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to his Son, who hath yet grace in store for thee, and who will do thee good.
But perhaps thou wilt say, 'He doth not save all revolters, and therefore perhaps not me.' To which I answer. Art thou returning to God? If thou art returning, thou art the man; “Return ye backsliding children,” he says, “and I will heal your backslidings.” Some that revolt, as I said, are shot dead upon the place; and for them, who can help them? But for them that cry out of their wounds, it is a sign they are yet alive, and if they use the means in time, doubtless they may be healed. Christ Jesus has bags of mercy that were never yet broken up or unsealed. Hence it is said, he has “goodness laid up;” things reserved in heaven for his. And if he breaks up one of these bags, who can tell what he can do! Hence his love is said to be such as passeth knowledge, and that his riches are unsearchable. He has, no body knows what, for no body knows whom : he has by him in store for such as seem, in the view of all men, to be gone beyond recovery. For this the text is plain. What man or angel could have thought that the Jerusalem sinners had been yet on this side of an impossibility of enjoying life and mercy ? Hadst thou seen their actions, and what horrible things they did to the Son of God; yea, how stoutly they backed what they did, when they had killed his person, with resolves and endeavors to persevere, against his name and doctrine; and that there was not found among them all that while, as we read of, the least remorse or regret for these their doings; couldst thou have imagined that mercy would ever have took hold of them, at least so soon! nay, that they should, of all the world, be counted those only meet to have it offered to them in the very first place! For so my text commands, “Preach repentance and remission of sins among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
I tell you the thing is a wonder, and must for ever stand
for a wonder among the sons of men. It stands also for an everlasting invitation and allurement to the greatest sinners to come to Christ for mercy.
Now since, in the opinion of all men, the revolter is such a one, if he has, as I said before, any life in him, let him take encouragement to come again, that he may live by Christ.
Eleventhly, Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the greatest sinners ? then let God's ministers tell them so.
There is an incidence in us, I know not how it doth come about, when we are converted to contemn them that are left behind. Poor fools as we are, we forget that we ourselves were so ! Tit. iii. 2, 3. But would it not become us better, since we have tasted that the Lord is gracious, to carry it towards them so, that we may give them convincing ground to believe, that we have found that mercy which also sets open the door for them to come and partake with us.
Ministers, I say, should do thus, both by their doctrine, and in all other respects.
Austerity doth not become us, neither in doctrine nor in conversation. We ourselves live by grace; let us give as we receive, and labor to persuade our fellow-sinners, whom God has left behind us, to follow after, that they may partake with us of grace. We are saved by grace. Let us live like them that are gracious. Let all our things to the world) be done in charity towards them. Let us pity them, pray for them, be familiar with them for their good. Let us lay aside our foolish, worldly, carnal grandeur; let us not walk the streets and have such behaviors as signify we are scarce for touching the poor ones that are left behind, no not with a pair of tongs. It becomes us not thus to do.
Remember your Lord. He was familiar with publicans and sinners to a proverb. “Behold a gluttonous man, and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners." The first
part, concerning his gluttonous eating and drinking, to be sure, was a horrible slander; but for the other, nothing was ever spoke truer of him by the world. Now, why should we lay hands cross on this text; that is, choose good victuals, and love the sweet wine, better than the salvation of the poor publican? Why not be familiar with sinners, provided we hate their spots and blemishes, and seek that they may be healed of them ?
Why not be fellowly with our carnal neighbors, if we take occasion to do so, that we may drop and be yet distilling some good doctrine upon their souls? Why not go to the poor man's house, and give him a penny and a scripture to think upon ? Why not send for the poor to fetch away, at least, the fragments of thy table, that the bowels of thy fellow sinner may be refreshed as well as thine ?
Ministers should be exemplary; but I am an inferior man, and must take heed of too much meddling. But might I, I would meddle with them, with their wives, and with their children too. I mean not this of all; but of them that deserve it, though I may not name them.
But I say, let ministers follow the steps of their blessed Lord, who by word and deed showed his love to the salvation of the world, in such a carriage as declared him to prefer their salvation before his own private concern. For we are commanded to follow his steps, “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." .
And as I have said concerning ministers, so I say to all. the brethren, Carry it so, that all the world may see that indeed you are the sons of love.
Love your Saviour; yea, show one to another that you love him, not only by seeming love of affection, but with the love of duty. Practical love is best. Many love Christ with nothing but the lick of the tongue. Alas! Christ Jesus the Lord must not be put off thus. “He that hath my com
mandments, and keepeth them,” saith he, “he it is that loveth me.”
Practical love, which stands in self-denial, in charity to my neighbor, and a patient enduring of affliction for his name; this is counted love.
Right love to Christ is that which carries in it a provoking argument to others of the brethren. Heb. x. 24.
Should a man ask me, how he should know that he loveth the children of God? the best answer I could give him would be in the words of the apostle John; “By this,” saith he, “ we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.”
Love to God and Christ, is then shown, when we are tender of his name ; and then we show ourselves tender of his name, when we are afraid to break any the least of his commandments. And when we are here, then do we show our love to our brother also.
Now, we have obligation sufficient thus to do, because our Lord loved us, and gave himself for us, to deliver us from death, that we might live through him.
The world, when they hear the doctrine that I have asserted and handled in this little book, namely, That Jesus Christ would have mercy offered in the first place to the greatest sinners, will be apt, because themselves are unbelievers, to think that this is a doctrine that leads to looseness, and that gives liberty to the flesh. But if you that believe love your brethren and your neighbors truly and as you should, you will put to silence the ignorance of such foolish men, and stop their mouths from speaking evil of you.
And, I say, let the love of Christ constrain us to this. Who deserveth our heart, our mouth, our life, our goods, so much as Jesus Christ, who has bought us to himself by his blood, to this very end, that we should be a peculiar people, zealous of good works?
There is nothing more seemly in the world, than to see a Christian walk as becomes the gospel; nor any thing more unbecoming a reasonable creature, than to hear a man say, I believe in Christ, and yet see in his life debauchery and profaneness. Might I, such men should be counted the basest of men; such men should be counted by all, unworthy of the name of a Christian, and should be shunned by every good man, as such who are the very plague of profession. For so it is written we should carry it towards them. Whoso have a form of godliness, and deny the power thereof, from such we must turn away.
It has ofttimes come into my mind to ask, by what means it is that the gospel profession should be so tainted with loose and carnal professors? And I could never arrive to better satisfaction in the matter than this: Such men are made professors by the devil, and so by him put among the rest of the godly. A certain man had a fruitless fig-tree planted in his vineyard. Luke xiii. 6. But by whom was it planted there ? Even by him that sowed the tares, his own children, among the wheat, (Matt. xiii. 37-40,) and that was the devil. But why doth the devil do thus ? Not of love to them, but to make of them offences and stumblingblocks to others; for he knows that a loose professor in the church does more mischief to religion than ten can do to it that are in the world.
Was it not, think you, the devil that stirred up the damsel that you read of in Acts xvi. to cry out, “These are the servants of the most high God, that show unto us the way of salvation ?” Yes it was, as is evident; for Paul was grieved to hear it. But why did the devil stir up her to cry so, but because that was the way to blemish the gospel, and to make the world think that it came from the same hand as did her soothsaying and witchery? ver. 16, 17, 18. “Holiness, O Lord, becomes thy house for ever.”