« AnteriorContinuar »
to thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes, because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. And of Esau we read in the text, that he found no place of repentance though he sought it carefully with tears. Esau, when he would have inherited the blessing, was rejected, notwithstanding his repentance and his tears, and this example is urged by the apostle upon Christians, as a warning or admonition that they amend their lives while there is yet time and means to perform their duty, lest afterwards, when they shall desire to inherit the blessing, (at the day of judgment certainly, upon their death-bed most probably,) their repentance and their tears both prove unavailing.
And let no man make his escape from the counsel and the warning of this example, by resorting to the miserable perversion of all religion. That Esau being in the number of those who are reprobated by God's eternal decree, and being consequently a castaway from all hope of favour and acceptance on any terms, his case cannot be brought into general application. For St. Paul, I presume, knew better than the inventors of such doctrine how the case stood, and he certainly uses it for general edification ; besides, when it is said of Esau, as it is in the text, that he found no place of repentance though he sought it carefully with tears, it does not signify that he could not repent, that the power of repentance was withheld from him by any act of God; on the contrary, the text expressly says that he did repent, and earnestly too ; but the meaning plainly is, that his repentance being too late, and being only the passion of repentance, what St. Paul calls the sorrow of the world, and not a genuine amendment of the mind, a repentance coming upon him at the time when the blessing was to be distributed, and not when his duty might have been performed; for that reason it could not be accepted. So likewise, in other places of Scripture-God's giving men repentance, or granting them repentance unto life, does not signify his causing them to repent, but his accepting their repentance, through faith in Christ, or allowing it to become available for their pardon.
Neither let any be deterred from setting about this essential work from the fear that it is now too late for him to find accept
ance; but rather let all be most seriously moved to make no longer delay, lest, indeed, the door be shut, and every effort to obtain admittance prove in vain. This is the true improvement of this example, and of what has been said to explain and enforce it. This improvement you are all capable of making; and may a gracious God, who has provided for your warning this day, incline and enable you to apply it to the health and comfort of your souls. AMEN.
THE WARNINGS OF CONSCIENCE NOT TO BE NEGLECTED.
ACTs xxiv. 25.
"And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix
trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season I will call for thee."
Whatever the state of our thoughts may be in regard to religion, or whatever the practice of our lives as respects the great and universal standard of moral justice, there is in every man a sense of retribution and accountability to the Supreme and invisible Governor of the Universe, which meets the sinful propensities of our fallen nature with so pointed a reproof, as to render men inexcusable in the neglect of so faithful a monitor.
Whether the power of this principle, which we call natural conscience, be in itself sufficient to guide men to that moral rectitude which is their first duty towards each other, niay admit of much difference of opinion. This much, however, we are warran:ed in saying, from the highest authority, that to the mass of mankind, in every age of the world, it is the standard by which the righteous Judge of all the earth will regulate bis dealings in the great day of eternity-For those who have not the law are a law unto themselves, which show the work of the law written in their hearts ; their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another. Upon this principle the apostle lays it down as the undoubted doctrine of revelation, that as many as have sinned without law shall also perish withor t the law, and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.
However, therefore, we may be disposed to settle the question as to the power of natural conscience, and to consider it, as some do, as sufficient of itself, without the help of revelation, to bring men to that state of moral perfection which is required
of them by their Maker, and is essential to their peace and happiness both here and hereafter, yet in this we must all agree, that such is the depravity and perverseness of human nature, that something more powerful than the mere conscience of right and wrong—something more quickening than the mere knowledge of a judgment to come, is essential to give to conscience and revelation united their proper effect. Of this our own experience might satisfy us, iny brethren. We are not only furnished, in common with the Heathen, with the work of the law written in our hearts, but with the full and clear discovery of God's pure and perfect law. We have not only, in common with the great body of mankind, a confused apprebension of a future judgment, but the explicit knowledge of the rewards and punishments of eternity. We have not only the inward motions and checks of natural conscience and enlightened reason, but the convincing power of God's Holy SPIRIT speaking within us. And yet what multitudes like Felix, yea, even more hardened than that poor Heathen, for we read that he trembled under the convincing power of St. Paul's reasoning-what thousands in this Christian land hear continually of death and judgment, of heaven and hell, without being moved at all, except, perhaps, to scoff at them either by speech or conduct, oftentimes by both ; while, of the few who occasionally manifest some symptoms of concern, the Roman governor is a faithful copy, in that procrastinating temper which risks doing despite to the Spirit of grace, by putting off till to-morrow the convictions of to-day.
To show you the great and increasing danger of thus trifling with your most serious concern, I shall follow the example of the apostle, and reason with you, in the
First place, of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. I shall
Next endeavour to point out the guilt and folly of neglecting the warnings of your conscience, and the impressions made on your minds by the word of God, whether preached or read; and, then,
CONCLUDE with an application of the whole.
to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time ; when I have a inore convenient season I will call for thee.
I. That what I may have to say on the first head may be the more impressive, I shall preface it by an explanation of the points which the apostle pressed upon Felix, to wit: righteousness, temperance, and a judgment to come. These are alike essential, though in different degrees, to the Heathen, to the infidel, and to the believer. To the first, they are the law written in the heart; to the second, they are the substitute for revealed religion; and to the third, they are the practical effect of the grace of God upon the renewed creature.
By righteousness, as here used by the apostle, we are to understand justice, the rendering to all men their just claims upon us, and this not only in a pecuniary sense, but in that extent which is demanded by a common origin, a common nature, a mutual dependance on each other for whatever can contribute to the advancement of general or particular happiness, and by a common end.
By temperance, which would have been better expressed by the word continence, is meant the rule and mastery of our natural lusts, passions, and appetites, so that they are restrained from hurting either ourselves or others.
By a judgment to come, is to be understood, that account which every one of us shall give to God for the use of a rational nature, for the light of revealed truth, and for the mercies of redemption by Jesus Christ.
Come, then, my hearers, especially those who are as yet in opposition to the gospel, let us reason together of these things. In this short abstract of what the Lord our God requires of us, of what the gospel proposes, and is provided to work in us by the transforming power of grace, what is there to whicb any of you should be opposed ? Are you, indeed, enemies to integrity and fair dealing among men, to peace and order in society, to quiet and repose in the world? Are you desirous that the beastly passions of our nature should be set free from the restraints of law and conscience, and lewdness and incontinence be allowed to revel in unrestrained debauchery ? Are you willing that those checks to the commission of secure and