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If our first progenitor had this capacity and dis. obeyed, he justly incurred the penalty denounced, which was death ; and from him nothing exempt from peccability and death could naturally proceed. It was then for the divine wisdom to determine whether the whole race should be discontinued, or propagated under the imperfect and mortal nature to which the first transgression had made them liable. We know that the latter was the case, and although we do not know all the reasons for it, must believe that it was for the wisest and most benevolent purposes. Such then the law of God, by his own decree, finds us; and the question now is, not whether we can obey it perfectly, but how far we can obey it. He has so constituted us that some are able to make much higher attainments than others. Can it then be consistent with justice to require that all should reach the same standard ? or to punish them if they do not? Or, rather, will he not accept sincere endeavours, according to the measure of the qualifications he has bestowed ? Let us endeavour to illustrate this argument by a familiar case. Suppose a person, a complete master of the art of writing, to have a number of pupils, of different ages and abilities, under his instruction. The pieces he sets before them to copy from, are, of course, without the least imperfection. Only one, perhaps, out of many, can attain to an exact imitation. But are those who cannot, after using all the diligence and attention their capacities admit of, reprobrated as not only unworthy of commendation, but obnoxious to punishment? Or are
not their humbler attainments of real value, and estimated and rewarded accordingly? It is negligence and disobedience only that are thought deserv. ing of chastisement; and so will it be under the
go. vernment of our Almighty ruler*.
If this view of the subject be correct, and if we can properly consider death as the punishment of sin only to the first transgressor, and as no more than the natural consequence of his offence to his posterity, it will relieve us from much perplexity in assigning the reason why infants, and such as could not possibly have offended in their own per. sons, are subjected to pain and mortality. We shall, without reluctance, discard opinions which militate against every proper idea we can form of the equity, the love and mercy of the Supreme Being, as charging him with punishing us for being what he himself hath made us. It will not be difficult to conceive, that his permitting the continu. ance of a race of imperfect and mortal creatures, may be the means of multiplying the subjects of final happiness, and thus of answering the of all his dispensations as to this world, the bringing good out of apparent evil, and we shall be enabled to give a rational interpretation to those pas. sages, “ hard to be understood,” in the epistle of Paul to the Romans, which speak of sin reigning unto death, &c.
* It will easily be perceived, that this state of the case is exactly conformable to our Lord's representation in the parable of the Talents, with which the opposite scheme is totally inconsistent
It is astonishing, that so much stress is laid on that text, Gal. iii. 10. “ Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them,” as a proof, that every failure in perfect obedience incurs the wrath of the Almighty; when the whole context shows that the apostle made this quotation from the Pentateuch, in order to deter the Galatians from abandoning the liberty with which Christ had made them free, and returning under the burdensomé yoke of the ceremonial law. No, surely; the God whom we serve is not such a hard master, as to expect to reap where he hath not sown, or to gather where he hath not strewed. Our compassionate Father, who is love itself, will not falsify his own offers of mercy, by insisting upon a full equivalent for every thing in which we may involuntarily fall short; far less will be take vengeance for our de. fects, by pouring out the vials of his wrath on the head of another, who is perfectly innocent. His law, if framed on such principles, would be such as no human government ever knew, or, if known, by the common consent of mankind would be held in detestation. The orthodox doctrine has been said to do equal honour to the justice and the mercy of God. With justice, which ought to be only an. other term for equity, such proceedings can have nothing to do; and where full satisfaction is insisted upon and received, mercy is laid out of the question. But, on the contrary, we have God's own authority, for believing that mercy is his darling attribute, and judgment (or punishment) his strange
work ; his goodness is his glory; his name, pro. claimed by himself, is “the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.” Each of these particulars might afford matter for delightful meditation. Behold! how he expatiates, and even seems to dwell upon the pleasing theme, as if the language of mortals were scarcely sufficient to convey adequate ideas of the extent of his
mercy. He is not only willing to forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin, when actually committed, but he has mercy in reserve; he lays it by in store, to be ready against the time of need; and for thousands for indefinite numbers (not for a chosen few), of his frail, erring creatures. In Psalm ciii, the bold and lofty figures of oriental language are employed in the representation : “ As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting, upon them that fear him. Nay, to hope in his mercy, is the way to recommend ourselves to his favour. Psalm cxlvi. 11. “ The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.” But the passages of scripture to this effect are too numerous to be quoted. There is one in the gospel, however, of a nature so attractive, that it is im. possible to let it pass without notice. It is the parable of the prodigal son.
One would imagine our Lord had taken for the ground-work of it those
verses in Psalın cüži, “Like as
“ Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him; for he knoweth their frame, he remembereth that they are dust.” Here he represents God (as indeed he always does) as standing to mankind in that relation, which all who have borne it know to be attended with the strongest emotions of tender.
The wretched prodigal, experiencing the consequences of his folly (consequences which the laws of God's moral government have established, in order to awaken sinners to a sense of their con. dition), thinks of returning to his father's house, and frames a most humble and penitential address, to be made on presenting himself before that parent, whose favours he justly conceives that he has for ever forfeited. “Father! I have sinned against Heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.” But how is the father employed in the mean time? He is persuaded that the evils his unthinking son had brought upon him . self, must have roused him to serious thought and reflection. He anxiously expects, and looks, out for his return. He catches the first glimpse of him; his bowels yearn with compassion ; he cannot wait for his nearer approach, but Aies to meet him, falls on his neck, and kisses him; and all this, before the poor penitent can utter a word of the humble confession he has prepared. When begun, be stays not to hear it out, but interrupts him with orders to his servants, to array him in apparel befitting him as his son, and to prepare a joyful feast,