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it may not prove their last state,) is surely much worse than their first : as much so, as impenitent wicked Christians are worse than mere ignorant heathens.
There is however among Christians one kind of wickedness, more particularly answering to our Saviour's description in the text; the wickedness of those who relapse into any sin, after they appear to be cured of it, when, by the Grace of God's good Spirit, the habit of ill-doing appears to be broken, and they seem to be able to keep themselves in order. Concerning such as these, I suppose, the Apostle St. Peter gives us warning: “If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world by the knowledge of the LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they had known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it has bappened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”
It seems that the Apostle is speaking, more especially, of such sins as the word "pollution” would lead us to think of; such sins as are not fit to be named, much less practised, among Christians. Into these “ sinful lusts of the flesh," he seems to say, a relapse after penitence is especially to be dreaded; and sad experience shows us the reason. It very rarely indeed happens,
that persons who have once, by God's special Grace, been recovered from sins of that kind, if they again fall into the same evil habit, finish by an effectual repentance at last. Their hearts become cold, and hard, and dead; after one or two relapses, they scarcely think it worth while to repent, knowing as they do by fatal experience, how likely they are to sin again ; and thus, in mind and desire at least, they do not leave off sinning till
Consider again the case of the drunkard. Suppose a man, touched with remorse, beholding the misery his wicked selfishness causes to those who are nearest, and ought to be dearest to him ; and, moved to remorse by the good Spirit of God, suppose such a man to leave off his dangerous habit; suppose him to resist so many temptations as to be now reckoned a sober man.
If he is not a religious man too; if he has not used himself every day to beg pardon at the foot of the Cross, and to implore the Grace of the Holy Spirit; it is but too likely that in some unguarded hour the old temptation will prevail against him : he will be again entangled therein, and overcome; and having once given way, the devil will find no great difficulty in persuading him that he may as well give way twice, then three times, and so on, as often as may happen to be pleasant or convenient. Whenever his conscience begins to smite him, whenever God's Providence sends a warning, or calls him by the motions of His good SPIRIT, the chilling thought will arise at the same time, “I have tried all this before, and it ended in nothing; it will be but trouble lost. I may just as well enjoy myself as other people do, and think no more of it.” Thus the wretched drunkard goes on, plunging into sin deeper and deeper, till his conscience is seared with a hot iron, and he quite loses all wish to repent.
By these two examples of sensuality and intemperance (and it is much the same in all other sins), you see that a man's condition is naturally worse after relapsing than before repentance : to which the Scripture teaches us to add, that he is in a spiritual sense far worse off, because he has done so much more towards grieving God's Holy Spirit. It is somewhat in the same way, as when any person in worldly matters falls into error and imprudence, after having been repeatedly checked in it by the warnings of a kind and good friend. The friend, vexed and offended, departs, and checks and warns him no more. So when people wilfully relapse, after they had found by their own experience that the Heavenly COMFORTER was willing to help them,—that they might be good if they would use the means of grace ;—this is just provoking Him to do as He did to the Jews in His anger; to give them up to their own hearts’ lusts, and let them follow their own imaginations. And if they have not God's Holy SPIRIT to help them, how can they go right for a single moment?
What then is to be done, seeing relapses are so very dangerous, and human nature so very weak? Some, perhaps, may try to flatter themselves, that they may as well continue in their first sin, and spare themselves the trouble of all kinds of repentance. That is, having a sickness on them, which is sure to be mortal, left to itself, they will not take the only medicine which can cure
them, lest they should fail to take it properly, and relapse and die after all. I trust there are some at least here, who are more grateful to their Saviour, and more careful of their souls, than to deal so madly, so unkindly, with them. They will consider, what our LORD has pointed out as the true reason of these sad and frequent relapses. The evil spirit in the parable, returning to his house whence he came out, found it empty, swept, and garnished ; and therefore it was no hard matter for him to enter in and dwell there, and seven worse spirits with him. So when any man's darling, bosom sin had appeared to be cast out by the
grace of God, it is but too common for that man to be found, when next the same temptation returns, with a mind empty, swept, and garnished to entertain it. That is, though men leave off their transgression for a while, they do not in earnest turn their hearts towards other and better things; they do not fill up
the void in their desires, with thoughts of Him, who is their only hope, Christ crucified for their sins; they do not humbly and constantly seek that Grace and Strength from above, without which they can do nothing against God's enemies and their own. They imagine they have done great things in turning for awhile from some one evil habit; quite forgetting that God would have them not only obey Him but love Him; would have them love Him in Christ Jesus, with all their heart, and all their soul, and all their mind, and all their strength. That is the only preparation of heart which will enable you to resist your spiritual enemy, when having been once repulsed, he returns to the charge, in the hope of taking you unawares. An earnest wish to please Him who laid down His life for you, cherished and maintained by fervent prayer for the help of His Almighty Spirit, and by humble communion with Him in all the ways which He has ordained; this will keep you armed at all points. But without this true Christian piety, your partial amendments for the world's sake will not secure you from grievous relapses; will not free you from the sentence of those, who shall be found at the last day to have received the grace of God in vain.
PRACTICAL FAITH, THE CONDITION OF LIFE.
St. John jji. 36.
“ He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not
the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him."
This one verse contains in a short space, the whole Gospel of
say, His terrors as well as His mercies, because of those who think of the Gospel as if it were all made up of mercy, and of God, as if He were all love-all love and mercy in such a sense as to do away with His anger against sin, and with a reasonable fear of eternal damnation. It is true, He is all love, but yet so as to leave room for the execution of His threatenings against the impenitent.
His Gospel is all mercy, but yet there is such a place as Hell-fire prepared for those who obstinately reject it. Nay, this very thing, that Hell-fire is there distinctly revealed, makes a part of God's mercy by the Gospel. It is distinctly revealed, that those who are in danger of it, may hear and fear, and earnestly avoid it. Is not this one of the greatest of mercies ? an unspeakable instance of the tenderest and most fatherly
We may wish to hide our eyes from it, but the New Testament will not let us forget that God is greatly to be feared, as well as dearly to be loved. Our LORD and His Apostles speak throughout the same language as His great Forerunner in the text : “ He
that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
First comes the message of mercy : and happy they who will listen to it, and obey it, without needing the warning that follows. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” He hath it, says the Baptist, already: it is not affirmed that he will have it hereafter. By God's gracious promise and covenant he has it, as surely as any one who has the deeds of a house or an estate may be said to have the house or estate itself. Thus every good Christian is already entered on everlasting life. He sees it before him at the end of his journey ; God means it for him, and he cannot miss of it, provided he continue in the same humble practical way in which, by God's grace, he has set out. He knows, indeed, that he must die, and lie down in the grave for a while : but the sting of his death is taken out by the comfortable remembrance of His Saviour's Cross. He must die : but, according to the promise of his LORD, he “shall never taste of death.”
Such is, in part, everlasting life; but who are they for whom it is prepared ? The text tells us plainly. There is but one sort of person whom God will judge worthy of so great a blessing. It is " he that believeth on the Son." Not simply “ who believeth Him:" for the devils also, and lost spirits of the impenitent, believe what our SAVIOUR taught. They believe and tremble; they cannot choose but do so. But it is a faith which does them no good, and, of course, must be very different from that faith, which, according to the Covenant of the Gospel, entitles the repenting sinner to life everlasting. That is expressed in the text and in other places, not by merely believing, but by believing on our REDEEMER: that is, putting our whole trust in Him; surrendering ourselves, our souls and bodies, to His holy care and keeping ; giving ourselves up to Him to do what He will with us, and looking for no comfort or happiness any way but through Him. This is believing on the Son; it is much more than merely believing what He says : although, of course, whoever believes on Him will, of course, take all His words for truth, knowing them to be the words of God, who cannot lie.
You may understand the difference plainly enough by con