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I conclude with the clause, that I have so often repeated and which I again repeat, (and woe be to him who forgets it! woe be to him who, by his perseverance in sin, rendereth his compliance impossible !) if you sincerely forsake, and seriously endeavor to reform and repair them. I give you a subject to meditate for the conclusion of this discourse, (a very terrible and alarming conclusion for those who have the madness to turn the grace of God into, lasciviousness,) Jude 4. this subject, which I leave with you to meditate, is, What degree of punishment in hell will be inflicted upon such men as despise the mercy that we have been describing? God grant you may never be able to answer this by your own experience! Amen.
The Severity of Gob.
Hebrews xii. 29.
Por our God is a consuming fire.
TT is a very deplorable thing, that your preachers
I can never expatiate on the goodness of God, without having just grounds to fear that you infer dangerous consequences from their doctrine. That goodness, of which God hath made such tender de clarations; that goodness, of which he hath given us such astonishing proofs ; that goodness, which seems so proper to make us love him above all things; that goodness, through our abuse of it, contributes the most, to rivet our infidelity, and to increase our misery. We freely acknowledge, therefore, that with fear and trembling we endeavored last Lord's day, to display its greatness, and, though all our protraits were infinitely beneath the original, though we esteemed it then our happiness, and our glory, not to be able to reach our subject, yet we have been afraid of having said too much. When, to prevent the fatal effects of despair, we assured you, that though you had trafficed with the blood of the oppressed, or betrayed the state, or sold your country, yet you might derive from the ocean of divine mercy, a pardon for all these crimes, provided you were enabled sincerely to repent, and thoroughly to reform them; when we said these things, we revolved in our minds these discouraging thoughts: perhaps, some of our hearers may poison our doctrine : perhaps some monster, of which
nature produceth an example in every age, actually saith to himself; I may then, without despairing of my salvation, traffic with the blood of the oppressed, betray the state, sell my country, and, having spent my life in these wicked practices, turn to God on my death-bed. You will allow, we hope, that the bare probability of our having occasioned so dangerous a wound, ought to engage us to attempt to heal it, by contrasting to-day the goodness of God with his severity.
The text we have chosen is the language of St. Paul, Our God is a consuming fire; and, it is worthy of observation, we have scrupulously imitated the apostle's example in making this subject immediately succeed that which we explained last Lord's day. The gospel of last Lord's day was a passage in Isaiah, God will abundantly pardon, for his thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways his ways ; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his ways higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts, ch. lv. 7. The gospel of this day is, Our God is a consuming fire. St. Paul hath made a similar arrangement, and him we have imitated. In the verses which precede our text he hath described, in a very magnificent manner, the goodness of God in the dispensation of the gospel. He hath exalted the condition of a christian, not only abave that of the heathens, who knew the mercy of God only by natural reason, but even above that of the Jews, who knew it by revelation, but from whom it was partly hidden under veils of severity and rigor. Ye are not come, said he, unto the mount that be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words, which voice they that heard, intreated that the word should not be spo-.
ker to them any more. But ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel, ver. 18, &c. But what consequences hath the apostle drawn from all these truths? Are they consequences of security and indifference, such as some christians draw from them, such as some of you, it may be, drew from the prophet's doctrine last Lord's day? No; they are consequences of vigilance and fear : See that ye refuse not him that speaketh : for if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven ; for our God is a consuming fire, ver. 25.
Our God is a consuming fire. These words are metaphorical; they include even a double metaphor. God is here represented under the emblem of fire, agreeably to what the psalmist saith, Shall thy wrath burn like fire ? Psal. lxxxix. 46. There is no difficulty in this first metaphor. But the second, which representeth the conduct of God towards impenitent sinners, as wrath, vengeance, anger, is very difficult, and requires a particular explication. In order to which we will attempt three things.
I. We will endeavor to harmonize our text with other parallel passages, and to give you distinct ideas of that which is called in God, wrath, anger, vengeance, and which occasioned our apostle to say God is a consuming fire. · II. We will prove that this attribute agrees to God in the sense that we shall have given.