Sermon 7. Chastisement amid Mercy

"Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him." Micah vii. 8, 9.

{94} IT very commonly happens that men, who in youth or early life live in a thoughtless way, without restraint over themselves, not indeed scoffing or objecting against religion, but running into sin more or less according to the accident of external temptations, as time goes on and they get older, or when they get settled in life, or from other causes, become more serious than they were, and turn out what is called respectable and excellent men. Nay, persons who have gone farther than this, who have led really bad lives,—been drunkards and profligates, or even unbelievers, are tamed down in the course of years, and become decent or well conducted, or even religious; nay, not only in appearance religious, but perhaps they become really good men, bent on doing their duty, and making up for what they have done wrong, so that one cannot help feeling love and respect for them. And what is the conduct of the world in such cases? It is very generous, or rather {95} indulgent. It passes over every thing that has happened, and regards and treats them just as if they had never gone wrong. And what again is the conduct towards them of a great number of religious men? They conclude in the case of those who display a fair appearance of seriousness in their present behaviour, that God has absolutely and utterly forgiven all that has passed, as if it had never been committed; and, with that sort of liberality, in so many ways now common, so untrue, yet so easy to those who exercise it, they give away freely what is not theirs to give, and speak and act as if it lay with them to pronounce God's "absolution and remission" of the sins of others. And what effect has such treatment on those who are the subjects of it? Of course, to make them forget that they have been sinners, and to consider themselves on a level with those who have never been sinners. So that they never look back at their past lives with fear; but, rather, when they speak of the past, there is in their tone sometimes even something of tenderness and affection for their former selves;—or at best they speak of themselves in a sort of moralizing way, as they might of sinners they read of, as if it was not now their concern what they then were, or as if the contrast between what they were and are did but set off to advantage their present spiritual state. And thus, without going to those somewhat extreme cases, where a man almost makes his former sins a mode of entering into God's favour, a sort of necessary preparation for being spiritually-minded, and so far a sort of boast and glory, there are a very great many cases, I fear, where persons, religious and well-meaning, {96} according to the ordinary standard, are little or not at all impressed with the notion that their past sins, whether from their moral consequences, or as remembered by God, are a present disadvantage to them.

This, I conceive, in one shape or other, to be a very common state of mind. For instance, I can fancy persons, especially young persons, coming into temptation, and from one cause or other, through God's mercy, escaping from it. Either the temptation went before they could make up their minds to the sin, or their minds were diverted in other ways. And I can fancy them afterwards, it is a shocking thing to say, vexed with themselves that they did not commit the sin to which they were tempted; as if it now would be over,—as if they would not in such a case be worse now than they actually are, and they would have enjoyed the "pleasures of sin for a season," but, as it is, had lost an opportunity. Now a person who so feels, clearly does not understand that sin leaves a burden upon the soul, which has to be got rid of. He thinks it is done and over,—the question of guilt, pollution, punishment not occurring to him. Nothing surely is more common among persons of the most various characters of mind than thus to think that God forgets sin as soon as we forget it.

Again: take another instance, applicable especially at this time. Whole bodies of men rush into sin, and while they sin, even do not allow that they sin, because each shelters himself behind the other, and thinks that what is no one person's sin is no sin at all. This of {97} itself is a strange view of the case, yet it is very common. Men call themselves the nation when they sin in a body, and think that the nation, being a name, has nothing to answer for, and may do what it will; that its acts are only the "course of events," and necessary, as the motion of the earth. They do very rash acts, without the fear of God before their eyes, making large and bold changes (whether allowably or not, is not here the question; their plain fault being that they do not ask themselves whether or not it is allowable,—the question does not enter their minds); I say they make large changes,—they endanger God's holy religion,—they encourage scoffers and deceivers. Then, perhaps, they see they have gone too far, and they change their course; perhaps try to reverse what they have done. Now the thought never crosses them that any one has any thing to repent of; or, if they are determined to put the blame on the nation, that the nation has any thing to repent of. Accordingly, persons who hail the return of any portion of the nation to a sounder state of mind, never hint or seem to feel that a national sin has been committed, that Almighty God has books in which are set down the events of every year and day, books which will be opened at the Day of Judgment, and men judged out of them.

Further: perhaps particular persons have been forward in the evil course, in direct opposition to the cause of truth and holiness; and they change their mind and adopt another line of (what is called) politics. They are right in so doing; but no one ever seems to doubt that the change wipes out the fault, no one ever has {98} the real kindness to hint to them that they have committed a sin: to show any recollection of the past is thought to arise, as it often does, from personal feeling, and to be impolitic and unwise. Such persons are hailed as a succour, not thoughtfully and religiously regarded as penitents.

Many other instances might be given from which it is clear that men commonly think a sin to be cancelled when it is done and over, or, in other words, that amendment is an expiation. If I were to give this tone of mind a name, I should call it a practical Socinianism.

Now it will be answered that the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are sufficient to wash out all sin, and that they really do wash it out. Doubtless; but the question to be decided is, whether He has promised to apply His all-sufficient merits at once on persons doing nothing more than changing their mode of living. Surely if any truth of the Bible is clear, it is that He gives to those who ask, not to those who do not ask. Yet the fact is, as I would maintain, that men in general do not take the trouble to ask, or, in other words, to repent; but they think the change, or apparent change or improvement itself stands instead of repentance, as a sort of means, a sacramental means, imparting forgiveness by itself, by its own virtue, as a work done;—or they think that the state of grace in which they are is such as to absorb (as it were) and consume all sin as fast as it springs up in the heart;—or they think that faith has this power of obliterating and annihilating sin, so that in fact there is nothing on their conscience {99} to repent of. They consider faith as superseding repentance. Such seem to be their thoughts, as far as they have any on the subject.

But, again: it may be objected that we are told that "there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth." But I reply as before, that the persons I am speaking of do not repent, unless the mere fact of amendment be repentance. We may, if we please, maintain that there is no such thing as repentance distinct from amendment; that the feeling, whatever it is, which prompts amendment, is repentance, or includes repentance; that the word repentance is, practically speaking, but a figure of speech, and means reformation. But let us speak plainly, if such is our meaning, and then we shall have to prove it from Scripture. For surely Scripture cannot be said thus to hide or dissipate repentance in other acts or courses of conduct. It surely describes it as a duty, distinct from other duties,—as a condition distinct, though of course inseparable, from other conditions, such as faith and amendment may be. We have instances of acts of faith in Scripture, and instances of acts of repentance; and it would be as reasonable to say there is no such Christian grace as faith, because it is ever joined with and lives in other graces, as to say that repentance is not a real, substantive, and independent exercise of mind, because it presupposes faith, and terminates in amendment. When St. Peter said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God," this was an act of faith; when he "went out and wept bitterly," this was an act of repentance;—when the Prodigal Son said, "I will arise and go to my father," this was an act {100} of faith; when he said, "Make me as one of thy hired servants," this was an act of repentance. When "the Publican did not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner," this was an act of repentance. When the woman who had been a sinner washed our Saviour's feet with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head, this was an act of repentance in one who loved much. When Zacchaeus gave half his goods to the poor, and restored fourfold what he had wrongfully obtained, this was an act of repentance in one who would fain undo the past. They are acts of a mind, lingering and engaged in the past, as hope is engaged in contemplating the future. It is common enough at present to speak lightly of the past, as if it was past and could not be helped, as if we could not reverse the past. We cannot literally reverse it; yet surely instances such as the foregoing are the acts of persons who would if they could; who, as it were, are trying to do so, and in a manner doing so from the intense feeling of their hearts. Regret, vexation, sorrow, such feelings seem to this busy, practical, unspiritual generation as idle; as something despicable and unmanly,—just as tears may be. And many men think it religious to say that such feelings argue a want of faith in Christ's merits. They are unbelieving, they are irrational, if they are nothing more than remorse, bitterness, gloom, and despondency. Such is "the sorrow of the world" which "worketh death." Yet there is a "godly sorrow" also; a positive sorrowing for sin, and a deprecation of its consequences, and that quite distinct from faith or amendment; and {101} this, so far from being a barren sorrow, "worketh," as the Apostle assures us, "repentance to salvation, not to be repented of." "Behold this selfsame thing," continues the Apostle to the Corinthians, "that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea what clearing of yourselves, yea what indignation, yea what fear, yea what vehement desire, yea what zeal, yea what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter." [2 Cor. vii. 10, 11.] Faith, then, neither is repentance, nor stands instead of it.

Here, however, we are met with another objection. It is said if a man be changed in heart and life, this is a plain proof that he has been revisited by God's grace; and if so, he is in God's favour, or in other words, his past sins are already forgiven him. I answer by denying what is here assumed; I would say, then, that a man may be in God's favour, yet his sins not absolutely forgiven; that faith brings him, that is, his person, into God's favour, yet a long repentance may be the only remedy for his past deeds; that faith brings him into God's favour at once, that he may receive grace to repent continually.

It may seem a contradiction, first to say that God loves a man, and next that some remnant of His displeasure is in store for him; but we are so profoundly ignorant of Him, whose thoughts and ways are not as ours, that if we have proof of the fact in His inspired word, it is our wisdom to believe that it is a fact, and leave difficulties to Him who in His good time will explain them. For instance; few persons, comparatively {102} speaking, would maintain that a man once in a state of grace cannot fall away; now here in like manner, it might be asked how can God at present love one whom He has appointed to everlasting punishment? As, then, souls may be at present in God's favour, whom He foresees to be His impenitent enemies, and companions of devils for ever, so others also much more may be in His favour, against whom an unsettled reckoning lies, the issue of which is future, who have certain sins as yet unforgiven, and certain consequences of sins as yet unprovided for. The young man whom our Lord bade give up all and follow Him, went away sorrowful and unforgiven; yet Christ is said to have "loved him." Again, how is it that God is loving over all His works, yet is angry with the wicked? His love then does not necessarily exclude His anger, nor His favour His severity, nor His grace His justice. How He reconciles these together we know not: thus much we know, that those who forsake their sins, and come to Him for grace, are in His favour, and obtain what they need for the day; but that they are forgiven at once for all the past, we do not know.

The following instances from Scripture seem to prove the contrary:—When David, for example, said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord," this act of repentance was allowed to avail for much. "Nathan said unto David, the Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." The extreme debt of sin was remitted; yet the Prophet goes on to say, "Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is {103} born unto thee shall surely die." [2 Sam. xii. 13, 14.] David then had the prospect of a punishment for his sin after it was remitted, and what did he do in consequence? he sought to deprecate God; he exercised in acts of repentance, that life of faith and prayer which had been renewed in him, if so be to deprecate God's wrath. As then he was not allowed to take his restoration as a proof that God would not punish, neither have we any ground to conclude, merely because God vouchsafes to work in us what is good, that therefore what is past will never rise up in judgment against us. It may, or it may not: we trust, nay may cheerfully confide, that if we go on confessing, repenting, deprecating, and making amends, it will not: but there is no reason to suppose it will not unless we do.

Again: Moses was excluded from the promised land for speaking unadvisedly with his lips. Was he therefore "blotted out of God's book?" Was he not in a justified state, though under punishment? and does not that great Saint show us how to meet the prospect of God's judgments, when he earnestly supplicates God to pardon him what seemed so small a sin, and to let him go over Jordan? And can we have a more striking instance of this double condition in which we stand, after sinning and returning, than when so great a Saint as Moses, who was faithful in all the house of God, who saw God's face, and was the mediator for His people, yet beseeches Him, "O Lord God, … I pray Thee, let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon;" and the {104} Almighty remains still unappeased, and "will not hear" him, and says, "Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto Me of this matter?" [Deut. iii. 24-26. [Note]] Yet Moses, though he did not gain all he would by his earnest prayer, gained something. His punishment was lightened. He was allowed to ascend Pisgah, and see the land.

Again: when the prophet from Judah had disobediently turned back to the old prophet's house, and had death denounced against him, and was met by the lion, was he at that moment in God's favour or not? Must we suppose, because he died under a judgment, that he died impenitent and unreconciled, and had his portion with Jeroboam and the worshippers of calves?

However, it may be objected to these instances, that they come from the Old Testament, that they took place before Christ came, and that little indeed is said in the New Testament about the chance of such judgments, and the necessity of such deprecation on the part of Christians. In answer, I allow that there is very little in the New Testament concerning the punishment of Christians; but then there is as little said about their sins; so that if Scripture negatives everything which it is silent about, it would be as easy to show that the Gospel does not belong at all to those who have lapsed into sin, as that punishments are not their portion, and penitential acts not their duty. As the sins of Christians are beyond the ordinary contemplation of Scripture, so are their remedies.

It will take some time to show this of the New Testament, yet it is worth attempting it from its importance. {105} I say, then, that many as are the passages in the New Testament, which describe a state of salvation, none of them, excepting one or two, mention pardon as among the continual privileges of that state, or otherwise than as a gift once given on entering into it. The notion of sins in Christians, other than sins of infirmity, is, for whatever reason, scarcely contemplated in Scripture. And the few texts that speak of pardon, such as "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father," do not deny that means are necessary to interest ourselves in that pardon; whereas there are many texts on the other hand which do allude to acts of penitence and satisfaction as necessary in order to the pardon. For instance, St. Paul, as above cited, speaks of such acts in the case of the Corinthians; and St. James as decisively of "mercy," i.e. almsgiving and the like, "rejoicing against judgment." Now to show this at length.

Now, first, I need hardly call to mind the passages in which sins are expressly declared to be forgiven when persons first enter into the kingdom of God. For instance, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins," [Acts xxii. 16.] says Ananias to St. Paul before his baptism. So St. Peter to the multitude, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins." But what was to follow? "and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." [Acts ii. 38.] This, then, was to be their state henceforth, not a state of sinning, but of the Spirit of holiness; their divine birth and life were such as to need no forgiveness, in the sense in which they had needed it before. Hence in the verses which {106} follow we read, "they continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers … All that believed were together, and had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need; and they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people." [Acts ii. 42-47.] Or again, take St. Paul's description, "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God; and not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience." And so he proceeds enumerating the fruits of the Holy Ghost in the heart, but not a word about fresh sins and fresh forgiveness in that state; as if while we remain in the Holy Ghost, this could not be. Again, in the third chapter of the same Epistle, he speaks of "the remission of sins that are past," not a word of sins which are to come. In another Epistle, he says that Christ is the Mediator "for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first Testament;" he does not say "under the second." St. Peter, in like manner, after going through the parts of a Christian character, faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, and the like, adds, "He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and is forgetful of the cleansing from his former sins." [2 Pet. i. 9.] Thus {107} he reminds such a one of that former cleansing, and is silent about any second cleansing for his lack of holiness. Again, St. John addresses three classes of Christians,—beginners, the manly, and the mature; he reminds the beginners of the forgiveness of their sins, for this was the peculiar privilege of those who were just entering the kingdom—"I write unto you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His Name's sake;" [1 John ii. 12.] but this is not said to the other two; no, the young men in the faith are those who "are strong, and the word of God abideth in them, and they have overcome the wicked one;" and the elders are they who "have known Him that is from the beginning." Thus is Christian life marked out,—first forgiveness, then warfare, then contemplation; whereas the chief notion, that many men now have of a saving state, is but of a warfare which is disgraced with defeat, and of a contemplation disjoined from holiness.

Far different is the Apostles' way of viewing the Christian state. We are taken from sin, not forgiven in it merely. For instance; this is St. Peter's account of our election in Christ—"Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." [1 Pet. ii. 24, 25.] And St. Paul, "Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." [Tit. ii. 14.] You see that the Apostles' one broad idea of a state of salvation {108} is one, not of sinning and being forgiven, but of holiness; though now men often consider that the highest excellence of a Christian is to cry out, "O wretched man that I am!" Again, "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" [Heb. ix. 14.] Again, in another Epistle he speaks of forgiveness emphatically as the forgiveness, the redemption, as if there were but one great forgiveness;—"In whom we have the redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins;" [Eph. i. 7.] and he says just before that, "He hath chosen us … that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." And in another chapter, "Christ … loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify it, cleansing it in the washing of water by the word;" [Eph. v. 26.] then is the forgiveness, and why? The Apostle proceeds, "That He might present it unto Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish."

In like manner, the prayers and good wishes which the Apostles send their brethren do not contain any prayers for forgiveness. This is remarkable; they pray God to bless them, and make them more and more holy, and the like, but not to pardon their sins. Not as if Christians do not sin; I began by assuming that, alas, they do; I only say that the New Testament mainly contemplates them in a higher state, and gives little information how to treat them as we actually find them; and therefore obliges us to have recourse to the Old Testament. {109} For instance, St. Paul prays for the Ephesians, that they may have "the spirit of wisdom and revelation," have the "eyes of their understanding enlightened," discern "the riches of the glory of God's inheritance," and "the exceeding greatness of His power;" may be "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man," and be "rooted and grounded in love." [Eph. i. 17-19; iii. 16, 17.] He prays for the Thessalonians that their "whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ;" [1 Thess. v. 23.] that "God which hath given us everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace, may comfort their hearts, and stablish them in every good word and work;" [2 Thess. ii. 16, 17.] that "the Lord may make them increase and abound in love one toward another … to the end that He may establish their hearts unblameable in holiness before God;" [1 Thess. iii. 13.] what a strong word "unblameable" is, and "unblameable before God!" This was what He aimed at for them, not that they should be forgiven, but that they should not sin. Again, for the Hebrews, that God would "make them perfect in every good work to do His will, working in them that which is well-pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ." [Heb. xiii. 21.] In like manner, St. Peter prays for his brethren, that God may "perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle them;" [1 Pet. v. 10.] and St. Jude exhorts them "building up themselves on their most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, to keep themselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life," {110} and gives glory to Him "who is able to keep them from falling" (he does not say to pardon, as if that was the end of the Gospel), "and to present them before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy." Now, considering the number of passages I have quoted, surely it is very remarkable, even before we know what is to be found in other places, even supposing a forgiveness of sins, after the one great forgiveness and like it, is mentioned somewhere else, it is very remarkable (I say) that it should not be mentioned in all these. Can we doubt that under the Gospel sins were not to be expected, to say the least; and, as far as these passages go, were not provided for in it?

But let us turn our thoughts to some more extended passages of Scripture. Consider, for instance, St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, detached passages of which have already been cited. The whole of it is addressed to Christians; and though there is abundant mention of their blessedness as being such, in various ways, yet the idea of continual forgiveness does not suggest itself as one of their privileges;—just as the forgiveness of sins is not mentioned as a privilege to be enjoyed by Saints in heaven, or by the Angels, for they do not need it, in like manner, Christians are called from sin unto holiness, and at least ought not to need it. Thus in the fourth and fifth chapters there is a description of the Church in the way of precept which exactly answers to its actual state, as described in history, in the second chapter of the Acts. Christians were to be followers of God as dear children, to walk in love as Christ had loved them, to walk circumspectly, to redeem the time, to be filled {111} with the Spirit, and to be instant in praises and thanksgivings. Grievous crimes are mentioned also, and we are warned against them; but how? does St. Paul for an instant suppose that a Christian, remaining a Christian, can be guilty of them? Does he say, if a Christian is unclean, or covetous, or the like, that of course he must repent indeed and amend, but still that he is safe if he has faith? Far from it; he speaks as if such sins were impossible in Christians; he does not enter into the case of a Christian who has been guilty of them. "For this ye know, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, … hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." Therefore the Apostle warns his brethren not to be "partakers with the children of disobedience, for they were darkness, but are light in the Lord," in that Spirit, whose fruit is "goodness, righteousness, and truth," and in that light which detects all that is evil; for the words have been spoken over them, "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light."

Now consider, again, the sixth and eighth chapters of the Romans, which are more remarkable because they are in contrast with other parts of the Epistle. In the seventh chapter, St. Paul speaks of a state in which there was no forgiveness also; but of what state? one of spiritual death and despair; our state by nature. In it the absence of pardon is the cause of eternal woe, but in the Christian state it is the consequence of the gift of grace. The Apostle declares that there is no condemnation to those who are in the Spirit; why? because "the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in them;" how? by {112} "the law of the Spirit of life," or (as he says in the Epistle last quoted) because the fruit of the Spirit is "goodness, righteousness, and truth." Again, in the sixth chapter, which also describes the Christian state, there is not a hint of forgiveness being a special privilege of a state of grace; but rather Christians, "being made free from sin," are said to become "the servants of righteousness." All this is very different from what the Apostle said in the third chapter, when speaking of our state by nature, and justification out of it. There forgiveness of sins is dwelt on. It is remarkable that it should then be dwelt on and that it should not afterwards.

Once more, consider the first chapter of St. James's Epistle. There temptation is spoken of, as it is by St. Paul in a passage already quoted. St. Paul speaks of it, not as causing us to fall, but as a means of our becoming holier. "We glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed," [Rom. v. 3-5.] or as the Psalmist says, "They had an eye unto Him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed;" [Ps. xxxiv. 5.] —there is no shame in the Church. Such is St. Paul's view of trial to the Christian; such is St. James's also; "My brethren," he says, "count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience; and let patience have her perfect work." [James i. 2-4.] Then he bids them ask of God wisdom, speaks of good gifts and perfect gifts coming from the Father of Lights, and of pure religion and {113} undefiled; but not a word of sins to be forgiven: on the contrary, he declares that wilful sin, such as temptations may occasion, is the beginning of a course which "when finished bringeth forth death;" whereas the real Christian overcomes temptation, or, as St. John says, "overcomes the world," not falls under it. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him;" words which singularly correspond to St. Paul's at the end of his trial, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing." [2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.] Moreover, there is this additional remark to be made about St. James's Epistle, that, whereas there are one or two passages in which he addresses, not Christians, but Jews, there he does speak at once of conversion, submission, purification, and approach to God. Now it is not strange he should speak of these things to the unregenerate; but it is strange he should not also speak of them to Christians, if he contemplated the case of Christians reducing themselves to a state like that of the unregenerate. Since, then, he, as well as the other Apostles, does not treat of an unhappy condition, which now occurs so frequently, it is not wonderful that he and they do not give its symptoms, dangers, or remedies, or enlarge, whether upon those judgments or those penitential observances, which in the case of sinners as yet unregenerate, the Gospel and the Old Testament describe. {114}

However, I observe lastly, there are instances of declension both of faith and conduct in the Corinthians and Galatians. St. Paul writes to both. He arraigns and remonstrates with them. Does he give them one hint that if they believe in Christ's atoning power, those particular sins of theirs will be at once remitted?

To sum up then, and apply what I have said:—When Christians have gone wrong in any way, whether in belief or in practice, scandalously or secretly, it seems that pardon is not explicitly and definitely promised them in Scripture as a matter of course; and the mere fact that they afterwards become better men, and are restored to God's favour, does not decide the question whether they are in every sense pardoned; for David was restored and yet was afterwards punished. It is still a question whether a debt is not standing against them for their past sins, and is not now operating or to operate to their disadvantage. What its payment consists in, and how it will be exacted, is quite another question, and a hidden one. It may be such, if they die under it, as to diminish their blessedness in heaven; or it may be a sort of obstacle here to their rising to certain high points of Christian character; or it may be a hindrance to their ever attaining one or other particular Christian grace in perfection,—faith, purity, or humility; or it may prevent religion taking deep root within them and imbuing their minds; or it may make them more liable to fall away; or it may hold them back from that point of attainment which is the fulfilment of their trial; or it may forfeit for them the full assurance of hope; or it may lessen their peace and comfort in the intermediate {115} state, or even delay their knowledge there of their own salvation; or it may involve the necessity of certain temporal punishments, grievous bodily disease, or sharp pain, or worldly affliction, or an unhappy death. Such things are "secrets of the Lord our God,"—not to be pried into, but to be acted upon. We are all more or less sinners against His grace, many of us grievous sinners; and St. Paul and the other Apostles give us very scanty information what the consequences of such sin are. God may spare us, He may punish. In either case, however, our duty is to surrender ourselves into His hands, that He may do what He will. "It is the Lord," said pious Eli, when judgment came on him, "let Him do what seemeth Him good." Only let us beg of Him not to forsake us in our miserable state; to take us up where we are, and make us obey Him under the circumstances into which sin has brought us. Only let us beg of Him to work all repentance and all righteousness in us, for we can do nothing of ourselves, and to enable us to hate sin truly, and confess it honestly, and deprecate His wrath continually, and to undo its effects diligently, and to bear His judgments cheerfully and manfully. Let us beg of Him the spirit of faith and hope, that we may not repine or despond, or account Him a hard master; that we may learn lovingly to adore the hand that afflicts us, and, as it is said, to kiss the rod, however sharply or long it smites us; that we may look on to the end of all things, which will not tarry, and to the coming of Christ which will at length save us, and not faint on the rough way, nor toss upon our couch of thorns; in a word, that we may make the words {116} of the text our own, which express all that sinners, repentant and suffering, should feel, whether towards God or towards their tempter. "Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him; until He plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold His righteousness."

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Note

Vid. also Exod. xxxii. 34.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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