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strokes of justice. He cries, "Though thou slay me, yet will I trust in thee! O let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for very great are his mercies, but let me not fall into the hands of men." Such were the sentiments of David, and his hope was not deceived; since on the evening of the same day God, listening to his humble prayer, caused the exterminating angel to stay his arm.
Penitent sinner! how many motives are there to induce you to adopt this language, and imitate this example! Cry, "Let me fall into the hands of God," for he is my owner and proprietor; to him I unreservedly belong; he has power over me as a potter over the clay; he cannot transcend his right in the exercise of his sovereignty; and under the severest strokes of his rod, I can never without presumption say unto him, Why doest thou thus? But "let me not fall into the hands of men :" of men who so often encroach upon the authority of God; who so often forget that divine warning, "Who art thou that judg est another's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth!" who so often without authority from the Sovereign of the universe, and regardless of his solemn declaration, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord," erect tribunals where they pronounce anathemas and condemnation.
"Let me fall into the hands of the Lord," because mércy is his darling attribute: he loves to glorify it in the forgiveness of the penitent; he marks the groans of an Ephraim; he pities the repentant tears of a Mary; he opens his arms to the returning prodigal; he is moved by the humble confession of a self-loathing publican; he comforts those that evangelically mourn, and "casts their iniquities into the depth of the sea, never more to be mentioned against
them." But let me not fall into the hands of men ;' of men who, so often forgetting that mercy is their only plea, and that without the exercise of infinite grace they must be for ever undone, are pitiless and cruel; who, instead of imitating that Redeemer who rejected not the chief of sinners that penitently approached him, cry with pharisaical elation of heart, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men;" and treat those at whose repentance heaven has rejoiced, with deep aversion and supercilious contempt; who remain perfectly unmoved by that awful denunciation, "He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy!"
"Let me fall into the hands of the Lord," because he reads my heart. He has beheld my secret groans, and prayers, and tears. He has witnessed my penitent review of my offences; he has seen my soul, humbled at its offences, yet fleeing to the blood of Jesus; pleading the sacrifice of Calvary, and strengthened and purified by the Spirit of grace. But let me not fall into the hands of men," who, notwithstanding their ignorance, so often attempt to judge the heart; so often, of different motives to an act that may be assigned, select the most odious.
"Let me fall into the hands of God," because he mingles with the strokes of his rod the consolations of grace, and chastens as a Father; but "let me not fall into the hands of men," who present the unmingled cup of bitterness, and repine if the object of their hatred taste aught except the wormwood and the gall.
"Let me fall into the hands of God," for the design of his chastisements is merciful; they are intended not to destroy, but to benefit; to make us conformed to his holiness; to cause us to produce
the peaceable fruits of righteousness. But "let me not fall into the hands of men," who so often endeavour utterly to crush those who have offended them; who steadfastly pursue the object of their fury, and abandon not their victims till they have been cheered by their expiring groans.
"Let me fall into the hands of God," from reflecting on the advantages that myself, that thousands of the redeemed, have experienced from his chastisements. How many that encircle the throne of the Redeemer bless that rod, that affliction, that bereavement, dispensed by the Almighty, which weaned them more from earth, and made them more willing to live upon their God! But let me not fall into the hands of men," whose unkindness and cruelty, while it adds to their own offences, is so apt to stir up the corruptions of their hearts who are the objects of it.
Let such, my dear brethren, be your language and your feelings, when penetrated by a sense of guilt. Bend to that hand which supports while it smiles. Flee to him who, in the midst of the inflictions of his justice, will permit you to behold his divine compassions. Cast yourselves in his paternal arms and cry, "O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing." Listen to the invitation of his word, while it addresses you, "Come and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn and he will heal us; he hath smitten and he will bind us up, that we may live in his sight."
1. This subject, in connexion with the history of which our text is a part, teaches us that sin may be pardoned, and yet punished with temporal afflictions. David had repented, and was forgiven; but
yet he was not free from chastisement. This is very often the course of God's proceedings. Even though the sinner is awakened to a sense of his unworthiness, is humbled, and implores pardon through the Redeemer. God, to strengthen his repentance, and radically to cure the malady of his heart, visits him with chastisements. "Thou wast a God that forgavest them," says the psalmist, speaking of the children of Israel in the wilderness, "thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions." He observes this course of conduct, even to the penitent, that he may prevent the abuse of his covenant mercy. The price of redemption and pardon cost too much to have the blessing of it esteemed common. In the best of saints there remains much corruption; and too often abounding grace has given occasion to some to have light thoughts of their sins, and the freedom of access which believers have to God through Christ, has degenerated into presumptuous boldness. God then so deals with his people, that "their own wickedness shall correct them, and their own backslidings shall reprove them;" and that they may read in their punishment the greatness of their sin, and tremble to abuse covenant mercy. God punishes, though he pardons, in order that he may manifest the holiness of his nature and his law, even while he indulges all his tenderness and love. God punishes, though he pardons, in order to produce watchfulness and circumspection in our future walk; that our frame may be more humble, and our fellowship more strict. If such be the course of God's proceedings, let us tremble at sin; let us neither wonder nor murmur at any of our afflictions.
2. This subject should excite in us the tenderest love to God. We may well cry with the prophet, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not." Goodness is allied to greatness; it is because he is the Omnipotent, that he is also the Most Merciful. He shows the immensity of his power in restraining the strokes of his justice, and dealing tenderly with the penitent. For this reason Moses prays, "Let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast declared, The Lord merciful and gracious, slow to anger, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." And does not such a God deserve our hearts? Will not the sweetest satisfaction result from fellowship with him? We are too apt, my brethren, to consider the obligations of religion merely as awful duties which must be performed, or we be for ever lost. We should also consider them as the source of felicity; as the only stable prop to the weakness of humanity; as the only unfailing spring of consolation amidst the troubles of earth. In this manner contemplate that religion which God, in infinite mercy, hath given to man. Dwell on the loveliness and perfections of our Heavenly Father, and rejoice that you are in the hands of such a God. Instead of murmuring because he requires your supreme affection, you will then bless him that he permits you to devote your hearts unto him; and in reviewing his conduct to you, you will cry, "Verily, O Lord God, this is not the manner of mortal men; it is because thou art God, and not man, that we are not consumed."
3. This subject teaches us where the soul may find a refuge from the unkindness and cruelties of