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'Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for he is faithful that promised); and let us consider one another, to provoke unto love, and to good works; Heb. x. 19, 20. 23, 24.
And now let us humbly beseech the Holy Spirit to quicken our hearts with this faith; let us earnestly beseech our gracious Saviour powerfully to intercede for us, and all other believers; and, finally, let us humbly beseech the Father of mercies to accept of us, through the effectual merit and mediation of our Redeemer; to whom, in the unity of the ever-blessed Trinity, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now, and for evermore. Amen.
THE SANCTIONS OF THE CHRISTIAN LAW.
MATTHEW xxv. 46.
These shall go away into everlasting punishment ; but the righteous into life eternal.
THE Christian religion is every where represented to us in Scripture, as a covenant between God and each particular Christian. The promise of God, who will never deceive us, is sufficient to assure us of the performance on his part. But as we were by the fallibility of our original nature capable of non-performance on our part; and as we are, under the present corruption of that nature, strongly disposed to falsify our promises to him; so it is necessary, in order to a firm perseverance in our engagements, that we should have somewhat of much greater strength to bind us, than the mere abstracted virtue of a promise. What, or how great, this should be, he can best conjecture, who best knows the
depravity of his own nature, and the violence of the temptations to which he is exposed. Such a one will not take the covenant upon him, if he does not expect the greatest advantages from keeping it, unless the disadvantages arising from a total refusal of it should, in his judgment, be nearly equal to those he might apprehend from a failure on his side, in case he should enter into it. But as all men are by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath,' a covenant of peace with God, on any terms must be highly eligible to every man, provided that peace is to be followed by an ability bestowed on the new Christian to keep his part of the covenant, and by the greatest happiness his nature is capable of receiving, expressly engaged to him by the promise of God, on his duly observing the articles he stipulates for. This will continue true, although he should be by the same covenant threatened with an equal degree of misery on nonperformance; first, because he hath no reason to expect exemption from that misery, in case he should not covenant at all; that is, in case he should still remain in his original state of enmity with God; and secondly, because, be the misery ever so great, as he hath it in his power to avoid it, he can have no reasonable objection to the covenant on that account, while he considers himself as a rational creature, whose lowest character it is, to choose good rather than evil, the greatest good rather than the greatest evil.
This is a true account of the Christian covenant, so far as the justice and goodness of God, and the happiness of men, can be considered as affected by it. It proposes infinite happiness, to which we have previously no right. It threatens eternal misery, to which we were liable however. It does both, to beings who have sense enough to prefer the pleasure they find in the smell of a rose, to the pain they feel in the prick of a pin. Whatsoever the weakness of man may really be, the self-sufficient, who thinks his reason a wise enough guide, who loves virtue for its own abstracted beauty, who hates vice for its own abstracted deformity, and who therefore insists he needs nothing but his own nature to make him live a life acceptable to God, hath not the shadow of a pretence for declining this covenant. The observation of its articles will not put him a hair's breadth out of his own way; and, if its motives are not necessary to
him, they will not, however, lessen the force of those he borrows from the excellence of his nature. As to us, who confess ourselves corrupt and ill-disposed by nature, we stand in need of strong hopes and fears to keep us in our duty; and therefore have reason, as often as we fall into temptation, to look on the eternal sanctions of our covenant as necessary and happy preservatives of our virtue. Sure I am, we never find them too cogent. Nay, were it not for the assistance of God's Holy Spirit, which he always lends to such as covenant with him, and do their best to stand fast in that covenant, great and powerful as its sanctions are, so miserably are we enslaved, through the corruption of our nature, to sin, that we should never be able to perform the conditions requisite on our part.
The happy self-sufficient may, on this confession, treat us with contempt, as creatures of very bad dispositions, or of such meanness and folly, as to confess a weakness we are perhaps no more addicted to than others; they may call us mercenary wretches, and wholly destitute of virtue, because we do good through hope of reward, and abstain from evil through dread of punishment; but they must own we are humble; especially when they hear we lay claim to no other merit, than that of humility, and a just sense of our own infirmities. It is true, we hope this diffidence of ourselves may make us watchful, and careful to apply for greater strength than our own; may preserve in us a lively attention to the sanctions of our covenant, as necessary to creatures so full of frailty; we hope these helps may keep us in our duty, till that duty becomes agreeable to us on its own account; but infinitely more because it is most pleasing in his sight, to whom we owe our being, and all the good annexed to that being. We think the scheme of improvement, chalked out by the Christian covenant, bids fairer for this effect in us than any other; which if, with the blessing of God, it should at length produce, we shall then have no great reason to envy others, who could begin a course of virtue without, as they tell us, the least regard to their own happiness.
But should these men ask us how we came to think so very meanly of ourselves, since we were cast in the same mould with them, and had originally an equal chance for excellence of nature; we shall readily own, it was experi
ence and Scripture that taught us this lesson of humility, and convinced us we could not be reformed without hopes and fears in futurity. We found so great a weakness in our judgment, that we often took a thing for good, merely because it was pleasant; and a thing for evil, merely because it was disagreeable; which we afterward found, to our cost, the very reverse. We also found, that when we judged best of things, it was often impossible to bring our affections and passions so to second our judgment, as to procure it the direction of our wills. Whether we ever saw the beauty of virtue with such enamoured eyes, or the ugliness of vice with so deep a distaste, as the men we are speaking to did, we cannot tell: taking them by their professions, we believe we did not; for we often found vice pleasant, and virtue disagreeable: but if we are to judge by their actions, compared with our own, we cannot see reason to think there was originally any great difference between them and us. Of the difference, as it stands at present, there is but one who hath a right to judge. Having long smarted under the rod of experience, which, they say, is the tutoress of fools, we at length recovered sense enough to find out our own defects; which put us on applying to God for
But we no sooner opened his word with this view, than we saw, what our own experience had told us, that we are ' conceived and born in sin;' that the thoughts of our hearts are only evil continually;' that our hearts are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;' and that we are unable of ourselves, to help ourselves' to better dispositions. We there saw this corruption of our nature accounted for, and a method of cure provided for it in the Christian covenant, which, laying hold of our affections and passions, those instruments of sin, in our present natural state of depravity, hath converted them into so many engines of reformation, by proposing the eternal joys of heaven, as a proper object of the first; and the endless miseries of hell, as a bridle to the last. The more these joys engaged our desires, and the more these terrors alarmed our fears, the less sensibly did we feel the force of temptation. Hence it was, that, although the effect of our fears, was very
shocking, we did not wish it less; because we found, the more agreeable impressions made on our desires would not have been sufficient without it. We were so depraved and stupefied in sin, so thoroughly convinced of our own inability to subdue it in ourselves, and so much afraid of feeling its dreadful effects in our state of separation from, and enmity with God, that we were glad of peace and reformation on any terms; and therefore closed with the covenant, as well satisfied with its dreadful threatenings, which we saw necessary, as with its sweetest promises, which our corrupt nature forbade us to hope for, without a due attention to those threatenings. Bad as we still are, we are sensible we should have been much worse, had we wanted either the happiness of futurity, as an incitement to good, or the terrors of eternity, as a dissuasive from bad actions.
Thus you have our confession honestly laid before you. Do not despise us altogether for the judgment we have made of the covenant and ourselves; you, I mean, who own the Scriptures, and yet look on our motives as mercenary and slavish; till you have better considered, that those 'Scriptures have concluded all,' not excepting even you, 'under sin,' Gal. iii. 22; that they tell you, The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek God;' but found reason to say, 'They are all gone aside; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doth good, no, not one,' Psal. xiv. 2, 3; and that, in order to reclaim mankind, he hath promised us, on the dissolution of this earthly tabernacle, 'a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,' 2 Cor. v. 1; and threatened in case of disobedience, to cast us into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched,' Mark ix. 45. There is no honorary exception for you here. You may, in as high terms as you please, declare your disinterested love of virtue, and tell us you disdain to pursue it for the sake of heaven; but you see the all-knowing God hath 'concluded you under sin,' as well as us; hath pronounced your hearts deceitful and desperately wicked,' as well as ours; perhaps not the less deceitful and wicked, for your high opinion of them; and hath proposed the joys of heaven, and the torments of hell, as the