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iniquities, as Cain, Pharaoh, and Haman; or madly lay violent hands upon themselves, as Ahithophel and Judas.
This sorrow cannot be too much guarded against, as it not only destroys many persons, but does immense hurt to religion. For those who are glad of any pretence to pour contempt upon godliness, taking occasion from the instances of this sorrow, harden their own hearts, and prejudice all around them against the blessed godly sorrow, which every minister of the gospel endeavours to excite; maliciously representing it as one and the same with the mischievous sorrow of the world.
Their mistake will be evident, if we trace godly sorrow back to its source. It does not spring merely from fear of punishment; but chiefly from humbling views of God's holiness, the impurity of the human nature, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the transcendant excellency of the law, which condemns the sinner.
And this happy sorrow differs not less from the other in its effects, than it does in its cause. The persons who are blessed with it, far from murmuring, or fretting at the divine commandment, see it to be holy, just, and good, both in its preceptive and penal part. They so absolutely acquiesce in it, that they would not alter it if they could. They clear God, accuse themselves, subscribe their own sentence, and acknowledge, “ It is of the Lord's mercies, that we are not consumed." Each of them can say, “Wherefore should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? It is good that he should both hope, and quietly wait for God's salvation: I will therefore watch to see what he will say unto me; for he will speak peace unto his people.” Thus, in a constant use of all the ordinances of God, they meekly wait, wrestling with their unbelieving fears, till victorious faith comes by hearing of the matchless love of Jesus Chist; and then, fearing the Lord and his goodness,
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they sing the song of the Lamb, and run his delightful errands.
And as thou seest, serious Reader, the nature, necessity, and excellence, of godly sorrow, thou art probably desirous of being informed, how deep thine must be, to constitute thee a true penitent. Know, then, that it must be deep enough to imbitter thy most pleasing, profitable, and habitual sins, and to prevent thy resting without a clear sense of thy peculiar interest in Christ. It must be profound enough to make him and his gospel infinitely precious to thee, and to produce, under God, the blessed effects here after to be mentioned.
To be more particular; a true penitent may certainly, without despair or madness, go as far in godly sorrow, as David does in his penitential psalms, or our church in the first of the homily on Fasting: “ When good men, says she, feel in themselves the heavy burden of sin, see damnation to be the reward of it, and behold with the eye of their mind the horror of hell, they tremble, they quake, they are inwardly touched with sorrowfulness of heart for their offences, and cannot but accuse themselves, and open their grief unto Almighty God, and call on him for mercy. This being done seriously, their mind is so occupied, partly with sorrow and heaviness, partly with an earnest desire to be delivered from the danger of hell and damnation, that all desire of meat and drink is laid aside, and loathing of all worldly things and pleasures come in place, so that they like nothing better than to weep, to lament, to mourn, and, both with words and behaviour of body, do show themselves weary of this life.”
Nevertheless it must be observed, that godly sorrow needs not be equal, either in degree or duration, in all penitents. Those whose hearts through divine grace open as readily and gently as that of Lydia, happily avoid many of David's pangs and Job's terrors. The powerful and instantaneous, or the gentle and gradual manner, in which souls are awakened; the difference
of constitutions; the peculiar services that a few are called to, and for which they are prepared by peculiar exercises; the horrid aggravations that have attended the sins of some; and the severe correction which the Lord is obliged to give others, for their stout resistance against his grace--all this may help us to account for the various depths of distress, through which different penitents pass in their way to Christ and salvation.
The Lord does not needlessly afflict the children of men, any more than a tender father unnecessarily corrects his disobedient children: he only wants us to forsake our sins, renounce our own imaginary righteousness, and come to Christ to be made partakers of bis merits, holiness, and felicity. The sorrow, which answers these ends, is quite sufficient; though it should be ever so light, and of ever so short a duration. On the contrary, a distress as heavy as that of Judas is unavailable, if, instead of driving us from sin to Jesus Christ, it only drives us from profaneness to hypocrisy, or from presumption to despair.
If, still perplexed, thou askest what thou must do, to get a sense of thy depravity, productive of a true repentance? I answer, that an affecting discovery of the guilt, nature, and danger of sin, is only attained by the assistance of God's Spirit, who alone effectually convinces the world of sin, John xvi. 8. But the Lord has graciously appointed means, in the right use of which he never denies a sinner the convincing and converting power of his blessed Spirit; and what they are, thou art informed in the following
II. DIRECTIONS, proper for a half-awakened sinner, desirous of being duly convinced of his corrupt and lost estate.-Beware of fools, that enake a mock at sorrow for sin, and sin itself. Beware of those blind leaders of the blind, who having a form of godliness, deny the power thereof: instead of pointing thee to the throne of grace, and bidding thee to“ behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world," they will only direct thee to the church-walls and communion-table; and, perhaps, if they see thee under dejection of spirit for thy sins, they will recommend the play-house, the card-table, or what they call “ a cheerful glass.” From such turn away, or they will persuade thee that repentance is melancholy; conviction of sin, despair; and the love of God, enthusiasm, 2 Tim. iii. 5.
That they may not be able to laugh or frown thee out of the way of salvation, dwell in thy thoughts on God's awful perfections. “ Justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” The unspotted resplendent holiness beaming forth from him, as from an immensely glorious Sun of righteousness, will show thee thy sins, as innumerable as the flying motes discovered in a dusty room, where the natural sun can penetrate. Consider, that they are committed by a worm of earth, against the Majesty of heaven; and they will all appear to thee infinitely great; especially if thou measurest them and thyself by the true rule, the oracles of God; casting away the three false standards which self-deceivers measure themselves by, namely, the good opinion of their worldly-minded neighbours, the defective examples of their fellow sinners, and the flattering suggestions of their own blind self-love.
Follow the example of the noble Bereans: “ Search the scriptures daily, whether these things are so," Acts xvii. 11. View, in that faithful mirror, the picture both of the natural and of the regenerate inan, and ask thy conscience which thou resemblest most. If, imitating the godly man described in the first Psalm, thou “ meditatest in the law of the Lord day and night;" the straitness of the heavenly rule will soon show thee how very far gone thy thoughts, words, actions, tempers, and nature, are from original righteousness.
To this meditation, add a frequent survey of the follies of thy childhood, the vanity of thy youth, the worldly-mindedness of thy riper years, the capital trans
gressions which conscience accuses thee of, and the hardness of heart, and alienation from the life of God, that the scriptures charge thee with. Confess all to the Lord as thou art able, remembering that the wages of sin is death, who flies fast upon thee with the wings of time:-death, who often gives no warning, and ushers in judgment, with all the horrors of hell, or the joys of heaven. And pray that these awful realities may affect thee now, as they will in thy last moments
Frequently reflect, how total must be our loss of spiritual life, which cannot be repaired but by a resurrection, a new birth, or a new creation, Col. iii. 1. John iii. 7. Gal. vi. 5. And how desperate the disease of our fallen nature, which cannot be healed but with the blood of a divine Physician. Consider, attentively consider him, whose piercing look softened the obdurate heart of cursing Peter, whose amazing sufferings brought a hardened thief under the deepest concern for his salvation, and whose dying groans rent the rocks, shook the earth, and opened the graves. The tender flower of evangelical sorrow grows best in the shade of, his cross: a believing view of him, as suffering for thee, will melt thee into penitential tears, and seal upon thy relenting heart the gracious promise, “ They shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and mourn.” Zech, xii. 10.
In the mean time, improve the daily opportunities, which thou hast of studying human corruption in the life and tempers of all around thee, but chiefly in thy own careless and deceitful heart: take notice of its pride and self-seeking, of its risings and secret workings especially when unexpected temptations trouble thy imaginary peace of mind : for, at such a time, thy corruption, like the sediment in the bottom of a vial that is shaken, will show its loathsomeness and strength.
Converse frequently, if thou canst, with persons deeply convinced of sin. Attend a plain, heartsearching ministry, as often as possible; and when the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, pierces