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He has the freshness, the fire, the frank honesty of youth; while genius gives him the easy superiority over the dry moralities and antiquated formularies of the friends. But he falls short of the highest wisdom, though he is inspired to utter some of the deepest, truest, most blessed thoughts which are to be found in the whole word of God. There is the whole philosophy of mediation in the passage which I have just quoted. There is the whole philosophy of penitence in the text. The essential principles are all here. I know 'not anywhere a fuller exposition of the act of the soul in repenting than these words set forth. “ He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, I have perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light.” I shall ask you to consider with me,
I. The creed of penitence.
III. The fruit of penitence through the redeeming mercy and grace of God. . 1. The creed of penitence.
1. An absolute good and evil, right and wrong. There are those in whose sight the burden of a guilty conscience is but a bad form of hypochondria. The agony of a soul under a sense of its sin, of the tyranny which it exercises, and the
misery which it works, is for such but a morbid condition of the system ; as Mr. Emerson somewhere says, “ The mumps and measles of the soul,” needing a wise physician, rather than the blood of atonement; time and a good constitution, rather than a divine cure. There are many able men in our country at this day, “who profess and call themselves Christians,” and who take a busy part in all the higher activities and movements of our times, who simply smile at the experience of a guiltburdened sinner; who, if you speak to them of the witness of the human conscience to God's righteousness and holiness as demanding an atonement of the impossibility of peace, except on the conditions which God has laid down in His word of the unrest and misery of a spirit which, conscious not of transgression only, but of a fatal proneness to transgress, not of sins only but of sin, has never been brought by faith into the peace of God—will tell
you that it is a mere delusion, a morbid moral state, to be treated seriously and even reverently as a solemn reality to the sufferer, but having no other reality, no ground in the mind of God toward the sinner, and the way of God in the forgiveness of souls. They tell us that if a man can but feel that all this care and pain is foolish and useless, throw himself on the simple goodness of God to forget the past, and strive to do better for
the future, that is all that God requires—then all is well, all is peace.
It is not the creed of the penitent; and while the world lasts, the penitent's creed will express
the conviction and feeling of mankind. “ For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” “ There is no man that doeth good, and sinneth not." not into judgment with thy servants, O Lord God, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee, and I am no more worthy to be called thy son.” At the root of this creed lies the conviction which I am considering in this head of
discourse. Right and wrong, good and evil, are fixed and absolute opposites. Opinions of men may vary, the good of one country may be the evil of another, the right of one age may be the wrong of the next, but the things themselves do not vary; they abide immutable, because there is One who knows them and before whom they are real, who abides immutable; and they, receiving not sanctions or judgments from men, are the judges of men, and settle it absolutely for men whether it shall be well with them or no.
A Malay may believe that it is good to be a thief, so that the thieving be done cleverly. An Englishman may believe that it is good to be honest. It is not a matter of indifference to the inner as well as to the outer life of the one and of
the other whether they change convictions or no, so that they adopt them thoroughly. The one stands so far square with the law which rules the great universe, in tune with all things around him, and in the way of their blessings ; while the other is in contempt of that law, in collision with all realities around him, seen and unseen, and in the way of their curse. The devil may try to persuade us it is all one. It is two, and two for ever. There is a right which is God's rule in the soul, and in the universe; there is a wrong which is the devil's counterfeit of God's rule. All the force of Heaven, were it put forth, could not make the wrong beautiful and blessed; all the force of Hell could not make the right foul and accursed.
The one remains the principle of order and the fountain of blessing to all intelligent creatures, the other the source of sorrow and the principle of discord. For them to change their essential natures is as impossible as for God to change. Equally impossible is it for man to escape their judgments. He that doeth righteously shall be blessed, he that doeth unrighteously shall be cursed, in any age, in any
world. The idea that it does not matter much what a man believes so that he believes it heartily, justified as it seems to be by the number of good men of all creeds that you meet with, cannot stand. In the first place, it is
impossible in a large sense of the term, in the only true sense of the term, to get at the whole creed of a man. Just as there are unwritten laws which have their sphere of power, so there are unspoken, unspeakable beliefs haunting the inner chambers of every man's nature, which make his uttered creed a very partial representation of that belief which moulds his life. Then practically, and very much in virtue of these unspoken beliefs, a man's formal creed, that by which you label him in your catalogue, may bear a very imperfect relation indeed to his moral and spiritual state before God as a lover of truth and righteousness. He may be better or worse than his creed would justify you in supposing, and in spite of it. Again, there are limits of divergence of opinion and judgment on moral and spiritual questions, within which their effect on the character, though real, is as difficult to trace as a law of storms in the variable belt of the world's atmosphere; while beyond those limits
you may trace the reflex action of belief very readily indeed. You may say in the same way of a healthy man, that it does not much matter what he eats. There are limits within which it is true; but if he take to straying beyond those limits and eat arsenic or nightshade, it matters everything ; it becomes, even to the healthiest, matter of life or of death. And thus it is with the right, the good, and