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ing the guilty. When we are told, therefore, that he sets our iniquities before him, our secret sins in the light of his countenance, Psal. xc. 8. when, having reprieved the Israelites at the request of Moses, he told hiin, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them, Exod. xxxii. 34. we only understand, that time never removes an idea from his mind; and that if a sinner do not improve the time, which is granted to him for his repentance, he will be punished when that period expires.
6. In fine, it is a consequence of the frailty and depravity of men, that their anger puts them upon considering and punishing a pardonable frailty as an atrocious crime. This is incompatible with the eminence of the divine perfections. If we imagine God acts so, in any cases, it is because we have false notions of sins, and think that a pardonable frailty which is an atrocious crime. Soinetimes an action, that appears tolerable to us, is an atrocious crime, on account of the motive from which it proceeds. Such was that of Hezekiah ; he shewed his treasures to the Babylonian' ambassadors, and although this may seem very pardonable, yet it was an atrocious crime, which appears by the following passage: Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him : for his heart was lifted up; therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah und Jerusalem, 2 Chron. xxxii. 25. An action, that may appear to us very tolerable, is sometimes a heinous criine, on account of the singularity of the favour which preceded it. Such was the conduct of Lot's wife: she looked back towards Sodom, which, although it may seem very pardonable, was yet a heinous crime, because she disobeyed the express com- . mand of her benefactor, who had just delivered her from the · destruction of Sodom; and therefore she was instantly petria fied. An action, that may seem very tolerable to us, is sometimes a very atrocious crime, on account of the little temptation which the offender had to commit it. Such was the action of that man who gathered sticks upon the Sabbath-day, Numb. xv. 32. and although this may seem very tolerable to us, yet it was a heinous offence, because it was very easy to abstain from it, and therefore he was stoned. An action, that may seem very pardonable to us, may be a heinous crime, on account of the dignity of the offender. Such was that of Nadab and Abihu ; they offered strange fire to the Lord, and although it may appear very pardona able to us, yet it was an atrocious crime, for Nadab and
Abihu were ministers of holy things, Levit, x. 1, 2. and they ought to have given examples of exact and scrupulous' obedience, accordingly they were consumed with fire from heaven.
Thus we have gone through our first article, and have endeavoured to give you distinct ideas of that which the scripture calls in God, wrath, anger, consuming fire.
Moreover, in explaining the meaning of the proposition in the text, we have collected several passages, and alledged several examples, which prove the truth under our consideration. The explication of this proposition, our God is a consuming fire, proves its truth in the sense in which we have explained it. We leave the enlargement of this article to your meditation, they, and proceed to the next.
III. We are to conciliate whai the scripture saith of the goodness of God with what it saith of his anger or vengeance : the gospel of last Lord's day with the gospel of this day: and, as the two subjects never appear more irreconcileable than when, having used all our endeavours to terrify people who defer their conversion till a dying-illness; we actually take pains to comfort those who have deferred it till that time, we will endeavour to harmonize the goodness and justice of God in that particular point of view.
First, Let us endeavour, in a general view, to reconcile the goodness of God with his justice, by laying down a few principles.
1. To speak properly, there are not several perfections in God; but there is one single excellence, inclusive of every other, that ariseth from all his perfections, but of which it is not possible we can either form any complete ideas, or easily express by any name : in general, it may be called order, or love of order. Order, in regard to finite and dependent bea ings, is that disposition which induced them to act agreeably to their relations to other intelligent beings :* to the faculties which the Creator hath given them ; to the talents they have received; and to the circumstances in which they are placed. Order, in regard to God, who is an infinite and an independent intelligence, is that disposition, which induceth him always to act agreeably to the eminence of his perfections.
2. Although God hath only a general excellence, yet it is necessary for us to divide it into several particular excellencies, in order to the obtaining of some knowledge of an object, the immensity of which will not allow us to comprehend it at once. We are obliged to use this method in stu
dying finite objects, whenever their sphere extends beyond the coinprehension of a single act of the mind : And, if finite objects can be known only by this method, for a much stronger reason we must be allowed to use the same method of obtaining the knowledge of the great and infinite Being.'
3. The general excellence of God being thus divided into parts, each part becomes what we call a perfection, or an attribute of God, as vengeance or justice, and goodness: but each particular attribute will be still mistaken unless we subdivide it again into other, and still more contracted spheres. Thus, when God sendeth rain and fruitful seasons, we call the blessing simply bounty. When he delivereth us out of our afflictions, we call it compassion. When he pardoneth our sins, we call it mercy, But as all these particular excellencies proceed from that general attribute which we call goodness, so that attribute itself proceedeth, as well as his justice, from an excellence more general still, which we have denominated order, or love of order.
4. Perfections, that proceed from the same perfection, of rather, which are the same perfections applied to different subjects, cannot be contrary to each other. Strictly speaking, God is no more just than good, no more good than just. His goodness is restrained by his justice, his justice by his goodness. He delighteth as much in the exercise of his justice, when order requires it, as in the exercise of his goodness, when order requires him to exercise it: or, to express the same thing more plainly, that which is goodness, when it is applied to one case, would cease to be goodness, were it applied to a different case, because, in the latter, goodness would not be restrained by justice: or, to express myself more plainly still, because order, which alloweth the exercise of goodness in the first case, doth not allow the exercise of it in the last, so that what would be fit, or agreeable to order, in the first case, would be unfit or disorderly in the last, .
To conclude. God is as amiable and adorable when he exerciseth his justice, as when he exerciseth his goodness, That which makes me adore God, believe his word, hope in his promises, and love him above all things, is the emi. nence of his perfections. Were not God possessed of such an eminence of perfections, he would not be a proper object of adoration. I should be in danger of being deceived were I to believe his word, or to trust his promise, and I should be guilty of idolatry, were I to love him with that supreme af. VOL, I.
nence promises, and more adore God, exerciseth,
fection, which is due to none but the Supreme Being. But, the goodness and justice of God being equal emanations of the eminence of his perfections, and of his love of order, I ought equally to adore and love him when he rewardeth, and when he punisheth, when he exerciseth his justice, and when he exerciseth his goodness; because, in either case, he alike displayeth that general excellence, that love of order, which is the ground of my love and obedience. I ought to adore and love him, as much when he drowns the world, as when he promiseth to drown it no more; when he unlocks the gates of hell, as when he openeth the doors of heaven; when he saith to the impenitent, Depart, ye cursed, to the devil and his angels, as when he saith to his elect, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, Mait. xxv. 41, 34.
The justice and the goodness of God, then, are in perfect harmony; the gospel of last Lord's-day, and the gospel of this day, entirely agree; the prophet and the apostle preach the same doctrine, and the two texts rightly understood, God as a consuming fire; the Lord will abundantly pardon; both these texts, I say, present the same object to us, the emi. nence of the divine perfections, God's love of order. This is what we proposed to prove.
Let us now, apply this general harmony of the goodness and severity of God to the removing of a seeming inconsis, tency in the conduct of your preachers and casuists, who first use every effort to alarm and terrify your minds with the idea of a death-bed repentance, and afterwards take equal pains to comfort you, when you have deferred your repen, tance to that time, and when your case appears desperate.
Why do we not despair of a man who delays his conversion till the approach of death? Why did we tell you last Lord's-day, that God pardoneth not only the sins of months and years, but of a whole life? Because that order, which constitutes the eminence of the divine perfections, doth not allow that a sincere conversion, a conversion that abandons, the sin, and renews the sinner, should be rejected by God, Now we cannot absolutely deny the possibility of a sincere death-bed conversion for the following reasons.
1. Because it is not absolutely impossible, that a violent fit of sickness, or an apprehension of death, should make deeper impressions on the mind, than either sermons, or exhortations, or books of devotion could ever produce. This reHection is the inore solid, because the phrase, an unconverted
irani, is extremely equivocal. We call him an unconverted man, who profanely rusheth into all sorts of sins, and who never inade one sacrifice to order; and we also, with great reason, call him an unconverted man, who hath renounced all sins except one. Now the idea of death may finish, in the souls of people of the latter sort, a work which they had indeed neglected, but which however was actually begun.
2. Because we are neither so fully acquainted with other people's hearts, nor indeed with our own, as to determine whether sin have so entirely depraved all the faculties of the soul, that it is past remedy; or, whether it have arrived at that precise degree of corruption, to which the eminence of the divine perfections doth not allow a display of that efficacy, which is promised to those who desire the grace of conversion.
3. Because we find, in the holy scriptures, that some have obtained mercy, after they had committed the very crimes, the remembrance of which we have said, ought not to drive any to despair. We meet with, at least, one example, which affords a probability, (I do not say a demonstration) that the eminence of the divine perfections doth 110t always require, that a man, who hath spent his life in robberies, should be excluded from the mercy of God. We find there a thief who was condeinned to be crucified, and who said to the companion of his iniquities and miseries, we receive the due rewards of our deeds, Luke xxiii. 41. but who, notwithstanding all the misery of his case, applied to Jesus Christ, and, from his adorable mouth, received this comfortable promise, Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise, ver. 43.
4. Because we still see people, who, having lived thirty, ỹea fifty years in sin, have been converted in a time of sickhess, and who, being restored to health, give full proof of the reality of their conversion. Such examples, I own, are fare, and almost unheard of, yet we could, perhaps, mention two or three, out of twenty thousand sick people, whom we have visited, or of whom we have heard, in the course of our ministry. Now the examples of two or three, who have been converted on a sick-bed, out of twenty thousand who have died without conversion, aie sufficient to prevent our saying to one dying man, who should have put off his repentance to the last hour, that it is impossible for him to be converted. . . Dd2