« PreviousContinue »
most atrociously and habitually disregard the authority, and are ungrateful for the goodness, of God. Hence it becomes natural for us to connect the idea of criminality with all actions of the former kind, but not with those of the latter.
This indeed forms one ground of the opposition which is every where excited against the doctrines of the gospel. Men are used to judge themselves and their own characters, as they stand related to one another, and according to the rules and maxims established in their circle of society. Weighed in this balance, they are not " found wanting." With a little aid from self-flattery, they conclude that they never did harm to any one, that their hearts are good, and their lives good; and are therefore disposed to take offence, when addressed as sinners needing salvation; and eagerly to dispute against the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as well as against many other truths of Christianity. Indeed it might be conceded to some among them, that if they had only to do with their fellow-creatures, and with the interests of men in this present world, their pleas would at least be plausible. But if such persons would consider their obligations to God, and call themselves to account, how far they have or have not fulfilled them; if they were disposed to condemn themselves for all that his word condemns; weighed in this balance they must certainly be "found want"ing;" and would soon be led to cry out, " God "be merciful to me a sinner!" And then every part of Christianity would gradually open to their view, as most needful, most gracious, most suitable, and "worthy of all acceptation."
The young man, who respectfully addressed our Lord, and inquired "what he must do to "inherit eternal life:" having over-looked the first table of the law, and interpreted the several precepts of the second as a mere moralist would do, without hesitation replied, "All these have I kept "from my youth." Yet the event shewed that he loved his riches better than the God who made him.
When our Lord, speaking to a lawyer who asked the same question, inquired of him, "What "is written in the law? How readest thou?" he replied by quoting the two great commandments: and our Lord said, "Thou hast answered right; "this do and thou shalt live." But "he, willing "to justify himself, said unto Jesus, and who is my neighbour?" He seemed not conscious of having violated his obligations to God, and so made no inquiry about "the first and great com"mandment;" but, desiring "to justify himself," he appears to ask for a limitation of the too extensive meaning of the second, without which he could not possibly accomplish his object.
This being the case with men in general, it cannot at all be wonderful, that even serious inquirers after salvation are for a time in some measure embarrassed by the same mistake; and find it very difficult to judge of their conduct according to the rules of scripture, and with respect to their relations and obligations to the Almighty; and still more so, to be affected with a humbling sense of guilt on this account, answerable to the views and feelings which they hear described by those who preach the gospel to them.
Indeed it is probable, that conviction of sin, at first, commonly arises from a consciousness of having acted in certain instances contrary to our views of moral obligation; rather than from an accurate comparison of our whole conduct and the state of our hearts, with the law of God and our obligations to him. But afterwards deeper reflection and further inquiry produce a sense of guilt in those thoughts, words, and actions, which once were considered as entirely innocent.
The intention of these remarks, my brethren, is to impress your minds with the immense importance of the subject before us; for the want of duly understanding or adverting to it often keeps serious persons long in a state of hesitation as to the doctrines of the gospel, and exposes them to great danger from the artifices of those who continually are starting objections against the truth.
Indeed even true and established Christians are seldom so deeply affected with a sense of guilt, when betrayed into such sinful inclinations, or actions, as appear insulated from all connexion with men, and never likely to injure any one, or to be known except to the omniscient God alone; as they do for those evils which fall under human observation, interfere with the comfort or interest of others, and incur their censure.
But, in proportion to the degree in which this erroneous judgment influences us, it must unquestionably militate against the exercise of genuine repentance, humility, and simple faith in the mercy of God, and the merits of Christ: it must prevent that admiring, adoring love of the divine Redeemer, who shed his blood on the cross as an
atonement for our sins; and that glowing ardour of affection for him, which was the grand peculiarity of the primitive Christians, and their all powerful motive to self-denying labours and sufferings for his sake. This we every where meet with in their writings; alas, how different from 'the frigid zone' of modern Christianity!
II. I would illustrate the emphasis of the Psalmist's words; " Against thee, thee only, have I "sinned."
David perhaps might mean, that, as a king, he was accountable to none but God: but he also, no doubt, intended to confess, that in entire distinction from the inquiry, how far men had been offended or injured by his conduct; he had greatly displeased the Sovereign of the universe, "the "King of kings and Lord of lords." Perhaps some persons at that time might secretly rejoice, that such a man as David had thus kept them in countenance. Joab, for instance, who had committed murder, might inwardly exult on so lamentable an occasion. But, however that might be, He who is "no respecter of persons," and with whom is no difference between the mightiest monarch and the meanest subject, was deeply offended.
The language of the text, "Against thee, thee only," implies far more than I can express, of the majesty, excellency, and authority of the glorious God; of our relations to him, as the Creator, Governor, and Judge of all; of our obligations to him, in general and particular: and of the return which we ought to "render for all his "benefits."
It is worthy of remark, that no records of antiquity, however admired (the scriptures alone excepted) use language concerning the infinite God, which is in any measure worthy of his incomprehensible majesty and greatness; nay, which is not exceedingly degrading to his character: and, if moderns have at all succeeded better on this subject, it is because they have derived their most adequate ideas from the Bible, though many are unwilling to acknowledge the obligation. Yet, after all, the sublimity of the sacred oracles on this subject is unparalleled. "Great is the Lord, "and greatly to be praised; His greatness is un"searchable. I will speak of the glorious honour "of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works " and men shall speak of the might of thy terrible "acts, and I will declare thy greatness."-"Who "hath measured the waters in the hollow of his "hand, and meted out the heavens with a span, "and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, " and the hills in a balance?" "The nations are
as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the "small dust of the balance. Behold he taketh up "the isles as a very little thing! And Lebanon is "not sufficient to burn; nor the beasts thereof for
a burnt offering! All nations before him are as "nothing: and they are counted unto him less. "than nothing and vanity! To whom then will ye "liken God?" Against this Being, of glorious power and majesty unspeakable, a poor worm
'Psal. cxlv. 3—6.
'Is. xl. 12-18.