« AnteriorContinuar »
ous men will often take their share when they may throw off their state, and relax without impropriety. We serve an all-merciful Being, who knows the frailty of our nature, the number and strength of our temptations, and will not be extreme to mark what is done amiss. Even the less lenient judicatures of human institution concede somewhat to the weakness of man. It is an established maxim,—" De minimus non curat lex." We hope we are not worse than the generality. All men are imperfect. We own we have our infirmities ; we confess it is so ; we wish we were better, and trust as we grow older we shall become so; we are ready to acknowledge that we must be indebted for our admission into a future state of happiness, not to our own merit, but to the clemency of God, and the mercy of our Redeemer." But, O sinner, forget not that God may cut thee off in a moment; that death may come to thee when you are in the very act of sinning against him. Oh, do not calculate upon a death-b edrepentance. The admonition of old age may never arrive, alas! the almond-tree is not found flourishing every where. (Eccls. xii. 5.) And it is not one to many thousands, that lays down a hoary head in the bed of the grave. (Prov. xvi. 31.)
There is the heinousness of little sins to think of, and which are so much overlooked in the present times. Our Saviour declared "whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven ;" that is, he shall not enter into heaven at all. "Minimus vocabitur in regno ccelorum ; et fortasse ideo non erit in regno ccelorum, ubi nisi magni esse non possunt;" as Saint Augustine speaks : " He shall be the least in heaven; that is, he shall not be there at all, because in heaven there are none but great and glorious ones." How many that would blush to commit gross offences yet are almost imperceptibly guilty of the so called little ones, and deeming them such, see no reason why they should turn from their evil ways and live. They say 'pish!' this is but a thought, this is but a word. What a small matter was it for Adam to eat of an
apple in paradise!" But would it not have been as easy to let it alone, especially as we know the consequences which ensued? You daily flatter yourselves with the idea that they are slips, and failings, and unavoidable infirmities, and as Lot said of Zoar, "Is it not a little one and our souls shall live?" "What! can I think there is so much danger in a foolish thought, in a vain and inconsiderate word? Can I think that the great God will torment his poor creatures for ever, for a thought, for a word, for a glance?" But the hypocrite perishes by it. And with it too your outward, honest, upright, civil, neighbourly man, who appears so fair in his dealings, such a regular attendant at a place of worship, and like the Pharisee, stands up and prays with himself, "' God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican; I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess."
The frequency of indulging in little sins soon begets total indifference to them. Thus we find men tremble more at one Goliath, than they do at the whole army of the Philistines. But be assured, that as in a bill every item swells the amount, so every irreligious indulgence will swell your catalogue; and as flagitious as they are in their nature, so will the punishment of them be great, if not repented of and forsaken. And it is certain that little sins make way for greater. A thief will enter your window, gain free access in your house, and then he can open the door for others that are standing without. David affords an example. At the sight of Bathsheba, a sinful delight overtook him, which ended in two worse acts—adultery and murder. Thus thoughts and wishes spring into words and actions, and consolidate the whole into death—" Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." (James i. 15.) Bear this however in mind, "he that believeth not, is condemned already." (John iii. 18.)
From these remarks, there is one wrong corollary that may be drawn, which I think best to mention before we proceed further. Though it is proved little sins will be punished hereafter, it is by no means to be imagined that great sins will not meet with any difference in the extent of punishment; for though there is no difference in our earthly death, there is in our spiritual: there will be degrees of rewards and punishments; if it were not so, the wicked would see no occasion to resist great temptations more than small ones. What is the natural course of a river but to flow into the sea, and when the tide joins it, the current is swifter and more forcible: thus is it with sin; little irregularities of conduct are the natural stream of a man's life, and when he is attacked with very gross offences, a violent tide ensues, and swifter than eagle's wings he sinks into the ocean of eternal wretchedness and despair. There is a caution however to be given to those who are free from scandalous impieties, and who rely upon the harmlessness of their lives, as a shield for them to wear on the day of the Lord's vengeance. Are you sure that you have in every respect walked worthy of your vocation? Doubtless in some way thy heart will remind thee thou hast departed from God, and in such particular, return unto him, and make thy peace. "There is none that doeth good; no, not one." "Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?"
II. The Christian's devout resolution. "Come, and let us return unto the Lord." There are two questions which naturally arise here to the penitent and reforming sinner. 1st, What are the means necessary for me to use that I may "return unto the Lord," and so obtain his promise? 2nd, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? The answer to the former is a duty which is incumbent upon every one, that of first renewing and cleansing his heart, since the Apostle tells us, that "we have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." To the second enquiry, we must shun and avoid whatever God disapproves, in order that we may obtain his blessing, and receive his gracious pardon. But this is not to be effected without prayer, and "the grace of God by Christ, (as an Article teaches us) preventing us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will." For pardon and remission of sin must come from God alone. Sanctification is a work of God's grace within us, but forgiveness of sin rests entirely with the glorious Jehovah.
Thus the doctrine of purgatory amongst the Papists is done away, sin is truly repented of wholly, and as fully pardoned. "Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, and whose sin is covered." Come, and let us return unto the Lord. Let us seek him by all those means of grace which he has appointed in his sacraments, in public worship, and in the scriptures ; by continual prayer, and watching unto the same with thanksgiving. "Though your sins be as scarlet, yet shall they become as white as snow: though they be red as crimson, yet they shall be as wool. I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions." We see how fully and how effectually this is carried out by God's love which we read of in Saint John's Gospel, (chap iii. 16.) "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." And here too we notice the efficacy of faith. Hence the apostle tell us, (Rom. iii. 25, 26.) that " God hath set forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, and to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through God's forbearance, that he might be just, and the justifier of them that believe in Jesus."
Oh what an unspeakable precious gift! Oh what great mercy! Well might one of the fathers, Saint Gregory, doubt "whether it were more happiness or misery that Adam fell; since his sin and fall occasioned such a wonderful Redeemer, and such a glorious Salvation : Felix culpa, says he, O happy fall, that obtained such a Redeemer!" But, take great care that you do not abuse this incomparable gift. "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!" This heavenly grace is a very sweet and consoling doctrine, and men love it when they hear it, and "lull themselves fast asleep in sin :" but what says the wise man? ^Prov. xxv. 27-) "It is not good to eat much honey." Though God has said "I will forgive their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more ;" yet he has also declared that he "will by no means clear the guilty." Therefore, ask yourself these questions,—" When God thus proclaims peace, shall I continue war? He pardons, and shall I rebel? He is reconciled, and shall I be implacable? Shall I persist in those sins which he forgives? No: far be it from me. I submit to that God, whose rich grace conquers by condescending, as well as his power by crushing." With deep humility lay yourself prostrate at the feet of God. "Let us draw near to him in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience." Then will it be with you as the paralytic man, "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee." The apostle tells us, (Gal. iii. 13.) "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." It is evident in God's dealings with mankind that he has two ends respecting himself, the manifestation of his holiness, and the satisfaction of his justice. And when he punishes us with heavy afflictions, they are often but his corrections in a loving way; for "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth ;" and if thy sins are forgiven thee, what matters it? Your trials are intended for your future gain, in the regions of unspeakable joy, where sorrow and sighing shall be no more.