« PreviousContinue »
To awaken the attention of mankind to the calls of religion, What arguments can be used ? The subject speaks loudly for itself. No arguments can be urged, of greater force and efficacy, than the natural voice of religion proclaiming its own importance. Every man knows, that if there is a Supreme Deity, there must be such a thing as religion ; and that this must, in its very nature, immediately, infinitely, and eternally, concern every rational creature ; and himself no less than others. And the man who, with this conviction, can compose his mind to a state of indifference, and dismiss all solicitude, either to know what religion is, or to comply with its demands and secure its hopes, seems to have nonplussed all the powers of reason and eloquence, every power, but that which is divine. For no argument can be set before him more forcible, than that which he already knows, but does not regard ; already confesses, but does not feel.
Only then attend to the nature of religion, consider the vast concern which you have in it, view life, as it is, a probationary state soon to terminate, according to the choice you make, in felicity or in woe. Remember what heaven has done to bring you acquainted with religion, and to urge your compliance with it. Look forward to that serious hour, when you will stand between this and the eternal world. Anticipate the apprehensions, which guilt will then feel; the judgment which wisdom will then form ; and the joys, which piety will then give. Make now the choice, which you will hereafter approve ; and reprobate the conduct, which soon you must condenın. You cannot feel indiffer, ent about religion long. Indulge your indifference no longer.
I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing
They s!rengthen the hands of evildoers, that none doth returh from his wickedness.
HILE the Jews continued under God's special care and protection, he favoured them with the stated ministry of his holy prophets, who, as occasion required, warned them of their dangers, reproved them for their iniquities, and exhorted them to repentance. The plainness of their preaching, and the severity of their rebukes, in times of degeneracy, often awakened the angry resentments of their hearers. In these times there arose false prophets, who, to gain popular applause, preached smooth and flattering doctrines. Such preachers met with a welcome reception among the vicious and ungod. ly, who always love to have their guilty conscience's pacified, without the selfdenial of forsaking their sins.
These deceivers and flatterers of the people, God by his prophet condemns in the latter part of this chapter, and particularly in the words which have been read.
That the wicked should forsake their way, must evidently be agreeable to the will of a holy and merciful God. Every thing, therefore, which tends to encourage their hearts in impenitence, and strengthen their hands in iniquity, must highly provoke his displeasure.
Various are the ways, in which sinners strengthen each other's hands. Example and enticement; an open neglect and avowed contempt of the insti. tuted means of religion ; pleading in defence of vice; ridiculing the virtues of a godly character ; opposition to the great doctrines of religion ; and the propagation of corrupt and licentious opinions, all tend to this issue.
“Now whatever be the means, by which men strengthen the hands, and hinder the repentance of evildoers, they commit an horrible thing in the sight of God.”
This is the observation which lies before us, and which we will endeavour to illustrate.
1. All sin is horrible in its nature.
It is contrary to the character and will of an infi. nite/Being—a Being of glorious purity, supreme authority and almighty power—a Being who cannot be tempted with evil, nor even look on iniquity—a Being, in whose presence the stars are extinguished, and the angels veil their faces.
“Sin, by the commandment, becomes exceeding sinful.” Every offence abounds in the view of the conscience, when the law with power enters the mind. This is exceeding broad. It extends to every motion of the heart, and action of the life. It requires truth in the inward parts, and holiness in all the conversation. It forbids the act of iniquity, and condemns the thought of foolishness.
God's utter abhorrence of sin is clearly marked by the awful judgments, which, in his providence, are executed on the workers of iniquity; and more strongly expressed by the amazing punishment, which, in his word, is threatened against the finally impenitent.
The purity of the divine character, and the horrible nature of sin, are still more strikingly displayed in the grand and surprising method adopted for the redemption of our degenerate and guilty race. We are not redeemed from our vain conversation, by silver and gold, but by the precious blood of the Son of God. The great God our Saviour gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from our iniquities, and save us from the wrath to come.
If all sin is so contrary to the holy nature and perfect law of God, and to the merciful design of the Saviour's death ; think, I beseech you, what indignity, what insult, you offer to the divine majesty, when you not only do iniquity yourselves, but strengthen them who do it. To have pleasure in them who work evil, and to delight in the perverse. ness of the wicked, is the completion of a vicious character, and the last stage in the progress of guilt.
What a fearful thing must it be, to fall into the hands of the living God, thus dishonoured and provoked !--Who knows the power of his anger !
2. To strengthen the hands and hinder the repentance of sinners, is to oppose the great plan of the divine government. It is to set your faces and lift your hands against the Almighty.
Ever since the apostasy of our race, all the measures of the divine government have been uniform. ly directed to the great and benevolent purpose of recovering sinners from their wickedness, and bringing them to repentance and happiness.
For this end, God was pleased, immediately af. ter our revolt, to reveal a Saviour, who should
make reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness. For this purpose he sent forth his prophets and ministers, inspired them with divine and heavenly knowledge by his own good Spirit, and commanded them to admonish and instruct a secure and guilty world.
With the same merciful intention, he has given a standing revelation of his will, explained the nature and displayed the importance of the religion which he requires; confirmed this revelation by miracles, preserved it by his providence, and continued, from age to age, the evidence of its divine original, by the striking accomplishment of a series of marvel. lous predictions.
In pursuance of this great and glorious design he sent down from heaven his own Son, the express image of his person, who having assumed our flesh, dwelt among men, taught the way of God in truth, suffered death to expiate our guilt, rose from the grave to display his power over death, and returned to heaven to appear as an advocate for us. With this view, he also instituted the publick preaching of the gospel, and commissioned his ministers to warn every man and teach every man in all wisdom, and beseech them, in his name, to be reconciled to him.
The dispensations of his providence are adapted and intended to make all men know, that to forsake him, is an evil and a bitter thing. The connexion between vice and misery, and between virtue and happiness, is obvious to common observation, and felt in common experience. This divine establishment is designed as a standing call to virtue, and warning against vice. Besides this, God often sees fit, by publick and national calamities, to condemn and punish a general corruption of manners.
In addition to all the external means of repent. ance and holiness, God, unsought and unsolicited, grants to sinners the awakening and convincing in