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though habitually committed upon that account, let them consider,
(1.) The angels who were the first and brightest offspring of the Creator, for one sin were decreed and doomed to an exclusion from the glory of heaven for ever. Mercy did not suspend the sentence: their mighty numbers, and the nobility of their nature, did not incline the Judge of the world to spare them. They are now in the chains of powerful justice, and have perpetual hell within them. And shall rebellious men, who are but dust in their original composition and final resolution, expect to escape vengeance? If we should see a hundred noble men executed in a day, the sight would strike us with terror: how much greater reason is there awfully to adore the inflexible Judge, for such a dreadful execution and example of justice upon an innumerable company of angels ?
(2.) To pardon sin is an act of greater power than to create the world : if we consider the distance of the terms, and the difficulty of the means, there is a wider distance between a righteous God infinitely provoked by sin, and the guilty creature, than between a state of not being, and the actual existence of the world. One powerful word raised this great world from its native nothing. But to accord the divine attributes between which there seemed a repugnance, and reconcile God to sinful men, cost the dearest price. The 'anxious sinner makes inquiry, “Shall I give the first-born of my body for the sin of my soul?" Mic. 7. That is too mean an offering: no less than the firstborn of the Almighty could by the sacrifice of himself make an atonement for our offences.
(3.) Vengeance belongs to God as well as forgiveness. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” · Rom. 1. . It was decreed in heaven, it is denounced in his word, and shall be executed by his just power in its season. There is a time to pardon, and a time to punish. God is styled “the God of patience :” in the present world “his patience has its perfect work.” But in the next world justice will gloriously appear against the wicked who are devoted to destruction. Forbearance is not forgiveness. The last day will close the accounts of the Judge of the world with sinners, and a terrible arrear will be exacted of them for all the treasures of his goodness and clemency wasted by them.
(4.) Those who indulge themselves in a course of sin upon the presumption of an easy pardon, are the most unworthy and incapable of divine mercy. They sin against the nature and end of grace: and by an immediate and direct opposition to it in the proper notion of grace, cut off all their pleas for it. It is true, God is very merciful, and easy to be entreated by those who sincerely repent and reform their lives : but he is inexorable to all those who harden themselves in their sins by the false and presumptuous hopes of his mercy. He declares in his word, that “when sinners despise the curse threatened against them, and bless themselves in their hearts, that they shall have peace, though they walk in the imagination of their own hearts, to add drunkenness to thirst; the Lord will not spare them, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against them, and all the curses written in this book shall lie upon them without mitigation or intermission.” Deut. 29. No less punishment than eternal damnation is equal to their sin. They resist and renounce mercy by their abusing it to the worst ends, yet are confident of their interest in it. What a prodigious contradiction is there between the hopes of presumptuous sinners and their practices ?. They kindle his anger every day, and inflame anger into wrath, and wrath into vengeance, and yet strongly fancy they shall find mercy. What a diabolical wonder is it, as astonishing as extraordinary miracles, but that it is commonly seen, that men without a promise, and against the threatening, should expect the favour of God, that is the portion of his children, and continue in high and actual rebellion? If a spark of reason or grain of faith were shining in their breasts, they would be restless in the apprehension of his fiery displeasure. The tempter over-reaches their minds by a double delusion, that they shall have time and grace to repent, and over-rules their wills, that the most terrible threatenings and divine dissuasives are not effectual to make thein forsake their sins. . They are secure, though not safe one hour: for it is in the power of their Judge, and they have reason to fear in his purpose, “to destroy them suddenly, and without remedy." Prov. 29. The presumptuous conceit of immense mercy has so fully possessed their minds, that like a powerful opiate it makes them sleep securely upon the brink of ruin: but conscience an immortal nature, and though it may be stupified, it cannot be extinguished. In the present life sometimes a sharp affliction awakens it into a furious activity; and then presuming sinners that have been indulgent to their lusts, despair of pardon: for when mercy, that is our only advocate in his bosom to avert' wrath for sins against the other attributes, shall turn our accuser, and solicit justice to revenge its dishonour upon those who have abused it, there remains no shadow of hope to refresh their sorrows. But suppose the charm be not unbound, and the self-deceiver continues his evil course to the end of life, and perishes pleasantly with the vain hopes of mercy, yet immediately after death his conscience will be irresistibly convinced of his outrageous provocations of the righteous God, and be more tormenting than the hottest flames of hell.
Let us attend to the instructive inference in the text, “ There is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared :" that is, with a fear of reverence for his amiable excellencies, for the attractives of his pardoning mercy; and of a caution, lest by abusing we should make a deadly forfeiture of it. If God should appear as an irreconcileable Judge, armed with terror against all offenders, the apprehension would produce hatred, and a dreadful flight from him: it would make men boldly wilful, and hara den them in their rebellions : for if they cannot be pardoned for
heir past sins, and can be but damned for their continuance in them, they will give licence to their roving and impetuous appetites, and commit iniquity with greediness. Now God has appointed a way for the pardon of sin, wherein there is a bright and equal discovery of his greatness and goodness, his purity and righteousness, that his law may be more sacred and inviolable, more remembered and obeyed by us. He has declared in the death of his Son, wherein the equal extremes of ignominy and torment were combined, what an evil sin is, that required such a mighty expiation. We may from the depth of his sufferings conceive the excess and height of our provocations: we may understand the deadly guilt of sin, that can only be washed away in the blood of Christ, the fountain of remission. To turn the grace of God into wantonness, to be more loose and secure in committing sin, is to turn the antidote into poison, and defeat his blessed end. It is a main article of our reconciliation, “ The Lord will speak peace to his people, but let them not return to folly.'
We may conceive, that God speaks to the pardoned sinner what our Saviour said to the man whom he miraculously healed, “Go away, sin no more, lest a worse thing befal you.”
It is both the duty and disposition of those who have received the pardon of their sins, “to fear the Lord and his goodness.” There is no principle more clearly natural and sensible than this: dependance includes observance; the receiving benefits obliges a person to the benefactor. Accordingly the psalmist expresses the affections of the human and the holy nature, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits ?” Psal. 116. and breaks out in an ecstacy of thankfulness, “O Lord, truly I am thy servant, I am thy servant, thou hast broken my bands.” The repenting believer receives pardon from God with joyful admiration, that fastens his mind in the contemplation of his glorious mercy: the serious thought of it kindles a sacred fire in his breast : as it is said of Mary Magdalen, “Much was forgiven her, for she loved much." Love to God that results from his pardoning love to us, is singular and supreme, and necessarily produces an ardent desire to please and glorify him, and an ingenuous grateful fear of offending him. The soul that has felt “the terrors of the Lord," as the holy and righteous Judge of the world, and afterward has been revived by the light of his countenance, and has tasted how good the Lord is, how is it possible to resist such dear and immense obligations ? How prodigious to turn the strongest and sweetest engagement to reverence and obedience, into an encouragement to do that whichi is odious and offensive in his sight? To sin against light heightens a sin into rebellion, but to sin against revealed love makes it “ above measure sinful.” This is so contrary to natural conscience and supernatural grace, that it is the leprosy of the wicked, not the spot of God's children: “Do you thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise?" The upbraiding reduces them to a defenceless silence, and covers them in black confusion. When divine grace pardons our past sins, it cures our depraved inclinations to future sins.
The clearest discovery of the heart is by reflections on God's mercy. The fear of God's justice is natural, the reverent regard of his goodness is a spiritual affection. There is a great difference between filial fear of the divine goodness that is so becom
ing the breast of a christian, and so congruous to our present state, and serviie fear, that is the proper character of one in the bondage of sin.
The filial fear of God is an ingenuous voluntary affection, flowing from love, and freely exercised, and esteemed the “ Treasure of the soul.” Servile fear, the sequel of guilt, is a judicial impression from the sad thoughts of the provoked majesty of heaven; and if the offender could dissolve the bands of conscience, he would throw it off. Filial fear is mixed with joy, it is the preservative of God's favour to us; it makes us more circumspect, but not less comfortable: it opposes security, but establishes the assurance of faith : the fear of the Lord, and “hope in his mercy,” are united graces. Servile fear “ has torment,” it is an alarm within that disturbs the rest of the sinner; it is a fretting fire that secretly torments him in his most luscious fruitions. Filial fear restrains from all sin in the heart and life, because it dishonours and displeases God; it denies the carnal appetites with sweetness and satisfaction to the soul; it excites us to obey God with choice and complacency. Servile fear induces an abstinence from some sins, which fly in the face of conscience, and which the sinner loves, and urges to the outward performance of duties, which he hates. The slavish spirit is afraid to burn, not to sin; he is fearful to be damned, not to displease God. Filial fear is a serious and habitual constitution of the soul, inseparable from it in all times and places, it is influential into the whole life. Servile fear is a sudden passion, and transient : sometimes a sharp affliction, a piercing sermon, awakens a secure wretch into a fit of terror. Filial fear keeps the soul close to God, makes it solicitous, lest any sin should intercept the light of his countenance, and obstruct communion with him, which is the paradise of a saint: it is the gracious promise of God to his children, “ I will put my fear into their hearts, and they shall never depart from me.” Servile fear makes the sinner shy of God's presence, and as unwilling to find him, as a saint is to lose him : he is not pleased with solitude, lest the guilty conscience should have time of recollection, and should look to the Judge above: he takes no delight in the society of saints, and the enjoyment of the ordinances, because God is peculiarly present there ; and above all things he is afraid to die, because then