Immagini della pagina

fore, the second death, which Saint Paul meant by the word death, when he wrote down the sentence, "the body of this death" and the second death is the punishment, perdition, and destruction, which the souls of sinners will suffer in a future state. It is well worthy of observation, that this was indeed the only death which those who wrote the New Testament, and probably all sincere Christians of that age, regarded as important; as the subject of their awe, and dread, and solicitude. The first death, the natural and universal decease of the body, they looked to simply as a change, a going out of one room into another; a putting off one kind of clothing, and putting on a different kind. They esteemed it, compared with the other, of little moment or account. In this respect there is a wide difference between the Scripture apprehension of the subject and ours. We think entirely of the first death: they thought entirely of the second. We speak and talk of the death which we sce: they spoke, and taught, and wrote of a death which is future to that. We look to the first with terror; they to the second alone. The second alone they represent as formidable. Such is the view which Christianity gives us of these things, so different from what we naturally entertain.

You see then what death is in the Scripture sense,-in Saint Paul's sense. "The body of this death." The phrase and expression of the text cannot, however, mean this death itself, because he prays to be delivered from it: whereas from that death, or that perdition understood by it, when it once overtakes the sinner, there is no deliverance that we know of. The "body," then, "of this death," is not the death itself, but a state leading to and ending in the second death, namely, in misery and punishment, instead of happiness and rest, after our departure out of this world. And this state it is, from which Saint Paul, with such vehemence and concern upon his spirits, seeks to be delivered.

Having seen the signification of the principal phrase employed in the text, the next, and the most important question is, to what condition of the soul, in its moral and religious concerns, the apostle applies it. Now in the verses preceding the text, indeed in the whole of this remarkable chapter, Saint Paul has been describing a state of struggle and contention with sinful propensities; which propensities, in the present condition of our nature, we all feel, and which are never wholly abolished.

But our apostle goes further: he describes also that state of unsuccessful struggle and unsuccessful contention, by which many so unhappily fall. His words are these, "that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that I do not, but what I hate, that do I. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not; for the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. I find a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."

This account, though the style and manner of expression in which it is delivered be very peculiar, is, in its substance, no other than what is strictly applicable to the case of thousands. "The good that I would, I do not: the evil which I would not, that I do." How many, who read this discourse, may say the same of themselves! as also," what I would, that do I not, but what I hate, that I do." This then is the case which Saint Paul had in view. It is a case, first, which supposes an informed and enlightened conscience. "I delight in the law of God." "I had not known sin but by the law." "I consent unto the law that it is good." These sentiments could be uttered only by a man who was in a considerable degree, at least, acquainted with his duty, and who also approved of the rule of duty which he found laid down.

Secondly, the case before us also supposes an inclination of mind and judgement to perform our duty. "When I would do good, evil is present with me: to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not."

Thirdly, it supposes this inclination of mind and judgement to be continually overpowered. "I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members:" that is, the evil principle not only opposes the judgement of the mind, and the conduct which that judgement dictates, (which may be the case with all,) but in the present case subdues and gets the better of it. "Not only wars against the law of my mind, but brings me into captivity."

Fourthly, the case supposes a sense and thorough conscious

ness of all this;-of the rule of duty;-of the nature of sin ;of the struggle;-of the defeat. It is a prisoner sensible of his chains. It is a soul tied and bound by the fetters of its sins, and knowing itself to be so. It is by no means the case of the ignorant sinner. It is not the case of an erring, mistaking conscience. It is not the case of a seared and hardened conscience. None of these could make the reflection or the complaint which is here described. "The commandment, which was ordained unto life, I found to be unto death. I am carnal, sold under sin. In me dwelleth no good thing. The law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good; but sin, that it might appear sin, (that it might be more conspicuous, aggravated, and inexcusable,) works death in me by that which is good." This language by no means belongs to the stupified, insensible sinner.

Nor, fifthly, as it cannot belong to an original insensibility of conscience, that is, an insensibility of which the person himself does not remember the beginning, so neither can it belong to the sinner who has got over the rebukes, distrusts, and uneasiness which sin once occasioned. True it is, that this uneasiness may be got over almost entirely; so that whilst the danger remains the same,-whilst the final event will be the same,whilst the coming destruction is not less sure or dreadful, the uneasiness and the apprehension are gone. This is a case, too common, too deplorable, too desperate; but it is not the case of which we are now treating, or of which Saint Paul treated. Here we are presented thoughout with complaint and uneasiness;-with a soul exceedingly dissatisfied, exceedingly indeed disquieted and disturbed and alarmed with a view of its condition.

Upon the whole, Saint Paul's account is the account of a man in some sort struggling with his vices; at least, deeply conscious of what they are,-whither they are leading him,where they will end; acknowledging the law of God, not only in words and speeches, but in his mind; acknowledging its excellency, its authority; wishing, also, and willing, to act up to it, but, in fact, doing no such thing; feeling in practice a lamentable inability of doing his duty, yet perceiving that it must be done. All he has hitherto attained is a state of successive resolutions and relapses. Much is willed, nothing is effected. No furtherance, no advance, no progress, is made in

the way of salvation. He feels, indeed, his double nature; but he finds that the law in his members, the law of the flesh, brings the whole man into captivity. He may have some better strivings, but they are unsuccessful. The result is that he obeys the law of sin.

This is the picture which our apostle contemplated, and he saw in it nothing but misery: "O wretched man that I am!" Another might have seen it in a more comfortable light. He might have hoped that the will would be taken for the deed; that, since he felt in his mind a strong approbation of the law of God, nay, since he felt a delight in contemplating it, and openly professed to do so, since he was neither ignorant of it, nor forgetful of it, nor insensible of its obligation, nor ever set himself to dispute its authority, nay, since he had occasionally likewise endeavoured to bring himself to an obedience to this law, however unsuccessful his endeavours had been; above all, since he had sincerely deplored and bewailed his fallings off from it, he might hope, I say, that his was a case for favourable acceptance.

Saint Paul saw it not in this light. He saw in it no ground of confidence or satisfaction. It was a state, to which he gives no better name than "the body of death." It was a state, not in which he hoped to be saved, but from which he sought to be delivered. It was a state, in a word, of bitterness and terror, drawing from him expressions of the deepest anguish and distress: O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"






"O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?"

He who has not felt the weakness of his nature, it is probable, has reflected little upon the subject of religion. I should conjecture this to be the case.

But then, when men do feel the weakness of their nature, it is not always that this consciousness carries them into a right course: but sometimes into a course the very contrary of what is right. They may see in it, as hath been observed,-and many do see in it, nothing but an excuse and apology for their sins. Since it is acknowledged that we carry about with us a frail, not to call it a depraved, corrupted nature, surely, they say, we shall not be amenable to any severities, or extremities of judgement, for delinquencies, to which such a nature must ever be liable; or, which is indeed all the difference there is between one man and another, for greater degrees or less, for more or fewer, of these delinquencies. The natural man takes courage from this consideration. He finds ease in it. It is an opiate to his fears. It lulls him into a forgetfulness of danger, and of the dreadful end, if the danger be real. Then the practical consequence is, that he begins to relax even of those endeavours to obey God which he has hitherto exerted. Imperfect and inconstant as these endeavours were at best, they become gradually more languid and more unfrequent, and more insincere than they were before. His sins increase upon him in the same proportion. He proceeds rapidly to the condition of a confirmed sinner, either secret or open, it makes no difference, as to his salvation. And this descent into the depths of moral vileness and depravity began, in some measure, with perceiving and confessing the weakness of his nature; and giving to this perception that most erroneous, that most fatal turn, the regarding it as an excuse for every thing; and as dispensing even with the self-denials, and with the exertions of self-government, which a man had formerly thought it necessary to exercise, and in some sort, though in no sufficient sort, had exercised.

Now, I ask, was this Saint Paul's way of considering the subject? Was this the turn which he gave to it? Altogether the contrary. It was impossible for any Christian, of any age, to be more deeply impressed with a sense of the weakness of human nature than he was; or to express it more strongly than he has done in the chapter before us. But observe; feeling most sensibly, and painting most forcibly, the sad condition of his nature, he never alleges it as an excuse for sin: he does not console himself with any such excuse. He does not make it a reason for setting himself at rest upon the subject..

« IndietroContinua »