Imatges de pÓgina
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the mediatorship of Christ hath repaired all the indignities of sin, and shed a glory over the truth and justice of the lawgiver,

if they will still persist in looking to him through another channel than that of his own revelation; he will persist in looking to them with the aspect of a stern and unappeased enemy. He will not let down the honours of his inflexible character, for the sake of those who refuse his way of salvation. He will not fall in with the delusions of those who profess to revere this character, and then shake the whole burden of conscious guilt and infirmity away from them, by the presumption, that in some way or other, the mercy of God will interpose to defend them from the vengeance of his more severe and unrelenting perfections. The one and the only way, in which he dispenses mercy, is through the atonement of Christ,—and if your confidence be laid in any other quarter, he will put that confidence to shame. He will not accept the prayers of those, who can thus make free with the unchangeable attributes which belong to him. He will not descend with such to any intercourse of affection whatever. He will not own the approaches, nor will he deal out any boon from the storehouse of his grace, to those who profess a general confidence in his mercy--when, instead of a mercy which guards, and dignifies, and keeps entire the whole glory and character of God, it is a mercy which belies his word, which invades his other perfections, which spoils the divine image of its grandeur, which breaks up the whole fabric of his moral government, and would make the throne of heaven the seat of an unmeaning pageant, the throne of an insulted and degraded sovereign.

The religion of nature,-or the religion of unaided demonstration,--or the religion of our most fashionable and philosophical schools, leaves this question totally undisposed of ;—and at the same time, till the question be resolved, all the hopes of the human soul are in a state of the most fearful uncertainty. This religion makes God the subject of its demonstrations, and it draws out a list of attributes, and it makes the justice of God to be one of these attributes, and the placability of God to be another of them, and it admits that it is in virtue of the former perfection of his nature, that he makes condemnation and

punishment to rest on the head of those who violate his law, and that it is in virtue of the latter perfection that he looks connivance, and extends pardon to such violations.

Now, the question which the disciples of this religion have never settled, is, how to strike the compromise between these attributes. They cannot dissipate the cloud of mystery, which hangs over the line of demarcation that is between them. They cannot tell in how far the justice of God will insist on its exactions and its claims, or what the extent of that disobedience is, over which the placability of God will spread the shelter of a generous forgiveness. There is a dilemma here, out of which they cannot unwarp themselves,-a question to which they can give no other answer, than the expressive answer of their silence, and it is such a silence, as leaves our every apprehension unquelled, and the whole burden of our unappeased doubts and difficulties as insupportable as before. What we demand is, that they shall lay down the steady and unalterable position of that limit, at which the justice of God, and the placa-, bility of God, cease their respective encroachments on each other. If they cannot tell this, they can tell nothing that is of any consequence, either to the purpose of comfort, or of direction. The sinner wishes to know on which side of this unknown and undetermined limit, his degree of sinfulness is placed. He wishes to know whether his offences are such as come under the operation of justice, or of mercy,-whether the one attribute will exact from him the penalty, or the other will smile on him connivance. It is in vain to say, that if he repent and turn from them, mercy will claim, him as her own, and recover him from the dominion of justice, and spread over all his sins the mantle of an everlasting oblivion. This may still be saying nothing, for the work of repentance is a work, which, though he should be always trying, he always fails in; and in spite of his every exertion, there is a sin and a shortness in all his services. And when he casts his eye along the scale of character, he sees the better and the worse on each side of him; and the difficulty still recurs, how far down in the scale does mercy extend, or how far up on this scale does justice carry its fiery sentence of condemnation. And thus it is, that he feels no fixed

security, which he can lay hold of,--no solid ground on which he can lay the trust of his acceptance with God. And this religion, which has left the whole problem of the attributes unde. termined, which can furnish the sinner with no light, by which he may be made to perceive how justice can be displayed, but at the expense of mercy, or how mercy can be displayed, but by breaking in upon the entireness of justice; this hollow, baseless, unsupported system, which, by mangling and deforming the whole aspect of the Deity, has virtually left man without God, has also, by the faint and twilight obscurity, or rather by the midnight darkness in which it has involved the question about the point of sinfulness, at which the one attribute begins the exercise of its rigour, and the other ceases its indulgence, not only left man without God, but also left him without any solid hope in the world.

But, Secondly, the confidence we have been attempting to expose, is hostile to the cause of practical righteousness in the world.

For what is the real and experimental effect of the obscurity in question on the practice of mankind? The question about our interest with God, is felt to be unresolvable; and, under this feeling, no genuine attempt is made to resolve it. Man eases himselt of the difficulty by putting it away from him; and, as he cannot find the point of gradation in the scale of character, on the one side of which, there lies acceptance with God, and on the other side of it, condemnation,-he just upholds himself` in tranquillity at any one point, throughout every one variety of this gradation.

Let the question only be put, How far down, in the scale of character, may this loose system of confidence be carried? and where is the limit between those sins, to which forgiveness may be looked for, and those sins from which it is withheld ? and you will seldom find the man who gives an answer against himself. The world, in fact, is so much the home and the resting-place of every natural man, that you will not get him so to press, and so to prosecute the question, as to come to any conclusion, that is at all likely to alarm him. He will not barter his present peace, for a concern that looks so distant to him

as that of his eternity. The question touches but lightly on his feelings, and an answer conceived lightly, and given lightly, will be enough to pacify him. Go to the man, whose decent and unexceptionable proprieties make him the admiration of all his acquaintances, and even he will allow that he has his infirmities; but he can smother all his apprehensions, and regale his fancy with the smile of an indulgent God. Take, now a descending step in the scale of character; and do you think there is not to be met with there, the very same process of conscious infirmity on the one hand, and of vague, general, and bewildering confidence on the other? Will the people of the lower station not do the very same thing with the people above them?-Compare themselves with themselves, and find equals to keep them in countenance, and share in the average respect that circulates around them, and take comfort in the review of their very fair and neighbourlike accomplishments, and with the allowance of being just such sinners as they are in the daily habit of associating with, get all their remorse, and all their gloomy anticipations disposed of, by throwing the whole burden of them, in a loose and general way, on the indulgence of God?

And where in the name of truth and of righteousness, will this stop? We can answer that question. It will not stop at all. It will describe the whole range of human character; and we challenge you to put your finger on that point where it is to terminate, or to find out the place where a barrier is to be raised, against the progress of this mischievous security. It will go downwards and downwards, till it come to the very verge of the malefactor's dungeon. Nay, it will enter there; and we doubt not that an enlightened discerner may witness, even in this receptacle of outcasts the operation of the very sentiment, which gives such peace and such buoyancy to him whose moral accomplishments throw around him the lustre of a superior estimation. But this lustre will not impose on the eye of God. The Discerner of the heart sees that one and all of us are alienated from him, and strangers to the obligation of his high and spiritual acquirements. He declares the name of Christ to be the only one given under heaven, whereby men can be

saved; and after this, every act of confidence, disowning his name, is an expression of the most insulting impiety. On the system of general confidence every man is left to sin just as much as he likes, and to take comfort just as much as his pow ers of delusion can administer to him. At this rate, the government of God is unhinged,-the whole earth is broken loose from the system of his administration, he is deposed from his supremacy altogether,--peace, when there is no peace, spreads its deadly poison over the face of society,—and one sentiment, of deep and fatal tranquility about the things of God, takes up its firm residence in a world, which, from one end to the other of it, sends up the cry of rebellion against him.

This is a sore evil. The want of a fixed and clearly perceptible line between the justice and placability of the divine nature, not only buries in utter darkness the question of our acceptance with God; but, by throwing every thing loose and undetermined, it opens up the range of a most lawless and uncontrolled impunity for the disobedience of man, up from its gentler deviations, and down to its most profligate and daring excesses. If there be no intelligible line to separate the exercise of the justice of God from the exercise of his placability, every individual will fix this line for himself; and he will make these two attributes to be yea and nay, or fast and loose with each other; and he will stretch out the placability, and he will press upon the justice, just as much as to accommodate the standard of his religious principles to the state of his religious practice ; and he will make every thing to square with his own existing taste, and wishes, and convenience; and his mind will soon work its own way to a system of religious opinions which gives him no disturbance; and the spirit of a deep slumber will lay hold of his deluded conscience; and thus, from the want of a settled line, from the vague, ambiguous, and indefinite way in which this matter is taken up, and brought to a very loose and general conclusion,-or, in other words, from that very way in which natural religion, whether among deists, or our more slender professors of Christianity, leaves the whole question, about the limit of the attributes, unentered upon,-will every man take comfort in the imagined tenderness of God, just as much

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