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mendable, would be gross and vicious ignorance in those of higher rank, of more leisure, learning, and abilities.
The ignorance of some persons in matters of religion is astonishing ; and the only excuses which can be offered for it, namely, want of capacity, or want of leisure ", are often groundless: for the knowledge required of every person cannot be greater than his abilities; and the abilities of
many persons are greater than they think. The mderstanding must be exercised before its strength can be known, and by exercise it may be improved beyond imagination ; and as to leisure y, there are few, even of those who are engaged in a laborious way of life, who have not many hours which are a burden to them, or are consumed in a manner that hurts their souls and their bodies.
Common people are not to be encouraged to spend that time in religious exercises which is due to the care of their families, nor to make piety a cloak for laziness, nor to be contentious about things which they understand not; but if they would bestow a seventh part of their time and of their industry in the improvement of their hearts and minds, and in religious meditations, they would find their advantage in it many ways; they would probably avoid several sins which ruin them even in this world ; they would be more honest, more sober, more civil, and more industrious, and consequently meet with more encouragement and kindness from their superiors; they would find more divine assistance, more comfort, more peace of mind and resignation in all circumstances; and they would not be, what several of them now are, guilty of so many faults, and exposed to so many evils, that it is hard to say whether they are more wicked or more miserable. vendicant; hanc garrula anus, harc delirus senex, hanc sophista verbosus, hanc universi præsumunt, lacerant, docent antequam discant.' What would he say,
- Si foret hoc nostrum fato dilatus in ævum ?' w Virorum nuga, negotia vocantur. Augustin, Conf. i. 9. * See Locke, Conduct of the Understand. § 4.
y Much business is no excuse for neglecting him in whom we live and move and have our being. Every Christian should be able to apply to himself in a religious sense the words of Julius Cæsar in Lucan:
media inter prælia semper Stellarum cælique plagis, superisque vacavi. See Epictet. Sentent. 102, 103, 104. p. 141. ed. Reland.
THE GOSPEL CONSIDERED AS IT IS GRACE AND TRUTH.
St. John tells us that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, that he brought them into the world, and that they are contained in the revelation of God's will, of which he was the author.
1. The gospel is frequently called grace; and this word hath several meanings, all of which may be applied to the gospel.
1. The word grace, in its most obvious acceptation, means favour, favour flowing from mercy and beneficence, to which the person who receives it can make no claim, as of right. In this sense the gospel is most particularly and emphatically grace in all and every part of it, it is a gift of God which we could not in any manner be said to deserve.
2. The gospel is grace as it promiseth to repenting sino ners not only an exemption from punishment”, but a resurrection to eternal happiness; and our Saviour showed so much tenderness and lenity, and gave so much encou. ragement to all in whom he discovered dispositions towards amendment, that he drew upon himself, from the censorious Jews, the opprobrious name of the friend of sinners and of publicans“; a name which he was very willing to
? It was an unreasonable objection made to Christianity by Julian in his Cæsars, and by Celsus in Orig. iii. p. 147. that by offering pardon to repenting sinners, it favoured immorality, and set open the kingdom of heaven to vice and fully. Zosimus ii. p. 61, insinuates the same thing, and says that Constantine had recourse to Christianity after the Pagan priests had told him that their religion afforded no purgation for such heinous crimes as he had committed. See Phileleuth. Lipsiens, P. ii,
Πάντες τελώναι πάντες εισίν άρπαγες. .
Quot publicani, tot raptores. See Digest. l. xxxix. tit. iv. 12. The emperor Vespasian's father
accept, declaring that he came into the world for the sake of such persons, and that the business of his life was to seek and save them.
Repentance is, indeed, a duty of natural religion, and reason gives us hopes that it may be advantageous to us.
For, as it is certain that sin is evil and detestable, and displeasing to God, it is no less evident that to confess and dislike and condemn our faults, to avoid them for the future, to amend whatsoever is blameable in our conduct, to practise the duties which we have neglected, are actions good in themselves and acceptable to God, and therefore cannot be unprofitable to us.
Besides, we find ourselves able to change, as from better to worse, so from worse to better b. Now certainly it is not to no purpose that we enjoy this power. It seems
was an exception to this prorerb, who was at the same time a publican and a man of honour, and of whom Suetonius relates, - publicam quadragesimæ in Asia egit. Manebantque imagines a civitatibus ei positæ cum hoc titulo, Kanios pravýcarti. Vespas. 1.
b This freedom neither excludes the divine assistance, nor. renders it unnecessary: man unquestionably receives all his powers from his Maker, and continually stands in need of his aid, for the performance of his duty.
If we can neither think nor act otherwise than we do, or, rather, if we cannot act, in a true sense. but are actuated by soinething external, we must be just what we are, and power and choice belong not to us. Let us be concerned about nothing, if our concern signify nothing : so advises the poet and fatalist;
* Solvite, mortales, animos, curasque levate,
Manilius, iv. 13. But the advice seems to come with an ill grace from a fatalist, and men might return the poet this answer upon his own principles;
• Desine nos monitis, vates, illudere vanis ;
Incassùm, et curis nil proficientibus angi.' Homo,' as Grotius well observes, solus ad imaginem Dei conditus, dicitur, hoc est, mente liberoque arbitrio præditus, quod fundamentum est dominationis ipsius in cæteras creaturas. Non potest enim rerum aliarum esse dorninus, qui suarum actionum dominus non sit.' De Satisfact,
therefore probable that God, who made us beings capable of amendment, will show some favour to us, if for the time to come we carefully endeavour to deserve it.
To this may be added the consideration of the great goodness of God. We account it commendable in men to forgive offences, when the offender owns his fault, and offers such reparation as he is able to make, and changes his behaviour. But God must surpass us in goodness no less than in all other perfections.
The same favourable conclusions may also be drawn from the weakness of human nature, which, though it be no excuse for stubborn disobedience, yet seems to render the penitent proper objects of divine mercy. If man were not a creature exposed to many violent temptations, frail, and easily seduced, certainly some would be found of unspotted innocence and integrity. But it is evident that the very best offend in many things. We must therefore conclude, either that God requires unsinning obedience, and will spare none of the race of mankind, (which cannot be supposed,) or that he will not be extreme to mark what is done amiss.
Lastly, the end and design of punishment is to be considered. To punish for revenge, and only that the offender may become miserable, is a conduct unworthy of a good and wise being
Punishment should be inflicted either for the profit and amendment of the offender, or for the good of the whole, or for both. But if God should punish repenting sinners very rigorously, and never pardon them, nothing useful could arise from their sufferings; not their own aniendment, nor the improvement of their fellowcreatures, who could only be terrified and driven to despair by such examples.
These seem to be the suggestions of human reason left to itself, concerning the profitableness of repentance and reformation. But the utmost that a man can conclude without the assistance of revelation is, that it shall be much better for him in a future state, if he amend his
Plato, de Leg. ix. et xi. Gorg. et Protag. p. 324. De Rep. ii. p. 330. Seneca, de Clem. i. 16. A. Gellius, vi. 14. Clemens Alex. Strom. vi, p. 764 et p. 794.
life, than if he continue wicked.
Thus far reason goes, and no further.
But though repentance be, as we have observed, a part of natural religion, yet it seems to have been little prac. tised by many of the Gentiles. Amendment of life is a comely and commendable thing, and the Pagans certainly approved it; but that part of repentance which is a reli. gious sorrow, an acknowledgment of past offences to God our maker and governor, and prayers to him to forgive them, the Gentiles seem in a great measure to have overlooked, both in the course of their life, and at the close of it e.
The Law of Moses. appointed expiations and sacrifices
a Referamur illuc, unde non decuit prius
Abire : vel nunc casta repetatur fides.
Seneca, Agamemn. Λόγος-ορθώς γίγνοιτο ημίν, προαγορεύων εξίστασθαι πάσι τοις ασε. ζέσι τρόπων των αυτών εις τους ευσεβείς. Sermo-recte sequitur, qui impiis omnibus prædicet, ut a suis moribus ad pietatem sese convertant.' Plato, de Leg. X.
When a man has taken ill courses, says Cebes, he becomes miserable for the remaining part of his life, unless Repentance interposes ; by whose friendly assistance he is saved, and made happy. Toy 2017Oy Sisy xaraστρέφει εν πάση κακοδαιμονία, αν μη Μετάνοια αυτό από της τύχης συναντήση,-είτα-αίρει αυτόν εκ των κακών,-[και] σώζεται, και jaxácios nai su daiļwr yiyvetal.-— Tabul. Cebet. See also Plato's Phædo, p. 1:3. edit. Steph.
That some Pagans had and have some notions of the efficacy of repentance, see in Huet. Alnet. Quæst. ii. 20. p. 275. iii. 14. 369, 370.
e The (Christian] doctrine of repentance Nature never taught in her school, neither was it ever found in the books of the learned, &c. John Hale's Serm. on St. Peter's fall.
The lady in the island Cea, of whom Val. Maximus tells a remarkable story, recommended herself, before she drank poison, to the favour of Mercury; but we find not that she made any acknowledgment of sins, or asked forgiveness of the Gods: Tum defusis Mercurio delibamentis, et invocato numine ejus, ut se placido itinere in meliorem sedis infernæ deduceret partem, cupido haustu mortiferam traxit potionem.' ii. vi. 8.
That this recommendatory prayer to Mercury was not uncommon, we may conjecture from Sophocles, who makes Ajax say, before he falls on his sword, 838.