« AnteriorContinuar »
provided we make a general confession of them in our daily prayers, and strive against them with a reasonable diligence. For such things we cannot expect to avoid entirely; but greater offences we may. And therefore, if we fall into any habitual wickedness, or any single act of gross and deliberate sin, we forfeit the happiness, to which our baptism entitles us: and if we continue impenitent, the more privileges we have enjoyed, the more severely we shall be punished. For “to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.'
But, if God allows us time, and we make use of it, not only to be sorry for having lived ill, for this alone is not gospel penitence, but to be sorry from a principle of conscience; and to show of what sort our sorrow is, by living well afterwards, in all those respects, in which we have been faulty, we become entitled again to the divine favour. For though the scripture declares it impossible to renew' some sinners “to repentance;' [Heb. vi. 4, 6.) yet if this be taken strictly, it can mean only • blasphemers against the Holy Ghost.' (Matt. xii. 31.) Besides impossible,' in all languages, often signifies no more than extremely difficult: and 6 with God all things are possible.' Experience proves, that great numbers are *renewed to repentance:' and that they shall not be forgiven, when they repent, is no where said. It is true, there remains no more sacrifice for sin,' (Heb. x. 26.) no other method of salvation, than that, to which they have lost their claim. But still, if they humbly apply for a fresh interest in it; since the apostle directs all christians to restore such' to their communion, as brethren,
in the spirit of meekness ;' (Gal. vi. 1.) there can be no doubt but God will receive them as a father, with pity and mercy, Indeed the words of St. John alone would be sufficient to banish all despondency from the breast of every Christian peni. tent: My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins.' [1 John ii. 1, 2.] : You see then the inestimable goodness of God, in providing means, by which we not only shall be pardoned, but bave the comfort of knowing beforehand, that we shall. But then you see also the only terms, on which we are to expect it. And these are, not that we live on in a circle of sinning and repenting; not that we abstain from some sins and indulge others:
but that we so repent of all our sins, as not wilfully to sin again. And till we are arrived at this, we must never think ourselves in a safe condition. For as, on the one hand, if the wicked man turn from his wickedness, he shall live ;' (Ezek. xü, 21, 27.] so on the other, if the righteous man turn from his righteousness, he shall die.' [Ibid. 24.] • Blessed are they, whose transgression is forgiven, and whose sin is covered. Blessed are they to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.' [Psal. xxxii. 1, 2.]
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
OVERCOMING THE WORLD.
i St. John v, 4, 5.- -Whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world:
and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth, that Jesus is the Son of God..
(Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.] The great and glorious things which our blessed Saviour hath done for his followers, are not intended to excuse them from action ; but to render them successful in it. Therefore, from the contemplation of that conquest, which, by his death and resurrection, he hath already won, the Church very naturally leads us, in the Epistle for this Day, to that, which every disciple of Jesus is expected to gain in his own person. The world is one of those enemies, against which every Christian engages solemnly and formally, at the instant of taking that profession upon himself in baptism. And our new relations we contract there, the new life we then begin and engage to lead, and the communications of God's Holy Spirit, received in that sacrament, to strengthen us in the faithful discharge of those engagements, do, in effect, make up our second and spiritual birth. So that the persons born of God’are baptized and faithful Christians: and the scripture, now in hand, does not only imply the necessity of conquering, by saying, that whatsoever
is born of God, overcometh the world;' but it acquaints us what weapon is put into their hands for that purpose, by adding, ' And this is the victory, that overcometh the world, even our faith.
In order to make due profit of this passage, I shall from hence take occasion to enquire, First, What we are to understand by overcoming the world ; and secondly, What is the nature of that faith, by virtue whereof this victory is obtained.
I. By the world, we may understand the wicked persons in it, or the pleasures and advantages of it.
I. 1. In the first sense, it is sufficiently plain, that, in order to overcome the world, as that word imports the wicked persons in it, we must not be carried away with the torrent of any faction, though ever so strong; nor • follow a multitude,' though ever so great and powerful, to do evil.' We must not suffer any relations or friendships, though ever so intimate and dear, to engage us; any dependencies and interest, though ever so advantageous, to allure us; any threats, or fears, or displeasures, to awe and affright us; any the subtlest persuasions, to seduce us; any examples, though ever so prevailing and authoritative, to draw us; any practice, though ever so general and common, to ensnare us, in even the most specious, the most profitable, the most fashionable sin. We must refuse the least compliance, beyond the rules of our duty, and the dictates of our conscience. This is, in our Saviour's language and meaning, 'not to love father or mother' more than him; but to hate even our dearest relations, for the zeal we have to become his disciples. Nay, not this only, but we must be content with the jests and scoffs, the censures and reproaches, by which men of profligate manners endeavour to laugh, or to rail those persons out of their religion, who refuse to run into the same excess of riot with themselves. We must not content ourselves with a private and solitary piety; but employ the best of our skill and diligence, as our respective stations and capacities admit, to inform the ignorant, to settle the wavering, to encourage the timorous, to rescue the miserable wretches, (for surely they are of all wretches the most miserable) whom fear, or partiality, or interest, or any of those weaknesses, which the Scripture implies, under the phrases of respecting' or • being afraid of the face of men,' have enslaved to the temptations of Satan, and the will of his instruments, for promoting
wickedness in the world. In one word, they who, by their advice and endeavours, by their constancy and courage, by their reproofs, (where those may be seasonable) and especially by their good example, (which can never be unseasonable) do not only secure their own virtue, but propagate it in other people; these are true subjects of the kingdom of grace. And none but these answer the character of overcoming the world, so far as that word imports the corrupt customs, and iniquitous principles, that abound in it.
1. 2. Again : if by the world, we understand the things of the world ; it is of itself very plain, that, in order to overcome the world in this sense, the least that can possibly be needful, is, that none of its pleasures or advantages be suffered so far to bear sway over our affections, as for their sakes to draw us into sin. For these (it should always be remembered) are the very baits, which the tempter casts before us, in order to our destruction. The desires of them cannot be either avoided, or totally extinguished; and yet, if we give a loose to those desires, we are undone. Therefore the true mastery to be aimed at in this point, is to rejoice in the possession, or to be afflicted for the loss of them, in their proper place, and time, and degree. And what is proper in these cases, though so very few seem to be truly sensible, yet it would be no hard matter to understand, were men disposed to judge impartially in the case; and did they but set themselves in good earnest to consider the nature of the things, and the purposes they were intended to serve.
If it were lawful for us to make them the ultimate object of our desires, yet are they not capable of answering those desires ; but all must end at last in emptiness and disappointment, and sad regret for our own folly. Virtue and piety here, heaven and complete boliness hereafter, are the things we ought to aim at. And these may be attained, either by the contentedness and patience of the poor, or by the moderation and liberality of the rich: by the resignation of the afflicted, or siek, or in pain, or under disgrace; as well as by the thankful obedience of the prosperous, or healthful, or easy, or honourable. From whence it plainly follows, that the things of the world are not themselves any part of our real happiness : that they contribute no further to it, than as they become occasions of exercising the virtues, and putting our minds in the frame and temper, proper
for the circumstances of life we then are in. And he, who is convinced of this, if he will act consistently, cannot desire them for their own sakes, but purely as instruments and help to virtue. Consequently he cannot desire them with any great impatience, nor love them with any immoderate tenderness: because, though they be comforts and encouragements, yet are they not essential to that, which he loves and desires most, and in order whereunto alone it is, that he desires and loves these things at all. So then, to receive and improve every dispensation of Divine providence, in such manner as shall advance our virtue ; to have that principally in view, and to manage not only all events so dexterously, but even all our passions with so masterly a hand, as to continue steady to our main point, and make all turn to a good account there : this I take to be overcoming the world,' in the second sense of that word, as it imports the things of the world.
And if all this be necessary to the conquest, which every Christian is bound to make; then how few, alas ! how very few, are the men, who approve themselves conquerors indeed! How many are there, in truth, so far from waging this war successfully, that they never heartily engage in it at all! The ambitious, the covetuous, and the voluptous man, are so far from triumphing, that they are perfectly led into captivity, and live in direct slavery to the enemy, against whom they have solemnly listed themselves. For they who are content to sacrifice their souls to any worldly interest, how great and valuable soever, manifestly take that for their happiness, which at best can be but an instrument to it: nay, they turn that into an instrument of misery, which was designed to promote their happiness; intended to be subservient to, but never to be, nor in its own nature possible to be, the true and ultimate end of their actions. And then, how vile and wretched is their slavery, who are satisfied to drudge on in a course of sin and injustice, whose very business is wickedness' and the world, and that, upon so very poor profits, as the generality of people, in the way of trade and dealings with one another, are satisfied to sell their consciences for, every day they live!
But even, when we are arrived so far, as not to consent to any wickedness, upon the account of worldly advantages: this will not suffice to gain the victory, mentioned here as a mark of our spiritual regeneration. For that supposes such a mastery