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this from your own complaints, what am I saying? from your own complexion, from the alarms of your friends, and from the terrors of your own family; the man, who is shocked to see that all this makes no impression upon you, but that you live a life of dissipation and security, which would be unpardonable in a man, whose firm health might seem to promise him a long life; the man who cries to you, awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light, Eph. i. 11. improve the remainder of life, the breath which, though it leaves thee to totter, prevents thy falling down dead. Is this the man, the rigid casuist who offends and irritates you? Such maxims, such discourses, such books, such sermons, are they the systems of morality, which confound you, and drive you to despair
After all, where are the sinners, whom these casuists have driven to despair? Where are those tormented and distracted consciences ? For my part, *I see nothing, turn my eyes which way I will, but a deep sleep. I see nothing but security, lethargy, insensibility. 'How is it possible that the history of our text, that the language of Jesus Christ, Woman, thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace, that the voice of eternal truth should incline you to raise objections full of error and illusion? Is there no difference between your case and that of this penitent woman, none between Jesus Christ and your casuists? Is there any thing in which they agree? The casuist conversing with this penitent was a prophet, a prophet! he was a God, who, searched the reins and the hearts, who saw the bottom of her soul, and who penetrated through all the vails, with which a frail human heart is covered, and be- held the truth of her conversion and the genuineness of her grief: but you, my brethren, you have
no such casuists, and we can judge only by exter. nal performances, which ascertain your state only on condition that they proceed from your heart. Our penitent lay prostrate at the feet of the Lord of religion, who could save her, if he pleased, by extraordinary means, and who could deliver her from death and hell by a singular effort of power not to be repeated : but your casuists are servants, who act by commission, under express directions and orders, and who have no right to announce peace till you answer the description given in the royal instrument. Such ministers, whatever assurances of grace and pardon they affect to give, ought never to calm your consciences till you have exactly conformed to the orders of their and your sovereign master. Our penitent came to ask pardon in a free and voluntary manner, while she was in perfect health, all her actions were unconstrained and spontaneous : but you wait till death hales you to the tribunal of God, you loiter till the fear of eternal flames fright you away from such pleasures as you continue to love, and to which you would most likely return again, did not God spare you the shame by not giving you an opportunity. The penitent in our text did all she could in her circumstances to express the truth of her repentance, there was no sacrifice so dear that she did not offer, no victim so valuable that she did not stab, if I may use such an expression, with the knife of repentance, no passion so inveterate that she did not eradicate, no marks of love for her Saviour so tender that she did not with all liberality express. Behold her eyes flowing with tears over the feet of Jesus Christ, behold her hair dishevelled, her perfumes poured out, behold all the characters of sincerity, which we have observed in our first part. Is there any one mark of a true conversion, which she does not bear? But you, how many reserves, how many artifices have you? How many actions of your lives, which we must not be allowed to state to you in their true point of light? How many tempers in your hearts, which must not yet be touched ? Here, it is an enemy, the bare sound of whose name would increase your fever, and hasten your death. There it is an iniquitous acquisition, which you reserve for your son to enable him to take your name with greater honor, and to support with more dignity that vain parade, or rather that dust and smoke in which you have all your life involved yourself. Our penitent never deceived Jesus Christ: but you, you have deceived your casuist a thousand and a thousand times. Our penitent wept over the odious parts of her life, and, far from being too proud to confess her sins, gloried in her confession while she blushed for her crimes : but your eyes, on the contrary, your eyes are yet dry, and it is Jesus Christ, who is weeping at your feet, it is he, who is shedding tears over you, as formerly over Jerusalem, it is he who is saying, O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace ! O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways ! Luke xix. 42. Psal. Ixxxi. 13. It is not then to you, but it is to your kind of repentance that sentences of absolution ought to be refused. The repentance of the unchaste woman was exactly conformable to the covenant of grace, to the genius of the gospel, and to the end of the mission of Jesus Christ. Hence frorn the mouth of the Saviour of the world proceeded, in spite of her former libertinism, in spite of the cruel censure of the pharisee, and in spite of the murmuring of the guests, these comfortable words,
courav mat ereffect
Woman, thy sins are forgiven thee. Woman, thy faith hath saved thee. Go, depart in peace.
Here, my brethren, the evangelist finishes the history of the penitent woman ; and here we will finish this discourse. There is, however, one circumstance, which St. Luke hath omitted, and which, if I may venture to say so, I wish he had recorded in the most severe and circumstantial manner. What were the future sentiments of this wo. man after the courageous steps she had taken at her setting out? What emotions did absolution produce in her soul ? What effects in her conscience did this language of the Saviour of the world cause, Woman, thy sins are forgiven-thy faith hath saved thee-go in peace ! But there is nothing in this silence that ought to surprize us. Her joy was not a circumstance that came under the notice of the historian. In the heart of this frail woman converted and reconciled to God lay this mystery concealed. There was that peace of God which pas. seth all understanding, that joy unspeakable and full of glory, that white stone, and that new name, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. May you receive it, my brethren, that you may know it ! May the grief of a lively and bitter repentance wound your hearts, that mercy may heal and comfort them, and fill them with pleasure and joy! God grant us this grace! To him be honor and glory for ever. Amen.
THE VANITY OF ATTEMPTING TO OPPOSE
PROVERBS xxi. 30.
There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against
D OW mean and despicable soever the human 11 heart since the fall may be, there are always found in it some principles of grandeur and elevation. Like such superb edifices as time hath demolished, it discovers even in its ruins some vestiges of its primitive splendor. Whatever presents itself to man under the idea of great and noble, strikes and dazzles him : whatever presents itself to him under the idea of low and servile, shocks and disgust him. Accordingly one of the most formidable methods of attacking religion is to exbibit it as a contrivance fit for narrow geniusses and mean souls. One of the most proper means to establish irreligion is to represent it as suited to great and generous minds. To rise above vulgar ideas, to shake off the yoke of conscience, to derive felicity and glory from self, to make fortune, victory, providence, and deity itself yield to human will, these are pretensions, which have I know not what in them to flatter that foolish pride, which an erroneous mind confounds with true magnanimity.