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we may not be found strangers at the mercy-seat, or compelled to cry out in ignorance and alarm, “Lord, teach us to pray.
Yet, various and unequivocal as are the instructions of the gospel, accordant as they are with the best conceptions we can form of the character of God, and the nature of men and virtue, it is astonishing to what extent this subject has been misunderstood and perverted in some systems of theology, and in the crude notions of multitudes, who still profess to follow Jesus Christ for their guide. What now, let us inquire, are his words?, “ Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees," that is, unless it be something better than the profession, or the outward garb of holiness, " ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." What is the character, to which this blessedness is promised ? “ Whoso doeth the will of my Father, who is in beaven.' “ For, the hour cometh, when all who are in their graves shall bear the voice of the Son of God, and shall come forth; they that have done good to the resur, rection of life, and they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation.” His apostles uniformly speak the same language. “ In every pation," saith Peter, is he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, shall be accepted of hin.” “ To them, who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, honour and iminortality, eternal life; but to them, who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, tribulation and wrath, indignation and anguish, upon every soul of man, that doeth evil.”
Indeed we must extract a large portion of the old and new Testaments, should we adduce only the plainest passages which teach, that the way of acceptance with God is an holy life; that our future condition will depend upon present character; in other words, that “God will render to every man according to bis deeds ;” that though after we have done all, we are but unprofitable servants, and our goodness cannot extend to him, yet through his mercy in Jesus Christ it shall be accepted; that, on the other hand, though our sins cannot hurt the impassible God, they are displeasing in his sight, and that the equity of his government, the sanctity of his laws, and especially the moral goodof his universe, demand, that they should receive a punishment proportioned to their extent; from which nothing in the whole course of divine providence or grace, in the compassion of God or the mediation of Christ shall save the sinner, but only deep and bumble penitence, approving its sincerity to the searcher of hearts in ihe future obedience of the life.
This treatinent of mankind according to their characters ; according to their improvement or abuse of gifts and opportuni
ties, their obedience or violation of God's commands, unequivocally declared, seems perfectly compatible with the noblest views we can form of the divine character; with the discipline we should expect, as most suited to rational and accountable creatures, and as exerting by its sanctions, its promises and threatenings, the most salutary influence on the peace and virtue of the world. Yet reasonable as it is, and plainly as it is taught, there are not a few, who cherish other grounds of hope, and it is to be feared, encourage themselves " in sin, that grace may abound.”
There are particularly two sentiments, contradictory indeed to each other, but equally opposed to the truth, and leading, it is believed, to the same pernicious and corrupting results : the one, grounded on mistaken views of the mercy of God in his Son, supposes that all men shall be saved without distinction of good or bad, and with no other punishment than they may suffer in the present life, having their sins freely pardoned through the mediation of Christ; the other, drawn from equally false conceptions of the divine grace in converting the most abandoned sinner, builds the hope of salvation on something wholly independent of ourselves, and granted only to God's elect, according to his uncontrollable and inexplicable sovereignty.
The danger of sentiments like these is great, both to the individuals who adopt them, and to the community in which they prevail. It is great, as might be expected, in exact proportion to their departure from the unerring standard of inspired truth. Whenever a man has learnt to persuade himself that he can attain eternal happiness on any other conditions than obedience, he has lost the strongest security to his virtue, and society their strongest security that he will not be a pestilent member. If he can believe, that through the inercy of God and the all-embracing mediation of Christ, his soul shall be safe, whatever sins he may have committed in the body; or that, though God hateth sin, he selects the most abandoned sinners as the monuments of his free regenerating grace ; on either of these grounds, his moral purity is in danger. For even should be admit, and with such believers it is sometimes triumphantly declared, as granting to them a more exclusive privilege,-that "strait is the gate and few there be that are saved,” yet sucb is the presumption, and did it not seem a solecism in terms, such is the spiritual pride of many self-deceived offenders, that they would fain persuade themselves, that they are of the chosen few; and that having no righteousness of their own, (which indeed may be literally true, and which they seem to value as an essential qualification) they will be clothed upon with the righteousness of Christ, and share the triumphs of the great salvation.
But we have not so learned Christ;, nor dare we rest our hopes on a baseless fabric. Such sentiments, we regard as among the perversions of pure christianity, most injurious in all their influence upon public and private morals; and, we believe that whoever with such a faith sball violate God's law, will find to bis anguish the falseness of his dependance, and in the solemn revelations of eternity will mourn, when it is too late, his departure from the way, the truth, and the life.
With regard to the first error, to which we have reference, it might be sufficient to urge, that the doctrine of future punishments as well as of rewards, of misery to the wicked as well as of happiness to the good, is forced upon the mind by every just view of the character and government of God, and by the survey of his unequal providence in the world, as seen in the frequent suffering of the good and in the apparent prosperity of the wicked. Much indeed may be urged, and justly, of the present sufferings of sin ; of the pangs of conscience, of the degradation and contempt, and other temporal disadvantages, to which it subjects men. Much may be urged, and justly, of the influence of conscious guilt in spoiling our best enjoyments; spreading a dark cloud over every object, and taking from the sinner the comfort of even his innocent pleasures. Who will question, that in a most important sense, “ there is no peace to the wicked”-no pleasure, in what fraud, or violence, or hy. pocrisy may procure ? But this is far froin reaching the extent of their demerits. Upbraiding conscience is silenced by the clamour of passion, and hardened by the habit of transgression. The vast proportion of habitual sinners do not reflect, and therefore do not suffer the pangs of compunction. It belongs to their unhappy character, that they proceed from worse to worse, and soon learn to give themselves up to commit all iniquity with greediness. The sentiment therefore, that their sin is adequately punished by its own miserable reflections in the present world, supposes a tenderness of conscience, an acute. ness of moral sensibility, which the sinner does not possess; a kind of punishment, of which habitual transgression has rendered him utterly unsusceptible.
It may still further be urged against this sentiment, that it involves a very partial and inadequate view of the moral government of God; that it makes a very slight distinction between the virtuous and the wicked, while it leaves vice without its most solemn and effectual restraint. For what forbids our ap
plying to a punishment that is to terminate with the present life, the same reflections, which we employ for our consolations under the afflictions of the world ? Poignant as they are, they cannot be of great importance in themselves, for they cannot continue long. We are accustomed to say to suffering virtue; only be patient for a season, and death shall bring thee thy crown. And with the same justice might the sinner sustain himself under the pressure of guilt; “my punishment will end with life, and after death I shall find the salvation of my soul, and share in the inheritance nf heaven, as though I had never sinned.”
We will not attempt to urge all the arguments which may be offered against this opinion,- we only add further, that it is absolutely opposed to the whole tenour of scripture. There is not a single text, that can fairly be adduced in its support, and pious industry would find it difficult to collect the passages, which without a figure, by various and energetic expressions, peremptorily and unequivocally assert the contrary. The glorious doctrine of the immortality of the soul is scarcely more frequently or more clearly exhibited. And we cannot but wonder and lament that any should so far pervert the oracles of God, as to persuade men to believe, that ihere is no punishment hereafter ; an error, we repeat, most dangerous to the interests of society; for it breaks down the barriers of conscience, and removes those salutary restraints, without which, neither virtue, nor reputation, nor property are secure.
Again ; in opposition to another fallacious hope, which is sometimes unguardedly inculcated and most dangerously cherished ; let not the impenitent expect his present peace or future acceptance from any sudden preternatural influences of divine grace, imparted in the hour of peril, on the bed of sickness, and least of all in the immediate prospect of death. Let him be assured, as from the truth of God, that all the reliance he can build on such foundation must prove delusive: for it is a presumptuous hope of what neither the wisdom nor the conpassion of God will grant. Not that we limit the grace of God. But what is meant by the grace of God? Is it not the influence of his pure spirit upon the mind and heart to enlighten darkness, to strengthen weakness, and to belp us to will and to do of his good pleasure? But it is granted, not arbitrarily and in uncertain measures, but by established laws, in accordance with natural light, in co-operation with known principles of our nature, maintained as well as appointed by the Lord of nature. It is granted, not in the way of sin, or even of mere expectation, but in the course of active duty; not to supersede our efforts and leave us to indolence, but in answer to prayer and in dili
gent use of opportunity, to aid and quicken us. Because we find in the history of the apostles, that St. Paul was suddenly converted on his way to Damascus, and from a persecutor became the most zealous and successful minister of Christ, some are presumptuous enough to imagine, that the like signal interposition may be wrought for them. They do not reflect, that here was a miraculous appearance of Jesus Christ himself to one, chosen from the whole world to be, not an bumble private christian, but the apostle of the Gentiles, to proclaim the message of salvation to the whole earth; the instrument un. der God by his preaching and his writings of leading many, even unborn and unnumbered generations, to glory. They do not reflect, that the power, which converted him, was the same miraculous agency, that restored sight to the blind, bealth to the sick, and life to the dead; that it was exerted at a period, when miracles were in the due order and course of divine providence for the first establishment of the christian faith ; when such interpositions were needed, and therefore bestowed. But now, when miracles have ceased, and the great objects for which they were designed are accomplished, in the wide extension and the glorious triumphs of christian faith, can any indulge the hope, that the usual course of God's moral government is to be interrupted for their sakes? After in his bounteous mercy he has set before us all the means and encouragements, that can possibly be addressed to rational and accountable creatures, can they expect that any agency will be exerted for them, contrary to that wise and salutary course, of all others best adapted to its end,“ ordered in all things and sure?” It is sufficient, that the grace of God is promised freely to all who ask it and will improve it, in measures and methods suited to our moral exigencies, and to our character as free and accountable agents. Holiness or virtue from its very nature cannot be forced upon us. It must be our voluntary choice, for otherwise there is no virtue. It must be the growth of time, and can be proved to be real only by trial; by the resistance of evil, and by the abundant fruits of righteousness. The providence of God, it is never to be forgotten, is continually acting for us in the ordinary events of life, setting before us striking events, exciting us to reflection alike by blessings and by chastisement, teaching us solemnly our frailty, our exposure to death, and the vanity of the fairest earthly prospects. Thus it is designed to admonish, to quicken, and to purify. To this great end it is acting every day for even the most abandoned sinner. To him, no less than to the obedient and faithful, the word of God addresses its rebukes, its threat