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world, with its pleasures, and honors, and cares, and contentions, which we lately thought so little worth our strife and our anxiety, courts us again
with new temptations, and is pursued with fresh eagerness. That enduring, imperishable soul, the saving of which we judged the only concern we need to care about or to be afraid about, obtains not our consideration amongst the multitude of thoughts which crowd upon us ; those prospects of everlasting happiness in heaven, which awhile ago opened so bright upon our view, are again shut out; some loose, sinful pursuit
, some mean advantage, gets hold again of our hearts, and closes up that passage where religion was entering in. This is precisely the weakness which our Lord was aware of, and which the words of the text were intended to warn us against. To make good thoughts effectual to salvation, we must so work them into the frame of the mind, so knit and weave them into the very substance of the heart and disposition, that they be no longer merely thoughts, or merely occasional; but that they have a steady influence upon our behaviour, that they take hold of our conduct, that they be at hand to check and pluck us back when we would go about any wicked design, and that they be at hand also to remind us, and to put us forward when any good thing falls in our power to do.
This is to become a Christian; and this indeed is the difficulty of the work. The passage from thought to action, from religious sentiments to religious conduct, seems a difficult attainment. I said before, the very beginnings are blessings. Holy thoughts, though occasional, though sudden, though brought on, it may be, by calamity and affliction, though roused in us we do not know how, are still the beginnings of grace. Let no man, therefore, despise serious thoughts; let no man scorn or ridicule them in others; least of all the man who has none himself; for there is still a wide difference between him who thinks, though but occasionally, of his duty and of his salvation, and him who never permits himself to entertain such thoughts at all. One, it is true, may be far from having completed his work; the other has not begun his. Those very meditations which he despises in other men, because he sees that they have not the influence which they ought to have upon their lives and conversation, are, nevertheless, what he himself must begin with, what he himself must come to, if ever he enter truly upon a christian course. It is from good thoughts and good resolutions that the christian character must set out; it is with these it must begin ; it is by these it must be formed. We cannot, however, always be thinking about religion. That is true; but the thing wanted of us, the thing necessary for us, the thing required in the text, is, not that religion be constantly in our thoughts, but that it have a constant influence upon our behaviour ; and that is a very intelligible distinction, and takes place in common life. Avarice and pecuniary gain shall have a constant influence upon a man's behaviour, that is, his actions shall constantly draw and tend to that point, and yet it may not be that his thoughts are always employed in calculating his profits or reckoning on his fortune. And that influence which a worldly principle often possesses, a religious principle may acquire. The making sure of heaven may be to one man as strong and steady a motive of action as the making a fortune is to another. Pleasing God by doing good to man, may be as fixed a point in the mind of a disciple of Jesus Christ, as the compassing some scheme of wealth or greatness is frequently to the children of this generation. The fear of offending our Maker may be as great and powerful a check upon a religious man's actions, as any consideration whatever can be in the pursuits of worldly prosperity. The matter, and what in a great measure forms the business, and the greatest difficulty of religion, is to bring our minds to this; that devout thoughts draw from us not only words, but actions ; not only make us call upon him, but do his will ; not only lift up our hearts to Heaven in particular seasons of meditation, but that at all seasons they keep us back from sin.
This, then, is the sum of what we have delivered. Do we find ourselves visited with pious affections, with serious and awful apprehensions of futurity, with devout and holy thoughts of God, of Jesus Christ, and of our salvation, let us be thankful for them, as for the greatest of blessings.
But do we find these thoughts vanish, leaving no solid impression behind them; or do we find that they do not at all break off our course and habits of sinning, or interrupt us in the wicked practices into which we have fallen, or rouse us from the moral sloth and unprofitableness in which we are sunk; let us bring to remembrance this solemn text, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord ! shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father.' By no means let us undervalue the good thoughts and good motions which we feel, or have felt; but it is necessary we should know that we are yet far short of the mark; that something is done, and that of great importance, but that more is still wanting; that we must earnestly and laboriously strive so to fasten these good intimations upon the heart, so to imprint them deeply upon the soul, as that they may convert our behaviour, beget in us amendment, strengthen our resistance of temptation, break off our evil habits, and at length conquer every obstacle, and every adversary both spiritual and fleshly, which would stop and turn us out of our way in our progress to a heavenly reward.
THE FORGIVENESS OF INJURIES.
MATTHEW VI. 15.
If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your
The forgiveness of injuries is commanded in scripture, not simply as other duties are, but in a manner peculiar to itself; that is, as the absolute condition of obtaining forgiveness ourselves from God; a most awful consideration, and expressed in terms which cannot be mistaken or explained away; if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses. Words cannot be plainer or more positive. Nor is this all; for in the prayer which our Lord taught his disciples, and which from thence is called the Lord's prayer, we are instructed to petition God to forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us; which is as much as to acknowledge that so far from expecting forgiveness of our offences, we are not even to ask it upon any other terms than our forgiving the offences committed against us. Some wonder why this forgiving temper, which they reckon no better than tameness, or want of spirit, should be ranked so high by our Saviour, and hold so prominent a place amongst the duties of his religion ; should be of more account with him than the most shining and splendid virtues. But such people do not sufficiently consider the importance of this duty, or the difficulty of it. By its importance, I mean its use to mankind; for what are half the vexations of life, the uneasinesses in families, betwixt neighbours, and all the strife and contention we see in the world owing to, but to the want of it? and how are they to be healed and put a stop to, but by one of the parties at least setting an example of forgiveness? As long as each is determined to be even with his adversary, there can be no
end of provocation or offence. Every retaliation is looked upon as a fresh affront, and requiring consequently a fresh act of revenge ; so that upon this principle hatred must be immortal; an offence once given, or a quarrel once begun, must breed a train of perpetual ill turns, of constant spite and malice in the persons concerned. And this disposition is as painful to a man himself as it is mischievous to his adversary; for there is no enjoying any solid quiet, or comfort of heart, while a man hateth his brother; whilst he bears a grudge against, or is seeking to be revenged of any one. It likewise makes this a duty of greater real value, that it is very difficult. When we have received an injury or affront, we are naturally set on fire by it; we consider constantly how to be revenged upon our enemy, and make him, as we say, repent it. This is either natural, as I said, or become so by our education, fashion, habit. Now this propensity, which is one of the strongest belonging to us, must by degrees, and with great pains and reflection, be got the better of. And we have not only this to struggle with, but also the opinion of the world, which is apt to have a mighty influence upon
Other virtues are a credit and an honor to a man, but this is not. On the contrary, the world are more likely to reproach him as mean spirited and cowardly for sitting down under an insult or affront, and tamely forgiving the author of it. As I said before, therefore, it is no wonder our Saviour should lay so much stress, and set so high a value, upon a duty which is so necessary to the peace and quietness of the world, which yet is so very diffiuclt to be performed ; and one which there is so little inducement to perform besides the considerations of religion.
To explain this duty farther, it may be necessary to mention some particulars which we may be apt to confound with it, but which are not any real parts of it. First, then, the forgiveness of offences should not imply that offences should not be punished when the public good requires it, that is, when the lawful punishment of the offence is necessary, either to correct and amend the delinquent himself, or others by his example. This duty only requires, that such offences should be punished and prosecuted out of a pure regard to the public safety, and to answer the ends of punishment, and not to gratify revenge. There is no moral similitude between what we make a man suffer out of a cool consideration and a sense of what is necessary, and what is done out of spite or anger. There is this solid difference betwixt the two states; the one will be as painful to us as the other is pleasant. The two things arise from quite
different motives; are of a separate nature; and Christ's command, which respects the one, has nothing to do with the other; so that the magistrate may do his duty in punishing offenders, and private persons may do their duty in bringing public offenders to justice, without interfering with this command of our Saviour's. At the same time, however, it should be remarked and understood, that where no substantial good end is to be answered by it; that is, where the offence is trivial or inadvertent, or where lenity will not be likely to invite the repetition of it, or encourage others in it; in such circumstances to pursue an offence with the utmost rigor and severity of the law savours more of private spite than public justice. Now if there be a mixture of private grudge in such severity, it is a breach of our Saviour's command, though there be law, perhaps, to color and cover it.
Secondly; nor does this precept hinder us from applying, upon proper occasions, to the laws of our country to recover some right that is denied us, or satisfaction for some wrong that is done us; for there would be no living in the world, if the good must sit down under every wrong that the bad do them. This in the event would be putting the good in absolute slavery and subjection to the bad. But then to justify our conduct in this case, that is, to make it consistent with our Saviour's precepts, the right in question must be some serious right, of value worth the contest, and not merely to show that we are in the right and our adversary in the wrong, rather than for any thing that depends upon either. And likewise, when we are necessarily engaged in a contest of this kind, we ought to proceed with calmness, civility, and good temper, which hurts no cause, and not with anger or passion; and also to accept the cheapest and most easy method that will answer the ends of justice; for what is beyond this must be merely to berate and distress our adversary, and springs, we may depend upon it, from malice and revenge at the bottom. In short, it is easy enough to distinguish in ourselves when we act in those contests, which are almost unavoidable, with a christian spirit, and when otherwise. If we, instead of trying every fair expedient to avoid and terminate the dispute amicably, are hastily engaged in it; if we go more for victory and triumph, to depress and expose our adversary, than for any thing else; if we take delight in putting him to trouble, vexation, and expense, we are far, very far, let his conduct have been what it will, from acting in that mild relenting temper which our religion inculcates and insists upon. Neither,