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parley with transgression ; each lingering look behind recalls the remembrance and excites the wish for past gratification ; each delay in stepping onwards to good, carries the reluctant penitent backward toward evil. The eye must be stedfastly cast towards heaven; the thought must be intently fixed on the great Captain of our salvation ; the memorial of His sufferings must be the signal of our exertion; and to the transported eye of faith will be revealed, as to the convert emperor of old, the radiant cross on high, in firm assurance that the victory over sin shall be at length complete.— With this deep feeling of contrition; with unfeigned horror for by-gone transgression ; with a deep-seated resolution to shun future temptation; with a recourse to the means of grace so amply provided ; with the invoked succour of the Holy Spirit ; and with full reliance on the Divine Redeemer; our endeavours to burst through these habits of indulgence may be successful; our prayers may be accepted, and our reformation be complete.—But without the union of all these, little as it may be expected that all should unite; without the co-operation of so many incentives to repentance, and to renewed faith, wonderful as must be the circumstances, under which all should co-operate ; the obstinacy of habit cannot be surmounted, nor the massive chains of sin broken asunder. “ The Ethiopian cannot change his skin; nor the leopard his spots.” And in too many cases of moral derangement, as little is the probability that he, who has been long accustomed to do evil, permanently and effectually will do good.
For, in the last place, I am bound to call your
attention to some cases, in which the remedy for longcontinued sin has been presumed to be more easy, than either our experience of human nature, or the authority of Holy Writ, will justify us in expecting.
We have seen the extraordinary, and almost uncontroulable, power of habit: a power so great, as to call forth from the inspired prophet, speaking in the name of Omniscience itself, expressions, strong as those contained in the text. “ Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? Then may they also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” Unless the course of action be changed, unless the habits themselves be transformed, it is evident that mere sorrow entertained in the mind for past transgression, nay, the mere wish to lead a new life, cannot be deemed an alteration from evil to good, such as the language of Inspiration contemplates, such as even reason approves, such as God himself will accept. For, what is the invitation addressed to His sinful people in the Old Testament? “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make
you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel ?” a And what are the still more repeated and more express declarations in that Gospel, where all the treasures of Divine grace are poured forth, all the wishes of Divine mercy displayed ? “ If thou will enter into life, keep the commandments”. “Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is
brother and sister and mother." hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and
a Ezek. xviii. 31.
b Matt. xix. 17.
c Mark iii. 34.
sins-for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works."* It is then evident that the sorrow, which exists only in the mind, and does not penetrate and subdue the heart; it is evident that the wish to form other habits, and enter upon a totally different mode of life; unless they be accompanied with a corresponding change of action, cannot be pronounced "godly sorrow;" nor can serious reflections upon past ungodliness alone constitute that
repentance, not to be repented of,” by which our prayers may hope to find acceptance at the throne of Grace, and the merits of our Saviour become available to final salvation. Yet are some too often to be found, who, under peculiar circumstances, are willing of themselves, and are encouraged by others, to hope that solemn professions of faith and repentance will be received in lieu of that settled change of heart, that revival of virtuous feelings and that moral transformation of habit, which alone deserves to be called, because it proves itself in fact to be," the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."
The circumstances, to which I more particularly advert, are of those unhappy persons, who have pursued a course of guilt, till at length they are stretched on the bed from which they have no hope of rising : or of such, as are seized by the arm of human justice, and doomed to expiate their crimes against society by a violent and ignominious death. To these latter cases I will call your attention, because some of my
a Eph. ii. 1-10.
Eph. iv. 24.
hearers are, and others may be, in that high but responsible station, in which it is their painful duty to award the severe, but just, sentence of the law.
After all that has been offered to your consideration upon the effect of habit, and the difficulty of changing a long course of immorality or guilt, what reliance can be placed upon the efficacy of repentance, begun and professed in such a state of probable ignorance, of avowed neglect, of distraction, of dismay? How can the sinner, laid on the pillow, which will soon receive his parting breath; or the criminal, destined in a few short days to bring his career of crime to an end; how can either of these give evidence of that faith, which, in order to be efficacious, must be accompanied with a good life; of that repentance, which cannot be genuine, unless it bring forth its appointed fruits? The evidence of a good life cannot be supplied, at least to mortal eye, because life itself must so shortly come to an end. The fruits of repentance cannot be exhibited, because the ax is already laid at the root of the tree.--But it will be contended, it is contended by the generous, but mistaken, enthusiast, that faith availeth to salvationthat “ the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin." These propositions no doubt are true, provided they be rightly understood. Faith only availeth to salvation; but it must be that “true and lively faith, out of which good works do necessarily spring.” “ Again, we agree that nothing can effectually cleanse from sin, except the blood of Christ; but certain conditions
a Art. XII.
are imposed on those, for whom these precious means of grace are provided. They must render themselves worthy to be cleansed; they must not only“ repent and turn to God;” but they must “ do works meet for repentance.”* Now it is impossible for any man confidently to affirm that the faith of such persons is so real, as to render them acceptable to their Heavenly Father; no man can safely pronounce, that the merits of their Saviour will be extended to them.I do not say that it is actually impossible for persons, even thus situated, having run a long career of guilt, and being suddenly brought to the verge of death, to become objects of Divine mercy. But I do say, from a serious consideration of the threats as well as promises of the Gospel, and from the uniform tenor of the exhortations to practical holiness which it contains, that it is very improbable they should possess that genuine contrition and that firm resolution, which would prevent them from relapsing, if longer life were allowed them. It is therefore highly presumptuous, and in some cases very pernicious, for any man to inspire such sinners with confident hope of acceptance at the throne of grace; either through the power of faith, or even the merits of the great Redeemer,
Delightful no doubt is the feeling, if we can pour balm on a wounded spirit, or soothe the miserable in this world with the bright prospects of eternity; but our feelings must not be gratified at the expense of our knowledge or our sincerityếnor indeed ought
a Acts xxvi. 20.