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the sinner the dreadful sentence to be pronounced at the last day, and the everlasting punishment to be inflicted on those sins which he is unwilling to renounce. From the corruption, the prejudices, and the passions of fallen man, it must then needs be that offences come.
And God has thought proper to permit them: the entire prevention of them, by the immediate exercise of his omnipotence, would not have been accordant with the state of trial in which we are placed; it could not then have been shown who received the truth in the love of it. This is the reason which the apostle Paul assigns for the permission of one great class of offences : “ There must be heresies among you, that those who are approved may be made manifest;" and in all other offences, there is a similar trial of sincerity and uprightness. Besides, if these offences had never been suffered, we should have had less glorious displays of the wisdom of that providence which now “ makes the wrath of man to praise” the Lord, and which brings the richest blessings to the church and to the pious, from the most malignant designs of their enemies. We should have found incomparably less sweetness in the promises, if trials and temptations had not obliged us to flee to them for support. We should have seen far less of the care of God, in defending his church; of the tenderness of Jesus, in guarding his children; of the power and grace of the Spirit, in cherishing our graces and carrying us to the world of glory, if there were no impediments in the path to holiness and heaven. For these, and similar reasons, God has permitted offences to come.
II. Let us examine what are the chief offences against which we should guard; what are some of
the most common modes by which men are led to neglect religion, or to practise sin.
1. False sentiments in religion, and doctrines inconsistent with the word of God, often prove an offence, and tend to lead others away from God and from felicity. There is an intimate connexion between correct opinions and holiness of life. God requires of us the subjection of the mind to him, as well as of the affections and conduct. Jesus will be a king to protect and bless, and a priest to atone and intercede only for those who humbly acknowledge him as their prophet, and seek instruction from him. Do
you then reject the holy volume, and endeavour to propagate your cold, and heartless, and degrading, and destructive sentiments ? Or, professing to receive the scriptures as the word of God, do you nevertheless reject any of its essential doctrines, or pervert its practical precepts, and teach men to disbelieve the solemn truths or sacred mysteries which it announces, and to form to themselves a lower standard of morality and holiness than it enjoins ? By you the offence cometh. You may be successful in deluding others; you may find many unable to unravel your sophistry or resist your sneers; you may harden their hearts, and sear their consciences : from the false principles that you infuse, and the fatal persuasion which you give them that their state is already safe, you may render them inaccessible to all the charitable reproofs of men, to all the merciful or alarming providences of God. But wo to you for the dreadful victory you have gained! a victory, the sad consequences of which you shall feel when the light of eternity bursts upon your disembodied spirit; a victory that shall ever be' deplored both by you and your wretched victims.
2. But even where the religious principles are unshaken; where men, though they hate the truth, cannot doubt it; they frequently give offence, lay snares and occasions of falling before others, by the influence of unholy example, or direct seductions to sin. From the mutual dependence of men, from our union in society, and the influence of example, our conduct must have some effect on each other. If our light does not shine and lead others to glorify our Father in heaven, we shall render them contented with the darkness in which they are enveloped. There is not a happy spirit in heaven that has not animated others in their progress thither; there is not a lost soul in hell that has not contributed to drag others to that doleful abode. Unholy examples have peculiar influence, because they find within us an enmity to the holy restraints of the gospel, and passions ready to be inflamed; and seductions to sin too often
prove fatal when urged, as they frequently are urged, in the tone of pretended affection, or dressed with the persuasive charms of eloquence. And if, in addition to all this, these are the examples of those distinguished by their talents, their wealth, their situation in society, who can calculate their fatal effects ? Oh! how many have we seen undone by this offence, this hindrance to their salvation! At first they shuddered at the vices of the unholy with whom they associated; they gradually became familiarized with sentiments and conduct which once filled them with horror; they at last blushed at the scruples which they once felt, imitated the vices of their guilty seducers, and were lost, for ever lost! Wo unto them for their criminal compliance! but wo also unto those by whom the offence came!
Let me add, that unholy examples especially become a snare and an offence, when they are exhibited by those to whom we are united by the tenderest relations. Fathers, mothers, who have so fondly cherished your offspring during their infancy, and in whose life your own is now wrapt up, let this consideration reach your heart! By an irreligious example, by a neglect of Jesus, by the indulgence of vice, place not a stumbling-block before these children, over which they may fall into guilt, into ignominy, into perdition. Give them not occasion hereafter in hell to lift up their eyes, and curse you as the authors, at once of their being and their ruin.
3. There have been seasons when persecution of all who were the disciples of the Redeemer, and opposition to the gospel by outward violence, formed a common class of offences. Thus it was in the time of the apostles ; thus it has frequently been since: often has the attempt been made to drown religion in the blood of its followers; and though such endeavours have been unavailing, though new glory has been reflected upon the gospel from the patient sufferings and triumphant raptures of those martyrs who 6 counted not their lives dear to them, so that they might win Christ :" yet at such periods, others have resembled the stony-ground hearer, who “ receiveth the word with joy, yet hath not root in himself; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth, because of the word, by and by he is offended.” It is true, my brethren, this is a trial from which we are exempted. We are not called to choose between the renunciation of our religion, and the sacrifice of our fortunes and our lives; but though we have not to fear “bonds, scourging, and imprisonment,” we have often to endure what the apostle joins with
them, and what is frequently as difficult to be sustained, “ cruel mockings.” How many, whose convictions are stifled, and whose holy resolutions are destroyed, in consequence of “ the world's dread laugh;" and who, though they appeared for a moment to be awaking to a sense of the importance of eternal things, are driven back into folly and guilt, by the sneers of the wicked, and the sarcasms of the enemies of God.
· 4. You have doubtless, my brethren, anticipated me in thinking of another class of offences: those which sult from the unsuitable walk of professing Christians; from a conduct corresponding, neither with their privileges, their engagements, nor their hopes. There are few unregenerate men who do not, at times, feel, while reading or hearing the word of God, that a great and radical change must take place in them, or they be for ever undone : but, alas! how often are these salutary convictions crushed, when they look around and observe the little difference that there is between themselves and those who bear the name of Jesus. They behold the covetous professor, as eagerly pursuing the treasures of this world, as though he had never heard of everlasting riches : the wordly-minded professor, mingling with shameful avidity in every scene of gayety and dissipation, and giving no evidence of that spirituality and heavenly-mindedness which must distinguish all who are “ crucified with Christ :" the censorious professor, who thinks better of himself, in proportion as he speaks worse of his neighbours; whose conversation abounds with invective, with reproach, with slander; and in whom we in vain seek any resemblance to that Jesus who wept over the errors of men: the bigoted professor, who would confine the