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And, still later, when he came to
against him a most severe rebuke.* experience the violent death which "the Lord had showed him" by the sca of Tiberias, it is asserted by historians, that he requested his crucifiers to place his head downward on the cross; esteeming himself unworthy the honour of dying in the same posture with his Lord. Oh, how humble, how compassionate toward his brethren and the world of sinners, how zealous for the glory of Christ, lived and died this restored backslider! He thus found Christ to be "set for his fall and rising again in Israel." Permit me, Brethren, to conclude this account of the fallen and recovered Peter, with a practical application of the truths which it suggests. And,
1. Christians may fall into grievous sin :-sin which shall wound deeply their consciences, their reputation, and the cause of their Redeemer. Though there were many palliating circumstances attending the case, which would not apply to similar transgression at the present day, yet the sin of Peter was grievous. So too was the sin of David. In view of this truth, infidels may reproach, and hypocrites may stumble; but the upright believer will be warned and fear; and the backslider be encouraged to return. The Spirit of God has thought proper to record these examples, as monuments both of human depravity and of the power of his grace; and has rendered them a means of sanctification to mulitudes of his children.
Infidels, I said, may on this account reproach religion; but, Brethren, real, cordial believers, will gladly look away from the spots which may stain the characters of Christians, to the unsullied purity and transforming efficacy of the Gospel, to the unspotted holiness of its Author, and to the imperishable and eternal glory which it reveals.
Nor will any but hypocrites draw encouragement from the case before us, to sin. They who look at the falls of Christians in order to find excuse for their iniquities, prove that they have no union of soul to Christ. The real friends of the Lord Jesus will see in such examples, themes for lamentation over the depravity of human nature, and motives for watchfulness over their own hearts, lest in an unwary hour they also should be drawn into gross sin, and crucify afresh the Lord they love. The hypocrite will look only at the fall of the Christian, and go on in his iniquities; the fallen believer will look at his recovery, and rise again to renewed obedience.
Brethren, you may fall into grievous sin.-The thought should excite you to live continually by faith on the Son of God. This is the only victory that overcometh the evil that is in the world; even our faith. There can be no safety but by living near the throne. You need to look continually above, for strength to maintain the divine life. You cannot live on past experience. You cannot trust your own heart.
Gal. ii. 11. 2 Peter, iii. 15.
your refreshings from the divine presence, notwithstanding present ardent feelings and strong resolutions, if you remit the life of faith, you will not walk in uprightness. All these circumstances promised security to Peter, yet in the trying hour he fell. "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day.” 2. Christ will recover his real friends from their backslidings. They who are united to him by holy affection, have an interest in his interceding mercy. He will pray for them, as he did for Peter, that their
faith may not fail.
Brethren, while you are deeply impressed with the truth that you are liable to fall even into grievous sin--that your hearts cannot be trusted a moment with safety-live in continual dependence on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith. Make this powerful Intercessor your friend. Should you ever, in an unguarded hour, by the force of strong and sudden temptation, be hurried into sin; what but such an interest in his love can afford security, that you shall not lie for ever under the power of the Adversary?
But he will remember those who have secured an interest in his love, in the trying hour, and send them deliverance; or should he leave them awhile, to show them what is in their hearts, he will in due time restore them to reflection and penitence. "They shall not be utterly cast down, for he upholdeth them with his hand." On the awful night preceding
his crucifixion, there seemed nothing before his disciple Peter, but eternal alienation of heart and the blackness of darkness for ever. Yet Christ brought him to reflect-to weep-to love; employed him for nearly thirty years, in useful service to his church on earth; and has permitted him, for more than seventeen centuries, to swell the praises of ransomed sinners around his throne. Let backsliders learn from this example to reflect on their sins, and return with mourning and weeping to the service of a pardoning God.
3. Recovery from backsliding will ever be followed by increased fidelity to Christ.
The poor penitent backslider, like Peter, feels that he has wounded his Redeemer and his own soul, too deeply, to "turn again to folly." The penitence which brings reformation is deep and pungent, embittering sin. Tears shed over sins still loved and practised, which make sin sit more lightly on the conscience, are dangerous drops. Backslidings will render, to real Christians, sin more dreadful and Christ more precious. Look at reflecting, weeping Peter, and learn true penitence. How indignant was he toward the sin by which he fell! How zealous to do away the dishonour he had put upon Christ! How eager to save the souls whom his example might otherwise have led to ruin! How humble in spirit, at the view of his unworthiness!
Here you see the truth exemplified, that "where sin abounded, grace
did much more abound;" not merely pardoning, but sanctifying grace. Backsliders, then, have much to do, to prove their penitence real.
Christian Brethren, have you no sins whereon, like Peter, to reflect, and over which to weep? Think of the years of childhood; for they were vanity. Remember the hardness you exhibited before you knew the grace of God in truth; and mourn over that thoughtless season. Think of the sins, the numerous backslidings of heart, by which you have darkened your Christian life and retarded your progress in grace; and mourn for your ingratitude to a pardoning Christ, and your unfaithfulness to covenant vows. Like Peter, too, while you weep over the past, rise, through the energy of the Holy Spirit, to increased fidelity to your Lord. Show that much is forgiven you, by loving much. Oh, what ardent zeal for Christ becomes those, who were so late in entering on his service, and who have done as yet so little! What tender compassion for souls should they exhibit, who have by their sins already ruined so many! What deep poverty of spirit ought they to possess, who have a thousand times deserved hell, and are living daily on the mercy of a forgiving God!
BY ELEAZAR T. FITCH, A.M.
THE DUTY OF REPROOF.
EPHESIANS, v. 11.-Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness; but rather reprove them.
WORKS of darkness, literally, are those deeds of sin, which men would blush to commit under the light of day. But the desire of concealment which throws so many crimes, actually, into the night, characterizes, to some extent, every species of overt iniquity; and on this ground, all this class of actions are properly denominated “works of darkness," unfit for the light of day.
The apostle knew that his converts at Ephesus had once been addicted to such conduct, and that they were still surrounded by the children of disobedience, who were indulging in such iniquities; and in the text, he gives them counsel respecting their behaviour toward these workers of iniquity. Have no fellowship with their deeds. Never join them in their sins. Never encourage them by example. Never allow yourselves to do that which they can plausibly allege in their own justification; "but rather reprove them." Let your conduct stand forth as a sentence of condemnation against their sins. Let your opinions be known to carry with them a holy indignation against their crimes. Reprove them. Go, bear the indignation and grief of your hearts into their presence; and
tell them-when no other eye sees them but yours and your Maker's→→ tell them their faults to their face. Carry the expostulations of love to their ears, and with all the persuasion you can draw from the word of Christ, claim a hearing.
Such are the directions of the apostle to Christians who were surrounded by the sinful deeds of the wicked,-not only to shun the fellowship with them that would be ruinous to themselves, but to carry to them the reproof that might lead to their salvation. I learn from the words, therefore, a duty which belongs to the friends of God and virtue in all ages, when surrounded by the crimes of the wicked;-THE DUTY OF
In pursuing the subject I would point out some of the methods in which you may with propriety reprove the wicked for their sins, and mention some considerations which may serve to enforce this duty.
Among the methods in which you may with propriety reprove the wicked for their sins, I specify the following:
1. By refusal to comply with their enticements.
The slightest species of reproof that can be given to sinners arises from the refusal to unite with them in their crimes. When they are grown so bold in iniquity, as to solicit the followers of Christ to come down from the heights of their profession and hopes, to unite with them in their sins and follies, the mildest reproof that can possibly be given is to return to their solicitations a prompt and decided negative. Unless the Christian can give so slight a reproof to a sinner, as to say no, to his enticements, the sinner will never fear reproofs from his example or his lips. Nor is there any impropriety in using with sinners this species of reproof. They have no claim on you, surely, to unite with them in their deeds of folly. You are lords over your own conduct, and may make your own choice, without saying why or wherefore to any but your Master in heaven. In the exercise of your unalienable rights, you may throw a flat denial in the face of every enticing sinner; and by it effectually say; Go thy way. When I have need of thee, I will call for thee. Obtrude not on me thy sinful schemes. Take the reproof my denial gives thee.
2. You may reprove the wicked by an example opposed to their practices.
A still stronger reproof is thus conveyed to the wicked by the light that is reflected upon them from examples of piety and virtue. The man who always carries with him into their society the stern front of unyielding virtue; who is known by his uniform conduct to bear in his breast sentiments of abhorrence and indignation towards crime; who shows himself so firmly attached to the government of God, and the schemes of divine benevolence, as to repel even the approaches of their solicitations; speaks, with silent and impressive eloquence, the language of reproof to their consciences, Incomparably more is done by the
heavenly light attending such reproof, than can be by all the reproofs of the tongue without it. The wicked see in such examples the mirror that reflects the glory of the Deity, the authority of his law, the excellence of virtue, the deformity of sin. They stand
"Abashed, and see how awful goodness is."
And in the midst of such exhibitions of character they pass on themselves the verdict of condemnation for their sins.
Nor is there any impropriety in bearing to the wicked this form of reproof. Your right to obey the God of heaven-to show your loyalty— no man can wrest from you. You need only be loyal and be virtuous among your companions, and the living reproof is carried home to their consciences. As it has been eloquently remarked of our republican country, that her very existence carries up a reproof to the throne of tyrants, and a refutation of all the arguments by which they would uphold arbitrary rule, so the very existence of stern piety and virtue is itself a stinging reproof to the wicked, and a loud condemnation of their guilt and folly.
3. You may reprove the wicked by direct address to their consciences. The highest form of reproof is that of bearing to the wicked the direct expression of virtuous grief and indignation which their conduct excites in your souls. When, in refusing communion with them in their evil deeds, or in exhibiting before them virtuous examples, you tacitly convey reproof to their consciences, it may not be so apparent to them that you design particularly to reprove them for their ways; and they may neglect, on their own part, faithfully to make an application to themselves of a reproof which they share in common with many others. But when, in the spirit of meckness that disarms opposition, you go to the sinner, and pour into his ear the recital of his crimes, the complaints of injured virtue, the warnings of interceding grace; his conscience owns, in you, a messenger of God; come to administer the righteous and merciful reproofs of incensed, yet forbearing love. This direct address, is reproof that singles him out to his own conscience; and forces him to draw off his attention from the guilt of others to his own, with the irresistible application, "Thou art the man.” He views his crimes through the unprejudiced feelings of a friend to virtue. Conscience is against him, and with his reprover: and there arises a mighty struggle in his mind betwixt the opposing powers of sin and virtue; a struggle which must end, either in the awful victory of guilt over conscience, or in the victory, for ever blest, of conscience over guilt.
Nor is there any impropriety in using this most powerful and most salutary form of reproof. Your tongues were given you for use; and though there are certain bounds of propriety and wisdom in the use, with respect to the age, and station, and character, and circumstances of those whom