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If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall
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TUSTICE and mercy are the perfections of the divine w nature, in which we as finners have a peculiar con. cern. Our world is the great theatre, and the human race the great, or, so far as we know, the only objects of their united exercise. Clear and just apprehensions, there. fore, of those attributes, must lie at the foundation of all religion. It is easy to see, that a discovery, both of justice and mercy, is necessary to bring the finner to repentance. He must see the guilt and misery in which he is involved, and the way by which he may certainly, and by which he can only, obtain a recovery. The same views are equally necessary to every Christian, during his continuance in this imperfect state. They are necessary to that self-denial which ought to be his habitual character, and to that humiliation and penitence which ought to be his frequent employment.
I must, however, observe, that though there are few of the attributes of God more frequently spoken of, perhaps there are few less distinctly understood. Men have either an imperfect knowledge, or weak persuasion of the justice of God, and thence despise his mercy. On the other hand, they are apt to take presumptuous views of his geVOL. I.
neral mercy, and thence despise his justice and severity. This is not peculiar to those, who, upon the whole, are under the dominion of fin. Even the children of God themselves are ready, either to lose their views of the majesty and holiness of God, which should incline them to serve him with reverence and godly fear; or, on the other hand, by neglecting his mercy, to fall into that state of slavih bondage and illiberal fear, which is equally in. jurious to the honor of God, and hurtful to their own peace.
On these accounts I have chosen to insist a little on this passage of the Psalmist David, in which we have an uni. ted view of divine justice and mercy ? " If thou, Lord, “ shouldīt mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand ? But " there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayst be fear. “ ed.". It is thought by fome, that this Psalm was composed in that memorable period of his life, when he was plunged in the deepest guilt, by his adultery and murder in the matter of Uriah ; but more commonly, that it was in the time of his persecution, when the imminent dan. gers to which he was so often exposed, brought his sins strongly to remembrance. Reserving what is here laid of the mercy of God to another opportunity, let us now consider the view given us of his justice, in this passage, “ If “ thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall “ stand ?” For this purpose I fall,
1. Endeavor to ascertain and explain the meaning of the Pfalmift's assertion.
II. Support and confirm it from scripture and experience.
III. In the last place, I shall make a practical improvement of what may be said upon it.
I. Let us then, first, endeavor to ascertain and explain the meaning of the Psalmist's expression, “ If thou, Lord, “ shouldīt mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand ?" These words evidently carry in them the deepest sense of sin, a strong and inward conviction of the impossibility of justifying himself before a pure and holy God, if he should deal with him as in justice he might: “ If thou, Lord
" shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand ?” Gal is an omniscient being, every where present, to whom all our thoughts and ways, and consequently all our sins, are and must be perfectly known. The expression, then, cannot mean, that there are any fins unregarded, or not observed of God; because this is impossible. The marking of iniquities here, feems to be an allusion to what passes in human courts, where the judges fet down, or put upon record, all that is brought against the criminal, in order to found a sentence of condenination. In this view, the meaning must be, if God should so mark ini. quities, as to proceed to punish us for all of which we were really guilty, there could be no possibility of standing such an impartial trial.
I need not tell you, that the putting the words in the form of a question, “ O Lord, who shall stand ?” does not iniply, that there is any uncertainty in the matter, or that any can be found pure enough to endure such a scrutiny, but rather serves to deny it in the strongest manner. Again, we are not to suppose, that the Psalmist, by putting the question thus in general, “ Who shall stand ?” designed to turn the accusation from himself, or to extenuate his own sins, by bringing in others equally guilty. This is indeed the practice of many in the world, who seem to think the numbers of those who are chargeable with any fin, an excuse or palliation of the guilt of particular offenders. But the true spirit of repentance leads to very different sentiments : it makes the finner fix upon his own faults, and point at the sins and plagues of his own heart, without thinking upon the sins of others, unless as they may be an occasion of discovering to him more of the de. pravation and wickedness of his own nature. So that the genuine import of the Psalmist's expression seems to be, If thou, Lord, shouldst execute the decrees of justice, and punish every thing that is done amiss, the holiest man on earth would not be able to abide the trial; how much less would such a sinner as I be able to stand ?
II. . I proceed now to support and confirm this truth from scripture and experience. And you will be pleased
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to observe, that it is the constant doctrine of the Holy Scriptures; it is the uniform language of humility and penitence there. Thus the Psalmist, Psalm cxliii. 2.“ Enter not into judgment with thy servant : for in thy “ fight shall no man living be justified.” To the same purpose, see the language of Job, chap. ix. 2, 3, 4. “I is know it is so of a truth : but how should mari be just “ with God? If he will contend with him, he cannot “ answer him one of a thousand. He is wise in heart, " and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself “ against him, and hath prospered?” A clear discovery of the infinite majesty of God, the unspotted holiness of his nature, the extent, the purity, and spirituality of his law, will immediately carry home a conviction of this truth, and make us sensible what impure and wretched creatures we are: it will make every one of us cry out , with Job, after a discovery of the divine glory and per. fection, ch. xl. 4, 5. “Behold, I am vile, what shall I an. “ [wer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.-“ Once have I spoken, but I will not answer : yea, twice, “ but I will proceed no further,”--And again, ch. xlii. 5, 6. “ I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but “ now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, “and repent in dust and ashes.” Every true penitent will say, with the Psalmilt, Pfal. xix. 12. “ Who can un. “ derstand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults," Nay, he will consider his daily preservation as an evidence of the divine patience, in the fufpenfion of his fentence, as in Lam. iii. 22, 23. “ It is of the Lord's mercies that .“ we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. “ They are new every morning : great is thy faithful" nels."
These, my brethren, are examples of the sentiments and language of the scripture-saints; and if we look a little into their characters, as set before us in the inspired writings, we shall fee, that self-abasement is one of the most certain proofs of true religion ; that the more any perfon has made real improvement in holiness, he will think and speak in so much the humbler manner; will Inore clearly see the evil of sin, and more readily confess
its power and influence over his own heart. I know this is very contrary to the spirit that prevails in the world; and particularly opposite to the reigning temper of the prefent age. I know also, that there are many objections raised against this fundamental truth. But instead of wrangling controversy, in which our understandings are ofteri loft and our passions irritated, rather than subdued; for further enforcing the above truth, I shall only urge every hearer to a serious and impartial reflection upon his own conduct. This, I am persuaded, will, by the blefting of God, be the most effectual mean of silencing the reafonings of the carnal mind, and forcing the conscience to a confession, both of the equity of the law, and the guilt of disobedience.
For attaining this end, I shall just propose three general subjects of examination : and beg that you may shew fidelity to your own souls, in bringing them to the trial. 1. How many duties have you omitted, which you must be sensible you ought to have performed ? 2. How often have you been guilty of express transgressions of the law of God ? 3. How many blemishes and imperfections cleave to those very duties which you endeavor to perform in obedience to his will ?
1. Then, How many duties have you omitted, which you must be sensible you ought to have performed ? In charging you with neglect of duty, I must begin with un. thankfulness to, and forgetfulness of God. Let the con. science be ever so much biassed by partiality, or perverted by wrong principles, is it possible to deny the obligation of every creature to acknowledge his dependance upon the author of his being, the preserver of his life, and the source of his mercies? But have you, my brethren, been sensible of this? How unmindful have you been of the Rock that begat you, and the God that formed you ? This is the first of all sins, and the fruitful parent of every particular transgression. It was a heavy charge brought against a great prince by the prophet Daniel, ch. v. 23. last clause, “ And the God in whose hand thy breath is, “ and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.” Say, ye men of the world, have you indeed acknowledg