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Next hear what the text says of it: “Concerning
great, he will be pacified for the multitude of our sins;"--and when he farther reminds us, that “wrath as well as mercy came from him;"—he applies his advice to a different supposition : he supposes a person to be doubting and deliberating with himself concerning his future conduct; either concerning some particular sin which he is tempted to commit, or concerning the general course of his future behaviour; and he charges such an one against bringing into the deliberation the account or consideration of God's mercy, so as to encourage himself
thereby in giving way to the temptation by which he is urged. By this view of the subject the two passages are rendered consistent, and the important distinction upon the subject rendered visible.
We may proceed, therefore, to describe the cases in which we misapply the consideration of God's mercy, and act in opposition to the council delivered in the text.
First, then, we misapply the matter, when the thoughts of God's mercy beget in us ease under our past sins, and this ease makes us less afraid of repeating them. In minds not sufficiently thoughtful, if you
in any way take away or diminish the terror or pain which they suffer from what they have done, you in the same proportion render them apt and willing to do the same thing again. But it is only so with minds which are not sufficiently thoughtful : in a mind seriously disposed, and which rightly considers its situation, the contrary effect will take place; the sense of past forgiveness will produce gratitude; gratitude will produce love; and love will increase, not diminish, the dread of offending anew. Suppose a malefactor under sentence of death, looking for nothing but the execution of that sentence, should receive assurance, or even hopes of pardon ; no doubt this intelligence would take off much of the load which weighed down his spirits—much of the pain of his condition : but ought this relief and alleviation to make him go and be as wicked as ever? If it did so, no one would say that he was an object of clemency or mercy, let the clemency and mercy of the prince be in themselves ever so great. Wherefore, I repeat, that whenever the ease and comfort which we draw from the contemplation of God's mercy, in respect to past sins, is carried forward to the future, so as to make us with more readiness give way to temptation, it is grievously and dangerously abused.
But, secondly, the method above described is an indirect method of applying the mercy of God to the encouragement of our sins, that is to say, the consideration of God's mercy renders us easy under the past; and ease under past transgressions, serves to make us less scrupulous and difficult in complying with returning temptations. But there is also a more direct way in which we carry our presumption upon God's mercy to the deceiving of our consciences; and that is, when we argue with ourselves in this manner; when in deliberating concerning any particular sins which we are induced to commit, we say within ourselves, if God be so gracious, forgiving, and merciful, as religion teaches us that he is, he will not be extreme to condemn me for this single offence this one addition to the number of my sins. Now this is what may be called sinning upon a plan, and making the goodness of God the foundation of the plan ; which is a very different case from resorting to the mercies of God in the case of past sins. Suppose a prince of the mildest and most placable character should be informed concerning a malefactor, that he had committed the crime of which he was accused,
expressly depending upon forgiveness beforehand, would not this be a reason for withholding the mercy which had been thus perverted ? It certainly would.
Again, thirdly, this reliance beforehand goes sometimes to a greater extent. It goes the length of keeping men in a course of sins ; because so often as men think of their condition, the first thing that fills their thoughts, is the abounding inexhaustible mercy of God: and the first effect of that meditation is, that if it so abound, and be so inexhaustible, they may still hope for salvation, although they go on to continue their pleasures and their practices. Now I will tell you what is properly meant by calling God's mercy abounding and inexhaustible. This is meant by it-that whatever be the quantity, or amount, or kind, or degree of our past offences, if we sincerely and truly repent and cease from them, their former enormity need not make us despair of pardon : but it relates solely to the past—it has nothing to do with the future, because it is then only applicable, when a reformation for the future takes place. Extensive as that mercy is, the case of a person intending to continue in sin does not come within it ; that intention totally excludes the application.
Upon the whole, the brief statement of the case is this. It is certainly true that God is merciful, but we are not authorised to use or apply the consideration of God's mercy any otherwise than to guard us against despair for our past sins, to quicken and incite us to reformation for the future, and to
support and comfort us when we feel that reformation in ourselves beginning. If we go farther than this, and think of God's mercy when we are deliberating concerning some sin which we are about to commit, either concerning our continuance in some old, or entrance upon some new, course of sin, we are sure to think of it improperly, and to build hopes and conclusions
it which we are not authorised to entertain. I know nothing which can be a more powerful preservative against this turn of mind, and this fatal delusion, than the wise and solemn warning of the text : “Concerning propitiation, be not without fear to add sin to sin, and say not his mercy is great, he will be pacified for the multitude of my sins; for mercy and wrath come from him, and his indignation resteth upon sinners.”