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The character of all unrenewed men is essentially the same. Circumstantial differences there may be. In this respect, there is an unlimited diversity. But the great features, which go to make up their moral character, are alike. No sinners can say of others, we are better than they.
In illustrating this sentiment, it is proposed to show
1. It may be remarked, that some sinners are more moral than others.
That there is a material difference in this respect, between those who are in a state of impenitence, is too evident to need confirmation. There are numbers, especially where the advantages for religious instruction have been considerable, who maintain a decent observance of the law. While multitudes have cast off the fear of God, and, regardless of the sanction of human laws, have run into every excess of impiety: while bold transgressors have wantonly trampled on every Divine probibition, giving loose reins to their corrupt appetites, there are others, whose characters have rarely, if ever, been marked with overt acts of wickedness. If they cannot claim, in the boasting language of the young man in the Gospel, that they have kept all the commandments of God from their youth, it would still be difficult to fix upon them the charge of having indulged themselves even in a single vice. The language of profanity has never polluted their lips. Nor have they been guilty of invading the persons, the property, or the reputation of their neighbors. On the contrary, they have been honest and upright in their deportment. They have even advanced farther. In numerous instances they have been still more distinguished from the vicious. They have also paid a respectful regard to the duties and institutions of religion. The Holy Scriptures are found in their dwellings, and their instructions are, to some extent, treasured up in their minds. From Sabbath to Sabbath, they go up to the house of the Lord; and they often manifest a zeal, little inferior to that of the people of God, to maintain the purity of divine worship.
2. Some sinners are possessed of a more amiable natural disposition than others.
The natural dispositions of mankind, are as various as their countenances; and this diversity is often to be seen in individuals who are alike destitute of the love of God. While some are naturally hasty in their temper, are blown into a rage of passion by the slightest provocations, and are guilty of the greatest indiscretions in their words and conduct, others, who, to say the least, are equally wicked, are calm and unruffled, even at the most injurious treatment. Among some of the wicked also, we find feelings of pity. Their sympathies are awakened at the sight of objects in distress, and there are scarcely any sacrifices which they are not ready to make for their relief. Others there are, who are destitute of any tenderness of feelings. Objects of suffering awaken no compassion in their hearts. With tearless eyes, and with scarcely one emotion of pity, they can behold their fellow creatures enduring the extremities of pain, and want.
The disposition of a third class is marked with generosity. Others are contracted in their feelings. Even their tender mercies are cruel.
The furthest reach of their charity falls materially short, as well of the degree of suffering which invites, as of their ability to render it, They are possessed of no noble and enlarged emotions of soul, which induce them to distribute of their substance, time, and influence, with a liberal hand. In these, and many other respects, the natural dispositions of men are different. None can be ignorant of this diversity, even among the impenitent. Some are manifestly kind, tender hearted, placid, generous, and affectionate; while others are ungenerous, destitute of pity, peevish, passionate, and insensible to the demands of charity or friendship.
3. Some sinners are more useful in society than others.
It cannot be pretended that sinners, in no instances, promote the good of society. Some are indeed worse than useless. It is not true that they merely lie upon a community as a dead weight; but they are active enemies to its best interests. They disturb its peace and happiness, load it with burthens, and by their pernicious conversation and example, corrupt its members, sow the sceds of discord, and lay a foundation for its gradual destruction. But this is not the case with all the impenitent. Not a few of them, it must be conceded, are greatly instrumental in promoting its peace and prosperity. They have a just estimation of the value of civil and religious institutions, and they are ready to lend their influence to their establishment and perfection. Numbers of them are men of public spirit, men whose designs extend beyond the hoarding up of wealth, and their own elevation to places of honor and influence. Whatever may be the motives which govern them, their views respecting the prosperity of society are enlarged. In their estimation, their own interest and that of society, are intimately connected. Hence the community are often indebted to persons of this character, for some of their most useful institutions, and of their most magnificent works. They are often upright magistrates, enlightened legislators, skilful physicians, and kind parents.
In these several respects, it is manifest some sinners are better than others. We are
II. To show in wbat respect all are alike.
Notwithstanding, in so many particulars, there is a manifest superiority, in some sinners over others, in every thing which constitutes their real characters, they are alike. Some may be more moral in their habits than others, more amiable in their natural dispositions, and more useful in society. Still, according to the statement of the apostle, it is not true that one sinner is essentially better than another. All are alike in the temper of their hearts. In this regard, the Jews, with all their privileges, were not better than the Gentiles. For I have before proved, says the apostle, both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin. They are all gone out of the way; they are together become unprofitable; there is none that docth good, no not one. This is a general description, applicable to all sinners. The Scriptures make no distinction between the moral and the profligate, the pitiful, and those who possess no feelings of compassion, such as have been useful in society, and others. The rich and poor, bond and free, learned and ignorant, possess by nature the same character
before God. Among men there are many distinctions. All are not held in the same estimation. But whatever difference may exist in their external circumstances, or in the view's which their friends, or others, may entertain of them, in the temper of their hearts they all stand on the same ground. They are all guilty before God. The most moral, and amiable, if they have not been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, are children of wrath, even as others. At best, they are as whited sepulchres. On the outside they are comely, and not unfrequently, they recommend themselves to all with whom they are conversant. But they are within full of dead men's bones, and all manner of uncleanness. Were their hearts unveiled, could our eyes pierce through the thick covering which education, the love of applause, and the fear of future punishment, have cast upon them, we should see them to be the seat of every corrupt passion. “A naked human heart," unsanctified by the Spirit of God, and unadorned by the righteousness of Christ, is an object most deformed and odious. Such a heart finds a residence in every impenitent sinner. In whatever respects they may be distinguished, in every thing essential to their character, they are the same. All of them have gone out of the way; all have become unprofitable. They are alike unreconciled to God. They are alike enemies to Christ and his salvation, and they live in a course of practical disobedience. Let us for a moment consider, with what propriety, these traits of character are pronounced to be common to every class of sinners.
1. They are unreconciled to God.
When we see any maintaining the forms of religion, calling upon God in their families, and statedly uniting in the worship of the sanctuary, it is difficult for us to divest ourselves of the idea, that they possess some real friendsbip for the Being to whose institutions they pay so decent an observance. But no truth is more evident from the Scriptures, than that unrenewed men, even while clothing themselves with the most decent forms of religion, are wholly unreconciled to God. They are uniformly at variance with the divine character and government,
The holy character of God, so far as it is brought into their view, is an object of their decided disapprobation. “Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us," is the language of their hearts. They possess that carnal mind, which, however restrained, or veiled by a covering of painted ceremonies, is enmity against God. Nor is it less evident that they are unfriendly to his government. These are not the persons from whom we hear the exulting language of the Psalmist, «The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of the isles be glad thereof." To them, the government of Jehovah is no ground of rejoicing. On the contrary, they delight in their own counsels, while they are ready to say to him whose government is founded on the two great principles of righteousness, wisdom and goodness, Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.
Hence, we may observe, all sinners are urged to become reconciled to God, and by the Savior himself, to agree with their adversary quickly, while they are in the way with him,
2. Sinners of every class are enemies to Christ and his salvation.
The openly vile and abandoned, are not in most instances more decidedly unfriendly to the Lord Jesus, and to the way of acceptance through him, than the externally moral and amiable. The case of the young ruler that came to Christ for instruction, affords ample confirma ion of this statement. From his respectful address to the Savior, and his own account of himself, which bears the marks of, at least, common sincerity, he appears to have been a young man of moral habits, and of a most amiable character. Indeed, such was bis deportment, and his concern to obtain everlasting life, that the historian informs iis, Christ looked upon him and loved him. As a man, he could not but view with admiration, his apparent amiableness. Yet the result of his conference showed him to be, in the prevailing spirit of his mind, hostile to Christ and his salvation. Notwithstanding his solicitude to obtain eternal life, when invited to abandon his temporal possessions, and to receive heavenly treasure in exchange, he went away sorrowful. Here we have a fair specimen of the manner in which the most amiable and moral, among the impenitent, regard Christ, and the blessings of his kingdom. For the poor transitory enjoyments of the world, they are ready to barter away the salvation of their souls. Could they flatter themselves with the idea of rendering an equivalent for their salvation, they might indeed, in some instances, make costly sacrifices, offer up long and frequent prayers, and pursue a fatiguing round of duties. But they are unwilling to receive it as a free gift at the hands of Christ. The language of their hearts is, we will not have this man to reign over us. They cannot consent to throw away their own righteousness, of which they think so highly, and to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Cbrist.
3. Sinners of every description live in a course of disobedience to the requirements of God.
Some, it is true, are not openly vile and profligate. Of most of the commandments of God, they conform to the letter. But they violate the spirit of them all. Indeed they are regardless of even the letter of many of the plainest positive precepts. Not one of them complies with that most important precept of God, in which he calls upon all men to give bim their hearts. They disregard his calls to repentance, and a boly life. In violation of his authority, they love supremely, the world and the things that are in the world.
Such are sinners, under circumstances in which they are most recommended to society. They honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. In their intercourse with their fellow men, they may be sober, discreet, affectionate. In these respects they are better than others. But their hearts are alike alienated from God, and, in common with other sinners, they are the objects of his displeasure.
The subject will be concluded with some inferences and reflections.
1. The sentiment illustrated in this discourse, sets in a clear light the sovereignty of saving grace.
All sinners, we have seen, possess the same character. They are all opposed to God, and to the plan of salvation by Christ. But some are
brought to love the Divine character and to embrace Christ in their hearts. Who hath made them to differ? The Scriptures, and the hearts of Christians, unite in giving this glory to the Lord. Where shall we look for the ground of this difference which God has made in sinners! Can we find it in the diversity of their characters? We have shewn that they are alike. Were any recommended to God by the disposition of their hearts, all would be recommended. What then is the ground of this distinction. Shall we not find it in the sovereign mercy of God? Are not some made the subjects of grace, while others of the same character are left in their sins, because he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy? The Savior has given the only solution of this question which we can adopt, Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."
2. The subject calls upon Christians to be humble.
Saved, because God chose to save them, what occasion can they have for pride. By nature my brethren, you were no better than other sinners. You were in the same condemnation. You have neither saved yourselves, nor has God noticed you with favor because you were distinguished from others in your moral character. Were you better than they? No, in no wise. To God then are you wholly indebted for your salvation. He found you with thousands of our race cast out into the open field, polluted in your own blood, and he bade you live, not because you had descrved his mercy, but because, in his sovereign pleasure, he chose to save you. May you ever be ready to say to your gracious deliverer, “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name be all the glory."
3. In view of this subject, we are reminded of our obligations to God for restraining grace.
If all sinners, in the prevailing temper of their hearts, are alike, why it may be inquired, are they not equally guilty of the grosser acts of wickedness? We answer; that it is not because their hearts would not incline them to the most vicious conduct. It is not because they are better than those who run into the greatest excess of vice, But God is pleased by his grace to restrain them. He often holds them back from the commission of sins that were in their hearts. While the wrath of man is made to praise him, the remainder, or that which he might otherwise have committed, he restrains. Were it not for this merciful interposition, sinners would be alike abandoned. All would practice every species of impiety with greediness. We should no longer behold the moral and amiable sinner in our world. Every man would prey upon his fellow. Jarring interests would produce endJess contentions, and the world would become, more than ever, a babitation of sorrow, But God has been pleased to set bounds to human wickedness, and to say to the passions of men, hitherto shall ye come, and no farther. To the restraints of bis grace, then, are we indebted that our world does not prove an Aceldama, a field of blood.
Finally, If all sinners possess the same character, then it is obvious that all are exposed to the same doom.
The most moral, and amiable, who are in a state of impenitence, I have shown, are enemies to God, and in a state of rebellion against his government. Will sinners of any description, therefore, be driven from