« VorigeDoorgaan »
THE Christian Religion, as St. Paul preached it both to Jews and Gentiles, consists of " repentance "towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus "Christ," and may therefore be properly called the religion of a sinner; for none but sinners need repentance, or faith in a Mediator, or that forgiveness of sins, which through him is preached to all that believe.
This consideration ought carefully to be attended
Jesus Christ" came not to call the righteous, "but sinners to repentance:" and, if men lose sight of this peculiarity of the gospel, they will mistake in a fundamental concern; and be offended with those ministers who alone address them in a scriptural method. Our business, as preachers of the gospel, is not with men merely as rational agents, but with men as sinners. We must not address them, as if they were newly entered on a state of trial; were as yet free from all blame; and were at last to stand or fall according to their future good or bad behaviour; and only needed to be instructed in their duty, and excited to perform it. This is not the state of the case. Even the most moral, respectable, and amiable of mankind are sinners, condemned sinners. In this light the word of God considers us; and informs us, not "what good thing we may do to inherit eternal life," but "what we must do to be saved" from
impending ruin; whither a sinner " may flee from "the wrath to come." And thus must the faithful minister address his hearers, calling upon them, as sinners," to repent and believe the gospel."
By one man sin entered into the world, and "death by sin; and so death passed upon all 66 men."* In consequence of the awful sentence, "Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return," millions through successive generations have yielded to the stroke: all the former inhabitants of the earth are swept into the grave by one general execution: many are at this moment experiencing the agonies of death: numbers are bewailing their departed and departing friends and relatives. We too feel the consequences of sin in our own personal pains and sickness, which are the forerunners and earnests of our dissolution : we too must have the sentence executed upon us in all its rigour. The wisest cannot elude it, the strongest cannot resist it, nor can the richest purchase exemption from it.
The constant and extensive ravages of death are, in themselves, extremely affecting to the considerate spectator: but they become more so when we reflect, that, as certainly as when a malefactor is dragged from prison, and executed on a scaffold, he dies for breaking the laws of the land; so certainly, when a sinner dies, he dies for breaking the law of God.
Had sin and death been hitherto equally unknown to mankind; and now in our days had sin first made its entrance; immediately upon man's
rebellion had we heard the sentence audibly and solemnly denounced " Dust ye are, and to dust ye "shall return:" had fevers, dropsies, palsies, apoplexies, consumptions, and other mortal diseases, on the one hand; with earthquakes, famines, and wars on the other; suddenly begun to spread desolation through families, villages, cities, and kingdoms, among the guilty alone: should we behold, at once, multitudes dead, and multitudes in the agonies of death, the rest mourning over their beloved friends, and trembling for themselves; (like Egypt when there was "not a house in which there was not one dead;") the connexion between transgressing the divine law, and being punished with death, might be more affecting, but would not be more certain than it now is; though it is seldom seriously laid to heart.
Or, were men in general free from sin; but from time to time one and another transgressed; who immediately upon transgressing were punished by death, according to the examples of vindictive justice recorded in the scriptures: the connexion would be more attended to, but not more certain than at present; when, " because sentence
against an evil work is not executed speedily, "the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil."*
But as all have sinned, and all die, and things have gone on for so many generations, death is considered as a thing of course we live in the midst of its devastations without horror, or uneasy reflections; and inquire little why it is so, or what
Eccles. viii. 11.
the consequence will be.
Like soldiers who grow
inured to scenes of blood, and insensible to dangers, through being familiar with them.
But this, solemn and alarming as it is, forms only a small part of the sentence of condemnation, which we lie under. Our Lord warns us, not to fear them that kill the body, and "after that have no more "that they can do; but to fear him who is able to "destroy both body and soul in hell." In comparison with this effect of divine wrath, the worst which men can do to us is not, in the judgment of the Son of God, worthy of our fear. Yet the bare recital of those tortures, which the cruelty of man hath invented and inflicted, in killing the body, is sufficient to chill our very blood: how dreadful, therefore, must they have been to those who endured them! And what must that misery be, compared with which the other is not worth a fear? Yet to this awful destruction every sinner is condemned, for breaking the law, and rebelling against the authority of his Creator.
Imagine to yourselves a company of condemned criminals in a dungeon. A warrant arrives; one is taken from them; they see him no more; know not what becomes of him; and do not readily believe any reports which reach them, of the tortures which he endured, and the death he suffered. Another is thus taken from them, and another. The remainder still suppose that their companions are only released from the miseries of a dungeon; and expect their own turn merely as a similar deliverance. All this time, however, certain messengers from the king earnestly persuade them to submit, ask forgiveness, and accept of mercy. A
few are prevailed upon, and dismissed; but the rest, seeing no difference betwixt those who are taken from them by a warrant, and those who are set at liberty with a pardon, persist in their obstinacy, and treat all persuasion with neglect and contempt.
This is the exact representation of the condition men are in. Death removes our friends and neighbours, one by one: we see not how they fare in another world; nor are we disposed to believe that
they lift up their eyes in hell, being in torments;" though this is indeed the awful condition of all who die impenitent. Our turn will shortly come : but we are seldom duly apprehensive about the consequences. "All things happen alike to all; "as dieth the sinner, so dieth the righteous:" each is released from the evils of life; faith alone can follow the one to heaven, and the other to hell: but "all men have not faith;" therefore most treat with neglect and contempt the preachers of the gospel, who inform them of their danger, and in God's name call upon them to repent, believe, and be saved.
But, beloved, though much grieved and discouraged by this neglect, we must not desist, nor would we despair of success. Let me beseech you then to keep in your mind these solemn and important truths, whilst, with all seriousness, earnestness, and tender compassion, I address you as condemned sinners, in danger of eternal misery. We must take God's part against you, and vindicate his justice in that awful sentence which he hath denounced; but we can sympathise with you, and weep over you, and "long after you in the bowels