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SER M. are so many talents coinmitted to our trust, of the
neglect whereof a severe account will be taken at
the knowledge of the truth,” (says the apostle in
the latter end is worse with them than the begin-
who offend against the glorious light of the gospel ? SER M. "this is the condemnation, that light is come,” &c.
3dly, The consideration of what hath been said is matter of comfort to those, who upon every failing and infirmiry are afraid they have committed - the “ unpardonable sin,” and that it is impossible for them to be restor’d by repentance. There are many who being of a dark and melancholy temper, are apt to represent things worse to themselves than there is reason for, and do many times fancy themselves guilty of great crimes, in the doing or neglecting of those things which in their nature are indifferent, and are apt to aggravate and blow up every little infirmity into an unpardonable sin. Most men are apt to extenuate their fins, and not to be sensible enough of the evil and heinousness of them, but it is the peculiar infelicity of melancholy persons to look upon their faults as blacker and greater than in truth they are ; and whatsoever they hear and read in scripture, that is spoken against the grofrest and most enormous offenders. they apply to themselves; and when they hear of the “ sin against the Holy GHOST,” and “ the "? sin unta death,” or read this text which I am now treating of, they presently conclude that they are guilty of these sins, and that this is a description of their case. . Whereas “ the sin against the “ Holy Ghost” is of that nature, that probably none but those that saw our Saviour's miracles are capable of committing it, and excepting that, there is no sin whatsoever that is unpardonable. As for “ the sin unto death,” and that here spoken of in the text, I have shew that they are a total apostasy from the christian religion, more especially
SER M. to the heathen idolatry; which these persons I am CXXI,
speaking of, have no reason to imagine themselves guilty of. And though great and notorious crimes committed by christians may come near to this, and it may be very hard for those who are guilty of them, to recover themselves again to repentance; yet to be sure, for the common frailties and infirmities of human nature, there is an open way of pardon in the gospel, and they are many times forgiven to us upon a general repentance; so that upon account of these, which is commonly the case of the persons I am speaking of, there is not the least ground of despair; and though it be hard many times for such persons to receive comfort, yet it is easy to give it, and that upon sure grounds, and as clear evidence of scripture, as there is for any thing; so that the first thing that such persons, who are so apt to judge
thus hardly of themselves, are to be convinced of ; (if possible) is this, that they ought rather to trust
the judgment of others concerning themselves, than their own imagination, which is so diłemper'd, that it cannot make a true representation of things. I know that where melancholy does mightily prevail, it is hard to persuade people of this: but till they be persuaded of it, I am sure all the reason in the world will signify nothing to them.
4thly, This should make men afraid of great and presumptuous fins, which come near apoitasy from christianity; such as deliberate murder, adultery, gross fraud and oppression, or notorious and habitual intemperance. For what great difference is there, whether men renounce christianity; or professing to believe it, “ do in thcir works deny it?" Some of these fins which I have mention'd, particu
larly murder and adultery, were ranked in the same SER M. degree with apoftafy by the ancient church; and so
CXXI. severe was the discipline of many churches, that persons guilty of these crimes were never admitted to the peace and communion of the church again, whatever testimony they gave of their repentance. I will not say but this was too rigorous; but this shews how inconöstent with christianity these crimes, and others of the like degree of heinousness, were in those days thought to be. They did not indeed, as Tertullian tells us, think such persons absolutely incapable of the mercy of God; but after such a fall, so notorious a contradiction to their christian profession, they thought it unfit afterwards that they should ever be reckonid in the number of christians.
5thly, It may be useful for us upon this occasion to reflect a little upon the ancient discipline of the church, which in some places (as I have told you) was fo severe, as in case of some great crimes after baptism, as apoitaly to the heathen idolatry, murder, and adultery, never to admit those that were guilty of them, to the peace and communion of the church; but all churches were so strict, as not to admit those who fell after baptism into great and notorious crimes, to reconciliation with the church, but after a long and tedious course of penance, after the greatest and moit publick testimonies of sorrow and repentance, after long fasting and tears, and the greatest signs of humiliation that can be imagined. In case of the greatesl offences they were seldom reconciled, till they came to lie upon their death-beds : and in case of other scandalous sins, not 'till after the humiliation of many years. This perhaps may be thought too great severity; but I am sure we are as
SER M. much too remiss now, as they were over-rigorous
then : but were the ancient discipline of the church in any degree put in practice now, what case would the generality of christians be in? in what herds and shoals would men be driven out of the communion of the church? 'Tis true, the prodigious degeneracy and corruption of christians hath long since broke these bounds, and 'tis morally impossible to revive the strictness of the ancient discipline in any measure, till the world grow better ; but yet we ought to refect, with shame and confusion of face, upon the purer ages of the church, and sadly to consider, how few among us would in those days have been accounted christians; and upon this consideration to be provoked to an emulation of those better times, and to a reformation of those faults and miscarriages, which in the best days of christianity were reckon'd inconsistent with the christian profession; and to remember that though the discipline of the church be not now the same it was then, yet the judgment and severity of God is; and that those who live in any vicious courle of life, though they continue in the communion of the church, yet they sha!! te " fhut « out of the kingdom of God.” “We are sure « that the judgment of God wil be according to “ truth, against them which commit such things."
6thly, and lastly, The consideration of what hath been said, should confirm and establish us in the profession of our holy rel gion, 'Tis true, we are not now in danger of apoitatizing from christianity to the heathen idolatry; but we have too many fad examples of those who apostatize from the profession of the gospel, which they have taken upon them in baptism, to atheilin and infidelity, to all manner of