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SERMONS,

DOCTRINAL, MORAL, AND MISCELLANEOUS,

CONTINUED.

XXVI. a

MISAPPREHENSION OF THE NATURAL EFFICACY OF

REPENTANCE.

HEBREWS ix. 26. “ Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the

sacrifice of himself."

The little that we have to hope for on the ground of right, or desert, or claim, and consequently the much in which we are indebted to spontaneous goodness and mercy, and the much we stand in need of other application and other intercession than our own, of a saviour, a redeemer, and a mediator, I have, in a former discourse, endeavoured to show, from the extreme deficiency and imperfection of our services, even of such as are sincere in their duty.

The same conclusion also arises from the malignity and aggravation of our sins. I think it to be true that we are fully sensible neither of one nor of the other; neither of the imperfection of our services, nor the malignity of our sins; otherwise our recourse to Jesus Christ would be stronger and more earnest than it is.

There is another point also nearly connected with these, in which we take up an opinion without foundation, and that is, the natural efficacy of repentance in obtaining the pardon of sins.

This, and two preceding sermons, which were for some reason omitted in the edition printed at Sunderland, have been restored to the order plainly pointed out by their author.

VOL. IV.

B

I am at present to treat of the malignity and aggravation of our sins, under the circumstances in which they are usually committed.

First, our sins are sins against knowledge. I ask of no man more than to act up to what he knows: by which I do not mean to say that it is not every man's obligation, both to inform his understanding, and to use his understanding about the matter; in other words, to know all he can concerning his duty; but I mean to say that in fact the question seldom comes to that-in fact the man acts not up to what he does knowhis sins are against his knowledge. It will be answered, that this may well be supposed to be the case with persons of education and learning, but is it the case with the poor and ignorant ? I believe it to be the case with all. Is there a man who hears me that can say he acts up to what he knows? Does any one feel that to be his case? If he does, then he may reasonably plead his ignorance, his want of education, his want of instruction, his want of light and knowledge, for not acting better than he does, for not acting as he would have acted if these advantages had been vouchsafed to him. But he must first act up to what he does know, before he can fairly use this plea-before he can justly complain that he knows no more. Our sins are against knowledge. The real truth is--and it comprehends both the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the unlearned—the real truth I say is, that we not only sin, but sin against our own knowledge. There may be nicer cases, and more dubious points, which a man, informed and instructed in religion and morality, would perceive to be wrong-which a man, ignorant and uninformed, would not discover to be so; and there may be many such cases; but what I contend is, that the question never comes to that. There are plain obligations which the same men transgress. There are confessed and acknowledged duties which they neglect. There are sins and crimes committed, which they know to be sins and crimes at the time. Therefore, since they act contrary to what they know, small as their knowledge is, is it in reason to be expected that they would not act contrary to what they know, if that knowledge was increased? Alas! in computing the number, and weight, and burden of our sins, we need only take into the account the sins which we know. They are more than enough to humble us to the earth upon the ground of merit: they are

more than enough to banish that consideration: they are more than enough to humble every one of us to the dust.

Secondly: our sins are against gratitude. Whom do we offend by our sins? A parent. Him who is much more to us than a parent-a benefactor; the first, the greatest, the best of our benefactors-Him who, in fact, hath given us all that we have. If we have had any enjoyment in life, it is his bounty. If we have any thing to hope for, it is from his kindness. It is his act and doing alone that we are at all, or in any respect, superior to, or different from, the earth under our feet. It is his will which hath raised us into animated sensitive beings: it is still farther his will which hath made us intelligent rational agents. "In him we live, and move, and have our being." These words are often repeated to us with little impression; but they contain solid, physical, and philosophical truths. He is the author of our being, and of every blessing which belongs to it—directly or indirectly, he is the author of them all. He is the constant preserver of our existence, the constant bestower of the good which we receive, or ever shall receive from existence. It is impossible to sin knowingly without offending this benefactor ; that is, we know at the time that we offend him. Were we not justified, therefore, in asserting that our sins are sins against gratitude ? “He that loveth me keepeth my commandments.” He that loveth God keepeth his commandments. No proposition can be more true, for it means, that he who feels as much gratitude towards his Maker as he ought to feel, must be kept by that gratitude from wilfully offending him; which the transgression of his commandments infallibly does. Yet we sin; under all these circumstances of aggravation, we still sin : sin in us is exceedingly sinful-yet we sin. When the Scripture talks, therefore, of sin requiring atonement and expiation, and of the death and sufferings of Christ as of great and mighty efficacy thereto, does it talk of more than what we should judge to be necessary for us, considering what sin is ?

Thirdly, our sins are sins against forbearance. Is there one of us who might not have been cut off, and called to judgement in the midst of his sins? To the forbearance alone of God we owe that we were not so. We must recollect that there have been with us times and circumstances, when it had been most unhappy for us if we had been seized by death, or visited by punishment-when it had been a fearful thing indeed if our

Lord had come. When, therefore, with these recollections upon our mind, we nevertheless continue to sin, it is rightly said that we sin against forbearance, which is a great aggravation. It is expressly taught in Scripture, by St. Paul in particular, that the long suffering of God is calculated to work upon

the heart of man. If it do not therefore so work—if it do not operate as a principle and motive of amendment, then it brings us exactly under the description which St. Paul has left us of contumacy in sin; that is, “we despise,such is St. Paul's word, "the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long suffering"-disregarding the design of this forbearance and long suffering; which conduct, as the same St. Paul pronounces, is no other than "treasuring up unto ourselves wrath against the day of wrath."

These are characters which belong to sin as such ; and every known sin is under the condemnation of these reasons. They are general reasons, not to say universal. But beside these, almost every particular sin has its particular aggravation; particular as to the person who commits it, particular as to those against whom it is committed, particular in its circumstances, and in its consequences. Did we deal with ourselves according to truth, or did we deal with ourselves half so acutely as we treat other concerns, these circumstances would rise up to our recollection. They would help the argument; they would help, along with more general religious reasons, to impress us with a sense of the malignity of sin-a sense which few have as they ought to have, though perhaps none want it entirely—and also the utter improbability that we should be able by repentance to atone for such malignity. Undoubtedly the sinner's refuge is repentance; it is all which the sinner can do: but still, as touching salvation, we ascribe an efficacy to repentance which does not belong to it, or rather, we get into a way of looking upon that as the natural fruit and consequence of repentance which is no such thing, but which is the consequence of repentance only by the appointment and mercy of God through Jesus Christ. The same thing may be said of repentance which has been said of good works; it is the condition, not the cause, of salvation. It is the condition; for there is no salvation for unrepented sin, for unrepenting sinners. It is not, nevertheless, the cause; for of itself it would have no such effect as to procure salvation; it has no right or title to look for any such thing. This matter is

not well understood ; yet it easily may be. There never was a malefactor brought before a judge who did not repent: yet does that save him, even when it is most sincere ? Does the judge go about to inquire whether the criminal before him repent, or whether his repentance be sincere? He makes not that inquiry, because repentance will not save the malefactor from the denounced punishment of his offence. It is not therefore of the nature of repentance, it is not appertaining to its nature as such, to save even from punishment; no, not when it is most sincere: but our salvation, the salvation which we look for in Christ Jesus, comprehends much more than being saved from punishment; it includes the happiness of heaven, the reward of an immortal soul-above all price, and beyond all comparison the greatest thing we can gain. Can this, then, naturally belong to repentance, when even being saved from punishment does not? Simply to be saved from punishment is not the natural effect of repentance; for, in point of fact, it does not do it. How thento entitle us to the supremest of all gifts, the greatest of all blessings-how can that be ascribed to repentance, as by its own operation, and of its own nature? Observe, therefore, repentance has this to do with salvation : it is an essential condition; we cannot be saved without it; but then as to its being the cause of our salvation, or of salvation flowing or following from it, as its natural fruit, its due reward, its proper effect and consequence, it is no such thing. On this ground it resembles any other of our good works. It stands upon no other: I mean, it does not supersede at all the agency, the want, the efficacy of a Redeemer.

Observe, that I am speaking only of that repentance which is sincere. Of a planned, concerted, prefixed repentance, I account nothing; because it is impossible it should ever be sincere. Observe also, that whatever has been said of the imperfection of our good works, may be said against the imperfection of our repentance; it seldom attains to what it should be, as any one duty which we perform. But this also lies out of the question. For the present we contend, that even suppose it be proper, it has no necessary tendency to do away punishment; for in fact, it has not this effect, even in this world. If it cannot of itself do away punishment, it is impossible it can deserve heaven: if it cannot do the less, it cannot do the greater. When we refer, therefore, our salvation, which is the attainment of

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