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in other instances ; look to their comprehension and extent, to what has been well called their spirituality; and then bring your conduct to the touchstone, that is to say, the test and criterion of rectitude, and we shall want little to convince us of the multitude of our sins, to humble us under the hand of God. It makes no difference, that others have as much cause for as much self accusation as we have, or some more, and even greater ; it makes, in reality, no difference in the case. We ought to recollect this in particular, because we are ever ready to think it does. But we must look to ourselves alone. We must make no comparison, except that between our conduct and our duty. This comparison being honestly made, our failings and offences will appear numerous beyond calculation. And can this be thought upon without concern, a deep and fixed concern ? What says the Psalmist? • My heart hath failed me;' and contemplation of his sins made bis heart sink within him. If it be not so with us, is it that our sins are less and fewer, or is it not that we care less about them? We do not choose to review or contemplate them at all. When we find ourselves in danger, we wish to become insensible of it. We have it in our power to turn away our thoughts and attentions from subjects that we dislike; and we exercise this power with respect to our sins. If it were not so, it would be with us as it was with the Psalmist,
our heart would fail us ;' the number and vileness of our sins, our failure of duty to God, our transgressions of the purity of his laws, our deficiency to man for God's sake, would overpower us.
But, thirdly, what was the turn and direction of thought which these reflections produced in the mind of the Psalmist ? It was a flying to God, the Almighty, for aid and mercy; Withdraw not thou thy mercy from me, O Lord. O Lord, let it be thy pleasure to deliver me; make haste, O Lord, to help me.' He felt that his situation demanded mercy and assistance, mercy that would spare, mercy that would forbear to inflict the punishment due to past sins; and assistance to be delivered from their power for the future. And there was no time to be lost ; • Make haste, O Lord, to help me. The bonds and burden of his sins were what he groaned under. The deliverance, therefore, which he meant, was the deliverance from that burden and from those bonds. The help he called for, was divine aid in working that deliverance.
Now if this turn and direction of thought was rightly and properly produced in the Psalmist's mind, by the recollection of his sins, much more do they befit a Christian; because Christ, the author and high priest of our religion, came expressly into the world to save sinners, to enable them to turn to God, and to call upon
them to do so. If the sinner under the law, which the Psalmist was, could cry out for mercy, much more the sinner under grace. If the Psalmist could hope for aid and help to be delivered from sin, much more the Christian for the aid and help which is promised of the Holy Ghost. But then this recourse to God by Christ, this prayer and supplication, must be sincere. Without sincerity no good can be expected from the prayer; and if it be sincere, it must necessarily import and include a resolution against șin. For no man can pray sincerely against sin, while he is wilfully and voluntarily indulging himself in it. It is contradictory and impossible, equally under the law as under the gospel ; equally under our dispensation as another, under the law or under the gospel. Can we wonder that nothing comes of such prayers? But if we truly withstand our sins, let them have been what they will, aid, and help, and mercy may be asked for. Indeed they will be asked for, and sought with earnest strivings and contentions of the spirit in prayer. In every heart, touched as the Psalmist's was with the perception of sin, his feelings will produce his prayers; and blessed be God, we have in Christ the best assurance that the thing asked, so asked, will be obtained.
USE AND ABUSE OF THE MERCY OF GOD IN THE
REDEMPTION OF MANKIND BY CHRIST.
ECCLESIASTICUS V. 5, 6.
Concerning propitiation, be not without fear to add sin unto sin ; and say not
His mercy is great, and he will be pacified for the multitude of my sins ; for mercy and wrath come from him, and his indignation resteth upon sin
I know not so much good advice drawn up in so little compass any where as in the chapter which we have quoted; nor of that advice, any part so important as that which I have read to you in the text.
We are all naturally inclined to lean and presume much upon the mercy of God; and this presumption cannot be combatted by any general arguments, because the foundation of it is right. It is certainly true, that the frame of nature, the multitude which we see of contrivances, evident contrivances, and provisions for the happiness of sensitive beings, bespeak the good will and kindness of the Creator ; and of that good will, a plain and obvious part and consequence is, condescension to our infirmities, and mercy to our faults. It is not only rational, but unavoidable to expect this. The language of scripture, if we go to that for information, comes up in this respect to the intimations of nature. Throughout the whole book, God is described as loving, affectionate, patient, compassionate, and long suffering to his human creation ; so that when we conceive of God as a merciful being, we think of him very truly. But then the question is in what manner, and to what extent, we may apply this consideration to our own conduct.
First, then, when we apply it to console ourselves under any imperfection of character, owing to invincible weaknesses, either of body or mind, we apply it rightly. God has not fixed a certain measure or standard of virtue, which every person of every sort and degree must come up to, in order to be saved ; that were not the part of a merciful judge. He proportions his demands of duty to our several capacities, justly estimated, and faithfully exerted. It may be true, that he who has employed extraordinary endowments well, will be recompensed with a higher reward than he who has employed inferior endowments well; but still one as well as the other will be rewarded. He who had doubled the ten talents which were entrusted to him, was set over ten cities; whilst he who had doubled the five talents was set over five cities; but both were rewarded, though differently. Therefore any inferiority to others in our natural abilities, any difficulties or disadvantages we labor under, which others do not labor under, need not discomfort us at all. They are made up to us by God's mercy, who will finally accommodate his judgment to those difficulties and disadvantages so far as they are real. And the same allowance, which we hope will be vouchsafed to our constitutional infirmities, so far as they are both real infirmities and invincible infirmities, will also be extended to the difficulties we labor under, by reason of the circumstances and condition in which we are placed; whether these difficulties be ignorance, for want of education and opportunity; or prejudice, by reason of a wrong education, and a dependence upon those into whose
hands we were committed; or error or superstition arising from these causes ; for all such defects, so long as they are, properly speaking, involuntary, and not brought on or increased by our own act, we humbly rely upon the mercies of God, and we are not going too far in our reliance.
Secondly : When for any sin into which we have been unhappily betrayed, yet without a course and habit of sinning in the same manner, or at least without a regular plan of a sinful life, we trust for pardon in God's mercy through Christ, our trust is well founded. This is the very case, as I apprehend, which St John had in his thoughts, when he tells us, that if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, and he is the propitiation for our sins,'. If any man sin;' that is, if any man be accidentally betrayed into single instances of sin without a plan or system of sinning, we have Jesus Christ interceding for our forgiveness.
Thirdly : When our past life has not only been checkered by casual omissions and commissions, but has been stained and polluted even by habits of licentiousness, or by a course of unjust and iniquitous conduct ; still, if we look up to God's mercy, only so as to quicken and inspirit us to a speedy and resolute breaking off of our vices, I believe and trust that we do not abuse that mercy, let our past case or our past conduct have been ever so bad.
The true and sound distinction which we should continually bear in our mind, is no other than this; whilst we think of God's mercy only with a view to sins which are past, strictly and exclusively, then it can hardly happen but that we shall judge rightly of it, and according to truth; but when we think of it with relation to our future sins, then we are in very great danger of mistaking and misapplying it; and the mistake may have, indeed necessarily must have, the most dreadful effects upon our final welfare.
I cannot mark this distinction more strongly, than by desiring you to compare attentively what is said in the text with what is said by St John in the passage just now quoted from his epistle. Both passages speak of propitiation ; that is, of the means whereby we may obtain pardon. Hear what St John says of it; “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father; and he is the propitiation for our sins. Next hear what the text says of it; Concerning propitiation, be not without fear to add sin untó sin. You will observe, that one passage speaks in terms of encouragement; the other in terms of Warning. And the truth is, that one passage speaks in relation to sins which are past, strictly and exclusively; the other speaks in relation to sins that are yet future. When St John tells us that if any man sin, we have in Jesus Christ an advocate and a propitiation,' he supposes a person to be reviewing his past life, to be distressed by the memory of his former sins; and then he points out a relief and source of comfort to his distress, by telling him that he has with God an advocate and a propitiation for the sins under the sense and recollection of which he is sinking. When the author of Ecclesiasticus warns us solemnly concerning propitiation,' the same subject of which St John speaks, by bidding usó not to be without fear to add sin unto sin, and not to say, His mercy is great, he will be pacified for the multitude of our sins,' and when he farther reminds us, that "wrath as well as mercy come from him ;' he applies his advice to a different supposition; he supposes a person to be doubting and deliberating with himself concerning his future conduct; either concerning some particular sin which he is tempted to commit, or concerning the general course of his future behaviour; and he charges such an one against bringing into the deliberation the account or consideration of God's mercy, so as to encourage himself thereby in giving way to the temptation by which he is urged. By this view of the subject the two passages are rendered consistent, and the important distinction upon the subject rendered visible.
We may proceed, therefore, to describe the cases in which we misapply the consideration of God's mercy, and act in opposition to the council delivered in the text.
First, then, we misapply the matter, when the thoughts of God's mercy beget in us ease under our past sins, and this ease makes us less afraid of repeating them. In minds not sufficiently thoughtful, if you in any way take away or diminish the terror or pain which they suffer from what they have done, you in the same proportion render them apt and willing to do the same thing again. But it is only so with minds which are not sufficiently thoughtful; in a mind seriously disposed, and which rightly considers its situation, the contrary effect will take place; the sense of past forgiveness will produce gratitude; gratitude will produce love; and love will increase, not diminish, the dread of offending anew. Suppose a malefactor under sentence of death, looking for nothing but the execution of that sentence, should receive assurance, or even hopes, of pardon; no doubt this intelligence would take off much of the load which weighed down his spirits, much of the pain of his condition. But ought this relief and alleviation to make him go and be as