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the Eternal Wisdom, and "to be wiser in your foolish generation," than the Father of lights himself, you draw from these examples, designed to make you wise, motives to confirm you in your crimes. We shall endeavour to examine the whole of your sophisms.
man struck with death, that his first concern is for the health of his body, that he calls both nature and art to his assistance; but his hopes being lost, with regard to the world, he turns his attention towards religion; he makes a mighty ado about conversion; he weeps, he groans, he prays; that he discovers to us the semblance of repentance and conversion: we aver that this man's state is doubtful, and exceedingly doubtful. But we speak according to the ordinary course of religion: knowing that God is almighty, we exclude not the occurrence of miracles. Hence all the cases you adduce are prodigies of conversion, in which God has exceeded ordinary laws, and from which no conclusions can be drawn; and all that you add on the power of God, on the irresistible, renovating, and victorious efficacy of grace, however solid on other occasions, when applied to this subject, are empty declamations, and foreign to the point.
We shall first make this general observation; that when we said in the preceding discourse, we must, in order to acquire the habit of piety, perform its duties, and to obtain admission at the throne of grace, we must demonstrate our faith by a course of virtuous actions, we told you only what commonly occurs in the course of religion. We did not include in our remarks, the overpowering and extraordinary operations of grace. For God, who was pleased sometimes to supersede the laws of nature, supersedes also, on some occasions, the laws of religion, by graciously enlarging the limits of the new covenant. The laws followed in nature are wisely established. He has assigned a pavilion to the sun, and balanced the earth on But are all those examples of conversion and its poles. He has prescribed boundaries to the repentance miracles? No, my brethren, nor is sea, and obliged this impetuous element to re- this the whole of our reply: and had we provspect the commands of its Creator. "Hither-ed that they are all such in effect, we should to shalt thou come, but no farther; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed," Job xxxviii. 11. We have likewise seen him supersede the laws of nature, and discover as much wisdom in their suspension as he manifested in their establishment. We have sometimes seen the earth quake; the sun stop and suspend his course; the waters of the sea advancing before, or retiring behind, "divide themselves as a wall on the right hand, and on the left," Exod. xiv. 22, as well to favour his chosen people, as to confound the rebellious nation. Just so the laws of religion, and the conditions of his covenant, are also perfectly wise, and equally founded on goodness and equity; meanwhile God is pleased sometimes to suspend them, and to enlarge the limits of grace.
This thought aptly applies to many of the cases you adduce, and particularly to instantaneous conversions. They are not the usual way in which the Holy Spirit proceeds; they do not occur in the ordinary course of religion. They are exceptions to the general laws; they are miracles. Instead, therefore, of judging of the general laws of religion, by these particular instances, you should rectify your notion of them by those general laws. Ah! temporizing directors, apostate casuists, pests of the public, you compose your penitents with deceitful hope. This is our first solution.
When a physician, after exhausting all the powers of art to restore the sick, finds his prescriptions baffled, his endeavour without effect, and his skill destitute of resource; when he finds the brain delirious, the circulation of the blood irregular, the chest oppressed, and nature ready to fall under the pressure of disease, he says, it is a lost case. He presumes not to say, that God cannot heal him; nor that he has never seen a recovery in similar circumstances; he speaks according to the course of nature; he judges according to the rules of art; he decides as a physician, and not as a worker of miracles. Just so, when we see a man in the church, who has persisted thirty, forty, or fifty years in a course of crimes; when we see this
indeed have done little, and you might have returned home, flattered, perhaps, that God would work the same prodigies for you in a dying hour. Let us enter into a more minute discussion; let us remark, and this is our grand solution,-let us remark, that among all the sinners whose conversion you adduce, there is not one, no not one, in the condition of the Christian, who neglecting his salvation, presumes to offer to God only the dregs of life, and the last groans of expiring nature. No; of all those sinners, there is not one who was in the situation of such a man; consequently, there is not one, no not one, who can afford the shadow of a rational excuse to flatter the men we now attack. Let us illustrate this reflection; it is of the last importance. You may remark five essential distinctions. They differed-either with regard to their light-or with regard to their motives or with regard to the duration of their crime-or with regard to their virtues-or with regard to the certainty of their repentance and conversion: five considerations, my brethren, which you cannot too deeply inculcate on your minds. Some of them apply to the whole, others to a part. Let each of you apply to himself that portion of our remarks on these conversions which corresponds with his case.
Speaking first of the illumination of those two classes of sinners, we affirm that there is an essential difference between the men whose example is adduced, and the Christians who delay conversion. Of all those sinners, there was not one, who possessed the light which we have at the present day. Zaccheus, the apostle, the prophets, David, and all the persons at the period in question, were in this respect inferior to the most ignorant Christian. Jesus Christ has decided, that "the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than they," Luke vii. 28. St. Peter had not seen the resurrection of his Master, when he had the weakness to deny him. The converted thief, had, perhaps, never heard his name, while abandoned to his crimes; and St. Paul, while
persecuting the church, followed the old prejudices of Judaism, "he did it ignorantly," as he himself affirms, 1 Tim. i. 13
which constitutes a second difference; that is, the motives which press you to conversion were scarcely known to the others. You are pressed more than they by motives of gratitude. What were all the favours which they received of God, in comparison of those which are heaped on you; you are born in " an accepted time, in a day of salvation," 1 Cor. vi. 2; in those happy days "which so many right
This is the first consideration which aggravates your condemnation, and renders your salvation doubtful, if you defer the work. "The grace of God has appeared to all men. You are born in so enlightened an age, that the human mind seems to have attained the highest period of perfection to which its weak-eous men, and prophets had desired to see," ness will permit it to arrive. Philosophy has Matt. xiii. 17. You are pressed more than been disencumbered of all ambiguous terms, they by motives of interest," you have receivof all useless punctilios, and of all the pom-ed of his fulness, and grace for grace," John i. pous nothings, which confused, rather than formed the minds of youth; and our systems of moral philosophy seem to have attained perfection. Theology is purged, at least on most subjects, and would to God that it was altogether purged of the abstruse researches, and trifling disquisitions, which amused our fathers. If some weak minds still follow the former notions, they only render themselves ridiculous, weary the people, disgust the learned, and are left to detail their maxims to the dusty walls of their half deserted schools.
How clearly have they proved, for instance, the being of God? On how many clear, easy, and demonstrative evidences, have they established this fundamental article of religion? How clearly have they illustrated the doctrine of the immortality of the soul? How admirably has philosophy coincided with religion on this article, to disengage spirit from matter, to mark the functions of each substance, to distinguish which belongs to the body, and which to the mind? How clearly also have they proved the truth of religion? With what industry have they investigated the abyss of ancient literature, demonstrated and rendered palpable the prodigies achieved seventeen centuries ago?
I speak not this to make an eulogium on our age, and elevate it in your esteem. I have, my brethren, views more exalted. All the knowledge of this period is dispensed by that wise Providence which watches over your salvation, and it will serve for your refutation. The economy of the Holy Spirit, who illuminates your mind, has been fully discussed. If, therefore, it be true, that the atrocity of sin is proportionate to the knowledge of the delinquent; if it be true, that those "who know their Master's will, and do it not, shall be punished with more stripes than those who are ignorant and negligent," Luke xii. 47;-if it be true, that the sin of such persons remains, as Jesus Christ has affirmed, John ix. 41;-if it be true, that "it were better not to have known the way of righteousness, than to turn from the holy commandment," 2 Pet. ii. 21; if it be true, that God will require five talents of those who have received five, while those who have received but two shall be accountable but for two, Matt. xxv.-If it be true, that it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, than for Chorazin and Bethsaida;-it is also true, that your arguments are sophistical; that the example of those sinners can afford you nothing but deceitful hopes, which flatter the delay of conversion.
From this last consideration arises another,
16; you to whom Christ has revealed immortality and life," 2 Tim. i. 10; who having received such promises you ought to be the more separated "from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit,"-more than they, by motives of fear, "for knowing the terrors of the Lord," you ought to be the more obedient to his will. More than they by motives of emulation; you have not only "the cloud of witnesses," but the grand pattern, the model of perfection, who has left us so fine an example that we should tread in his steps; who has said, "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart," Matt. xi. 29. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of your faith; you ought, according to St. Paul's exhortation, to be induced "not to cast away your confidence," Heb. x. 35. More than they by the grandeur of your heavenly birth; " you have not received the spirit of bondage unto fear, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father," Rom. viii. 15.
What is the result of all these arguments? If you have more motives, you are more culpable; and if you are more culpable, the mercy which they have obtained, concludes nothing in your favour; and the objection, which you derive from example, is altogether sophistical. And what is worse, this superabundance of motives renders your conversion more difficult, and thereby destroys the hopes you found on their example. For though the Holy Spirit has a supreme power over the heart, nothing, however, is more certain, that in promoting our conversion, he acts with us as rational beings, and in conformity to our nature; he proposes motives, and avails himself of their force, to induce us to duty. Consequently, when the heart has long resisted the grand motives of conversion, it thereby becomes obdurate.
How were those miraculous conversions effectuated to which you appeal? It was in a way totally inapplicable to you. The first time Zaccheus saw Jesus Christ, he received the promise of salvation. Zaccheus feeling, by the efficacy of grace, the force of a motive which had never been proposed before, yielded immediately without hesitation. The converts, on the day of Pentecost, were in suspense concerning what opinion they should form of Jesus Christ: they had crucified him in ignorance, and Jerusalem remained undecided what to think of him after his death. The apostles preached; they proved by their miracles the truth of his resurrection. Then those men, being struck with motives never before proposed, yielded at once. Thus the Holy Spirit operated in their hearts; but in a manner con
ON THE DELAY OF CONVERSION.
formable to their nature, proposing motives,
But these operations of the Holy Spirit have
A third difference is derived from the dura-
Their fall shook their confidence, but did not overthrow it: it was enveloped, but not choked; obscured, but not extinguished.
I acknowledge the good thief seems to have, with the sinners we attack, the sad conformity of persisting in vice to the end of life. But his history is so short in the gospel, the circumstances related are so few, and the conjectures we may make on this subject are so doubtful and uncertain, that a rational man can find in it, no certain rule for the regulation of his conduct.
Who was this thief? What was his crime? What induced him to commit it? What was the first instance of his depravity? What was that of his repentance? What means did grace employ for his conversion? So many questions, so many doubts, so many sufficient reasons for inferring nothing from his conversion. Perhaps he had been engaged in this awful course but a short time. Perhaps, seduced by an unhappy ease, he was less guilty of theft than of softness and compliance. Perhaps only the accomplice of Barabbas in sedition, he had less design of disturbing society, than of checking the tyrannic and exorbitant power of the Romans. Perhaps, surprised by weakness, or tempted by necessity, he had received sentence for his first offence. Perhaps, having languished a long time in prison, he had repented of his sin. We do not affirm these things, they are merely conjectures; but all that you can object are similar conjectures, which may be
refuted with the same ease. And though the
those sinners, whose example you adduce. For
It is to inquire, whether God will extend his
who abandons himself to vice, that will com-
You follow, to-day, the multitude to do evil, as Zaccheus, and, as the apostles before their conversion: so far the parallel is just; but can you prove, like them, that you obeyed the first calls of Jesus Christ; that you have never been of fended, either with the severity of his precepts, or with the bloody horrors of his cross and martyrdom? You sacrifice, like David, to an impudent Bathsheba, the rights of the Lord, who enjoins temperance and modesty: so far the parallel is just; but have you, like him, had "the law of God in your heart?" Have you, like him, 66 rose at midnight, to sing praises to God?" Have you, like him, made charity your glory, and piety your delight? You persecute the church, like St. Paul, by your malicious objections, and profane sneers; you draw away disciples, as the zealot once did, by persecutions and punishments: so far the parallel is just; but have you asked Jesus Christ, as he did, the first moment he appeared to him in the way to Damascus, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?" Have you neither conferred with flesh nor blood, when required, like him, to go up to Jerusalem, and abjure the prejudices of your fathers? Has your zeal resembled his, so as to feel your spirit stirred within you, at the sight of a superstitious altar? And has your love resembled his, so as to be willing to be accursed for your brethren? You have denied Jesus Christ, as St. Peter; and that criminal laxity, which induced you to comply in such and such company, when virtue was attacked, has made you like this apostle, who denied him in the court of Caiaphas: so far the parallel is just; but have you, like him, burned with zeal for the interests of his glory? Have you said, with an ardour like his, "Lord, thou knowest that I love thee?" Have you, like him, prodigal of your blood, been ready to seal the truths of the gospel; and, after being made a spectacle to the world, are you, like him, ready to be offered up? You, like the thief, have that false weight, and that short measure, which you secretly use on your counter, and in your warehouse; or that authority which you openly abuse in the face of the world, and on the seat of justice: you liberal culprits, who, perhaps, have imposed on strangers, or attacked them with open force: so far the parallel is just; but have you, like him, had eyes, which penetrated through the clouds, with which Christ was surrounded on the cross? Have you, like him, discovered the God of heaven and earth, in the person of the crucified Redeemer? Have you, like him, repaired, with the sincerity of your expiring breath, the crimes of your whole life? If the parallel be still just, your argument is good, and your recourse to mercy shall be attended with the same success. But if the parallel be defective; if you find, on your death-bed, that you have followed those characters solely in what was sinful, then your argument is false; and you ought, at least, to relinquish the hopes you have founded on their examples.
5. We find, in short, another difference between the men who delay conversion, and the sinners, whose cases they adduce; it is certain that they were converted and obtained mercy, whereas it is extremely doubtful whether the VOL. II.-34
others shall ever obtain it, and be converted. What, according to your mode of arguing. constitutes the strength of your objection, becomes the solidity of our reply. A sinner, in the career of crimes, is in a fluctuating condition, placed between life and death; equally uncertain whether he shall obtain salvation, or become the victim of perdition. These then, men who delay conversion, these are the sinners we have to attack. You allege the case. of characters, whose state has been already determined; and whose repentance has been realized by experience. Each of these, while, like you, habituated to vice, was, like you, uncertain whether they should obtain mercy, or whether the door would be shut. Access has been opened, pardon has been granted. Thus the question is decided; and all doubts, with regard to them, are done away.
But your situation is quite the reverse. You have the sins of their fluctuating state, not the grace of their determined condition, which induces a favourable confidence. In this painful suspense, who is in the right? We, who tremble at the awful risk you run; or you, who rely on the precarious hope of extricating yourselves from sin? Who is in the right? Those accommodating guides, who, in your greatest profligacy, continually assure you of the divine mercy, which serves merely as a pretext to confirm you in crimes; or we, who brandish before your eyes the awful sword of justice, to alarm your indolence, and rouse you from soft security?
Collect now, my brethren, all this variety of reflections; and, if there remain with you a shadow of honesty, renounce the advantage you pretend to derive from these examples. Consider, that many of these conversions are not only out of the common course of religion, but also that they could not have been effectuated by less than miraculous powers. Consider that, among all those sinners, there was not one in the situation of a Christian, who delays conversion to the close of life. Consider that you are enlightened with meridian lustre, which they have scarcely seen. Consider that you are pressed with a thousand motives totally unknown to them. Consider, that they continued, for the most part, but a short time in sin; but you have wasted life in folly. Consider, that they possessed distinguished virtues, which rendered them dear to God; but you have nothing to offer him but dissipation or indolence. Consider, that they were distinguished by repentance, and afforded lasting proofs of their sincerity: whereas it is still doubtful whether you shall ever be converted, and you go the way to make it impossible. See, then, whether your arguments are just, and whether your hopes are properly founded.
These examples, we acknowledge, my brethren, are very encouraging to those who diligently endeavour to reform. We delight in enforcing them to those contrite and simple souls; to consciences bruised and tender that tremble at God's word. We came not to straiten the way to heaven; we came not to preach a severe morality, and to announce a divinity ferocious and cruel. Would to God that every sinner, in this assembly, would re
collect himself, and swell the catalogue of converts, in which grace has been triumphant! But hardened men can infer nothing hence, except alarming considerations.
Hitherto we have examined the cases of those sinners, who apparently contradict our principles; let us, in the next place, briefly review those, by which they are confirmed. Let us prove that the long-suffering of God has its limits; and that in order to find him propitious, we must "seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near." This is our second head.
II. Three distinguished classes of examples, my brethren, three alarming monuments, confirm those illustrious truths. These are
I. Public catastrophes. II. Obdurate sinners. III. Dying men.-Happy are they who are cautioned by the calamities of others!
I. Public catastrophes. There is to every government, to every nation, and to every church, a limited day of visitation: there is a time in which the Lord may be found, and a time in which he will not be found. "A time when he may be found:" when commerce flourishes, when families prosper, when armies conquer, when politics succeed, when the temples are open, when the solemn feasts are observed, and the faithful say one to another, "O come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord." This is the time when the Lord may be found. Happy time, which would have been restricted only by the duration of the world, had not the ingratitude of man introduced another time, in which the Lord will not be found. Then commerce languishes, families degenerate, armies are defeated, politics are confused, churches are overturned, the solemn feasts subside; "and the earth," according to the expression of Moses, "vomiteth out its inhabitants."
blood; Judea buried in ashes, or swimming with the blood of its inhabitants? How often with a voice yet more tender did he cry, "O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandment! Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the crown of the head, there is no soundness in it," Isa. i. 5, 6. "Howl, O gate, cry, O City, thou whole Palestina art dissolved," Isa. xiv. 31. "Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust for the fear of the Lord," Isa. ii. 10. That was the time to avert all these calamities; that was the aim of the prophet and the design of our text. But the Jews hardened themselves against his voice. God pronounced the sentence; he executed his word: he commanded the Chaldeans to invest the walls of Jerusalem; and then says the sacred historian, "there was no remedy," 2 Chron. xxxvi. 16. The Israelites made many efforts to appease the wrath of Heaven; the aged raised aloud their plaintive and trembling voices, the young poured forth a mournful and piercing cry; the daughters of Jerusalem lifted up their lamentations to Heaven; the priests wept aloud between the porch and the altar, they said a thousand and a thousand times, "Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage unto shame," Joel ii. 17. But the deed was done, the time was past, the Lord would not be found, and all this semblance of repentance, the smallest portion of which would perhaps, on another occasion, have sufficed to disarm the wrath of Heaven, was now without effect. This is expressed in so noble and energetic a manner, that we would for ever imprint it on your memory. 66 The Lord God of their fathers sent to them his messengers, rising up betimes and sending, because he had compassion on his people. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, till the wrath of the Lord arose against his people. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew the young people with the sword, and had no compassion on the young man, nor the aged, nor the infirm. They burnt the house of God, and demolished his palaces," 2 Chron. xxxvi. 15-17.
Isaiah has given us a proof of this awful truth, in the Jews of his own age. He preached, he prayed, he exhorted, he threatened, he thundered. How often was his voice heard in the streets of Jerusalem! Sometimes he would draw them with the cords of love; sometimes he would save them "with fear, pulling them out of the fire." How often did he thunder those terrific words-" Behold the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem, What happened to ancient Jerusalem, hapand from Judah, the stay and the staff, the pened also to modern Jerusalem; I would say, whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of wa- Jerusalem as it stood in our Saviour's time. A ter; the mighty man, and the man of war; the thousand oracles had predicted the advent of judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the Messiah; the prophets had said that he the ancient, and the captain of fifty; and the was about to come; St. John the Baptist afhonourable man, and the counsellor, and cun- firmed, that he was at the door; Jesus Christ ning artificer, and the eloquent orator," Isa. iii. came, in short, saying, Here I am. He walked 1-3. How often did he say to them, by di- in the streets of Jerusalem, he instructed them vine authority-" Hear ye what I will do to by his doctrine, he astonished them by his mimy vineyard; I will take away the hedge there- racles, he influenced them by his example; he of, and it shall be eaten up; and break down cried in their assemblies, "Walk while you the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down; have the light, lest darkness come upon you,' and I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned John xii. 35. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou nor digged, but there shall come up briers and that killest the prophets, and stonest them that thorns. I will also command the clouds, that are sent unto thee, how often would I have they rain no rain upon it," ver. 5, 6. How gathered thy children together, even as a hen often did he uplift the veil of future times, and gathereth her chickens under her wings, and represent the Chaldeans approaching; Jerusa-ye would not," Matt. xxiii. 37. That was the lem besieged; the city encumbered with the time; but they suffered the precious moments dead; the temple of the Lord reduced to heaps to escape. And what did Jesus Christ add? of stones; the holy mountain streaming with "He wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known,