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§. 2. But this I must premise, that the question is not, how thou wouldst answer to me, a weak sinful worm like thyself, who am shortly to stand with thee at the same bar: (the Lord grant that I may find mercy of the Lord in that day*!) But, what wilt thou reply to thy judge? What couldst thou plead, if thou wast now actually before his tribunal; where, to multiply vain words, and to frame idle apologies, would be but to increase thy guilt and provocation? Surely the very thought of his presence must supersede a thousand of those trifling excuses, which now sometimes impose on a generation that are pure in their own eyes, though they are not washed from their filthiness or while they are conscious of their own impurities, trust in words that cannot profit, and lean upon broken reeds ||. §. 3. You will not, to be sure, in such a circumstance plead, "that you are descended from pious parents." That was indeed your privilege; and woe be to you, that you have abused it, and forsaken the God of your fathers ¶. Ishmael was immediately descended from Abraham, the friend of God; and Esau was the son of Isaac, who was born according to the promise: yet you know they were both cut off from the blessing, to which they apprehended they had a kind of hereditary claim. You may remember, that our Lord does not only speak of one who could call Abraham father, who was tormented in flames** ; but expressly declares, that many of the children of the kingdom shall be shut out of it; and when others come from the most distant parts to sit down in it, shall be distinguished from their companions in misery, only by louder accents of lamentation, and more furious gnashing of teeth ++.
§. 4. Nor will you then presume to plead, "that you had exercised your thoughts about the speculative part of religion." For to what end can this serve but to increase your condemnation! Since you have broken God's law, since you have contradicted the most obvious and apparent obligations of religion, to have enquired into it, and argued upon it, is a circumstance that proves your guilt more audacious. What, did you think religion was merely an exercise of men's wit, and the amusement of their curiosity? If you argued about it, on the principles of common sense, you must have judged and proved it to be a practical thing: and if it was so, why did you not practise accordingly? You knew the particular branches of it: and why then did you not attend to every one of them? To have pleaded
2 Tim. i. 18. + Prov. xxx. 12. Jer. vii. 8. Isai. xxxvi. 6. 2 Chron. vii. 22. ** Luke xvi. 23, 24. ++ Matt. viii. 11, 12.
an unavoidable ignorance, would have been the happiest plea that could have remained for you: nay, an actual, though faulty ignorance, would have been some little allay of your guilt. But if, by your own confession, you have known your master's will, and have not done it, you bear witness against yourself, that you deserve to be beaten with many stripes*.
§. 5. Nor yet again will it suffice to say, "that you have had right notions, both of the doctrines and the precepts of religion." Your advantage for practising it was therefore the greater but understanding, and acting right, can never go for the same thing, in the judgment of God, or of man. In believing there is one God, you have done well; but the devils also believe and tremblet. In acknowledging Christ to be the Son of God, and the Holy One, you have done well too; but you know the unclean spirits made this very orthodox confession, and yet they are reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day. And will you place any secret confidence in that, which might be pleaded by the infernal spirits, as well as by you?
§. 6. But perhaps you may think of pleading, that you have actually done something in religion." Having judged what faith was the soundest, and what worship the purest, "you entered yourself into those societies, where such articles of faith were professed, and such forms of worship were practised; and among these you have signalized yourself, by the exactness of your attendance, by the zeal with which you have espoused their cause, and by the earnestness with which you have contended for such principles and practices.”—O sinner, I much fear that this zeal of thine, about the circumstantials of religion, will swell thine account, rather than be allowed in abatement of it. He that searches thine heart, knows from whence it arose, and how far it extended. Perhaps, he sees that it was all hypocrisy; an artful veil, under which thou wast carrying on thy mean designs for this world; while the sacred names of God and religion were profaned and prostituted in the basest manner; and if so, thou art cursed with a distinguished curse, for so daring an insult on the divine omniscience, as well as justice. Or perhaps the earnestness, with which you have been contending for the faith and worship, which was once delivered to the saints ¶, or which, it is possible, you may have rashly concluded to be that, might be mere pride and bitterness of spirit: and all the zeal you have expressed might
*Luke xii. 47. † James ii. 19. Luke iv. 34, 41. || Jude, ver. 6. ¶ Jude, ver. 3.
possibly arise from a confidence of your own judgment, from an impatience of contradiction, or some secret malignity of spirit which delighted itself in condemning, and even in worrying others; yea, which (if I may be allowed the expression,) fiercely preyed upon religion, as the tyger upon the lamb, to turn it into a nature most contrary to its own. And shall this screen you before the great tribunal? shall it not rather awaken the displeasure, it is pleaded to avert ?
§. 7. But say, that this your zeal for notions and forms has been ever so well intended, and so far as it has gone, ever so well conducted too; what will that avail towards vindicating thee in so many instances of negligence and disobedience, as are recorded against thee in the book of God's remembrance? Were the revealed doctrines of the gospel to be earnestly maintained, (as indeed they ought ;) and was the great practical purpose for which they were revealed to be forgot? Was the very mint, and anise, and cummin to be tithed, and were the weigh tier matters of the law to be omitted*; even that love to God, which is its first and great command +. Oh how wilt thou be able to vindicate even the justest sentence thou hast passed on others for their infidelity, or for their disobedience, without being condemned out of thine own mouth‡!
§. 8. Will you then plead, "your fair moral character, your works of righteousness and of mercy?" Had your obedience to the law of God been complete, the plea might be allowed, as important and valid. But I have supposed and proved above, that conscience testifies to the contrary; and you will not now dare to contradict it. I add farther, had these works of yours, which you now urge, proceeded from a sincere love to God, and a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you would not have thought of pleading them, any otherwise than as an evidence of your interest in the gospel covenant, and in the blessings of it, procured by the righteousness and blood of the Redeemer and that faith, had it been sincere, would have been attended with such deep humility, and with such solemn apprehensions of the divine holiness and glory, that instead of pleading any works of your own before God, you would rather have implored his pardon, for the mixture of sinful imperfection attending the very best of them. Now, as you are a stranger to this humbling and sanctifying principle, (which here, in this address, I suppose my reader to be,) it is absolutely necessary you should be plainly and faithfully told, that neither sobriety,
* Matt. xxiii. 23.
Matt. xxii. 38.
Luke xix. 22.
nor honesty, nor humanity, will justify you before the tribunal of God, when he lays judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet*, and examines all your actions, and all your thoughts, with the strictest severity. You have not been a drunkard, an adulterer, or a robber. So far it is well. You stand before a righteous God, who will do you ample justice : and therefore will not condemn you for drunkenness, adultery, or robbery. But you have forgotten him, your parent and your benefactor; you have cast off fear and restrained prayer before him; you have despised the blood of his Son, and all the immortal blessings that he purchased with it. For this therefore are you judged and condemned. And as for any thing that has looked like virtue and humanity in your temper and conduct, the exercise of it has in a great measure been its own reward, if there were any thing more than form and artifice in it; and the various bounties of divine providence to you amidst all your numberless provocations, have been a thousand times more than an equivalent for such defective and imperfect virtues as these. You remain therefore chargeable with the guilt of a thousand offences, for which you have no excuse; though there are some other instances, in which you did not grossly offend. And those good works, in which you have been so ready to trust, will no more vindicate you in his awful presence, than a man's kindness to his poor neighbours would be allowed as a plea in arrest of judgment, when he stood convicted of high treason against his prince.
§. 9 But you will, perhaps, be ready to say, 'you did not expect all this you did not think the consequences of neglecting religion would have been so fatal.' And why did you not think it? why did you not examine more attentively, and more impartially? why did you suffer the pride and folly of your vain heart, to take up with such superficial appearances, and trust the light suggestions of your own prejudiced mind, against the express declaration of the word of God? Had you reflected on his character, as the supreme Governor of the world, you would have seen the necessity of such a day of retribution as we are now referring to. Had you regarded the scripture, the divine authority of which you professed to believe, every page might have taught yon to expect it. You did not think of religion!' And of what were you thinking, when you forgot or neglected it? Had you too much employment of another kind? Of what kind, I beseech you? What end could you
Isai. xxviii. 17.
+ Job xv. 4.
propose by any thing else, of equal moment? Nay, with all your engagements, conscience will tell you, that there have been seasons, when for want of thought, time and life have been a burden to you: yet you guarded against thought as an enemy, and cast up (as it were) an intrenchment of inconsideration around you on every side, as if it had been to defend you from the most dangerous invasion. God knew you were thoughtless; and therefore he sent you line upon line and precept upon precept*, in such plain language, that it needed no genius or study to understand it. He tried you too with afflictions, as well as with mercies, to awaken you out of your fatal lethargy; and yet when awakened, you would lie down again upon the bed of sloth. And now, pleasing as your dreams might be, you must lie down in sorrow†. Reflection has at last overtaken you, and must be heard as a tormentor, since it might not be heard as a friend.
§. 10. But some may perhaps imagine, that one important apology is yet unheard, and that there may be room to say, you were by the necessity of your nature, impelled to those things, which are now charged upon you as crimes; whereas it was not in your power to have avoided them, in the circumstances in which you were placed.' If this will do any thing, it indeed promises to do much; so much, that it will amount to nothing. If I were disposed to answer you upon the folly and madness of your own principles, I might say, that the same consideration, which proves it was necessary for you to offend, proves also that it is necessary for God to punish you; and that, indeed, he cannot but do it: and I might farther say, with an excellent writer of our own age‡, That the same prinples which destroy the injustice of sins, destroy the injustice of punishment too.' But if you cannot admit this, if you should still reply in spite of principle, that it must be unjust to punish you for an action utterly and absolutely unavoidable; I really think you would answer right. But in that answer you will contradict your own scheme, (as I observed above;) and I leave your conscience to judge, what sort of a scheme that must be which would make all kind of punishment unjust for the argument will on the whole be the same, whether with regard to human punishment or divine. It is a scheme full of confusion and horror. You would not, I am sure, take it from a servant who had robbed you, and then fired your house: you would never inwardly believe, that he could not have helped it: or
Isai. xxviii. 10.