« AnteriorContinuar »
2dly, A second cause might be unbelief: he might know the curse, and yet not believe it; and so, not being believed, it could not control his comforts. For though apprehension brings the object to the mind, yet it is belief only that lets it in. But neither can this be always the cause : for certainly, no man is so improved in sin, as to transcend the Devil, who, as the schoolmen say, stands confirmatus in summa malitia : and yet he believes, and that even to trembling. He knows and believes that he shall be tormented to the utmost extent of the very least tittle and jot of all God's threatenings, and yet he sins with a most resolved, implacable purpose; nay, he therefore sins, because he knows and believes it. Wherefore audacious sinning is not always founded upon infidelity.
3dly. But thirdly, though he knows and believes the curse, yet, perhaps, he relaxes nothing of his sin, because he resolves to bear it; and has wrought himself into that hardiness and courage, as to think that he can weather out the storms of God's wrath, and stand the shock of eternal vengeance; and, like Scævola, with the same hand and sturdiness endure the flame with which he committed the sin.
But, alas! where lives that man that can thus reason, either sober or in his wits? The principles of our nature will not bear it. Belshazzar had as much of power, and of drink withal, to raise him to bid defiance to God, as any ruffian under heaven ; and yet when God, as it were, lift but up his finger against him, how poorly did he crouch and shiver! how did his joints loose, and his knees knock together! So that if he felt God's hand so intolerable when it did but write, what would he find it when
it should inflict the sentence! And therefore neither can this be the reason,
But now, if men both apprehend the curse, and believe the truth of it, and withal confess their utter inability to contest with it; what can be the reason that any man can, with a contented mind and a daring hand, proceed in such a strain of rebellion; believing, and yet despising the curse, fearing its weight, and yet defying the event? Why, the reason, I conceive, in short, is a presuming confidence of a future repentance.
This is the great mysterious engine of sin, that turns about the world, that reconciles all the contradictions of interest and religion, that solves all doubts, cuts off all demurs, that can assure a Balaam he shall die the death of the righteous, though he lives upon the wages of iniquity. It is this only that presents sin in some respect rational; that can make even conscience itself sign and seal the petitions of the basest appetite. In short, it works wonders : it unites the joys of heaven and the pleasures of sin; the promises of God and the precepts of the Devil.
I shall not enforce this by any other probation, but by appealing to every man's own conscience; sending him to reflect upon himself, and to consider the temper of his spirit, the inward reasonings and debates of his mind, when he is allured to do any thing, of the unlawfulness of which he stands clearly convinced, whether he is not drawn forth to the actual commission of it by presuming upon impunity, through the interposals of an after repent
For if conscience startles and flies back, and dreads the apple of the temptation, because God's
word is peremptory, He that eats shall die ; future repentance stands forth and supplies the room, and retorts the answer of the Devil, Thou shalt not surely die ; nay, thou mayest repent, and surely live. So that repentance being now stamped as current as perfect obedience, this argument is heightened much beyond what that of the Devil was then capable of; because indefinitely, without any restriction of time or person, God's promise of life to the penitent stands clear and irreversible.
Now what can speak more home and full to a man's desires, and, in a great measure, to his reason, than that which encourages him to crop the present sweets of sin, by giving him security against the future smart? Let the wine be never so poisonous, a man may safely drink it, when he has not only an appetite for its sweetness, but also an antidote against its poison.
This, this therefore is the very hinge upon which the whole persuasive force of sin turns and depends; the only temptation that seems unanswerable. Others indeed may allure; this alone argues a man into sin. And I desire to leave this with you, as an observation infallibly true, that were it not for the persuasions of a future repentance, a knowing man could scarce ever be brought to sin against his conscience.
But now if this be overthrown, and proved to be both absurd and dangerous, as I hope some part of the ensuing discourse shall do, with clear, undeniable evidence, then all other temptations, that are but the mere appendices of this, will fall and vanish of themselves : as by confuting the main hypothesis of an opinion, all other arguments by consequence
drawn from thence, are also by consequence confuted.
Now the face of these words is directly set against this soul-devouring imposture of a deferred repentance. The words are short and cutting, full of a smart and reprehensive vehemency; the word and the blow seems to go together.
In the prosecution of them, for a more methodical proceeding, it will be convenient to inquire into their occasion. For since they are a command, and every command respects some person to whom it is directed ; and since this command is of repentance, which always relates to some sin to be repented of; this inquiry will give us a fair insight and introduction into both.
First of all then, for the occasion of these words: if we have recourse to the 12th verse, we shall find that they are part of a letter to the church of Pergamos, indited by the Spirit of God, and directed to the angel of that church.
And here it will not be amiss briefly to consider what the angel of that church was. It is evident, that the church of Pergamos must be taken collectively, for many particular churches included in it; for that it should be but one particular church, considering the number of the persons, and the extent of the place, cannot with any colour of sense or reason be affirmed. By angel therefore must be understood that chief pastor, who had the supervisal and government of those particular churches, and the pastors of them contained within the compass of Pergamos; correspondent to a bishop among us, ruling over the particular churches and ministers of his diocese.
And the denomination of angel shews the divine justification of the office, it being in Eccles. v. 6 given to the priest, the chief ruler of the Jewish church. Neither can any instance be given of the name of angel ascribed to any person employed about the church; but it imports a messenger from God. So that, I say, it is probable, that the word carries in it divine institution. But, however, both the word and the usage of it here imports Christ's owning and approbation of the office : and confirmation is a kind of after-insinuation ; at least, it is no less authentic. But some reply, that the word angel may be applied here to some one pastor or presbyter, equal to the rest. To which I answer, that it is highly improbable that the Spirit should address a message to one minister, who was but equal to the rest, and no more concerned in it than the rest, and that about a matter relating to all their churches.
But I add further, that this could not be; for one pastor over a particular church has nothing to do to interpose and correct the abuses of other particular churches, which are severally under their own pastors and governors.
But now the minister here spoke of is blamed for the abuses of all the churches in Pergamos, and charged to rectify them; which clearly imports, that he stood invested with a more general and extended jurisdiction. And this by the way, though yet it is no digression.
Having thus shewn who the person was to whom this letter was directed; in the next place, we are to consider the subject matter of the letter itself; which contains in it these three things : 1st, Commemoration of the virtues and graces that were eminent