« EdellinenJatka »
nion supposes, that a prophet ought not in any case to have patience with a woman of this sort. As if it were impossible for a prophet to have any design impenetrable to the eye of a pharisee! As if any one had a right to censure the conduct of a man under the direction of the infinite Spirit ! But it is because this man is a prophet, it is because he is more than a prophet, it is because he is the spring, the ocean, from which all the prophets derived the supernatural knowledge of the greatest mysteries of revelation, of predicting events the least likely to come to pass, of seeing into the most distant and impenetrable futurity; it is because of this, that he is capable of forming a just notion of . the character of a sinner, and the nature of sin. Yes, none but God can form such a judgment, Who art thou that judgeth another? Rom. xiv. 4. Such a judgment depends on so many difficult combinations, that none but an infinite intelligence is capable of making it with exactness. · In order to judge properly of a crime, and a criminal, we must examine the power of the temptations, to which he was exposed, the opportunities given him to avoid it, the force of his natural constitution, the motives that animated him, the resistance he made, the virtues he practised, the talents God gave him, the education he had, what knowledge he had acquired, what conflicts he endured, what remorse he has felt. An exact comparison ought to be made of his sins with his virtues, in order to determine whether sin prevails over virtue, or whether virtue prevails over sin, and on this confronting of evidence a proper idea of the sinner in question must be formed. It must be examined, whether he were seduced by ignorance, or whether he were allured by example, or whether he yielded through weakness, whether dissipation
or obstinacy, malice, or contempt of God and his law confirmed him in sin. On the examination of all these articles depends the truth of the judgment, which we form of a fellow creature. There needs nothing but one circumstance, nothing but one degree of more or less in a moral action to change the nature of it, to render it pardonable or irremissible, deserving compassion or horror. Now who is he, who is the man, that is equal to this combipation ? Accordingly, nothing more directly violates the laws of benevolence and justice, than some decisive opinions, which we think proper to give on the characters of our neighbors. It is indeed the office of judges to punish such crimes as disturb the peace of society; and each individual may say to his brethren, this is the path of virtue, that is the road of vice. We have authority i-. deed to inform them, that the unrighteous, that is, adulterers, idolaters, and fornicators shall not inherit the kingdom of God, i Cor. vi. 9, 10. Indeed we ought to apprize them of danger, and to make them tremble at the sight of the bottomless pit, toward which they are advancing a great pace: but to make such a combination as we have described, and to pronounce such and such people reprobates is rashness, it is to assume all the au-· thority of the sovereign judge.
There is in the opinion of the pharisee a selfish pride. What is it then that makes this woman deserve his indignation? At what tribunal will she be found more odious than other sinners who insolently lift their heads both in the world and the church? It is at the tribunal of pride. Thou superb pharisee! Open thine eyes, see, look, examine, there is within the walls, where thy feast is prepared, there is even at thy table a much greater sinner than this woman, and that sinner is thyself! The
sin, of which thou art guilty, and which is more abominable than unchastity, more abominable than adultery, more abominable than prostitution itself, is pride, and above all, pharisaical pride. The sin of pride is always hateful in the eyes of God, whether it be pride of honor, pride of fortune, or pride of power: but pride, arising from an opinion of our own righteousness is a direct crime against the divine majesty. On what principles, good God! is such a pride founded ! What insolence has he, who is animated with it when he presents himself before God? He appears without fear and dread before that terrible throne, in the presence of which seraphims cover their faces, and the heavens themselves are unclean. He ventures to say to himself, I have done all my duty. I have had as much respect for God Almighty as he deserves. I have had as much zeal and ardor in prayer as the exercise requires. I have so restrained my tongue as to have no word, so directed my mind as to have no thought, so kept my heart as to have no criminal emotion to reproach myself with; or if I have had at any time any frailty, I have so fully made amends for it by my virtue, that I have sufficiently satisfied all the just demands of God. I ask no favor, I want nothing but justice. Let the judge of the world call me before him. Let devouring fire, and eternal flames glitter in my presence. Let the tribunal of retribution be prepared before me. My arm shall save me, and a recollection of my own righteousness shall support me in beholding all these objects. You sufficiently perceive, my brethren, wisat makes this disposition so hateful, and we need not enlarge on the subject. Humility is the supplement of the virtues of the greatest saints. What application soever we have made to our duty, we have always fallen short of our obligations. We owe so much homage to God as to acknowledge, that we cannot stand before him, unless we be objects of his mercy; and a crime humbly acknowledged is more tolerable in his eyes, than a virtue set forth with pride and parade.
What above all poisons the judgment of the pharisee is that spirit of cruelty, which we have ob. served. He was content, though all the tears of true repentance shed by this woman were shed in vain, and wished, when the woman had recourse to mercy, that God would have assumed in that very instant a shocking character, that is, that he would have despised the sacrifice of a broken and a contrite heart, Psalm li. 17. It is delightful, my brethren, to combat such a fatal pretence. There is a high satisfaction in filling one's mind with just and elevated ideas of divine mercy. All we say against the barbarity of the pharisee will serve to strengthen our faith, when satan endeavors to drive us to despair, as he endeavored once to destroy us by security, when he magnifies the sins we have committed, as he diminished them, when he tempted us to commit them.
The mercy of God is not an abstract attribute, discovered with great difficulty through shades and darkness by our weak reason : but it is an attribute issuing from that among his other perfections, of which he hath given the most clear and sensible proofs, I mean his goodness. All things preach to us, that God is good. There is no star in the firmament, no wave of the ocean, no production of the earth, no plant in our gardens, no period in our duration, no gifts of his f vor, I had almost said no strokes of his anger, which do not contribute to prove this proposition, God is good.
An idea of the mercy of God is not particular to some places, to any age, nation, religion, or sect. Although the empire of truth doth not depend on the number of those that submit to it, there is always some ground to suspect we are deceived, when we are singular in our opinions, and the whole world contradict us: but here the sentiments of all mankind to a certain point agree with ours. All have acknowledged themselves guilty, and all have professed to worship a merciful God. Though mankind have entertained different sentiments on the nature of true repentance, yet all have acknowledged the prerogatives of it.
The idea of the mercy of God, is not founded merely on human speculations, subject to error : but it is founded on clear revelation ; and revelation preaches this mercy far more emphatically than reason. These decisions are not expressed in a vague and obscure manner, so as to leave room for doubt and uncertainty, but they are clear, intelligible, and reiterated.
The decisions of revelation concerning the mer. cy of God do not leave us to consider it as a doctrine incongruous with the whole of religion, or connected with any particular doctrine taught as a part of it: but they establish it as a capital doctrine, and on which the whole system of religion turns. What is our religion? It is a dispensation of mercy. It is a supplement to human frailty. It is a refuge for penitent sinners from the pursuits of divine justice. It is a covenant, in which we engage to give ourselves wholly up to the laws of God, and God condescends to accept our imperfect services, and to pardon our sins, how enormous soeever they have been, on our genuine repentance. The promises of mercy made to us in religion are not restrained to sinners of a particular order, nor to sins of a particular kind: but they regard all sinners and all sins of every possible kind. There