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THE DANGER OF ALL KNOWN SIN, BOTH FROM THE LIGHT OF NATURE AND REVELATION.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath shewed it unto them.—Rom. i. 18, 19.
I HAVE handled four of the observations which I raised from these words; and shall now proceed to the other two that remain.
The fifth observation was, That the natural knowledge which men have of God, if they live contrary to it, is a sufficient evidence of their holding the truth of God in unrighteousness. For the reason why the apostle chargeth them with this, is, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest, in that God hath shewed it unto them.”
There is a natural knowledge of God, and of the duty we owe to him, which the apostle calls τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ, that of God which is obvious to be known by the light of nature, and is as much as is absolutely necessary for us to know. There is something of God that is incomprehensible, and be yond the reach of our understandings; but his being and essential perfections may be known, which he calls his “eternal power and godhead;” these, he tells us, “are clearly seen, being under stood by the things which are made;” that is, the creation of the world is a plain demonstration to 450men, of the being and power of God; and if so, then God is naturally known to men; the contrary whereof Socinus positively maintains, though therein he be forsaken by most of his followers; an opinion in my judgment very unworthy of one, who, not without reason, was esteemed so great a master of reason; and (though I believe he did not see it) undermining the strongest and surest foundation of all religion, which, when the natural notions of God are once taken away, will certainly want its best support. Besides that, by denying any natural knowledge of God, and his essential perfections, he freely gives away one of the most plausible grounds of opposing the doctrine of the Trinity. But because this is a matter of great consequence, and he was a great man, and is not to be confuted by contempt, but by better reason, if it can be found; I will consider his reasons for this opinion, and return a particular answer to them.
First, He says, that if the knowledge of God were natural, it would not be of faith; but the apostle says, that “we must believe that he is.” The force of which argument, if it have any, lies in this, that the object of faith is Divine revelation, and therefore we cannot be said to believe what we naturally know. The schoolmen indeed say so; but the Scripture useth the word faith more largely, for a real persuasion of any thing, whether grounded upon sense, or reason, or Divine revelation. And our Saviour’s speech to Thomas, “Because thou hast seen, thou hast believed,” does sufficiently intimate, that a man may believe what he sees; and if so, what should hinder, but that a man may be said to believe what he naturally knows; that is, be really persuaded that there is a God from natural light?451
Secondly, His next argument is, because the same apostle concludes Enoch to have believed God, because he pleased God, and without faith it is impossible to please him; from whence he says, it is certain that men may be without this belief, which if it be natural they cannot. Indeed, if the apostle had said, that whoever believes a God, must of necessity obey and please him; then the inference had been good, that all men do not naturally believe a God, because it is certain they do not please him: but it is not good the other way, no more than if a man should argue thus—that because whoever acts reasonably must be endowed with reason, therefore men are not naturally endowed with reason. For as men may naturally be endowed with reason, and yet not always make use of it; so men may naturally know and believe a God, and yet not be careful to please him.
His third argument is, That the Scripture says, that there are some that do not believe a God, for which he cites that of David, “the fool hath said in his heart there is no God;” which certainly proves that bad men live so, as if they believed there were no God; nay, it may farther import, that they endeavour as much as they can to stifle and extinguish the belief of a God in their minds, and would gladly persuade themselves there is no God, because it is convenient for them there should be none; and whether David meant so or not, it is very probable that some may arrive to that height of impiety, as for a time at least, and in some moods, to disbelieve a God, and to be very confident of the arguments on that side. But what then? Is the knowledge and belief of a God therefore not natural to mankind? Nature itself, as constant and uniform 452as it is, admits of some irregularities and exceptions, in effects that are merely natural, much more in those which have something in them that is voluntary, and depends upon the good or bad use of our reason and understanding; and there is no arguing from what is monstrous, against what is natural. It is natural for men to have five fingers upon a hand, and yet some are born otherwise: but in voluntary agents, that which is natural may be perverted, and in a great measure extinguished in some particular instances; so that there is no force at all in this objection.
His fourth and last argument is, That there have not only been particular persons, but whole nations, who have had no sense, nor so much as suspicion of a Deity. This I confess were of great force, if it were true; and for the proof of this, he produceth the instance of Brasil in America. But I utterly deny the matter of fact and history, and challenge any man to bring good testimony, not only of any nation, but of any city in the world, that ever were professed Atheists.
I know this was affirmed of some part of Brasil, by some of the first discoverers; who yet at the same time owned, that these very people did most expressly believe the immortality of the soul, and the rewards and punishments of another life; opinions which no man can well reconcile with the denial and disbelief of a Deity. But, to put an end to this argument, later and more perfect discoveries have found this not to be true, and do assure us, upon better acquaintance with those barbarous people, that they are deeply possessed with the belief of “one supreme God, who made and governs the world.”
Having thus given a particular answer to Socinus’s 453arguments against the natural knowledge of a God, I will now briefly offer some arguments for it. And to prove that the knowledge and belief of a God is natural to mankind, my
First argument shall be from the universal consent, in this matter, of all nations in all ages. And this is an argument of great force; there being no better way to prove any thing to be natural to any kind of being, than if it be generally found in the whole kind. Omnium consensus naturae vox est, “the consent of all is the voice of nature,” saith Tully. And, indeed, by what other argument can we prove that reason, and speech, and an inclination to society, are natural to men; but that these belong to the whole kind?
Secondly, Unless the knowledge of God and his essential perfections be natural, I do not see what sufficient and certain foundation there can be of revealed religion. For unless we naturally know God to be a being of all perfection, and consequently that whatever he says is true, I cannot see what Divine revelation can signify. For God’s revealing or declaring such a thing to us, is no necessary argument that it is so, unless antecedently to this revelation we be possessed firmly with this principle that whatever God says is true. And whatever is known antecedently to revelation, must be known by natural light, and by reasonings and deductions from natural principles. I might farther add to this argument, that the only standard and measure to judge of Divine revelations, and to distinguish between what are true and what are counterfeit, are the natural notions which men have of God, and of his essential perfections.
Thirdly, If the notion of a God be not natural, I 454do not see how men can have any natural notion of the difference of moral good and evil, just and unjust. For if I do not naturally know there is a God, how can I naturally know that there is any law obliging to the one, and forbidding the other? All law and obligation to obedience necessarily supposing the authority of a superior Being. But the apostle expressly asserts, that the gentiles, who were destitute of a revealed law, “were a law unto themselves;” but there cannot be a natural law obliging mankind, unless God be naturally known to them.
And this, Socinus himself, in his discourse upon this very argument, is forced to acknowledge. “In all men (says he) there is naturally a difference of just and unjust, or, at least, there is planted in all men an acknowledgment that just ought to be preferred before unjust, and that which is honest, before the contrary; and this is nothing else but the word of God within a man, which whosoever obeys, in so doing obeys God, though otherwise he neither know nor think there is a God; and there is no doubt but he that thus obeys God is accepted of him.” So that here is an acknowledgment of a natural obligation to a law, without any natural knowledge of a superior authority; which I think cannot be; and which is worse, that a man may obey God acceptably, without knowing and believing there is a God; which directly thwarts the ground of his first argument, from those words of the apostle,—“without faith it is impossible to please God; for he that cometh to God,” that is, he that will be religious and please God, “must believe that he is:” so hard is it for any man to contradict nature, without contradicting himself.455
Fourthly, My last argument I ground upon the words of the apostle in my text, “that which may be known of God, is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.” “Is manifest in them,” ἐν αὐτοῖς, among them. God hath sufficiently manifested it to mankind. And which way hath God done this? by revelation^ or by the natural light of reason? He tells us at the 20th verse: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen;” that is, God, who in himself is invisible, ever since he hath created the world, hath given a visible demonstration of himself, that is, of “his eternal power and godhead; being understood by the things which are made.” The plain sense of the whole is, that this wise and wonderful frame of the world, which cannot reasonably be ascribed to any other cause but God, is a sensible demonstration, to all mankind, of an eternal and powerful Being that was the author and framer of it. The only question now is, whether this text speaks of the knowledge of God by particular revelation, or by natural light and reason, from the contemplation of the works of God: Socinus having no other way to avoid the force of this text, will needs understand it of the knowledge of God by the revelation of the gospel. His words are these:” The apostle therefore says, in this place, that the eternal godhead of God, that is, that which God would always have us to do (for the godhead is sometimes taken in this sense), and his eternal power, that is, his promise which never fails (in which sense he said a little before that the gospel is the power of God), these, I say, which were never seen by men; that is, were never known to them since the creation of the world, are known by 456his works; that is, by the wonderful operation of God, and Divine men, especially of Christ and his apostles.” These are his very words; and now I refer it to any indifferent judgment, whether this be not a very forced and constrained interpretation of this text; and whether that which I have before given, be not infinitely more free and natural, and every way more agreeable to the obvious sense of the words, and the scope of the apostle’s argument. For he plainly speaks of the heathen, and proves them to be inexcusable, because “they held the truth in unrighteousness;” and having a natural knowledge of God, from the contemplation of his works, and the things which are made, “they did not glorify him as God.” And therefore I shall not trouble myself to give any other answer to it; for, by the absurd violence of it in every part, it confutes itself more effectually than any discourse about it can do.
I have been the larger upon this, because it is a matter of so great consequence, and lies at the bottom of all religion. For the natural knowledge which men have of God is, when all is done, the surest and fastest hold that religion hath on human nature. Besides, how should God judge that part of the world who are wholly destitute of Divine revelation, if they had no natural knowledge of him, and consequently could not be under the direction and government of any law? For “where there is no law, there is no transgression;” and where men are guilty of the breach of no law, they cannot be judged and condemned for it; for “the judgment of God is according to truth.”
And now this being established, that men have a natural knowledge of God; if they contradict it by 457their life and practice, they are guilty of “retaining the truth of God in unrighteousness.” For by this argument the apostle proves the heathen to be guilty of “holding the truth in unrighteousness;” because, notwithstanding the natural knowledge which they had of God “by the things which are made,” they lived in the practice of gross idolatry, and the most abominable sins and vices.
And this concerns us much more, who have the glorious light of the gospel added to the light of nature. For if they who offended against the light of nature, were liable to the judgment of God, of how much sorer punishment shall we be thought worthy, if we neglect those infinite advantages which the revelation of the gospel hath superadded to natural light? He hath now set our duty in the clearest and strongest light that ever was afforded to mankind, so that if we will not now believe and repent, there is no remedy for us, but we must “die in our sins; if we sin wilfully, after” so much “knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin, but a fearful looking-for of judgment, and fiery indignation to consume us.”
The sum of what hath been said on this argument is briefly this; that men have a natural knowledge of God, and of those great duties which result from the knowledge of him; so that whatever men say and pretend, as to the main things of religion, the worship of God, and justice and righteousness to wards men, setting aside Divine revelation, we are all naturally convinced of our duty, and of what we ought to do; and them who live in a bad course, need only be put in mind of what they naturally know, better than any body else can tell them, that they are in a bad course; so that I may appeal to 458all wicked men, from themselves, rash, and heated, and intoxicated with pleasure and vanity, trans ported and hurried away by lust and passion; to themselves, serious and composed, and in a cool and considerate temper. And can any sober man forbear to follow the convictions of his own mind, and to resolve to do what he inwardly consents to as best? Let us but be true to ourselves, and obey the dictates of our own minds, and give leave to our own consciences to counsel us, and tell us what we ought to do, and we shall be “a law to ourselves.” I proceed to the
Sixth and last observation; namely, That the clear revelation of the wrath of God in the gospel, against the impiety and unrighteousness of men, is one principal thing, which renders it so very powerful and likely a means for the salvation of mankind. For the apostle instanceth in two things, which give the gospel so great an advantage to this purpose, the mercy of God to penitent sinners, and his severity toward the impenitent; both which are so fully and clearly revealed in the gospel. “The gospel is the power of God to salvation, to every one that believeth, because therein the righteousness of God is revealed;” that is, his great grace and mercy in the justification and pardon of sinners by Jesus Christ, which I have already shewn to be meant by “the righteousness of God,” by comparing this with the explication which is given of “the righteousness of God,” (chap. iii. ver. 22.)
The other reason which he gives of the gospel’s being “the power of God to salvation,” is the plain declaration of the severity of God toward impenitent sinners; “because therein,” also, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness 439and unrighteousness of men.” The force of which argument will appear, if we consider these following particulars:
First, That the declarations of the gospel in this matter are so plain and express.
Secondly, That they are very dreadful and terrible.
Thirdly, That there is no safety or hope of impunity for men that go on and continue in their sins.
Fourthly, That this argument will take hold of the most desperate and profligate sinners, and still retain its force upon the minds of men, when all other considerations fail, and are of little or no efficacy. And,
Fifthly, That no religion in the world can urge this argument with that force and advantage that Christianity does.
First, That the declarations of the gospel in this matter are most plain and express; and that not only against sin and wickedness in general, but against particular sins and vices; so that no man that lives in any evil and vicious course, can be ignorant of his danger. Our Lord hath told us in general, what shall be the doom of the workers of iniquity, yea, though they may have owned him, and made profession of his name: (Matt. vii. 21.) “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, &c. then will I profess unto them, I never knew you, depart, from me ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. xiii. 49, 50.) “So shall it be at the end of the world; the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked 460from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. xxv. 46.) “The wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.” (John v. 28, 29.) “The hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” Rom. ii. 6, St. Paul tells us that there is “a day of wrath, and of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds; to them who obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil.” 2 Thess. i. 7, 8, 9, that “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” Nothing can be more plain and express than these general declarations of the wrath of God against sinners; that there is a day of judgment appointed, and a judge constituted to take cognizance of the actions of men, to pass a severe sentence, and to inflict a terrible punishment, upon the workers of iniquity.
More particularly our Lord and his apostles have denounced the wrath of God against particular sins and vices. In several places of the New Testament, there are catalogues given of particular sins; the practice whereof will certainly shut men out of the kingdom of heaven, and expose them to the wrath 461and vengeance of God. (1 Cor. vi. 9, 10.) “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” So likewise, (Gal. v. 19-21.) “The works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, adultery, fornication, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in times past, that they that do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Col. iii. 5, 6.) “Mortify therefore your members upon earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience/ (Rev. xxi. 8.) “The fearful and unbelieving, (that is, those who rejected the Christian religion, notwithstanding the clear evidence that was offered for it, and those who out of fear should apostatize from it;) the fearful and unbelieving, and the abominable, (that is, those who were guilty of unnatural lusts, not fit to be named) and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars (that is, all sorts of false and deceitful and perfidious persons), shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
And not only these gross and notorious sins, which are such plain violations of tin? law and light of nature; but those wherein mankind have been apt to take more liberty, as if they were not 462sufficiently convinced of the evil of them; as, the resisting of civil authority, which the apostle tells us, they that are guilty of “shall receive to themselves damnation:” (Rom. xiii. 2.) profane swearing in common conversation, which, St. James tells us, brings men under the danger of damnation, (chap. v. 12.) “Above all things, my brethren, swear not, lest ye fall under condemnation.” Nay, our Saviour hath told us plainly, that not only for wicked actions, but for every evil and sinful word, men are obnoxious to the judgment of God. So our Lord assures us; (Matt. xii. 36, 37.) “I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” He had spoken before of that great and unpardonable sin of blaspheming the Holy Ghost; and because this might be thought great severity for evil words, he declares the reason more fully, because words shew the mind and temper of the man: (ver. 34.) “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” “The character of the man is shewn by his words,” saith Menander. Profert enim mores plerumque oratio (saith Quintilian) et animi secreta detegit; “A man’s speech discovers his manners, and the secrets of his heart;” ut vivit etiam quemque dicere, “Men commonly speak as they live;” and therefore our Saviour adds, “A good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth good things; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure of his heart, bringeth forth evil things: but I say unto you, that every idle word,” πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργὸν, by which I do not think our Saviour means, that men should be called to a solemn account at the day of judgment, 463for every trifling, and impertinent, and unprofitable word, but every wicked and sinful word of any kind: as if he had said, Do yon think this severe, to make words an unpardonable fault? I say unto yon, that men shall not only be condemned for their malicious and blasphemous speeches against the Holy Ghost; but they shall likewise give a strict account for all other wicked and sinful speeches in any kind, though much inferior to this. And this is not only most agreeable to the scope of our Saviour, but is confirmed by some Greek copies, in which it is πᾶν ῥῆμα πονηρὸν, “every wicked word which men shall speak, they shall be accountable for it at the day of judgment.” But this by the by.
Our Saviour likewise tells us, that men shall not only be proceeded against for sins of commission, but for the bare omission and neglect of their duty, especially in works of mercy and charity; for not feeding the hungry, and the like, as we see, Matt. xxv. and that for the omission of these, he will pass that terrible sentence, “Depart ye cursed,” &c. So that it nearly concerns us to be careful of our whole life, of all our words and actions, since the gospel hath so plainly and expressly declared, that “for all these things God will bring us into judgment.” And if the threatenings of the gospel be true, “what manner of persons ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness?”
Secondly, As the threatenings of the gospel are very plain and express, so are they likewise very dreadful and terrible. I want words to express the least part of the terror of them; and yet the expressions of Scripture concerning the misery and punishment of sinners in another world, are such as 464may raise amazement and horror in those that hear them. Sometimes it is expressed by a departing from God, and a perpetual banishment from his presence, who is the fountain of all comfort, and joy, and happiness; sometimes by the loss of our souls, or ourselves. “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” or, (as it is in another evangelist) “to lose himself?” Not that our being shall be destroyed; that would be a happy loss indeed, to him that is sentenced to be for ever miserable; but the man shall still remain, and his body and soul continue to be the foundation of his misery, and a scene of perpetual woe and discontent, which our Saviour calls “the destroying of body and soul in hell,” or going into everlasting punishment, “where there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth, where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.” Could I represent to you the horror of that dismal prison, into which wicked and impure souls are to be thrust, and the misery they must there endure, without the least spark of comfort, or glimmering of hope; how they wail and groan under the intolerable wrath of God, the insolent scorn and cruelty of devils, the severe lashes and stings, raging anguish and horrible despair, of their own minds, without intermission, without pity, without hope of ever seeing an end of that misery, which yet is insupportable for one moment; could I represent these things to you according to the terror of them, what effect must they have upon us? and with what patience could any man bear to think of plunging himself into this misery? and by his own wilful fault and folly to endanger his coming into this place and state of torments? especially, if we consider, in the465
Third place, That the gospel hath likewise declared, that there is no avoiding of this misery, no hopes of impunity, if men go on and continue in their sins. The terms of the gospel in this are peremptory, that “except we repent, we shall perish;” that “without holiness, no man shall see the Lord;” that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” And this is a very pressing consideration, and brings the matter to a short and plain issue. Either we must leave our sins, or die in them; either we must repent of them, or be judged for them; either we must forsake our sins, and break off that wicked course which we have lived in, or we must quit all hopes of heaven and happiness; nay, we cannot escape the damnation of hell. The clear revelation of a future judgment is so pressing an argument to repentance, as no man can in reason resist, that hath not a mind to be miserable. “Now (saith St. Paul to the Athenians) he straightly chargeth all men every where to repent, because he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness.”
Men may cheat themselves, or suffer themselves to be deluded by others, about several means and devices of reconciling a wicked life, with the hopes of heaven and eternal salvation; as, by mingling some pangs of sorrow for sin, and some hot fits of devotion, with a sinful life; which is only the interruption of a wicked course, without reformation and amendment of life: but “let no man deceive you with vain words;” for our blessed Saviour hath provided no other ways to save men, but upon the terms of repentance and obedience.
Fourthly, This argument takes hold of the most desperate and profligate sinners, and still retains its 466force upon the minds of men, when almost all other considerations fail, and have lost their efficacy upon us. Many men are gone so far in an evil course, that neither shame of their vices, nor the love of God and virtue, nor the hopes of heaven, are of any force with them, to reclaim them and bring them to a better mind: but there is one handle yet left, whereby to lay hold of them, and that is their fear. This is a passion that lies deep in our nature, being founded in self-preservation, and sticks so close to us, that we cannot quit ourselves of it, nor shake it off. Men may put off ingenuity, and break through all obligations of gratitude. Men may harden their foreheads, and conquer all sense of shame; but they can never perfectly stifle and subdue their fears; they can hardly so extinguish the fear of hell, but that some sparks of that fire will ever and anon be flying about in their consciences, especially when they are made sober, and brought to themselves by affliction, and by the present apprehensions of death have a nearer sight of another world. And if it was so hard for the heathen to conquer these apprehensions, how much harder must it be to Christians, who have so much greater assurance of these things, and to whom the wrath of God is so clearly revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men?
Fifthly, No religion in the world ever urged this argument upon men, with that force and advantage which Christianity does. The philosophy of the heathen gave men no steady assurance of the thing; the most knowing persons among them were not agreed about a future state; the greatest part of them spake but doubtfully concerning another life. And, besides the natural jealousies and suspicions of 467mankind concerning these things, they had only some fair probabilities of reason, and the authority of their poets, who talked they knew not what about the Elysian fields, and the infernal regions, and the three judges of hell; so that the wisest among them had hardly assurance enough in themselves of the truth of the thing to press it upon others with any great confidence, and therefore it was not likely to have any great efficacy upon the generality of mankind.
As for the Jewish religion; though that supposed and took for granted the rewards of another world, as a principle of natural religion; yet in the law of Moses there was no particular and express revelation of the life of the world to come; and what was deduced from it, was by remote and obscure consequence. Temporal promises and threatenings it had many and clear; and their eyes were so dazzled with these, that it is probable that the generality of them did but little consider a future state, till they fell into great temporal calamities under the Grecian and Roman empires, whereby they were almost necessarily awakened to the consideration and hopes of a better life, to relieve them under their present evils and sufferings; and yet even in that time they were divided into two great factions about this mat ter, the one affirming, and the other as confidently denying, any life after this. But the gospel hath brought life and immortality to light; and we are assured from heaven of the truth and reality of another state, and a future judgment. The Son of God was sent into the world to preach this doctrine, and rose again from the dead, and was taken up into heaven, for a visible demonstration to all mankind of another life after this; and consequently of a future judgment, 468which no man ever doubted of, that did firmly believe a future state.
The sum of all that I have said is this; the gospel hath plainly declared to us, that the only way to salvation is by forsaking our sins, and living a holy and virtuous life; and the most effectual argument in the world to persuade men to this, is the consideration of the infinite danger that a sinful course exposeth men to, since the wrath of God continually hangs over sinners, and, if they continue in their sins, will certainly fall upon them, and overwhelm them with misery; and he that is not moved by this argument, is lost to all intents and purposes.
All that now remains is, to urge this argument upon men, and from the serious consideration of it, to persuade them to repent, and reform their wicked lives. And was there ever an age wherein this was more needful? when iniquity doth not only abound, but even rage among us; when infidelity and profaneness, and all manner of lewdness and vice, appears so boldly and openly, and men commit the greatest abominations without blushing at them; when vice hath got such head that it can hardly bear to be checked and controlled, and when, as the Roman historian complains of his times, ad ea tempora, quibus nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus, perventum est; “things are come to that pass, that we can neither bear our vices nor the remedies of them?” Our vices are grown to a prodigious and intolerable height, and yet men hardly have the patience to hear of them; and surely a disease is then dangerous indeed, when it cannot bear the severity that is necessary to a cure. But yet, notwithstanding this, we who are the messengers of God to men, to warn them of their sin and danger, must not keep 469silence, and spare to tell them, both of their sins, and of the judgment of God which hangs over them; that God will “visit for these things,” and that his soul will be avenged on such a nation as this. At least we may have leave to warn others, w ho are not yet run to the same excess of riot, to save themselves from this untoward generation. God’s judgments are abroad in the earth, and call aloud upon us, to learn righteousness.
But this is but a small consideration, in comparison of the judgment of another world, which we, who call ourselves Christians, do profess to believe, as one of the chief articles of our faith. The consideration of this should check and cool us in the heat of all our sinful pleasures; and that bitter irony of Solomon should cut us to the heart, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment/ 1 Think often and seriously on that time, wherein the wrath of God, which is now revealed against sin, shall be executed upon sinners; and if we believe this, we are strangely stupid and obstinate if we be not moved by it. The assurance of this made St. Paul extremely importunate in exhorting men to avoid so great danger; (2 Cor. v. 10, 11.) “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or evil. Knowing therefore the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men.” And if this ought to move us to take so great a care of others, much more of ourselves. The judgment to come is a very amazing consideration; it is a fearful thing to hear 470of it, but it will be much more terrible to see it, especially to those whose guilt must needs make them so heartily concerned in the dismal consequences of it; and yet, as sure as I stand and you sit here, this great and terrible day of the Lord will come, and who may abide his coming? what will we do, when that day shall surprise us careless and unprepared? what unspeakable horror and amazement will then take hold of us! when, lifting up our eyes to heaven, we shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of it, with power and great glory; when that powerful voice, which shall pierce the ears of the dead, shall ring through the world, “Arise ye dead, and come to judgment;” when the mighty trumpet shall sound, and wake the sleepers of a thousand years, and summon the dispersed parts of the bodies of all men that ever lived, to rally together and take their place; and the souls and bodies of men, which have been so long strangers to one another, shall meet and be united again, to receive the doom due to their deeds; what fear shall then surprise sinners, and how will they tremble at the presence of the great Judge, and for the glory of his Majesty! how will their consciences fly in their faces, and their own hearts condemn them, for their wicked and ungodly lives, and even prevent that sentence which yet shall certainly be passed and executed upon them! But I will proceed no farther in this argument, which hath so much of terror in it.
I will conclude my sermon, as Solomon doth his Ecclesiastes: (chap. xii. 13, 14.) “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter; fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole of man; for God shall bring every work into judgment, and every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it 471be evil.” To which I will only add that serious and merciful admonition of a greater than Solomon; I mean the great Judge of the whole world, our blessed Lord and Saviour: (Luke xxi. 34-36.) “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and so that day come upon you at unawares. For as a snare shall it come upon all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” To whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, &c.472
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