Page images
PDF
EPUB

modesty, seriousness, and compassion; first endeavouring to anticipate the offender's displeasure, with kind and gentle insinuations of our unfeigned respects and benevolence towards him; then representing his crime to him with such a compassionate sense of the evil and danger of it, as may convince him that that which renders us so severe to his sin, is nothing but mere mercy and charity to his soul: for to reprove a man lightly, or passionately, looks more like a design to deride, or reproach him for his sin, than to reclaim him from it. Lastly, we ought to take great care that the matter we reprove him for be really culpable; that we do not reprehend him for any innocent freedom, no, nor for every tri- . fling indecency; but only for plain and unquestionable trespasses upon religion ; lest he should look upon our reproofs as the language of a supercilious and morose spirit, that affects to domineer and find fault, and as such should despise and reject them. To avoid which, it is highly advisable, that, while we reprove what is evil in him, we should commend what is good; that so our bitter pill being sweetened with a due commendation, may be rendered more palatable, and so go down with less difficulty. But if the offender whom we reprove be under our power and government, to our reproofs and admonitions we are obliged in mercy to add correction, if necessity requires : for when it is come to that pass, that our child or servant must smart or be damned, it is a cruel softness and indulgence not to chastise him. Were your house on fire, you would think it a mercy to be rescued from the flames, though you were dragged out by the hair of the head : and when the flames of hell are kindling about your child or your servant, would it not be much more merciful to snatch him away, though with smart and violence, than to stand still, and let him perish for fear of hurting him ? It is true, correction ought not to be used, till gentler means have been tried, and found ineffectual: for blows are arguments for beasts and for beastly natures, fit only to be applied to stubborn and obstinate tempers, that are insensible of reason and persuasion: but when they are applied, it ought to be done with the greatest tenderness and compassion, when our minds are calm, and our passion allayed; that so the offender may be sensible we do it not to wreak our spleen, or vent and ease our fury, but merely to reclaim and amend him: the sense of which will cause the correction to operate more kindly in him, to affect his ingenuity as well as his fear, and to melt him with the mercy, whilst it breaks him with the severity of it. This therefore is the mercy which we are obliged to exercise towards obstinate and stubborn offenders.

Fifthly and lastly, Another of the miseries which affect men's souls is impotency, or want of power to recover themselves out of their vicious courses; for a vicious state doth so miserably weaken and disable men's faculties, so impair the health and vigour of their minds, that it is not in their power to help and recover themselves out of it. For to their recovery it is necessary, first, that their thoughts should be determined to a fixed and exact consideration of the evil and danger of their sins, and of the blessed hopes which God hath set before them, to tempt them to renounce and forsake them : and then that these considerations should so prevail upon and influence their wills, as to captivate them into a thorough resolution of amendment; both which effects are out of the reach of the sinner's power, considered singly, and without the concurrence of the divine grace. For his mind is so depressed and bowed down towards these earthly and sensible objects, which have been hitherto the sole companions of his thoughts, that it is not able to raise up itself to the consideration of divine things: and though now and then, a good meditation may break in upon him, and seize upon his thoughts, yet it cannot hold them a quarter of an hour together; they are so roving and slippery, so backward and averse to any thing that is serious and divine: so that unless the divine Spirit lays hold upon them, and by his powerful and importunate inspirations confines and fixes them, the man will never be able to reduce them to any fast and steady consideration. And when with the Holy Spirit's assistance he hath effected this, he hath a perverse and obstinate will to deal with; which no considerations will be able to determine to a fixed resolution of amendment, but what are set home upon his mind, and continually actuated and enlivened with the vigorous influence of the Spirit of God. So that of himself

So that of himself every habitual sinner is a most weak and impotent creature, that, with all the powers of his mind and will, the utmost efforts and strugglings of his own faculties, is not able, without a supernatural aid, to rescue himself from sin and misery. For how many sorrowful instances do we every day converse with, of men, who, in their sober thoughts, will sadly lament their own follies, and blush in the morning, when they remember how their brains were set afloat by their last night's intemperance, who yet, when the next temptation beckons them to their lust again, return as greedily to it as ever; and though, when they have repeated their sin, they curse it, and resolve against it, yet, when they are tempted, sin again, and then weep, and call themselves miserable: but still, alas! the same enchantment confines them to the same circle. Now in this, philosophy is at a stand, nor can there any other rational account be given of it, but only the miserable frailty and impotence which men contract by vicious courses. What then is to be done for these miserable persons in this their forlorn and helpless condition? Why, besides all the abovenamed instances of mercy, which we are obliged, even for pity's sake, to apply to them; we are also bound in mercy earnestly to recommend their woful condition to the God of all grace and compassion, to beseech him to commiserate their impotence, and with the outstretched arm of his grace to touch their dead souls, and raise them up into newness of life. For though in all cases of misery prayer is a proper act of mercy, yet there is none that doth so much need and call for our prayers as this : for in all other cases, either it is in the power of the miserable to help themselves, or it is in the power of the merciful to rescue and relieve them, or their miseries are such as will quickly end and expire into eternal ease; but as for the misery of the obstinate sinner, it is such as God alone can remedy, and such as, if it be not remedied the sooner, will quickly determine in endless and remediless misery. Wherefore, if we have any bowels of mercy or compassion in us, how can we sit still, and see an impotent sinner bound, as it were, to the stake of perdition, and not able to escape, though he sees the flames of hell rising round about him, without lifting up our eyes to God, in whom alone his help

[ocr errors]

and salvation lies, and earnestly imploring him to commiserate the perishing wretch, and to snatch him from his approaching ruin! Wherefore, as the law of mercy obliges us in general to pray for all that are in misery, so more especially for these wretched creatures, who are already within the suburbs of endless misery; and, unless God stretches forth his arm, and saves them, will be within a few moments beyond the reach of prayer and mercy. And thus you see what those instances of mercy are, which we are obliged to exercise towards the souls of men : and for the enforcement of our duty herein, I shall subjoin some considerations to excite our Christian compassion.

1. Consider the inestimable worth of those souls upon which your mercy is to be employed. I confess, were the souls of men of the same alloy with their bodies, whose highest pleasures do consist in the gratification of a few brutish senses, and are nothing else but the agreeable touches of certain little skins and arteries, which are as inconsiderable as a lutestring, and which, after they have repeated these pleasures some twenty or thirty years, do commonly expire into insensibility and rottenness; were, I say,

I

, their souls of the same make and frame, it were not so much to be admired that we are so indifferently affected towards them. But these precious beings are of a much nobler constitution; their faculties are made to relish godlike and angelical delights; to drink for ever of that divine nectar of contemplation, and holiness, and love; and to feast, upon those joys with which God entertains himself, and all his choir of angels: and as they are born to much higher pleasures and enjoyments, than those wretched bodies

a

« PreviousContinue »