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must be determined by considering, whether the internal acts of religion, natural and proper to the state of a sinner, can expiate guilt and restore to the favor of God.
The religion of a sinner is an application for pardon; and unless it can prescribe a proper method for obtaining it, it is useless and insignificant. The two attributes of God, with which this religion is chiefly concerned, are his justice and mercy: but if we argue that infinite justice must necessarily punish all iniquity, that infinite mercy must extend to all offences, we get into a maze, in which we may wander for ever, without finding any way to get out. I will suppose therefore, (and it is the very truth,) that justice and mercy both meet in the rules of reason and equity; and that the judgments of God are righteous judgments, free from all such blemishes as human judgments are liable to from a weak inclination to mercy, or a rigorous affectation of justice.
In a point of mere natural religion, I will not expect the doctrines of revelation to be admitted as principles; I will not insist therefore that all men are sinners: and I think it will not be denied that great numbers are; so many, that natural religion can be of little use, if it has no remedy for this case.
Now all that natural religion has to offer to God in behalf of a sinner, is the sorrow of his heart for what is past, and the purpose of his mind to offend no more.
Let us consider this case: sorrow for sin, in such as apprehend they shall certainly and miserably suffer for it, is a very natural passion; but there is no virtue in it: it is not so much as the effect of choice; for a man must necessarily grieve, when he is sure he has made himself miserable. It never was made part of a virtuous man's character, that he lived in fear of the gallows or the whipping-post; and did you know any good man possessed with such fears, instead of commending his temper, you must needs laugh at his folly. This observation must cut off all that repentance which arises merely from apprehensions of evil; and much I fear that it will, in great measure, disable natural religion from finding a remedy against guilt. The generality of mankind are far from being philosophers, or able to look back on their iniquities with so much calmness and judgment as are necessary to create a just abhor
rence of vice, and to produce a real change in the affections of the heart, and restore the pure love of God and of virtue, where vice and lust had been long predominant. Let us allow to such a change as this all that can be asked in its behalf: what then? Will you conclude that the world has no reason to look beyond natural religion for a remedy against sin? Will you call that a proper religion for the world, which is fitted only to the purposes of perhaps twenty in a country, and perhaps not to half the number? God has dealt with mankind in such methods as are suited to that degree of reason which he has generally bestowed, and to which men generally may arrive, under the cares and burdens and necessary employments of life: and there is nothing more absurd than to think all men capable of such reasonings as some few of distinguished abilities have arrived at especially in the case of religion, which is and ought to be every man's concern, to suppose that the speculations of a few contemplative men can be reduced to common use and practice, is downright enthusiasm. All wise governors have fortified their laws with penalties, intending that the fear of punishment should keep the subject from offending; but without ever imagining themselves obliged to spare all such as should discover a fear of the punishment, after they had incurred it by disobedience. Now our reason being the common rule by which we judge of the actions of all reasonable beings, and by which we ought to regulate our own; how come we to judge it reasonable for God to do that which, in parallel circumstances, we never think reasonable to do ourselves? It may be said that we are not capable of judging in this case, and distinguishing between the mere fear of punishment, and the rational sorrow for having offended; but God can distinguish, and therefore there is ground to suppose him to act otherwise than reason in our circumstances can oblige us to act. Admit this difference, and it follows that all who are willing to reform merely through the fears and terrors of guilt are without remedy: which shows that the far greater number of sinners are in a helpless state under natural religion.
But let us see what the condition is of one seriously convinced of the iniquity of sin, and purposing to forsake it. The case supposes him to have sinned so as to deserve punishment
by all the rules of reason and equity: the question is, whether a sincere alteration of mind can give him security of a pardon. suppose it agreed by all who admit a future judgment, that misery and happiness are set before us on some terms : I suppose likewise, that it will be deemed reasonable for God to act on such terms as reason itself, the interpreter of God's will in this case, proposes to us. Consider now: we come into this world reasonable creatures, enabled to distinguish between good and evil; we find ourselves accountable for our behavior to God, our Maker and our Judge: from these principles the consequence is certain, that obedience to the moral law is the condition of salvation: but how will you come to the consequence so much wanted, that whoever lives in disobedience shall be saved, if ever he grows sensible of the folly and iniquity of so doing? Is this condition implied in any law in the universe? Would it be a fit condition for God to propose to men at their first setting out in a state of nature? No, you will say, it would enervate the force of all his laws. How comes it then to be absolutely fit for God to do that, which it is absolutely unfit he should ever promise or profess? But we depend, you will say, on the equity and goodness of God. You do well: but where do you learn this equity? How do you find it to be equitable that men should live by one rule, and be judged by another? No man will affirm that reason teaches us to think God and his law satisfied by sinning, and then repenting : we are not to conduct our lives by this rule, why then must we needs be judged by this rule? especially since it is a confessed maxim, that the rule of life and the rule of judgment ought to be the same. It may perhaps be thought that the goodness of God considered, and the weakness and frailty of man, and his inability to pay a punctual obedience in all things to the law of reason, it is a reasonable construction on the law of nature to expect pardon for our failings and omissions, and that the very terms of our obedience carry this equitable construction with them. This to me seems the most material thing to be said on the subject, and I readily allow it: but the most that can be made of it is, that we shall be intitled to equitable allowances in the course of an imperfect obedience: but it does not come up to the case of such, who under all these allowances fall
from their obedience, and forfeit the favor of God. But these are the persons for whom we seek relief.
On the whole, it does not appear that natural religion has any certain cure for the terrors of guilt; because the title by obedience being forfeited, there are no certain principles of reason from which we can conclude how far, and to what instances, the mercy of God will extend; because we can have no assurance of ourselves, that our sorrow is such, and our resolutions of amendment such, as may deserve mercy; and, lastly, because this whole matter, whatever there be in it, is founded on reasons and speculations too exact and too refined to be of common use to mankind. And this last reason alone will, I think, sufficiently justify the wisdom and goodness of God in proposing to the world a safe and general method for the salvation of sinners: for what if you have penetration enough to see a way for sinners to escape under natural religion; must your great parts be a measure for God's dealing with all the world? Shall thousands and thousands live and die without comfort, because they cannot reason as you do? This consideration should make those who have the highest opinion of themselves, and therefore of natural religion, adore the goodness of God, in condescending to the infirmities of men, and showing them the way to mercy, which they were unable to find out. This he has done by the revelation of the gospel of Christ Jesus, which is the sinner's great charter of pardon, a certain remedy against all the fears and terrors of guilt.
Here then is a safe retreat for the guilty conscience; here God appears, and gives his own unalterable word for your security: the Son of God is your Mediator and High Priest, to offer up and sanctify the sorrows of a broken heart; and to bring down spiritual strength, joy, and comfort to the penitent, and to perfect the work begun in you by his grace and assistLet no man therefore sink under the terrors of guilt, but let him approach the throne of grace; but if in no confidence of himself, yet in full confidence in the promises made through Christ, by whom and through whom every sinner who returns to God shall be saved.
After so much done for the security of sinners on God's part, and such great consolations provided against the terrors of guilt,
it is much to be lamented there should be any still incapable of comfort: yet such there are, of whom I proposed to speak in the last place, whose religious fears arise from accidental disorders of mind or body. This case is not subject to reason, and therefore much cannot be said on it. Whatever the union of soul and body is, so united they are, that the disorders of one often derive themselves to the other. A melancholy mind will waste the strength, and bring paleness and leanness on the body: disorders in the body do often affect the mind; a stroke of the palsy will rob a man of the use of his understanding, and leave him disabled in mind as well as body. For this reason it is that I ascribe some religious fears to the disorders of the body, though they properly belong to the mind. We call only great disorders in the mind madness; but all disorders, as far as they extend, are of the same kind: the melancholy man, who thinks himself in a state of damnation, without any reason, or power to reason on his case, is as certainly in this point a madman, as the poor wretch whose disorder has taken another turn, and makes him believe himself to be a king or an emperor. There are many instances of this kind abroad in the world: the unhappy sufferers, were they capable of receiving the advice, should be directed to seek their cure from physicians rather than divines. Were I to give you instances in what manner these religious fears work, what unreasonable suspicions and jealousies they create, how full they oftentimes are of absurdity and manifest contradiction, it would evidently appear to you, that they are truly distempers either in the mind or body; but this would be but melancholy entertainment, and of no great use. Such persons as these are not chargeable with seeking false comfort for themselves; for it is part of their distemper to refuse all comfort. The true comfort we have for them they are unable to receive, that they are not capable of judging of themselves, and that he, to whom judgment belongeth, will deal with them not according to their imaginations, but according to the rules of his own goodness and righ
These terrors cannot be imputed as a blemish to religion; not by him at least, who acknowleges the providence of God, and whose principle of religion is reason: for all madness is de