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Yet I know the treachery, and the self-flattery of a sinful and corrupted heart. I know what excuses it makes, and how, when it is driven from one refuge, it flies to another, to fortify itself against conviction, and to persuade, not merely another, but itself, "That if it has been in some instances to blame, it is not quite so criminal as was represented; that there are at least considerations that plead in its favour, which, if they cannot justify, will in some degree excuse. A secret reserve of this kind, sometimes perhaps scarcely formed into a distinct reflection, breaks the force of conviction, and often prevents that deep humiliation before God, which is the happiest token of approaching deliverance. I will therefore examine into some of these particulars; and for that purpose would seriously ask thee, O sinner! what thou hast to offer in arrest of judgement? What plea thou canst urge for thyself, why the sentence of God should not go forth against thee, and why thou shouldst not fall into the hands of his justice?
2. But this I must premise, that the question is not, How wouldst thou answer to me, a weak, sinful worm like thyself, who am shortly to stand with thee at the same bar? and "the Lord grant that I may find mercy of the Lord in that day ;" (2 Tim. i. 18.) but, what wilt thou reply to thy Judge? What couldst thou plead, if thou wast now actually before his tribunal; where, to multiply vain words, and to frame idle apologies, would be but to increase thy guilt and provocation? Surely the very thought of his presence must supersede a thousand of those trifling excuses which now sometimes impose on "a generation that are pure in their own eyes," though they "are not washed from their filthiness!" (Prov. xxx. 12.) or while they are conscious of their impurities, " trust in words that cannot profit," (Jer. vii. 8.) and "lean upon broken reeds," Isa. xxxvi. 6.
3. You will not, to be sure, in such a condition, plead "that you are descended from pious parents." That was indeed your privilege; and wo be to you, that you have abused it, and "forsaken the God of your fathers." 2 Chron. vii. 22. Ishmael was immediately descended from
Abraham, the friend of God, and Esau was the son of Isaac, who was born according to the promise; yet you know they were both cut off from the blessing, to which they apprehended they had a kind of hereditary claim. You may remember that our Lord does not only speak of one who could call "Abraham father," who was mented in flames;" (Luke, xvi. 24.) but expressly declares, that many of the children of the kingdom shall be shut out of it; and when others come from the most distant parts to sit down in it, shall be distinguished from their companions in misery only by louder accents of lamentation, and more furious "gnashing of teeth." Matt. viii. 11, 12.
4. Nor will you then presume to plead, "that you had exercised your thoughts about the speculative parts of religion." For to what end can this serve, but to increase your condemnation? Since you have broken God's law, since you have contradicted the most obvious and apparent obligations of religion, to have inquired into it, and argued upon it, is a circumstance that proves your guilt more audacious. What! did you think religion was merely an exercise of men's wit, and the amusement of their curiosity? If you argued about it on the principles of common sense, you must have judged and proved it to be a practical thing; and if it was so, why did you not practise accordingly? You knew the particular branches of it; and why then did you not attend to every one of them? To have pleaded an unavoidable ignorance, would have been the happiest plea that could have remained for you; nay, an actual, though faulty ignorance, would have been some little allay of your guilt. But if, by your own confession, you have "known your Master's will, and have not done it," you bear witness against yourself, that you deserve to be "beaten with many stripes." Luke, xii. 47.
5. Nor yet, again, will it suffice to say, "that you have had right notions both of the doctrines and the precepts of religion." Your advantage for practising it was therefore the greater; but understanding, and acting right, can never go for the same thing in the judgement of God or of man.
In "believing there is one God," you have done well; but the "devils also believe and tremble." James, ii. 19. In acknowledging Christ to be the Son of God and the Holy One, you have done well too; but you know the unclean spirits made this very orthodox confession; (Luke, iv. 34, 41.) and yet they are "reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgement of the great day." Jude, ver. 6. And will you place any secret confidence in that which might be pleaded by the infernal spirits, as well as by you?
6. But perhaps you may think of pleading, that "you have actually done something in religion." Having judged what faith was the soundest, and what worship the purest, "you entered yourself into those societies, where such articles of faith were professed, and such forms of worship were practised; and among these you have signalized yourself, by the exactness of your attendance, by the zeal with which you have espoused their cause, and by the earnestness with which you have contended for such principles and practices." O sinner! I much fear that this zeal of thine about the circumstantials of religion, will swell thine account, rather than be allowed in abatement of it. He that searches thine heart, knows from whence it arose, and how far it extended. Perhaps he sees that it was all hypocrisy, an artful veil under which thou wast carrying on thy mean designs for this world; while the sacred name of God and religion were profaned and prostituted in the basest manner; and if so, thou art cursed with a distinguished curse, for so daring an insult on the Divine omniscience, as well as justice. Or perhaps the earnestness with which you have been "contending for the faith and worship which was once delivered to the saints," (Jude, ver. 3.) or which, it is possible, you may have rashly concluded to be that, might be mere pride and bitterness of spirit; and all the zeal you have expressed might possibly arise from a confidence of your own judgement, from an impatience of contradiction, or some secret malignity of spirit, which delighteth itself in condemning, and even in worrying others; yea, which, if I may be al
lowed the expression, fiercely preys upon religion, as the tiger upon the lamb, to turn it into a nature most contrary to its own. And shall this screen you before the great tribunal? Shall it not rather awaken the displeasure it is pleaded to avert?
7. But say that this zeal for notions and forms has been ever so well intended, and, so far as it has gone, ever so well conducted too; what will that avail toward vindicating thee in so many instances of negligence and disobedience, as are recorded against thee in the book of God's remembrance? Were the revealed doctrines of the Gospel to be earnestly maintained, (as indeed they ought,) and was the great practical purpose for which they were revealed to be forgot? Was the very mint, and anise, and cummin, to be tithed; and were "the weightier matters of the law to be omitted," (Matt. xxiii. 23.) even that love to God, which is its "first and great command ?” Matt. xxii. 38. Oh! how wilt thou be able to vindicate even the justest sentence thou hast passed on others for their infidelity, or for their disobedience, without being "condemned out of thine own mouth?" Luke, xix. 22.
8. Will you then plead " your fair moral character, your works of righteousness and of mercy?" Had your obedience to the law of God been complete, the plea might be allowed as important and valid. But I have supposed, and proved above, that conscience testifies to the contrary; and you will not now dare to contradict it. I add farther, had these works of yours, which you now urge, proceeded from a sincere love to God, and a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you would not have thought of pleading them any otherwise than as an evidence of your interest in the Gospel-covenant, and in the blessings of it, procured by the righteousness and blood of the Redeemer ; and that faith, had it been sincere, would have been attended with such deep humility, and with such solemn apprehensions of the Divine holiness and glory, that, instead of pleading any works of your own before God, you would rather have implored his pardon for the mixture of sinful
imperfection attending the very best of them. Now, as you are a stranger to this humbling and sanctifying principle, (which here in this address I suppose my reader to be,) it is absolutely necessary you should be plainly and faithfully told, that neither sobriety, nor honesty, nor humanity, will justify you before the tribunal of God, when he "lays judgement to the line, and righteousness to the plummet," (Isai. xxviii. 17.) and examines all your actions and all your thoughts with the strictest severity. You have not been a drunkard, an adulterer, or a robber. So far it is well. You stand before a righteous God, who will do you ample justice, and therefore will not condemn you for drunkenness, adultery, or robbery; but you have forgotten him, your Parent, and your Benefactor; you have "cast off fear, and restrained prayer before him;" (Job, xv. 4.) you have despised the blood of his Son, and all the immortal blessings that he purchased with it. For this, therefore, you are judged, and condemned. And as for any thing that has looked like virtue and humanity in your temper and conduct, the exercise of it has in great measure been its own reward, if there were any thing more than form and artifice in it; and the various bounties of Divine Providence to you, amidst all your numberless provocations, have been a thousand times more than an equivalent for such defective and imperfect virtues as these. You remain therefore chargeable with the guilt of a thousand offences, for which you have no excuse, though there are some other instances in which you did not grossly offend. And those good works, in which you have been so ready to trust, will no more vindicate you in his awful presence, than a man's kindness to his poor neighbours would be allowed as a plea in arrest of judgement, when he stood convicted of high treason against his prince.
9. But you will, perhaps, be ready to say, "you did not expect all this: you did not think the consequences of neglecting religion would have been so fatal." And why did you not think it? Why did you not examine more attentively and more impartially? Why did you suffer the pride and folly of your vain heart to take up with such super