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of temptation; which are usually called sins of infirmity or surprise; these, though real, are yet less offences. And if, lastly, we act wrong through invincible ignorance, that is, have no means of knowing better; then the action is not, strictly speaking, a fault in us, though it be in itself. But if we might, with a reasonable attention, have known our duty, and did not attend; we are justly blamable, even for a careless ignorance, and full as much for a designed one, as if we had known ever so well.
Another difference in the kinds of sins is this: that though they be only in smaller instances, yet if persons take so little pains to guard against them, that they live in a constant or frequent practice of them, which are called habitual sins ;the guilt of these may be full as heavy as that of greater transgressions, provided they be less common. But if they be great, and habitually indulged also, that makes the worst of cases.
Committing sin can never be a slight matter; for it is acting as our own hearts tell us we ought not. It is likewise, for the most part, injuring, one way or another, our fellowcreatures; and it is always behaving undutifully and ungratefully to our Creator, who hath sovereign power over us, and shows continual goodness to us. We may be sure therefore, that the punishment due to the least sin, is such as will give us cause to wish from the bottom of our souls, that we had never done it. More enormous ones are of worse desert, according to their degree. And since recompenses proportionable to them are not, with any constancy, distributed in this world; as certainly as God is just, they will in the next, unless we obtain forgiveness in the mean time: and all will be made miserable, as long as they are wicked.
This is the main of what human abilities unassisted seem capable of discovering to us concerning sin and its consequences: excepting it be, that as we have a natural approbation of what is good, so we have, along with it, a natural proneness to what is evil: an inconsistence, for which reason finds it hard, if possible, to account.
But here most seasonably revelation comes in; and teaches, not indeed all that we might wish, but all that we need to know of this whole matter: That, our first parents were created upright but soon transgressed a plain and easy command of
God, intended for a trial of their obedience; by which they perverted and tainted their minds; forfeited the immortality, which God had designed them; brought diseases and death on their bodies; and derived to us the same corrupt nature and mortal condition, to which they had reduced themselves. An imperfect illustration of this lamentable change, and I give it for no other, we may have from our daily experience, that wretched poverty, fatal distempers, and even vicious inclinations, that often descend from parents to their children. Now the sinful dispositions, which our origin from our primitive parents hath produced in us, are called original sin. And this transgression of theirs may, very consistently with divine justice, occasion, as the scripture shows it hath, our being condemned, as well as they, to temporal sufferings and death. For even innocent creatures have no right to be exempt from them; and to fallen creatures they are peculiarly instructive and medicinal. The same transgression may also, with equal justice, occasion our being exposed to a more difficult trial of our obedience, than we should else have undergone; indeed than we should be able, by the strength which remains in us, to support. And thus, were we left to ourselves, we must, in consequence of the fall of our first progenitors, become finally miserable. But God is ready to give us more strength, if we will ask it and he may undoubtedly subject us to any difficulties that he pleases, provided he bestows on us, whether naturally or supernaturally, the power of going through them in the manner that he expects from us: which he certainly doth bestow on all men. And if they use it, they will be accepted by him in a proper degree: what that is, we are no judges.
But when, instead of resisting our bad inclinations, as through the grace of God we may, we voluntarily follow and indulge them; then we fall into actual sin; and are, in strictness of speech, guilty, and deserving of punishment. And this punishment the scripture frequently expresses by the name of Death. For Death being the most terrible to human nature, of all the punishments that man inflicts, it is used to signify the most terrible that God inflicts; even those which extend beyond death, and are therefore called the second death. [Rev. xx. 14. xxi. 8.] Accordingly our Saviour directs his followers: 'Be not afraid of them that kill the body: and after that, have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye
shall fear. Fear him, which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell yea, I say unto you, fear him.'
The nature and duration of the future sufferings, reserved for sinners, are most awfully described in the word of God: we all know them to be such, as may abundantly suffice to engage us in a most serious enquiry, how we shall obtain, what was proposed to be explained,
II. The forgiveness of sins. Now thus much our own reason evidently teaches; that when we have done amiss, we are to undo it as far as we can. We are to disapprove it, and be sorry for it, as we have great cause; to beg pardon of God, for having offended him; to make the best amends we are able to our fellow-creatures, if we have injured them; to be very humble in our hearts, and very watchful in our future conduct. These things, through God's help, we can do; and these are all that nature directs us to do. Undoubtedly he will never accept less: but the question is, Whether he will so far accept this, as to be reconciled to us upon it. Since wickedness deserves punishment, it may be justly punished. Being sorry for it, is not being innocent of it. And the most careful obedience afterwards no more makes a compensation for what went before, than avoiding to run into a new debt pays off the old one: besides that we never obey so well, as not to add continually some degree of fresh misbehaviour. God indeed is merciful; but he is equally righteous and holy, and abhorrent of sin. And what can the mere light of our own understandings discover to us, with any assurance, from these attributes joined? We see that, in this world, the most merciful rulers, if they are just and wise also, which God is, often punish even those offenders who repent the most heartily. The honour and good order of their government require it. And why may he not have reasons of the same, or even of a different nature, for doing the same thing?
Still the case of penitents must be more favourable than that of others. And there is ground for all such to hope, that such pity, as can, will be shown them in some manner, though they cannot be sure how, or to what effect. And God hath been pleased to confirm this hope, from time to time, by various Revelations, gradually unfolding his gracious designs: till, by the coming of our blessed Lord, the whole purpose of his goodness was opened; as far as it is proper, that mortals should> be acquainted with it.
From these Revelations, contained in the Bible, we learn, that repentance alone, even the completest, would not be suffi cient to reinstate us fully in God's favour; much less the poor endeavours towards it, which we of ourselves are capable of using: but that our pardon and salvation depend on the compassionate Intercession of a Mediator appointed by our heavenly Father: that a Person, who should deliver mankind from the bitter fruits of their transgressions, had in general been promised, and the promise been believed, from the earliest ages; and more particular notices of him gradually imparted to the successive generations of the chosen people: that at length, in the season which infinite wisdom saw to be fittest, he appeared on earth, in the character of the only-begotten Son of God; taught his followers the precepts, and set them the example, of perfect piety and virtue; and after bearing cheerfully, for this purpose, all the inconveniences of mortal life, submitted to suffer a cruel death from wicked men, provoked by the perfections which they ought to have adored: that this voluntary sacrifice of himself, the Almighty was pleased to accept from him, whose divine nature, united to the human, gave it unspeakable value as a reason for entering into a covenant of mercy with all those, who should be influenced, by faith in his doctrines, to obey his laws: that still neither our obedience, nor our faith itself, is at all meritorious, or in any degree the cause of our acceptance: for they are both of them God's gift: and they are both, through our fault, very imperfect: but yet that thankful belief in Christ, as our Saviour from the power and the punishment of sin, working by Love' to our Maker, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier, our fellow-creatures, is appointed the condition of our obtaining, and the instrument of our receiving, pardon.
The reasons of this appointment we see, as through a glass darkly; yet enough of them to convince us of its being the Wisdom of God,' though in a mystery.' With respect to ourselves, it hath the most powerful tendency to inspire us with humility, gratitude, and diligence. With respect to the blessed Jesus, it was a fit reward for what he had done and suffered, to take those into favour again, for whom he had interested himself with such inexpressible goodness. And with respect to God, it was a strong demonstration of his concern for the glory of his attributes, and the honour of his
government, that he would not be reconciled to sinners on any other terms, than such an interposition of such a person in their behalf: which yet, since he himself provided, as well as accepted, his kindness to us is no less, than if he pardoned us without it. Thus then did Mercy and Truth meet together, Righteousness and Truth kiss each other;' and God show himself just, and yet the Justifier of them which believe in Jesus.' [Rom. iii. 26.]
But then we must always remember, that none will be forgiven and made happy by the means of Christ, but they who are reformed and made holy by his means: that his sacrifice is not to stand instead of our repentance and amendment; but is the consideration which induces God first to work in us pious dispositions, then to accept us, if we cultivate and exert them faithfully.
Perhaps the benefit of this sacrifice may extend, in a very valuable, though inferior degree, even to those who have had little or no knowledge of him who offered it. But in such questions we have no concern. Our business is to take care that it may extend to us, by embracing, with an active, as well as joyful faith, the gracious tenders of the gospel dispensation.
Indeed, the first advantage, that we have from it, is before we are capable of knowing our happiness, at the time of our baptism. For baptism restores the infants of believing parents to that assurance of immortal life, which our first parents lost, and we by consequence. But when administered to persons of riper years, as it conveys a further privilege, the pardon of their former actual sins, it also requires a suitable condition, the exercise of an actual faith, such as will produce future obedience. And as infants are baptized only on presumption of their coming to have this faith in due time; so, if they live, and refuse to be instructed in it, or despise it, their baptism will avail them nothing. For it is a covenant: at first indeed made for us; but to be afterwards acknowledged and ratified by us, as it is in confirmation. And in this covenant we engage, on our part, to keep ourselves, with an honest care, free from sin: and God engages, on his, to consider us, (not because of our care, though on condition of it, but for the sake of Christ,) as free from guilt; notwithstanding such infirmities and failings as may overtake well meaning persons. He will not look on these as breaches of his covenant, but readily pass them over;