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6 the spirit returns to God that gave it.” In short, the filial fear of God ascends with the soul to heaven, and is the eternal respect that the blessed spirits continually pay to his adorable perfections. Servile fear attends the sinner to hell, and settles into despair for ever.
2. Use of comfort. The doctrine of divine forgiveness affords strong consolation to those who are wounded in spirit in the sense of their sins. Those only who feel the intolerable burden of guilt, will come to Christ to find rest: and only those our Saviour invites and promises graciously to receive. A tender and timorous conscience does often impute the guilt of sin, when it is abolished; a seared conscience does not impute it, when it abounds. God has revealed his mercy in so full a manner, as to answer all the allegations of a repenting sinner against himself. He objects his unworthiness of pardon : but this cannot exclude him from it: for the grace of God springs from within, and has no original cause without itself. It is like a celestial fire that feeds itself: God declares his sovereign pleasure in the exercise of mercy : “ I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” Exod. 33. If merey were bestowed only upon the worthy, none could be saved : “ for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The humble penitent urges against himself, that he has been a singular and extraordinary offender, that none is like him in sinning: but we are assured none“ is like God in pardoning." The number of our sins is terrifying: this so affected the psalmist, that he fainted with desponding fear; “My sins are like the hairs upon my head, therefore my heart fails me.” Mic. 7. But the multitude of God's mercies incomparably exceed our numerous sins. They are renewed every moment of our lives : stupendous infinity! they are over “all his works ;” and over all his attributes. “ God is love," and love covers a multitude of sins.
The killing aggravations of our sins strike us through : but there is not so much evil in sin as there is goodness in God. Our finite acts cannot preponderate his unlimited essence. He declares, “ I am God and not man, therefore ye are not consumed." Hos. 11. We hardly forgive a few pence, he forgives ten thousand talents. He is God, infinite in mercy, and as libe
ral as infinite. Delight in sin is an aggravating circumstance ; but “ God delights in mercy.” Continuance in sin inflames the guilt; but his mercy extends to eternity.
I shall add, for the support of returning penitents, some examples of God's forgiving great sinners recorded in scripture. He charges the people of Israel, “ thou hast made me serve with thy sins, and wearied me with thine iniquities.” Isa. 43. 25. It might be expected, that the next words should have been, I will revenge your dishonouring of me according to the glory of my majesty, and the extent of my power : but he promises pardon; “ I even I am he, that blotteth out thy transgressions for my name sake, and will not remember thy sins.” By the comparison of their sins, he illustrates the glory of his mercy. Lot, guilty of incest with his daughters; David, of murder and adultery; Manasseh, a sorcerer and idolater, that burnt his children alive in sacrifice to the devil and filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; Mary Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were cast; Peter, who was so faint-hearted and false-hearted, that with execrations he denied his master; Paul, that was a bloody persecutor; are the instances of the astonishing omnipotent mercy of God, who can as easily pardon the greatest sins as the least, and makes no difference when our pentance is sincere, and our faith unfeigned : though according to the degrees of their guilt conscience should be affected. How many pardoned sinners, miracles of the divine mercy, are in heaven happy in the love of God, and glorious in holiness, who were as deeply guilty and polluted as any that now mournfully seek the favour of God? These are examples of grace so excellent and so divine, to encourage us in our addresses for pardon. The apostle Paul tells us, “ that for this cause he obtained mercy, that in me Jesus Christ might show all long-suffering for a pattern to them who shall hereafter believe on him to everlasting life.” 1 Tim. 1. There is the same motive in God; he forgives sins for his name sake : the treasures of his mercy are not wasted by communicating : there is the same merit in Christ; his precious blood shed upon the cross is pleaded in heaven, “ He ever lives to make intercession for us : and if we obtain the same precious faith, we shall have the same acceptance. In short, let those who are overwhelmed with fear consider, it is not only our privilege, but duty to trust in the divine mercy: we are commanded “to be
lieve in the Mediator :" despair is more dishonourable to God than presumption, in that it is a sin directly against a superior attribute, the exercise of which is his delight and dearest glory.
3. Use of exhortation. Let us be excited to seek the pardoning mercy of God with humility, with fear and all possible diligence, lest we should not obtain it. Our hearts should be set upon this with the most intense zeal, “ for it is our life.” Every impenitent sinner is under the condemning sentence of the law, and there is but a step between him and death : the only hope is, that it is not yet ratified by the judge, nor inflicted, but it is reversible by suing out a pardon in the superior court of the gospel. Now it is astonishing, that when the danger is so great and present, (for it is as morally impossible to be sure of time to come, as to recal time past) that men should be so unconcerned and secure, and neglect the main work for which they are spared by the admirable patience of God. Time is certainly short, and uncertainly continued ; and when the oil that feeds the lamp of life is spent, the next state is the blackness of darkness for ever to all unpardoned sinners : now the sceptre of grace is extended to us, we are within the call of pardoning mercy; “ God waits to be gracious :" but there is a sad assurance, if we do not sue out our pardon in the present life, the time of our reprieve, death is immediately attended with eternal judgment; the belief of which makes the prince of darkness, with the most stubborn spirits of hell, to tremble : yet men continue in the guilt of their unrepented sins without fear, and wretchedly deceive themselves with a vain presumption that the door of mercy will be open when they leave the world; or bear up themselves by the numberless multitude of stupid sinners, and make a resolute reckoning they shall do as well as the most. They are studious and contriving, active and ardent about the affairs of this low life, and careless of being reconciled to God, a matter of the highest concernment and eternal consequence. Prodigious folly, never enough lamented ! though vengeance from above is ready to fall upon them, and hell below with its dark korrors is open to swallow them up, yet they are stupid and fearless : the remembrance of this will rack and tormend them for ever; for when extreme folly is the cause of extreme misery, the sufferer is the most cruel enemy to himself,
“Let us therefore seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near.” Now God offers his pardon to the greatest sinners that will humbly submit to the gracious terms proposed in the gospel for our obtaining it. Besides what has been said of faith and repentance, I will more particularly consider what God requires of guilty creatures in order to their pardon.
(l.) To confess. The confession of our sins is indispensably requisite to qualify us for pardon. The promise is express and full, “ He that confesses and forsakes sin, shall find mercy.” Prov. 28. 13. That we may not be deceived in the application of this promise, I will briefly consider what is preparatory to this duty, the properties of it, and the connection of pardon with it.
The understanding must be enlightened by the divine law to discover sin. The law is the rule of our duty, and the obligation to obey it is immediately conveyed by conscience. While there is a cloud of darkness in the mind, there will be a silence in the conscience. Paul declares, that he “ was once alive without the law, that is, not understanding his guilt, he presumed on his justification; but when the “ commandment came" in its light to convince him of the transgression of it, the apparition of sin in the clear glass of the law struck him dead. There must be a discussion of conscience, a comparing our actions with the rule, to discover their obliquity: for sins unknown and unconsidered cannot be confessed. Some sins are notorious, and present themselves to our knowledge and memory: others are of a weaker evidence, inquiry must be made after them. It is an unpleasant work to rake in the sink of a corrupt heart, but it is necessary.
The properties of confession are,
Ist. It must be free and ingenuous : that which is extorted by bitter constraint is of no value and acceptance. Pharaoh, an obstinate rebel, upon the rack, acknowledged “he had sinned." It is true, the penal effects of sin may be the first excitation of sinners to consider their ways, but the Holy Spirit by that means so deeply affects them with the evil of sin, that they voluntarily contess them before the all-discerning Judge. David declares, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old : I said, I will confess my sins, and thou forgavest them.” He came to a deliberate resolution," I will confess them."
2ly. Confession must be sincere and full, that our sins may be more evident and odious to us. The covering of sins is like the keeping a serpent warm, that will sting more fiercely. * The concealing sin argues the love of it, and is a bar against pardon. “ Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, in whose spirit there is no guile.” Psal. 32. 2. It is not said, in whose spirit there is no sin, but no guile, no reserved allowed sin. The sincere penitent pours forth his heart “ like water before the Lord.” Of all liquids none are so clearly poured out of a vessel as water : wine or oil leave a tincture. We should in confession pour out all our sins, and leave no tincture of affection to them. If it be said, how can we confess our sins that are above our counting? It is true, but we must reserve none. We must confess the kinds of our sins, against the first and second table, that were both written with God's hand; sins of omission and commission, and particular sins of greater guilt: we must wash off their deceitful colours, that they may appear in their hellish shape, and more deeply affect us. Men are very averse to this duty, and apt to conceal or extenuate their sins. The art of concealing and excuses is learnt from the first transgressor. When God called, “ Adam where art thou ?” though his dread to appear
before the divine presence was a tacit confession of his fault, and his hiding himself discovered his sin; yet he does not acknowledge his sin, but alledges the consequence of it, his shame, to be the cause of his guilty fear. “ I heard thy voice, and was afraid, because I was naked.” Gen. 3. 10. And to extenuate his offence, transfers his guilt on the woman, and constructively reflects upon God as the cause of it : “ the woman which thou gavest me, gave me of the fruit, and I did eat.” The wicked excuse did infinitely aggravate his sin. The woman lays her fault at the serpent's door, “the serpent beguiled me.” Aaron pretends that the people compelled him to idolatry, and that the golden calf was not the effect of design and art, but of chance: “ I cast the gold into the fire, and there came out this calf.” Exod. 2. Saul coloured his rebellion with the pretence of religion : “ he kept the best of the cattle for sacrifice.” 1 Sam. 15. 15. In short, as in sweating, it is observed that a general sweat of the body is for its advantage, but the sweat of a part only is the symptom of a disease : so a clear unfeigned confession is for our profit, but a semi-confession is counterfeit, an indication of hypocrisy.
* Alitur vitium, vivitque tegendo,