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be for having debased them to a degree so far below the standard?
III. But a doctrine of our churches seems to frust trate all our endeavours to prompt you to persever. ance, and to warn you that salvation is reserved solely for those who do persevere. It is this. We fully believe, that the most illustrious saints were guilty of offences, directly opposed to christianity : but we profess to believe, that it was impossible, they should lose the habit, We fully admit the propriety of exhorting them not to commit those faults which it is impossible they should commit. But why exhort them, not to retain a habit which they cannot lose ? Where is the propriety of alarming them with a destruction on the brink of which grace shall make them perfect? This is the difficulty we wish to solve; and this is the design of our third head,
But I would indeed wish to illustrate the subject without reviving the controversies it has excited. I would wish conformably to the views of a christian, (from which especially a gospel minister should never deviate,) to associate, as far as the subject will admit, peace and truth. If the wish is not chimeri. cal, we cannot I think, better succeed, than by avail. ing ourselves of a point unanimously allowed by the divines divided on this subject, in order to harmonize what seems calculated still to divide them.
It is a received maxim in every system, I would say in every system of those who are divided on the doctrine of the inamissibility of grace ; that, to preserve the habit of holiness, without which they unanimously agree we cannot be saved, we must use all the means prescribed in the sacred Scripture to preserve so valuable a disposition. Divines, whom difference of opinion has irritated against one another, reciprocally accuse their brethren, of weakening this principle; but there is not one among them who does not sincerely embrace it, and complain of the met proach, when charged with having rejected it. Those who exclaim against the doctrine of the inamissibility of grace, are so far from rejecting it, that they pre• tend to be the only persons who establish it upon a sure foundation ; and maintain that it cannot exist in systems opposed to the first. They say, that the doctrine of the inamissibility of grace is so far from opposing this principle, that it constitutes its foundation. And who among the advocates for this doctrine, ever affirmed that we can preserve the grace of perseverance, if we frequent the haunts of infamy ;.... if we keep company with persons who tempt us to adultery and voluptuousness, and so with regard to other virtues? It is then a principle such as I ought to seek. It is a principle inculcated by every system, that in order to retain the habit of holiness, without which it is impossible to be saved, we must use all the means pointed out in the sacred Scriptures for the preservation of such an invaluable temper of heart.
This being granted, it is requisite in every system, to represent the calamities we incur by losing the ha. bit of holiness; because it is the dread of incurring the calamities consequent on our fall, which the Scriptures point out as the most usual and powerful preservatives from apostacy. Hence they exhort us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling; Hence they make one part of a good man's happiness to consist in fearing always. Hence they require us to rejoice with trembling. Each of you may collect a variety of parallel passages,
Our divines, to illustrate this subject, have some. times employed a comparison, which, in my opinion, is well calculated to answer their purpose. It is that of a wise man at the top of a tower, who has all the necessary means of preserving himself from falling into the abyss open to his view. properly say, it is impossible such a man should fall. Why? Because, being a prudent man, and having all the necessary means, it is impossible his prue
dence should not prompt him to avail himself of their support. But in what consists one part of this means of safety ? It is the faculty suggested by his prudence, of knowing, and never forgetting the risk he runs, should he neglect the means of safety. Thus fear, so circumstanced, is one part of his safety, and his safety is inseparable from his fear. The application of this comparison is easy ; every one may make it without difficulty. It is sufficient, not indeed to remove all the difficulties of which the loss of grace is susceptible; but to answer the objection I have made of its being useless, on a supposition of the im. possibility of falling from grace, to warn a real christian of the calamities he may incur, should he lose his habit of piety.
IV. Three classes of people have consequences to deduce from the doctrine we have advanced. We shall first address ourselves to those who seem least of all interested; I would say, those who have no cause to fear falling from grace; not because they are established, but because they never entertained sincere resolutions of conversion. If people of this description would pay serious attention to their state; if they would read the scriptures with recollection ; if they would listen to our sermons with a real, not with a vague and superficial design of reducing them to practice, I think the doctrine we have delivered would rouse them from their indolence: I think it would hinder them from going so intensely into the world on withdrawing from devotion, as not to hear the voice of their conscience. What! the people of whom we speak should say, What! christians of the first class; what! those distinguished saints who.have devoted the whole of their life to duty; what! those who have wrought out their salvation with fear and trembling, can they promise themselves nothing from past efforts ? What! are all the sacrifices they have made for christianity useless, unless they perse
yere in piety; and, for having failed to run only a few steps of their course, will they fail of obtaining the prize promised to those only who finish the whole? And I, miserable wretch who am so far from being the first of saints, that I am the chief of sinners;.... I, who am so far from having run the race which Christ hath set before his disciples, as to have put it far away ;.... I, who have been so far from working out my salvation, as to have laboured only by slander, by calumny, by perjury, by blasphemy, by fornication, by adultery, by drunkenness ;.... It who have done nothing but obstructed the work, yet I am composed, I am tranquil ! Whence proceeds this peace ? Does it not proceed solely from this circumstance, that, my sins having constrained the Deity to prepare the sentence of my eternal condemnation, he has among the calamities prepared for me by his justice) the fatal condescension to make me become sensible of my misery, lest I should anticipate my condemnation, by the dreadful torments which the certainty of being damned would excite in my soul. Oh, dreadful calm ! fatal peace! tranquillity to which: despair itself is preferable, if there be any thing preferable in despair ! Oh! rather, thou sword of dia vine vengeance brandish before my eyes all thy terrors! Array in battle against me all the terrors of the, mighty God, as in the awful day of judgment; and. striking my soul with the greatness of my misery, give me, at least if there be time, to emancipate mya self! If there be yet time? And, if there be not; time, why do you yet breathe ? Why are there still open to you the gates of this temple? Why is the gospel still preached, if it is not that you may be recollected; if it is not that you may renounce the. principles of your past folly ; if it is not that you may gield to calls of grace, which publish to you the con soling declarations of the merciful God? When I say. unto the wicked, thou shalt surely die ; if he turn from his şin, and do that which is lawful and right;
if the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he hath robbed, walk in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him, Ezek. xxxii. 14, 15, 16.
A second sort of people, who ought to derive se. rious instruction from the words of my text, is those visionaries; who, while engaged in the habit of hating their neighbours, of fornication, of revenge, or in one or the other of those vices, of which the Scripture says, they that do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God, fancy themselves to be in a state of grace, and believe they shall ever abide in that state, provided they never doubt of the work, People of this character....whether they have fallen into the hands of antinomian guides, one of the greatest plagues with which justice punishes the crimes of men, and one of the most awful pests of the church;.... whether it be the effect of those passions, which in general so fascinate the mind as to prevent their seeing the most evident truths opposed to their system ;.... people of this class presumptuously apply to themselves the doctrine of the inamissibility of grace, at the time when we display the arm of God ready to pour the thunder of its vengeance upon
their heads. Know then once for all, it is not to you that the doctrine of the inamissibility of grace belongs. Whether a true saint may fall, or whether he may not fall, it is the same thing with regard to you; and your corruption will gain nothing by the decision : for if the true saint may fall, I have cause to conclude that you are already fallen, since, notwithstanding the regeneration you pretend to have received, you now have no marks of real saints; and if a real saint cannot fall, I have cause to conclude that you were deluded in the notion you have formed of yourselves with regard to conversion. I have reason to believe that you never were true saints, because I see with my own eyes, that you no longer