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but sin, till thou art reconciled to God? Wherefore then dost thou say, I must do this and this first, and then I shall believe. Nay, but first believe. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the propitiation for thy sins. Let this good foundation first be laid, and then thou shalt do all things well.
2. Neither say in thy heart, "I cannot be accepted yet, because I am not good enough." Who is good enough? Who ever was? To merit acceptance at God's hands! Was ever any child of Adam good enough for this? Or, will any, till the consummation of all things? And, as for thee, thou art not good at all: there dwelleth in thee no good thing. And thou never wilt be good, till thou believe in Jesus. Rather thou wilt find thyself worse and worse. But is there any need of being worse, in order to be accepted? Art thou not bad enough already? Indeed thou art, and that God knoweth. And thou thyself canst not deny it. Then delay not. All things are now ready. "Arise, and wash away thy sins." The fountain is open. Now he shall purge thee as with hyssop, and thou shalt be clean: he shall wash thee, and thou shalt be whiter than snow.
3. Do not say, "But I am not contrite enough: I am not sensible enough of my sins," I know it. I would to God, thou wert more sensible of them, more contrite a thousand fold than thou art. do not stay for this. It may be God will make thee so, not before thou believest, but by believing. It may be, thou wilt not weep much, till thou lovest much, because thou hast had much forgiven. In the mean time, look unto Jesus. Behold, how he loveth thee! What could he have done more for thee which he hath not done?
"O Lamb of God, was ever pain,
Look steadily upon him, till he looks on thee, and breaks thy hard heart. Then shall thy head be waters, and thy eyes fountains of tears.
4. Nor yet do thou say, "I must do something more before I come to Christ." I grant, supposing thy Lord should delay his coming, it were meet and right to wait for his appearing, in doing so far as thou hast power, whatsoever he hath commanded thee. But there is no necessity for making such a supposition. How knowest thou that he will delay? Perhaps he will appear, as the day-spring from on high, before the morning light. O, do not set him a time! Expect him every hour. hour. Now, he is nigh! Even at the door!
5. And to what end wouldst thou wait for more sincerity, before thy sins are blotted out? To make thee more worthy of the grace of God? Alas, thou art still " establishing thy own righteousness." He will have mercy, not because thou art worthy of it, but because his compassions fail not: not because thou art righteous; but, because Jesus Christ hath atoned for thy sins.
Again, if there be any thing good in sincerity, why dost thou expect it before thou hast faith? Seeing faith itself is the only root of whatever is really good and holy.
Above all, how long wilt thou forget, that whatsoever thou dost, or whatsoever thou hast, before thy sins are forgiven thee, it avails nothing with God, toward the procuring of thy forgiveness? Yea, and that it must all be cast behind thy back, trampled under foot, made no account of, or thou wilt never find favour in God's sight; because, until then, thou canst not ask it, as a mere sinner, guilty, lost, undone, having nothing to plead, nothing to offer to God, but only the merits of his well-beloved Son, who loved thee, and gave himself for thee.
6. To conclude. Whosoever thou art, O man, who hast the sentence of death in thyself, who feelest thyself a condemned sinner, and hast the wrath of God abiding on thee: unto thee saith the Lord, Not, Do this perfectly obey all my commands and live: but, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." The word of faith is nigh unto thee; now, at this instant, in the present moment, and in thy present state, sinner as thou art, just as thou art, believe the gospel and I will be merciful unto thy unrighteousness, and thy iniquities will I remember no more.
THE WAY TO THE KINGDOM.
The kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the
THESE words naturally lead us to consider, first, the nature of true religion, here termed by our Lord, The kingdom of God, which, saith he, is at hand: and, secondly, the way thereto, which he points out in those words; Repent ye, and believe the gospel.
I. 1. We are, first, to consider the nature of true religion, here termed by our Lord, The kingdom of God. The same expression the great apostle uses in his epistle to the Romans, where he likewise explains his Lord's words, saying, "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost," xiv. 17.
2. The kingdom of God, or true religion, is not meat and drink. It is well known, that not only the unconverted Jews, but great numbers of those who had received the faith of Christ, were, notwithstanding, zealous of the law, Acts xxi. 20, even the ceremonial law of Moses. Whatsoever therefore they found written therein, either concerning meat and drink offerings, or the distinction between clean
some of them taught, wheresoever they came among them, "Except ye be circumcised, and keep the law, (the whole ritual law,) ye cannot be saved." Acts xv. 1. 24.
3. In opposition to these, the apostle declares, both here and in many other places, that true religion does not consist in meat and drink, or in any ritual observances: nor, indeed, in any outward thing whatever, in any thing exterior to the heart; the whole substance thereof lying in "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
4. Not in any outward thing; such as forms or ceremonies, even of the most excellent kind. Supposing these to be ever so decent and significant, ever so expressive of inward things: supposing them ever so helpful, not only to the vulgar, whose thought reaches little farther than their sight; but even, to men of understanding, men of stronger capacities, as doubtless they may sometimes be: yea, supposing them, as in the case of the Jews, to be appointed by God himself; yet even during the period of time, wherein that appointment remains in force, true religion does not principally consist therein; nay, strictly speaking, not at all. How much more must this hold concerning such rights and forms, as are only of human appointment! The religion of Christ rises infinitely higher, and lics immensely deeper than all these. These are good in their place; just so far as they are in fact subservient to true religion. And it were superstition to object against them, while they are applied only as occasional helps to human weakness. But let no man carry them further. Let no man dream, that they have any intrinsic worth; or that religion cannot subsist without them. This were to make them an abomination to the Lord.
5. The nature of religion is so far from consisting in these, in forms of worship, or rites and ceremonies, that it does not properly consist in any outward actions, of what kind soever. It is true, a man cannot have any religion who is guilty of vicious immoral actions; or who does to others, what he would not they should do to him, if he were in the same circumstance. And it is also true, that he can have no real religion, who "knows to do good, and doth it not." Yet may a man both abstain from outward evil, and do good, and still have no religion. Yea, two persons may do the same outward work; suppose, feeding the hungry, or clothing the naked: and, in the mean time, one of these may be truly religious, and the other have no religion at all: for the one may act from the love of God, and the other from the love of praise. So manifest it is; that although true religion naturally leads to every good word and work, yet the real nature thereof lies deeper still, even in "the hidden man of the heart."
6. I say of the heart. For neither does religion consist in Orthodoxy or right opinions; which, although they are properly outward things, are not in the heart, but the understanding. A man may be orthodox in every point; he may not only espouse right opinions, but zealously defend them against all opposers: he may think justly con, VOL. 5-I
cerning the incarnation of our Lord, concerning the ever blessed Trinity, and every other doctrine, contained in the oracles of God: he may assent to all the three creeds; that called the apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian: and, yet it is possible, he may have no religion at all, no more than a Jew, Turk, or Pagan. He may be almost as orthodox-as the devil; (though, indeed, not altogether. For every man errs in something; whereas we cannot well conceive him to hold any erroneous opinion) and may, all the while, be as great a stranger as he, to the religion of the heart.
7. This alone is religion, truly so called: this alone is in the sight of God of great price. The apostle sums it all up in three particulars, "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." And first, righteousness. We cannot be at a loss concerning this, if we remember the words of our Lord, describing the two grand branches thereof, on which "hang all the law and the prophets." "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength. This is the first and great commandment," (Mark xii. 30.) the first and great branch of Christian righteousness. Thou shalt delight thyself in the Lord thy God; thou shalt seek and find all happiness in him. He shall be "thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward," in time, and in eternity. All thy bones shall say, "Whom have I in heaven, but thee? And there is none upon earth, that I desire beside thee !" Thou shalt hear, and fulfil his word, who saith, "My son, give me thy heart." And, having given him thy heart, thy inmost soul, to reign there without a rival, thou mayest well cry out, in the fulness of thy heart, "I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my strong rock, and my defence; my Saviour, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust; my buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge."
8. And the second commandment is like unto this; the second great branch of Christian righteousness is closely and inseparably connected therewith, even "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Thou shalt love-Thou shalt embrace with the most tender good-will, the most earnest and cordial affection, the most inflamed desires of preventing or removing all evil, and of procuring for him every possible good,-Thy neighbour;-that is, not only thy friend, thy kinsman, or thy acquaintance; not only the virtuous, the friendly, him that loves thee, that prevents, or returns thy kindness; but every child of man, every human creature, every soul which God hath made; not excepting him whom thou never hast seen in the flesh, whom thou knowest not, either by face or name: not excepting him whom thou knowest to be evil and unthankful, him that still despitefully uses and persecutes thee. Him thou shalt love as thyself; with the same invariable thirst after his happiness in every kind; the same unwearied care to screen him from whatever might grieve or hurt, either his soul or body.
9. Now is not this love "the fulfilling of the law?" The sum of all Christian righteousness? Of all inward righteousness: for it
necessarily implies "bowels of mercy, humbleness of mind,” (secing "love is not puffed up) gentleness, meekness, long-suffering," (for love "is not provoked;" but "believeth, hopeth, endureth all things ;") and of all outward righteousness; for "love worketh no evil to his neighbour," either by word or deed. It cannot willingly either hurt or grieve any one. And it is zealous of good works. Every lover of mankind, as he hath opportunity, "doth good unto all men," being "(without partiality, and without hypocrisy) full of mercy, and good fruits."
10. But true religion, or a heart right toward God and man, implies happiness, as well as holiness. For it is not only righteousness, but also "peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." What peace? The peace of God, which God only can give, and the world cannot take away: the peace which "passeth all understanding," all (barely) rational conception; being a supernatural sensation, a divine taste of "the powers of the world to come;" such as the natural man knoweth not, how wise soever in the things of this world: nor, indeed, can he know it, in his present state, "because it is spiritually discerned." It is a peace that banishes all doubt, all painful uncertainty; the Spirit of God bearing witness with the spirit of a Christian, that he is a child of God. And it banishes fear, all such fear as hath torment; the fear of the wrath of God, the fear of hell, the fear of the devil, and in particular, the fear of death; he that hath the peace of God, desiring, if it were the will of God," to depart, and to be with God."
11. With this peace of God, wherever it is fixed in the soul, there is also "joy in the Holy Ghost:" joy wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost, by the ever-blessed Spirit of God. He, it is, that worketh in us, that calm, humble rejoicing in God, through Christ Jesus, "by whom we have now received the atonement," xaraλ207/20 the reconciliation with God; and that enables us boldly to confirm the truth of the royal Psalmist's declaration, "Blessed is the man (or rather happy) ns, whose unrighteousness is forgiven, and whose sin is covered." He it is, that inspires the Christian soul, with that even, solid joy, which arises from the testimony of the Spirit, that he is a child of God; and that gives him to "rejoice with joy unspeakable, in hope of the glory of God;" hope both of the glorious image of God, which is in part, and shall be fully "revealed in him :" and of that crown of glory which fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for him.
12. This holiness and happiness joined in one, are sometimes styled in the inspired writings, the kingdom of God, (as by our Lord in the text) and sometimes, The kingdom of heaven. It is termed the kingdom of God, because it is the immediate fruit of God's reigning in the soul. So soon as ever he takes unto himself his mighty power, and sets up his throne in our hearts, they are instantly filled with this "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." It is called the kingdom of heaven, because it is (in a degree,) heaven