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by a confirmed and inveterate sinful habit of mind. Why does a person wish to have a false representation of his state? Why does he wish nothing to be said about his sins and their punishment ? Why does he wish the demands of the law, in a way of duty, to be abated, and the terrors of its penalty softened ? For this one reason, that, as he is determined to go on in sin, he may be left to sin with less reluctance and remorse. He is in love with some evil course, and he wants to be left in it without disturbance. He is set against a holy life, and he therefore dislikes to hear any thing about the fruits of sin. As it is sinful in its origin, it is manifestly so in its nature, for it is the love of falsehood; a desire to confound the distinction between sin and holiness. The man who wishes the preacher to treat him as if he were in a state of safety, while he is himself conscious that he is unconverted, and exposed to the wrath of God, guilty of the sin of calling evil good, of putting darkness for light, and bitter for sweet. His disposition is at deadly enmity against the perfection of the Divine character. The holiness of God is the object of his abhorrence; as long as this exists, he cannot be at perfect peace; the rays of the Divine purity, as often as they fall upon his disordered mind, disturb and exasperate. To him belongs the striking description of the Psalmist, “ The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." He secretly wishes there was no Supreme Being, or that he was not holy. If his powers were equal to his desires, he would wrest the sword of justice from the hand of Deity, despoil the character of Jehovah of the beauties of holiness, dash in pieces the tables of his law, overturn the throne of judgment, and establish the reign of anarchy, in order that he might sin in peace, and escape the punishment of transgression. This is no exaggeration, but a sober statement of truth; for the very existence of a righteous God is, and in the nature of things ever must be, an annoyance to him, in whose mind there are combined the love of sin, a dread of its consequences, and a wish to be unmolested in the course of iniquity. Nor is this all; in aiming to suppress the voice of warning and the note of alarm, he acts the part of that infatuated and cruel wretch, who would bribe the sentinel to be silent, when the foe is about to rush, sword in hand, into the camp, or would seduce the watchman to be quiet, when the fire had broken out at midnight, and was raging through the city. For thus saith the Lord, “O, son of man, I have set thee a watchman over the house of Israel; therefore, thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, 0 wicked man, thou shalt surely die ; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand." Under such peril would the prophet of the Lord comply with the wishes of those who would have him keep back the words of the Most High, and comfort those whom he is commanded to alarm. His own salvation is at stake ; his own eternal perdition would be the punishment of his treachery. The crime of the sentinel who betrays an army and ruins an empire by his want of vigilance, or by his treachery, is venial, and a mere trifle, compared with that of a minister of religion who cries peace to the wicked, and prophesies deceit. He suffers the tide of perdition to flow in silently and slowly upon immortal souls; he suffers the
enemy of souls to come in and wander at his leisure ; he suffers the fires of the bottomless pit to kindle and rage unchecked; and what does he deserve ? Yet those who ask for smooth things for the ear and the conscience of the sinner, are soliciting him to commit this crime, and do this mischief: they are bribing him to ruin his own immortal spirit, and the spirits of those that hear him ; that they might be permitted to go on quietly in sin. Little do they know, and less do they care, what havoc they would make in the eternal interests of mankind, if they could have their wish, and render the pulpit an oracle of flattery and lies. As it is, the voice of alarm is not always successful, multitudes rush onwards to their ruin, notwithstanding the most faithful and repeated warnings. They are not turned back, but, like the infatuated and obstinate Balaam, they force a passage to their destruction, in opposition to the preacher, though he standeth, like the angel of the Lord, with a flaming sword across their path. What, then, would be the case, if he stood in the very midst of the broad road, and by his soft speeches, and smooth doctrine, confirmed the habits and sanctioned the course of the multitude running to do evil ?
3. The DANGER of such a disposition to the individual himself, is as great as its sin and its folly. The man who is unwilling to hear of approaching misery, is not likely to use any means by which it may be averted. His object is present repose, not future and permanent safety. While a person can look an apprehended calamity in the face, especially if it be a calamity which it is in his power to prevent; while he can allow himself to calculate consequences and anticipate results; and, above all, while he opens his ear to the monitory voice of disinterested and faithful friendship, and even solicits the counsels of unbending integrity, there is hope of his escape. But if, through a sanguine and obstinate temper, he will hearken to no advice; or if, through a dread of knowing his real situation, he will close his ears against every warning; or if, through a fatal love of present tranquillity, he will listen to no prediction of coming mischief; if, through a determination to think well of his case, he rebukes those who admonish him to alter his course of action while yet there is opportunity,- his peril is extreme, and his destruction draweth nigh. Such is the condition of many in reference to eternity. They are living without religion, or with only such as is absolutely delusive: they are going on every moment to the judgment of the great God, without being prepared for the interview. The minister whom they hear sees their danger : and in faithful affection for their souls, attempts to disturb their peace, by showing them their situation. To preach smooth things to them would be to become accessory to their destruction; and he therefore sounds the harsh but seasonable note of alarm ; but they will not hear him ; they have made up their minds to think well of their case : they shun his advice, as well as the counsels of all those who could do them any good, and listen only to the opinion and flatteries of such as are blind leaders of the blind. Instead of wishing to know the real state of the case, their only wish is to be deceived ; instead of running to the physician, their aim is to persuade themselves that they do not need him ; instead of anxiously inquiring, “ what shall I do to be saved ?" they do not see their danger of being lost; instead of fleeing from the wrath to come, they covet to be let alone. It is only by a faithful disclosure of their situation that they can escape; but they will not hear it. Like the man whose house is on fire over his head, and who is angry with the neighbours that have disturbed his slumbers and alarmed his fears, they intreat that nothing may be said to them about the quenchless fire, although it is kindling around them. They take pains to be lost, and are offended with the persons who would save them. Having changed their place of hearing the word, in order to be at ease in their sins ; having left the man whose thunders were perpetually breaking in upon their fatal repose, for one of those guilty creatures whose soft whispers lull their devoted hearers to the sleep of death, they obtain, under his soothing discourses, that which they sought, — ease from the stings of conscience, and from the anticipations of judgment to
There, indeed, they are sometimes gently reproved for the grosser irruptions of criminal appetite, and reminded to be a little more virtuous, but, at the same time, are furnished with excuses drawn from the weakness of humanity, comforted with assurances of Divine indulgence to the frailties of his erring creatures, and reminded, that any considerable defects in virtue may in due season be repented of, or made up, by some extra acts of charity or devotion. Conscience is bribed and deceived ; from that moment the poor wretched creature is at ease in Zion ; resists
and resents every attempt to undeceive him; hugs the lie which is destroying him to his bosom ; lavishes his compliments and caresses upon the false prophet that is the accomplice of his soul's murder; lives in peace : dies perhaps in tranquillity ; but there the delusion ends, for “ in hell he lifteth up his eyes, being in torments.” He that on earth would not hear of his sins, now feels all the bitter consequences, where repentance is too late, and pardon never comes at all. He that on earth reviled the faithful ministry, now curses the preacher of smooth things. He that on earth could never bear to hear of the bottomless pit, is now in the midst of it. He that wished his imagination never to be terrified by the flame of the burning lake, is now tossed upon its billows. He had his wish, for he heard the tongue of flattery, and selected a miscalled minister of religion, who caused the Holy One to cease from before him; and now he is in that horrible place, where the awful form of holiness, as it is seen in the terrors of retributive justice, is the chief object that will ever be present to his astonished, affrighted, and agonized spirit. He chose rather to be flattered to his ruin than alarmed to his salvation ; he has his choice, and proves now the truth of that fearful declaration : “ And it shall come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst ; — the Lord will not spare him ; but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie
By way of application I infer, how great is the importance, responsibility, and difficulty which attach to the ministerial office, and how anxious should those be who sustain it, to discharge its duties with uncompromising fidelity.
As to those wicked and miserable men who have taken up the ministerial office as a mere profession to live by, without any spiritual qualifications for its duties, their guilt now, and their punishment hereafter, exceed the powers of language to describe, and of imagination to conceive. They are the most sinful beings on earth, and will be the most wretched creatures in eternity. A pretender, who undertakes to manage men's estates, without a knowledge of law; or a person professing to be a physician, and to cure dangerous diseases, without the least knowledge of medicine ; a pilot, taking the helm of a ship without any acquaintance with navigation ; or a general, leading an army into battle without any experience in military tactics, are modest and harmless characters, compared with the man who professes to be a minister of religion
without a personal acquaintance with the subject : the former only destroys men's bodies, but the latter is accessory to the ruin of their souls; and upon him will rest the blood of all those whom he has guided to destruction. That such should prophesy smooth things is, of course, to be looked for: they know nothing else ; they prophesy those things to themselves, and will declare them to others. Melancholy, most melancholy, is it to reflect how many of the public teachers of religion, even in this Protestant country, are perpetually employed in the ministry of deceit; assiduously labouring to hide men's spiritual condition from their view; zealously endeavouring to suppress the anxiety produced in the souls of their neighbours, by men more faithful than themselves; exerting all their influence to keep mankind asleep in sin : thus busying themselves in the work of perdition, and, like the master whom they serve and imitate, going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom they may devour. They are mere pulpit agents of the devil, receiving the wages of the sanctuary while they do his work ; keeping all still and quiet among his slaves, preventing all attempts to throw off his hateful yoke, by flattering them with the idea that they are the servants of God.
But I would now address myself to those ministers who profess to be experimentally acquainted with religion, and to declare with fidelity, the whole counsel of God. To them I would, with great deference, suggest two things:
1. The conversion of sinners should be the leading object of every minister of Christ. By listening to the habitual strain of some good men's preaching, we should be led to conclude, either that they had no unconverted hearers in their congregation, or that they had nothing to do with their conversion. Every thing almost is addressed to believers, or if an occasional appeal be made to the impenitent, it is so formal, so cold, and so general, that it is not likely it should produce much effect. When we consider that, in most congregations, the majority, it is to be feared, is composed of unregenerated persons, surely, surely, they ought to be viewed as the first object of ministerial solicitude: they will soon be gone beyond the reach of salvation; almost every sabbath some or other of them retires from beneath the minister's voice, to return no more. Besides, the meaus that are calculated to impress, convince, and convert them, are adapted to keep up in the minds of believers, a deep and impressive sense of eternal realities. Is not this justified by the parable of the Shepherd leaving the ninety and nine sheep in the fold, to go into the wilderness after the solitary wanderer? Here I will quote the language of Baxter.