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And thus I have shewn of what stamp, what kind, that fear is, which is intended in the words. It is such an one as is qualified with a prevailing mixture of love; such an one as does not shake, but settle the soul; not terrify, but compose the mind. And lastly, it is such an one as does not cramp and restrain our operative faculties; but shines in duty, and displays itself in performance.
Having thus shewn what the fear is that stands mentioned in the text;
2dly, I come now to the second thing proposed, which is to shew, how God's forgiveness may be an argument to enforce this fear. And it does it in these two respects.
(1.) Because the neglect of the fear of God, upon supposal that he has forgiven us our sins, is highly disingenuous.
Forgiveness is an after-game of mercy; a thing that the first rigours of the law neither knew nor admitted. It stood upon the narrow precipice of exact obedience or certain damnation. It was all severity, without the least allay of mercy. It was a thunder without lightning. Mercy was a miracle that Moses never shewed; and pardon, an absurdity in the documents of mount Sinai.
But man not being able to come up to the command, the gentle compliances of mercy were pleased to bring down the command to us, and to allow tabulam post naufragium, repentance and forgiveness to stand in the breach, and to supply the impossibilities of indefective obedience.
But shall we now turn our table into a snare, and offend because we may be forgiven, and so make the sinner's asylum an argument for the sin ? Shall
we kick at our father's bowels, only because they can relent?
This is impiety heightened into inhumanity, such a behaviour as even good-nature would detest between man and man, in which we treat our Redeemer below the endearments of a friend.
The sum of all must be this: Had not God been merciful, he had not been dishonoured ; and sin had not abounded, but by the antiperistasis of grace. Pardon is made a decoy to the crime, and a possibility to be saved trapans into a certainty of being damned.
(2.) The second reason is, because the neglect of God's fear upon the account of his forgiveness, besides the disingenuity of it, is also most provoking and dangerous.
There is nothing that any person disgusts with so keen and tender a resentment, as the rejections of his love, and the abuse of his favour.
There is something in God's greatness, majesty, and justice, that may indeed terrify and command, but it cannot endear: but the caresses of love and pardon should make a closer insinuation, and attract the very heart; whereas the other perhaps only tie the hands.
Justly therefore does God's jealousy burn where his love is despised; and one flame kindle, to revenge the contempt of another.
Because God has shewn himself so much a father, shall he therefore cease to be a master? Shall his condescensions to us take away our honour to him?
Truly, he that sins against the first Mosaical dispensation of an inflexible law, and he that takes heart to offend because of the gracious allowances of
forgiveness and restoration, differ as much as he who sins against a prince's justice, and he who sins against his acts of indemnity.
The economy of God's attributes is such, that from some of them we may appeal to others; but there are some again, from which there lies no appeal. As when the divine power and justice threatens us, there is yet a refuge in his mercy; but he that is bankrupt upon the score of mercy, has no other relief to rest upon. He has sinned against his last remedy: he has poisoned himself with a cordial : he has stumbled at that stone upon which he should have built. When compassion condemns us, who shall be our advocate?
Now from the words hitherto discussed, we may make these two deductions.
1. We may learn hence the different nature of Christ's spiritual kingdom, from all other kingdoms in the world; and that not only in respect of the external administration of it, that it is not bolstered out with pomp and shew, and other little assistances of grandeur and secular artifice; but chiefly in respect of that which is the main instrument and hinge of government and subjection, the fear of the subject.
Where there is no fear, there can be no government, that is certain. But how does Christ work this ? Why, not by the rack, the prison, or the sword of justice, but by new, strange, and supernatural methods of pardon and compassion. His goodness shall bind our hands; and his very forgivenesses shall make us fearful to offend.
But how incongruous an argument would this be to an earthly potentate, There is forgiveness with
thee, that thou mayest. be feared ? Who ever was formidable for his pardons ? And who ever was great and secure, that was not formidable ?
Such is the baseness of men, that from impunity they take occasion rather to insult than to obey ; and being forgiven, look upon their prince's forgiveness rather as a spoil extorted from his fear, than as a favour issuing from his goodness.
Guilt is eternally suspicious; and suspicion, even after a pardon, will be still standing upon its guard, still in a posture of defence; neither will it ever think itself sufficiently defended, till it has ruined and removed the injured person, whom its own unworthiness makes it fear. He that receives an injury may pardon it; but he that first does the injury is irreconcileable.
But how comes Christ then to state so sure a subjection upon so different a ground? And why do not men, when they have offended him, for ever after hate him; and having once presumed, for the future despair? Why, it is because he is God, the great Creator of the heart, and so at his pleasure can change it : and by the secret energy of his Spirit, conquer it in its strongest notions and inclinations. This is the only way by which he reconciles the sinner to himself. And so may any earthly prince make his enemies become his friends, when he can get the power of changing man's nature, but hardly before.
2. We may learn from hence, upon what ground every man is to build the persuasion of the pardon of his sins. It is the temper of most persons, to be more busy about their assurance than their obe
A SERMON ON PSALM CXXX. 4.
dience; and to be confident of their reward, while they should be solicitous about their duty.
But now to discover whether such men's confidence be sound and rational, or vain and fallacious, I should recommend to them this one criterion and mark of trial; namely, to reflect upon and consider what effects this persuasion of God's mercy works upon their spirits.
Do they find that it begets in them a greater tenderness to displease God, a greater caution and circumspection in their behaviour ? a greater abhorrency of sin, and a more ardent inclination to virtue? Do they find that the more confident they are of God's mercy, the more fearful they are to offend the pure eyes of his holiness?
If so, they have great cause. to conclude, that these persuasions are not mere delusions, but the attestation of God's Spirit to their spirits, transcribing the decree of Heaven upon their hearts in the great designs of their salvation.
But if men, from the persuasions of mercy, grow impudent and bold in sin, presume upon God's patience, and venture far upon the stock of a supposed forgiveness, they must know that they are under the power of a destructive infatuation.
Mercy was never intended to serve any man in his vice, to smooth him in his sin, and, by abused hopes of pardon, to strengthen the hands of his corruption. And therefore he that from God's mercy gathers no argument for his fear, may conclude thus much, that there is indeed forgiveness with God, but no forgiveness for him.