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But such a subject frequently calls up all the enmity of the carnal mind. To be told, not only that they are sinners, which all will admit in general terms, but that their sins are such as to deserve the wrath of God, such as to expose them to the torments of hell, and such as will infallibly bring them to the bottomless pit, unless they are truly repented of; to be told again and again that they are hastening to perdition; to have the rod of divine vengeance shaken over their heads; to have the very curse of a violated law analysed, and all its dreadful ingredients set before them; to have this done in their hearing, and done frequently ; to be made to sit and hear their doom pronounced by anticipation, and thus to be tormented before their time, is what they cannot, and will not endure. Sometimes they will content themselves with railing at the preacher, and with accusing him as taking a cruel delight in harrowing up their feelings and disturbing their peace; they will condemn him as unfit to preach to any but the profligate inmates of a prison ; until, at length, unable to endure any longer his pointed addresses to the conscience, they will quit his ministry for the unctuous doctrine and pulpit opiates of some flatterer of men's souls, who is too courtly to trouble the minds, or alarm the consciences of his flock. But many, whose habits, or whose connexions allow them not to forsake the faithful servant of God, still most fervently wish that he would not come before them clothed with terrors, and armed with the thunders of a righteous God. He is too searching, too pungent, too discriminating. He allows no loophole of retreat for their conscience. They too often feel the iron grasp of his hand arresting their spirits. He leaves them not at ease in Zion. They want to hear more of poetic genius; more of the painting of eloquence ; more disquisition; more logical dissection of error; or, in reference to divinity, they would have the evidences and doctrines of the gospel treated in an abstract, systematic, theological manner; or the benevolence of God, and his indulgence set forth; or the duties of practical religion enforced in a general form ; or the consolations of religion dispensed indiscriminately; or they could even bear an occasional sermon on the punishment of the wicked, provided the description of the wicked man's character were so vague as to leave them an opportunity of escaping; but to hear sin so described, character so delineated, as to perceive that they are shut up to condemnation ; and then, in that situation, to have the very prison doors shaken with only the distant sound of the approaching curse ; this renders them uneasy, and leads them again and again to express their wish that their minister would prophesy “smooth things," and utter deceit.
Secondly, I shall now consider the causes into which we must resolve this dislike of ministerial fidelity, and this love of smooth and delusive preaching.
In some cases it is to be traced to ABSOLUTE UNBELIEF. Many who attend our places of worship are infidels, although they do not assume the name. Whosoever withholds his assent from any portion of acknowledged scripture, merely because it is opposed to his taste, and unfriendly to his peace, is unquestionably an unbeliever. Multitudes who admit in gross the authority of the Bible, deny it in detail. This is very strikingly exemplified in reference to the subject of future punishment. It is the cant of disguised infidelity to affirm, that God is too merciful to punish any of his creatures, and that all the denunciations of his vengeance contained in the Scripture, are intended only for the very last extremities of guilty characters ; perhaps not even for them. Such a spirit is, indeed, scarcely a disguised infidelity, but unbelief, without a mask. The man that can either doubt the reality, or that can ridicule the torments of hell, is, whatever he may think, or say, or wish, an infidel; and will one day be convinced, amidst the torments of the bottomless pit, that such torments do really exist. No wonder, then, that those who have brought themselves to believe that the threatenings of divine vengeance, which are written in Scripture, are figurative subjects, the mere terrific scenery of a romance, ask for smooth things, and feel offended when these awful topics are introduced into the pulpit, and made to bear with the force of realities upon the heart and conscience. THE REFINEMENTS OF MODERN SOCIETY AND Taste lead
many to ask for smooth things. It should never be forgotten that there is but one Bible ; and that that one is intended for the rich no less than the poor, and is as imperative in its demands upon the former as it is upon the latter. There is no respect of persons with God: before him the distinctions of society have no place. Neither the coronet, nor the crown; neither the official robe, nor the royal purple will have the weight of a feather in the eternal destiny of their possessors. When our Lord laid open the infernal world to our view, it was to disclose to us the soul of a rich man in torments. The rich may, therefore, suffer the vengeance of eternal fire in another world, if they may not hear the description of it in this
Yet how rude and unmannerly would it be thought in many congregations for the preacher to introduce, in all its fearful gloom, in all its terrific and awful reality, the subject of eternal punishment. What a breach of taste, what a violation of all the rules of elegant society, to mention “ hell to ears polite.” The curses of a violated law may be uttered in barns, or conventicles, or churches for the poor, and may fall on the rude ears of the multitude, but the doctrine and the style of those who preach in God's name to the congregations of rank, and fashion, and wealth, must be as soft and smooth as the velvet over which they are pronounced, and as tasteful and adorned as the classic building in which they are delivered. How would some philosophic, and literary, and affluent congregations frown with indignation, or stare with astonishment, or sneer with contempt at the man of God, who, with the boldness of the ancient seers, would stand up and denounce in unsoftened language, in plain scriptural terms, the wrath of God against all ungodliness. What, say they, is nothing due to the distinctions of rank, to the polish of elegance, to the delicacy of taste, to the decorum of high life? Must the same harsh doctrine be delivered to the courtly circles of fashion, and the uncouth assemblies of rustic retreat ? Must no allowance be made for station ? None whatever. “ Woe to you, rich,” was the language of the Saviour of the world. He and his apostles made no allowance for the adventitious circumstances of society, but published the same truths to all ; and so must his servants of every age. There is one common receptacle for the lost souls of the rich and of the poor; and he is the enemy of the former, who conceals or softens the humiliating fact.
WOUNDED PRIDE is sometimes the cause of a dislike of faithful preaching. To be publicly denounced as deserving Divine wrath ; to be told that they are sinners of such magnitude, as to merit the punishment of a holy God; to be reminded that, instead of their fancied good heart, and pure nature, and blameless life, they are, in the sight of God, depraved in every faculty, and polluted in every part; to be represented as unmeet for communion with God here, and for his presence hereafter ;—this is so opposed to all their notions, so mortifying to their vanity, so degrading to their dignity, that they cannot but dislike it. To such a debasement they would not willingly descend; and hence their demand for the language of deceit, and the smooth speech of falsehood. What they want is to be flattered into a good opinion of themselves, or to be assisted to maintain the opinion they have already formed. They hate the doctrine which disturbs their self-complacency, and they revile the man who attempts to sink them in their own esteem. They do not like to have the glass of God's holy law held up before them; much less do they like to be brought by the preacher into the presence of the Holy One himself, and made to see, in the pure light reflected upon them from the great white throne, how vile they are.
But still, in by far the greater number of instances, this dislike of the truth, and this love of smooth things, is the result of PAINFUL FOREBODINGS of future misery. Such persons are, in many cases, not in ignorance, as other men; they know too much of God's word to imagine that they are pardoned, holy, and meet for heaven; and they believe too much of it to be in a state of peace. They are aware that they are living in sin ; that they have neither repentance towards God, nor faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; they “know the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death ;" that if there be any truth in the Scriptures, for them, in their present state, there remaineth nothing but a fearful looking for of fiery indignation, which shall consume the adversaries. Yet they secretly hope that things may not be so bad as they have been represented; that God will be more merciful than rigid divines have foretold; still, however, they are determined to go on, and take their chance. They cannot, will not give up their siu. An occasional season of repenting comes on, but temptation soon ends it, or time wears it out. Now, it is easy to conceive how unwelcome to such persons must be the uncompromising fidelity of the man who is determined to obey the voice which saith to him, “ Cry aloud, spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgressions." How teazing and annoying are his discourses ! How his appeals pierce the heart! He will never let them be at peace. When they have almost lulled their conscience to sleep, and quieted the stern voice that so often arouses them, the thunders of his doctrine awaken it from its slumber, and again bring its reproaches and accusations upon them. How often do they revile him as a kind of evil genius sent to torment them before their time! “ O that he would be less severe!" say they; “ that he would not so often touch upon the evil nature and dreadful consequence of sin; that he would less frequently conduct us to the borders of the flaming pit! Why will he not leave us to ourselves? Even if he thought we were going on to perdition, why not let us be at peace till our time comes ?” Because he dare not, cannot, will not. Mercy to you forbids it; fidelity to God forbids it; regard to his own safety forbids it. He must warn the wicked, till their salvation renders it no longer necessary, or their destruction renders it no longer possible.
Thirdly, I shall now represent the folly, the sin, and the DANGER of a desire to suppress the faithful voice of truth, and to be flattered with the soothing language of deceit.
Its Folly is apparent from the consideration, that no concealment of the situation of the sinner can alter his condition in the sight of God, or change the relation in which he stands to eternity. This, whatever pains he may take to delude himself, or whatever solicitude he may feel that others should join him in the delusion, remains the same. Like the ostrich, which is said, when closely pursued, to put her head beneath her wing, as if to blind herself to impending destruction, he may refuse to see, or have his true situation unfolded; but the case is unaltered. Is it wise in the man who has nearly ruined his constitution by intemperance, to ask the physician to tell him that he is in good health, and is carrying on a harmless species of indulgence? Is it wise in the man who is wasting his property by neglect or extravagance, to persuade his friends to hush their reproving voice, and flatter him that his prosperity is sound? Would the deceit of the former change the condition of his patient ? or the falsehood of the latter repair the fortunes of the spendthrift? How much greater is the fall of the sinner, who, instead of turning from sin to God, through faith in Christ, and thus getting rid of his alarms, by abandoning the cause of sin, refuses to change his conduct, and asks for a false representation of his condition. He is walking to the edge of a precipice, and solicits those who see his danger, to tell him that he is safe. Of what avail will the sermons of the smooth-tongued preacher be to the victims of his wicked cajolery in another world? Such a ministry may blind the eyes and stupify the senses, but not avert destruction; that is advancing silently and slowly, but certainly, notwithstanding the falsehoods of the blind leaders of the blind. Theirs is not the last tribunal, nor theirs the ultimate decision. From their verdict there must be an appeal to the bar of an omniscient and holy God, whose judgment will be according to truth. Millions of sentences pronounced on character by human arbiters are perpetually revoked by Him. It is of no service, therefore, to gain the testimony of ministerial approbation, unless it is confirmed by God. Nor will it be any bar in the way of His condemnation of sinners at the last day, to affirm, that sinners were flattered into a good opinion of themselves by the ministers of religion. Myriads of souls are thus flattered into hell, but not one will ever gain heaven by deceit. The utmost, therefore, which could be gained by our prophesying smooth things to our hearers, would be their enjoying a little temporary ease, but which would only be as the calm before the tempest.
2. The sin of this disposition is equal to its folly. It is sinful alike in its origin, its nature, and its consequences.
It is produced