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Brethren, is this source of sophistry closed | faith, and that the restitution proceeded more in regard to you? If I may venture to speak from despair than true repentance; however, so, did the logic of your passions expire when he did repent, he did say, "I have sinned," Judas died? Which of us is not, so to speak, and he did restore the thirty pieces of silver, two different, yea opposite men according to which he had so basely acquired. the agitation of our spirits, and the dominion of our passions? Let any one of us be consult ed concerning a crime which we have no interest in committing or palliating, and we shall talk of nothing but equity, rectitude, and religion; but let us be questioned concerning the same crime when we have some interest in the commission of it, and behold! another language, another morality, another religion, or to say all in one word, behold another man.
To come to the point, under what pretext does not avarice conceal itself? How many forms does it take to disguise itself from the man who is guilty of it, and who will be drenched in the guilt of it till the day he dies! Sometimes it is prudence, which requires him to provide not only for his present wants, but for such as he may have in future. Sometimes it is charity, which requires him not to give society examples of prodigality and parade. Sometimes it is parental love, obliging him to save something for his children. Sometimes it is circumspection, which requires him not to supply people who make an ill use of what they get. Sometimes it is necessity, which obliges him to repel artifice by artifice. Sometimes it is good conscience, which convinces him, good man, that he has already exceeded in compassion and alms-giving, and done too much. Sometimes it is equity, for justice requires that every one should enjoy the fruit of his own labours, and those of his ancestors. Sometimes it is incompetence, perhaps indeed a little part of my wealth may be subject to some scruples, for who can assure himself that every farthing of his fortune has been acquired with the most strict regard to evangelical rectitude, but then I cannot tell to whom this restitution should be made, and till that is made, justice is not satisfied, there is no room for generosity. Sometimes . what am I about? who can make a complete list of all the pretences with which a miser disguises himself in his own eyes, and imagines he can disguise himself in the eyes of others!
But where are the Christians who repent of the extortions of which their avarice has caused them to be guilty? Where are Christians saying, "I have sinned?" Particularly, where are those Christians, who have made restitution? It is said there are some. I believe so, because credible people affirm it. But I declare solemnly, I have never seen one, and yet I have seen many people, whose hands were defiled with the accursed thing, whose magnificence and pomp were the fruit of the cursed thing. Extortioners of this kind have I never seen, I have never seen one of them repenting, and saying, "indeed I have sinned, and thus and thus have I done." I have never seen one, who has not invented as many pretexts to keep his ill-gotten wealth as he had invented to get it. In one word, I never saw one who understood, or was willing to learn the elements of Christian morality on the doctrine of restitution. How rare soever the conversion of sinners of other kinds may be, thanks to divine mercy, we have sometimes seen edifying examples of such conversions. We have seen voluptuous people groan at the recollection of their former debaucheries, efface the dissipations of their youth by the penitential grief, and pious actions of their mature age, and affix that body in a mortal illness to the cross of Christ, which, during health and strength they had devoted to luxury. We have seen assassins ready, if it were possible, to replace the blood they had shed with their own. We have seen vindictive people embrace inveterate enemies, and cover them with affectionate tears. But among that great number of dying people, who, we know with the utmost certainty, had become rich by oblique means; among the great number of soldiers and officers, who had robbed, plundered, and sacked; among the great number of merchants and tradesmen who had been guilty of falsehood, deceit, cheating, and perjury, and who by such means had acquired a splendid fortune; among all this great number, we have never seen one who had the resolution to assemble his family round his dying bed, and take his leave of them in this manner: "My dear children, I have been a scandal to you through life, I will now edify you by my death. I am determined in these last moments of my life to give glory to God by acknowledging my past transgressions. The greatest part of my fortune was acquired by artful and wicked means. These elegant apartments are furnished with my oaths and perjuries. This strong and well-finished house is founded on my treachery. My sumptuous and fashionable equipage is the produce of my extortions. But I repent now of my sins. I make restitution to church and state, to the public and individuals. I choose rather to bequeath poverty to you, than to leave you a patrimony under a curse. You will gain more by the example I give you of repentance, than you will by all my unjust acquisitions." An age, a whole century, does it furnish one such example?
5. Finally, let us consider the confession which the truth forced from Judas, in spite of his reigning passion, and in the same article, let us observe the remorse inspired by his passion, and the reparation his remorse compelled him to make. Presently I see the unhappy Judas recover himself from his infatuation. Presently he sees through the pretexts, which for a while disguised his passion, and concealed the horror of the crime he was going to commit. Presently I hear him say, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood," Matt. xxvii. 4. See, he hates the abominable thirty pieces of silver, the charm of which had allured him to commit the blackest crime, and to plunge himself into the deepest wo; see, he casts down the pieces of silver at the feet of those of whom he received them.
Christians, blush! Here the comparison of Judas with some Christians is greatly to the disadvantage of the latter. I am aware, that the confession of Judas was not sanctified by
Such is the face of mankind! Such the condition of the church! And what dreadful discoveries should we now make, could we look
into futurity as easily as we can examine the THE CAUSE OF THE DESTRUCTION present and the past! When Jesus Christ, that OF IMPENITENT SINNERS. good master, uttered this painful prophecy to his family sitting round him, "Verily I say unto you, one of you shall betray me," all his disciples were exceeding sorrowful, and every one said unto him, "Lord, is it " How many subjects for grief would rise to view, should God draw aside the veil that hides the destiny of all this assembly, and show us the bottomless abyss into which the love of money will plunge many who are present.
Let us prevent this great evil. Let us purify the spring from whence our actions and their consequences flow. Let us examine this idol, to which we sacrifice our all. Judge of the value of the riches in pursuit of which we are so eager, by the brevity of life. The best course of moral instruction against the passions, is death. The grave is a discoverer of the absurdity of sin of every kind. There the ambitious may learn the folly of ambition. There the vain may learn the vanity of all human things. There the voluptuous may read a mortifying lesson on the absurdity of sensual pleaBut this school, fruitful in instructions that concern all the passions, is profusely eloquent against avarice. I recollect an anecdote of Constantine the Great. In order to reclaim a miser, he took a lance and marked out a space of ground of the size of a human body, and told him, "add heap to heap, accumulate riches upon riches, extend the bounds of your possessions, conquer the whole world, in a few days, such a spot as this will be all you will have." I take this spear, my brethren, I mark out this space among you, in a few days you will be worth no more than this. Go to the tomb of the avaricious man, go down and see his coffin and his shroud, in four days these will be all you will have.
HOSEA xiii. 9.
O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thine help.
THESE words are so concise in the Hebrew text that no distinct idea can be affixed to them, unless we supply something. All expositors allow this. The only question is, what word ought to be supplied to express the prophet's meaning.
Some supply, "thine idols, or thy calves, have destroyed thee:" and by these they understand the images which Jeroboam placed at Samaria to prevent the ten tribes, who had revolted under his direction from the government of Rehoboam, from returning to that prince, as probably they might have been tempted to do, had they gone to worship the true God at Jerusalem.
Others supply, "thy king hath destroyed thee, O Israel," meaning Jeroboam, who had led the people of Israel into idolatry.
But not to trouble you with a list of the various opinions of expositors, I shall content myself with observing that which I think best founded, that is, the sense given by the ancient Latin version, Thy destruction is of thyself, O Israel, or, Thou art the author of thine own ruin. This translation which supplies less to the original, is also perfectly agreeable to the idiom of the Hebrew language. With this the version of our churches agrees, "thou hast destroyed thyself, or thou art destroyed," which is much the same, because others cannot destroy us unless we contribute by our negligence to our own destruction. This translation too is connected with what precedes, and what follows, and in general with the chief design of our prophet.
I conclude, and I only add one word of Jesus Christ. Our divine Saviour describes a man revolving in his mind great projects, thinking of nothing but pulling down and rebuilding, dying the same night, void, destitute, miserable, and terrified at seeing all his fancied projects of felicity vanish; on which our Lord makes this reflection, so is every one who layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God," Luke xii. 21. My God! how poor is he, though among piles of gold and silver, amidst all riches and plenty, who is not rich towards God! On the contrary, how enviable is the condition of a man hungry, indigent, and wrapped in rags, if he be rich towards God! Rich men! This is the only way to sanctify your riches. Be rich towards God. Ye poor people, this is all you want to support you under poverty, and to enable you to triumph even in your indigence. May we be all rich towards God! Let us all. Then shall be brought to pass the saying that accumulate a treasure of good works, it is the is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. most substantial wealth, and that only which O death where is thy sting? O grave, where will yield a bountiful harvest at last. "There is thy victory?" But, adds our prophet, "Sabe many that say, Who will show us any good? maria shall become desolate, for she hath reLord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance belled against her God." The text is therefore upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, connected with the foregoing and following more than in the time that their corn and their words according to this translation, "O Israel, wine increased," Ps. iv. 6, 7. Amen. thou hast destroyed thyself."
This chief design is very observable in most chapters of this prophecy. It is evident, the prophet intended to convince the Israelites, that God had discovered in all his dispensations, a desire to fix them in his service, to lead them to felicity by the path of virtue, and that they ought to blame none but themselves if judgments from heaven should overwhelm them, giving them up to the Assyrians in this life, and to punishment after death. This design seems to me most fully discovered in the latter part of this chapter, a few verses after the text, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction." You know, my brethren, St. Paul informs us that this promise will not be accomplished till after the general resurrection;
I class the text then among those passages of Scripture in which God condescends to exonerate his conduct in regard to sinners by declaring, that they ought to take the whole blame of their own destruction on themselves: and in this point of view I am going to consider it. The difficulties of this subject chiefly proceed from three causes, either from our notion of the nature of God-or the nature of religion -or the nature of man. We will examine these difficulties, and endeavour to remove them in the remaining part of this discourse.
I. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself." The first difficulties that seem to belong to this truth, are taken from the nature of God, who, having created nothing of which he had not an idea before, and having realized no idea, all the consequences of which he had not foreseen, is the author not only of every being that exists, but also of every thing that results from their existence, and seems for this very reason the only cause of the miseries of his creatures.
to complaining and disputing, replied, because my decree had determined otherwise."*
Were I to follow my own inclination, I should imitate this cautious reserve; but as silence on this subject is sometimes an occasion of imaginary triumph to the enemies of religion, and as it sometimes causes scruples in weak consciences, I think it absolutely necessary to say something towards removing this objection; and to prove, at least, that though we are incapable of fully satisfying ourselves on this subject, yet there is nothing in this incompetency favourable to the insults of infidels, or the doubts and fears of the scrupulous.
Now, my brethren, it seems to me, we cannot possibly imagine any more than two ways to satisfy ourselves on this subject: the one is to obtain a complete idea of the decrees of God, and to compare them so exactly with the disposition of sinners as to make it evident by this comparison, that sinners are not under a necessity of committing such crimes as cause their eternal destruction. The second is, to refer the subject to the determination of a being of the most unsuspected knowledge and veracity, whose testimony we may persuade ourselves is unexceptionable, and whose declaration is an infallible oracle.
The first of these ways is impracticable. To be able to demonstrate, by an exact comparison of the decrees of God with the nature of man, that sinners are not necessitated to commit such crimes as cause their eternal destruction, is, in my opinion, a work more than human. Many have attempted it, but though we cannot refuse the praise due to their piety, yet, it should seem, we owe this testimony to truth, that they have not removed all the objections to which the subject is liable.
It is much be wished, my brethren, that mankind were so apprised of the narrow limits of their own understanding, as not to plunge themselves into some deep subjects which they are incapable of fathoming, and so as to attribute to their natural incapacity, their incompetency to answer some objections against the perfections of God. Some pagans have been inore aware of this than many Christians; and the Persians, followers of Mohammed, have endeavoured to make their disciples comprehend it by an ingenious fable.
"There were, say they, three brethren, who all died at the same time; the two first were far advanced in age; the elder had always lived in a habit of obedience to God: the second, on the contrary, in a course of disobedience and sin; and the third was an infant, incapable of dis- I say more, I venture to predict, without tinguishing good from evil. These three bro- pretending to be a prophet, that all future thers appeared before the tribunal of God; the efforts will be equally unsuccessful. The reafirst was received into paradise, the second was son is, because it is an attempt to infer consecondemned to hell, the third was sent to a mid-quences from principles unknown. Who can dle place, where there was neither pleasure nor boast of knowing the whole arrangement, all pain, because he had not done either good or the extent, and all the combinations of the deWhen this youngest heard his sentence, crees of God? The depth of these decrees, the and the reasons on which the Supreme Judge obscure manner in which the Scripture expresgrounded it, sorry to be excluded from para- ses them, and if I may be allowed to say so, dise, he exclaimed, Ah, Lord! hadst thou pre- the darkness in which attempts to elucidate served my life as thou didst that of my good them have involved them, place them infinitely brother, how much better would it have been beyond our reach. As this method has been for me? I should have lived as he did, and then impracticable to this day, probably it will conI should have enjoyed as he does the happiness tinue so to the end of the world. of eternal glory! My child, replied God to him, I knew thee, and I knew hadst thou lived longer thou wouldst have lived like thy wicked brother, and like him wouldst have rendered thyself deserving of the punishment of hell. The condemned brother hearing this discourse of God, exclaimed, Ah Lord! why didst thou not then confer the same favour upon me as upon my younger brother, by depriving me of a life which I have so wickedly misspent as to bring myself under a sentence of condemnation? I preserved thy life, said God, to give thee an opportunity of saving thyself. The younger brother, hearing this reply, exclaimed again, Ah! why then, my God, didst thou not preserve-Does the eternal destination, which thou my life also, that I might have had an opportunity of saving myself? God, to put an end
Let us try the second. The question is, whether, allowing the decrees of God, God does any violence to sinners, compelling them to commit sin? Has not this question been fully answered by a Being, whose decisions are infallible oracles, and of whose testimony we cannot possibly form any reasonable doubt? Yes, my brethren, we know such a Being; we know a Being infinitely capable of deciding this question, and who has actually decided it. This Being is God himself.
To explain our meaning, and to show the connexion of the answer with the question, I will suppose you to put up this petition to God.
Voyag, de M. Chardin, tom. vii. P. 33.
hast made of my soul before I had a being, force my will do what they call predestination and reprobation in the schools destroy this proposition, that if I perish, my destruction proceeds alone from myself? My God, remove this difficulty, and lay open to me this important truth. I suppose, my brethren, you have presented this question, and that God answers in the following manner: The frailty of your minds renders this matter incomprehensible to you. It is impossible for men finite as you are to comprehend the whole extent of my decrees, and to see in a clear and distinct manner the influence they have on the destiny of man: But I who formed them perfectly understand them. I am truth itself, as I am wisdom. I do declare to you then, that none of my decrees offer violence to my creatures, and that your destruction can proceed from none but yourselves. As to the rest, you shall one day perfectly understand what you now understand only in part, and then you shall see with your own eyes what you now see only with mine. Cease then to anticipate a period, which my wisdom defers, and laying aside this speculation attend you to practice, fully persuaded that you are placed between reward and punishment, and may have a part in which you please. Is it not true, my brethren, that if God had answered in this manner, it would be carrying, I do not say rashness, but insolence to the highest degree to object against the testimony, or to desire more light into this subject at present? Now, my brethren, we pretend that God has given this answer, and in a manner infinitely more clear than we have stated it.
He has given this answer in those pathetical expostulations, in those powerful applications, and in those exhortations, which he employs to reclaim the greatest sinners. Now if the decrees of God forced sinners, if they did violence to their liberty, would the equity of God allow him to call men out of bondage, while he himself confined them in chains?
sinners, if they offer violence to their liberty, God would not be more merciful, if he grants fourscore years to a wicked man to repent in, than if he took him away suddenly on the commission of his first sin.
He has given this answer expressly in the text, and in many other parallel passages, where he clearly tells us, that after what he has done to save us, there are no difficulties insurmountable in our salvation, except such as we choose to put there. For if the divine decrees force men to sin, and offer violence to their liberty, the proposition in the text would be utterly false, and the prophet could not say on the part of God, "OʻIsrael, thou hast destroyed thyself."
As the first way of removing our difficulties is absolutely impossible, the second is fully open. God has not thought proper to give us a distinct idea of the connexion between his decrees and the liberty of sinners: but he has openly declared that they do not clash together. Let us make no more vain efforts to explain mysteries, a clear demonstration of which God has reserved for another life: but let us attend to that law, which he has required us to obey in the present state.
But men will run counter to the declarations of God in Scripture. "Things that are revealed, which belong unto us and our children for ever," we leave, and we lay our rash hands on "secret things, which belong unto the Lord our God." We lay aside charity, moderation, mutual patience, duties clearly revealed, powerfully pressed home, and repeated with the utmost fervour, and we set ourselves the task of removing insuperable difficulties, to read and turn over the book of God's decrees. We regulate and arrange the decrees of God, we elevate our pretended discoveries into articles essential to salvation and religion, and at length we generate doubts and fears, which distress us on a death-bed, and oblige us to undergo the intolerable punishment of trying to reconcile doctrines, the clearing of which is beyond the capacity of all mankind.
No, no: it was not thy decree, O my God, that dug hell, and kindled the "devouring fire," the "smoke of which ascendeth up for ever and ever!" In vain the sinner searches in a decree of reprobation for what comes only from his own depravity. Thou dost not say to thy creatures, yield, yield miserable wretches to my sovereign will, which first impels you to sin, in order to compel you to suffer that pun
God has given this answer by tender complaints concerning the depravity of mankind; yea, by tears of love shed for their miseries. "O that my people had hearkened unto me! O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!" Ps. lxxxi. 14, Luke xix. 42. Now if the decrees of God force sinners, if they offer violence to their liberty, I am not afraid to say, this sort of language would be a sport "unworthy of the divine majesty. He has given this answer by express assu-ishment, which I have decreed for you from all rances, that he would have all men to be saved; eternity. Thou reachest out thy charitable that "he hath no pleasure in the death of the arms, thou appliest to us motives the most wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way proper to affect intelligent minds. Thou openand live;" that he is not willing that any should est the gates of heaven to us, and if we be lost perish, but that all should come to repentance. amidst so many means of being saved, "to thee Now if the decrees of God force sinners, and belongeth righteousness, and to us shame and do violence to their liberty, contrary propositions confusion of face. "O Israel, thou hast doare true; it would be proper to say, God will stroyed thyself." not have all men to be saved, he will not have the sinner come to repentance, he is determined the sinner shall die.
II. You will see the evidence of this proposition much better, my brethren, if you attend to the discussion of the second class of difficulties, to which the subject is liable. They are taken from the nature of religion. There are men so stupid, or rather so wicked, as to con
He has published this answer by giving us high ideas of his mercy; when he prolongs the time of his patience and long-suffering, he calls it "riches of goodness, forbearance, and long-sider religion, that rich present which God in suffering." Now if the decrees of God force his great love made mankind, as a fatal present
given in anger. The duties required seem to them vast valleys to fill up, and huge mountains to level, and attributing insuperable difficulties to religion, which are creatures only of their own cowardice and malice, they cannot comprehend how men can be punished for not performing such impossible conditions. Let us examine this religion; nothing more is necessary to remove this odious objection.
1. Observe the first character of evangelical morality, how clearly it is revealed. Let heresy attack the truths of our mysteries. If demonstrative arguments cannot be produced, probable ones may; if the doctrines cannot be expunged from the letter of Scripture, at least they may be disguised; if they cannot be rendered contemptible, they may for a while be made difficult to understand: but propositions that concern moral virtues are placed in a light so clear, that, far from extinguishing it, nothing can diminish its brightness. Religion clearly requires a magistrate to be equitable and a subject obedient; a father tender, and a son dutiful; a husband affectionate, and a wife faithful; a master gentle, and a servant diligent; a pastor vigilant, and a flock teachable. ligion clearly requires us to exercise moderation in prosperity, and patience in adversity. Religion clearly requires us to be wholly attentive to the divine majesty, when we are at the foot of his throne, and never to lose sight of him after our devotions are finished. Religion clearly requires us to perform all the duties of our calling through the whole course of life, and wholly to renounce the world when we come to die. Except some extraordinary cases, (and would to God, my brethren, we had arrived at such a degree of perfection as rendered it necessary for us to examine what conduct we ought to observe in some circumstances, which the law seems not to have fully explained!) I say, except such cases, all others are regulated in a manner so clear, distinct, and intelligible, that we not only cannot invent any difficulties, but that, except a few idiots, nobody has ever pretended to invent any.
2. The next character of Christian morality is dignity of principle. Why did God give us laws? Because he loves us, and because he would have us to love him. Why does he require us to bear the cross? Because he loves us, because he would have us love him, and because infatuation with creatures is incompatible with this twofold love. Why does he require us to deny ourselves? Because he loves us, and because he would have us love him, because it is impossible for him to love us and yet to permit our ill-directed self-love to hurry us blindly into a gulf of misery, because it is impossible if we love him to love ourselves in a manner so inglorious to him. How pleasant is it to submit to bonds, which the love of God imposes on us! How delightful is it to yield to obligations, when the love of God supports us under the weight of them!
3. The third character of Christian morality is the justice of its dominions. All its claims are founded on reason and equity. Examine the laws of religion one by one, and you will find they all bear this character. Does religion prescribe humility? It does; but what is this humility? Is it a virtue that shocks reason, and
degrades the dignity of human nature? By no means, the gospel proposes to elevate us to the highest dignity that we are capable of attaining. But what then does it mean by requiring us to be humble? It means, that we should not estimate ourselves by such titles and riches, such dignities and exterior things, as we have in common with men like Caligula, Nero, Heliogabalus, and other monsters of nature, scourges of society. Does religion require mortification? It does, it even describes it by the most painful emblems. It requires us to cut off a right hand, to pluck out a right eye, to tear asunder all the ties of flesh and blood, nature and selflove. But what does it mean by prescribing such mortification as this? Must we literally hate ourselves, and must we take as much pains hereafter to make ourselves miserable as we have taken hitherto to make ourselves happy? No, my brethren, on the contrary, no doctrine has ever carried self-love, properly explained, so far. The Christian doctrine of mortification means, that by a few momentary acts of self-denial we should free ourselves from eternal misery, and that by contemning "temporal things which are seen" we should obtain "things which are not seen, but which are eternal."
4. But, say you, this perfection required by the gospel, is it within our reach? Is it not this religion which exhorts us to be "perfect as God is perfect?" Is not this the religion that exhorts us to be "holy as God is holy?" Does not this religion require us to be "renewed after the image of him that created us?" Indeed it does, my brethren: yet this law, severe as it may seem, has a fourth character exactly according to our just wishes, that is, it has a character of proportion. As we see in the doctrines of religion, that although they open a vast field to the most sublime geniuses, yet they accommodate themselves to the most contracted minds, so in regard to the moral parts of religion, though the most eminent saints are required to make more progress, yet the first efforts of novices are acceptable services, provided they are sincerely disposed to persevere. Jesus Christ, our great lawgiver, knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust; he will not break a bruised reed, and smoking flax he will not quench:" and the rule by which he will judge us, will not be so much taken from the infinite rights acquired over us by creation and redemption as from our frailty, and the efforts we shall have made to sur mount it.
5. Power of motive is another character of evangelical morality. In this life we are animated, I will not say only by gratitude, equity, and reason, motives too noble to actuate most men: but by motives interesting to our passions, and proper to inflame them, if they be well and thoroughly understood.
You have ambition. But how do you mean to gratify it? By a palace, a dress, a few servants, a few horses in your carriages? False idea of grandeur, fanciful elevation! I see in a course of Christian virtue an ambition well directed. To approach God, to be like God, to be made a "partaker of the divine nature;" this is true grandeur, this is substantial glory. You are avaricious, hence perpetual care,