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let them betray a decided love to heavenly things, and multitudes will exert themselves in every possible way to divert them from so dangerous a path. Hence their prejudices are all on the side of evil and of the world. And how great the effect of prejudice is, may be seen in the adherents both of Judaism and Popery. One would imagine that the superstitions both of the one and of the other must
give way before the light of the New Testament: but prejudice, as has been said, has neither eyes nor ears. Truth has no force, and argument no power, when set before one whose mind is pre-occupied with statements of an adverse nature. The Apostle says of the Jews, that " to this day a veil is upon their hearts; so that, when Moses is read to them, they cannot see the true scope of his instructions!.” And precisely thus it is also with the rich, when the Gospel is preached to them: “Their eyes are blinded; and they cannot discern” the truth of those things which are proposed to their consideration m. But the poor are, comparatively, but little subjected to this influence. People take not so much pains to prejudice their minds; and they are left more to think and act for themselves. Hence, when truth is proposed to them, they are more open to conviction, and more easily brought under its power. And this is one reason why even the “ publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom before the Scribes and Pharisees."] 2. They are more enslaved by custom
[The rich, amidst all their boasted liberty, are the veriest bond-slaves that the world contains. If negroes are afraid of the scourge of their masters, so are the rich afraid lest they should be subjected to the lash of censure amongst their equals. Let an opportunity of spiritual instruction be afforded them, they would be afraid to avail themselves of it, if it were offered at a place not frequented by the rich, or by a person not approved amongst them. Even though in their hearts they would be glad to hear the instruction, they dare not go over the line prescribed by custom and fashion, lest they should bring upon themselves some reproach. They would be ashamed to be found reading the Bible; and would be in perfect horrors if they were discovered weeping for their sins. True, a rich Papist would not blush at being known to follow the superstitious usages of his Church, because other rich persons both approve and follow the same superstitions : but a rich Protestant would not dare to spend a day in fasting and prayer, because the rich of his own community pour contempt on piety, and on the means by which piety is advanced in the soul. But the poor are more free to follow the dictates of their conscience: and when they “have a spiritual understanding,” they will follow them: they will not be content to “continue in the broad road, because the many walk there; or to desert the narrow path, because there be but few who find it":” they are more independent of the opinions of the world; and are prepared to say with Joshua, “Let others think or act as they please, I will serve the Lord o."] 3. They are more deluded by conceit
1 2 Cor. iii. 14, 15.
m 2 Cor. iv. 4
[The rich, on account of their wealth and influence, have great deference paid to their opinions. The flattery which they receive is extremely grateful to them; and they soon begin to think that they are indeed as wise as fawning sycophants represent them to be. Hence they become very confident in their own opinions, and can ill brook contradiction upon any subject. They suppose, too, that they are as competent to judge of religion as of any other subject; and will lay down the law upon the subject of divine truth as confidently as if they had the wisdom of Daniel or St. Paul. But the poor man, that has been taught of God, sees at once how ignorant these persons are on those subjects on which they presume to dogmatize with such unblushing confidence. The rich conceited man will tell us how erroneous it is to represent our fallen nature as so depraved; and what a licentious doctrine that of salvation by faith alone is; and that a life of entire devotedness to God is no better than wild fanaticism or puritanical hypocrisy. But " the poor man, that hath understanding, searcheth him out:" he has within himself the evidence of those truths which the conceited man decries. St. John “ He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himselfp:” and this internal evidence is more to him than all the assertions which conceit can dictate or arrogance maintain. He knows his own depravity: he feels his need of a Saviour: he tastes the sweetness of pure and undefiled religion; and from God he inherits a blessing?, whilst the rich contemner of his faith receives nothing but woes at the hand of his offended God".] IMPROVEMENT1. Envy not those who are rich in this world
[Truly they are encompassed with snares, and exposed to great dangers. The advantages which they possess are very trivial : (what has the richest man beyond food and raiment, which the poor possess as well as they ?) but their disadvantages are very great; so great, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven." Remarkable, in this view, is
n Matt. vii. 13, 14. o Josh. xxiv, 15. p 1 John v. 10. q Matt. v. 3.
1 Isai. v. 21.
that advice of Solomon; “ Labour not to be rich : cease from thine own wisdoms.". The errors here pointed at are almost inseparable from each other; and every one that is truly wise will be on his guard against them both.] 2. Seek to be “ rich towards God”_
[That is true wisdom: and the more you possess of spiritual riches, the more truly humble will you be before God. Indeed, a poor pious man is, in God's estimation, as high a character as exists on earth. When God's only-begotten Son became incarnate, this was the character he assumed. Seek to be conformed to him, and you need not desire any thing beyond. Nothing is of any value without piety; nor can any thing add to piety, when it fully occupies the soul“.] s Prov. xxiii. 4.
Phil. iii. 7, 8.
TRUE REPENTANCE RECOMMENDED. Prov. xxviii. 13. He that covereth his sins shall not prosper : but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.
THE subject of repentance offers nothing for the gratification of “ itching ears." But it must not on that account be overlooked; since, if less interesting than some other subjects on the score of novelty, it yields to none in point of importance. It is the first act whereby a sinner returns unto his God: and it is an act for which the most eminent saint has occasion from day to day; insomuch that in him it assumes rather the character of a habit than an act. In the more grown Christian, it is the warp, whilst every other grace is the woof: whether the colours interwoven with it be grave or gay, this pervades the whole piece, and is, as it were, the foundation of all the rest.
For the advancing of this work in all our souls, I will shew, I. The folly of covering our sins
To conceal our sins from the all-seeing eye of God is impossible: yet
There are various ways in which men attempt to cover them
[Sin, though it cannot be hidden from God, may be covered from ourselves, by denial, by extenuation, by forgetfulness.
Many, though walking in the habitual violation of the plainest duties, will deny that they commit any sin at all. As “ the adulterous woman," of whom Solomon speaks, "eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickednessa; so these, in gratifying their sensual appetites, think that they commit no more evil than if they had merely satisfied the demands of hunger and thirst: and, in their minds, one sinful indulgence is but a prelude to another, whenever opportunity and inclination concur to call for it. Persons of this description, if they receive only a distant intimation of their state, are ready to reply, even against God himself, just as Cain did, after murdering his brother Abel: “Where is thy brother Abel?” “I know not: am I my brother's keeper b?" Thus, rather than they will humble themselves before God, they will deny their accountability to him, saying, “ Our lips are our own: who is Lord over us?” But this denial of their guilt will avail them nothing. God will reprove them as he did Israel of old d; and will surely visit them with his heaviest indignatione.
Others cover their sins by endeavouring to extenuate the guilt of them. Thus did Adam and Eve in Paradise. Thus also did Saul, after sparing the king of the Amalekites, and the spoil which he had taken, instead of destroying them utterly according to the direction which he had received from the Lord. He first of all asserted that he had executed the divine command; and that being disproved by the lowing of the oxen, he vindicated himself, asserting, that, in as far as he was implicated in the affair, he had acted under the influence of the people, whom he could not restrain, and dared not to resist'. Thus it is also that the generality are acting all around us. They cannot actually deny that what they are doing is contrary to God's revealed will; but they are so circumstanced, that they can not on the whole act otherwise than they do: the current of the world is so strong against them, that they cannot resist it; and, if they err, the fault is rather in those who have led the way, than in themselves, who have only gone with the stream.
But perhaps the most common way of covering sins is by letting them pass altogether unnoticed. Many are not altogether satisfied that their ways are right: but they go on without much thought, and presently forget any thing which may have made a slight impression on their minds. Forgetting
a Prov. xxx. 20. b Gen. iv. 9. c Ps. xii. 4.
Jer. ii. 23, 24. This is a fine image to illustrate the insatiable avidity with which the wicked follow their own lusts and passions. e Jer. ii. 31, 35.
f 1 Sam. xv. 13–15, 20, 21, 21.
their sins, they suppose that God has forgotten them also. Of such persons God complains ; “ They consider not in their hearts, that I remember all their wickedness 6." Very beautiful is the description which God gives of such persons, by the Prophet Jeremiah : “I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? Every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battleh.” The horse is unconscious of his danger; and so are the mass of ungodly men: “it is a sport to them to commit iniquity;" and, provided it be not of such a heinous nature as to violate the usages of the place wherein they live, they say, “ No evil will come unto us!"}
But all who thus attempt to cover their sins are guilty of the extremest folly
[They “can never prosper.” Temporal prosperity they may have as much as others : but in their souls they cannot prosper
They cannot in this world. They can have no peace with God or in their own consciences; for God has said, “There is no peace to the wicked.” They can have no victory over sin : for God will not interpose to deliver them from bonds, which they themselves are pleased with. They can have no delight in holy ordinances, either in the public assembly, or in their secret chamber. They may, like Ezekiel's hearers, be pleased with hearing a man that can play well upon an instrument?; but they can have no fellowship with God: for “ what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, or light with darkness m?" They can have no bright and cheering prospects of the eternal world : for they have no evidence within themselves of their acceptance with God, nor any“ meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light.
Much less can they prosper in the world to come. There the impenitent and unbelieving will meet their deserved recompence. No joy awaits them there. They sought not mercy; and therefore they find it not: they came not weary and heavy laden unto Christ; and therefore they have no part in the rest which he alone can give: they humbled not themselves; and therefore they can never be exalted.]
Let us now contemplate, on the other hand, II. The benefit of true penitence
True repentance consists of two parts; a confessing, and forsaking, of our sins
[Confession is of absolute and indispensable necessity. We never can humble ourselves aright without it. Nor ought
8 Hos. vii. 2. h Jer. viii. 6. i Jer. v. 12. k Job xxxi. 33. | Ezek. xxxiii. 31, 32.
m 2 Cor. vi. 14.