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to the feast, there was only one who wanted the wedding garment: Only from this general scheme of thought which runs through all our Lord's parables, from their being always framed withaview to thecharitable side, we may safely draw two conclusions. In the first place, Let us always form a favourable judgment concerning the character and state of those who are externally decent, whether they agree or differ from us in opinion; and, if we do err, let us err on the side of charity. There are a set of men to be found in the world, who are remarkably fond of passing sentence and judgment upon the external state of their neighbours, and in passing this judgment, they attend, not so much to the general tenor of life, and integrity of conduct, as to the system of doctrines which a man believes, and the sect or party in which lie arranges himself. Unless you believe in every point precisely as they do, down go you in their estimation.
Rash and profane mortal! who gave thee a commission to fix the mark of election and reprobation upon men? Did Almighty God depute thee to draw the line betwixt the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light; to fill the heavens, and to people hell? We are astonished, and stand aghast at the boldness and impiety of the Roman Pontiff, who pretends to open and to shut the gate of mercy, and who arrogates to himself the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And yet thou who accusest him, art thyself equally guilty. Thou rushest unto the throne of the Eternal, and darest to direct the thunders of the Divine vengeance. Thou prescribest bounds to the mercy of the Omnipotent, and say est to his saving grace, "Hitherto "shalt thou come, and no farther." Vile worm! dost thou not tremble at thine impiety? Fall prostrate in the dust. Shrink into thine own insignificance. Let thy time be employed in working out thine own salvation, rather than in dealing of damnation to thy neighbours.
At the same time, though I condemn this rage which some men discover to condemn their neighbours, as, in my opinion, entirely inconsistent with the genius of the Gospel, and the spirit of Christianity, nevertheless I would not go into their extreme, and pass the same sentence on them which they pass upon others. To pass a judgment upon characters is a difficult task, and requires a very delicate hand. We ought to distinguish what flows from a narrowness of mind, from what flows from a badness of heart. We ought to make great allowances for the prejudices of education. If a man be educated in the belief, that none are to be saved but those who believe every article of that system which he embraces; if his judgment concerning the characters of men rest not upon the goodness of their lives, but upon the soundness of their belief, such a man's charity must be narrow and constrained. And this may sometimes be owing, not to the badness of his nature, but to the badness of his religious principles. And I have sometimes seen such persons, though I must acknowledge very rarely, striving and struggling to get the better of their system; the heart and the affections true to Christianity, whilst the mind wasinslaved by the prejudices of education.
Verse 3. They that were foolish took their lampst and took no oil with them. The foolish virgins seemed at first to resemble the wise, and shone out for a while with the same lustre. They made the same profession and appearance at first. Themselves were awake, and their lamps were burning. But they had no supply for the future. Their goodness was like the morning cloud, and soon vanished away. They had no real religion in the heart. They wanted that inward principle of grace, which can alone enable us to stand fast in the Lord. They were not rooted and grounded in the faith. They had no steady principles of conduct, nor settled habits of action. Like the seed which was sown in the stony ground, they forthwith sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth, and when the sun arose, they withered away.
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. They sought and obtained the influences of the Divine Spirit to abide with them through life. They made a serious business -of religion. They laid >up a store of useful knowledge. They acted upon fixed and steady principles, and acquired habits of religion and virtue. They kept the heart well, knowing that out of it are the issues of life. They looked forwards to the time to come; they provided against the evil day, and extended their view to take in all the temptations and afflictions of human life.
Vekse 5. While the bridegroom tarried, they allslumbered and slept. Whether we interpret this coming of the bridegroom, to be the second coming of our Lord to judge the world, or whether we apply it to our appearance before his tribunal at death, is a subject of no consequence ; the material point to be con-» sidered is, that while the bridegroom tarried, all of them, the wise as well as the foolish virgins, slumbered and slept. The wise grew remiss and careless, and the spiritual life declined within them. The foolish virgins returned again to foolishness, and because the Lord delayed, because sentence against an evil work was not speedily executed, were fully bent to do evil* Seeing then that the wise virgins slumbered as well as the foolish ; seeing that good men, as well as bad men, may fall into sin ; a question, a very serious one* naturally arises: How shall we distinguish between those temporary relaxations in the Christian race, into which a good man may fall, from the final apostasy of the wicked ; how shall we distinguish beween the stns of infirmity, into which the best men may fall, from those sins which are unto death? And to this I beg your attention, as one of the most important subjects which can ever occupy your thoughts. In order to decide this question, Let me ask you, in the fist place, What was the nature of your relapse into sin? There are times in which all men feel religious impressions and devout dispositions of mind. The'
jieed is sown in stony places, as well as on the good ground. The influences of heaven descend on tho barren desert, as Well as on the field which is to be fruitful. On such occasions, the seed which was sown on the stony places will spring up for a time, and the barren desert will seem to bloom. To speak without a figure, the Spirit of God in orte manner or another, in his common or in his special influences, descends upon all men. After such times of refreshing, the saint of a day; as well as the persevering Christian, will receive the word with gladness, and set about a thorough reformation. And as both of them receive the word with gladness, so both of them •are subject to sin. Yet they are not alike in their errors The sinner having no real principle at bottom, having no fixed plan of life, and but doing every thing by fits and starts, may, at the first approach of temptation, advance with swift steps to ruin. But the true Christian; laying his account to meet with hardShips and temptations, prepares rfgainst them, and will hot wholly fall off. The coward may at once desert, his post* and fly from the banners of the Captain of salvation, to the standard of the prince of darkness: but the good soldier of Jesus will make head against the enemy; he will encounter his spiritual foe; he may be foiled for a moment^ but he will never be subdued.
In the second place, Let me ask you, what is the State of your mind during these relapses ? Are you in total subjection to the sins which have dominion over you? Is your conscience lulled in a profound sleep? Do you roll iniquity like a sweet morsel under your tongue? Do you find the ways of sin to be ways of pleasantness, and all her paths to be peace? Is your bondage sweet, and are the chains of your captivity become pleasant to you? Then I pronounce that there are no symptoms of spiritual life within you; then your sleep is unto death. But, on the other hand, is the dominion which sin has over you, against the bent of your soul? Whilst you sleep,
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does your heart wake? Daring your captivity, is your face towards Jerusalem? Do yon lament the deceit fulness of your heart, the feebleness of your resolutions, and your own impotence to save yourself? Do you strive to burst asunder the bands which detain you? Then there is hope in Israel concerning you.
In the third place, let me ask you, what is the nature of the sins into which you fall? Are they contrived beforehand, deliberate? Do you commit them with coolness and with consideration? Or are you led astray on a sudden by the strength of temptation, and the power of prevailing passion? The best of men are subject to the impulse of passion ; may yield to the strength of temptation, and be overtaken in a fault. But he is a wicked man who sins upon a plan; who makes a system of iniquity ; who contrives scenes of mischief upon his bed, and who rises to execute with ardour what he has contrived with coolness. If the sun goes down upon thy wrath, or any other bad passion ; if day unto day uttereth speech of your evil deeds; if night after night findeth you in the service of sin, then you are a sinner indeed, then you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.
Let me ask again, what are the sins that most easily beset you ? The sins of men may be divided into two classes. The one kind flows from a good principle wrong directed, from the perversion and abuse of laudable inclinations; the other kind flows from evil principles and a bad heart. Of the tatter kind, are malice, envy, treachery, cruelty, malignity, deceit, and hypocrisy. These indicate a mind which neither fears God nor regards man. The best Christians will at times fall into sins; but they will never harbour in their heart the dark offspring of hell. They may have the failings and the faults of men ; but they will never have the crimes of devils, nor the spirit of the damned.
Verse G. At midnight there teas a cri/ heard. At midnight, the hour of silence and repose, when the