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down, would be the fruitful source of backsliding, of apostasy, of awful disgrace to the cause of Christ, and of pollution to themselves which would fit them to be drowned at last in destruction and perdition? One reply only can be returned,—that this must ever be matter of truth and certainty until the duration of life is ended. And who can calculate aright all that pertains to the struggle which marks their
passage toward heaven, without perceiving another illustration of the fact, -that “the righteous scarcely can be saved"?
Difficulty may be stated to exist also, because of the power of that external enmity with which the saints have to contend. They live in the midst of evil; they are surrounded by it on every hand. From the world, in which the lot of their pilgrimage is to be performed, they encounter, in some form, a constant opposition. They have to endure its persecutions, as was the case in the time of the apostle; these being the “sufferings" and the “fiery trial” to which he adverted, when they were compelled to submit to “ trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover to bonds and imprisonment;" and, if they maintained their steadfastness to the faith, had to endure the agonies of an unnatural and excruciating death. Or they have to bear its temptations; for blandishments, numerous and artful, are always present in their path, to encourage their indwelling lusts, and allure them away from God, and righteousness, and heaven.--And, beyond the enmity of the world, constant are the malignant efforts of the powers of darkness. They "wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places :" the whole abyss is up in arms to defeat them in their noble enterprise, and to achieve the fell conquest which would deprive them of heaven, and sink them down to hell. When we think of a career, opposed thus by tribulation and temptation, by foes from earth, and foes from the infernal pit, we have surely another illustration of the fact,--that “the righteous scarcely can be saved."
The difficulties now enumerated, which justify the expression of the text, conduct us to the conclusion which it is always important to recognize, that salvation can be obtained only by an exercise of the
power of God—the direct and omnipotent agency of that same Being who presides as the lawgiver and judge of the universe. He who wields the sword of equity, must himself communicate the blessings of grace; and except He secure and bestow salvation, men can never be saved at all. “ All things are possible with God ;" and he does exert the needful energy to insure the happiness of his people; for, in the text
2. It is assumed, that notwithstanding the difficulties which interpose to prevent the salvation of the righteous, it will certainly be accomplished. That this is the doctrine of the phrase we are discussing, I imagine, must appear to you evident and unquestionable. You cannot read the clause attentively, without perceiving it at once.
“If the righteous scarcely be saved,”—but yet, they will be saved. We should not do justice to the import of the passage, nor to the general testimony of the divine word, nor to the feelings of the Christians who have now heard of the difficulties of their spiritual course, if the cheering fact were not placed in separate and prominent exhibition.
It is the express purpose and ordination of God, with regard to all on whom has been conferred the character of his people, that “ they shall not perish.” They are the objects of an everlasting and unchanging love, which cannot be contravened or thwarted. To secure their triumph he has given them an interest in the propitiatory sacrifice of his Son, which, possessing an all-sufficiency of merit, effects the pardon of the infinite evil of sin, removes to the sacrifice the curse due to the transgressor, and affords free, and absolute, and irreversible justification before the Father. He has given to them also the influence of the Holy Spirit, to abide in their hearts, that he may put down the dominion of internal corruption, that he may preserve them in the cultivation of holiness, that he may inspire them with firmness, and crown them with success, in all their conflicts with the adversaries they are compelled to meet. Occupying a spiritual position, and possessing spiritual relationships like these, is it doubtful that victory shall place her laurel upon their brows, and that they shall be numbered among the glorified inhabitants of heaven?
Christians, if shadows of gloom have crossed your spirits, while you have looked upon the array of difficulty and danger, now behold the unfailing source of inspiring encouragement. The immutable counsels have ratified, that you shall not be overwhelmed. “If God be for you, who can be against you ?” You may be troubled on every side, yet you shall not be distressed; you may be perplexed, but you shall not be in despair ; you may be persecuted, but you shall not be forsaken ; you may be cast down, but you shall not be destroyed; you may be dying, but, behold, you shall live; you may be chastened, but you shall not be killed; you may stagger, but you shall not fall; you may be on the border of the furnace, but you shall not be flung into the flame ; you may tremble on the brink of Tophet, but you shall be brought to the glories of the skies ! What gratitude and joy should kindle in your bosoms, when
KEPT BY THE
you contemplate the one grand truth,—that you are POWER OF GOD THROUGH FAITH UNTO SALVATION!
WHO ARE NOT RIGHTEOUS.
II. We shall notice THE SOLEMN QUESTION SUGGESTED AS TO
“ And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear ?”
This question is a more forcible repetition of the contents of the preceding verse: “If judgment begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God ?" The apostle has in view that period of final retribution, which is the subject of so many sublime announcements in the word of revelation ; and it is the import of his inquiries, as to the persons to whom the epithets apply—the impenitent transgressors against God, and rejecters of his mercy“ what will be the place they shall occupy before the tribunal of the Omniscient Being who is to fix the destinies of mankind? What will be the sentence which, from his lips, they shall receive? What will be the habitation in which they shall dwell for ever?
1. To this question we shall furnish the reply. The question is plainly intended to induce the answer, and to enforce the principle, that, to all who hold on earth no character but that of “ ungodly and sinners," salvation is impossible, and destruction is sure. The sacred writers not unfrequently employ the form of a question, to convey the fact of an exposure to existing evils, and the certainty of being ruined by them if they were encountered ; as if they would challenge investigation, and because, perhaps, an interrogation was calculated to produce an excitement which would fasten the truth comprehended more firmly upon the heart. For example: “ What will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from afar ?” meaning, that, in that day, that desolation would overwhelm. “ Who can stand before his indignation, and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger ?” meaning, that to stand and to abide would be impossible. Sometimes these questions are connected with the assumption of certain premises, the admission of which imparts new force to the designed conclusion: “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses ? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan ?” meaning, that the approaching contest would terminate in defeat, and that the swellings of Jordan would sweep away and engulf. “If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ?" meaning, that escape would be inflexibly denied. "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear ?" meaning, that they will appear in a state of hopeless condemnation ; and that, as the righteous can scarcely be saved, the wicked must undoubtedly be lost.
Granting the fact stated as to the difficulty of salvation to the righteous, and that even those from whom the spirit of impenitence and unbelief has been taken away, “hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven,” surely it becomes preposterous to suppose for a moment, that they who to all spiritual renovation are strangers, can avoid the just anger of the Most High. Consider the state in which “the ungodly and sinners” exist, in relation to the government of God. Let it be considered, that they are charged with the infinite guilt of sin, having no part in the justifying atonement of Christ : let it be considered, that they are stained with the abominable pollution of sin, having no part in the sanctifying influences of the Spirit: let it be considered, that they reject the solitary method of saving mercy which has been provided, and thus to their disobedience of the divine law add heinous and aggravated transgressions against the divine grace. Can it be augured of these, that they can endure the scrutiny of the eternal Judge, that they can avert the thunderstroke of his wrath, and that they can enter joyously into the inheritance of heaven? O no! the fearful conclusion is urged with resistless force,“ Sinners shall not stand in the congregation of the righteous, and the way of the ungodly shall perish!"
And what will be the precise nature of their irrevocable allotment, condemned at the grand inquisition of the universe ? Inspiration teaches that it will be terrible—a portion of endless, inconceivable torment. “ The wicked shall be turned into hell !" “ Cast
the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth!” “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels !" "They that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power !" Such are the announcements of the word that cannot lie! We attempt not to amplify upon them. We leave them in their own naked solemnity. Meditate upon them : they shall consummate the answer to the inquiry,—“Where shall the ungodly and the sinner
2. Of this question we shall suggest the improvement. There is an improvement to "the ungodly." They who have hitherto
sustained the character to which attaches the tremendous danger we have faintly depicted, ought surely, without the delay of a moment, to resort to the means provided and proclaimed in abounding mercy, which shall avert their perils, and impart to them the blessing of salvation. Can they listen to the tidings of the coming judgment with apathy? Can they sink again, after being confronted with the bar of doom, into the slumbers of guilty indifference, reckless whether they be saved or damned ? O, be it theirs to obey the earnest exhortation which, embracing the mighty sphere of their immortal interests, tells them to seek the pardoning mercy of God through Christ his Son ; to rest on that blessed sacrifice whose blood cleanseth from all sin; to put on the new man, which is created in righteousness and true holiness; and to live henceforth on earth, governed by the powers of the life that is yet to come. Sinners ! if you will but thus turn, the clouds will roll away; the vengeance will impend and threaten no longer; the shout of the archangel will summon you to acceptance; heaven will open its portals to receive you, and there shall you abide in its eternal mansions of bliss.
There is an improvement to “ the righteous." While they should be grateful and devoted to Him who has imparted to them the prospects of immortality, they ought to engage with zeal and intense compassion in pressing upon “the ungodly and sinners," wherever opportunity can be opened, the truths which belong to their eternal peace. Shew to them the lustre of the lamp of life by which you are guided. Tell them of the riches of the feast on which you have fed. Allure them to the shelter of the refuge within which you are secured. Their deathless but endangered spirits claim it of you ; and should you snatch but one sinner from the burning,—when he shall be presented before the throne, what new raptures will be added to your joy!
And now we leave the inquiry, “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" One other inquiry I would append,-momentous, awful, searching,—which I charge you individually to ponder, as it may bear upon yourselves : “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” Mighty and merciful Father! avert the horror from us all, and prepare us for the songs of salvation before the splendours of thy throne !