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Again: There may not be any action, which, singly and separately taken, amounts to what would be reckoned a crime; yet there may be actions, which we give in to, which even our own consciences cannot approves and these may be so frequent with us, as to form a part of the course and fashion of our lives.
Again: It is possible, that some of the miscarriages in conduct, of which we have to accuse ourselves, may be imputable to inadvertency or surprise. But could these miscarriages happen so often as they do, if we exercised that vigilance in our christian course, which not only forms a part of the christian character, but is a sure effect of a sincere faith in religion, and a corresponding solicitude and concern about it? Lastly, Un. profitableness itself is a sin. We need not do mischief in order to commit şin; uselessness, when we might be useful, is enough to make us sinners before God. The fig-tree in the gospel was cut down, not because it bore sour fruit, but because it bore none. The parable of the talents (Mat. xxv. 14.) is pointed expressly against the simple neglect of faculties and opportunities of doing good, as contradistinguished from the perpetration of positive crimes. Are not all these topics fit matters of meditation, in the review of our lives? Upon the whole, when I hear a person say, he has no sins to think upon, I conclude, that he has not thought seriously concerning religion at all.
Let our sins, then, be ever before us; . if not our crimes, of which it is possible, that according to the
comnion acceptation of that word, we may not have many to remember; let our omissions, deficiencies, failures, our irregularities of heart and affection, our vices of temper and disposition, our course and habit of giving in to smaller offences, meaning, as I do mean, by offences, all those things, which our consciences cannot really approve; our slips, and inadvertencies, and surprises, much too frequent for a man in earnest about salvation. Let these things occupy our attention; let this be the bent and direction of our thoughts; for they are the thoughts, which will bring us to God evangelically; because they are the thoughts, which will not only increase our vigilance, but which must inspire us with that humility, as to ourselves; with that deep and abiding, and operating sense of God Almighty's love and kindness, and mercy towards us, in and through Jesus Christ, our Saviour, which is ever one great aim and end of the gospel, and of those who preached it, to inculcate upon all, who came to take hold of the offer of grace.
SALVATION FOR PENITENT SINNERS.
Luke, vii. 47. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many,
are forgiven; for she loved much.
It has been thought an extravagant doctrine, that the greatest sinners were sometimes nearer to the king: dom of heaven, than they, whose offences were less exorbitant, and less conspicuous: yet I apprehend the doctrine wants only to be rationally explained, to show that it has both a great deal of truth, and a great deal of use in it; that it may be an awakening religious proposition to some, whilst it cannot, without being wilfully misconstrued, delude or deceive any.
Of all conditions in the world the most to be des. paired of is the condition of those, who are altogether insensible and unconcerned about religion; and yet they may be, in the mean time, tolerably regular in their outward behaviour; there may be nothing in it to give great offence; their character may be fair; they may pass with the common stream, or they may even be well spoken of; nevertheless, I say, that, whilst this insensibility remains upon their minds, their condition is more to be despaired of than that of any other person. The religion of Christ does not in any way apply to them: they do not belong to it; for are they to be saved by performing God's will? God is not in their thoughts; his will is not before their eyes. They may do good things; but it is not from a principle of obedience to God, that they do them. There may be many crimes, which they are not guilty of; but it is not out of regard to the will of God, that they do not commit them. It does not, therefore, appear, what just hopes they can entertain of heaven, upon the score of an obedience, which they not only do not perform, but do not attempt to perform. Then, secondly, if they are to hope in Christ for a forgiveness of their imperfections, for acceptance through him of broken and deficient services, the truth is, they have recourse to no such hope; beside, it is not imperfection, with which they are charged, but a total absence of principle. A man, who never strives to obey, never indeed bears that thought about him, must not talk of the imperfection of his obedience: neither the word, nor the idea pertains to him: nor can he speak of broken and deficient services, who, in no true sense of the term, hath ever served God at all. I own, therefore, I do not perceive what rational hopes religion can hold out to insensibility and unconcernedness, to those, who neither obey its rules, nor seek its aid; neither follow after its rewards, nor sue, I mean in spirit and sincerity sue, for its pardon. But how, it will be asked, can a man be of regular and reputable morals, with this religious insensibility: in other words, with the want of vital religion in his heart? I answer, that it can be. A general regard to character, knowing that it is an advantageous thing to possess a good character; or a regard generated by' natural and early habit: a disposition to follow the usages of life, which are practised around us, and which constitute decency: calm passions, easy circumstances, orderly companions, may, in a multitude of instånçes, keep men within rules and bounds, without the operation of any religious principle whatever.
. There is likewise another cause, which has a tendency to shut out religion from the mind, and yet hath at the same time a tendency to make men orderly and decent in their conduct: and that cause is business. A close attention to business is very apt to exclude all other attentions; especially those of a spiritual nature, which appear to men of business shadowy and unsubstantial, and to want that present reality and advantage, which they have been accustomed to look for, and to find in their temporal concerns: and yet it is undoubtedly true, that attention to business frequently and naturally produces regular manners. Here, therefore, is a case, in which decency of behaviour shall subsist along with religious insensibility, forasmuch as one cause produces both; an intent ap. plication to business.
Decency, order, regularity, industry, application to our calling are all good things; but then they are ac