And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities; And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room.
~ 1 Samuel 30:6, Psalm 31:7-8
For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee. Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth.
~ Psalm 31:22, Psalm 71:20
For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
~ 2 Corinthians 1:8-10
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
~ Luke 15:17
The Careless Sinner Awakened, by Philip Doddridge. The following contains an excerpt from of his work, “The Rise And Progress Of Religion In The Soul: Illustrated In A Course Of Serious And Practical Addresses, Suited To Persons Of Every Character And Circumstance With A Devout Meditation And Prayer Added to Each Chapter.
Chapter II. The Careless Sinner Awakened.
The meditation of a sinner, who was once thoughtless, but begins to be awakened.
Awake, oh my forgetful soul, awake from these wandering dreams; turn thee from this chace of vanity, and for a little while be persuaded, by all these considerations, to look forward, and to look upwards, at least, for a few moments. Sufficient are the hours and days given to the labours and amusements of life; grudge not a short allotment of minutes to view thyself and thine own more immediate concerns; to reflect who, and what thou art; how it comes to pass that thou art here, and what thou must quickly be!
It is indeed as thou hast now seen it represented. Oh, my soul: thou art the creature of God, formed and furnished by him, and lodged in a body which he provided, and which he supports; a body in which he intended thee only a transitory about. Oh, think how soon “this tabernacle must be dissolved,” and “thou must return to God.” And shall He, the one infinite, eternal, ever blessed, and ever glorious Being, shall He be least of all regarded by thee? Wilt thou live and die with this character, saying by every action of every day unto God, Depart from me, for I desire not the knowledge of thy ways?
The morning, the day, the evening, the night, every period of time, has its excuses for this neglect. But, oh my soul, what will these excuses appear when examined by his penetrating eye! They may delude me, but they cannot impose upon him.
Oh, thou injured, neglected, provoked Benefactor! when I think but for a moment or two, of all thy greatness, and of all thy goodness, I am astonished at this insensibility which hath prevailed in my heart, and even still prevails. I blush, and am confounded to lift up my face before thee. On the most transient review, I see that I have played the fool, that I have erred exceedingly; and yet this stupid heart of mine would make its having neglected thee so long, a reason for going on to neglect thee. I own it might justly be expected that, with regard to thee, every one of thy rational creatures should be all duty and love; that each heart should be full of a sense of thy presence; and that a care to please thee should swallow up every other care; yet thou “hast not been in all my thoughts;” and religion, the end and glory of my nature, has been so strangely overlooked, that I have hardly ever seriously asked my own heart what it is. I know, if matters rest here, I perish; and yet I feel in my perverse nature a sacred indisposition to pursue these thoughts; a proneness, if not entirely to dismiss them, yet to lay them aside for the present. My mind is perplexed and divided; but I am sure thou who madest me knowest what is best for me. I, therefore, beseech thee, that thou wilt, for thy name’s sake, lead me and guide me.
Let me not delay till it is forever too late; “pluck me as a brand out of the burning .” Oh, break this fatal enchantment that holds down my affections to objects which my judgment comparatively despises! and let me, at length, come into so happy a state of mind, that I may not be afraid to think of thee and of myself; and may not be tempted to wish, that thou hadst not made me; or that thou couldst for ever forget me; that it may not be my best hope to perish like the brutes.
If what I shall farther read here be agreeable to truth and reason; if it be calculated to promote my happiness, and is to be regarded as an intimation of thy will and pleasure to me, oh, God, let me hear and obey; let the words of thy servant, when pleading thy cause, be like goads to pierce into my mind; and let me rather feel, and smart, than die! let them be as nails fastened in a sure place: that whatever mysteries as yet unknown, or whatever difficulties there be in religion, if it be necessary, I may not finally neglect it; and that if it be expedient to attend immediately to it, I may no longer delay that attendance: And, oh, let thy grace teach me the lesson I am so slow to learn, and conquer that strong opposition which I feel in my heart against the very thought of it! Hear these broken cries for the sake of thy Son, who has taught and saved many a creature as untractable as I, and can “out of stones raise up children to Abraham!” Amen.
Chapter III. The awakened Sinner urged to immediate Consideration, and cautioned against Delay.
Sinners when awakened, inclinable to dismiss convictions for the present, § 1. An immediate regard to religion urged, § 2. (1.) From the excellency and pleasures of the thing itself, § 3. (2.) From the uncertainty of that future time on which sinners presume, compared with the sad consequences of being cut off in sin, § 4. (3.) From the immutability of God’s present demands, § 5. (4.) From the tendency which delay has to make a compliance with these demands more difficult than it is at present, § 6. (5.) From the danger of God’s withdrawing his Spirit, compared with the dreadful case of a sinner, given up by it, § 7.; which probably is now the case of many, § 8. Since, therefore, on the whole, whatever the event be, delays must prove matter of lamentation, § 9. The chapter concludes with an exhortation against yielding to them, § 10.: and a prayer against temptations of that kind.
§ 1. I hope my last address so far awakened the convictions of my reader, as to bring him to this purpose, that some time or other he would attend to religious considerations.
But give me leave to ask earnestly and punctually, “When that shall be?” —
Go thy way for this time, and at a more convenient season I will send for thee, was the language and the ruin of unhappy Felix, when he trembled under the reasonings and expostulations of the apostle. The tempter presumed not to urge that he should give up all thoughts of repentance and reformation; but only that, considering the present hurry of his affairs, (as no doubt they were many,) he should defer it to a longer day. The artifice succeeded, and Felix was undone.
§ 2. Will you, reader, dismiss me thus? For your own sake, and out of tender compassion to your perishing immortal soul, I would not willingly take up with such a dismission and excuse. No, not though you should fix a time; though you should determine on the next year, or month, or week, or day. I would turn upon you, with all the eagerness and tenderness of friendly importunity, and intreat you to bring the matter to an issue even now; for if you say, I will think on these things to-morrow, I shall have little hope, and shall conclude, that all that I have hitherto urged, and all that you have read, hath been offered and viewed in vain.
§ 3. When I invite you to the care and practice of religion, it may seem strange that it should be necessary for me affectionately to plead the case with you, in order to your immediate regard and compliance. What I am inviting you to is so noble and excellent in itself, so well worthy the dignity of our rational nature, so suitable to it, so manly, and so wise, that one would imagine you should take fire, as it were at the first hearing of it; yea, that so delightful a view should presently possess your whole soul with a kind of indignation against yourself that you pursued it no sooner.
May I lift up mine eyes and my soul to God? may I devote myself to him? may I even now commence a friendship with him, a friendship which shall last for ever, the security, the delight, the glory of this immortal nature of mine? And shall I draw back, and say, Nevertheless, let me not commence this friendship too soon: let me live at least a few weeks, or a few days longer, without God in the world? Surely it would be much more reasonable to turn inward, and say,
Oh, my soul, on what vile husks hast thou been feeding, while thine heavenly Father hath been forsaken and injured? Shall I desire to multiply the days of my poverty, my scandal, and my misery?
On this principle, surely, an immediate return to God should, in all reason, be chosen, rather than to play the fool any longer, and go on a little more to displease God, and thereby to starve and to wound your own soul, even though your continuance in life were ever so certain, and your capacity to return to God and your duty ever so entirely in your own power now, and in every future moment, through scores of years yet to come.
§ 4. But who, or what are you, that you should lay your account for years, or for months to come? “What is your life?” Is it not “even as a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away?” And what is your security, or what is your peculiar warrant, that you should thus depend upon the certainty of its continuance? and that so absolutely a• to venture, as it were, to pawn your soul upon it? Why, you will perhaps say, I am young, and in all my bloom and vigour: I see hundreds about me, who are more than double my age, and not a few of them who seem to think it too soon to attend to religion yet.
You view the living, and you talk thus: but I beseech you think of the dead. Return in your thoughts to those graves, in which you have left some of your young companions and your friends. You saw them a while ago gay and active; warm with life, and hopes, and schemes; and some of them would have thought a friend strangely importunate that should have interrupted them in their business, and their pleasures, with a solemn lecture of death and eternity: yet they were then on the very borders of both. You have since seen their corpses, or at least their coffins; and probably carried about with you the badges of mourning which you received at their funerals. Those once vigorous, and, perhaps, beautiful bodies of theirs, now lying mouldering in the dust, as senseless and helpless as the most decripid pieces of human nature which fourscore years ever brought down to it. And, what is infinitely more to be regarded, their souls, whether prepared for this great change, or thoughtless of it, have made their appearance before God, and are, at this moment, fixed either in heaven or in hell. Now, let me seriously ask you, Would it be miraculous, or would it be strange, if such an event should befal you? How are you sure that some fatal disease shall not this day begin to work in your veins? How are you sure that you shall ever be capable of reading or thinking any more, if you do not attend to what you now read, and pursue the thought which is now offering itself to your mind? This sudden alteration may, at least, possibly happen; and if it does, it will be to you a terrible one indeed. To be thus surprised into the presence of a forgotten God; to be torn away, at once, from a world, to which your whole heart and soul has been rivetted; a world, which has engrossed all your thoughts and cares, all your desires and pursuits; and be fixed in a state, which you could never be so far persuaded to think of, as to spend so much as one hour in serious preparation for it: how must you even shudder at the apprehension of it, and with what horror must it fill you? It seems matter of wonder, that, in such circumstances, you are not almost distracted with the thoughts of the uncertainty of life, and are not even ready to die for fear of death. To trifle with God any longer, after so solemn an admonition as this, would be a circumstance of additional provocation, which, after all the rest, might be fatal: nor is there any thing that you can expect in such a case, but that he should cut you off immediately, and teach other thoughtless creatures, by your ruin, what a hazardous experiment they make when they act as you are acting.
§. 5. And will you, after all, run this desperate risk? For what imaginable purpose can you do it? Do you think the business of religion will become less necessary, or more easy, by your delay? You know that it will not. You know, that whatever the blessed God demands now, he will also demand twenty or thirty years hence, if you should live to see the time. God hath fixed the method, in which he will pardon and accept sinners, in his gospel. And, will he ever alter that method? or, if he will not, Can men alter it? You like not to think of repenting, and humbling yourself before God, to receive righteousness and life from his free grace in Christ; and you above all dislike the thought of returning to God in the ways of holy obedience. But will he ever dispense with any of these, and publish a new gospel, with promises of life and salvation to impenitent unbelieving sinners, if they will but call themselves Christians, and submit to a few external rites? How long do you think you might wait for such a change in the constitution of things? You know death will come upon you; and you cannot but know in your own conscience, that a general dissolution will come upon the world long before God can thus deny himself, and contradict all his perfections, and all his declarations.
§ 6. Or, if his demand continue the same, as they assuredly will, do you think any thing, which is now disagreeable to you in them, will be less disagreeable hereafter than it is at present? Shall you live finless, when it is become more habitual to you, and when conscience is yet more enfeebled and debauched? If you are running with the footmen and fainting, shall you be able to contend with the horsemen? Surely you cannot imagine it. You would not say in any distemper which threatened your life, I will stay till I grow a little worse, and then I will apply to a Physician: I will let my disease get a little more rooting in my vitals, and then I will try what can be done to remove it. No; it is only where the life of the soul is concerned that men think thus wildly: the life and health of the body appear too precious to be thus trifled away.
§ 7. If, after such desperate experiments, you are ever recovered, it must be by an operation of divine grace on your soul, yet more powerful and more wonderful, in proportion to the increasing inveteracy of your spiritual maladies. And can you expect that the Holy Spirit should be more ready to assist you, in consequence of your having so shamefully trifled with him, and affronted him! he is now, in some measure, moving on your heart: if you feel any secret relentings in it upon what you read, it is a sign you are not yet utterly forsaken: but who can tell whether these are not the last touches he will ever give to a heart so long hardened against him? Who can tell but God may this day swear in his wrath, that you shall not enter into his rest? I have been telling you that you may immediately die. You own it possibly you may. And can you think of any thing more terrible? Yes, sinner, I will tell you of one thing more dreadful than immediate death and immediate damnation. The blessed God may say,
As for that wretched creature, who has so long trifled with me, and provoked me, let him still live: let him live in the midst of prosperity and plenty: let him live under the purest and most powerful ordinances of the gospel too; that he may abuse them, to aggravate his condemnation, and die under seven-fold guilt, and a seven-fold curse. I will not give him the grace to think of his ways for one serious moment more; but he shall go on from bad to worse, filling up the measure of his iniquities, till death and destruction seize him in an unexpected hour, and wrath come upon him to the uttermost.
§ 8. You think this is an uncommon case; but I fear it is much otherwise. I fear there are few congregations where the word of God has been faithfully preached, and where it has been long despised, especially by those whom it had once awakened, in which the eye of God does not see a number of such wretched souls; though it is impossible for us to pronounce upon the case who they are.
§ 9. I pretend not to say how he will deal with you, oh reader; whether he will immediately cut you off or seal you up under final hardness and impenitency of heart; or whether his grace may, at length, awaken you, to consider your ways, and to return to him, even when your heart is grown yet more obdurate than it is at present: for to his almighty grace nothing is hard, nor even to transform a rock of marble into a man and a saint. But this I will confidently say, That if you delay any longer, the time will come when you will bitterly repent of that delay; and either lament it before God in the anguish of your heart here, or curse your own folly and madness in hell; yea, when you will wish that, dreadful as hell is, you had rather fallen into it sooner than have lived in the midst of so many abused mercies, to render the degrees of your punishment more insupportable, and your sense of it more exquisitely tormenting.
§. 10. I do therefore earnestly exhort you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the worth, and, if I may so speak, by the blood of your immortal and perishing soul, that you delay not a day or an hour longer. Far from giving sleep to your eyes, or slumber to your eyelids, in the continued neglect of this important concern “take with you,” even now, words, and turn unto the Lord; and before you quit the place where you now are, fall upon your knees in his sacred presence, and pour out your heart in such language, or at least to some such purpose as this.
A prayer for one who is tempted to Delay applying to Religion, though under some Convictions of its Importance.
Oh thou righteous and holy Sovereign of heaven and earth! thou God in whose hand my breath is, and whose are all my ways! I confess I have been far from glorifying thee, or conducting myself according to the intimations, or the declarations of thy will. I have therefore reason to adore thy forbearance and goodness, that thou hast not long since stopped my breath, and “cut me off from the land of the living.” I adore thy patience, that I have not months and years ago been an inhabitant of hell; where ten thousand delaying sinners are now lamenting their folly, and will be lamenting it for ever. But, O God, how possible is it, that this trifling heart of mine may, at length, betray me into the same ruin! and then, alas, into a ruin aggravated by all this patience and forbearance of thine! I am convinced that, sooner or later, religion must be my serious care, or I am undone; and yet my foolish heart draws back from the yoke: yet I stretch myself upon the bed of sloth, and cry out for a little more s•e•p, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands to sleep.
Thus does my corrupt heart plead for its own indulgence against the convictions of my better judgment What shall I say? O Lord, save me from myself! save me from the artifices and deceitfulness of sin; save me from the treachery of this perverse and degenerate nature of mine, and fix upon my mind what I have now been reading!
O Lord, am I not now instructed in truths which were before quite unknown? Often have I been warned of the uncertainty of life, and of the greater uncertainty of the day of salvation: and I have formed some light purposes, and have begun to take a few irresolute steps in my way towards a return unto thee. But, alas! I have been only, as it were, fluttering about religion, and have never fixed upon it. All my resolutions have been scattered like smoke, or dispersed like a cloudy vapour before the wind. Oh, that thou wouldest now bring these things home to my heart with a more powerful conviction than it hath ever yet felt! Oh, that thou wouldest pursue me with them, even when I flee from them, if I should ever grow mad enough to endeavour to escape them any more! May thy Spirit address me in the language of effectual terror; and add all the most powerful methods which thou knowest to be necessary, to awaken me from this lethargy, which must otherwise be mortal! May the sound of these things be in mine ears, when I go out, and when I come in, when I lie down, and when I rise up. And if the repose of the night, and the business of the day, be for a while interrupted by the impression, be it so, O God! if I may but thereby carry on my business with thee to better purpose, and at length secure a repose in thee, instead of all that terror which I now find, when “I think upon God, and am troubled.”
O Lord, my flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments. I am afraid, lest, even now, that I have begun to think of religion, thou shouldst cut me off in this critical and important moment, before my thoughts grow to any ripeness; and blast in eternal death the first buddings and openings of it in my mind. But, oh, spare me, I earnestly intreat thee; for thy mercy’s sake, spare me a little longer! It may be, through thy grace, I shall return. It may be, if thou continuest thy patience towards me a while longer, there may be some better fruit produced by this “cumberer of the ground.” And may the remembrance of that long forbearance, which thou hast already exercised towards me, prevent my continuing to trifle with thee, and with my own soul! from this day, O Lord, from this hour, from this moment, may I be able to date more lasting impressions of religion than have ever yet been made upon my heart by all that I have ever read, or all that I have heard! Amen.
Chapter IV. The Sinner arraigned and convicted.
Conviction of guilt necessary, § 1. A charge of rebellion against God advanced, § 2. Where it is shewn, (1.) That all men are born under Gad’s law, § 3. (2.) That no man hath perfectly kept it. § 4. An appeal to the reader’s conscience on this head, that he hath not, § 5. (3.) That to have broken it is an evil inexpressibly great, § 6.: Illustrated by a more particular view of the aggravations of this guilt, arising, (1.) From knowledge, § 7. (2.) From divine favours received, § 8. (3.) From convictions of conscience overborne, § 9. (4.) From the strivings of God’s Spirit resisted, § 10. (5.) From vows and resolutions broken, § 11. The charges summed up, and left upon the sinner’s conscience, § 12. The sinner’s confession under a general conviction of guilt.
§ 1. As I am attempting to lead you to true religion, and not merely to some superficial form of it, I am sensible I can do it no otherwise than in the way of deep humiliation. And therefore, supposing you are persuaded, through the divine blessing on which you have before read, to take it into consideration, I would now endeavour, in the first place, with all the seriousness I can, to make you heartily sensible of your guilt before God. For I well know, that unless you are convinced of this, and affected with the conviction, all the provisions of gospel grace will be slighted, and your soul infallibly destroyed in the midst of the noblest means appointed for its recovery. I am fully persuaded that thousands live and die in a course of sin, without feeling upon their hearts any sense that they are sinners; though they cannot, for shame, but own it in words. And therefore let me deal faithfully with you, though I may seem to deal roughly; for complaisance is not to give law to addresses in which the life of your soul is concerned.
§ 2. Permit me, therefore, O sinner, to consider myself at this time as an advocate for God; as one employed in his name to plead against thee, and to charge thee with nothing less than being a rebel and a traitor against the sovereign Majesty of heaven and earth. However thou mayest he dignified or distinguished among men; if the noblest blood run in thy veins; if thy seat were among princes, and thine arm were “the terror of the Mighty in the land of the living;” it would be necessary thou shouldst be told, and told plainly, thou hast broken the “laws of the King of kings, and by the breach of it art become obnoxious to his righteous condemnation.
§ 3. Your conscience tells you, that you were born the natural subject of God: born under the indispensible obligations of his law. For it is most apparent, that the constitution of your rational nature, which makes you capable of receiving law from God, binds you to obey it. And it is equally evident and certain, that you have not exactly obeyed this law; nay, that you have violated it in many aggravated instances.
§ 4. Will you dare to deny this! Will you dare to assert your innocence! Remember, it must be a complete innocence; yes, and a perfect righteousness too; or it can stand you in no stead, farther than to prove that, though a condemned sinner, you are not quite so criminal as some others, and will not have quite so hot a place in hell as they. And when this is considered, will you plead not guilty to the charge? Search the records of your own conscience, for God searcheth them: ask it seriously, “Have you never in your lives sinned against God?” Solomon declared, that, in his day, there was not a just man upon earth, who did good, and sinned not:” and the apostle Paul, that “all had sinned and come short of the glory of God:” that “both Jews and Gentiles,” which, you know, comprehended the whole human race,) “were all under sin.” And can you pretend any imaginable reason to believe the world is grown so much better since their days, that any should now plead their own case as an exception? Or will you, however, presume to arise in the face of the omniscient Majesty of heaven, and say, “I am the man.”
§ 5. Supposing, as before, you have been free from those gross acts of immorality, which are so pernicious to society, that they have generally been punishable by human laws; can you pretend that you have not, in smaller instances, violated the rules of piety, of temperance, and of charity? Is there any one person, who has intimately known you, that would not be able to testify you had said or done something amiss? Or, if others could not convict you, would not your own heart do it? Does it not prove you guilty of pride, of passion, of sensuality, of an excessive fondness for the world and its enjoyments; of murmuring, or at least of secretly repining against God under the strokes of an afflictive providence; of mispending a great deal of your time; of abusing the gifts of God’s bounty to vain, if not (in some instances) to pernicious purposes; of mocking him when you have pretended to engage in his worship, “drawing near to him with your mouth and your lips, while your heart has been far from him?” Does not conscience condemn you of some one breach of the law at least: And, by one breach of it you are, in a sense, a scriptural sence “become guilty of all;” and are as incapable of being justified before God by any obedience of your own, as if you had committed ten thousand offences. But, in reality, there are ten thousand and more chargeable to your account. When you come to reflect on all your sins of negligence, as well as of those of commission; on all the instances in which you have failed to do good, when it was in the power of your hand to do it; on all the instances in which acts of devotion have been omitted, especially in secret; and on all those cases in which you have shewn a stupid disregard to the honour of God, and to the temporal and eternal happiness of your fellow creatures; when all these, I say, are reviewed, the number will swell beyond possibility of account, and force you to cry out, Mine iniquities are more than the hairs of my head.
They will appear in such a light before you, that your own heart will charge you with countless multitudes; and how much more then that God who is greater than your heart, and knoweth all things!
§ 6. And say, sinner, is it a little thing that you have presumed to set light by the authority of the God of heaven, and to violate his law, if it had been by mere carelessness and inattention? how much more heinous, therefore, is the guilt, when in so many instances you have done it knowingly and wilfully? Give me leave seriously to ask you, and let me intreat you to ask your own soul, against whom hast thou magnified thyself? against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, or lifted up thy rebellious hand! On whose law, oh sinner, hast thou presumed to trample? And whose friendship and whose enmity hast thou therefore dared to affront? Is it a man like thyself that thou hast insulted? is it only a temporal monarch? Only one, who can kill thy body, and then hath no more that he can do?
Nay, sinner, thou wouldest not have dared to treat a temporal prince as thou hast treated the King eternal, immortal, and invisible.
No price could have hired thee to deal by the majesty of an earthly sovereign, as thou hast dealt by thy God before whom the cherubim and seraphim are continually bowing. Not one opposing or complaining, disputing, or murmuring word is heard among all the celestial legions when the intimations of his will are published to them; and who art thou, oh wretched man, who art thou that thou shouldest oppose him? that thou shouldest oppose and provoke a God of infinite power and terror, who needs but exert one single act of his sovereign will, and thou art in a moment stripped of every possession; cut off from every hope; destroyed and rooted up from existence, if that were his pleasure; or, what is inconceivably worse, consigned over to the severest and most lasting agonies? Yet this is the God whom thou hast offended; whom thou hast affronted to his face, presuming to violate his express laws in his very presence: this is the God before whom thou standest as a convicted criminal; convicted, not of one or two particular offences, but of thousands and of ten thousands; of a course and series of rebellions and provocations, in which thou hast persisted, more or less, ever since thou wast born; and the particulars of which have been attended with almost every conceivable circumstance of aggravation. Reflect on particulars, and deny the charge if you can.
§ 7. If knowledge be an aggravation of guilt, thy guilt, O sinner, is greatly aggravated? For thou wast born in Emmanuel’s land, and God hath “written to thee the great things of his law, yet thou hast accounted them as a strange thing.” Thou hast “known to do good, and hast not done it;” and therefore to thee the omission of it has been sin indeed. “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard?” wast thou not early taught the will of God in thine infant years? Hast thou not since received repeated lessons, by which it has been inculcated again and again, in public and in private, by preaching and reading the word of God? nay, hath it not been thy duty, in some instances, so plain, that even without any instruction at all thine own reason might easily have inferred it? and hast thou not also been warned of the consequences of disobedience? Hast thou not known the righteous judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death? yet thou hast, perhaps, not only done the same, but hast taken pleasure in those that do them; hast chosen them for thy most intimate friends and companions; so as thereby to strengthen, by the force of example and converse, the hands of each other in your iniquities.
§ 8 Nay, more, if divine love and mercy be any aggravation of the sins committed against it, thy crimes, O sinner, are heinously aggravated. Must thou not acknowledge it, O foolish creature, and unwise? hast thou not been “nourished and brought up by him as his child, “and yet hast rebelled against him?” Did not God, “take you out of the womb?” did he not watch over you in your infant days, and guard you from a multitude of dangers, which the most careful parent or nurse could not have observed or warded off? Has he not given you your rational powers? and is it not by him you have been favoured with every opportunity of improving them? Has he not every day supplied your wants with an unwearied liberality; and added, with respect to many who will read this, the delicacies of life to its necessary supports? Has he not “heard you cry when trouble came upon you;” and frequently appeared for your deliverance, when in the distresses of nature you had called upon him for help? Has he not rescued you from ruin, when it seemed just ready to swallow you up; and healed your diseases, when it seemed to all about you that the “residue of your days was cut off in the midst?” Or, if it had not been so, is not this long continued and uninterrupted health, which you have enjoyed for so many years, to be acknowledged as an equivalent obligation? Look around upon all your possessions, and say what one thing have you in the world which his goodness did not give you, and which he hath not thus far preserved to you? Add to all this, the kind notices of his will which he hath sent you; the tender expostulations which he hath used with you to bring you to a wiser and a better temper; and the discoveries and gracious invitations of his gospel, which you have heard, and which you have despised: and then say whether your rebellion has not been aggravated by the vilest ingratitude, and whether that aggravation can be accounted small?
§ 9. Again, if it be any aggravation of sin to be committed against conscience, thy crimes, O sinner, have been so aggravated. Consult the records of it, and then dispute the fact if thou can.
There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding; and then understanding will act, and a secret conviction of being accountable to its Maker and Preserver is inseparable from the actings of it. It is easy, to object to human remonstrances, and to give things false colourings before men; but the heart often condemns, while the tongue excuses. Have you not often found it so? has not conscience remonstrated against your past conduct; and have not these remonstrances been very painful too? I have been assured by a gentleman of undoubted credit, that when he was in the pursuit of all the gayest sensualities of life, and was reckoned one of the happiest of mankind, when he has seen a dog come into the room where he was among his merry companions, he has groaned inwardly, and said, “Oh that I had been that dog!” And hast thou, O sinner, felt nothing like this? has thy conscience been so stupified, so seared with a hot iron, that it has never cried out of any of the violences which have been done in it? has it never warned thee of the fatal consequences of what thou hast done in opposition to it? These warnings are, in effect, the voice of God; they are the admonitions which he gave thee by his vicegerent in thy breast. And when his sentence for thy evil works is executed upon thee in everlasting death, thou shalt hear that voice speaking to thee again in a louder tone and a severer accent than before: and thou shalt be tormented with its upbraidings thro’ eternity, because thou wouldest not in time hearken to its admonitions.
§ 10. Let me add farther: If it be any aggravation that sin has been committed after God has been moving by his Spirit on the mind, surely your sin has been attended with that aggravation too. Under the Mosaic dispensation, dark and imperfect as it was, the Spirit strove with the Jews; else Stephen could not have charged it upon them that, through all their generations, “they had always resisted him”, surely we may much more reasonably apprehend that he strives with sinners under the gospel. And have you never experienced any thing of this kind, even when there has been no external circumstance to awaken you, nor any pious teacher near you; have you never perceived some secret impulse upon your mind, leading you to think of religion, urging you to an immediate consideration of it, sweetly inviting you to make trial of it, and warning you that you would lament this stupid neglect? O sinner why were not these happy motions attended to? why did you not, as it were, spread out all the sails of your soul to catch that heavenly, that favourable breeze? But you have carelessly neglected it: you have overborne these kind influences: how reasonably then might the sentence have gone forth in righteous displeasure, “My Spirit “shall no more strive?” And, indeed, who can say that it is not already gone forth? If you feel no secret agitation of mind, no remorse, no awakening, while you read such a remonstrance as this, there will be room, great room, to suspect it.
§ 11. There is indeed one aggravation more, which may not attend your guilt, I mean that of being committed against solemn covenant engagements: a circumstance which has lain heavy on the consciences of many, who perhaps, in the mean series of their lives have served God with great integrity. But let me call you to think to what is this owing? Is it not, that you have never personally made any solemn profession of devoting yourself to God at all? have never done any thing which has appeared to your own apprehension an action by which you made a covenant with him; though you have heard so much of his covenant, though you have been so solemnly and so tenderly invited to it? And in this view, how monstrous must this circumstance appear, which at first was mentioned as some alleviation of guilt! yet I must add, that you are not, perhaps, altogether so free from guilt on this head as you may as first imagine will not insist on the covenant which your parents made in your name when they devoted you to God in baptism; though it is really a weights matter, and by calling yourself a Christian you have professed to own and avow what they then did; but would remind you of what may have been more personal and express. Has your heart been, even from your youth, hardened to so uncommon a degree that you have never cried to God in any season of danger and difficulty? and did you never mingle vows with those cries? did you never promise, that if God would hear and help you in that hour of extremity, you would forsake your sins, and serve him as long as you lived? He heard and helped you, or you had not been reading these lines; and, by such deliverance did, as it were, bind down your vows upon you: and therefore your guilt in the violation of them remains before him, though you are stupid enough to forget them. Nothing is forgotten, nothing is overlooked by him; and the day will come when the record shall be laid before you too.
§ 12. And now, O sinner, think seriously with thyself what defence thou wilt make to all this! Prepare thine apology, call thy witnesses; make thine appeal from him whom thou hast thus offended to some superior judge, if such there be. Alas, those apologies are so weak and vain that one of thy fellow-worms may easily detect and confound them, as I will endeavour presently to show thee. But thy foreboding conscience already knows the issue. Thou art convicted; convicted of the most aggravated offences. Thou “hast not humbled thine heart, but lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven;” and “thy sentence shall come forth from his presence.” “Thou hast violated his known laws: thou hast despised and abused his numberless mercies: thou hast affronted conscience, his vicegerent in thy soul; thou hast resisted and grieved his Spirit: thou hast trifled with him in all thy pretended submissions; and, in one word, and that his own, thou hast done evil things as thou couldest.” Thousands are, no doubt, already in hell, whose guilt never equalled thine; and, it is astonishing, that God has spared thee to read this representation of the case, or to make any pause upon it. Oh waste not so precious a moment, but enter as attentively, and as humbly, as thou canst, into those reflections, which suit a case so lamentable and so terrible as thine!
The confession of a sinner, convinced in general of his guilt.
OH God! thou injured Sovereign, thou all penetrating and almighty Judge! what shall I say to this charge? Shall I pretend I am wronged by it, and stand on the defence in thy presence? I dare not do it; for then knowest my foolishness, and none of my sins are hid from thee. My conscience tells me, that a denial of my crimes would only increase them, and add new feuel to the fire of thy deserved wrath.
If I justify myself, mine own mouth will condemn me; if I say I am perfect, it will also prove me perverse. For “innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up: they are, as I have been told in thy name, “more than the hairs of my head, and “therefore my heart faileth me.” I am more guilty than it is possible for another to declare or represent. My heart speaks more than any other accuser. And thou, O Lord, art much greater than my heart, and knowest all things.
What has my life been but a course of rebellion against thee? It is not this or that particular action alone I have to lament. Nothing has been right in its principal views and ends. My whole soul has been disordered; all my thoughts, my affections, my desires, my pursuits, have been wretchedly alienated from thee. I have acted as if I had hated thee, who art infinitely the loveliest of all beings; as if I had been contriving how I might tempt thee to the uttermost, and weary out thy patience, marvellous as it is. My actions have been evil; my words yet more evil than they; and, O blessed God, my heart how much more corrupt than either! What an inexhausted fountain of sin has there been in it? “a fountain of original corruption,” which mingled its bitter streams with the days of early childhood; and which, alas! flows on even to this day beyond what actions or words could express. I see this to have been the case, with regard to what I can particularly survey; but, oh, how many months and years have I forgotten! concerning which I only know this in the general, that they are much like those I can remember, except it be that I have been growing worse and worse, and provoking thy patience more and more, though every new exercise of it was more and more wonderful.
And how am I astonished that thy forbearance is still continued? It is, because thou art God, and not man. Had I, a sinful worm, been thus injured, I could not have endured it. Had I been a prince, I had long since done justice on any rebel, whose crimes had borne but a distant resemblance to mine. Had I been a parent, I had long since cast off the ungrateful child, who had made me such a return as I have all my life long been making to thee, O thou Father of my Spirit! The flame of natural affection would have been extinguished, and his sight, and his very name, would have become hateful to me. Why then, O Lord, am I not “cast out from thy presence?” why am I not sealed up under an irreversible sentence of destruction! That I live, I owe to thine indulgence. But, oh, if there be yet any way of deliverance, if there be yet any hope for so guilty a creature, may it be opened upon me by thy gospel and thy grace! And if any farther alarm, humiliation, or terror, be necessary to my security and salvation, may I meet them, and bear them all; Wound mine heart, O Lord, so that thou wilt but afterwards heal it; and break it in pieces, if thou wilt but at length condescend to bind it up!
Chapter V. The Sinner stripped of his vain pleas.
The vanity of those pleas, which sinners may secretly confide in, is so apparent, that they will be ashamed at last to mention them before God, § 1. 2. Such as (1.) That they descended from pious parents, § 3. (2.) That they had attended to the speculative part of religion, § 4. (3.) That they had entertained sound notions, § 5. (4.) That they had expressed a zealous regard to religion, and attended the outward forms of worship with those they apprehended the purest churches, § 6. 7. (5.) That they had been free from gross immoralities, § 8. (6.) That they did not think the consequence of neglecting religion would have been so fatal, § 9. (7.) That they could not do otherwise than they did, § 10. Conclusion, § 11 s With the meditation of a convinced sinner, giving up hi vain pleas before God.
§ 1. My last discourse left the sinner in a very alarming and a very pitiable circumstance; a criminal convicted at the bar of God, disarmed of all pretences to perfect innocence and sinless obedience, and, consequently obnoxious to the sentence of a holy law, which can make no allowance for any transgression, no, not for the least; but pronounces death and a curse against every act of disobedience: how much more then against those numberless and aggravated acts of rebellion, of which, O sinner, thy conscience hath condemned thee before God! I would hope some of my readers will ingeniously fall under the conviction, and not think of making any apology: for, sure I am, that humbly to plead guilty at the divine bar, is the most decent, and, all things considered, the most prudent thing that can be done in such an unhappy circumstance. Yet I know the treachery and the self-flattery of a sinful and a corrupted heart. I know what excuses it makes; and how, when it is driven from one refuge it flies to another, to fortify itself against full conviction, and to persuade, not merely another, but itself, that, if it has been in some instances to blame, it is not quite so criminal as was represented; that there are at least considerations that plead in its favour, which, if they cannot justify, will, in some degree excuse.
A secret reserve of this kind, sometimes perhaps scarce formed into a distinct reflection, breaks the force of conviction, and often prevents that deep humiliation before God, which is the happiest token of an approaching deliverance. I will therefore examine into some of these particulars; and for that purpose would seriously ask thee, O sinner, what thou hast to offer in arrest to judgement what plea thou canst urge for thyself why the sentence of God should not go forth against thee, and why thou shouldst not fall into the hands of his justice?
§ 2. But this I must premise, That the question is not, how thou wouldst answer to me, a weak sinful worm like thyself, who am shortly to stand with thee at the same bar: the Lord grant that I may find mercy of the Lord in that day! but, what wilt thou reply to thy Judge? What couldst thou plead if thou wast now actually before his tribunal; where, to multiply vain words, and to frame idle apologies, would be but to increase thy guilt and provocation▪ Surely the very thought of his presence must supersede a thousand of those trifling excuses which now sometimes impose on “a generation that are pure in their own eyes, though they are not washed from their filthiness:” or, while they are conscious of their “own impurities, trust in words than cannot profit,” and “lean upon broken reeds.”
§ 3. You will not, to be sure, in such a circumstance, plead “That you are descended from pious parents.” That was, indeed, your privilege, and “wo be to you that you have abused it, and forsaken the God of your fathers.
Ishmael was immediately descended from Abraham, the friend of God; and Esau was the son of Isaac, who was born according to the promise; yet, you know, they were both c•• off from the blessing, to which they apprehended they had a kind of hereditary claim. You may remember that our Lord does not only speak of one who could call Abraham father. Who was “tormented in flames;” but expressly declares, that many of the children of the kingdom shall be shut out of it; and, when others come from the most distant parts to sit down in it, shall be distinguished from their companions in misery only by louder accents of lamentation, and more furious “gnashing of the teeth.”
§ 4. Nor will you then presume to plead, that you had exercised your thoughts about the speculative part of religion: for to what end can this serve but to increase your condemnation? Since you have broken God’s law, since you have contradicted the most obvious and apparent obligations of religion, to have inquired into it, and argued upon it, is a circumstance that proves your guilt more audacious. What? did you think religion was merely an exercise of men’s wit, and the amusement of their curiosity? If you argued about it on the principles of common sense, you must have judged and proved it to be a practical thing: and, if it was so, why did not you practise accordingly? You knew the particular branches of it; and why then did you not attend to every one of them? To have pleaded an unavoidable ignorance would have been the happiest plea that could have remained for you: nay, an actual, tho’ faulty, ignorance would have been some little allay of your guilt. But if, by your own confession, you have “known your Master’s will, and have not done it,” you bear witness against yourself, that you deserve to be beaten with many “stripes.”
§ 5. Nor yet, again, will it suffice to say, that you have had right notions, both of the doctrines and the precepts of religion.
Your advantage for practising it was therefore the greater: but understanding and acting right can never go for the same thing in the judgment of God or of man. In “believing there is one God.” you have done well; but “the devils also believe, and tremble.” In acknowledging Christ to be the Son of God, and the Holy One, you have done well too; but, you know, the unclean spirits made this very orthodox confession, and yet they are reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.
And will you place any secret confidence in that which might be pleaded by the infernal spirits as well as by you?
§ 6. But, perhaps, you may think of pleading, that you have actually done something in religion.
Having judged what faith was the soundest, and what worship the purest, you entered yourselves into those societies where such articles of faith were professed, and such forms of worship were practised; and, amongst these, you have signalised yourselves, by the exactness of your attendance, by the zeal with which you have espoused their cause, and by the earnestness with which you have contended for such principles and practices. —O sinner, I much fear that this zeal of thine about the circumstantials of religion will swell thine account, rather than be allowed in abatement of it. He that searches thine heart knows from whence it arose, and how far it extended. Perhaps he sees that it was all hypocrisy; an artful veil, under which thou wast carrying on thy mean designs for this world; while the sacred names of God and Religion were profaned and prostituted in the basest manner; and, if so, thou art cursed with a distinguished curse for so daring an insult on the divine omniscience, as well as justice. Or, perhaps, the earnestness with which you have been “contending for the faith” and worship “which was once delivered to the saints,” or which, it is possible, you may rashly have concluded to be that, might be mere pride and bitterness of spirit: and all the zeal you have expressed might possibly arise from a confidence in your own judgment, from an impatience of contradiction, or from a secret malignity of spirit, which delighted itself in condemning, and even in worrying others; yea, which, (if I may be allowed the expression) fiercely preyed upon religion, as the tiger upon the lamb, to turn it into a nature most contrary to its own. And shall this screen you before the great tribunal? Shall it not rather awaken the displeasure it is pleading to avert?
§ 7. But say that this your zeal for notions and forms has been ever so well intended, and, so far as it has gone, ever so well conducted too; what will that avail towards vindicating thee in so many instances of negligence and disobedience as are recorded against thee
in the book of God’s remembrance?
Were the revealed doctrines of the gospel to be earnestly maintained (as indeed they ought) and was the great practical purpose for which they were revealed to be forgot? Was the very mint, and annise, and cummin, to be tithed, and were “the weightier matters of the law to be omitted ?” even that love to God, which is its first “and great command?” Oh, how wilt thou be able to vindicate even the justest sentence thou hast passed on others for their infidelity or for their disobedience, without being “condemned out of thine own mouth!”
§ 8. Will you then plead your fair moral character your works of righteousness and of mercy? How your obedience to the law of God been complete, the plea might be allowed as important and valid; but I have supposed and proved above, that conscience testifies to the contrary; and you will not now dare to contradict it. I add farther, had these works of yours which you now urge, proceeded from a sincere love to God, and a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, yo• would not have thought of pleading them any otherwise than as an evidence of your interest in the gospel covenant, and in the blessings of it, procured by the righteousness and blood of the Redeemer: and that faith, had it been sincere, would not have been attended with such deep humility, and with such solemn apprehensions of the divine holiness and glory; that, instead of pleading any works of your own before God, you would rather have implored his pardon for the mixture of sinful imperfection attending the very best of them. Now, as you are a stranger to this humble and sanctifying principle (which here, in this address, I suppose my reader to be) it is absolutely necessary you should be plainly and faithfully told, that neither sobriety, nor honesty, not humanity, will justify you before the tribunal of God, when he lays judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, and examines all your actions, and all your thoughts, with the strictest severity. You have not been a drunkard, an adulterer, or a robber. So far it is well. You stand before a righteous God, who will do you ample justice; and therefore will not condemn you for drunkenness, adultery, or robbery. But you have forgotten him, your Parent and your Benefactor; you have cast off fear, and restrained prayer before him, you have despised the blood of his Son, and all the immortal blessings which he purchased with it. For this, therefore, you are judged, and condemned. And as for any thing that has looked like virtue and humanity in your temper and conduct, the exercise of it has, in a great measure, been its own reward, if there were any thing more than form and artifice in it; and the various bounties of divine Providence to you amidst all your numberless provocations, have been a thousand times more than an equivalent for such defective and imperfect virtues as these. You remain, therefore chargeable with the guilt of a thousand offences, for which you have no excuse at all; though there are some other instances in which you did not grossly offend. And those good works, in which you have been so ready to trust, will no more vindicate you in his awful presence, than a man’s kindness to his poor neighbours would be allowed as a plea in arrest of judgment, when he stood convicted of high treason against his prince.
§ 9. But you will, perhaps, be ready to say,
You did not expect all this: you did not think the consequences of neglecting religion would have been so fatal.
And why did you not think it? Why did you not examine more attentively and more impartially? why did you suffer the pride and folly of your vain heart to take up with such superficial appearances, and trust the light suggestions of your own prejudiced mind against the express declaration of the word of God? Had you reflected on his character, as the supreme Governor of the world, you would have seen the necessity of such a day of retribution as we are now referring to. Had you regarded the Scripture, the divine authority of which you professed to believe, every page might have taught you to expect it. “You did not think of religion?” and of what were you thinking when you forgot or neglected it? Had you too much employment of another kind? of what kind, I beseech you? What end could you propose by any thing else of equal moment? Nay, with all your engagements, conscience will tell you that there have been seasons when, for want of thought, time and life have been a burden to you: yet you guarded against thought as against an enemy, and cast up (as it were) an intrenchment of inconsideration around you on every side, as if it had been to defend you from the most dangerous invasion. God knew you were thoughtless; and therefore he sent you line upon line, and precept upon precept, in such plain language that it needed no genius or study to understand it. He tried you too with afflictions as well as with mercies, to awaken you out of your fatal lethargy; and yet, when awakened, you would lie down again upon the bed of sloth. And now, pleasing as your dreams might be, you must lie down in sorrow.
Reflection has at last overtaken you, and must be heard as a tormentor, since it might not be heard as a friend.
§ 10. But some may, perhaps, imagine, that one important apology is yet unheard, and that there may be room to say, you were, by the necessity of your nature, impelled to those things which are now charged upon you as crimes; whereas it was not in your power to have avoided them in the circumstances in which you were placed.
If this will do any thing, it indeed promises to do much; so much, that it will amount to nothing. If I were disposed to answer you upon the folly and madness of your own principles, I might say, that the same consideration which proves it was necessary for you to offend, proves also that it is necessary for God to punish you: and that, indeed, he cannot but do it: and I might further say, with an excellent writer of our own age, that the same principles which destroy the injustice of sins, destroy the injustice of punishments too.
But, if you cannot admit this, if you should still reply in spite of principle, That it must be unjust to punish you for an action utterly and absolutely unavoidable; I really think you would answer right. But, in that answer you will contradict your own scheme, (as I observed above): and I leave your conscience to judge what sort of a scheme that must be which would make all kind of punishment unjust; for the argument will, on the whole, be the same, whether with regard to human punishment or divine. It is a scheme full of confusion and horror. You would not, I am sure, take it from a servant who had robbed you, and then fired your house; you would never inwardly believe, that he could not have helped it, or think that he had fairly excused himself by such a plea. And, I am persuaded, you would be so far from presuming to offer it to God at the great day, that you would not venture to turn it into a prayer even now. Imagine you saw a malefactor dying with such words as these: O God, it is true, I did indeed rob and murder my fellow-creature; but thou knowest that, as my circumstances were ordered, I could not do otherwise: my will was irresistibly determined by the motives which thou didst set before me; and I could as well have shaken the foundations of the earth, or darkened the sun in the firmament, as have resisted the impulse which bore me on.
I put it to your conscience whether you would not look on such a speech as this with detestation, as one enormity added to another. Yet, if the excuse would have any weight in your mouth, it would have equal weight in his, or would be equally applicable to any the most shocking occasion. But, indeed, it is so contrary to the plainest principles of common reason, that I can hardly persuade myself any one could seriously and thoroughly believe it; and should imagine my time very ill employed here if I were to set myself to combat those pretences to argument, by which the wantonness of human wit has attempted to varnish it over.
§ 11. You see, then, on the whole, the vanity of all your pleas, and how easily the most plausible of them might be silenced by a mortal man like yourself; how much more, then, by Him who searches all hearts, and can, in a moment, flash in upon the conscience a most powerful and irresistible conviction? What then can you do while you stand convicted in the presence of God? what should you do but hold your peace under an inward sense of your inexcusable guilt, and prepare yourself to hear the sentence which his law pronounces against you? You must feel the execution of it, if the gospel does not at length deliver you; and you must feel something of the terror of it before you can be excited to seek to that gospel for deliverance.
The meditation of a convinced Sinner, giving up his vain pleas before God.
Deplorable condition to which I am indeed reduced! “I have sinned;” and “what shall I say unto thee, O thou Preserver of men?” What shall I dare to say? Fool that I was, to amuse myself with such trifling excuses as these, and to imagine they could have any weight in thy tremendous presence; or that I should be able so much as to mention them there! I cannot presume to do it. I am silent and confounded. My hopes, alas, are slain, and my soul itself is ready to die too, so far as an immortal soul can die; and I am almost ready to say, Oh that it could die entirely! I am indeed a criminal in the hand of Justice, quite disarmed, and stripped of the weapons in which I trusted. Dissimulation can only add provocation to provocation. I will therefore plainly and freely own it. I have acted as if I “thought God was altogether such a one as myself: but,” he hath said, “I will reprove thee: I will set thy sins in order before thine eyes, will marshal them in battle array.” And oh, what a terrible kind of host do they appear! and how do they surround me beyond all possibility of escape! O my soul, they have, as it were, taken thee prisoner; and they are bearing thee away to the divine tribunal.
Thou must appear before it! thou must see the awful eternal Judge, who “tries the very reins;” and who needs no other evidence, for he has himself been witness to all thy rebellion. Thou must see him, O my soul, sitting in judgment upon thee; and when he is strict to mark iniquity,” how wilt thou answer him for one of a thousand!
And if thou canst not answer him, in what language will he speak to thee? Lord, as things at present stand, I can expect no other language than that of condemnation. And what a condemnation is it! Let me reflect upon it! let me read my sentence before I hear it finally and irreversibly passed! I know he has recorded it in his word; and I know in the general that the representation is made with a gracious design. I know that he would have us alarmed, that we may not be destroyed. Speak to me, therefore, O God, while thou speakest not for the last time, and in circumstances when thou wilt hear me no more. Speak in the language of effectual terror, so that it be not to speak me into final despair; and let thy word, however painful in its operation, be “quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” Let me not vainly flatter myself; let me not be left a wretched prey to those who would prophesy smooth things to me, till I am sealed up under wrath, and feel thy justice piercing my soul, and the poison of thine arrows drinking up all my spirits.
Before I enter upon the particular view, I know, in the general, that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
O thou living God, in one sense, I am (already fallen into thine hands. I am become obnoxious to thy displeasure, justly obnoxious to it; and whatever thy sentence may be, when it “comes forth from thy presence” I must condemn myself, and justify thee. Thou canst not treat me with more severity than mine iniquities have deserved; and how bitter soever that “cup of trembling” may be, which thou shalt appoint for me, I give judgment against myself, that I deserve “to wring out the very dregs of it.”
Chapter VI. The Sinner sentenced.
The sinner called upon to hear his sentence, § 1, 2. Gods’s law does now in general pronounce a curse, § 3. It pronounceth death, § 4. and being turned into bell, § 5. The judgment-day shall come, § 6. The solemnity of that grand process described according to scriptural representations of it, § 7, 8. with a particular illustration of the sentence, depart accursed, &c. § 9. The execution will certainly and immediately follow, § 10. The sinner warned to prepare for enduring it, § 11. The reflection of a sinner struck with the terror of his sentence.
§ 1. Hear, O sinner, “and I will speak yet once more, as in the name of God; of God, thine almighty Judge, who, if thou dost not attend to his servants, will, ere long, speak unto thee in a more immediate manner, with an energy and terror which thou shalt not be able to resist.
§ 2. Thou hast been convicted as in his presence. Thy pleas have been over-ruled, or rather they have been silenced. It appears before God, it appears to thine own conscience, that thou hast nothing more to offer in arrest of judgment; therefore hear thy sentence, and summon up, if thou canst, all the powers of thy soul to bear the execution of it:
It is indeed a very small thing to be judged of man’s judgment; but he that now judgeth thee is the Lord.
Hear therefore, and tremble, while I tell thee how he will speak to thee; or rather while I shew thee, from express scripture, how he doth even now speak, and what is the authentic and recorded sentence of his word, even of hi• word who hath said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away; but not “one title of my word shall ever pass away.”
§ 3. The law of God speaks, not to thee alone, O sinner, nor to thee by any particular address; but in a most universal language it speaks to all transgressors and levels its terrors against all offences, great or small, without any exception; and this is its language, cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
This is its voice to the whole world; and this it speaks to thee. Its awful contents are thy personal concern, O reader, and thy conscience knows it. Far from “continuing in all things that are written therein to do them,” thou canst not but be sensible, that “innumerable evils have compassed thee about.” It is then manifest “thou art the man,” whom it condemns; thou art even now, “cursed with a curse,” as God emphatically speaks, “with the curse,” of the most high God; yea, all the curses which are written in the book of the law are pointed against thee. God may righteously execute any of them upon thee in a moment; and though thou at present feelest none of them, yet, if infinite mercy doth not prevent, it is but a little while, and they will “come into thy bowels like “water,” till thou art burst asunder with them, and shall penetrate “like oil into thy bones.”
§ 4. Thus saith the Lord, the soul that sinneth shall die. But thou hast sinned, and therefore thou art under a sentence of death: and, oh, unhappy creature, of what a death! what will the end of these things be? That the agonies of dissolving nature shall seize thee; that thy soul shall be torn away from thy languishing body, and thou return to the dust from whence thou wast taken!
This is indeed one awful effect of sin. In these affecting characters has God, through all nations, and all ages of men, written the awful register and memorial of his holy abhorrence of it, and righteous displeasure against it. But alas! all this solemn pomp and horror of dying is but the opening of a dreadful scene. It is but a rough kind of stroke, by which the fetters are knocked off, when the criminal is led out to torture and execution.
§ 5. Thus saith the Lord, the wicked shall be turned into hell, even all the nations that forget God. Though there be whole nations of them, their multitudes and their power shall be no defence to them. They shall be driven into hell together; in that flaming prison which divine vengeance hath prepared; into Tophet, which is ordained of old, even for royal sinners as well as for others, so little can any human distinction protect.
He hath made it deep and large, the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone shall kindle it; and the flaming torrent shall flow in upon it so fast, that it shall be turned into a sea of liquid fire; or, as the Scripture also expresse it, a lake burning with fire and brimstone for ever and ever; this is the second death, and the death to which thou, O sinner, by the word of God are doomed.
§ 6. And shall this sentence stand upon record in vain? shall the law speak it, and the gospel speak it? and shall it never be pronounced more audibly? and will God never require and execute the punishment? He will, O sinner, require it, and he will execute it, though he may seem for a while to delay. For well dost thou know that he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the whole world in righteousness, by that Man whom he hath ordained, of which he hath given assurance in having raised him from the dead.
And when God judgeth the world, O reader, whoever thou art, he will judge thee: and while I remind thee of it, I would also remember that he will judge me: and knowing the terror of the Lord,” that I may deliver my own soul, I would with all plainness and sincerity labour to deliver thine.
§ 7. I, therefore, repeat the solemn warning: Thou, O sinner, shalt “stand before the judgment-seat of Christ” Thou shalt see that pompous appearance, the description of which is grown so familiar to thee, that the repetition of it makes no impression on thy mind! but surely, stupid as thou now art, the shrill trumpet of the arch-angel shall shake thy very soul; and if nothing else can awaken and alarm thee, the convulsions and flames of a disolving world shall do it.
§ 8. Dost thou really think that the intent of Christ’s final appearance is only to recover his people from the grave, and to raise them to glory and happiness? Whatever assurance thou hast that there shall be a resurrection of the just, thou hast the same that there shall also be a resurrection of the unjust; that he shall separate the rising dead one from another, as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats, with equal certainty, and with infinitely greater ease. Or can you imagine that he will only make an example of some flagrant and notorious sinners, when it is said, that all the deal, both small and great, shall stand before God; and that even he who knew not his master’s will, and, consequently, seems of all others to have had the fairest excuse for his omission to obey it, yet even he, for that very omission, shall be beaten, though with fewer stripes? Or can you think that a sentence to be delivered with so much pomp and majesty, a sentence by which the righteous judgment of God is to be revealed, and to have its most conspicuous and final triumph, will be inconsiderable, or the punishment to which it shall consign the sinner be flight or tolerable? There would have been little reason to apprehend that, even if we had been left barely to our own conjectures, what that sentence should be: but this is far from being the case. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in his infinite condescension and compassion, has been pleased to give us a copy of the sentence, and, no doubt, a most exact copy; and the words which contain it are worthy of being inscribed on every heart. The King, amidst all the splendour and dignity, in which he shall then appear, shall say unto those on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; and where the word of a King is, there is power indeed. And these words have a power which may justly animate the heart of the humble Christian under the most overwhelming sorrow, and may fill him with “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” To be pronounced the blessed of the Lord? to be called to a kingdom! to the immediate, the everlasting inheritance of it! and of such a kingdom! so well prepared, so glorious, so complete, so exquisitely fitted for the delight and entertainment of such creatures so formed and so renewed, that it shall appear worthy the eternal counsels of God to have contrived it, worthy his eternal love to have prepared it, and to have delighted himself with the views of bestowing it upon his people! Behold, a blessed hope indeed! a lively glorious hope, to which we are begotten again by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and formed by the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God upon our minds! But it is a hope, from which thou, O sinner, art at present excluded: and methinks that might be grievous, to reflect, these gracious words shall Christ speak to some, to multitudes, but not to me; on me there is no blessedness pronounced: for me there is no kingdom prepared.
But is that all? Alas! sinner, our Lord hath given thee a dreadful counterpart to this: he has told us what he will say to thee, if thou continuest what thou art; to thee, and all the nations of the impenitent and unbelieving world, be they ever so numerous, be the rank of particular criminals ever so great. He shall say to the kings of the earth, who have been rebels against him, to the great and rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, as well as to every bondman, and every freeman of inferior rank, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. Oh, pause upon these weighty words, that thou mayest enter into something of the importance of them!
§ 9. He will say, Depart; you shall be driven from his presence with disgrace and infamy; from Him, the source of life and blessedness, in a nearness to whom all the inhabitants of heaven continually rejoice: you shall depart accursed; you have broken God’s law, and its curse falls upon you; and you are and shall be under that curse, that abiding curse; from that day forward you shall be regarded by God, and all his creatures, as an accursed and abominable thing; as the most detestable and the most miserable part of the creation: you shall go into fire; and, oh, consider into what fire! Is it merely into one fierce blaze, which shall consume you in a moment, though with exquisite pain? that were terrible: but, oh, such terrors are not to be named with these: thine, sinner, is everlasting fire; it is that which our Lord hath in such awful terms described as prevailing there, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched;” and then says it a second time, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched;” and again, in wonderful compassion, a third time, where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.
Nor was it originally prepared, or principally intended for you; it was prepared for the devil and his angels; for those first grand rebels who were, immediately upon their fall, doomed to it; and since you have taken part with them in their apostasy, you must sink with them in that flaming ruin; and sink so much the deeper as you have despised a Saviour who was never offered to them, These must be your companions, and your tormentors, with whom you must dwell for ever. And is it I that say this? or says not the law and the gospel the same? Does not the Lord Jesus Christ expressly say it, who is the faithful and true witness; even he who himself is to pronounce the sentence.
§ 10. And when it is thus pronounced, and pronounced by him, shall it not also be executed? Who could imagine the contrary? who could imagine there should be all this pompous declaration to fill the mind only with vain terror, and that this sentence should vanish into smoke? You may easily apprehend that this would be a greater reproach to the divine administration than if sentence were never to be passed; and therefore, we might easily have inferred the execution of it from the process of preceding judgment. But least the treacherous heart of a sinner should deceive him with so vain a hope, the assurance of that execution is immediately added in very memorable terms: It shall be done; it shall immediately be done. Then, on that very day, while the sound of it is yet in their ears, the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment and thou, O reader, whoever thou art, being found in their number, shalt go away with them; shall be driven on among all these wretched multitudes, and plunged with them into eternal ruin. The wide gates of hell shall be open to receive thee; they shall be shut upon thee for ever to inclose thee, and be fast barred by the almighty hand of divine justice, to prevent all hope, all possibility of escape, for ever.
§ 11. And now prepare thyself to meet the Lord thy God: summon up all the resolution of thy mind to endure such a sentence, such an execution as this: for “he will not meet thee as a man,” whose heart may sometimes fail him, when about to exert a needful act of severity, so that compassion may prevail against reason and justice. No, he will meet thee as a God, whose schemes and purposes are all immovable as his throne. I therefore, testify to thee in his name this day, that, if God be true, he will thus speak; and that, if he be able, he will thus act. And, on supposition of thy continuance in thine impenitency and unbelief, thou art brought into this miserable case, that if God be not either false or weak, thou art undone, thou art eternally undone.
The reflection of a Sinner struck with the Terror of his Sentence.
Wretch that I am! what shall I do? or whither shall I flee?
I am weighed in the balance, and am found wanting. This is, indeed my doom, the doom I am to expect from the mouth of Christ himself, from the mouth of him that died for the salvation and redemption of men. Dreadful sentence! and so much more dreadful when considered in that view! To what shall I look to save me from it! To whom shall I call! Shall I say to the rocks, Fall upon me, and to the hills, Cover me? What should I gain by that? Were I indeed overwhelmed with rocks and mountains, they could not conceal me from the notice of his eye; and his hand could reach me with as much ease there as any where else.
Wretch indeed that I am! Oh that I had never been born! Oh that I had never known the dignity and prerogative of the rational nature! Fatal prerogative, indeed, that renders me obnoxious to condemnation and wrath! Oh that I had never been instructed in the will of God at all, rather than that, being thus instructed, I should have disregarded and transgressed it! Would to God I had been allied to the meanest of the human race, to them that come nearest to the state of the brutes, rather than that I should have had my lot in cultivated life, amidst so many of the improvements of reason, and (dreadful reflection!) amidst so many of the advantages of religion too! and thus to have perverted all to my own destruction!—Oh that God would take away this rational soul! But, alas! it will live for ever, will live to feel the agonies of eternal death.—Why have I seen the beauties and glories of a world like this, to exchange it for that flaming prison! why have I tasted so many of my Creator’s bounties, to wring out at last the dregs of his wrath! why have I known the delights of social life and friendly converse, to exchange them for the horrid company of devils and damned spirits in Tophet! Oh, who can dwell with them in devouring flames! who can lye down with them in everlasting, everlasting, everlasting burnings!
But whom have I to blame in all this but myself? what have I to accuse but my own stupid incorrigible folly? On what is all this terrible ruin to be charged, but on this one fatal cursed cause, that, having broken God’s law, I rejected his gospel too?
Yet stay, O my soul, in the midst of all these doleful, foreboding complaints. Can I say that I have finally rejected the gospel? Am I not, to this day, under the sound of it! The sentence is not yet gone forth against me in so determinate a manner, as to be utterly irreversible. Through all this gloomy prospect one ray of hope breaks in, and it is possible I may yet be delivered.
Reviving thought! rejoice in it, O my soul, tho’ it be with trembling; and turn immediately to that God who, though provoked by ten thousand offences, has not yet “sworn in his wrath, that thou shalt never” be permitted to hold farther intercourse with him, or to “enter into his rest.”
I do then, O blessed Lord, prostrate myself in the dust before thee. I own I am a condemned and miserable creature; but my language is that of the humble Publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” Some general and confused apprehensions I have of a way by which I may possibly escape. O God, whatever that way is, shew it me, I beseech thee! Point it out so plainly, that I may not be able to mistake it. And, o•, reconcile my heart to it, be it ever so humbling, be it ever so painful!
Surely, Lord, I have much to learn; but be thou my teacher! Stay for a little thine uplifted hand; and, in thine infinite compassion, delay the stroke, till I inquire a little farther how I may finally avoid it!
Chapter VII. The helpless State of the Sinner under Condemnation.
The sinner urged to consider how he can be saved from this impending ruin, § 1, 2. (1.) Not by any thing he can offer, § 3. (2.) Nor by any thing he can endure, § 4. (3.) Nor by any thing he can do in the course of future duty, § 5. (4.) Nor by any alliance with fellow-sinners on earth, or in hell, § 6—8. (5.) Nor by any interposition or intercession of angels or saints in his favour, § 9. Hint of the only method, to be afterwards more largely explained, ib. The lamentation of a sinner in this miserable condition.
§ 1. Sinner, thou hast heard the sentence of God, as it stands upon record in his sacred and immutable word. And wilt thou lye down under it in everlasting despair? wilt thou make no attempt to be delivered from it, when it speaks nothing less than eternal death to thy soul? If a criminal, condemned by human laws, has but the least shadow of hope that he may possibly escape, he is all attention to it. If there be a friend who he thinks can help him, with what strong importunity does he entreat the interposition of that friend? And, even while he is before the judge, how difficult is it often to force him away from the bar, while the cry of Mercy, mercy, mercy, may be heard, though it be never so unreasonable? A mere possibility that it may make some impression makes him eager in it, and unwilling to be silenced and removed.
§ 2. Wilt thou not then, O sinner, ere yet execution is done, that execution which may, perhaps, be done this very day, wilt thou not cast about in thy thoughts what measures may be taken for deliverance? Yet what measures can be taken? Consider attentively; for it is an affair of moment. Thy wisdom, thy power, thy eloquence, or thine interest, can never be exerted on a greater occasion. If thou canst help thyself, do. If thou hast any secret source of relief, go not out of thyself for other assistance. If thou hast any sacrifice to offer, if thou hast any strength to exert, yea if thou hast any allies on earth, or in the invisible world, who can defend and deliver thee, take thine own way, so that thou mayest but be delivered at all, and we may not see thy ruin. But say, O sinner, in the presence of God, what sacrifice thou wilt present, what strength thou wilt exert, what allies thou wilt have recourse to, on so urgent, so hopeless an occasion: for, hopeless I must indeed pronounce it, if such methods are taken.
§ 3. The justice of God is injured: hast thou any atonement to make to it? If thou wast brought to an inquiry and proposal, like that of the awakened sinner, Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Alas! wert thou as great a prince as Solomon himself, and couldst thou indeed purchase such sacrifices as these, there would be no room to mention them, Lebanon would not be sufficient to burn, nor all the beasts thereof for a burnt offering. Even under that dispensation, which admitted and required sacrifices in some cases, the blood of bulls and of goats, though it exempted the offender from farther temporal punishment, could not take away sin, nor prevail by any means to purge the conscience in the sight of God. And that soul that had done ought presumptuously, was not allowed to bring any sin-offering, or trespass-offering at all, but was condemned to die without mercy.
Now God and thine own conscience know that thine offences have not been merely the errors of ignorance and inadvertency, but that thou hast sinned with an high hand, in repeated aggravated instances, as thou hast acknowledged already.—Shouldst thou add, with the wretched sinner described above, Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? What could the blood of a beloved child do in such a case, but dye thy crimes so much the deeper, and add a yet unknown horror to them? Thou hast offended a Being of infinite Majesty; and if that offence is to be expiated by blood, it must be by another kind of blood than that which flows in the veins of thy children, or in thine own.
§ 4. Wilt thou then suffer thyself, till thou hast made full satisfaction? But how shall that satisfaction be made? Shall it be by any calamities to be endured in this mortal momentary life? Is the justice of God, then, esteemed so little a thing, that the sorrows of a few days should suffice to answer its demands? Or dost thou think of future sufferings in the invisible world? If thou dost, that is not deliverance: and, with regard to that, I may venture to say, When thou hast made full satisfaction, thou wilt be released: when thou hast paid the utmost farthing of that debt, thy prison-doors shall be opened. In the mean time, thou must “make thy bed in hell:” and, O unhappy man? wilt thou lie down there with a secret hope that the moment will come when the rigour of divine justice will not be able to inflict any thing more than thou hast endured, and when thou mayest claim thy discharge as a matter of right? It would indeed be well for thee if thou couldest carry down with thee such a hope, false and flattering as it is: but, alas! thou wilt see things in so just a light, that to have no comfort but this will be eternal despair. That one word of thy sentence, Everlasting fire; that one declaration, “The worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched;” will be sufficient to strike such a thought into black confusion, and to overwhelm thee with hopeless agony and horror.
§ 5. Or do you think that your future reformation and diligence in duty for the time to come will process your discharge from this sentence? Take heed, sinner, what kind of obedience thou thinkest of offering to a holy God. That must be spotless and complete, which his infinite sanctity can approve and accept, if he consider thee in thyself alone; there must be no inconstancy, no forgetfulness, no mixture of sin attending it. And wilt thou, enfeebled as thou art, by so much original corruption, and so many sinful habits contracted by innumerable actual transgressions, undertake to render such an obedience and that for all the remainder of thy life? In vain wouldst thou attempt it even for one day. New guilt would immediately plunge thee into new ruin; but if it did not; if from this moment to the very end of thy life all were as complete obedience as the law of God required from Adam in Paradise, would that be sufficient to cancel past guilt? would it discharge an old debt that thou hadst not contracted a new one? Offer this to thy neighbour, and see if he will accept it for payment; and if he will not, wilt thou presume to offer it to thy God?
§ 6. But I will not multiply words on so plain a subject. While I speak thus, time is passing away, death presses on, and judgment is approaching. And what can save thee from these awful scenes, or what can protect thee in them? Can the world save thee? that vain delusive idol of thy wishes and pursuits, to which thou art sacrificing thine eternal hopes? Well dost thou know that it will utterly forsake thee when thou needest it most; and that not one of its enjoyments can be carried along with thee into the invisible state; no, not so much as a trifle to remember it by, if thou couldst desire to remember so inconstant and so treacherous a friend as the world has been.
§ 7. And when you are dead, or when you are dying, can your sinful companion save you? Is there any one of them, if he were ever so desirous of doing it, that “can give unto God a ransom for you,” to deliver you from going down to the grave, or from going down to hell? Alas! you will probably be so sensible of this, that when you lye on the border of the grave, you will be unwilling to see or to converse with those that were once your favourite companions. They will afflict you rather than relieve you, even then how much less can they relieve you before the bar of God, when they are overwhelmed with their own condemnation?
§ 8. As for the powers of darkness, you are sure they will be far from any ability or inclination to help you. Satan has been watching and labouring for your destruction, and he will triumph in it. But if there could be any thing of an amicable confederacy between you, what would that be but an association in ruin? For the day of judgment of ungodly men will also be the judgment of these rebellious spirits; and the fire into which thou, O sinner, must depart, is that which was “prepared for the devil and his angels.”
§ 9. Will the celestial spirits then save thee? will they interpose their power or their prayers in thy favour? An interposition of power, when sentence is gone forth against thee, were an act of rebellion against Heaven, which these holy and excellent creatures would abhor. And when the final pleasure of the Judge is known, instead of interceding, in vain, for the wretched criminal, they would rather, with ardent zeal for the glory of their Lord, and cordial acquiescence in the determination of his wisdom and justice, prepare to execute it. Yea, difficult as it may at present be to conceive it, it is a certain truth, that the servants of Christ who now most tenderly love you, and most affectionately seek your salvation, not excepting those who are allied to you in the nearest bonds of nature, or of friendship, even they shall put their Amen to it. Now, indeed their bowels yearn over you, and their eye poureth out tears on your account; now they expostulate with you, and plead with God for you, if by any means, while yet there is hope, you may be plucked as a firebrand out of the burning; but, alas! their remonstrances you will not regard; and as for their prayers, what should they ask for you? what but this, that you may see yourselves to be undone? and that, utterly despairing of any help from yourselves, or from any created power, you may lye before God in humility and brokenness of heart; that, submitting yourselves, to his righteous judgment, and in an utter renunciation of all self-dependence, and of all creature dependence, you may lift up an humble look towards him, as almost from the depths of hell, if peradventure he may have compassion upon you, and may himself direct you to that only method of rescue which, while things continue as in present circumstances they are, neither earth, nor hell, nor heaven, can afford you.
The lamentation of a sinner in this miserable condition.
Oh doleful, uncomfortable, helpless state! Oh wretch that I am, to have reduced myself to it! Poor, empty, miserable, abandoned creature! Where is my pride, and the haughtiness of my heart? where are my idol deities, whom I have loved and served, after whom I have walked, and whom I have sought, whilst I have been multiplying my transgressions against the Majesty of heaven? Is there no heart to have compassion upon me? is there no hand to save me?
Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O my friends; for the hand of God “hath touched me; hath seized me! I feel it pressing me hard, and what shall I do? Perhaps, they have pity upon me: but, alas, how feeble a compassion! Only if there be any where in the whole compass of nature any help, tell me where it may be found! O point it out; direct me towards it; or rather, confounded and astonished as my mind is, take me by the hand and lead me to it.
O ye ministers of the Lord, whose office it is to guide and comfort distressed souls, take pity upon me! I fear I am a pattern of many other helpless creatures, who have the like need of your assistance. Lay aside your other cares to care for my soul; to care for this precious soul of mine, which lyes as it were bleeding to death, (if that expression may be used,) while you, perhaps, hardly afford me a look; or, glancing an eye upon me, “pass over to the other side.” Yet, alas! in a case like mine, what can your interposition avail, if it be alone? “If the Lord do not help me, how can ye help me?”
Oh “God of the spirits of all flesh,” I lift up mine eyes unto thee, and “cry unto thee, as out of the belly of hell.” I cry unto thee at least from the borders of it. Yet while I lye before thee in this infinite distress, I know that thine almighty power and boundless grace can still find out a way for my recovery.
Thou art he whom I have most of all injured and affronted; and yet from thee alone must I now seek redress. “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done evil in thy sight;” so that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest, tho’ thou shouldst this moment adjudge me to eternal misery. And yet I find something that secretly draws me to thee, as if I might find rescue there, where I have deserved the most aggravated destruction. Blessed God, I have destroyed myself; but in thee is my help, if there can be help at all.
I know, in the general, that thy ways are not as our ways, nor thy thoughts as our thoughts; but are as “high above them as the heavens are above the earth.” “Have mercy” therefore “upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness, according to the multitude of thy tender mercies!” Oh point out the path to the city of refuge! Oh lead me thyself “in the way everlasting!” I know, in the general, that thy gospel is the only remedy; O teach thy servants to administer it! Oh prepare mine heart to receive it! and suffer not, as in many instances, that malignity which has spread itself through all my nature to turn that noble medicine into poison!
Chapter VIII. News of Salvation by Christ, brought to the convinced and condemned Sinner.
The awful things which have hitherto been said, intended not to grieve, but to help, § 1. After some reflection on the pleasure with which a minister of the gospel may deliver the message with which he is charged, § 2. and some reasons for the repetition of what is in speculation so generally known, § 3. the author proceeds briefly to declare the substance of these glad tidings: viz. That God having, in his infinite compassion, sent his Son to die for sinners, is now reconcileable through him, § 4.—6.; So that the most heinous transgressions shall be entirely pardoned to believers, and they made completely and eternally happy, § 7, 8 The sinner’s reflection on this good news.
§ 1. My dear reader! it is the great design of the gospel, and, wherever it is cordially received, it is the glorious effect of it, to fill the heart with sentiments of love; to teach us to abhor all unnecessary rigour and severity, and to delight, not in the grief, but in the happiness of our fellow-creatures. I can hardly apprehend how he can be a Christian who takes pleasure in the distress which appears even in a brute, much less in that of a human mind; and, especially, in such distress as the thoughts I have been proposing must give, if there be any due attention to their weight and energy. I have often felt a tender regret while I have been representing these things; and I could have wished from mine heart that it had not been necessary to have placed them in so severe and so painful a light. But now I am addressing myself to a part of my work, which I undertake with unutterable pleasure; and to that which indeed I had in view, in all those awful things which I have already been laying before you. I have been showing you, that, if you hitherto have lived in a state of impenitence and sin, you are condemned by God’s righteous judgment▪ and have in yourself no spring of hope and no possibility of deliverance. But I mean not to leave you under this sad apprehension, to lye down and die in despair, complaining of that cruel zeal which has “tormented you before the time.” Matth. viii, 29.
§ 2. Arise, O thou dejected soul, that art prostrate in the dust before God, and trembling under the terrors of his righteous sentence: for I am commissioned to tell thee, that though thou hast destroyed thyself, in God is thine help, Hosea 13, 9.” I bring thee good tidings of great joy, Luke 2, 10, which delight my own heart while I proclaim them, and will, I hope, reach and revive thine; even the tidings of salvation by the blood and righteousness of the Redeemer. And I give it thee, for thy greater security, in the words of a gracious and forgiving God, that he is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, and not imputing to them their trespasses, 2 Cor. 5, 19.
§ 3. This is the best news that ever was heard, the most important message which God ever sent to his creatures; and though I doubt not at all, but living, as you have done, in a Christian country, you have heard it often, perhaps a thousand and a thousand times, I will, with all simplicity and plainness, repeat it to you again, and repeat it as if you had never heard it before. If thou, O sinner, shouldst now, for the first time, feel it, then will it be as a new gospel unto thee, though so familiar to thine ear; nor shall it be grievous for me to speak what is so common, since to you it is safe and necessary, Phil. 3, 1. They who are most deeply and intimately acquainted with it, instead of being cloyed and satiated, will hear it with distinguished pleasure; and as for those who have hitherto slighted it, I am sure they had need to hear it again. Nor is it absolutely impossible that some one soul, at least, may read these lines who hath never been clearly and fully instructed in this important doctrine, though his everlasting All depends on knowing and receiving it. I will therefore take care that such a one shall not have it to plead at the bar of God, that tho’ he lived in a Christian country, he was never plainly and faithfully taught the doctrine of salvation by Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life, by whom alone we come unto the Father, John 14, 6.
§ 4. I do therefore testify unto you this day, that the holy and gracious Majesty of heaven and earth, foreseeing the fatal apostacy into which the whole human race would fall, did not determine to deal in a way of strict and rigorous severity with us, so as to consign us over to universal ruin and inevitable damnation; but, on the contrary, he determined to enter into a treaty of peace and reconciliation, and to publish to all, whom the gospel should reach, the express offers of life and glory, in a certain method, which his infinite wisdom judged suitable to the purity of his nature, and the honour of his government. This method was indeed a most astonishing one, which, familiar, as it is to our thoughts and our tongues, I cannot recollect and mention without great amazement. He determined to send his own Son into the world, “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, Heb. 1, 3. partaker of his own divine perfections and honours, to be not merely a teacher of righteousness, and a messenger of grace, but also a sacrifice for the sins of men; and would consent to his saving them on no other condition but this, that he should not only labour, but die in the cause.
§ 5. Accordingly, at such a period of time as infinite Wisdom saw most convenient, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared in human flesh; and after he had gone through incessant and long continued fatigues, and borne all the preceding injuries which the ingratitude and malice of men could inflict, he voluntarily submitted himself to death, even the death of the cross; Phil. 2, 8, and having been delivered for our offences, was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4, 25. After his resurrection he continued long enough on earth to give his followers most convincing evidences of it, and then “ascended into heaven in their sight, Acts 1, 9— 11;” and sent down his Spirit from thence upon his apostles, to enable them, in the most persuasive and authoritative manner, to “preach the gospel, Luke 24, 40:” and he has given it in charge to them, and to those who, in every age, succeed them in this part of their office, that it should be published “to every creature, Mark. 16, 15;” that all who believe in it may be saved, by virtue of its abiding energy, and the immutable power and grace of its divine author, who is, the same yesterday, to-day and for ever, Heb. 13, 8.
§ 6. This gospel do I therefore now preach, and proclaim unto thee, O reader, with the sincerest desire that, through divine grace, it may this very day be salvation to thy soul, Luke 19, 9.
Know therefore, and consider it, whosoever thou art, that as surely as these words are now before thine eyes, so sure it is that the incarnate Son of God “was made a spectacle to the world, and to “angels, and to men, 1 Cor. 4, 9;” his back torn with scourges, his head with thorns, his limbs stretched out as on a rack, and nailed to the accursed tree; and in this miserable condition he was hung up by his hands and his feet, as an object of public infamy and contempt. Thus did he die, in the midst of all the taunts and insults of his cruel enemies who thirsted for his blood; and which was the saddest circumstance of all, in the midst of these agonies with which he closed the most innocent, perfect, and useful life that ever was spent upon earth, he had not those supports of the divine presence which sinful men have often experienced, when they have been suffering for the testimony of their conscience. They have often burst out into transports of joy and songs of praise while their executioners have been glutting their hellish malice, and more than savage barbarity, by making their torments artificially grievous; but the crucified Jesus cried out, in the distress of his spotless and holy soul, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Matth. 27, 46.
§ 7. Look upon our dear Redeemer! Look up to this mournful, dreadful, yet, in one view, delightful spectacle, and then ask thine own heart, Do ye believe that Jesus suffered and died thus? and why did he suffer and die? Let me answer in God’s own words, He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him, that by his stripes we might be healed: it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and to put him to grief, when he made his soul an offering for sin? for, the Lord “laid on him the iniquity of us all, Isa. 53, 5.6.10. So that I may address you in the words of the Apostle, Be it known unto you therefore, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sin, Acts 13, 38, as it was his command, just after he arose from the dead, that repentance and remission of his sins should be preached in his name unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, Luke 24, 47; the very place where his blood had so lately been shed in so cruel a manner. I do therefore testify unto you, in the words of another inspired writer, that “Christ was made sin,” that is, a sin-offering, “for us though he knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, 2 Cor. 5, 21;” that is, that through the righteousness he has fulfilled, and the atonement he has made, we might be accepted by God as righteous, and be not only pardoned, but received into his favour.
To you is the word of this salvation sent, Acts 13, 26; and to you, O reader, are the blessings of it even now offered by God; sincerely offered; so that, after all I have said under the former heads, it is not your having broken the law of God that shall prove your ruin, if you do not also reject his gospel. It is not all those legions of sins which rise up in battle array against you that shall be able to destroy you, if unbelief do not lead them on, and final impenitence do not bring up the rear. I know that guilt is a timorous thing: I will therefore speak in the words of God himself; nor can any be more comfortable: He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, John 3, 36; and he shall never come into condemnation, John 5, 24: there is therefore now no condemnation, no kind or degree of it, to them, to any one of them, who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, Rom. 8, 1.
You have indeed been a very great sinner, and your offences have truly been attended with most heinous aggravations; nevertheless, you may rejoice in the assurance, that where sin hath abounded, there shall grace much more abound, Rom. 5, 20; that where sin hath reigned unto death, where it has had its most unlimited sway, and most unresisted triumph, there shall righteousness reign to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, Rom. 5, 21.
That righteousness, to which, on believing on him, thou wilt be entitled, shall not only break those chains by which sin is (as it were) dragging thee at its chariot wheels with a furious pace to eternal ruin, but it shall clothe thee with the robes of salvation, shall six thee on a throne of glory, where thou shalt live and reign for ever among the princes of heaven; shalt reign in immortal beauty and joy, without one remaining scar of divine displeasure upon thee, without any single mark by which it could be known that thou hadst ever been obnoxious to wrath and a curse; except it be an anthem of praise, to “the Lamb that was slain, and “has washed thee from thy sins in his own blood, Rev. 1, 5.
§ 8. Nor is it necessary, in order to thy being released from guilt, and entitled to this high and complete felicity, that thou shouldst, before thou wilt venture to apply to Jesus, bring any good works of thine own to recommend thee to his acceptance. Is it indeed true, that if thy faith be sincere, it will certainly produce them: but I have the authority of the word of God to tell thee, that if thou this day sincerely believest in the name of the Son of God, thou shalt this day be taken under his care, and be numbered among those of his sheep, to whom he hath graciously declared that “he will give eternal life;” and, that they shall “never perish, John 10, 28. Thou hast no need therefore to say, Who shall go up into heaven? or, who shall descend into the deep” for me? “For the word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thine heart, Rom. 10, 6.7.8.” With this joyful message I leave thee; with this faithful saying,” indeed worthy of all acceptation, 1 Tim. 1, 15; with this gospel, O sinner, which is my life, and which, if thou dost not reject it, will be thine too.
Chapter VIII The Sinner’s reflection on this good News.
Oh, my soul, how astonishing is the message which thou hast this day received! I have indeed often heard it before, and it is grown so common to me that the surprise is not sensible: but reflect, O my soul, what it is thou hast heard, and say, whether the name of the Saviour, whose message it is, may not well be called, “Wonderful Counsellor, Isa. 9, 6,” when he displays before thee such wonders of love, and proposes to thee such counsels of peace!
Blessed Jesus, is it indeed thus! Is it not the fiction of the human mind? surely it is not! What human mind could have invented or conceived it? Is it a plain certain fact, that thou didst leave the magnificence and joy of the heavenly world in compassion to such a wretch as I? Oh, hadst thou from that height of dignity and felicity only looked down upon me for a moment, and sent some gracious word to me for my direction and comfort even by the least of thy servants, justly and might I have prostrated myself in grateful admiration, and have kissed the very footsteps of him that published salvation, Isa. 52, 7. But didst thou condescend to be thyself the messenger! What grace had that been though thou hadst but once in person made the declaration, and immediately returned back to the throne, from whence divine compassion brought thee down? But this is not all the triumph of thine illustrious grace: it not only brought thee down to earth, but kept thee here in a frail and wretched tabernacle for long successive years, and at length it cost thee thy life, and stretched thee out as a malefactor upon the cross, after thou hast borne insult and cruelty, which it may justly wound my heart so much as to think of: and thus thou hast atoned injured justice, and redeemed me to God with thine own blood, Rev. 5, 9.
What shall I say?
Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief, Mark 9, 24.
It seems to put faith to the stretch to admit what it indeed exceeds the utmost stretch of imagination to conceive. Blessed, for ever blessed be thy name, O thou Father of mercies, that thou hast contrived the way? Eternal thanks to the Lamb that was slain, and to that kind Providence that sent the word or this salvation to me! Oh let me not for ten thousand worlds “receive this grace of God in vain! 2 Cor. 6, 1.” Oh impress this gospel upon my soul, till its saving virtue be diffused over every faculty! Let it not only be heard, and acknowledged, and professed, but felt! Make it thy power to my eternal salvation, Rom. 1, 16; and raise me to that humble tender gratitude, to that active unwearied zeal in thy service, which becomes one to whom so much is forgiven, Luke 7, 47; and forgiven upon such terms as these!
I feel a sudden glow in mine heart while these tidings are sounding in mine ears; but, Oh! let it not be a slight superficial transport! Oh let not this which I would fain call my Christian joy be as that foolish laughter with which I have been so madly enchanted like the crackling blaze of thorns under a pot! Eccles. 7, 6.
O teach me to secure this mighty blessing, this glorious hope, in the method which thou hast appointed! and preserve me from mistaking the joy of nature, while it catches a glimpse of its rescue from destruction, for that consent of grace which embraces and insures the deliverance.