« السابقةمتابعة »
rigour; if he waited only for the first offence we commit, to plunge us into the abyss reserved for the wicked? Where would be the Jobs, the Moseses, the Davids, and all those distinguished offenders, whose memory the Holy Spirit has immortalized, to comfort us under our falls? One of the greatest motives to comply with a law is the lenity of the legislator: I will cite on this subject a passage of Justin Martyr. "How could Plato," says he, "censure Homer for ascribing to the Gods placability by the oblation of victims? Those who have this hope, are the very persons who endeavour to recover themselves by repentance and reformation: whereas, when they consider the Deity as an inexorable being, they abandon the reins to corrupt propensities, having no expectation of effect from repentance."
Distinguish then the virtue we enforce from one of the principal means of its acquisition. If you ask me what is perseverance? I answer, it is that disposition of mind which enables us, as I have more than once affirmed, and which is still necessary to repeat; it is that disposition of mind which enables us, all things considered, to give God the preference over every sensible object, that divine love may predominate in our heart over every other love. If you ask me, what are the surest means of acquiring that disposition? I say, it is to watch against every temptation to which you may be exposed. I say, in order to preserve the habit of Christianity, you must use your utmost endeavours never to do any thing incompatible with its design.
his righteousness in the day that he sinneth. When I say to the righteous, that he shall surely live: if he trust to his righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed he shall die," Ezek. iii. xviii. xxxiii. 12, 13. Such is the morality of our Scriptures. Such is the vocation of the faithful. It is not enough that we keep, for a few years, the commandments of God; we must continue to keep them. It is not enough that we triumph for awhile over the old man, we must triumph to the end; and if we have wandered by weakness for a season, we must steadfastly return to piety and religion.
2. Consider on what principle the Scripture characters founded their assurance of salvation. Was it on some speculative notions? On some confused systems? No: it has been on the principle of persevering in the profession of their religion, and in the practice of virtue. I will adduce but one example, which seems to me above all exception: it is he, who, of all the sacred authors, has furnished us with the most conclusive arguments on the doctrine of assurance of salvation, and the inamissibility of grace; I would say, the example of St. Paul. He never doubted but that he should always persevere in piety, and in the profession of religion. The love of God was so deeply rooted in the heart of this apostle, as to remove all scruple on that head. When, however, St. Paul, by abstraction of mind, considered himself as having lost the disposition which we shall call the habit of Christianity;-when he considered himself as falling under the temptations which exposed him to the flesh, to hell, and the world; what did he expect considering his state in this point of view? What did he expect after the acquisition of so much knowledge; after preaching so many excellent sermons; after writing so many excellent and catholic epistles; after working so many miracles; after achieving so many labours; after encountering so many dangers; after enduring so many sufferings to exalt the glory of Christ; after setting so high an example to the church? What did he expect after all this? Paradise? The crown of righteousness? No: he expected hell and damnation. Did he expect that his past virtues would obtain the remission of his present defects? No: he expected that his past virtues would aggravate his present faults. "I count not myself to have apprehended," Phil. iii. 13. "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached unto others, I myself should be a cast-away," 1 Cor. ix. 27. In what situation did he place himself to lay hold of the crown of righteousness, and to obtain the prize? He placed himself at the close of his course. It was at the termination of life, that this athletic man exclaimed, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness," 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.
II. Having removed the ambiguity of the term perseverance, we shall prove in the second article that we cannot be saved without this virtue. 1. The passage we have explained is not solitary. It is a passage which coincides with many other texts of Scripture. The truth, resulting from the sense here given, is not a truth substantiated solely by the text. It is an explanation which a great number of express texts establish beyond the possibility of doubt. Weigh the following: "Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall," 1 Cor. x. 12. "Thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold, therefore, the goodness and the severity of God: on them which fall severity; but towards thee goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off," Rom. xi. 20-22. "I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken. O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, that it might be well with them, and their children for ever," Deut. v. 28, 29. "He that endureth unto the end shall be saved," Matt. x. 22. "Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown," Rev. iii. 11. "Thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, the righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for
* Ad Græcos exhort. p. 28. Ed. Colon.
3. Consider what have been the sentiments of the most distinguished Scripture characters, when they recollect themselves in those awful moments, in which, after they had so far of fended against divine love as to suppose the habit lost, or when their piety was so far
eclipsed as to suppose it was vanished. Did they oppose their past virtues to their present faults? Hear those holy men: "O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed: my soul is also sore vexed," Ps. vi. 2. "Mine iniquities are gone over my head, as a heavy burden: they are too heavy for me," Ps. xxxviii. I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me," Ps. li. 3-11. "Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Cast me not away from thy presence; restore me unto the joy of thy salvation. Will the Lord cast off for ever? And will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? Doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies!" Ps. lxx. 8-10. What ideas do these words excite in your minds? Is it the presumptuous confidence which some men, unhappily called Christians, evince after committing the foulest offences? Are these the sentiments merely of an individual, who by a simple emotion of generosity and gratitude, reproaches himself for having insulted his benefactor? Or are they sorrows arising in the soul from the fears of being deprived of those favours in future? Magnanimous sentiments, doubtless are found in the characters of those distinguished saints. A repentance, founded solely on the fear of hell, can never obtain a pardon: it may do well enough for a disciple of Loyola; but not for a disciple of Jesus" Be perfect," 2 Cor. xiii. 11. This is the preChrist. It is respect for order; it is the love cept of St. Paul. What do you infer from this of God; it is sorrow for having offended a be- principle? If we are condemned for not having we sincerely love, which is the basis of true ing advanced, what shall we be for having repentance. It is fully apparent that the ex- backslidden? If we are condemned for not pressions you have heard, are the language of having carried virtuous attainments to a more a soul persuaded of this truth, that we cannot eminent degree, what shall we be for having deobtain salvation without persevering till death based them to a degree so far below the standard? in the habit of holiness, which it fears to have lost. They are the language of a soul, which reproaches itself, not only for a deviation from order, but which fears, lest it should have forfeited its salvation.
5. In a word, our last proof of the neces sity of perseverance is founded on the necessity of progressive religion. It is a proposition already established on other occasions, that there is no precise point of virtue, at which we are allowed to stop. If a man should take for his model one of the faithful, whose piety is least of all suspected: if a man should propose to himself so fine a model, and there restrict his attainment, saying, I will go so far, and no farther: such a one would have mistaken notions of religion. The Christian model is Jesus Christ. Perfection is the sole object of a Christian; and, the weaker he feels himself in its acquisition, the more should he redouble his exertions to approach it. Every period of life has its task assigned. The duties of youth will not dispense with those of riper age; and the duties of riper age will not dispense with those of retiring life. "Be ye perfect as your Father who is in heaven is perfect," Matt. v. 48. This is the command of Jesus Christ.
III. But a doctrine of our churches seems to frustrate all our endeavours to prompt you to perseverance, and to warn you that salvation is reserved solely for those who do persevere. It is this. We fully believe, that the most illustrious saints were guilty of offences, directly opposed to Christianity; but we profess to believe, that it was impossible they should lose the habit. We conceive indeed the propriety of exhorting them not to commit those faults which it is impossible they should commit. But why exhort them not to lose a habit which they cannot lose? Where is the propriety of alarming them with a destruction on the brink of which grace shall make them perfect? This is the difficulty we wish to solve; and this is the design of our third head.
4. Consider the absurdities, arising from the opinion we attack. The commencement of a life, sincerely consecrated to the service of God, is a sufficient barrier against all the fears arising from crimes with which it may in the issue be defiled. The children of God can never fall from grace. And none but the children of God can be sincerely consecrated to him in the early period of life. On this principle, I will frame you a system of religion the most relaxed, accommodating, and easy, even at the bar of corruption the most obstinate and inveterate. Consecrate sincerely to God a single hour of life. Distinguish by some virtue the sincerity of that early period. Then write with a pen of iron on a tablet of marble and brass, that, In such a day, and in such an hour, I had the marks of a true child of God. After that, plunge headlong into vice; run unbridled with the children of this world to the same excess of riot: give yourself no concerning ourselves of a point unanimously allowed about your passions; if the horrors of this by the divines divided on this subject, in order state should excite any doubts of your salva- to harmonize what seems calculated still to dition, comfort yourself against the anathemas vide them. of legal preachers; comfort yourself against remorse of conscience, by casting your eyes on this tablet of brass and marble;-monuments of
But I would indeed wish to illustrate the subject without reviving the controversies it has excited. I would wish conformably to the views of a Christian (from which especially a gospel minister should never deviate,) to associate as far as the subject will admit, peace and truth. If the wish is not chimerical, we cannot, I think, better succeed, than by avail
It is a received maxim in every system, I would say, in every system of those who are divided on the doctrine of the inamissibility of
the inamissibility of your faith, and sure pledges of your salvation. But, my brethren, was this indeed the system of those saints of whom we have spoken? They were not more convinced of this principle, that a sincerely good man cannot fall from grace, than of this which follows: that a man who cannot fall from grace, cannot fall from piety. They have trembled on doing an action contrary to piety; fearing lest the habit was lost.
grace; that, to preserve the habit of holiness, without which they unanimously agree, we cannot be saved, we must use all the means prescribed in the sacred Scripture to preserve so valuable a disposition. Divines, whom difference of opinion has irritated against one another, reciprocally accuse their brethren of weakening this principle; but there is not one among them who does not sincerely embrace it, and complain of the reproach, when charged with having rejected it. Those who exclaim against the doctrine of the inamissibility of grace, are so far from rejecting it, that they pretend to be the only persons who establish it upon a sure foundation; and maintain that it cannot exist in systems opposed to the first. They say, that the doctrine of the inamissibility of grace is so far from opposing this principle, that it constitutes its foundation. And who among the advocates for this doctrine, ever affirmed that we can preserve the grace of perseverance, if we frequent the haunts of infamy; if we keep company with persons who tempt us to adultery and voluptuousness, and so with regard to other virtues? This then is a principle such as I would seek. It is a principle inculcated by every system, that in order to retain the habit of holiness, without which it is impossible to be saved, we must use all the means pointed out in the sacred Scriptures for the preservation of such an individual temper of mind.
IV. Three classes of people have consequences to deduce from the doctrine we have now advanced. We first address ourselves to those who seem least of all interested; I would say, those who have no cause to fear falling from grace; not because they are established, but because they never entertained the sincere resolutions of conversion. If people of this description would pay serious attention to their state; if they would read the Scriptures with recollection; if they would listen to our sermons with a real, not a vague and superficial design of reducing them to practice, I think the doctrine we have delivered would rouse them from their indolence; I think it would hinder them from going so intensely into the world, on withdrawing from devotion, as not to hear the voice of their conscience. What! the people of whom we speak should say, What! Christians of the first class; what! those distinguished saints who have devoted the whole of their life to duty; what! those who have "wrought out their salvation with fear and trembling;" can they promise themselves nothing from past efforts? What! are all the sacrifices they have made for Christianity useless, unless they persevere in piety; and, for having failed to run only a few steps of their course, will they fail of obtaining the prize promised to those only who finish the whole? And I, miserable wretch, who am so far from being the first of saints, that I am the chief of sinners;-I, who am so far from having run the race which Christ has set before his disciples, as to have put it far away;-I, who have been so far from working out my salvation, as to have laboured only by slander, by calumny, by perjury, by blasphemy, by fornication, by adultery, by drunkenness;-I, who have done nothing but obstruct the work, yet I am composed, I am tranquil! Whence proceeds this peace? Does it not proceed solely from this circumstance, that, my sins having constrained the Deity to prepare the sentence of my eternal condemnation, he has (among the calamities prepared for me by his justice,) the fatal condescension to make me become sensible of my misery, lest I should anticipate my condemnation, by the dreadful torments which the certainty of being damned would excite in my soul. Oh, dreadful calm! fatal peace! tranquillity to which despair itself is perferable, if there be any thing preferable in despair! Oh! rather, thou sword of divine vengeance, brandish before my eyes all thy terrors! Array in battle against me all the terrors of the mighty God, as in the awful day of judgment; and striking my soul with the greatness of my misery, give me, at least, if there be time, to emancipate myself! If there be yet time? And, if there be not time, why do you yet breathe? Why are there still open to you the gates of this temple? Why is the gospel still preached, if it is not that you may be recollected; if it is not that you may renounce the principles of your past folly; if it is not that you may yield to calls of grace, which publish to you the consoling declarations of the merciful God? "When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; if the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he hath
This being granted, it is requisite in every system, to represent the calamities we incur by losing the habit of holiness, because it is the dread of incurring the calamities consequent on our fall, which the Scriptures point out as the most usual and powerful preservatives from apostacy. Hence they exhort us to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling." Hence they make one part of a good man's happiness to consist in fearing always. Hence they require us rejoice with trembling. Each of you may collect a variety of parallel passages.
Our divines, to illustrate this subject, have sometimes employed a comparison, which, in my opinion, is well calculated to answer their purpose. It is that of a wise man at the top of a tower, who has all the necessary means of preserving himself from falling into the abyss open to his view. We may properly say, it is impossible such a man should fall. Why? Because, being a prudent man, and having all the necessary means, it is impossible his prudence should not prompt him to avail himself of their support. But in what consists one part of this means of safety? It is the faculty suggested by his prudence, of knowing, and never forgetting the risk he runs, should he neglect the means of safety. Thus fear, so circumstanced, is one part of his safety, and his safety is inseparable from his fear. The application of this comparison is easy; every one may make it without difficulty. It is sufficient, not indeed to remove all the difficulties of which the loss of grace is susceptible; but to answer the objection I have made of its being useless, on a supposition of the impossibility of falling from grace, to warn a real Christian of the calamities he may incur, should he lose his habit of piety.
robbed, walk in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed, shall be mentioned unto him," Ezek. xxxiii. 14-16.
A second sort of people, who ought to derive serious instruction from the words of my text, is those visionaries; who, while engaged in the habit of hating their neighbours, of fornication, of revenge, or in one or the other of those vices, of which the Scripture says, "they that do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God," fancy themselves to be in a state of grace, and believe they shall ever abide in that state, provided they never doubt of the work. People of this character,-whether it be that they have fallen into the hands of Antinomian guides, one of the greatest plagues with which justice punishes the crimes of men, and one of the most awful pests of the church; or whether it be the effect of those passions, which, in general, so fascinate the mind, as to prevent their seeing the most evident truths opposed to their system; but people of this class presumptuously apply to themselves the doctrine of the inamissibility of grace, at the time when we display the arm of God ready to pour the thunder of its vengeance upon their heads. But know, once for all, it is not to you that the inamissibility of grace belongs. Whether a true saint may fall, or whether he may not fall, it is the same thing with regard to you; and your corruption will gain nothing by the decision: for if the true saint may fall, I have cause to conclude that you are already fallen; since, notwithstanding the regeneration you pretend to have received, you now have no marks of real saints; and if a real saint cannot fall, I have cause to conclude that you were deluded in the notions you had formed of yourselves with regard to conversion. I have reason to believe that you never were true saints, because I see with my own eyes, that you no longer sustain the character. Here is the abridgement of the controversy. Here is a decision of the question between us. But if it do not agree with your systems, preserve those systems carefully; preserve them to the great day, when the Lord shall render unto every man according to his works; and endea vour, endeavour in the presence of the Judge of all the earth, to defend your depravity by your opinions.
sight of those objects which he has set before you, in order that you may be enabled to surmount them.
There is yet a third class of people, who ought to make serious reflections on the doctrine of perseverance. It is those who carry the consequences to an extreme; who, from a notion that they must endure to the end of their course to be saved, persuade themselves that they cannot be assured of their salvation till they come to that period. It is not to ministers who maintain so detestable a notion, that this article is addressed. It is not to captious, but to tender minds, and those tender minds who are divided between the exalted ideas they entertain of duty, and the fears of deviation. Fear, holy souls; but sanctify your fear. Entertain exalted views of your duty; but let those exalted views be a sure test that you will never deviate; and, while you never lose sight of the difficulties with which the race Christ has set before you is accompanied, never lose
A Christian is supported in his course by the very nature of the difficulties which occur. These are many, and we shall have occasion to enumerate them in a subsequent discourse. But, with discerning Christians, all these things may promote the end they seem to oppose, and realize the words of St. Paul, that "all things work together for good to them that love God," Rom. viii. 28. One of those difficulties, for instance, to which a Christian is exposed in his race, is adversity; but adversity is so far from obstructing him in his course, as to become an additional motive to pursue it with delight; and to assist him in taking an unreluctant flight towards the skies. Another difficulty is prosperity; but prosperity assists him to estimate the goodness of God, and induces him to infer, that if his happiness here be so abundant, what must it be in the mansions of felicity, seeing he already enjoys so much in these abodes of misery. Another of those difficulties is health; which, by invigorating the body, strengthens the propensity to sin; but health, by invigorating the body, strengthens him also for the service of God. So it is with every obstruction.
A Christian is supported in his course, by those unspeakable joys which he finds in the advancement of his progress; by "the peace which passeth all understanding;" by the serenity of justification; by an anticipated resurrection; by a foretaste of paradise and glory, which descend into his soul, before he himself is exalted to heaven.
A Christian is supported in his course (as we have already intimated in this sermon,) by the consideration even of those torments, to which he would be exposed if he should come short. The patriarch Noah trembled, no doubt, on seeing the cataracts of heaven let loose, and the fountains of the great deep broke open, and the angry God execute his threatening, "I will destroy man whom I have created, from off the face of the earth; both man and beast, for it repenteth me that I have made them," Gen. vi. 7. But this fear apprised him of his privilege, being exempt in the ark from the universal desolation; which induced him to abide in his refuge.
A Christian is supported in his course by supernatural aid, which raise him above the powers of nature; which enable him to say, "when I am weak, then I am strong;" and to exclaim in the midst of conflicts, "blessed be God which always causest us to triumph in Christ," 2 Cor. ii. 14. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me," Phil. iv. 13.
A Christian is supported in his course by the confidence he has of succeeding in the work in which he is engaged, and of holding out to the end. And where is the man in social life, who can have the like assurance with regard to the things of this world? Where is the general, who can assure himself of success by the dispositions he may make to obtain the victory? Where is the statesman, who can assure himself of warding off every blow which threatens the nation? The Christian,-the Christian
of an ancient philosopher respecting government. The principles, on which he established his system of politics, have appeared admirable, and the consequences he has deduced, have appeared like streams pure as their source. God, in creating men, says this philosopher, gave them all means of preservation from the miseries which seem appendant to their condition: and they have but themselves to blame if they neglected to profit by them. His bounty has supplied them with resources, to terminate the evils into which they fell by choice. Let them return to the practice of truth and virtue, from which they have deviated, and they shall find that felicity to which nothing but virtue and truth can conduct society. Let the states elect a sovereign like the God who governed in the age of innocence; let them obey the laws of God. Let kings and subjects enter into the same views of making each other mutually happy. The whole world has admired this fine notion; but they have only admired it: and regard it merely as a system. The princes and the people, to whom this philosopher wrote, are as yet unborn; hence we commonly say, the republic of Plato, when we wish to express a beautiful chimera. I blush to avow it, but truth extorts it from me, that this is the notion most men entertain of religion. They make its very beauty an argument for its neglect, and their own weakness an apology for the repugnance they feel in submitting to its laws: this is precisely the temper we propose to attack. We will prove, by evident
ON THE EXAMPLE OF THE SAINTS. facts, and by experience, which is consequently
above all exception, that however elevated above the condition of man the scheme of religion may appear, it is a scheme which may be followed, seeing it has been followed already.
alone has this superior assurance. I fear nothing but your heart; answer me with your heart; answer me with your sincerity, and I will answer you for all the rest.
A Christian is supported in his course, above all, by the grandeur of the salvation with which he is to be crowned. What shall I say, my dear brethren, on the grandeur of this salvation? That I have not the secret of compressing into the last words of a discourse, all the traits of an object, the immensity of which shall absorb our thoughts and reflections to all eternity?
With such vast support, shalt thou, timorous soul, still be agitated with those distressing fears which discourage wicked men from entering on the course prescribed by Jesus Christ to his disciples? "Fear not, thou worm Jacob, for I am with thee. Thy Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. They that are for us, are more than all they that are against us," 2 Kings, vi. 16. "When thou passest through the waters, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned," Isa. xliii. 2. To this adorable Deity, who opens to us so fine a course, who affords us such abundant means for its completion, be honour, glory, empire, and magnificence, now and ever. Amen.
HEBREWS xii. 1. Wherefore, seeing we are also compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us; and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.
THERE are few persons so very depraved, as not to admire the line of life prescribed by religion; but there are few sufficiently virtuous to follow it, or even to consider it in any other light than as a grand scheme captivating to an enlightened mind, but to which it is impossible to conform. To inquire, as soon as we are capable of reflection, what is the Being who gave us birth, to yield to a world of arguments which attest his existence and perfections; to join the consort of creation which publishes his glory; to devote one's self to him to whom we are indebted for all our comforts; and on whom all our hopes depend; to make continual efforts to pierce those veils which conceal him from our view, to seek a more concise and sure way of knowing him than that of nature; to receive revelation with avidity; to adore the characters of divine perfections which it traces; to take them for a rule of life; to sigh on deviation from those models of perfection, and repair, by revigorated efforts of virtue, whatever faults one may have committed against virtue, is the line of life prescribed by religion. And who so far depraved, as not to admire it? But who is so virtuous as to follow it, or even to believe that it can be followed? We look upon it, for the most part, as we do the notions
To this point we shall direct the subsequent part of our discourse on the text we have read. We have divided it into three parts;-distinguished duties,-excellent models,-and wise precautions. Of distinguished duties, "let us run with patience the race that is set before us," we have treated in our first discourse. Of wise precautions, "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us," we hope to treat in a succeeding sermon. Of excellent models, "seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses," we shall speak to-day. Happy, if struck with so many heroic actions, about to be set before your eyes, you may be led to follow them, and to augment this cloud of witnesses, of whom the Holy Spirit himself has not disdained to make the eulogium. Happy, if we may say of you, as we now say of them, by faith they repelled the wisdom of this world; by faith they triumphed over the charms of concupiscence; by faith they endured the most cruel torments; by faith they conquered the celestial Jerusalem, which was the vast reward of all their conflicts. Amen.
"Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race which is set before us." What is this cloud, or multitude, of which the apostle speaks? The answer is not equivocal, they are the faithful enumerated in the preceding chapter. Of what were they