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The Serious Reader, &c.
HAVING taken my leave of the thoughtless and
gay, who regard an appeal to their reason, as little as they do the warnings of their conscience; I return to thee, *serious and well disposed reader. I am too much concerned for thy soul's welfare, to lay down my pen, without shewing thee more perfectly the way to the kingdom of heaven, by testifying to thee, repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thou art happily weary of feeding upon the husks of earthly vanities. I have a right therefore, as a steward, of the mysteries of God, to bring out of the divine treasury, the pearls of evangelical truth; and I gladly cast them before thee, persuaded, that far from awakening thy anger, they will excite thy desires, and animate thy languid hopes.
* This address is only calculated for serious persons, who cordially assent to the doctrine established in the rational demonstra. tion of our fallen and lost estate. As other readers have been dismissed with the portion of truth that belongs to them, they are desired rrot to meddle with this, lest their cavils confirm St. Paul's observation, We preach Christ crucified to the self-righteous jews a stumbling-block, and to the self-conceited Greeks foolishness.
Instead of ridiculing, or dreading an heart-felt conviction of thy lost estate, thou now seest it is a desirable privilege, an invaluable blessing. Ready to mourn, because thou canst not mourn, thou complainest, that thou hast only a confused view of thy total depravity. Thou wantest the feelings of the royal penitent, when he said, Bebold I was shapen in iniquity, &c. I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me; but conscious thou canst not raise them in thy heart by natural powers, thou desirest some scriptural directions suitable to thy case. Give me leave to introduce them by a few
On the nature and depth of penitentiul sorrox.
1. Thou knowest, that except thou truly repentest, thou shalt surely perish, and that there is no true repentance, where there is not true sorrow for sin. I rejoice, says St. Paul to the Corinthians, that ye were made sorry after a godly manner; For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of; but the sorrow of the world worketh death. Hence it appears, that there are VOL. ii.
two sorts of sorrow springing from opposite sour ces; God and the world; the one a godly sorrow, and the other the sorrow of the world. Learn then to distinguish them by their various causes and effects, so shalt thou avoid the danger of mistaking the one for the other.
The sorrow of the world, which many cover with the cloak of religion, arises from fear of contempt, dread of poverty, secret jealousy, revenge dissatisfied, love disappointed, baffled 'schemes, losses in business, unkindness of friends, provocation of enemies, or the death of some idolized relative. Nay, this sorrow may sometimes spring from a mixture of self-righteous pride and slavish fear. Some cannot bear to be robbed of their fond hopes of meriting heaven by their imaginary good works: They lose all patience, when they see their best righteousness brought to light, and exposed as filthy rags: They are cut to the heart, when they hear, that their apparent good deeds deserve punishment as well as their black enormities: Or like condemned malcfactors, they dread the consequences of their crimes, while they feel little or no horror for the crimes themselves.
Exceedingly fatal are the effects of this sorrow in the persons whom it overcomes: Their indignant hearts, unable to bear either disappointment, contradiction or condemnation, rise against second causes, or against the decrees of providence; fret at the strictness of the law, or holiness of the Lawgiver; and pine away with uninterrupted dis'content. Hence, spurning at advice, direction,
and consolation, they wring their hands, or gnaw their tongues with anguish; impatience works them up into stupid sullenness or noisy murmuring; they complain, that their punishment is greater tban they can bear; and, imagining they are more severely dealt with than others, they hastily conclude, Bebold, this evil is from the Lord, why should I wait for him any longer Thus black despair seizes upon their spirits, and if grace does not interpose, they either live on to fill up the measure of their iniquities, as Cain, Pharaoh and Haman, or madly lay violent hands upon themselves, as Ahitophel, and Judas.
This sorrow cannot be too much guarded against, as it not only destroys many persons, but does immense hurt to religion. For those who are glad of any pretence to pour contempt upon godliness, taking occasion from the instances of this sorrow, harden their own hearts and prejudice all around them against the blessed, godly sorrow, which every minister of the gospel en, deavours to excite; maliciously representing it as one and the same with the mischievous sorrow of the world.
Their mistake will be evident, if we trace godly sorrow back to its source. It does not spring merely from fear of punishment; but chiefly from humbling views of God's holiness, the impurity of the human nature, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the transcendant excellency of the law, which condemns the sinner.
And this happy sorrow differs not less from the other in its effects, than it does in its cause.
The persons who are blessed with it, far from murmuring, or fretting at the divine commandment, see it to be holy, just, and good, both in its preceptive and penal part. They so absolutely acquiesce in it, that they would not alter it, if they could. They clear God, accuse themselves, subscribe their own sentence, and acknowledge, It is of the Lord's mercies, that we are not consumed. Each of them can say “ Wherefore should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of sins? It is good that he should both hope, and quietly wait for God's salvation: I will therefore watch to see what he will say unto me, for he will speak peace unto his people.” Thus, in a constant use of all the ordinances of God, they meekly wait, wrestling with their unbelieving fears, till victorious faith comes by hearing of the matchless love of Jesus Christ; and then, fearing the Lord and his goodness, they sing the song of the Lamb, and run upon his delightful errands.
As thou seest, serious reader, the nature, necessity, and excellence of godly sorrow, thou art probably desirous of being informed, how deep thine must be, to constitute thee a true penitent. Know then, that it must be deep enough to em bitter thy most pleasing, profitable and habitual sins, and to prevent thy resting without a clear sense of thy peculiar interest in Christ.-It must be profound enough to make him and his gospel infinitely precious to thee, and to produce under God, the blessed effects mentioned in the fifth part of the preceding treatise.