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constantly sitting within, from whose jurisdiction the criminal can plead no exemption, and from whose presence he cannot fly; there is evidence produced against him, which he can neither disprove nor evade; and there, a just sentence is not only passed, but forthwith executed upon him, by the infliction of torments, severe and poignant as the strokes of whips or scorpions; torments, exquisite in proportion to the sensibility of the part affected; torments, of which he sees the beginning, but is never likely to see the end.
Trust not to appearances. Men are not what they seem. In the brilliant scenes of splendour and magnificence, of luxury and dissipation, surrounded by the companions of his pleasures, and the flatterers of his vices, amidst the flashes of wit and merriment, when all wears the face of gaiety and festivity, the profligate often reads his doom, written by the hand, whose characters are indelible. Should he turn away his eyes from beholding it, and succeed in the great work, during the course of his revels, yet the time will come, when from scenes like these he must retire, and be alone: and then, what is all that a man can enjoy in this way for a week, a month, or a year, compared with what he feels for one hour, when his conscience shall take him aside, and rate him by himself?
There is likewise another hour which will come, and that soon—the hour when life must end; when the accumulated wealth of the East and the West, with all the assistance it is able to procure, will not be competent to obtain the respite of a moment; when the impenitent sinner shall be called—and must obey the call—to leave every thing, and give up his accounts to his Maker, of the manner in which he has spent his time, and employed his talents.—Of what is said by such, at that hour, we know not much. Care is generally taken, that we never should. Of what is thought, we know nothing—O merciful God, grant that we never may!
It will still be alleged, perhaps, that instances are not wanting of the worst of men, in principle and practice, going out of life with no less composure than the best. I believe these instances to be very rare indeed. But admit the allegation, that there are some; what do they prove? only that such persons die in a state of ignorance, stupidity, or judicial blindness, with hardened hearts, and seared consciences; and are therefore sealed up to perdition, which is coming upon them, fierce, speedy, and Irresistible, like an armed man. But however, by habits either of sensuality, or infidelity, the conscience may be drugged, and laid asleep in this world, let it not be forgotten, that (whether some men believe so much or not) there is another world beyond this, in which it must awake, to sleep no more. And if in this world some sins are punished, as we have assurance they are, while others of far greater magnitude and more atrocious guilt are permitted to go unpunished,—it will follow, by a consequence which the wit of man cannot gainsay, should he study for a thousand years to do it, that such sins, not being punished here, will most inevitably be punished there. Else were God unrighteous indeed !—As touching the nature of those after-punishments, I shall only say (the misgivings and forebodings of him who has deserved them will speak the rest) that they are such as will be inflicted, after the expiration of the day of mercy, by inexorable justice, and almighty power.
We have taken a view of the evil to be avoided by repentance. It consists in the temporal judgments of God, the terrors of a guilty conscience, and the pains of eternal death.
The good to be obtained needeth only to be mentioned in very few words.
—The light of heaven shining upon our tabernacle, the divine favour attending us and ours, through every stage of our existence, sanctifying prosperity, which by the displeasure of God may be rendered a curse,—and turning adversity itself into a blessing, while it becomes an instrument to rectify the disorders of our minds, to soften the few hard places remaining in our hearts, to smooth and lay even the little roughnesses in our tempers; thus gradually and gently preparing us for our departure hence, and fitting us for the company, to which we are going, of' the spirits of just men made perfect.'—
—The answer of a good conscience, diffusing peace and serenity over all the powers and faculties of the soul, refreshing like the dew falling on the top of Hermon, exhilarating as the fragrance of the holy oil descending from the head of Aaron; sweetening the converse of society, and the charities of active life, and affording, in retirement and solitude, pleasures concealed from the world around us, joys in which 'a stranger intermeddlcth not;' enlivening the morning, brightening the noon, and gilding the evening of our days; effecting what is so difficult to be effected, and what nothing else can effect, at once making life pleasant, and death desirable, as leading to something still superior to all we feel here below—
—The reward in heaven, the glory that shall be revealed, to be known only when it shall be revealed; the bliss without alloy, and without end ; which he cannot conceive, who has not experienced; and which he who has experienced, can find no human language able to express.
Such evil is to be avoided, and such good to be obtained, by repentance, that plank remaining to a shipwrecked world, on which alone we can escape to the haven of rest. All have sinned, and therefore, in order to be saved, all must repent. It is surely the least they can do: and to those who do this, through faith in the blood of Christ purifying the conscience from sins past, and the power of the Spirit of Christ supporting and carrying them on for the time to come, exceeding great and precious promises, comprehending and confirming all that has been advanced, are made in every part of Scripture, which there is no occasion'here to recite.
III. Some short rules shall be laid down for the conduct of our repentance, through the several parts of which, under the first head of this discourse, we have shown it to be composed; that so it may be made to answer the character already given of its power and efficacy, under the second.
1. Stifle not convictions. The world, through all its vicissitudes, natural, political, and moral, the casualties of youth, and the increasing infirmities of age, is full of warnings and admonitions. 'Day unto day showeth this speech, night unto night uttereth this knowledge.' We hear, but resolve to forget. Many of the employments and most of the amusements of life are engaged in, that man may fly from himself, and from his own thoughts. Attend to every suggestion of this salutary kind, from what quarter soever it may proceed; attend, and slight it not. ' It is the voice of God calling you to repentance. Listen, and obey.
2. Be serious. The subject will cause any man to become so, who considers it as he ought to do; who reflects, what sin is in the sight of God, what sorrows it occasioned to the Son of God, what destruction it hath brought upon the world, and is about to bring upon himself, unless prevented hy a timely repentance. While we laugh, all things are serious about us. God is serious, when lie preserveth us, and hath patience towards us. Christ was serious, when he died for us. The Holy Spirit is serious, when he striveth with us. The Scripture is serious, when it is read before us. Sacraments are serious, when they are administered to us. The whole creation is serious, in serving God and us. Angels are serious above, while they wait for our conversion. Evil spirits are serious below, in endeavouring to effect our destruction—And shall man not be serious, who of all other creatures hath most reason to be so?
3. Be frequent in confession. The Church enters upon her service with it in public, and every one should do the same in private. If you feel not that warmth of devotion you could wish to feel when you begin, you may experience it, before you end your confession. The very repetition of proper sentiments in proper language, will produce the affections which they are intended to express. Begin, as an act of obedience to him who has assured us, that, ' if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.' Such an act of obedience may be rewarded with every thing else that is necessary —' This I had, because I kept thy commandments.'
4. Resolve speedily. Fruitless is sorrow for having done amiss, if it issue not in a resolution to do so no more. And in forming this resolution, no time is to be lost. He who doth not resolve to-day, will be much less disposed to resolve tomorrow. Procrastination in many cases is dangerous: in this, it is often fatal.
5. Renew your resolutions daily. Else will they be soon forgotten, and consequently never carried into execution. It is the interest of the passions, that they should be forgotten. Cares and pleasures will be apt to efface them; temptations will return, and prevail; a relapse will be the consequence; and all the work must be entered upon anew, with difficulties increased, strength diminished, and courage appalled. To prevent this from happening, no better method can be devised, than every day to renew the impressions once produced. During so short an interval, the enemy can make no very considerable breach in the works—none but what may be easily repaired, and put again into a state of defence.
But after all—' Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.' It is he who granteth repentance unto life; and it is he who alone can perfect the good work, when it is begun in us. To him, therefore, let prayer be made, without ceasing, at morning, and at evening, and at noon-day, and that instantly. Let us supplicate grace to make such a due use of the present holy season, that they who have not yet begun their repentance, may forthwith begin it; and that they who have begun it, may be enabled happily to complete it.
THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT.
Ephes. v. 1, 2. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.
[Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.]
These words comprise two subjects for meditation; namely, our Lord's unexampled sacrifice made in his death, for the honour of God and the good of men; and our own sacrifice of ourselves in the whole course of our lives, which ought to bear some analogy to our Lord's, and to be, as it were, a copy drawn from it, as an humble imitation of it.
I. I begin with our Lord's sacrifice, that great sacrifice which was from all eternity forelaid in the high counsels of heaven; which was intimated to mankind, as soon as there was need for it, (that is, immediately after the fall,) which probably gave birth and rise to all other sacrifices whatsoever, whether in the Jewish or Gentile world; but which undoubtedly was as the pattern in the Mount to all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, Mosaical or patriarchal, all of which pointed to it, rested upon it, and centred in it. No sooner had man forfeited the favour of God by committing sin, but there appeared a necessity of a sacrifice for sin, to re-instate him. Divine wisdom appointed it, and called for it; from whence we may certainly infer, that reasons of justice, or, which comes to the same, the unerring rules of divine government, required it.