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A SERMON. .
LUKE vii. 48. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. Our Saviour, in several instances, points out to us, in the most striking manner, the inestimable blessings conferred upon sincere and hearty repentance, but in none more forcibly than in that comfortable declaration which he made to the female at his feet, “ Thy sins are forgiven." We find the circumstance thus recorded by the holy Evangelist St. Luke. Our Lord had accepted the invitation of a certain Pharisee, whose name was Simon, to eat meat. During the repast, “ Behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, be spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering, said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors, the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most. Simon answered and said, I suppose that he to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman ? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss; but this woman, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment: wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much : but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.” What a balm to the contrite spirit of the wretched sinner must have been such a gracious assurance from the Redeemer of mankind! He, who can alone unfold the secret recesses of the hurnan heart, and who can alone appreciate the motives from which our actions spring, discerned the workings of sincere penitence, witnessed the agonies which rent her breast, the deep sorrow for past sin, and the firm resolves of future amendment; he saw that she felt a thorough conviction of the magnitude of her crimes, and her utter rejection and abhorrence of them; he had pity and compassion on her misery. On the wings of true and hearty repentance, she flew for mercy to the Fountain from whence it flows, and was made whole of her spiritual malady.
We will therefore proceed to shew, first, the necessity for, and nature of, that repentance, which will obtain for us pardon and acceptance with God; secondly, the inestimable blessings which will result from such repentance ; and, thirdly, the exceeding great
love sinners should evince in their conduct towards God for such unbounded mercy. And,
First, That all mankind are guilty before that God, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, is not only clearly demonstrated to us in the revelation of his holy will, contained in the Sacred Scriptures, but is a truth upon which the whole Christian dispensation hinges. Were any man without sin, the blood of the Atonement, as far as regarded him, would have been shed in vain. But the Apostle tells us, that “ the Scripture hath concluded all under sin," and that “ all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Solomon also makes the same declaration, when he says, “ Who can say, I have my heart clean, I am pure from sin ;" and David proves that sin not only forms a part of our nature, but that we actually bring it into the world with us —“Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me.”
There are, however, many who are inclined to deny the universality of human guilt, and who think the doctrine derogatory to that noble creature who was originally created in the image of God. They say there are some persons in the world, who, from early religious instruction, from the example of their parents, and having from their youth up been trained in the way they should go, have led blameless and innocent lives, have never done any harm to their fellow-creatures, nor transgressed, to any extent, the moral or social duties. Blessed be God, there are many good and worthy characters in the world; and let us hope, for the sake of ourselves and our posterity, there ever will be. Far be it from us to depreciate the excellency of moral worth, in whomsoever it may be found. Indeed, this, and this alone, is the sure evidence of a true and lively faith; for though it be possible, though not very probable, that a man may be moral without being religious, he can never be said to be religious without being moral. But this is no evidence against the doctrine of every man's being guilty before God; for we find from Scripture, which is our true guide, that it is not the outward behaviour alone in which sin may be discovered, but that the evil sometimes lies deeper, that the secrets of the heart must be disclosed, that we must first be acquitted of evil thoughts and intentions, even before we can be accounted pure; for our Saviour says, “ Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies; these are the things which defile a man.” If any one, then, who doubts or denies the doctrine before us, can appeal to his own heart, and taking a careful retrospect of his past life, question with himself, and say, “ Have my passions never led me astray? Have my thoughts and inclinations always been pure and upright? Have my desires and wishes never been directed towards improper objects? Have I always had God in my thoughts, and has my chief aim through life been the honour and glory of his name, and self always excluded ? Have I never entertained for a moment revengeful feelings towards those who have injured me, although I have never carried them into execution ? Has my heart never been the seat of unholy or impure desires, never for a moment cherished unkind or unfriendly dispositions towards any of my fellow-creatures? Has, in short, the religious principle alone, my duty to God and my neighbour, ever been the mainspring of all my actions? If to all these questions he can give a conscientious and satisfactory reply, he certainly may conclude, that the marks of original sin do not manifest themselves in him, that he has not been affected by the fall of his first parent, from that state of innocence in which he was originally created, and that, consequently, with him repentance is not a necessary duty. But where shall we find a human being who can make such an assertion as this ? No, my Christian brethren, the solemn, the mortifying, the humiliating truth is, that every man is more or less sinful, and we must all show forth that repentance pointed out in the gospel, if we wish to save our immortal souls.
Having thus endeavoured to point out that we are all guilty before God, and, consequently, that with all of us a feeling of sorrow is necessary whenever we approach the throne of mercy by prayer, let us proceed to consider the nature of that repentance which is not to be repented of. And here examples will not be wanting in Scripture for our imitation. When David had grievously sinned against the Lord, and was, by that beautiful parable of the ewe lamb, brought by Nathan to a sense of his guilt, and the enormity of his offence against God, and the expressive declaration of the Prophet, “ Thou art the man," roused him from the destructive lethargy into which he had fallen, and presented to his view, in the most striking colours, the magnitude and deformity of his crime," he gat himself right humbly to his God; he wearied himself with groaning, and watered his couch with tears." And when St. Peter, after vainly trusting in his own strength, declared, “ Though I die with thee, yet will I not deny thee," had actually asserted, “ I know not the man,” he not only went out, and shed the bitter tears of heartfelt sorrow, but showed forth the fruits of his repentance, by devoting his future life to the service of his divine Master, and undergoing imprisonment, sufferings, and, as we are told, even death itself for the religion of Christ.“ Rend your hearts, and not your garments," saith the Prophet Joel to the idolatrous Jews, " and turn unto the Lord your God.” And as all sin lies in the heart, the heart must consequently be rent with a thorough conviction of, and sorrow for, past sin,-be thoroughly cleansed from all its impurities by the influence of the Holy Spirit, before we can be said to be truly penitent. We must approach the throne of grace, and humble ourselves before the footstool of divine mercy, confessing our misdeeds, declaring our detestation of them, and that the remembrance of them is grievous unto us : but we must, at the same time, give proofs of the sincerity of our contrition by future amendment. A thorough change in the life and behaviour must follow our pious resolutions. When John the Baptist preached repentance for the remission of sins, he did not content himself with saying, “ Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand ;” but “ bring ye therefore forth fruits meet for repentance.” And our repentance, to be effectual, must produce the fruit of good works ; not light and transient as the dew of the morning, but steady, fixed, and immutable. It is true that during our sojourn here we cannot pay that homage of sinless obedience which is so justly due to our Almighty Creator; but still we may be much better than we are, we may be going on gradually towards perfection, though we cannot hope finally to attain it, until we enter upon another and better state of existence; and to supply the deficiencies of our own weak endeavours, (and deficiencies we shall always find, we are promised the gracious assistance of the Holy Spirit, if we seek it as we ought, in sincerity and TRUTH.
Let us, in the second place, reflect upon the blessings which result from such repentance. They are, the forgiveness of our sins, and reconciliation with God. “Let the wicked forsake his way,” saith the prophet Isaiah, “ and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” And St. John, when he declares, “ If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” adds, “but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.".
Now these blessings are not only a source of comfort to the sinner here, but an assurance of an immortality of bliss hereafter. When a man, who has been living without God in the world, is suddenly awakened to a sense of his danger by some temporal affliction, by sickness, a narrow escape from death, the loss of worldly possessions, or any infirmity to which human nature is liable, what a dreadful prospect does the review of his past life present to his mind! He now feels in its full force the truth of that declaration of the Preacher, “ All is vanity and vexation of spirit.” He finds by bitter experience how widely he has erred in putting his trust for happiness in man, when he should alone have relied upon God. He deplores, in the anguish of his soul, the malignancy of those bad passions which he has allowed to plunge him into vice, and the neglect of those religious duties, which would have checked him in his sinful career. He sees the just sentence upon sin hanging over his head, and he is overwhelmed with fear lest he should be summoned before the presence of an offended God, ere he can have time to make his reconciliation with him. Where, in such a situation as this (and this is no fancied picture, as those who are in the habit of witnessing the death-beds of their fellow-creatures can sufficiently attest), where, I repeat, in such a situation as this, is the sinner to look for relief, for hope, for comfort? He must apply to that fountain of living waters, the gospel of Christ: he will there find that comfort of which he stands so much in need: he will there find that he may make the atonement of his Saviour applicable to himself, if he do but earnestly repent, and resolve upon a life of holiness and virtue. The veil which had before obscured his mental sight, will then be drawn aside by the enlivening influences of religion, and the glories of immortality will gradually unfold themselves to his view as he continues on his christian course ; and if he be but faithful unto death, he has the assurance of Him who cannot err, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever," that he shall inherit a crown of life, “ incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away.” And when we reflect for a moment on these inestimable blessings promised in the inspired writings to those who act thus, through faith in Christ, surely we cannot be such enemies to our present and future welfare as to delay the important work.
In the third and last place I proposed to point out the exceeding great love sinners should evince in their conduct towards God for such unbounded mercy. If man, in a state of innocence, had no right to an immortality of happiness hereafter, much less can the descendant of a fallen man, himself also guilty of actual transgression, lay any claim to the rewards of heaven. Our salvation is the free gift of God in Jesus Christ, and nothing that man could do of himself could ever entitle him, as a matter of right, to everlasting life. This it is which should operate with us to testify our gratitude to God for this invaluable gift, and to shew it forth not only with our lips, but in our lives ; for though we are not to presume upon our own merits, being, after all that we can do, but unprofitable servants, still we must never lose sight of the conditions,-repentance, faith, and obedience,-by which we can alone make these inestimable mercies of service to ourselves. How unspeakably vast and precious are the blessings of redemption ! How insignificant and trifling do all the pleasures of time and sense appear, when compared with the joys of eternity! Worldly enjoyments are but temporary, fleeting, and uncertain. Wealth, honours, and distinctions we must soon part with, for they cannot follow us into the grave whither we are going,—that narrow house appointed for all living: and were they even considered in the utmost latitude of enjoyment; if a man could, during his life-time, be in the full possession of them, without any alloy, still the smallest atom in the universe would bear a greater proportion to the whole, than they, multiplied ever so often, could to the riches of God's grace, and the never-fading wreaths of glory which the righteous will obtain in the heavenly mansions of eternity. Eternity ! how far beyond the finite capacity of man to comprehend! “ The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years, yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow: so soon passeth it away, and we are gone." We can easily compute time; but who shall fathom the immeasurable depths of eternity! And when we consider that our portion through endless ages will be either eternal misery or eternal happiness, ought we not to pour forth our hearts in gratitude and thanksgiving to our Almighty Creator, who has mercifully pointed out to us, in the gospel of his Son, a way by which we may avoid the one, and obtain the other! If we possess the proper feelings of our nature, we should never lose sight of the gratitude we owe to a kind benefactor, or allow ourselves to neglect any opportunity of manifesting it towards him. If, then, such feelings as these would animate our hearts towards him who may have afforded us relief from temporal distresses, what ought to be our conduct towards that Almighty Being, who has freed us from the burden of eternal woe? Can the remains of a short life, uncertain as the wind, and perhaps nearly at a close with the youngest and strongest of us; can the remainder of our days, spent in offering up our grateful hymns and sacrifice of praise to the throne of grace, be deemed a hard service for endless felicity hereafter ?
But as it cannot be denied that some have more grievously sinned than others, and that consequently they will have more to be forgiven,--their gratitude to God should be as unlimited as the mercy