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a will to choose or reject what is propounded to them, are capable of a law' to direct and regulate their liberty.
To man a law was given by the Creator, (the copy of his wisdom and will) that has all the perfections of a rule: it is clear and complete, enjoining what is essentially good, and forbidding what is essentially evil. God governs man conveniently to his nature: and no service is pleasing to him but the result of our reason and choice, the obedience of our supreme leading powers. Since the fall, the light of the understanding compared with the bright discovery it afforded of our whole duty in our original state, is either like the twilight of the evening, the faint and dim remains of the light of the day, when night draws a dark veil over the world, or like the dawning of the morning, when the rising sun begins to scatter the darkness of the night. The latter comparison I think is more just and regular; for it is said, that the Son of God “ enlightens every man that comes into the world.” The innate light discovers there is a straight line of truth to regulate our judgment, and a straight line of virtue to regulate our actions. Natural conscience is a principle of authority, directing us to choose and practise virtue, and to avoid vice; and according to our neglect or compliance with its dictates reAects upon us.
It is hardly presumable that any are so prodigiously wicked, as not to be convinced of the natural rectitude in things : they can distinguish between what is fair and what is fraudulent in dealings, and acknowledge in the general, and in judging of others, the equity of things, though they elude the force of the conviction in the application to themselves. Now since common reason discovers there is a common rule, there must be a common judge to whom men are accountable for the obliquity or conformity of their actions to that rule. The law of God is revealed in its purity and perfection in the scrip
The law binds first to obedience, and in neglect of it to punishment. Sin is defined by St. John to be “ the transgression of the law.” The omission of what is commanded, or doing what is forbidden, is a sin. Not only the lusts that break forth into action and evidence, but inward inclinations, contrary to the law, are sin. From hence results a guilt upon every sinner, which includes the imputation of the fault, and obligation to punishment. There is a natural connexion between the evil of doing, and the evil of suffering : the violation of the law is justly
revenged by the violation of the person that breaks it. It is an impossible imagination, that God should give a law not enforced with a sanction. This would cast a blemish upon his wisdom, for the law would cancel itself, and defeat his ends in giving it: it would reflect a high dishonour upon his holy majesty, as if he were indifferent with respect to virtue or vice, and disregarded our reverence or rebellion against his authority. The apostle declares, that “ all the world are become guilty before God;" that is, justly chargeable with their crimes, and liable to his judgment. The act of sin is transient, and the pleasure vanishes; but the guilt, if not pardoned and purged away, remains for ever in the records of conscience. 66 The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond; it is graven on the tables of the heart.” When the books of eternal life and death shall be opened at the last day, all the unpardoned sins of men, with their killing aggravations, will be found written in indelible characters, and shall be set in order before their eyes, to their confusion : “the righteous Judge has sworn he will forget none of their works." According to the number and heinousness of their sins, a sentence shall pass upon them: no exeuses shall suspend the judgment, nor mitigate the immediate execution of it.
The forgiveness of sins contains the abolition of their guilt, and freedom from the deserved destruction consequent to it. This is expressed by various terms in scripture. Pardon relates to some damage and offence which the offended party may severely vindicate. Now although the blessed God in strictness of speaking can receive no damage by rebellious creatures, being infinitely above the impression of evil : yet as our Saviour speaks of one that looks upon a woman with an impure desire, that he has committed adultery with her in his heart, though the innocence of the woman be unstained; so the sins of men, being acts of foul ingratitude against his goodness, and notorious unrighteousness against his authority, are in a sense injurious to him, which he might justly revenge upon them, but his clemency spares them. The “not imputing sin" is borrowed from the accounts of servants with their masters ; and implies the account we are obliged to render the supreme Lord for all his benefits which we have so wretchedly misimproved : he might righteously exact of us ten thousand talents that are due to him,
but he is graciously pleased to cross the book, and freely to discharge us. The“ purging from sin,” implies it is very odious and offensive in God's eyes, and has a special respect to the expiatory sacrifices, of which it is said, that “ without blood there was no remission.” This was typical of the precious blood of the Son of God that purges the conscience “ from dead works;" from the deadly guilt of sin that cleaves to the conscience of the sinner. By the application of his blood the crimson guilt is washed away, and the pardoned sinner is accepted as one pure and innocent.
2. I shall next demonstrate, that forgiveness belongs to God. This will be evident by the following considerations.
First. It is the high and peculiar prerogative of God to pardon sin. His authority made the law, and gives life and vigour to it, therefore he can remit the punishment of the offender. This is evident from the proportion of human laws : for though subordinate judges have only a limited power, and must acquit or condemn according to the law, yet the sovereign may dispense with it. This is declared in scripture by God himself: “ I, even I am he, that blots out thy transgressions for my name sake :" Isa. 43. he repeats it with an emphasis. He is proclaimed with this royal title; " the Lord, gracious and merciful, pardoning iniquity, transgression and sin.” It is a dispensation of divine sovereignty to pardon the guilty.
It is true, God pardons as a father, according to that most gracious promise, “ I will spare them, as a father spares his son that serves him ;” Mal. 3. but as invested with the dignity of a sovereign. Our Saviour directs us, in the perfect form of prayer dictated to his disciples, to pray to God for the forgiveness of our sins, as “ our Father sitting in heaven” upon a high throne, from whence he pronounces our pardon. His majesty is equally glorious with his mercy in that blessed dispensation. Ilis royal supremacy is more conspicuous in the exercise of mercy towards repenting sinners, than in the acts of justice upon obstinate offenders. As a king is more a king by the pardoning humble suppliants by the operation of his sceptre, than in subduing rebels by the power of the sword : for in acts of grace he is above the law, and overrules its rigour, in acts of vengeance he is only superior to his enemies. It is the peculiar prerogative of God to pardon sin. The prophet challenges all the reputed deities of the heathens as defective in this royal power : “ who is a God like unto thee, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin ?" Mic. 7. The pharisees said true, “ who can forgive sins but God only ?” For it is an act of empire. The judicial power to pardon is a flower inseparable from the crown : for it is founded in a superiority to the law, therefore inconsistent with a depending authority. A creature is as incapable of the supremacy of God in pardoning sin, as of his omnipotence to create a world : for they are both truly infinite. Besides, the power of pardoning sins, necessarily implies an universal knowledge of the minds and hearts of men, which are the fountains of their actions : and according to their ingrediency the moral good or evil of them rises. The more deliberately and wilfully a sin is committed, the sinner incurs a greater guilt, and is obnoxious to a more heavy punishment. Now no creature can dive into the hearts of men: “ they are naked and open to the piercing eye of God alone.” Add farther, the authoritative power to pardon, has necessarily annexed to it the active power of dispensing rewards and punishments. Now the Son of God alone “ has the keys of life and death in his hands."
It may be objected, that our Saviour declares, that “ the Son of Man has power to forgive sins.” The answer to this will be clear by considering, there are two natures in Christ; the divine nature, that originally belongs to him, and is proper to his person; and the human nature, which is as it were adoptive, and was voluntarily assumed. Now the divine person is the sole principle and subject of this royal dignity, but it is exercised in its conjunction with the human nature, and attributed to the Son of Man : - as in the humiliation of Christ, the principles of his sufferings, and the actual sufferings, are solely in the human nature, but upon the account of the personal union, they are attributed to the divine person. It is said, “ the Lord of glory was crucified,” and “the blood of God” redeemed his church.
The church of Rome, with high presumption, arrogates to their priests a judicial power of forgiving sins : and by the easy folly of the people, and crafty deceit of their instructors, exercise a jurisdiction over conscience. To avoid the imputation of blasphemy, they pretend there is a double power of forgiving, supreme and subordinate; the first belongs to God, the other is
delegated by commission to the ministers of the gospel. But this is an irreconcileable contradiction : for the power to pardon is an efflux of supremacy, and incommunicable to the subject. A prince that invests another with an absolute power to pardon, must either relinquish his sovereignty, or take an associate to share in it. This pretence of the papists is such a lame evasion, as that which they are forced to make use of to clear themselves from the charge of idolatry in their worship of angels and saints : their excuse is, that their worship of angels and saints is inferior in degree, and imperfectly divine; as if there could be different degrees in divine worship, which is absolutely and necessarily supreme. The ministers of the gospel have only a declarative power, as heralds or ambassadors, to propose the terms of the gospel for the obtaining pardon, and to apply the promise of pardon to those who appear qualified for it. But to pronounce and dispense pardon, they have no judicial authority: for it is not presumable that the wise God should invest men with that authority which they are utterly incapable to exercise.
Secondly. God is ready to forgive. The power to pardon without an inclination to it, affords no relief in the agonies of an accusing conscience, and the terrors of eternal judgment. The merciful will of God declared in his word, is the foundation of our blessed hope, and encourages us in our requests before his throne : “ for thou Lord art good, and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all that call upon thee.” Psal. 86.
The attribute of which pardon is an emanation, is usually expressed by grace and mercy. It is said, the “ grace of God that brings salvation has appeared unto all men : we are saved by grace.” Grace implies free favour. There is in this respect a difference between love and grace. Love may be set upon an object worthy of it. The primary object of God's love is himself, whose excellent and amiable perfections are worthy of infinite love. The love of parents to children is a duty most clearly natural, and duty lessens the desert of performing it; but grace is exclusive of all merit and dignity in the subject, and of all obligation in the person that shows it. God's most free preventing grace is exercised without any motive in us that deserves it.
The grace of God may be considered as exercised in our crea tion and our redemption. In the creation it was absolutely free : for angels and men were in the state of nothing, there was only