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النشر الإلكتروني

292

THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIN.

“Now, brethren, I have thus discoursed to you on the knowledge of sin, just as though our whole acquaintance with the Gospel, so far at least as our present condition is concerned, were resolvable into this knowledge of sin ; and, in real truth, although a knowledge of the Gospel comprehends a vast variety of departments, yet a knowledge of sin is, as it were, the passport which admits us into the secrets of the kingdom. Until there be a knowledge of the disease, it is not possible there should be any knowledge of the remedy; and the scheme of salvation adapts itself with such nice and accurate precision to the peculiar circumstances of fallen beings, that unless there be a due appreciation of these circumstances, there is much in the scheme which must appear useless, and much which will be accounted strange and inexplicable. What can be seen of the atonement until we see sin as deserving an infinite penalty ? What can be seen of imputed righteousness until we see ourselves so depraved by the fall, that we can present to God no obedience of our own? What can be seen of the sanctifying influences of faith, influences which supply unto their possessors all the place of an extended code of moral enactments, until we see the utter vileness of the estate from which Christ rescues, and the magnitude of the obligation which binds us to him with all the bonds of a most loving devotion?

I am persuaded, that the more you search into the causes of that repugnance which is manifested by carnal men towards the humbling but glorious doctrines of the Gospel, the more will you find that an erroneous estimate of the heinousness of sin is at the root of all this virulent opposition. What are all the denials of free grace, of God's electing to himself a believing remnant-of the sufficiency of faith—of man's need of supernatural assistance—what, I say, are the denials of these doctrines, doctrines which may be called the very life's-blood of Christianity, save just so many natural and necessary results of an ignorance of the poisonous and pestilential character of sin? In proportion as man thinks lightly of sin, he thinks well of himself; and in proportion as he thinks well of himself, he presumes on his own capacities; and so long as there is a conceit of human ability, there will be a correspondent contempt of Divine interference. Hence it were certainly lawful to affirm, that the knowledge of sin is the very eye-glass in the spiritual telescope-take it away, and the whole field of view becomes dim, and misty, and confused-insert it, and all the magnificent forms of mercy, and victory, and deliverance, walk brilliantly before us in their native stature, and man looks upon the Gospel just as an astronomer on the milky way in the firmament, so that where he had discerned nothing but a general brightness, he finds separate stars, each illustrious in its splendours. And all I ask of you is, whether, since it is impossible that the Gospel be seen unless the evił of sin is known, and this evil of sin cannot be known, as I have explained to you, except by the regenerate, is it not a most just assertion, an assertion that may be vindicated to its literal and grammatical acceptation, that · Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God ?"

Rev. H. MELVILL, A.M.

TILE LAST ASSIZE.

REV. H. MELVILL, A.M.

ST. SEPULCHRE'S CHURCH, SNOW HILL, APRIL 17, 1836 *.

" And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, and

another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works."-Rev. xx. 12.

THESE words occur in the account of a sublime vision vouchsafed to the evangelist, John, and which represented to him the final consummation of all things. Though the book of Revelation contains much that is mysterious, and even inexplicable, passages such as this, which I have just read to you, are as instructive as magnificent. It is evident that the delineation is that of transactions in which we must all bear a part in the last general assize. A great white throne rose before the view of the exile in Patmos: the sea and the land gave up the myriads of whom they had been the sepulchre: on the throne sat a Being so terrible in his grandeur, that the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them. We have abundant demonstration, from other portions of Scripture, that the appointed Judge of human kind is the Mediator, Christ—He who died “the just for the unjust, to bring us unto God.” Hence, though it is said in our text, “ I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God," we conclude that it was before the Redeemer that the mighty multitude of those whom the grave had surrendered were arraigned, the title of absoluta divinity being justly assigned to Him who is evidently the Son of man, seeing that the two natures coalesced indissolubly in his person.

We make this remark at the outset of our discourse, because much that we wish to advance will turn on the fact that the Judge and the Mediator are one and the same.

According to St. John in our text, the whole human race stood before God; but, according to St. Panl, we know that God “ hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained.” We have no difficulty in reconciling these statements, because we know that he was both God and man; we see that the same Being is intended in both cases, even he who died and rose again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living." Our text then proceeds to give some account of the principles, upon which judgment will be conducted, shewing that an accurate register has been kept of human actions, and that men will be judged according to their works, and therefore judged in righteousness. The truths thus announced in the passage are so solemn and august, that they claim. undivided attention, and seem to summon away from every other consideration. T} truths that a day must come when the whole world shall be judged—that

* On behalf of the Ladies' Charity School, King-street, Snow-hil.

the Being who is to preside at this vast assize, is none other than Jesus who was buffeted and crucified—and that the business of trial shall be carried on by the laws of rigid equity-we say of these truths, that their bare announcement should fix every man's attention, and bend him to the attitude of earnest and awe-stricken inquiry..

We know not whether the principles of God's moral government are insisted on with sufficient frequency and urgency from our pulpits, but we are sure that they produce not their due influence on the great mass of men. Indeed, is there one of us that will say he lives in the remembrance that he must give account of every action—that whatsoever he does, whatsoever he says, whatsoever he thinks, God notes in the book hereafter to be opened before the assembled universe, and by whose contents his fate shall be fixed for eternity? Is there one of us, who can honestly declare, that he has habitually in remembrance the solemnities of the great white throne, that he strives always to take note of the fact that he shall stand before that throne, and “receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or evil?" Indeed, men and brethren, we are persuaded that all of us must own ourselves guilty in this matter. Many, it may be, strive to shut out altogether the thought of future judgment, labouring, whenever it occurs, to occupy the mind by worldly business or pleasure. Others have occasional seasons, when they regard themselves as accountable creatures, and feel something of the awfulness of those scriptural representations which sketch the Son of man's descent, and the gathering of the nations, and the passing sentence upon all men; but these seasons are brief, and perhaps not of frequent occurrence, so that the general tenor of the life is unaffected by the truth, that " we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” Here and there, indeed, you may meet with an individual, whose thoughts are set on the account which he must one day render, and whose habitual endeavour it is to preserve an habitual sense of the coming of the Lord. But even individuals such as these will confess to you, that their endeavours are but partially successful ; that they have great cause of humiliation before God, on account of their forgetfulness of the day of trial. So that there can be no class of hearers to whom the subject of discourse presented by our text is not appropriate. We feel that a signal benefit will accrue to all in this immense assembly, if God enable us to speak upon judgment to come, so that there be produced a deeper and more abiding sense of the solemnities of the last assize. We shall enter into no speculative question, but set before you the broad facts of the judgment as they are exhibited in the words before us. We shall not strive to move you by startling and high-wrought pictures of the mighty assembly that shall have risen from their graves, and the glory of the unnumbered company of angels that throng the scene of trial, and of the fiery cloud that shall give pomp to his descent. There is something so sublime in the naked announcement, “ I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God," that it were presumption of the worst kind, to think we make it more majestic and more commanding, by adding to it any of the figures of human rhetoric. We shall only premise a few remarks on the necessity of a general judgment, in order to vindicate God's moral government, and then proceed to examine the several assertions made in our text in regard to this fact.

Now, in every age of the world men have been perplexed by what seemed

opposite evidences as to the superintending care of a wise and beneficent Being. On the one hand, there is no doubt that we live under a retributive government, and that cognizance is taken of our actions by an invisible, but ever-present Being, whose attributes render him the determined foe of vice, and the steadfast upholder of righteousness. On the other hand, there has been an irresistible demonstration, from the experience of all ages, that no accurate proportion is at present maintained between conduct and condition, but that vice has most frequently the upper hand, while righteousness is depressed and overwhelmed. If there have been decisive proof, from the witness of conscience, that we have been placed under the economy of redemption, there has been just as decisive from the observation of what passes on earth, that the reward and the punishment are not rigidly administered on this side the grave: and there has been no reconciling these apparent contradictions, except by supposing, that human existence would not terminate with death, but that in another, though yet unknown state, vice would receive its due meed of vengeance, and righteousness of reward. The only way of escaping the difficulty suggested by the text, has been an appeal to the future ; for either the idea is erroneous, of our living under a moral government at all, or that moral government must have another scene of display, where its impartiality shall be vindicated, and every discrepancy removed. So that it is a truth which we may declare forced on our attention by what is passing in the world, that men shall be reckoned with in another state for their actions, and receive distributions of happiness or misery pro portioned accurately to the things done on the earth. It is indeed true, that without a revelation we cannot reach the doctrine of the body's resurrection, and on this account our notions of futurity must be necessarily vague and erroneous; but the general doctrine that God will adjust, in another life, the disorders and inequalities of this, is the only vindication of his character as moral governor of the universe. And therefore, whatever difficulties surround this doctrine, they are not comparable to those by which they are beset by whom it is denied. There is no alternative, if we hold not the truth of a judgment to come, but the holding that this creation is not under a moral government : and we are sure, that no candid and thinking man can hesitate as to which side of the alternative shall obtain his support.

And thus you see how reason concurs with revelation in directing your thoughts to a state of retribution. The solemnities of the day of assize-nay,

fact that all men shall be assembled at one time in order to undergo trial, in place of each being separately sentenced at the moment of death, these are purely matters of revelation, and cannot be ascertained but by reference to holy writ. The doctrine of an intermediate state is not discoverable by reason, and that on the simple principle that the doctrine of the resurrection is not. We have gone as far as we can go, by the light of natural theology, when we have explained the seeming inconsistencies of God's moral government on the supposition of future dispensations of punishment and reward. And our only wish, previously to our examining more at length the statements of onr text, was the showing you the fairness, or rather the necessity, of such suppo sition. So that, when enlarging on the awful truths of the judgment, we might carry every man along with us, whatever his objection, as a system, to Christianity; causing you to feel, that not only in the magnificent vision of St. John, but in the sober pictures which reason itself draws of futurity, there is a season

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such as that of our text-a throne, and a book, and the small and the great standing before their Maker.

We shall next remark, in order not to leave unnoticed any thing important, that the season of judgment is not to arrive until the end of all things, when the dead shall be raised. There is no reason for concluding from Scripture (quite the reverse), that the souls of men, inmediately on their dismissal from the body, receive their final allotment. The representations of the Bible connect with the resurrection of the body the entrance of man on his final condition, whether of happiness or misery. And, indeed, the doctrine of an intermediate state appears to us to be only a direct consequence of the doctrine of a general judgment. Once admit that all men are to be put upon trial, and you also admit, so far as we can see, that their final portion is not entered upon ere that trial is past; for what could be more contrary to all show of justice, than the sentencing after execution ? But when men would curiously inquire into the particulars of the intermediate state, we are not at all able to answer their questions. Indeed, our ideas of a purely spiritual subsistence are necessarily so crude and so scanty, that probably no amount of revelation would have enabled us thoroughly to understand the condition of the disembodied soul. We are so accustomed to the association of spirit and flesh, that we can scarcely imagine to ourselves the occupations and enjoyments of the soul when detached from the body: but of this we may be sure, that the soul of the righteous man is happy so soon as it leaves the body—the soul of the unrighteous, miserable; though, probably, the happiness is that of expectation rather than fruitionthe misery, that of foreboding, rather than of torment. We doubt not that the justified soul is immediately assured of its acceptance with God, and consigned to the peace and repose of the blessed certainty that heaven will be its portion. We doubt as little that the soul of him who dies in his impenitence, is immediately conscious that its doom is determined, and given over to anguish and remorse because allowed no hope that lost time may be redeemed, and hell yet avoided. The condition of the one soul, we may suppose to be that of deep tranquillity-of the other, of fierce agitation : the one rests delightedly on the persuasion that the warfare is over and the crown secured-the other is tossed and driven by the fearful conviction, that the day of grace is past, and that nothing can avert an eternity of torment. So that, whatever the scene in which separate spirits await the resurrection, whatever the occupations of a future state, we entertain no doubt that the entrance on happiness or misery takes place at the instant of dissolution, though of neither the happiness or misery, may it be believed, that it shall be that which it shall finally be. The trumpet shall sound, and the body must be raised, ere the whole man will be the subject of divine retribution. It is the whole man, the compound of spirit and flesh, which has obeyed or transgressed; it must be therefore the whole man which is put upon trial, and which receives the portion whether of promise or threatening. Thus, whatever our thoughts of the intermediate state, we know that the allotments of eternity cannot be utterly dealt out unless the vision of our text shall have been first accomplished, and the dead, small and great, stand before their God.

And now we have glanced at the testimony which even natural religion gives to a state of retribution ; and we have also brought forward what appears to be the amount of the information as the condition of the soul from death to the

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