« ForrigeFortsæt »
ROMANS, CHAP. VI. VERSE 21.
What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
THOUGH the hopes introduced by the gospel of Christ are in themselves fitted to support and encourage virtue and true religion, and are only to be truly enjoyed by those who make a title to them by the innocency of their lives; yet they have been perverted to very ill purposes by such as, hating to be reformed by the precepts of the gospel, are willing nevertheless to put their sins under the protection of the glorious promises contained in it. This policy prevailed so soon in the church, that we find the Apostle stating the pretence, and rejecting it with indignation, in the first verses of this chapter: What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?' In the chapter before this of the text, he sets forth the exceeding great benefits we receive through Jesus Christ: that being justified by faith, we have peace with God.' That God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.' That being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.' That' as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.' To prevent the use which ill-disposed men were ready to make of this great goodness of God towards sinners, imagining their iniquities to be privileged, since so much grace had been extended to them, the Apostle in this chapter enters into the question, whether the hopes of the gospel are reconcileable to a continuance in sin; and shows by many arguments
drawn from the profession, the state, and the condition of a Christian, that a state of grace and a state of sin are as inconsistent as life and death: since every Christian is buried with Christ by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.' From these reasons he proceeds to others, not of less moment, appealing to the sense of conscience and the voice of reason against the presumptuous conceit which made the Son of God the minister of sin, and the gospel to give countenance to the iniquities of which nature was ever ashamed, and against which the common reason of mankind had passed sentence of condemnation : • What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.'
These words will suggest to our consideration the following particulars :
First, that the shame and remorse which attend on sin and guilt arise from the natural impressions on the mind of man. Secondly, that the expectation of punishment for sin is the result of the reason given unto us.
Thirdly, that these common notions are the foundation of all religion, and therefore must be supposed and admitted in re-vealed religion, and cannot be contradicted by it.
First, that the shame and remorse which attend on sin and guilt arise from the natural impressions on the mind of man.
It is certain from experience that we can no more direct by our choice the sensations of our mind, than we can those of the body; when the fire burns, flesh and blood must feel pain; and a rational mind compelled to act against its own conviction must ever grieve and be afflicted. These natural connexions are unalterably fixed by the Author of nature, and established to be means of our preservation. We are taught by the sense of pain to avoid things hurtful or destructive to the body; and the torments and anxiety of mind, which follow so close and so constantly at the heels of sin and guilt, are placed as guardians to our innocence, as centinels to give early notice of the approach of evil, which threatens the peace and comfort of our lives. If we are perfect masters of the sensations of our mind, if reflexion be so much under command, that when we say,
Come, it cometh, when we say, Go, it goeth; how is it that so many suffer so much from the uneasy thoughts and suggestions of their own hearts, when they need only speak the word and be whole? Whence the self-conviction, the self-condemnation of sinners, whence the foreboding thoughts of judgment to come, the sad expectations of divine vengeance, and the dread of future misery, if the sinner has it in his power to bid these melancholy thoughts retire, and can when he pleases sit down enjoying his iniquities in peace and tranquillity?
These considerations make it evident that the pain and grief of mind which we suffer from a sense of having done ill, flow from the very constitution of our nature, as we are rational agents. Nor can we conceive a greater argument of God's utter irreconcileableness to sin, than that he has given us such a nature that we can never be reconciled to it ourselves. We never like it in others where we have no interest in the iniquity, nor long approve of it in ourselves when we have. The hours of cool reflexion are the sinner's mortification, for vice can never be happy in the company of reason; which is the true cause why profligate sinners fly to any excess that may help them to forget themselves, and hide them from the light of reason, which, whenever it ceases to be the glory of a man, will necessarily become his shame and reproach. No vice is the better for being found in the company of intemperance, but becomes more odious in the sight of God and man. And yet how often does vice fly to intemperance for refuge! which shows what miserable company sinners are to themselves, when they can be content to expose themselves to the contempt of all about them, merely for the sake of being free from their own censure for a season. Were it in the power of men to find any expedient to reconcile their reason to their vices, they would not submit to the hard terms of parting with their reason, for the sake of being at ease with their vices. But there is no remedy; as long as we have the power of thinking, so long must we think ill of ourselves when we do ill. The only cure for this uneasiness is to live without thought; for we can never enjoy the happiness of a brute, till we have sunk ourselves into the same degree of understanding.
It may be said, I know, that there have been some profligate
sinners who have discovered no uneasiness on the account of their guilt, but have gone through a life of prosperous wickedness with great show of outward peace and tranquillity: I know too, that there have been instances of men who could play with fire, and be very familiar with it, without showing any sense of pain: but neither will the art of one be accepted as an argument against the sense of feeling, nor the obdurateness of the other be admitted as a proof against the natural sense of a rational mind. Great wicked men are often lost in a perpetual succession of business and pleasure, and have no respite for reflexion. The poor idle sinner seeks ease in intemperance: the more prosperous is kept at an unhappy distance from himself by living in a crowd, and having his hours filled up with business, ceremony, or pleasure; and both equally live, with respect to themselves and their own condition, in one continued lethargy. But such instances as these are of no consequence in determining the general case of mankind; especially considering that even these are laying up in store for themselves sad materials for reflexion, whenever the season for reflexion overtakes them; and that, should they ever be deserted by business and pleasures, instead of being objections to the general sense of mankind under the terrors of guilt, they may seem to be the most miserable examples of it. These observations will receive an additional strength by considering,
Secondly, that the expectation of punishment for sin is the result of the reason given unto us. The end of those things is
There are no certain principles from which we can infer the nature and sort of punishment designed by God for sinners; and as reason has left us in the dark in this particular, so neither has revelation clearly discovered this secret of Providence. The representations of Scripture on this head are metaphorical; the images are strong and lively, full of horror and dread, and lead us to this certain conclusion, that endless misery will be the lot of the unrighteous; but they do not lead us to a solution of all the inquiries which an inquisitive mind may raise on this occasion. We read of the fire that never goes out,' of the worm that never dies,' both prepared to prey on the wicked to all eternity: but what this fire is, what this worm is, that shall
for ever torment, and never destroy the wicked, we are nowhere informed. Among the ancient heathens we find variety of opinions, or, to speak more properly, of imaginations, on this subject; and though none of them can make any proof in their own behalf, yet they all prove the common ground on which they stand, the natural expectation of future punishment for iniquity. The atheistical writers of antiquity entertain themselves with exposing the vulgar opinions of their time: and the unbelievers of our time have trodden in their steps, and pleased themselves mightily with dressing up the various and uncertain imaginations of men on this subject. But what is this to the great point? If nature has rightly instructed us in teaching us to expect punishment for our sins, what signifies it how far men have been mistaken in determining the kinds of punishment that are in reserve for sinners? Let the learning of the Egyptians pass for superstition, and the wisdom of the Greeks for folly; yet what has the sense of nature to do with them, which teaches us to expect punishment for sin from the hand that made us? And when once the time comes in which that hand shall exert itself, this we may be sure of, that the sinner will find no farther subject for laughter and diversion. Men think they gain a great point by bringing plausible reasons against the common notions of future punishment: but suppose these notions to be indeed mistakes, yet if it remains certain from the light of reason, as well as of revelation, that God will punish sin, what does the cause gain by this argument? Will you suppose that God intends to punish wickedness, and yet that he has no possible way to do it? Where lies the defect? Is it want of wisdom to contrive proper means for the punishment of sin, or is it want of power to put them in execution? If he wants neither the one nor the other, we have nothing to inquire after in this case, but what his will is; and of that he has given us such evidence, that we can never lose sight of it as long as we continue to be reasonable creatures.
The power of conscience which every man feels in himself, the fear that pursues every sin, that haunts the most secret and most successful offenders, are great evidences of the common expectation of a judgment to come. For why does the sinner fear, whom no man suspects? Why does he sit joyless over the