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SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XXXII.

ROMANS, CHAP. VI.-VERSE 21.

Though the hopes introduced by the gospel are fitted to support and encourage virtue and true religion, and are only to be truly enjoyed by those who make a title to them by the innocency of their lives; yet they have been perverted to ill purposes by such as, hating to be reformed by the precepts of the gospel, are willing to put their sins under the protection of its promises : that this policy prevailed early in the church is shown from several passages of St. Paul. To prevent the use which ill-disposed men were ready to make of God's goodness to sinners, who imagine their iniquities to be privileged, since grace had so abounded; the Apostle in this chapter enters into the question, whether the hopes of the gospel are reconcileable to a continuance in sin; showing by various arguments the complete inconsistency of a state of grace and a state of sin ; from whence he appeals to conscience and reason against the presumptuous conceit that the Son of God could be the minister of sin, or that the gospel could countenance iniquities of which nature was ever ashamed, and which the common reason of mankind condemned: What fruit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed ? for the end of those things is death.

These words suggest to our consideration several particulars. I. That the shame and remorse which attend on sin and guilt, arise from natural impressions on the mind of man, Experience teaches us that we can no more direct by our choice the sensations of our mind than we can those of the body:

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when the fire burns, flesh and blood must feel pain ; and a rational mind, compelled to act against its own conviction, must ever be afflicted. These natural connexions are unalterably fixed by the Author of nature, to be the means of our preservation : this point enlarged on. Hence it is evident that the mental pain and grief which we suffer from a sense of having done ill, flow from the constitution of our nature, as we are rational agents : nor can there be a stronger argument of God's utter aversion to sin, than his having given us such a nature, that we cannot be reconciled to it ourselves : hence it is that profligate sinners fly to any excess that may help them to forget themselves, and hide them from the light of reason : but there is no remedy: as long as we have the power of thinking, so long must we think ill of ourselves when we do ill : the only cure for such uneasiness is to live without thought ; for we can never enjoy the happiness of a brute, till we have sunk into the same degree of understanding.

It may indeed be said that there have been some profligate sinners who have gone through life without discovering any uneasiness on account of their guilt: so there have been instances of men who could play with fire without showing any sense of pain : but neither will the art of one be an argument against the sense of feeling, nor the obduracy of the other be a proof against the natural sense of a rational mind : this point enlarged and illustrated.

II. The expectation of punishment for sin is the result of the reason given to us : the end of those things is death. There are no certain principles from which we can infer the sort of punishment designed by God for sinners : reason has left us in the dark, and revelation has not cleared up this secret. The representations of Scripture on this head are metaphorical; the images strong and full of horror, leading to the certain conclusion that endless misery will be the lot of the wicked; but they do not satisfy the curiosity of inquisitive persons. The

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opinions of all nations on this subject prove the natural expectation of punishment for iniquity; nor does it signify if men have entertained mistaken notions about the kind of it: this point enlarged on. The power of conscience, and the fear which every sinner feels, are great evidences of the general expectation of judgment to come. But this argument need not be pressed; the fact of this expectation is hardly disputed : we are however told that it is the effect of weakness and superstition. The question then is, whether this common sense of nature is derived from infirmity of mind, or whether it is the result of right reason.

If the former of these opinions be a just one, another conclusion must be allowed, namely, that sin shall not be punished. Now whatever can be said in maintenance of this assertion, must resolve itself into one or other of these propositions; either that sin does not deserve to be punished; or that God has no means of punishing it.

As to the first, no one has yet been found an advocate for wickedness: even those who seem unwilling to admit a state of future rewards and punishments, never use the plea that sin deserves no punishment; but the only reason why they think it will not be punished, is, because they have no notion of a future state. Could they be persuaded of this, they would have no doubt regarding the sinner's condition in it. The truth then of this maxim being supposed, viz. that sin is deserving of punishment, we are led to the conclusion that sin shall be punished : for what reason can be assigned why that should not be done which reason tells us is fit to be done? Why should God act contrary to what he leads us to suppose agreeable to his wisdom and justice? The latter proposition therefore is considered, viz. whether God has any means of punishing sin : and it is on this that all hopes of impunity are built : not that all who hope for impunity are so absurd as to suppose that God wants the power to punish, but they conceive that man has no

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relation to any state of being except in this life only; and that when he dies, all his hopes and fears die with him. But by what principles of reason are men led into this supposition ? That God might have provided another state after this, a state also of retribution, no one can doubt, who believes in the being of a God. If he has ordered it otherwise, it was because it seemed best to his wisdom : but how could it seem best to leave no means of making a distinction between virtue and vice, by suitable rewards and punishments, and yet to teach us, by the light of reason, that it is highly suitable to his wisdom and justice to make such distinction ? That he does not make it in this world is evident : if then nothing remains hereafter, there is no justice with the Most High; the wicked have the advantage, and the righteous hath cleansed his heart in vain. But can this be agreeable to his wisdom, who himself hath taught us to think it disagreeable to all the rules of reason and justice? Those who think so, may perhaps have some notion of an overruling fate and necessity; or if they go so far as to think there is a rational being, who is the author and governor of all things, yet can they hardly allow him any thing but will, and power, and understanding; for they leave no room for the exercise of moral attributes. If we can draw any conclusion from our own feelings, we are accountable creatures : our natural notions of God point him out as our judge: on our own part we find reason and freedom, which make us fit subjects for judgment; on the part of God we find wisdom, and mercy, and justice, and every other perfection : and if after all we are not to be judged, there must be something very wrong in these expectations of mankind. But there is one step more to take, and to show,

III. That these common notions are the foundation of all religion, and must be supposed and admitted in revealed religion, and therefore cannot be contradicted by it.

Some there have been, who, finding no hopes for impunity

to sinners under the light of reason and nature, have taken shelter in revelation; not desiring to correct and reform their vices, but to enjoy them, and yet to hide them from the wrath to come: these are great extollers of the mercy of God in the gospel; great assertors of the unbounded merits of Christ's blood; making it a reproach to those who teach that the hopes of Christians can be frustrated after his atonement; imagining that by this they do honor to God, and pay great regard to their redeemer. But would they consider, they would find that they are offering to God the sacrifice of fools, whilst they divest him of all his other moral attributes in compliment to his mercy; representing him as a good-natured indolent being, unconcerned at what is going on, and prepared equally to receive the righteous and the sinner. This topic enlarged on: and the same may

be said of the Redeemer. Not necessary to show at length how inconsistent these notions are with the true doctrine of the gospel : all its precepts, all its representations, all the hopes and fears proposed to Christians, teach us a different lesson, and declare, that God hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness. - This is the gospel doctrine; nor can true revelation possibly teach otherwise ; for God cannot contradict himself, nor gainsay by his prophets that common light of reason which he planted in men to be their guide : natural religion is the foundation of revelation, which may supply the defects of nature, but can never overthrow its established principles: this topic enlarged on. The conclusion is, that without holiness no man shall see God; that Christ, by redeeming us from sin itself, redeemed us from the punishment of sin; and if we refuse the redemption from sin, we never can partake of the redemption from its punishment, &c.

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