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Joseph towards his brethren, in this respect, is godlike, and an excellent pattern for our imitation. The Lord is a gracious and merciful God, abundant in compassion; but he never has, and never will pardon any who have rebelled against him, before they are brought to true, evangelical repentance. In like manner is the duty of forgiveness inculcated upon mankind abundantly in the holy scriptures. If others have trespassed against us, and they confess their faults, or exhibit evidence of genuine repentance, they are to be forgiven. Even against our enemies we are not to cherish a spirit of enmity and revenge, but a friendly and forgiving spirit. Some injuries do, indeed, demand reparation; but where true penitence is, there is also always a disposition, to make restitution. Even the sacred volume does not demand the expression of forgiveness, till there is confession of fault, or a manifestation of sorrow for the wrong. When we are required to forgive our enemies, the true import is, that we should exercise a forgiving and not revengeful disposition; that if they exhibit repentance, we should put forth the act of forgiveness. As we would hope to obtain the pardon of our sins from God, when we confess and forsake them, so we should be ready to do towards our enemies; and more than this, certainly is not required. The Lord is pleased to see penitent, returning prodigals, and such only does he forgive. So we should heartily desire to have our enemies, even those who have greatly injured us, become at peace, be reconciled; and when they manifest a spirit of penitence, we should manifest the spirit of the gospel, a spirit of forgiveness.
5th. This subject is calculated to give us clear and striking views of the perfect righteousness and adorable mercy of God. Whatever excellent or amiable natural talents any possess, they must be born again or they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. However engaging or pleasing the manners of any may be in
the view of men, without that repentance which is unto life, they must perish. On the other hand, if sin shall have polluted the soul like that of Manasseh, or Mary Magdalene, and it be created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works, it will triumph with seraphs in eternal life. Neither the number nor magnitude of our sins will exclude us from immortal bliss, if we have repentance toward God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Through the adoring grace and mercy of God, by godly sorrow and repentance unto salvation, some of the greatest sinners and vilest wretches that have ever lived, have been received to mansions above, to sing for ever the glorious songs of redeeming love. Unless the heart be renewed by grace, there can be no qualifications to prepare for heaven. But to every penitent, believing soul, the language of its Maker is, I am thy reconciled God, thine everlasting inheritance, and eternal, glorious recompense of reward. Amen.
A VAIN CURIOSITY REPROVED.
John, xxi. 22.
What is that to thee? follow thou me.
THE directions of the word of God are as varied as the circumstances of man require. They are suited to his fallen state; and calculated to lead him in the pathway of life. The blessed Saviour was ever ready to give salutary counsel; and his instructions discover superiour excellence, because they were so wisely and timely given. He who spake as never man spake, on every occasion was faithful, and. would direct the attention and pursuit of man to his dearest interest for time and for eternity. No favourable opportunity was unimproved, nor seasonable instruction withheld. His words were ever fitly spoken, whether of compassion or severity; of encouragement or rebuke. After having put the question to Peter three different times, Lovest thou me, he adds, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself and walkest whither thou wouldst; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following, which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is
that to thee? follow thou me. Peter had earnestly professed his readiness to die with Christ; yet when put to the trial, he shamefully failed him. But our Lord next assured him that he would at length be called on, and enabled to perform that engagement. In his youth he had been used to gird himself, and to walk at liberty as he pleased. But in his old age, he would be required to stretch out his hands, that others might bind him and carry him to endure those sufferings at which nature would be reluctant. This signified the death by which he would glorify God, as a martyr for the truth. Jesus next called upon him to signify his readiness to adhere to his cause, even unto death, by rising up and following him; with which Peter complied without hesitation. But' turning about, he saw John also, without any command, showing the same willingness to suffer death for the sake, and after the example of his beloved Lord. This led Peter to inquire, What he was to do; Was he also to be a martyr? To this our Lord replied, That if it were his will he should abide on earth till his coming, that was no concern of Peter's, who ought not to indulge a vain curiosity, but to follow him. This would be a token and evidence of his readiness to adhere to his instructions, to obey his commandments, to copy his example, and to suffer for his sake.
This illustration of the inquiry of Peter, and the answer of the Saviour, may lead us to see, that mankind are apt to inquire into those things in which they are not immediately concerned, rather than into those in which they are most deeply interested. Some particular subjects of inquiry of this kind, will be noticed and illustrated.
1st. As it respects the common affairs of life, some discover a fondness and inquisitiveness to become acquainted with the concerns of others, to which they are neither called by duty nor interest. Mankind may with propriety inquire into the situation of
their neighbours, as it respects either their prosperity or adversity. But they should be careful to possess a right spirit and intention, when such inquiries are made. Would they learn the welfare of others to rejoice with them, and not for envy, they do well. Would they inquire into their distresses and misfortunes, in order to sympathize with them and afford relief, instead of rejoicing in their calamities, their conduct would be truly becoming and commendable. Objects of distress and charity are to be sought cut, that the balm of consolation may be administered to their minds, and the hand of plenty reached forth to supply their wants. Inquiries of such a nature are truly laudable, and have the approbation and blessing of heaven. In the varied pursuits and transactions of life, would any wish to know the concerns or state of others in order to benefit them, the direction of the Saviour, Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others, secures from censure, and commends. But when any would pry into the affairs and concerns of others, and would indulge a vain curiosity to become more acquainted with their circumstances than their own, the words of the text should be applied: What is that to thee? follow thou me. Rather let such, more carefully mind their own business, and meddle less by their inquisitiveness into the prospects of others. Happy would it indeed be, if none merited a more severe rebuke. Some discover a restlessness to pry into the secrets, and learn the disappointments of others, in order to spread them abroad and do an injury. Hence, not only a propensity for curiosity, but a malignant disposition is manifest. Some are ever ready to hear of the failings of others, not to weep for their sins in secret, but to make them publick. This is frequently done by persons who themselves can derive no benefit, nor be serviceable to community. And we are even taught in the sacred oracles, that some are forward to pull out a mote from