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by that Father of all mercies, against whom he has thus finally rebelled, to a reprobate mind. Henceforth he is only endured as a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction. At first a partial, then an open infidel, exiled from the sanctuary, scorning the Scriptures, and making a mock of sin and holiness alike, it becomes impossible that he should be renewed to repentance. No more sacrifice for sin remaineth for him, but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. Accordingly, God sends upon him strong delusion, that he should believe a lie and be damned, because he believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. The Saviour only weeps over him as over Jerusalem, crying with a tenderness inexpressible, “ How often would I have gathered thee, as a hen gathereth “ her chickens ; but thou wouldst not. Oh that thou hadst “ known, even thou, in this thy day, the things which belong “ to thy peace! but now are they hidden from thine eyes." Woe unto thee, miserable apostate ; it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for thee.
From this passage of Scripture thus explained we learn,
I. The immeasurable importance of cherishing in the heart convictions of sin.
The state of mind denoted by this phraseology is, I acknowledge, often wearisome and distressing. To have a realizing consciousness of our guilt; to have vivid apprehensions of the danger which it involves ; to look back on a life spent only in rebellion against God, and forward with a fearful expectation of suffering the effects of his anger against impenitence, is unquestionably terrifying to an awakened mind; and but for the aid given us by the tender mercy of our Creator, would easily overwhelm us with agony and despair. That we should earnestly wish for deliverance from such a condition is inwoven in our nature; and that we should feel desirous of a deliverance from it by almost any means, especially when labouring under peculiar anguish, and still more especially when that anguish has been long continued, may not unnaturally be expected from the frailty and feebleness of our character. Hence multitudes have in all ages of Christianity been found, who, under the pressure of painful truths and distressing apprehensions, have, like some of our Saviour's hearers, turned back, and refused any more to walk with Christ.
In the text, the danger of this conduct is exhibited in the most terrible manner. Let me beseech you solemnly to ponder this awful representation. Ponder it deeply. Ponder it often. Let it lie near your hearts. Let it awaken all your fears.
You may possibly reply, that this is a figurative representa tion, a parable, an allegory. Be it so. Construe it as favourably for yourselves as you can! soften its terrible declarations as much as you can. There will still remain in it sufficient alarms to make the ears of every one of you who is not deaf to tingle, and the heart of every one of you who is not torpid to shrink with dismay.
From a state of conviction, however distressing it may seem, there are but two ways of escape.
One of them leads to endless life, the other to endless death. The former is the way of repentance, faith, and holiness, the latter that of stupidity, hardness of heart, the resumption of sin, and the abandonment of religion. Of those who terminate their convictions, how different is the disposition, the progress, and the end. Who would not choose the former ? Who would not tremble to assume the latter?
Cherish, then, if you possess them, these convictions, however painful they may seem, however long they may continue. Keep your eyes open upon your guilt, upon your danger, and upon the only way of escape from both. Search the Scriptures diligently for these instructions and warnings, which on the one hand will teach you your duty and your danger, and on the other will keep your minds vigorously alive to the importance of both. The threatenings found in that sacred book, meet, with awe and apprehension. The invitations and the promises, welcome, with gratitude, wonder, and delight. Mark the gracious terms in which they are given, and adore the divine Spirit of condescension and mercy by which they are dictated. Regard the distresses which you feel at this period as a wise man regards the probe by which his wounds are searched and healed. To yourselves you may seem as losing a right hand or a right eye, but remember it is better to enter into life maimed, than with two eyes and two hands to be cast into the fire of hell. Bow your knees daily to the Father of all mercies, with the language and spirit of the publican, and cry each of you to him in anguish of heart, “ God be merciful “ unto me a sinner.” Seize every opportunity to converse with that frankness which opens all the heart with good men, whose affectionate instructions may enlighten, quicken, and strengthen you ; may give you consolation and hope, and persuade you to endure to the end. .
II. We learn from these observations the high interest which persons in this situation have in being directed in their duty by sound wisdom.
Such persons betake themselves, of course, to some or other of those around them for instruction and comfort, especially when, as is often the case, they themselves are imperfectly acquainted with subjects of this nature. Multitudes in such cases are usually willing enough to take into their hands the business of instructing them, and not unfrequently volunteer their services. Let me exhort you to remember that many of these are totally unfit for the office which they assume. If you commit yourselves to the guidance of ignorant persons, they will be unable to point out to you your duty or your safety; if to that of philosophical Christians, they will perplex you with distinctions and refinements in speculation, by which you will be only bewildered. If you fall into the hands of bigotry, you will be told that your safety is found alone in the adoption of those opinions and those practices about which this spirit is so unreasonably employed; opinions and practices usually wrong in their nature, and always in the degree of importance attached to them. If you go to enthusiasts they will
teach you that religion consists in fervour, in impulses, in immediate revelations from heaven, things unknown to the Scriptures, and estranged from piety. They will also tell
that its existence is evidenced by the sudden arrival of scriptural texts to your minds, of which you had no expectation, and for the coming of which you were absolutely unprepared; by the violence of your zeal, by the abundance of your conversation about religious subjects, by high pretensions, and by that spirit of censoriousness which denies the character of piety to sober Christians. The superstitious man will inform you that you must tithe mint, anise, and cummin, and will be perfectly satisfied that you should neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. The frozen-hearted moralist will persuade you that if you speak truth, pay your debts, and occasionally administer to the necessities of the poor, you will find yourselves in the path to heaven, and have nothing to fear from the anger of God, although your hearts will still remain deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. All these are blind guides; and if the blind lead the blind both will fall into the ditch.
In every case of this nature apply yourselves directly and only to sober, enlightened, and pious men, whose lives prove their piety, whose conversation carries irresistible evidence of their wisdom. Especially betake yourselves to ministers of the Gospel, who clearly and evangelically sustain this character. If you walk with these men you will become wise. They will show you the path of life, they will persuade you to enter it. Pour forth to them all your hearts, your sins, your temptations, your difficulties, your fears, and your hopes. The instructions which they will be able to give you will be safe, comforting, full of hope, and full of peace. Their counsels will be a light to your feet and a balm to your wounds. They will take you by the hand, lead you in the path of righteousness, and guide you towards heaven.
III. We also learn from this parable the miserable situation of unawakened sinners. These persons have not indeed incurred all the guilt and all
the danger of those who have been the principal subjects of this discourse. Still their condition is, and is here exhibited as being, deplorable. “ When the unclean spirit is gone out “ of a man,” says our Saviour. The departure of this unclean spirit, if the commentators to whom I have referred have construed the passage aright, is the era at which convictions begin in the soul. Of course till this time he resided there in quiet. Think what it is for the soul to be possessed by this foul and dreadful inhabitant, and remember that the representation is that of Christ himself. It is therefore just. Sin is an unclean spirit, of sufficient subtlety, foulness, power, and malignity to corrupt any mind beyond the hope of restoration. In the case supposed, the case, as there is too much reason to fear, of not a small number in this house, the excessive danger lies in this every such person is at ease concerning his moral condition. This unclean spirit has acquired an entire ascendancy over him, and dwells and reigns in his heart without a rival, and without an attempt to resist his influence, or to escape from his dominion. All is quiet and silent within, but it is the stillness of death and the repose of the grave.
Be roused, then, to a sense of your condition. Open your eyes to your sins, your guilt, and your approaching ruin. Feel that you are in greater danger because you suppose yourselves safe. Your insensibility is the stupor of the apoplexy. You sleep on the top of a mast, and the waves of perdition roll be neath you. How can you hope to escape if you will not so much as open your eyes to see your danger? Remember how often the alarm has been rung in your ears, and has left you as it found you, crying in half-articulated sounds, “ A little
more sleep, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the “ hands to sleep." You have been tenants of the tomb, and have slumbered over the pit of destruction. If you are not lifeless, if you are not hopeless, listen. The voice of inspiration calls to you, “ Awake, or sleep to wake no more."