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SERM. system of morality laid down in the gospel VIII.
is very difficult to be observed : our nature is frail, our passions are violent, and the temptations with which we are surrounded very alluring ; so that notwithstanding all our care and all our firmness, the best of us are frequently drawn aside from our duty: an unsinning obedience is what none of us arrive at; “ the flesh constantly lusteth against the spirit ;” in many things we offend all, and yet there is no precept more constantly insisted on by Christ and his apostles than “ be ye perfect.” Into what a state then of despondence should we be thrown, if we believed that every sin was unpardonable! acquainted as we are with our duty, conscious as we must be of our frequent deviations from it, and knowing the wrath and terrors of the Lord revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness, how wide would be the reign of despair, if God Almighty, out of his great goodness,
had not solemnly engaged to forgive our SERM.
VIII. transgressions on our sorrow and amendment; if we had reason to believe that the governor of the universe was inexorable, that once offended, he would never be appeased, there would be nothing left to stop us in the career of vice : all hope being banished, there would be no room for endeavour; the progress of life would be the natural descent of negligent despair from crime to crime ; our first wish would be to withdraw our thoughts from our Creator, and our first happiness to stifle all reflection whatever. But far otherwise is the case: not only he who is surprized by ignorance, by negligence, or by passion, into the commission of accidental guilt, but even the more hardened sinner may be sure of meeting with favour, if he will but once embrace the means which are ap. pointed for the obtaining it; the road to mercy and salvation is accessible to all,
SER M. however profligate and abandoned we may VIII.
have been, if we are sincerely afflicted at the remembrance of our wickedness, firmly resolve to forsake it, and prove our sincerity by the immediate amendment of our lives; “though our sins were as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
What a great proof is this of the infinite goodness of the Almighty, what a consolation to those who are oppressed by the consciousness of their iniquities, what an argument to persuade them to repent and reform, when by so doing, all in which they have offended shall be blotted out, and no more remembered against them. It would be no small encouragement to the sinner, in his advances towards virtue, if he only believed that by forsaking his evil ways, he should escape the condemnation 'which is denounced against those who are · impenitently wicked; but the mercy which
is offered him is much superior to this : SERM.
VIII. he is assured, that if with sincerity and earnestness he laments and avoids his former transgressions, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall not only rescue himself from perdition, but will have a claim, and perhaps an equal claim, to those rewards which his bounteous Creator has prepared for them who love him.
Among the Jewish teachers there were some very forcible sayings as to the power and efficacy of repentance: “ Great is the
dignity of penitents, great is the virtue “ of them that repent, so that no creature
may stand in their rank and order;" and again,
the righteous may not stand " in the same place with those who re
pent." These are high sayings, and must certainly be understood with allowance, and yet they seem countenanced in a degree by some passages in scripture. In the chapter of St. Luke, from which I took
SERM. my text, are three remarkable parables : VIII.
they were spoken by our Saviour on his being reproached by the scribes and pharisees for his consorting with publicans and sinners: The first and second are exactly of the same nature, the third is the much celebrated one of the prodigal son ; the design of them all is to set forth the value of repentance. The first of them runs thus : “ What man of you, having
an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, “ doth not leave the ninety and nine in the
wilderness, and go after that which is “ lost, until he find it. And when he hath “ found it, he layeth it on his shoulders
rejoicing. And when he cometh home, " he calleth together his friends and neigh
bours, saying unto them, Rejoice with “ me, for I have found my sheep which was lost."
What is our Lord's application ? “I say unto you, that likewise " joy shall be in heaven over one sinner