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usual ; far sooner than we ought to do, perhaps after doing such things as we ought never to cease humbling ourselves for. And when the next temptation comes, the Devil whispers that the burthen of the last sin is not nearly so great as it would have been, had we not repented so bitterly; and we repeat the transgression, in a secret hope that we shall take off the edge of God's anger for it, by presently mourning for it as before. And so we go on, rather downwards than upwards, in a continual course of sinning and repenting. And what can the end be?
May it please God to keep us from such self-deceit as this ! and in order that He may do so, let us deny ourselves the indulgence of feeling, mere feeling, even in the matter of sorrow for our sins. Let us be aware of this particular danger, and pray against it earnestly; pray that He who holds our hearts in His hand, may not suffer our repentance to be unstable as water, pouring itself out in vain and useless lamentation, but may make our sins still continue to taste very bitter in our memory, so that we may at any rate avoid wilfully adding to so grievous and intolerable a burthen.
And it will be a good help to this prayer, if, according to the rule of the Church, we set apart certain times for recollecting and inwardly bewailing these sins of ours, and punishing ourselves too for them, to fix the sting deeper in our memory ; fasting according to our measure, and in other matters refusing ourselves enjoyments, of which we have shown ourselves as yet so very unworthy. For what purpose do you suppose that the Church of England, in the beginning of the Prayer Book, has directed that all Fridays in the year should be reckoned days of Fasting or Abstinence ?
It was of course to humble, and tame, and mortify the unruly souls as well as bodies of men : that they might have set times, coming often over and over, to consider sorrowfully their past misdeeds, and renew that godly sorrow, which they felt so keenly in the first beginnings of their repent
If they do not feed it, it will die away, like a fire which is suffered to go out for want of fuel : but God Almighty will surely bless the endeavours of those who in simplicity and truth vex and punish themselves for their sins; considering that if it was reasonable for them to be bowed down with grief when they first came to a feeling of their wrong conduct, it is equally reasonable at all times after, until they are assured of their pardon by the absolving voice of the ALMIGHTY JUDGE Himself. And that will not be till the last dreadful day.
By such thoughts as these we may strive to correct ourselves, when our good purposes are likely to prove unsteady: and though we may have forfeited all chance of excelling in virtue, yet we, as Reuben seems to have done, may by His mercy become true Penitents. Let us keep our shame ever before us, not in bitter excitement, but soberly and calmly; if so be we may become not unworthy to be plucked as brands out of the burning, and to hear at the last His healing voice, BE OF GOOD CHEER:
THY SINS BE FORGIVEN THEE.
S E R M 0 N CVI.
DANGER OF DESPONDENCY.
1 SAMUEL xii. 20.
And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this great wickedness, yet turn not aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.”
It is, I believe, no very unusual thing, however unwilling we may be to avow it, for persons to give way to a kind of despair, when they are called on to repent of their sins. They say to themselves, “ It is too late now: it is no use pretending to keep the commandments, after so many years of transgression.”
And what is very remarkable, men change all at once into this method of excusing themselves, from one the very contrary to it, in which they have spent all their lives. We know too well, most of us, by experience, how common a thing it is to break God's plain commandments, and yet to keep one's conscience tolerably quiet, with the hope of repenting one day or another. Thus we go on too long, walking presumptuously : fancying we can repent when we will, we fix on this or that time of our life, this or that day, month, or year, this or that turn of our fortunes, beyond which, we promise ourselves, we will surely not go on sinning. Time after time these occasions pass off, and that which we had meant to be our turning point glides as it were away from us, leaving us unimproved, or rather more hardened in sin. At last we get ashamed and tired of dreaming of amendment, and promising it vainly to ourselves : we know by experience
what the end will be, if we again resolve and put off our resolutions : our consciences also have insensibly become hardened, and have lost all horror of sin as it is in itself; and in this state of mind it is no hard matter for the Evil Spirit to pervert our minds in a way exactly opposite to the former, Hitherto we have gone on, quieting ourselves every day with the notion that we might and would repent to-morrow ; but now he keeps whispering to our disordered spirits, “ What if it should be too late for
you to repent at all ?” Hitherto he has flattered us with our good resolutions, that all is sure to come right at last; a day, or even a year, can make no great difference : but now, all of a sudden, he begins reproaching us with the same resolutions, so often made, so quickly and easily broken, and would set us, if he could, sullenly and desperately against ever again making any such good resolution at all.
Against such a snare as this, it would seem that Samuel is guarding the children of Israel, in the remarkable words which you just now heard in the text. “ Fear not; ye have done all this great wickedness, yet turn not aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart." There is some, thing remarkable in the very sound of the words:
Fear not: ye have done all this great wickedness.” Why, how could they choose but fear, with great wickedness on their conscience? But it is plain the words were not intended to check, but to encourage, the wholesome Fear of God. They were to beware of that sullen fear, which would make it impossible for them to repent; they were not to doubt, that wicked as they had been, and irremediable as their wickedness might be in some respects, still their best and only true wisdom lay in following the LORD for the future with all their heart.
Let us look a little more nearly into the case of those Israelites. We may, perhaps, find it more exactly resembling our own than we might imagine at first thought.
The great wickedness which the Israelites had done was this ; that having been especially chosen and set apart by ALMIGHTY God to be His own people, and having so gone on for many years, receiving from Him peculiar and distinguishing favours, they were dissatisfied with their own condition, and rather wished themselves, as said the Prophet Ezekiel, “ like the Heathen, the
families of the countries,” if not directly to serve wood and stone, yet to take liberties of one sort and another, very inconsistent with the pure and holy character of a people redeemed and marked as they were to be God's own.
Their Fathers had many a time fallen into direct Idolatry, as you may read at large in the Book of Judges; but had not, as it seems, formed in their hearts any set purpose of finally forsaking the Lord. They had given way to bad passion and bad example for a time, yet when the scourge came upon them they had repented : but now, as it may appear, they were tired of finding themselves so very completely in God's presence, and under His hand: they would fain have a King like the other nations of the world, because they had a sort of indistinct imagination, that such a change would, as it were, remove them one step further from Him, who had as yet been their only King, the LORD God ALMIGHTY ; of Whose watchful Eye and strict Hand they were weary, having found, by so many years' experience, that they could not swerve at all from His service without immediately feeling His severe judgments. It was a kind of bad liberty which they wanted, and they thought they should come a little nearer to it by having one of their brethren for a King over them, instead of being reminded at every turn that the LORD their God was their King. They might not, perhaps, distinctly say so to themselves, but He who could read their hearts saw clearly that this was, in fact, giving way to the Spirit of unbelief: it was the kind of temper which before long would lead them into actual idolatry again. And they would have less chance than before of effectually recovering themselves from that great sin, having on purpose put a greater distance between themselves and their God.
This was their sin ; most dangerous to themselves, and most affronting to the ALMIGHTY: so that we need not wonder at the severity of Samuel's reproof, nor at the awful warning which God sent them from Heaven, by causing thunder and rain to come in answer to the prayers of the Prophet, at a time of year when such weather was so rare and unlikely, that all perceived and felt that it was God's own miraculous work. It was a voice from above, most mercifully sent, to warn them what would come of it, if they went on in the way which they had begun, and how much worse and more ungodly the temper in which they were