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At least, when we usurp this right, let us not aggravate our conduct by the manner, in which we exercise the bold imperious usurpation. Let us not pronounce like iniquitons judges on the actions of those sinners, to whom nature, 50ciety, and religion ought to unite us in an affectionate manner. Let us procure exact informations of the causes of such criminals as we summon before our tribunals, and let us not deliver our sentences till we have weighed in a just balance whatever tends to condemn, or to absolve them. This would bridle our inalignity. We should be constrained to suspend for a long time our avidity to solicit, and to hasten the death of a sinner. The pleasure of declaring him guilty would be counterbalanced by the pain of trying the cause. Did this pharisee give himself time to examine the whole conduct of the sinner, as he called her? Did he enter into all the discussions necessary to determine whether she were a penitent sinner, or an obstinate sinner; whether she were reformed, or hardened like a reprobate in the practice of sin? No certainly. At the stght of the woman he recollects only the crimes, of which she had been guilty ; he did not see her, and he did not choose to see her in any other point of light; he pronounced her character rashlý, and he wanted Jesus Christ to be as rash as himself, this is a woman of bad fame. . Do you not perceive, ny brethren, what wicked indolence animated this iniquitous Judge, and perverted his judgment.
The pharisee sinned by rashness. . See how he judges of the conduct of Christ in regard to the woman, and of what the woman ought to expect of Jesus Christ, on supposition his mission had been divine, this man, if he were a prophet would have known who, and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, for she is a sinner. This opinion supposes, that a prophet ought not in any case to have pam tience with a woman of this sort. As if it were impossible for a prophet to have any design impenetrable to the eye of a pharisee! As if any one lad a right to censure the conduct of a man under the direction of the infinite Spirii! But it is because this inan is a prophet, it is because he is more thai a prophet, it is because he is the spring, the ocean, from which all the prophets derived the supernatural knowledge of the greatest mysteries of revelation, of predicting events the least likely to come to pass, of sceing into the most distans and impenetrable futurity; it is because of this, that he is capable of forming a just notion of the character of a sinner,
and the nature of sin. Yes, none but God can form such a judgment, Who art thou that judgeth another ? Rom: xiv. 4. Such a judgment depends on so many difficult combinations, that none but an infinite intelligence is capable
of making it with exactness.
In order to judge properly of a crime, and a criminal, we must examine the power of the temptations, to which he was exposed, the opportunities given him to avoid it, the force of his natural constitution, the motives that animated him, the resistance he made, the virtues he practised, the talents God gave him, the education he had, what knowledge he had acquired, what conflicts he endüred, what remorse he has felt. “An exact comparison ought to be made of his sins with his virtues, in order to determine whether sin prevails over virtue, or whether virtue prevails over sin, and on this confronting of evidence a proper idea of the sinner in question must be formed. It must be examined; whether he were seduced by ignorance, or whether he were allured by example, or whether he yielded through weakness, whether dissipation or obstinacy, malice, or contempt of God and his law 'confirined him in sin. On the examination of all these articles depends the truth of the judgment, which we form of a fellow creature. There needs nothing but one circumstance, nothing but one degree of more or less in a moral action to change the nature of it, to render it pardonable or irremissible, deserving compassion or horror. Now who is he, who is the man, that is equal to this combination? Accordingly, nothing more directly violates the laws of benevolence and justice than some decisive opinions, which we think proper to give on the characters of our neighbours. It is indeed the office of judges to punish such crimes as disturb the peace of society; and each individual may say to his brethien, this is the path of virtue, that is the road of vice. We have authority indeed to inform them, that the unrighteous, that is, adulterers, idolaters, and fornicators shall not inherit the kingdom of God, i Cor. vi. 9, 10. Indeed we ought to apprize them of danger, and to make them tremble at the sight of the bottomless pit, toward which they are advancing a great pace: but to make such a combination as we have described, and to pronounce such and such people reprobates is rashness, it is to assume all the authority of the sovereign judge.
There is in the opinion of the pharisee a selfish pride. What is it then that inakes this woman deserve his indigna
tion? At what tribunal will she be found more odious than other sinners who insolently lift their heads both in the world and the church? It is at the tribunal of pride. Thou superb pharisee ! Open thine eyes, see, look, examine, there is within the walls, where thy feast is prepared, there is even at thy table a much greater sinner than this woman, and that sinner is thyself! The sin, of which thou art guilty, and which is more abominable than unchastity; more abominable than adultery, more abominable than prostitution itself, is pride, and above all pharisaical pride. The sin of pride is always hateful in the eyes of God, whether it be pride of honour, pride of fortune, or pride of power : but pride, arising from an opinion of our own righteousness is a direct crime against the divine majesty. On what principles, good God! is such a pride founded! What insolence has he who is animated with it when he presents himself before God? He appears without fear and dread before that terrible throne, in the presence of which seraphims cover their faces, and the heavens themselves are unclean. He ventures to say to himself, I have done all my duty. I have had as much respect for Almighty God as he deserves. I have had as much zeal and ardour in prayer as the exercise requires, I have so restrained my tongue as to have no word, so directed my mind as to have no thought, so kept my heart as to have no criminal emotion to reproach myself with; or if I have had at any time any frailty, I have so fully made amends for it by my virtue, that I have sufficiently satisfied all the just demands of God. I ask no favour, I want nothing but justice. Let the judge of the world call me before him, Let devouring fire, and eternal flames glitter in my presence. Let the tribunal of retribution be prepared before me. My arm shall save me, and a recollection of my own righteousness shall support me in beholding all these objects. You sufficiently perceive, my brethren, what makes this disposition so hateful, and we need not enlarge on the subject, Humility is the supplement of the virtues of the greatest saints. What application soever we have made to our duty, we have always fallen short of our obligations. We owe so much homage to God as to acknowledge, that we cannot stand before him, unless we be objects of his mercy; and a crime humbly acknowledged is more tolerable in his eyes, than a virtue set forth with pride and parade.
What above all poisons the judgment of the Pharisee is that spirit of cruelty, which we have observed. He was content,
though though all the tears of true repentance shed by this woman were shed in vain, and wished, when the woman had recourse to mercy, that God would have assumed in that very instant a shocking character, that is, that he would have des pised the sacrifice of a broken and a contrite heart, Psalm li., 17. It is delightful, my brethren, to combat such a fatal pretence. There is a high satisfaction in filling one's mind with just and elevated ideas of divine mercy. All we say against the barbarity of the pharisee will serve to strengthen our faith, when satan endeavours to drive us to despair, as he endeavoured once to destroy us by security, when he magnifies the sins we have committed, as he diminished them, when he tempted us to canımit them.
The mercy of God is not an abstract attribute, dism covered with great difficulty through shades and darkness by our weak reason; but it is an attribute issning from that among his other perfections, of which he hath given the most clear and sensible proofs, I mean his goodness. AN things preach to us, that God is good. There is no star in the firmament, no wave of the ocean, no production of the earth, no plant in our gardens, no period in our duration, no gifts of his favour, I had almost said 110 strokes of his anger, which do not contribute to prove this proposition, God is. good.
An idea of the kercy of God is not particular to some places, to any age, nation, religion, or sect. ' Although the empire of truth doth not depend on the number of those that submit to it, there is always some ground to suspect we are deceived, when we are singular in our opinions, and the whole world contradict us : but here the sentiments of all mạnkind to a certain point agree with ours. All have acknowledged themselves guilty, and all have professed. to. worship a merciful God. Though mankind have entertained different sentiments on the nature of true repentance, yet
all have acknowledged the prerogatives of it.
The idea of the mercy of God is not founded merely on human speculations, subject to error: but it is founded on clear revelation; and revelation preaches this mercy far more emphatically than reason. These decisions are not expressed in a vague and obscure manner, so as to leave room for doubt and uncertainty, but they are clear, intelligible, and reiterated.
The decisions of revelation concerning the mercy of God do not leave us to consider it as a doctrine incongruous with
the whole of religion, or connected with any particular doctrine taught as a part of it: but they establish it as a capital doctrine, and on which the whole system of religion turns. What is our religion? It is a dispensation of mercy. It is a supplement to human frailto: It is a refuge for penitent sinners from the pursuits' of divine justice. It is a covenant, in which we engage to give ourselves wholly up to the laws of God, and God condescends to accept our imperfect services, and to pardon our sins, low enormous soever they. have been, oni our genuine repentance. The promises of mercy made to us in religion are not restrained to sinners of a particular order, nor to sins of a particular kind: but they regard all sinners and all sins of every possible kind There is no crime so odious, no circumstance so aggravating, no life so obstinately spent in sin, as not to be pitiable and pardonable, when the sinner affectionately and sincerely returns to God. If perseverance in evil, if the sin against the Holy Ghost exclude people from mercy, it is because they render repentance impracticable, not because they render it effectual.
The doctrine of divine inercy is not founded on promises to be accomplished at some remote and distant period; but experience hath justified these promises. Witness the people of Israel, witness Moses, David, Ahab, Hezekiah, witnëss Manasseh, Nineveh, Nebuchadnezzar. What hath not repentance-done? Bý repentance the people of Israel sus_ pended the judgments of God, when they were ready to fall on thein and crush them. By repentance Moses stood in the breach, and turned away the wrath of God. By repentance David recovered the joy of his salvation, after he had committed the crimes of murder and adultery. By repentance even Ahab'obtained a reprieve. By repentance Hezekiah enlarged the term of his life fifteen years. By repentance Manasseh saved hiinself, and his people. By repentance Nineveh obtained a revocation of the decree that a prophet håd denounced against it. By repentance Nebuchadnezzar recovered his understanding, and his e.rccllent majesty. It would be easy to enlarge this list. So many reflections, so mfany arguments against the cruel pretence of the pharisee,
III. You have seen in our first part the repentance of the immodest woman. In the second you have seen the judga intent of the pharisee. Now it remains to consider the
judgment of Jesus Christ concerning them both. There was a Vol. V.