhor and hate it in every form ? Hath it been such as to make you resolve upon a thorough and perpetual separation from your once beloved pleasures? Does it make you ready to examine the lawfulness of every pursuit, and to abstain even from every coubtful or fur. pected practice? Is there no know'n sin that you are defi. rous to excuse or palliate, studious to conceal, or willing to spare ? Remember this necessary caution of our Savi. our : “ And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and “ cast it from thee : for it is profitable for thee that one “ of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole “ bocly should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand " offend thee, cut it off, and caft it from thee; for it is “ profitable for thee that one of thy members should pe“ rish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into “ hell.”+ Is there no sin, however long practised, or however greatly delighted in ; is there no fin, however gainful or honorable, but you desire liberty from its en. flaving power, as well as deliverance from its condemn. ing guilt? Is there no part of the law of God, of the duty and character of a Christian, however ungrateful to a covetous heart, however despised by a fcorning world, but you acknowledge its obligation ? Would you, indeed, rather be holy than great ? Do you rather choose persecution with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of lin for a season? See what terms Chrilt makes with
* Matt. vii. 21, 22, 23.
† Matt. v. 29, 30.
his disciples : “If any man will come after me, let him “ deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me : “ for whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whoso“ever will lose his life, for my fake, shall find it.”* Upon the whole, instead of finding fault with the duty or lot of God's children, can you truly fay, “O that there " were such an heart in me that I could keep his statutes ! “ The law of the Lord is perfectly holy. The paths of " the Lord toward me have been infinitely gracious. My “ heart only is exceeding sinful. O Lord, write thy law " in my heart, and put it in my inward parts: give me " a new heart and a new spirit, and cause me to walk in “ thy statutes, and keep thy judgments, and do them.”
3. It is an excellent evidence of conviction's being right both in principle and in degree, when the penitent hath a greater fear of sin than of suffering. As the great source of genuine conviction of sin is a sense of its evil in itself, rather than an apprehension of its consequences even in the life to come, there is no way in which this will discover itself more distinctly, than in the views we have of sin, and suffering in the present state. Whether do you grieve most heartily for fin, or for worldly losses ? Which of them do you avoid with the greatest solicitude and care? Will not this show what it is that lies nearest your hearts, and hath the diminion there? Will not this show it in a manner that must be convincing even to yourselves, and leave no room to reply? Alas! how heavy a sentence does this carry against many professing Christians? How great their anxiety about the things of time, how little about the concerns of eternity? How carefully will they observe the increase or decrease of their trade and opulence? But how little attention will they pay to the growth or decay of religion in their hearts? They will dread the arts, and fly from the society of a fraudulent dealer, but will suspect no danger while their ears are drinking in the poison of licentious or impure conversation. The loss of a child, or the loss of their substance, oppresses them with forrow, while even the commission of gross sin, if concealed from the world, produces a reflection scarce. ly felt, and speedily forgotten.
* Matt. xvi. 24.
I have said, indeed, above, that all persons are not equally fusceptible of violent emotions of any kind. But what ihall be said of the fame persons, who have the strongest paflions on every other subject, and nothing but coldness and indifference in matters of religion? What shall be faid of the same persons, who are easily and deeply affected with all temporal sufferings, and yet are but very slightly affected with a sense of the evil of sin ? Whose tears flow readily and copiously over a dying friend, but have no tears at all to shed over a dying Saviour ? Does this at all correspond with the description given by the prophet, “ of mourning as for an only son ?” in which penitential forrow is compared to the most severe and ex. quifite of all human calamities. I must, however, ob. ferve, that temporal sufferings are ordinarily attended and aggravated by sensible images, and are also sometimes sud. den and unexpected, on both which accounts they may more powerfully call forth the expressions of sorrow and sympathy. But it is not difficult to judge which of them dwells most heavily upon the mind, which of them would be firit avoided by the deliberate choice of the heart. Every true penitent does certainly fee fin to be the great. est of all evils, and will discover this by comparison with all the other evils of which he hath at present any know. ledge or experience.
4. I shall only mention one other evidence of conviction's being to a proper degree, which is when a sense of the evil of sin is still growing, instead of diminishing. This will be found essentially to distinguish a sense of the evil of sin in itself, from a mere terror of God's power in taking vengeance on the finner. Time gradually weakens the one, but knowledge, and even the mercy of God, conti. nues to increase the other. When a finner is brought up. der great convictions, it is a state so painful and distress. ing, that it cannot continue long. Some kind of peace must of necessi'y succeed. Either he stifles his convictions, hides the danger by shutting his own eyes, and returns to his former security and licentiousness of practice; or he does some things for a time, to quiet the cries of conscience, and lay a foundation for future peace; or, lastly, he