« PreviousContinue »
about him. And thus the very sin, with which they are especially charged, is pleaded in extenuation of other crimes! It is the grand criminality in the conduct of men, that they forget God. Every object we behold proclaims his existence and glory: our own consciousness, nay, reflection on our own bodies and souls, is suited to bring him to our thoughts. We live every hour on his bounty, and are continually upheld by his arm; yet we forget him, and excuse our other sins on the ground of that forgetfulness! But remember, my fellow sinners, that " the wicked shall be " turned into hell; and all the people that forget "God." Can there be a more unequivocal proof of ingratitude, contempt, and aversion, than this habitual forgetfulness of our glorious Sovereign, and our daily Benefactor?
If your child loves you, does he forget you? And should a son, whom you had tenderly and carefully educated, and with great expense placed in a very comfortable situation, and then charged, as he valued your favour and happiness, to avoid this, and to attend to that, particular: should he, say, persist in a conduct in all respects diametrically opposite to your will; and then plead that indeed he did not mean to offend you, for he had forgotten both you, and your kindness, and your counsel; what would you think of his behaviour? Would you not suppose, that he meant to add insult to disobedience? "The carnal mind is "enmity against God." This carnal enmity is the source of our forgetfulness; and it is also an aggravation of our guilt.
Ingratitude is generally allowed to be one of
the basest and most detestable of crimes, where man only is concerned: but what are our obligations to our best earthly benefactors, compared with those which are hourly conferred on us by our heavenly Father and Friend? yet who can justly say that he has not been ungrateful to God?
It is indeed a melancholy truth that, the more benefits God bestows in his providence, the greater neglect and ingratitude do men commonly manifest. Hence it is that the prosperous are far more apt to forget God than the afflicted; the rich more in general than the poor; the healthy more than the sick; and we are never in so much danger of impious contempt of him, as when he lavishes so many benefits upon us that we have every thing according to our own mind, and "more than "heart can wish."
This is not only the case, in respect of different persons placed in more or less prosperous circumstances, but in the same persons; even he that is truly pious in general acts better when afflicted than when successful. David behaved more honourably when persecuted by Saul, and when Absalom rose in rebellion against him, than he did "when the Lord had given him rest from all his "enemies round about."-Religion commonly flourishes most under persecution and affliction ; and it seems almost an universal rule, that the more providence indulges, either individuals or collective bodies, the more negligent and ungrateful they become?" When thy riches increase, and "when thy gold, and thy silver, and all that thou "hast are multiplied, then beware lest thou forget
"the Lord thy God." And is not this undeniable fact an awful demonstration of our extreme depravity? Will any man seriously set himself to excuse such a temper and conduct?
Man's forgetfulness of God arises, in no small degree, from his inordinate love of worldly objects. He idolatrously values wealth, pleasure, power, or the honour which cometh from men. I say, idolatrously, for covetousness is idolatry, and sensual indulgence is idolatry. They are so called in scripture. And he who loves either wealth, pleasure, pomp, or any earthly object, more than God, is as really an idolater as if he had formed his gold into an image, and prostrated himself before it in stupid adoration. "Ye have forsaken "the fountain of living waters, and have hewn "out to yourselves cisterns, broken cisterns, which 66 can hold no water." "The world and the "things of the world" are put in the place of God: and in this way even innocent and needful pursuits and employments often become the occasions of great guilt.
Judas sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver: and the Jews preferred Barabbas, a thief and robber, to Christ. We stand astonished at their. baseness: but have we not, in some respects, preferred as mean or as vile objects to the infinite God, and to the gracious Saviour of lost sinners?
In short, if the human heart were not "deceit"ful above all things," as well as "desperately "wicked," our conduct in this respect towards God would never have been palliated. The criminality of man consists in rebellion against God, and in setting his own will in opposition to that of
his Maker: every favour which the Lord bestows, aggravates that criminality: and to endeavour to plead any excuse for such complicated guilt, render's us still more criminal in his sight whose "judgment is according unto truth."
I proceed therefore,
IV. To prove that this view of the subject brings in many exceedingly guilty, who, on other grounds, would scarcely seem at all so; and that this shews the need which men in general have of the mercy and grace proposed to them in the gospel.
Acts of gross immorality, evidently injurious to society, are sometimes avoided in the habitual tenour of a man's conduct, from prudential and worldly motives, and during the whole, or a great proportion, of his life: and, when this is by no means the case, they are occasional, and form but a small part of the actual conduct of men in general; if the most abandoned of the human species be excepted. But neglect and forgetfulness of God, ingratitude, and a will opposed to his will, and a violation of all obligations to him, are in every ungodly man habitual; they run through every day, and every action of the day; they influence all his thoughts, words, and deeds; they constitute his selected plan of life; they influence him in the spending of his time and money; and they direct the use made of his talents, property, health, spirits, body, and soul. Every thing is by men of this character arranged and conducted, as it were, by a system of forgetfulness and neglect of God of ingratitude and rebellion, nay, defiance of him. So that, where no gross vice is perpe
trated, a degree of guilt is constantly contracted, far greater in total amount than that of the most atrocious immorality, considered in any other light: and even where sins are committed, for which the conscience sometimes reproaches a man, the habitual and systematical enmity against God, which the immoral, and even the most moral, may be charged with, is unspeakably the greater part of their guilt.
Thus, while in reference to society we would give virtuous characters due respect, and reprobate the vicious in the sight of God, there is far less difference than is generally supposed. For, if men were restrained from immorality by a regard to the divine authority, that principle would influence their whole conduct, and lead them also to every breach of piety. Criminality is not always the greatest where we judge it to be so we are not competent to decide on so complicated a question, as the degrees of men's guilt; but must leave it to him who searches the very thoughts of the heart. But "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of "God." In this respect "there is no difference :" and, as all are involved under one common sentence of condemnation, all should, with one consent, welcome the gospel of grace. For "it is a "faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, "that Jesus Christ came into the world to save "sinners."
May I not even now be addressing some persons, who, if asked what part of their conduct they would choose to alter, were they persuaded that Christianity was a mere delusion, though not dis