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obeyed the just commands of my superiors; I never was unreasonably angry against another; I never encouraged a wanton thought within me, nor indulged any covetous and sinful wish; I never broke the rule of temperance in eating and drinking, nor ever gave way to an irregular passion. I never was guilty of known falsehood, in design or in word. Let mankind take but these laws of God, which regard themselves and their neighbours, and make a sincere examination of themselves thereby, and their own consciences will soon condemn the very best of them in the sight of God. They are all condemned by the law of innocence, and if they have no better plea, they will meet with an offended and angry God, in whose sight no sinner can stand and find aceeptance. His law is wise and righteous, and every violation of it deserves a proportion of punishment.
Perhaps they will plead after such a strict enquiry, that though they have not been perfectly innocent, yet their offences have not been gross and constant; but only of the smaller kind and few in number, and therefore they hope for excuse; But the apostle James takes away this hope also, when he tells us; James ii. 8, 10. Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, for by one wilful sin he abuses that governor and affrouts that authority by which all the commands are enjoined. Nor is any wilful sin small in the sight of divine justice, for it is the fruit of a presumptuous heart, and is therefore highly criminal.
But suppose after their own review of their behaviour, they should pronounce themselves quite innocent, and say boldly, they knew nothing by themselves; yet they are not sufficiently justified hereby, for God sees the heart, and he knows us better than we know ourselves. 2 Cor. vii. 2. and 1 Cor. iv. 4. Receive us, saith St. Paul, we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man; for though I know nothing by myself, that is, nothing of fraud or deceit, or wilful injury, yet am I not hereby justified, but he that judgeth me is the Lord. The eyes of Goa are a flame of fire, and will find iniquity where I can find none, for he sees all the disguises and veils of selflove and self-flattery, whereby every man is naturally prone to cover his sins, and to impose upon himself. He beholds those secret ferments, those hidden operations and motions of sin in the soul, which pass by unnoticed to ourselves, and escape the accusation and charge of our consciences. He knows so perfectly all the just demands of his own law, in the lengths and the breadths thereof, and is so perfectly acquainted with all the motions of our hearts, all their follies and passions, and sinful biasses, that he can find in us a thousand contrarieties to his law, where we are fondly ready to presume upon our own innocence. Should I say with Job, chapter ix. verse 30. If I should wash
myself in snow-water, and make my hands never so clean, thou wilt plunge me in the ditch, and my own clothes would abhor me. That is, if I should use all my own purifications, thou wilt discover me to be still as greatly defiled with sin, as one who is plunged into a ditch, and is unfit to put on his common raiment, lest he defile that and every thing about him.
Alas, how little do men believe this? How little do they know and think of their own guilt, in the sight of God, and the depth of their own misery! How are they led by their own thoughtlessness and shameful ignorance of themselves to build their hopes for eternity on a very sandy foundation, which will never stand in the day of that divine tempest, which shall try every man's work: You imagine, God will not be so strict a judge, and so severe, as preachers represent him; but how do you know that he will not be thus severe in his enquiries and his judgment? I am well assured the mere light of nature can never assure you of it, nor secure you against this severity: And the scripture often represents him thus severe in his judgment,formed by the rules of his own law, and abstracted from the gospel of his grace. David knew this in ancient times; Psal. cxxx. 3. If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities; O Lord who can stand. Psal. cxliii. 2. No man living shall be justified in thy sight. All mankind are sinners; There is none righteous, no, not one: Every mouth is stopped, and the whole world lies guilty before God; Rom. iii. 19.
2. If we were entirely innocent as to man, would that be sufficient to answer for all our injuries and dishonours done to God? Would this honest and blameless conduct among your neighbours, atone for all your neglects of religion, and your shameful forgetfulness of God your Maker? What! Did God send you into this world among sensible things, and give you leave to neglect him, who is the eternal and almighty Spirit? Did he form your spirits within you, and give you understanding and reason, and noble powers to know the God that made you, and never require or expect that you should use them to obtain this knowledge? Have you a tongue to speak, and yet never speak to him in petition or praise? It is not only cruelty, or falsehood, or injustice to our neighbours, which the holy apostle charges mankind with, in order to lay their consciences under guilt and condemnation, but their neglects of God and religion are brought in as a heavy part of the charge; Rom. iii. 11, 17, 18. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God; there is no fear of God before their eyes. You hear the accusations of this apostle, speaking in the name of God to men, to make them sensible of their guilt and misery; you have defrauded the great God of his due glory; you have done him much injury in withholding from him worship and reverence,
fear and love, prayer and praise; and you fall under the sentence of his broken law for ever, if you have no better plea than this.
Under such a charge multitudes would be ready to rise up, and with a thoughtless and inconsiderate pertness would say, "Far be it from us to injure our Maker when we would not injure or wrong a worm :" And this is the common sentiment and language of neighbours and friends when a man dies, even though he were a drunkard or a man of irreligion. "Alas, for him! poor man! he has been honest and just; his soul is at rest, he never did any body an injury but himself." When such sinners are charged with neglect of religion, they cry out as though they were falsely accused, as those Jews do in Mal. iii. 8. when God complains of them, Ye have robbed me, saith the Lord; but they replied with impudence and ignorance, Wherein have we robbed or wronged thee?
"Alas, sirs, you are far from innocence in this respect for you have robbed God of your hearts and best affections; you have robbed him of your thoughts and serious meditations; you have robbed him of your highest love, and chief delight. Were all the passions of your souls and powers of nature given you to be employed about the trifles of this world? Doth not God, in the person of divine wisdom, call to men in the book of Proverbs, My son, give me thy heart; Prov. xxiii. 26. And hath not the world had these hearts of yours given up to it entirely? Doth not the light of nature, as well as our Saviour, say, Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and your whole soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength? Mark. xii. 30. And hath God had all his share of love from you? "What time have you ever spent in his service, in secret transactions between God and your own souls? What seasons have you taken for prayer to him, or for speaking his honours? and yet our time is all his And though he gives us sufficient portions of time for all our necessaries and conveniences of life, yet have you not robbed God of much of your time, in neglecting religion so tirely as you have done? Have you lived upon the Lord as your delight and your life? Have you made him your hope and your all? Have you daily expected all your comforts and blessings from him, and have you returned all the fruits of your blessings back again to him in a way of thankfulness and obedience? Surely your consciences must answer, no: Then believe it and be afraid; you have robbed God, you have injured the Almighty, you are far from innocency and you must expect to perish with malefactors, if you have no better plea than this. "O dismal change of apprehensions, when God shall make creatures, who thought they were innocent, appear abominable in his sight, guilty of atheism and irreligion and high ungodliness, and shall judge and sen
tence and punish them as criminals of a deep die, for God was not in their thoughts, they lived without God in the world! Ps. x. 4. Ephes. ii. 12.
"Dare not therefore, O sinners, dare not continue one day longer in this practice: Renounce and abandon your false and foolish hopes: Walk no longer in this vain, this dangerous, this supposed way of innocency, for it will never bring you to God and his favour. Nor go on to think yourself fit for heaven, because you imagined you had done no wrong on earth, for upon a serious search you must be convinced in your consciences, that you have been evident transgressors against the law of God, both in regard of the duties of religion and morality, in what you owe both to God and man; and innocency will be found a false and vain plea at the bar of God." But I will go one step further in making it appear with abundant evidence, that the way of pretended innocency can never bring such creatures as we are into the favour of God; and that is, by enquiring of such as call themselves christians; what is the use of christianity, and why was it brought into the world? Surely, if innocence had been the way to heaven, Christ Jesus the Son of God would never have come into flesh and blood, that he might die for us; God would never have sent so glorious and divine a person to have exposed himself to so many infirmities and sorrows, fatigues and sufferings among the wretched inhabitants of this our globe, if we could have been saved in the way of innocence. Never would the Son of God have entered our world to have been driven out of this mortal life again by cruel and bloody men; nor sustained the shame, the pangs and agonies of the cross, and a cursed death. There would have been no new religion introduced by him; there would have been no gospel, for there needed none if we are saved by innocence. The coming of the Son of God into our world, his painful circumstances of life, and his atoning death at the end of them, sufficiently prove, that the law of innocency can never save mankind.
The covenant or law of innocence was broken by our first parents; our natures are corrupted, and this law or covenant is for ever weak, and unable to bring us to God again. Rom. viii. 3. What the law was not able to do in that it was weak through the flesh, Jesus Christ came to do for us, by coming in the flesh, and making his soul an offering for sin. "If after all this representation of things you are resolved to continue in this way, and seek eternal life in the way of innocence, you give a sensible affront to the Son of God, who came down from heaven to bring sinners near to God, and you say in effect, he might have spared his journey to earth to shew us the way to heaven, or to provide a new way for us, for we have done no harm to God or man, trere in this world, and therefore God will not condemn or hurt
us in the other. O my friends, beg of God to convince you deeply of sin, and that there is no hope by all your pretences of this kind."
II. The second mistaken way of coming to God is " by a mere dependence on the absolute and sovereign goodness of his nature," while you neglect the particular methods of salvation which you hear and read he has appointed in the book of his grace. It is true, his tender mercies are over all his works; Ps. cxlv. 9. and men imagine this eternal love to his creatures will not suffer him to make any of them miserable hereafter, for what they call a little misconduct here: And while they lessen their own sins, and enlarge upon his goodness, they venture their souls upon an unsafe foundation, and build up a dangerous and ungrounded hope. "Fancy his goodness, O sinners, as large and glorious as you will, and I may venture to affirm it yet larger and more glorious than your fancy; but if all your hopes rest here, and you walk onward in this confidence, you will never see the face of God with comfort; nor arrive at his favour." Remember this is spoken particularly, and only, to those who have known and heard the gospel of Christ, and yet have neglected to receive it. Yet how common a mistake is this, even among those who are called by the christian name? Many will confess, "We are sinners indeed, and so are all men; but God is infinitely merciful, and he will not damn us: Surely he will never condemn so many millions of souls; he did not make mankind to destroy them; his goodness will not bear to see us eternally miserable, and therefore though we do indulge a little sin here, we shall not perish for ever." Thus that very sin is committed, which the apostle warns men of; Rom. ii. 4. The riches of the goodness and forbearance, and long-suffering of God which should lead men to repentance are abused to indulge and uphold them in sin. It is a shameful indignity and dishonour done to the goodness of God, to pretend to trust to it for salvation from punishment, and yet neglect the means this very goodness hath appointed to obtain it. But I will endeavour to convince you here, that this is not a sufficient or safe way.
1. Infinite goodness doth not save sinning angels, and why should it save sinning men? Those noble creatures, who sinned against God, and left their station, are for ever damned and miserable, and yet God is for ever good: How largely is his goodness diffused through all the heavenly world, and he receives endless hallelujahs for it; how largely on this earth, though we often overlook it, and neglect his praise: But he is not bound to exercise goodness in hell too; nor is his heart to be charged with hardness, nor his hand with shortness, because he will not save those who deserve destruction.