« PreviousContinue »
SALVATION FOR PENITENT SINNERS.
LUKE, vii. 47.
Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.
T has heen thought an extravagant doctrine, that the greatest sinners were sometimes nearer to the kingdom of heaven than they whose offences were less exorbi- . tant, and less conspicuous: yet, I apprehend, the doctrine wants only to be rationally explained, to show that it has both a great deal of truth, and a great deal of use, in it; that it may be an awakening religious proposition to some, whilst it cannot, without being wilfully misconstrued, delude or deceive any.
Of all conditions in the world, the most to be despaired of, is the condition of those who are altogether insensible and unconcerned about religion; and yet they may be, in the mean time, tolerably regular in their outward behaviour; there may be nothing in it to 'give great offence; their character may be fair; they may pass with the common stream, or they may even be well spoken of; nevertheless, I say, that, whilst this insensibility remains upon their minds, their condition is more to be despaired of, than that of any other person. The religion of Christ does not in any way apply to them; they do not belong to it; for are they to be saved by performing God's will? God is not in their thoughts; his will is not before their eyes. They may do good things, but it is not from a principle of obedience to God that they do them. There may be many crimes, which they are not guilty of; but it is not out of regard to the will of God, that they do not commit them. It does not, therefore, appear, what just hopes they can entertain of heaven, upon the score of an obedience which they not only
do not perform, but do not attempt to perform. Then, secondly, if they are to hope in Christ for a forgiveness of their imperfections, for acceptance, through him, of broken and deficient services, the truth is, they have recourse to no such hope; beside, it is not imperfection with which they are charged, but a total absence of principle. A man who never strives to obey, never indeed bears that thought about him, must not talk of the imperfection of his obedience: neither the word, nor the idea, pertains to him; nor can he speak of broken and deficient services, who, in no true sense of the term, hath ever served God at all. I own, therefore, I do not perceive what rational hopes religion can hold out to insensibility and unconcernedness; to those who neither obey its rules, nor seek its aid; neither follow after its rewards, nor sue, I mean, in spirit and sincerity, sue, for its pardon. But how, it will be asked, can a man be of regular and reputable morals, with this religious insensibility: in other words, with the want of vital religion in his heart? I answer, that it can be. A general regard
to character, knowing that it is an advantageous thing to possess a good character; or a regard generated by natural and early habit a disposition to follow the usages of life, which are practised around us, and which constitute decency: calm passions, easy circumstances, orderly companions, may, in a multitude of instances, keep men within rules and bounds, without the operation of any religious principle what
There is likewise another cause, which has a tendency to shut out religion from the mind, and yet hath at the same time a tendency to make men orderly and decent in their conduct: and that cause is business. A close attention to business is very apt to exclude all other attentions: especially those of a spiritual nature, which appear to men of business shadowy and unsubstantial, and to want that present reality and advantage which they have been accustomed to look for, and to find in their temporal concerns: and yet it is undoubtedly true, that attention to business frequently and naturally pro
duces regular manners. Here, therefore, is a case, in which decency of behaviour shall subsist along with religious insensibility, forasmuch as one cause produces both; an intent application to business.
Decency, order, regularity, industry, application to our calling, are all good things; but then they are accompanied with this great danger, viz. that they may subsist without any religious influence whatever; and that, when they do so, their tendency is to settle and confirm men in religious insensibility. For finding things go on very smoothly, finding themselves received and respected without any religious principle, they are kept asleep, as to their spiritual concerns, by the very quietness and prosperity of things around them. "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.' It is possible to slumber in a fancied security, or rather in an unconsciousness of danger, a blindness to our true situation, a thoughtlessness or stupe faction concerning it, even at the time when we are in the utmost peril of sal