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prayer; and if it be sincere, it must necessarily import and include a resolution against sin. 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 one dispensation as another, under the law as 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.
ECCLES. 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 sinners.
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 combated 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, both also highly rewarded, though differently. Therefore, any inferiority to others in our natural abilities, any dif
ficulties or disadvantages we labour under, which others do not labour 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 labour 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 dependance 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 acci
dentally 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 chequered 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 thiswhilst 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 of 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."