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them. The whole scripture declares unbelief to be the offspring of pride and the love of sin: and that such men continue under the unqualified sentence of final condemnation.
Sincerity is an ambiguous term: sincerely to hate infinite good and despise infinite excellency; and thus to be very sincere in “ fighting against “God” and persecuting his saints ; nay, sincerity in supporting the tenets of philosophy and morality, or superstition, against the sure testimony of God; is very different from sincere repentance, faith in Christ, love of his people, and obedience to his commands. Yet men, either artfully or ignorantly, confound these distinct ideas; and then pretend that sincerity is all that is necessary to salvation !
But this short specimen must suffice ; though many more false inferences from the text might be mentioned. The wise man has, however, summed them all up in one verse:
“Because sentence “ against an evil work is not executed speedily, “ therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully “ set in them to do evil.” 1
IV. Let us, in the last place, make some practical use of the subject.
The view of the unfathomable love of God, which has been given, should increase men's abhorrence of sin and dread of its consequences. The more glorious and excellent the Lord appears to be, the greater degree of odiousness must be contained in every transgression against him; and crimes committed under the clear light of the gospel must, on that account be peculiarly inexcusable. While,
1 Eccles. vii. 11.
GOD IS LOVE.
therefore, sinners should take warning to flee from the wrath to come, (for “ how will they escape if
they neglect so great salvation,”and harden themselves in disobedience because our God is merciful ?) it is incumbent on us all to humble ourselves more and more for all our numberless offences, as most hateful and unreasonable, because committed against infinite goodness and excellency.
On the other hand the subject is most delightfully suited to encourage the poor trembling penitent, how many or heinous soever his sins may have been. Poor desponding soul, remember that
Consider what he hath done to make way for the honourable exercise of his mercy. There were two obstacles in the way of our felicity ; namely, his justice and our proud obstinacy. He hath removed the former by “not sparing his own “Son,” but giving him a sacrifice for our sins; and he overcomes the latter when he“ gives us repen“ tance to the acknowledging of the truth.” If then thou dost now submit to his righteousness, confess thy sins, and apply for salvation according to his merciful invitations ; thou mayest assuredly expect a gracious reception : for he who commended his love to his enemies, by giving his own Son to die for them, cannot reject the weeping contrite supplicant, who pleads the all-prevailing name of Jesus, in humble faith, and fervent desires of finding mercy and grace through him.
Here again we may learn the standard of true excellency. The most shining characters, which genius hath selected to immortalize, have commonly been illustriously mischievous; and the unqualified admiration, with which they are often
mentioned, exceedingly misleads inexperienced youth. But GOD IS LOVE; and, the more we resemble and imitate him in this endearing attribute, the greater real excellency we unquestionably pos
Let us then be “ followers of God," and “walk in love,” after his pattern, in all the various displays of it which have been considered: then we shall certainly be known and approved as his children, and found meet for the eternal inheritance of his heavenly kingdom.
Finally, if we be conscious of having “fled for
refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us” in the gospel, let us receive the trials allotted us as the wise and holy appointments of divine love ; let us not judge of the Lord's dispensations by our feelings or reasonings, but by his holy word; and let us submit to his will, whatever he may withhold, take away or inflict; assured that he manages
all our concerns in that manner which is most conducive to our eternal interests, and best suited to illustrate the riches of his paternal liberality.
ACTS XXVI. 19, 20.
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient
unto the heavenly vision : but shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the gentiles, that they should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
The propriety and address of St. Paul's speech before Agrippa, Festus, and that august assembly, in whose presence he stood as the prisoner of Jesus Christ, have been generally admired: but the faithfulness and courage, with which he pleaded the cause of the gospel, are perhaps still more deserving of our attention. He paid no court to his illustrious auditors : he attempted not to ingratiate himself with them, or even to shun their contempt or aversion; while he used the most effectual means of convincing them, not only that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but that faith in him was absolutely necessary to salvation, and that all men without exception ought to “ repent, “ and turn to God, and do works meet for re
Having given a brief narration of his own miraculous conversion, he produced his commission to preach the gospel to the gentiles ; “ I have ap“peared unto thee,” says the divine Saviour, “ to
“ make thee a minister and a witness, both of “ these things which thou hast seen, and of those
things in the which I will appear unto thee; “ delivering thee from the people and from the “ gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open “ their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to
light, and from the power of Satan unto God, “ that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and “ inheritance among them which are sanctified by “ faith that is in me. Whereupon,” says the apostle, “I was not disobedient unto the hea
venly vision, but shewed,” first to the Jews and then to the gentiles, “ that they should repent “ and turn to God, and do works meet for repent“ ance.” In doing this,” he was not disobedient “ to the heavenly vision :" for, in his view of Christianity, these practical subjects perfectly accorded with the doctrines of faith and
The several Christian graces may, and should, be distinguished, as they have their appropriate nature and use ; but they cannot be separated in the person who possesses them. For instance, an impenitent believer, and an unbelieving penitent are ideal characters : true faith is a penitent faith, and true repentance is believing repentance: yet the nature and use of repentance and faith should be plainly distinguished. This will appear more evidently, while from the text we take occasion to consider,
I. The importance of the subject, as it appears from the scriptures:
II. Certain things which are implied in it:
III. The peculiar nature of repentance and turning unto God :