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the anger of God against him, and to engage Now, change the objects of indignation
The apostle adds,' yea, what fear.' By fear, in this place, we understand that self-diffidence, which an idea of the sins we have committed, ought naturally to inspire. In this sense, St. Paul says to the Romans, 'be not high-minded; but fear,' chap. xi. 20. Fear, that is to say, distrust thyself. I do not mean a bare speculative diffidence, that persuades the mind: I understand a practical fear, which penetrates the heart, inspires us with salutary cautions against the repetition of such sins as we are most inclined to comnit. This effect produced by godly sorrow, is one of the principal characters that distinguishes it from the sorrow of the world, from that repentance, which is often found in false penitents. It is one of the surest marks of real repentance, and one of the best evidences, that it is not imaginary. Let the occa sion of your penitential sorrows in the past week teach you to know yourself, and engage you to guard those tempers of your hearts, the folly of which your own experience has so fully taught you. Here you suffered through your inattention and dissipation; fear lest you should fall by the same means again; guard against this weakness, strengthen this feeble part, accustom yourself to attention, examine what relation every circumstance of your life has to your duty. There you fell through your vanity; fear lest you should
The same principle that produces indignation against those who reprove our disorders, inspires us with apologies to excuse ourselves. The reproved sinner is always fruitful in excuses, always ingenious in finding reasons to exculpate himself, even while he gives himself up to those excesses which admit of the least excuse; one while, his time of life necessarily induces him to some sins; another time, human frailty is incompatible with perfect piety; now he pleads the vivacity of his passions, which will suffer no control; and then he says, he is irresistibly carried away with the force of example in spite of all his efforts.
fall again by the same mean; guard against this weakness, accustom yourself to meditate on your original meanness, and on whatever can inspire you with the grace of humility. Another time you erred through excessive complaisance; fear lest you should err again by the same mean; guard against this weakness, accustom yourself to resist opportunity, when resistance is necessary, and never blush to say, 'It is right in the sight of God, to hearken unto God, more than unto you,' Acts iv. 19. In such a case, St. Paul would exclaim, behold, this self-same thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what fear it wrought in you!'
In the fifth place, What vehement desire?' This is another vague term. Godly sorrow produces divers kinds of desire. Here I confine it to one meaning; it signifies, Ithink, a desire of participating the favour of God, of becoming an object of the merciful promises, which he has made to truly contrite souls, and of resting under the shade of that cross, where an expiatory sacrifice was offered to divine justice for the sins of mankind. A penitent, who sees the favourable looks of a compassionate God intercepted; a penitent, who cannot behold that adorable face, the smiles of which constitute all his joy; a penitent, who apprehends his God justly flaming with anger against him, desires only one thing, that is, to recover a sense of the favour of God. If thy presence go not with me carry us not up hence,' said Moses once, Exod. xxxiii. 15; should we conquer all the land of promise, and possess all its treasures, and not enjoy thy love, we would rather spend all our days here in the desert. I will arise, and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, make me as one of thy hired servants,' Luke xv. 18, 19; this was the language of the prodigal son. And the prayer of the psalmist is to the same purpose,Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy spirit from me, restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, uphold me with thy free spirit, Ps. li. 11, 12.
justice of God. There can be no other relation between God and an obstinate sinner than that which subsists between judge and criminal; God is of purer eyes than to behold evil,' Hab. i. 13;` and his justice points all his thunders against the devoted head of him who gives himself up to the commission of it. Godly sorrow reconciles us to divine justice. This is perhaps of all propositions the least disputable, the most clear, and the most demonstrable.
Finally, zeal is the sixth effect of godly sorrow, and it may have three sorts of objects, God, our neighbours, and ourselves. But, as the time is nearly clapsed, and as I has shown you in general what godly sorrow is, and what effects are wrought in a penitent, by it, I shall proceed to close this discourse by describing the benefits that accompany it.
Consult your own reason, it will inform you, God good; it will prove, by all the objects which surround you, that it is not possible for God to refuse mercy to a penitent, who weeps, and mourns for sin, who prays for mercy, who covers himself with sackcloth and ashes, who dares not venture to lift up his eyes to heaven, who would shed all his blood to atone for the sins that he has committed, and who would not for the whole universe allow himself to commit them again.
To reason add authority, and it will appear, that all mankind profess to be guilty of sin, and to adore a God of pardoning mercy, and although numbers remain ignorant of the nature of true repentance, yet allow it is attended with excellent prerogatives.
To reason and authority add revelation. But how is it possible for me at present even to hint all the comfortable testimonies of revelation on this article? Revelation gives you ideas of the mercy of God the most tender, the most affecting, the most sublime; it speaks of bowels troubled, repentings kindled together,' at the sound of a penitent's plaintive voice, Jer. xxxi. 20; Hos. xi. 8. Revelation speaks of oaths uttered by God himself, whose bare word is evidence enough, As I live, saith the Lord,' Ezek. xxxiii. 11. (St. Paul tells us, 'because God could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,' Heb. vi. 13; and in the text now quoted God employs this kind of speaking, an appeal to the most excellent of all beings, in order to satisfy the trembling conscience of a penitent.) As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked: but that the wicked turn from his way and live.' Revelation opens to you those fountains of life which " re opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and leads to the blood of the Saviour of the world, which flows for penitent sinners,' Zech. xiii. 1.
of it. 6
III. St. Paul expresses himself in a very concise manner on this article: but his language is full of meaning; repentance produced by godly sorrow, says he, is not to be repented of. This is one of those tours of expression, by which, while a subject seems to be diminished, the highest ideas are given Godly sorrow worketh repentance not to be repented of,' that is to say, it is always a full source of consolation and joy. Let us adapt ourselves to the shortness of our time. Godly sorrow reconciles us to three enemies, which, while we live in sin, attack us with implacable rage. The first is divine justice; the second our own conscience; the last death. The first enemy who attacks us while we live in sin, with implacable rage, is the
Consult experience, and it will show you a cloud of witnesses, whose repentance was accepted. Witness many a time the whole people of Israel, witness Moses, witness David, witness Hezekiah, witness Manasseh, witness Nebuchadnezzar, witness Nineveh, witness that prostitute who wept in Simon's house, witness the poor publican, witness the converted thief, witness every penitent in this assembly, for what would become of you, I speak of the holiest of you, what would become of you, were not God good, were ho not infinitely good, were he not merciful to wait while we fall into sin until we rise again by repentance?
2. As godly sorrow reconciles us to divine justice, so it reconciles us to our own consciences. We sometimes lull conscience into a deep sleep; but it is very difficult to keep it
Was it in your closet? What! that trifling examination, that rapid reading, those superficial regrets, those hasty resolutions, was this your course of repentance?
from starting and waking. Wo be to them | crooked and perverse nation,' Phil. ii. 15, and who throw it into a dead sleep to wake no who may perhaps have obtained to-day by nore! But when it awakes, how dreadful the fervour of their zeal forbearance for all does it arise from its sleep? What blows does the rest. But I speak of a great number, it strike! What wounds does it make! What and of them I ask), In what period of your pains and horrors does it excite, when it says lives were you in possession of all those chato a sinner, Miserable wretch! what hast thou racters of godly sorrow, of which we have done? from what dignity art thou fallen! been speaking? into what deep disgrace and distress art thou plunged! My punishment is greater than I can bear! Mountains! cover me! Hills! fall upon me,' Gen. iv. 13; Hos. x. 8. Ah! ye empty sounds of worldly pleasure! ye tumultuous assemblies! ye festal and amusive scenes! how feeble are ye against an enemy so formidable! It is repentance only, it is only godly sorrow that can disarm conscience. A Soul reconciled to God, a soul made to hear this comfortable language, thy sins be forgiven thee, Matt, ix. 2, passes, so to speak, all on a sudden from a kind of hell to a sort of heaven; it feels that peace of God which passeth all understanding,' Phil. iv. 7; it enters into that joy unspeakable and full of glory,' 1 Pet. i. 8, which has supported the greatest saints under the most infamous calumnies that ever were invented to blacken them, and the sharpest punishments that ever were devised to torment them.
Was it in company? But what! that commerce with the world, in which you were not distinguished from other worldlings, and where after the example of your company you put on their livery, and pursued their pleas ures, was this your course of repentance?
3. In fine, godly sorrow reconciles us to death. While we live without repentance, yea, while there remains any doubt of the sincerity or truth of our repentance, how can we sustain the thoughts of a just tribunal, an exact register, an impartial sentence, all ready to unfold and decree our future fate? How can we hear this summons, Give an account of thy stewardship?' Luke xvi. 2. Godly sorrow, reconciles us to this enemy, the sting of death is sin,' 1 Cor. xv. 55, and sin has no sting for a penitent. Death appears to the repenting sinner as a messenger of grace, sent to conduct him to a merciful God, and to open to him ineffable felicity flowing from boundless mercy.
Ah! my brethren, would to God it were as easy to prove that you bear the marks of true repentance, as it is to display its prerogatives! But alas-I dare not even move this question-And yet what wait you around the pulpit for? Why came you to hear this sermon? Would you have me to close the solemnity as usual by supposing that you have understood all, and referred all to the true design; that last week you all very seriously examined your own hearts; that you all prepared for the table of the Lord by adopting such dispositions as this holy ceremony requires of you; that this morning you all received the communion with such zeal, fervour, and love, as characterize worthy communicants; that in the preceding exercise you all poured out your hearts before God in gratitude and praise; and that nothing remains now but to congratulate you on the holiness and happiness of your state?
But tell me, in what period of your lives (I speak not of you all, for thanks be to God, I see many true penitents in this assembly; men, who shine as lights in the midst of a
Was it at the table of Jesus Christ? But what those communions, to which you came rather to acquire by some slight exercises of devotion a right to commit more sin, than to lament what you had committed, those communions, which you concluded as indevoutly as you began; those communions, that produced no reformation in you as men of the world, members of the church, or of private families; those communions, after which you were as proud, as implacable, as sordid, as voluptuous, as envious, as before; do these communions constitute the course of your repentance?
Perhaps, we may repent, when we are dying! What! a forced submission; an attention extorted in spite of ourselves by the prayers and exhortations of a zealous minister; resolutions inspired by fear; can this be a safe course of repentance?
Ah! my brethren, it would be better to turn our hopes from the past; for past times offer only melancholy objects to most of us, and to confine our attention to future, or rather to the present moments, which afford us more agreeable objects of contemplation. O may the present proofs, the glorious proofs, which God gives us to-day of his love, make everlasting impressions upon our hearts and minds! May the sacred table, of which we have this morning participated, be for ever before our eyes! May this object every where follow us, and may it every where protect us from all those temptations to which a future conversation with the world may expose us! May our prayers, our resolutions, our oaths, never be effaced from our memories! May we renew our prayers, resolutions, vows, and oaths, this moment with all our hearts! Let each of us close this solemnity by saying, Thou art my portion, O Lord! I have said, that I would keep thy words! I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments,' Ps. xix. 57. 106. I have sworn to be more exact in all thy service, more attentive to thy voice, more sensible to thine exhortations. And to unite all my wishes in one, may that sincerity, and integrity, with which we take this oath, be accompanied with all the divine assistance, which is necessary to enable us never, never to violate it. Amen and Amen!
ROMANS vii. 38, 39.
I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other, creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
IT is a circumstance of sacred history well worthy of our reflections, my brethren, that Moses and Joshua, being yet, the one beyond Jordan, the other hardly on the frontiers of Palestine, disposed of that country as if they had already subdued it. They made laws concerning kings, subjects, priests, and Levites; they distributed towns and provinces; and they described the boundaries of every tribe. It should seem, their battles had been all fought, and they had nothing remaining now but the pleasure of enjoying the fruit of their victories. Yet war is uncertain, and the success of one day does not always ensure the success of the next. Hence the ancient proverb, 'Let not him that girdeth on his harness, boast himself as he that putteth it off, 1 Kings xx. 11.
Certainly, my brethren, these leaders of the people of God would have been chargeable with rashness, had they founded their hopes only on their own resolution and courage, had they attacked their enemies only 'with a sword and with a spear; but they went in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel,' 1 Sam. xvii. 45, for he had said to them, 'Arise, and go, for I do give this land to the children of Israel,' Josh. i. 2. Resting on these promises, and possessing that 'faith, which is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen, Heb. xi. 1, they thought themselves in the land of promise; they tasted the milk and honey, and enjoyed all the privileges of it.
Christians, there is a greater distance between heaven and earth; than there was between the wilderness and the land of promise. There are more difficulties to surmount to arrive at salvation, than there were formerly to arrive at Canaan. Notwithstanding, my text is the language of a Christian soldier, yet in arms, yet resisting flesh and blood, yet surrounded by innumerable enemies conspiring against his soul; behold him assured, triumphing, defying all the creatures of the universe to deprive him of salvation. But be not surprised at his firmness; the angel of the Lord fights for him, and says to him, Arise, and go, for I do give the land to thee, Josh. i. 3; and his triumphant song is full of wisdom, I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let us examine the steadfastness of St. Paul, and let the words of our text decido two disputed points. Some divines pretend, that believers ought always to remain in a state of doubt and uncertainty concerning their salvation. Our first dispute is with them. Our second is with some false Christians, who, pretending that assurance of salvation is taught in the holy Scriptures, arrogate to themselves the consolations afforded by this doctrine, even while they live in practices, inconsistent with a state of regeneration. With a view to both, we will divide this discourse into two general parts. In the first we will prove this proposition; a believer may arrive at such a degree of holiness as to be assured of his salvation. I am persuaded,' says St. Paul; he does not say, I think, I presume, I conjecture: but I am persuaded,' I am assured,' that neither death nor life shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' In the second place, we will prove, that no one has a right to assure himself of his salvation, any farther than he has a right to assure himself, that he shall persevere in faith and obedience. I am persuaded; of what? Is it that, live how I will, I shall be saved? No. But I am persuaded, that neither death nor life shall separate me from the love of God; that is to say, I am persuaded, I shall triumph over all temptations. The first of these articles shall be directed to confirm our consciences, and to explain our divinity. The second to justify our morality, and to destroy that false system of confidence which carnal security aims to establish.
I. A believer may carry his faith and holiness to a degree which will assure him of his salvation. This is our first proposition, and there is as much necessity of explaining it clearly as of solidly proving the truth of it; for if there be an article, that is rendered obscure by disputes about words, and by the false consequences which different authors impute to each other, it is certainly this. If we clearly state the question, and omit what is not essential to the subject, although it may have some distant relation to it, we shall preclude a great many difficulties, and the truth will establish itself.
First, then, when we affirm, there is such a blessing as assurance of salvation, we do not mean that assurance is a duty imposed on all mankind, so that every one, in what state soever he may be, ought to be fully persuaded of his salvation, and by this per
suasion to begin his Christianity. We are well assured, that all those who are out of the road of truth and virtue, can have no other assurance than what is false, rash, and injurious to religion. By this we get rid of all those calumnies, by which some attempt to blacken our doctrine. It has been pretended, that we require false Christians, wicked and abandoned people, persiting in error and vice to believe that they are justified, and that they have nothing more to do, in order to arrive at salvation, than to persuade themselves that they shall be saved. Indeed we allow, obligations to faith and holiness, by which we arrive at assurance, lie upon all men, even the most unbelieving and profane; but while they persist in unbelief and profaneness, we endeavour to destroy their pretences to assurance and salvation.
cases as that of David. After he had killed Uriah, he was given up to continual remorse; the shade of Uuriah, says Josephus, all covered with gore, for ever haunted him, broke his bones, and made him cry most earnestly for a restoration of the joy of Salvation, Pa.li. 8. 12. In some such circumstances the prophet Asaph was, when he exclaimed, Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?' Ps. lxxvii. 7. 9. These were moments of suspension of divine love; these were the sad remains of sin in these holy men.
5. We do not say that the greatest saints have any right to persuade themselves of the certainty of their salvation in case they were to cease to love God. Certainty of salvation, supposes perseverance in the way of salvation. Thus we reply to objections taken from the words of St. Paul, I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, 1 myself should be a cast away,' 1 Cor. ix. 27 We are persuaded St. Paul, all holy as he was, had he ceased to have been holy, would have been obliged to doubt of his salvation. Thus also we account for the threatenings which are denounced in Scripture, and for this command of an apostle, Give diligence to make your calling and election sure, 2 Pet i. 10. And by this also we get rid of the unjust reproaches which some cast on the doctrine of assurance, as favouring indolence and licentiousness.
6. We do not affirm, that any man, considered in himself, employing only his own strength, and unassisted by grace, can hope to persevere in holiness. We suppose the Christian assisted by the power of God. without which no man can begin the work of salvation, much less finish it. Thus our doctrine frees itself from rashness and presumption.
2. We do not affirm, that all Christians, even they who may be sincere Christians, but of whose sincerity there may be some doubt, have a right to assurance. Assurance of our justification depends on assurance of our bearing the characters of justified persons. As a Christian in his state of infancy and noviciate, can have only mixed and doubtful evidences of his Christianity, so he can have only mixed and doubtful evidences of his certainty of salvation. In this manner we reply to those who reproach us with opening a broad way to heaven not authorized by the word of God.
3. Less still do we affirm, that they who for a considerable time seemed to give great proof of their faith and love, but who have since fallen back into sin, and seem as if they would continue in it for the remaining part of life, ought, in virtue of their former apparent acts of piety, to persuade themselves that they shall be saved. Far from pretending that these people ought to arrogate to themselves the prerogatives of true believers, we affirm, they were never partakers of the first principles of true religion, according to this saying of an apostle,If they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us,' 1 John ii. 19. In this manner we reply to the difficulties, which some passages of Scripture seem to raise against our doctrine; as this of St. Paul, 'It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were partakers of the Holy Ghost, if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance, Heb. vi. 4. 6. And this of the prophet, When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done, shall not be mentioned, in his trespass shall he die,' Ezek. xviii. 24.
7. We do not pretend to affirm, that doubts exclude men from salvation. Faith may be sincere, where it is not strong. All the chil dren of Abraham are not like Abrahamn 'fully persuaded.'
Finally, While we maintain the doctrine of assurance, we wish to have it distinguished from the doctrine of perseverance. It is a doctrine of our churches, once a child of God, and always a child of God. But, although these two doctrines seem to be closely connected together; although the same arguments which establish the one, may be of use to prove the other yet there is a considerable difference between the two. We are not considering to day so much the condition of a Christian, as the judgment which he ought to make of it. Let it not surprise you then, if, while we press home the article of assurance, we do not speak much on the faithfulness of God in his promises, or the ir revocable nature of his eternal decrees; for we are not inquiring in this discourse, whether the promises of God be faithful, or, whe Con-ther his decrees be inviolable: but whether we can arrive at a persuasion of our own interest in these promises, and whether we be included in the eternal decrees of his love
4. We do not say that they who have arrived at the highest degree of faith and holiness, can be persuaded of the certainty of their salvation in every period of their lives. Piety, even the piety of the most eminent saints, is sometimes under an eclipse. sequently, assurance, which piety alone can produce, must be subject to eclipses too. Thus we answer objections taken from such