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behaviour, and soothed and lulled by this very cir- . cumstance. Now it is not only within the compass of possibility, but it frequently, nay, I hope, it very frequently, comes to pass, that open, confessed, acknowledged sins sting the sinner's conscience : that the upbraidings of mankind, the cry, the clamour, the indignation which his wickedness has excited, may at length come home to his own soul; may compel him to reflect, may bring him, though by force and violence, to a sense of his guilt, and a knowledge of his situation. Now, I say that this sense of sin, by whatever cause it be produced, is better than religious insensibility. The sinner's penitence is more to be trusted to than the seemingly righteous man's security. The one is roused ; is roused from the deep forgetfulness of religion, in which he had hitherto lived. Good fruit, even fruit unto life everlasting, may spring from the motion which is stirred in his heart. The other remains, as to religion, in a state of torpor. The thing wanted as the quickening principle, as the seed and germ of religion in the heart, is compunction, convincement of sin, of danger, of the necessity of flying to the Redeemer, and to his religion in good earnest. They were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do ?” This was the state of mind of those who first heard the Gospel : and this is the state of mind still to be brought about, before the Gospel be heard with effect; and sin will sometimes do it, when outward righteousness will not; I mean by outward righteousness, external decency of manners without any inward principle of religion what
The sinner may return and fly to God, even because the world is against him.—The visibly righteous man is in friendship with the world : and the
friendship of the world is enmity with God," when
soever, as I have before expressed it, it sooths and lulls men in religious insensibility. But how, it will be said, is this? Is it not to encourage sin? Is it not to put the sinner in a more hopeful condition than the righteous ? Is it not, in some measure, giving the greatest sinner the greatest chance of being saved ? This may be objected : and the objection brings me to support the assertion in the beginning of my discourse, that the doctrine proposed cannot, without being wilfully misconstrued, deceive or delude any. First, you ask, is not this to encourage sin? I answer, it is to encourage the sinner who repents; and, if the sinner repent, why should he not be encouraged ? But some, you say, will take occasion, from this encouragement, to plunge into sin. I answer, that then they wilfully misapply it: for if they enter upon sin, intending to repent afterward, I take upon me to tell them that no true repentance can come of such intention. The very intention is a fraud : instead of being the parent of true repentance, is itself to be repented of bitterly. Whether such a man ever repent or not is another question, but no sincere repentance can issue or proceed from this intention. It must come altogether from another quarter. It will look back, when it does come, upon that previous intention with hatred and horror, as upon a plan and scheme and design to impose upon and abuse the mercy of God. The moment a plan is formed of sinning, with an intention afterward to repent, at that moment the whole doctrine of grace, of repentance, and of course this part of it amongst the rest, is wilfully misconstrued. The grace
of God is turned into lasciviousness. At the time this design is formed, the person forming it is in the bond of iniquity, as Saint Peter told Simon he was ; in a state of imminent perdition, and this design will not help him out of it. We
We say that re
pentance is sometimes more likely to be brought about in a confessed, nay, in a notorious and convicted, sinner, than in a seemingly regular life: but it is of true repentance that we speak, and no true repentance can proceed from a previous intention to repent, I mean an intention previous to the sin. Therefore no advantage can be taken of this doctrine to the encouragement of sin, without wilfully misconstruing it.
But then you say, we place the sinner in a more hopeful condition than the righteous. But who, let us inquire, are the righteous we speak of? not they who are endeavouring, however imperfectly, to perform the will of God; not they who are actuated by a principle of obedience to him; but men who are orderly and regular in their visible behaviour without any internal religion. To the eye of man they appear righteous. But if they do good, it is not from the love or fear of God, or out of regard to religion, that they do it, but from other considerations. If they abstain from sin, they abstain from it out of different motives from what religion offers : and so long as they have the acquiescence and approbation of the world, they are kept in a state of sleep; in a state, as to religion, of total negligence and unconcern. Of these righteous men there are many: and, when we compare their condition with that of the open sinner, it is to rouse them, if possible, to a sense of religion. A wounded conscience is better than a conscience which is torpid. When conscience begins to do its office they will feel things changed within them mightily. It will no longer be their concern to keep fair with the world, to preserve appearances, to maintain a character, to uphold decency, order, and regularity in their behaviour ; but it will be their concern to obey God, to think of him, to love him, to fear him: nay, to love him with all their heart, with all their mind, with all their soul, with all their strength; that is, to direct their cares and endeavours to one single point, his will : yet their visible conduct may not be much altered; but their internal motives and princi
. ple will be altered altogether.
This alteration must take place in the heart even of the seemingly righteous. It may take place also in the heart of the sinner; and we say (and this is, in truth, the whole which we say) that a conscience pricked by sin is sometimes, nay oftentimes, more susceptible of the impressions of religion, of true and deep impressions, than a mind which has been accustomed to look only to the laws and customs of the world, to conform itself to those laws, and to find rest and satisfaction in that peace, which not God, but the world gives.
SINS OF THE FATHERS UPON THE CHILDREN.
Exodus, xx. 5.
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve
them ; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that
These words form part of the second commandment. It need not be denied that there is an apparent harshness in this declaration, with which the minds even of good and pious men have been sometimes sensibly affected. To visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, even to the third and fourth generation, is not, at first sight at least, so reconcilable to our apprehensions of justice and equity, as that we should expect to find it in a solemn publication of the will of God.
I think, however, that a fair and candid interpretation of the words before us will remove a great deal of the difficulty, and of the objection which lies against them. My exposition of the passage is contained in these four articles :—First, that the denunciation and sentence relate to the sin of idolatry in particular, if not to that alone. Secondly, that it relates to temporal, or, more properly speaking, to family prosperity and adversity. Thirdly, that it relates to the Jewish economy, in that particular administration of a visible providence, under which they lived. Fourthly, that at no rate does it affect, or was ever meant to affect,