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none of you have seen the miracles performed To collect the whole in two words, and in a for the confirmation of our faith; but I will yet shorter way to resolve the question, “ Is it venture to affirm, that there are truths as pal- possible now to commit the unpardonable sin?” pable, as if they had been confirmed by mira- I answer: We cannot commit it with regard cles; I will venture to affirm, that if they col- to every circumstance; but, in regard to what lect all the proofs we have of our Saviour's constitutes its essence and atrocity, it may be mission, there will result a conviction to the committed; and though men seldom fall so mind as clear, as that which resulted to the deeply, yet it is not impossible. Few comPharisees, on seeing the demoniac healed. plete the crime; but many commit it in part,
2. What constituted the atrocity of the crime and in degree. Some imagine themselves to in the first ages, was attacking this religion, be guilty by an ill-founded fear; but a much whose evidence they had attested. This may greater number are daily going the awful road, also be found among men of our own time. A and, through an obstinate security, unperceivman, who is convinced that the Christian relied. They ought, of course, to reject the gion was revealed from heaven;-a man who thought of having proceeded to that excess; doubts not, among all the religious connexions but, at the same time, to take precaution, that, in the Christian world, that to which he ad- in the issue, the dreadful period may never heres is among the purest;—a man who aban-come, which is nearer, perhaps, than they imdons this religion;-a man who argues, who agine. disputes, who writes volume upon volume, to
APPLICATION. vindicate his apostacy, and attacks those very truths, whose evidence he cannot but perceive; What effects shall the truths we have desuch a man has not committed the unpardona- livered, produce on your minds? Shall they · ble sin in its whole extent; but he has so far augment your pride, excite vain notions of proceeded to attack the truths, of whose ye- your virtue, and suggest an apology for vice, racity he was convinced.
because you cannot, in the portrait we have 3. What farther constituted the atrocity of given, recognise your own character? Is your the crime, was falling away; not by the fear glory derived from the consideration, that your of punishment, not by the first charms Satan depravity has not attained the highest pitch, presents to his proselytes, but by a principle of and that there yet remains one point of horror, hatred against truths, so restrictive of human at which you have not arrived?" Will you sufpassions. This may also be found among men fer the wounds to corrode your heart, under of our own age. For example, a man who the notions that they are not desperate, and mixes in our congregations, who reads our there is still a remedy? And do you expect to books, who adheres to our worship; but who, repent, and to ask forgiveness, when repentin his ordinary conversation, endeavours to ance is impracticable; and when all access to diseredit those truths, to establish deism or im- mercy is cut off? piety, and abandons himself to this excess, be- But who among our hearers can be actuated cause he hates a religion which gives him in- by so great a frenzy? What deluded conscience quietude and pain, and wishes to expunge it can enjoy repose under a pretext, that it has from every heart; this man has not committed not yet committed the unpardonable sinthe unpardonable sin in all its extent, but he Whence is it, after all, that this crime is so has so far proceeded as to hate the truth. dreadful? All the reasons which may be as
4. What, lastly, rendered the crime atrocious signed, terminate here, as in their centre, that with regard to apostates, was their running to it precipitates the soul into hell. But is not this excess, after baving tasted the happiness, hell the end of every sin? There is this differwhich the hope of salvation produces in the ence, it must be observed, between the unparsoul. This may, likewise, be found among donable sin, and other sins, that he who comChristians of our own age. For example a mits it is lost without resource; whereas, after temporary professor;—a man (to avail myself other sins, we have a sure remedy in converof an expression of Jesus Christ) who receives sion. But, in all cases, a man must repent, the word with joy;"—a man, who has long reform and become a new creature; for we prayed with fervour, who has communicated find in religion, what we find in the human with transports of delight;-a man of this de- body, some diseases quite incurable, and others scription, who forgets all these delights, who which may be removed with application and resists all these attractive charms, and sacri- care: but they have both the similarity of befices them to the advantages offered by a false coming incurable by neglect; and what, at religion; he has not yet committed the unpar- first, was but a slight indisposition, becomes donable sin, but he surely has the characteris- mortal by presumption and delay. tic" of falling away, after having been once Besides, there are few persons among us, enlightened, and tasted of the heavenly gift." there are few monsters in nature,---capable of
You now perceive, my brethren, that all carrying wickedness, all at once, to the point these characteristics may be found separately we have described. But how many are there among men of our own age. But should there who walk the awful road, and who attain to be a man in whom they all unite; a man who it by degrees? They do not arrive, in a mohas known and abjured the truth; who has not ment, at the summit of impiety. The first esonly abjured, but opposed and persecuted it, says of the sinner, are not those horrid traits not in a moment of surprise, and at the sight which cause nature to recoil. A man educated of racks and tortures, but from a principle of in the Christian religion, does not descend, all enmity and hatred; do you not think he would at once, from the full lustre of truth, to the have just cause to fear, that he had committed profoundest darkness. His fault, at first, was the “unpardonable sin.”
gence; thence to vice; next he stifles remorse; | overturn these pulpits? Must we exile these and, lastly, proceeds to the commission of enor- pastors. And making that the object of our mous crimes: so he who, in the beginning, prayer, which ought to be our justest cause of trembled at the thought of a weakness, be- fear, must we say, Lord, take away thy word; comes insensible of the foulest deeds, and of a take away thy Spirit; and remove thy candleconduct the most atrocious.
stick; lest, receiving too large a portion of grace, There is one reflection with which you can- we should augment the account we have to not be too much impressed, in an age in which give, and render our punishment more intole Jesus Christ approaches us with his light, with rable. bis Spirit, and with all the advantages of the But why abandon the soul to so tragical a evangelical economy; that is, concerning the thought Lord, continue with us these precious awful consequences of not improving these pledges of thy loving-kindness, which is betprivileges, according to their original design. ter than life,” and give us a new heart. It is You rejoice to live in the happy age, which true, my brethren, a thousand objects indicate,
so many kings and prophets have desired to that you will persist in impiety. But I know see.” You have reason so to do. But you re- not what sentiment flatters us, that you are joice in these privileges, while each of you about to renounce it. These were St. Paul's persist in a favourite vice, and a predomi- sentiments concerning the Hebrews: he saw the nant habit; and because you are neither Jews efforts of the world to draw them from the faith, nor heathens, you expect to find, in religion, and the almost certain fall of some; in the mean means to compose a conscience, abandoned time he hoped, and by an argument of charity, to every kind of vice: this is a most extraor- that the equity of God would be interested to dinary, and almost general prejudice among prevent their fall. He hoped farther; he hoped Christians. But this light, in which you re- to see an event of consolation. Hence he joice,—this Christianity, by which you are dis- opened to the Hebrews the paths of tribulation tinguished,—this faith, which constitutes your in which they walked with courage. He called glory, will aggravate your condemnation, if to their remembrance so many temptations reyour lives continue unreformed. The Phari- futed, so many enemies confounded, so many sees were highly favoured by seeing Jesus conflicts sustained, so many victories obtained, Christ in the flesh, by attesting his miracles, so many trophies of glory already prepared; and and hearing the wisdom which descended from proposing himself for a model, he animated his lips; but these were the privileges which them by the idea of what they had already caused their sin to be irremissible. The He- achieved, and by what they had yet to do. brews were happy by being enlightened, by Call to remembrance,” says he, “the former tasting of the heavenly gift, and the powers days, in which ye endured so great a fight of of the evangelical economy; but this happi- afflictions, partly whilst you were made a ganess, on their falling away, rendered their loss zing-stock, both by reproaches and afflictions, irreparable.
and partly whilst ye became companions of Apply this thought to the various means, them that were so used. Cast not away, therewhich Providence affords for your conversion; fore, your confidence, which hath great recomand think what effect it must produce on your pense of reward,” Heb. x. 32, 33. 35. We adpreachers. It suspends our judgment, and ties dress the like exhortation to each of our hearers. our hands, if I may so speak, in the exercise of We remind you of whatever is most to be adour ministry. We are animated at the sight of mired in your life, though weak and imperfect, the blessing which the gospel brings; but, when the communions you have celebrated, the praywe contemplate the awful consequences on ers you have offered to Heaven, the tears of those who resist, we are astonished and appalled. repentance already shed.
Must we wilfully exclude the light? What And you, my brethren, my dear brethren, effects have the efforts of Providence produced and honoured countrymen, I call to your recolupon you? What account can you give of the lection, as St. Paul to the Hebrews, the earth numerous privileges with which Heaven has strewed with the bodies of your martyrs, and favoured you? Think not that we take pleasure stained with your blood;—the desert populated in declamations, and in drawing frightful por- with your fugitives;-the places of your nativity traits of your conduct. Would to God that our desolated;—your tenderest ties dissolved;--your preaching were so received, and so improved, prisoners in chains, and confessors in irons;as to change our censures into applause, and all your houses rased to the foundation; and the our strictures into approbation. But charity is precious remains of your shipwreck scattered on never opposed to experience. So many ex- all the shores of Christendom. Oh! “Let us hortations, so many entreaties, so many affec- not cast away our confidence, which hath great tionate warnings, so many pathetic sermons, so recompense of reward.” Let not so many conmany instructions, so many conflicts to save you flicts be lost; let us never forsake this Jesus to from vice, leave the proud in his pride, the im- whom we are devoted; but let us daily augment placable in his hatred, the fashionable woman the ties which attach us to his communion. in full conformity to the world, and every other If these are your sentiments, fear neither the in his predominating sin. What line of conduct terrors nor anathemas of the Scriptures. As shall we consequently adopt Shall we con- i texts the most consolatory have an awful aspect tinue to enforce the truth, to press the duties of to them who abuse their privileges, so passages morality; and to trace the road of salvation, in the most terrific, have a pleasing aspect to those which you refuse to walk? We have already who obey the calls of grace. The words we said, that these privileges will augment your have explained are of this kind; for the apostle loss, and redouble the weight of your chains. speaking of a certain class of sinners, who canMust we shut up these churches Must we not be renewed again unto repentance," implies thereby, that all other sinners, of what- | advantages we design. Have patience with the soever kind, may be renewed. Let us therefore interpreter, though he may not be able fully to repent. Let us break these hearts. Let us elucidate every inquiry you may make on a subsoften these stones. Let us cause floods of tears ject obscure, singular, and in some respects imto issue from the dry and barren rocks. And penetrable. Open also the avenues of your after we have passed through the horrors of re- heart to the preacher. Learn to support sepapentance, let our hearts rejoice in our salvation. rations; for which you should congratulate yourLet us banish all discouraging fears. Let us selves, when they break the ties which united pay the bomage of confidence to a merciful God, you to persons unworthy of your love; and never confounding repentance with despair. which shall not be eternal, if those called away Repentance honours the Deity; despair" de- by death were the true children of God. May grades him. Repentance adores his goodness; the anguish of the tears shed for their loss, be despair suppresses one of his brightest beams of assuaged by the hope of meeting them in the glory. Repentance follows the example of same glory saints; despair confounds the human kind with We have said that this text is difficult; and demons. Repentance ascribes to the blood of it is really so in four respects. The first arises the Redeemer of the world its real worth; de- from the doubtful import of some of the terms spair accounts it "an unholy thing." Let us in which it is couched. The second arises from enter into these reflections; let this day be its reference to certain notions peculiar to Chrisequally the triumph of repentance over the hor- tians in the apostolic age, and which to us are rors of sin, and the triumph of grace over the imperfectly known. The third is, that it reanguish of repentance. God grant us this grace; volves on certain mysteries, in regard of which to him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be honour the Scriptures are not very explicit, and of and glory for ever. Amen.
which inspired men had but an imperfect know
ledge. The fourth is the dangerous conseSERMON XC.
quences it seems to involve; because by restricting the knowledge of the sacred authors, it
seems to level a blow at their inspiration. Here ON THE SORROW FOR THE DEATH is an epitome of all the difficulties which can OF RELATIVES AND FRIENDS.
contribute to encumber a text with difficulties.
I. The first is the least important, and cannot 1 Thess. iv. 13-18.
arrest the attention of any, but those who are
less conversant than you, with the Scriptures. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, You have comprehended, I am confident, that
concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow by those who sleep, we understand those who not even as others which have no hope. For if are dead; and by those who sleep in the Lord, we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even we understand those in general who have died so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring in the faith, or in particular those who have with him. For this we say unto you by the sealed it by martyrdom. The sacred authors word of the Lord, that we which are alive, and in adopting, have sanctified the style of paganremain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not ism. The most ordinary shield the pagans opprevent them which are asleep. For the Lord posed to the fear of death, was to banish the himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, thought, and to avoid pronouncing its name. with the voice of the archangel, and with the But as it is not possible to live on earth without trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise being obliged to talk of dying, they accommo
first: then we which are alive and remain, shall dated their necessity to their delicacy, and pabe caught up together with them in the clouds, raphrased what they had so great a reluctance to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever to name by the softer terms of a departure, a be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one ano- submission, destiny, and a sleep.--Fools! as ther with these words.
though to change the name of a revolting obThe text we have now read, may, perhaps, ject would diminish its horror. The sacred aube contemplated under two very different points thors, as I have said, in adopting this style, have of view. The interpreter must here discover sanctified it. They have called death a sleep, his acumen, and the preacher display his pow. by which they understand a repose: “Blessed
It is a difficult text; it is one of the most are the dead which die in the Lord; for they difficult in all the epistles of St. Paul. I have rest from their labours," Rev. xiv. 13. In strong reasons for believing, that it is one of adopting the term, they had a special regard to those St. Peter had in view, when he says, the resurrection which shall follow. If the “that there are some things in the writings of terms require farther illustration, they shall be St. Paul, hard to be understood, which they incorporated in what we shall say when disthat are unlearned wrest—to their own destruc-cussing the subjects. tion," 2 Pet. iii. 16. In this respect it requires II. We have said, that this text is difficult, the erudition of the interpreter: It is a text fer- because it refers to certain notions peculiar to tile in instructions for our conduct: it illustrates Christians in the apostolic age, which to us are the sentiments with which we should be inspired imperfectly known. The allusion of ancient in all the afflictive circumstances through which authors to the peculiar notions of their time, Providence may call us to pass in this valley of is a principal cause of the obscurity of their misery, I would say, when called to part with writings; it embarrasses the critics, and often those who constitute the joy of our life. In this obliges them to confess their inadequacy to the respect it requires the eloquence of the preacher. task. It is astonishing that the public should In attending to both those points, bring the dis- refuse to interpreters of the sacred books, the positions without which you cannot derive the liberty they so freely grant to those of profane
authors. Why should a species of obscurity, cerning which St. Paul has the words of the which has never degraded Plato, or Seneca, in- Psalmist, “That their sound went forth to the duce us to degrade St. Paul, and other inspired ends of the earth:” these ideas had persuaded men? But how extraordinary soever, in this many of the primitive Christians, that the respect, the conduct of the enemies of our sacred coming of the Messiah, the destruction of Jebooks may be, it is not at all astonishing; but rusalem, and the end of the world, must follow there is cause to be astonished at those divines one another in speedy succession; and, the who would be frequently relieved by the solu- more so, as the Lord had subjoined to those tion of which we speak, that they should lose predictions, that “this generation should not sight of it in their systems, and so often seek pass away until all these things be fulfilled;" for theological mysteries in expressions which that is, the men then alive. This text is of the simply require the illustration of judicious cri- same import with that in the xvith of St. Matticism. On how many allusions of the class in thew: “Verily I say unto you, there be some question, have not doctrines of faith been esta- standing here which shall not taste of death blished “Let him who readeth understand.” till they see the Son of man coming in his We will not disturb the controversy.
kingdom,” ver. 28. We have said that there is in the words of These are the considerations which induced the text, probably some allusion to notions pe many of the first Christians to believe that the culiar to the apostolic age. St. Paul not only last day would soon come. And as the Lord, designed to assuage the anguish excited in the the more strikingly to represent the surprise breast of persons of fine feelings by. the death that the last day would excite in men, had of their friends; he seems to have had a pecu- compared it to the approach of a thief at midliar reference to the Thessalonians. The proof night, the primitive Christians really thought we have of this is, that the apostle not merely that Jesus Christ would come at midnight; enforces the general arguments that Chris- hence some of them rose at that hour to await tianity affords to all good men in those afflic- his coming, and St. Jerome relates a custom, tive situations, such as the happiness which in- founded on apostolic tradition, of never disstantly follows the death of saints, and the missing the people before midnight during the certainty of a glorious resurrection: he super- vigils of Easter. adds a motive wholly of another kind; this But what should especially be remarked for motive, which we shall now explain, is thus ex- illustration of the difficulty proposed, is, that pressed: “We which are alive and remain at the idea of the near approach of Christ's adthe coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them vent, was so very far from exciting terror in which are asleep,” &c.
the minds of the primitive Christians, that it What might there be in the opinion, pecu- constituted the object of their hope. They reliar to the Christians of that age, which could gard it as the highest privilege of a Christian thereby assuage their anguish? Among the to behold his advent. The hope of this happiconjectures it has excited, this appears to me ness had inflamed some with an ardour for the most rational;—it was a sentiment gene- martyrdom; and induced to deplore the lot of rally received in the apostolic age, and from those who had died before that happy period. which we cannot say that the apostles them- This is the anguish the apostle would asselves were wholly free, that the last day was suage when he says, “I would not have you just at hand. Two considerations might have ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are contributed to establish this opinion.
asleep, that ye sorrow not as others;” that is, The ancient Rabbins had affirmed, that the as the heathens, who have no hope. second temple would not long subsist after the III. But the consolation he gives, to comfort advent of the Messiah; and believing that the the afflicted, constitutes one of the difficulties Levitical worship should be coeval with the in my text, because it is founded on a doctrine world, they believed likewise that the resur- concerning which the Scriptures are not very rection of the dead, and the consummation explicit, and of which inspired men had but of the ages, would speedily follow the coming imperfect knowledge. This is the third point of Christ. Do not ask how they reconciled to be illustrated. those notions with the expectation of the Mes- The consolation St. Paul gave the Thessasiah's temporal kingdom; we know that the lonians, must be explained in a way assortable Rabbinical systems are but little connected; to their affliction, and drawn from the reasons and inconsistency is not peculiar to them. that induced them to regret the death of the
But secondly; the manner in which Jesus martyrs, as being deprived of the happiness Christ had foretold the destruction of Jerusa- those would have who shall be alive, when lem, might have contributed to persuade the Christ should descend from heaven to judge first Christians, that the last day was near. He the world. St. Paul replies, that those who had represented it in the prophetic style, as a should then survive, would not have any preuniversal dissolution of nature, and of the ele- rogative over those that slept, and that both ments. In that day “the sun shall be darken- should enjoy the same glory: this, in substance, ed; the moon shall be turned to blood; the is the sense of the words which constitute the stars shall fall from heaven; the powers of hea- third difficulty we would wish to remove. ven shall be shaken; and the Son of man him- “ This we say unto you, by the word of the self as coming on the clouds, and sending his Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto angels with the sound of a trumpet to gather the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent together his elect from the four winds,” Matt. them which are asleep. For the Lord himself xxiv. 29. 31. These oriental figures, whereby shall descend from heaven with a shout, with he painted the extirpation of the Jewish na- the voice of the archangel, and with the trump tion, and the preaching of the apostles, con- l of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
then we which are alive and remain, shall be | Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also," chap. iv. caught up together with them in the clouds, 14. But in my text he seems to associate himto meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we self in the class of those who shall not be rais ever be with the Lord.” Concerning these ed, being alive when Christ shall descend from words various questions arise, which require heaven; "we that are alive, and remain at the illustration.
coming of the Lord.” Emphasis, then, should 1. What did St. Paul mean when he affirm- not be laid on the pronoun we, it signifies, in ed, that what he said was by the word of the general, those who; and it ought to be explainLord? You will understand it by comparing ed, not by its general import, but by the nature the expression with those of the first epistle to of the things to which it is applied, which do the Corinthians, chap. xv. 51, where, discuss- not suffer us to believe, that the apostle here ing the same subject, he speaks thus: “ Behold meant to designate himself, as I think is proved. I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, 3. In what respects does St. Paul prove, that but we shall be changed." These words, “Be- those who die before the advent of the Son of hold I show you a mystery," and those of my God, shall not thereby retard their happiness; text, are of the same import. Properly to un- and that those who shall then survive, shall derstand them, let it be observed, that besides not enjoy earlier than they the happiness with the gift of inspiration, by which the sacred au- which the Saviour shall invest them? thors knew and taught the things essential to The apostle proves it from the supremacy of salvation, there was one peculiar to some pri- Christ at the consummation of the age. The vileged Christians; it was a power to penetrate, instant he shall descend om heaven, he shall certain secrets, without which they might be awake the dead by his mighty voice. The bosa ved, but which, nevertheless, was a glorious dies of the saints shall rise, and the bodies of endowment wherever conferred. Probably St. those that are alive shall be purified from their Paul spake of this privilege, when enumerat- natural encumbrance, according to the assering the gifts communicated to the primitive tion of St. Paul, already adduced; "we shall church, in the xiith chapter of the above epis- not all sleep, but we shall be changed.” And tle. "To one,” he says, " is given by the same it must also be remarked, that this change, he Spirit, the word of knowledge.” This word adds, shall be made “in a moment, in the of knowledge, he distinguishes from another, twinkling of an eye;" that is, immediately on called just before, “The word of wisdom.” the coming of Jesus Christ and after this The like distinctions occur chap. xijith and change, the saints who shall rise, and those xivth, in the same epistle. Learned men, who who shall be yet alive, shall be caught up tothink that by the word of wisdom, we must gether to meet the Lord in the air, and shall be understand inspiration, think also, that by for ever with the Lord. The survivors, there“the word of knowledge,” we must under- fore, shall have no prerogative over others; so stand an acquaintance with the mysteries of is the sense of the text: "We which are alive which I have spoken. Many mysteries are and remain at the coming of the Lord shall mentioned in the sacred writings. The mys- not prevent them which are asleep. For the tery of the restoration of the Jews; the mys- Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout," tery of iniquity; and the mystery of the beast. like that of sailors to excite to unity of labour, The passages to which I allude are known to as is implied by the Greek term,“ with the you, and time does not allow me to enlarge, voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of nor even a full recital.
God;" I would say, with the most vehement 2. Why does St. Paul, when speaking of shout; for in the sacred style, a thing angelic, those who shall be found on earth when Christ angelical, or divine, is a thing which excels in shall descend from heaven, add, “We which its kind: “The Lord shall descend, and the are alive, and remain at the coming of the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who Lord?” Did he flatter himself to be of that are alive and remain, shall be caught up togenumber? Some critics have thought so: and ther with them in the clouds." when pressed by those words in the second But this is a very extraordinary kind of conEpistle to Timothy, “The time of my depar- solation: St. Paul still left the Thessalonians ture is at hand; I am ready to be offered up;” in their old mistake, that some of them should they have replied, that St. Paul had changed still live to see the last day; why did he not his ideas, and divested himself of the illusive undeceive them? Why did he not say, to conhope that he should never die!
sole them in their trouble, that the consummaBut how many arguments might I not adduce tion of the ages was, as yet, a very distant peto refute this error, if it required refutation, riod; and that the living and the dead should and did not refute itself? How should St. Paul, rise on the same day! This is the fourth, and who had not only the gift of inspiration, but most considerable difficulty in the words of my who declared that what he said was by the text. word of the Lord, or according to his miracu- IV. The apostles seem to have been ignoJous gift, fall into so great a mistake in speak- rant whether the end of the world should haping on this subject? How do they reconcile pen in their time, or whether it should be at this presumption with what he says of the re- the distance of many ages; and it seems that surrection in his epistles, written prior to this, by so closely circumscribing the knowledge of from which we have taken our text? Not to inspired men, we derogate from their claims multiply argunients, there are some texts in of inspiration.-A whole dissertation would which St. Paul seenis to class himself with scarcely suffice to remove this difficulty; I those who shall rise, seeing he says " we.” Let shall content myself with opening the sources us next attend to that in the second Epistle of its solution. to the Corinthians: God, “who raised up the 1. Ignorance of one truth is unconnected