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blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost, it shall never be forgiven him; neither in this world, nor in the world to come ?' Therefore, it is plain, if we have been guilty of this sin, there is no room for mercy. And is not the same thing repeated by St. Mark, almost in the same words? "Verily I say unto you,' (a solemn preface! always denoting the great importance of that which follows,) 'All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is under the sentence of eternal damnation.'
2. How immense is the number in every nation, throughout the Christian world, of those who have been more or less distressed on account of this scripture? What multitudes in this kingdom have been perplexed above measure upon this very account? Nay, there are few that are truly convinced of sin, and seriously endeavour to save their souls, who have not felt some uneasiness, for fear they had committed, or should commit, this unpardonable sin. What has frequently increased their uneasiness was, that they could hardly find any to comfort them. For their acquaintances, even the most religious of them, understood no more of the matter than themselves; and they could not find any writer, who had published any thing satisfactory upon the subject. Indeed in the “ Seven Sermons” of Mr. Russell, which are common among us, there is one expressly written upon it: but it will give little satisfaction to a troubled spirit. He talks about it, and about it, but makes nothing out: he takes much pains, but misses the mark at last.
3. But was there ever in the world a more deplorable proof of the littleness of human understanding, even in those that have honest hearts, and are desirous of knowing the truth! How is it possible, that any one who reads his Bible, can one hour remain in doubt concerning it, when our Lord himself, in the very passage cited above, has so clearly told us, what that blasphemy is ? " He that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, hath never forgiveness; because, they said, he hath an unclean spirit,” verses 29, 30. This then, and this alone, (if we allow our Lord to understand his own meaning,) is the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost : the saying, he had an unclean spirit; the affirming that Christ wrought his miracles by the power of an evil spirit; or more particularly, that "he cast out devils, by Beelzebub, the prince of devils." Now have you been guilty of this? Have you affirmed, that he cast out devils by the prince of devils ? No more than you have cut your neighbour's throat, and set his house on fire. How marvellously then have you been afraid, where no fear is! Dismiss that vain terror : let your fear be more rational for the time to come. Be afraid of giving way to pride ; be afraid of yielding to anger; be afraid of loving the world, or the things of the world : be afraid of foolish and hurtful desires; but never more be afraid of committing the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost! You are in no more danger of doing this, than of pulling the sun out of the firmament.
4. Ye have then no reason from Scripture, for imagining that “the Lord hath forgotten to be gracious." The arguments drawn from thence, you see, are of no weight, are utterly inconclusive. Is there
any more weight in that which has been drawn from experience or matter of fact?
5. This is a point which may exactly be determined; and that with the utmost certainty. If it be asked, “Do any real apostates find mercy from God? Do any that have made shipwreck of faith and a good. conscience,' recover what they have lost ? Do you know, have
you seen any instance of persons, who found redemption in the blood of Jesus, and afterwards fell away, and yet were restored, renewed again to repentance ?!” Yea, verily: and not one, or a hundred only, but, I am persuaded, several thousands. In every place where the arm of the Lord has been revealed, and many sinners converted to God, there are several found, who “turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” For a great part of these “ it had been better never to have known the way of righteousness.” It only increases their damnation, seeing they die in their sins. But others there are, who “ look untó him they have pierced, and mourn,” refusing to be comforted. And, sooner or later he surely lifts up the light of his countenance upon them: he strengthens the hands that hang down, and confirms the feeble knees. He teaches them again to say, “ My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoiceth in God my Saviour.” Innumerable are the instances of this kind, of those who had fallen, but now stand upright. Indeed. it is so far from being an uncommon thing, for a believer to fall and be restored, that it is rather uncommon to find any believers who are not conscious of having been backsliders from God; in a higher or lower degree; and perhaps more than once, before they were established in faith.
6. “But have any that had fallen from sanctifying grace, been restored to the blessing they had lost ?” This also is a point of experience: and we have had the opportunity of repeating our observations during a considerable course of years, and from the one end of the kingdom to the other.
7. And, first, we have known a large number of persons, of every age and sex, from early childhood, to extreme old age, who have given all the proofs, which the nature of the thing admits, that they were tified throughout;"“cleansed from all pollution both of flesh and spirit;" that they “ loved the Lord their God with all their heart, and mind, and soul, and strength ;" that they continually " presented" their souls and bodies" a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God :" in consequence of which, they “rejoiced evermore, prayed without ceasing, and in every thing gave thanks.” And this, and no other, is what we believe to be true, scriptural sanctification.
8. Secondly, It is a common thing for those who are thus sanctified, to believe they cannot fall : to suppose themselves “ pillars in the temple of God, that shall go out no more.” Nevertheless we have seen some of the strongest of them, aster a time, moved from their steadfastness. Sometimes suddenly, but oftener by slow degrees, they have yielded to temptation; and pride, or anger, or foolish desires have again sprung up in their hearts. Nay, sometimes they have utterly lost the life of God, and sin hath regained dominion over them.
9. Yet, thirdly, several of these, after being thoroughly sensible of their fall, and deeply ashamed before God, have been again filled with his love, and not only perfected therein, but stablished, strengthened
and settled. They have received the blessing they had before, with abundant increase. Nay, it is remarkable, that many who had fallen either from justifying or from sanctifying grace, and so deeply fallen that they could hardly be ranked among the servants of God, have been restored, (but seldom till they had been shaken, as it were, over the mouth of hell,) and that, very frequently in an instant, to all that they had lost. They have, at once, recovered both a consciousness of his favour and the experience of the pure love of God. In one moment they received anew, both remission of sins, and a lot among them that were sanctified.
10. But let not any man infer from this long suffering of God, that he hath given any one a license to sin. Neither let any dare to continue in sin, because of these extraordinary instances of divine mercy. This is the most desperate, the most irrational presumption, and leads to utter, irrecoverable destruction. In all my experience, I have not known one, who fortified himself in sin by a presumption that God would save him at the last, that was not miserably disappointed, and suffered to die in his sins. To turn the grace of God into an encouragement to sin, is the sure way to the nethermost hell!
11. It is not for these desperate children of perdition, that the preceding considerations are designed ; but for those who feel “the remembrance of their sins is grievous unto them, the burden of them is intolerable." We set before these an open door of hope : let them go in and give thanks unto the Lord. Let them know that the Lord is gracious and merciful; longs uffering, and of great goodness.” “ Look how high the heavens are from the earth! so far will he set their sins from them.” “He will not always be chiding; neither keepeth he his anger for ever.” Only settle it in your heart, I will give all for all, and the offering shall be accepted. Give him all your heart! Let all that is within you continually cry out, “thou art my God, and I will thank thee : thou art my God and I will praise thee.” “This God is my God for ever and ever! He shall be my guide even unto death."
SERMON XCII.-The Danger of Riches.
“ They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful desires, which drown men in destruction and perdition,” 1 Tim. vi, 9.
1. How innumerable are the ill consequences which have followed from men's not knowing, or not considering, this great truth! And how few are there even in the Christian world, that either know or duly consider it! Yea, how small is the number of those, even among real Christians, who understand and lay it to heart! Most of these too pass it very lightly over, scarce remembering there is such a text in the Bible. And
many put such a construction upon it, as makes it of no manner of effect. "They that will be rich," say they, that is, will be rich at all events; who will be rich, right or wrong ; that are resolved to carry their point, to compass this end, whatever means they use to attain it; they " fall into temptation," and into all the evils enumerated by the apostle. But truly if this were all the meaning of the text, it might as well have been out of the Bible.
2. This is so far from being the whole meaning of the text, that it is no part of its meaning. The apostle does not here speak of gaining riches unjustly, but of quite another thing : his words are to be taken in their plain obvious sense, without any restriction or qualification whatsoever. St. Paul does not say, that they will be rich by evil means, by theft, robbery, oppression, or extortion; they that will be rich by fraud or dishonest art; but simply, “they that will be rich:” these, allowing, supposing the means they use to be ever so innocent, “fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful desires, which drown men in destruction and perdition.”
3. But who believes that? Who receives it as the truth of God? Who is deeply convinced of it? Who preaches this? Great is the company of preachers at this day, regular and irregular ; but who of them all
, openly and explicitly, preaches this strange doctrine? It is the keen observation of a great man, "The pulpit is the preacher's strong hold.". But who even in this strong hold has the courage to declare so unfashionable a truth ? I do not remember that in three score years, I have heard one sermon preached upon this subject. And what author, within the same term, has declared it from the press ? At least in the English tongue ? I do not know one. I have neither seen nor heard of any such author. I have seen two or three who have just touched upon it: but none that treats of it professedly. I have myself frequently touched
upon it in preaching, and thrice in what I have published to the world: once in explaining our Lord's sermon on the mount, and once in the discourse on the "mammon of unrighteousness :" but I have never yèt either published or preached any sermon expressly upon the subject. It is high time I should ;--that I should at length speak as strongly and explicitly as I can, in order to leave a full and clear testimony behind me, whenever it pleases God to call me hence.
4. Oh that God would give me to speak right and forcible words ; and you to receive them in honest and humble hearts! Let it not be said, “They sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words: but they will not do them. Thou art unto them as one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but do them not!" Oh that ye may “not be forgetful hearers, but doers of the word,” that ye may be blessed in your deed !” In this hope I shall endeavour,
1. To explain the apostle's words. And, · II. To apply them.
But, oh! “who is sufficient for these things ?” Who is able to stem the general torrent? To combat all the prejudices not only of the vulgar, but of the learned and of the religious world? Yet nothing is too hard for God! Still his grace is sufficient for us. In his name then, and by his strength, I will endeavour,
I. To explain the words of the apostle.
1. And, first, let us consider, what it is to be rich ? What does the apostle mean by this expression?
The preceding verse fixes the meaning of that; “Having food and raiment,” (literally coverings; for the word includes lodging as well as clothes,) “let us be therewith content." “ But they that will be rich;" that is, who will have more than these; more than food and coverings. It plainly follows, whatever is more than these, is in the sense of the
apostle, riches; whatever is above the plain necessaries, or, at most, conveniences of life. Whoever has sufficient food to eat, and raiment to put on, with a place where to lay his head, and something over, is rich.
2. Let us consider, secondly, what is implied in that expression, “they that will be rich.” And does not this imply, first, they that desire to be rich ; to have more than food and coverings : they that seriously and deliberately desire more than food to eat, and raiment to put on, and a place where to lay their head ; more than the plain necessaries and conveniences of life? All, at least, who allow themselves in this desire, who see no harm in it, desire to be rich.
3. And so do, secondly, all those that calmly, deliberately, and of set purpose, endeavour after more than food and coverings; that aim at and endeavour after, not only so much worldly substance as will procure them the necessaries and conveniences of life, but more than this, whether to lay it up, or lay it out in superfluities. All these undeniably prove their desire to be rich, by their endeavours after it.
4. Must we not, thirdly, rank among those that desire to be rich, all that, in fact, “lay úp treasures on earth ?” a thing as expressly and clearly forbidden by our Lord, as either adultery or murder. It is allowed, 1. That we are to provide necessaries and conveniences for those of our own household : 2. That men in business are to lay up as much as is necessary for the carrying on of that business : 3. That we are to leave our children what will supply them with necessaries and conveniences after we have left the world : and, 4. That we are to provide things honest in the sight of all men, so as to "owe no man any thing :" but to lay up any more when this is done, is what our Lord has flatly forbidden. When it is calmly and deliberately done, it is a clear proof of our desiring to be rich. And thus to lay up money is no more consistent with a good conscience, than to throw it into the sea.
5. We must rank among them, fourthly, all who possess more of this world's goods, than they use according to the will of the donor : I should rather say, of the proprietor; for he only lends them to us as stewards; reserving the property of them to himself. And, indeed, he cannot possibly do otherwise, seeing they are the work of his hands; he is, and must be, the possessor of heaven and earth. This is his unalienable right; a right he cannot divest himself of, And together with that portion of his goods, which he hath lodged in our hands, he has delivered to us a writing, specifying the purposes for which he has intrusted us with them. If; therefore, we keep more of them in our hands, than is necessary for the preceding purposes, we certainly fall under the charge of 'desiring to be rich:” over and above we are guilty of burying our Lord's talent in the earth ; and on that account are liable to be pronounced wicked, because unprofitable servants.
6. Under this imputation of " desiring to be rich," fall, fifthly, all “ lovers of money." The word properly means, those that delight in money; those that take pleasure in it; those that seek their happiness therein ; that brood over their gold and silver, bills or bonds. Such was the man described by the fine Roman painter, who broke out in that natural soliloquy;
“Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo Ipse domi quoties nummos contemplor in arcâ."