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either escaped his notice or dropped out of his remembrance; “ Cleanse thou me from secret faults;" “ secret," not only with respect to others, but to myself also; bid from mine own eyes as well as from the eyes of my fellow men. And under this awful impression of the polluting nature even of his unobserved and “ secret faults," he views with horror the more aggravated guilt of known and wilful sins ; and prays, with redoubled earnestness, in the words of my text, that it might please God to restrain or keep him back from these: keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins.
What these sins are, and how much it concerneth us all to avoid them, I shall endeavour to show in the sequel of this discourse; and, as my text is a prayer,
I shall conclude with some directions for the help of those who are willing to make it their own prayer, and wish to offer it up with acceptance and success.
By presumptuous sins, we are to understand something different from those unavoidable failings, on account of wbich it is said, that “there is not a just man upon earth, who doeth good, and sinncth not.” Perfection in holiness is not the attainment of our present state; the best offend in many things; and “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
There are some sins done through ignorance; and this circumstance, how great soever the offence may be in its own nature, doth certainly render the case of the offender more pitiable. We find “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus,” pleading this argument for mercy to his murderers; “ Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." St. “ Paul ob. tained mercy, who was before a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious, because he did it ignorantly." And the Judge bimself hath assured us, (Luke xii. 48.) that
6 the servant who knew not his Lord's will, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with stripes.?
There are other sips into which men are hurried by sudden and violent temptation, which the apostle, writing to the Galatians, calls “ being overtaken in a fault," Gal. vi. 1.,“ outwitted, as it were, and taken by surprise. In this case, he exhorts the brethren to restore such an one in the spirit of meekness;" and the argument he useth is very remarkable; “ considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” It farther deserves our notice, that the persons to whom the exhortation is addressed are supposed to be “spiritual;" yet even to these he recommends compassion and tenderness, because the violence of the temptation might, in like circumstances, have overcome themselves. “ Men do not despise a thief,” said the wise king of Israel, “ if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry." In estimating the different degrees of guilt, regard must always be had to the nature of the temptation; for, according to the strength of that, the pride or perverseness of the sinner is proportionally diminished; especially if it appear that he did noi go forth to meet the temptation, but was really overtaken by it, in the proper sense of that word, and hurried along with its violence, before his mind could have freedom or leisure to reflect and reason upon the matter.
Having premised these distinctions, we shall now be able to discover, with greater ease and certainty, those peculiar ingredients which render sin presumptuous.
Knowledge is the first. This, as I have already binted, must lie at the root of every presumptuous sin. He is rather unfortunate than faulty, who, by mistake or accident, hurteth one in the dark; but he who doth it in
broad day, and with his eyes open, betrays malevolence, or wicked intention, which doth not admit of any extenuation. It was this that rendered the unbelieving Jews altogether inexcusable, according to that declaration of our Saviour, (John xv. 22.)“ If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.” Knowledge then being supposed as an essential ingredient,
The sin becomes more presumptuous when it is the froit of deliberation and contrivance; when the person ruminates and plots, and lays schemes for executing bis criminal designs. Such a transgressor is described, (Prov. vi. 14.) “ Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually;" and again, (Psalm xxxvi. 4.) “ He deviseth mischief upon bis bed; he setteth himself in a way that is not good; he abhorreth not evil.”'
The presumption is farther heightened, when obstinacy is added to knowledge and deliberation; when the transgressor “ holdeth fast his iniquity, and will not let it go,” but rusheth forward in bis wicked course, “ even as the borse rusheth into battle." Such was the temper which the Jews expressed in their answer to Jeremiah, (Jerem. xliv. 16.) “ As for the word which thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee, but will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth.” And to this obstinacy the epithet of presumptuous is directly applied, (Deut. i. 43.) where Moses saith, “I spake unto you, but ye would not hear, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord, and went presumptuously up into the bill."
Again, if the warnings and reproofs of men be accompanied with the remonstrances of conscience, and enforced by the motions of the Holy Spirit, these give a yet deeper tincture to the sinner's presumption, and render
his obstinacy still more criminal. With such guilt were the Jewish rulers directly charged by the first martyr Stephen, (Acts vii. 51.) “ Ye stiff-necked, and uncir. cumcised in heart and in ear, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost ; as your fathers did, so do ye.”
But the sin becomes presumptuous in the highest degree, when, besides the remonstrances of conscience, and the strivings of the Holy Spirit, God, by some aw. ful dispensations of his Providence, “ hedgetb up the sinner's way as with thorns," and yet he will break through. Upon this account a distinguished brand of infamy is set upon Ahaz in the sacred history; of whom it is said, (2 Chron. xxviii. 22.) “In the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the Lord;" to which it is subjoined, with a peculiar emphasis, “ This is that king Ahaz," that obstinate, that incorrigible offender, who stands on record as an awful beacon, for a warning to all succeeding generations. These, I apprehend, are the principal ingredients which render sin presumptuous.
And from this description it will appear, that there are some sins which must always be presumptuous, and do not admit of any palliation.
Profane swearing is evidently of this kind. It hath no claim to pleasure, and as little to profit ; the swearer seems to be wicked from pure malice, merely for the sake of being wicked. In vain do men plead provocation; for injure them who will, surely God doth them no injury; and if a fellow creature offend them, that can never afford them a reason for affronting their Creator, who is continually doing them good. Besides, it is only one instance of profane swearing for which even this alleviation can be pleaded ; let this first act be supposed involuntary, the effect of some sudden disorder in the
mind; what becomes of the next? that must necessarily be presumptuous; for the repetition of so unnatural a sin may easily be prevented, if the person bath a real abhorrence of it, and useth any efforts to guard against it. But, alas! how many are there who swear alike, whether they be angry or well pleased; who imprecate damnation upon themselves out of mere wantonness, and make such horrid oaths a principal part of their familiar conversation. If any who hear me are guilty in this manner, let me prevail with them to pause for a little, till they have seriously considered what they are doing. It cost the Redeemer much to purchase salvation for you, not only prayers, but blood too; and dare you pray that your souls may have no share in it? This is the height of madness : Damnation is easily obtained ; you need not pray for it; if you apply not the remedy, you perish of course : but it is not so easy to be saved; and must not these imprecations, which you have just cause to fear are recorded against you, increase the difficulty, and remove you farther from the road of mercy ? Think of this, 0 sinners! before it be too late, and speedily forsake this presumptuous sin.
Perjury is still more inexcusable, as it cannot even borrow the pretext of passion or surprise, but is a cool, deliberate act of the most daring impiety. The person who swears in judgment has not only abundance of leisure to consider what he is about to say, but the very manner of administering an oath, in all the courts I know, has something in it peculiarly solemn and awful, on purpose, no doubt, to stir up conscience to perform its office, and to oblige it to be faithful. Nay, the very words of an oath iu judgment, express an immediate appeal to the Searcher of hearts, in the tremendous character of final Judge; and consequently imply, not