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all around him. But when he put the other question to himself: Will the
Deity _pardon_ me for my transgression? there was no affirmative answer
from any source of knowledge accessible to him. If he sought a reply from
the depths of his own conscience, all that he could hear was the terrible
utterance: "The soul that sinneth it shall die." The human conscience can
no more promise, or certify, the forgiveness of sin, than the ten
commandments can do so. When, therefore, this pagan, convicted of sin,
seeks a comforting answer to his anxious inquiry respecting the Divine
clemency towards a criminal, he is met only with retributive thunders and
lightnings; he hears only that accusing and condemning law which is
written on the heart, and experiences that fearful looking-for of
judgment and fiery indignation which St. Paul describes, in the first
chapter of Romans, as working in the mind of the universal pagan world.

But we need not go to Solon, and the pagan world, for evidence upon this
subject. Why is it that a convicted man under the full light of the
gospel, and with the unambiguous and explicit promise of God to forgive
sins ringing in his ears, - why is it, that even under these favorable
circumstances a guilt-smitten man finds it so difficult to believe that
there is mercy for him, and to trust in it? Nay, why is it that he finds
it impossible fully to believe that Jehovah is a sin-pardoning God,
unless he is enabled so to do by the Holy Ghost? It is because he knows
that God is under a necessity of punishing his sin, but is under no
necessity of pardoning it. The very same judicial principles are
operating in his mind that operate in that of a pagan Solon, or any other
transgressor outside of the revelation of mercy. That which holds back
the convicted sinner from casting himself upon the Divine pity is the
perception that God must be just. This fact is certain, whether anything
else is certain or not. And it is not until he perceives that God can be
_both_ just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus; it is not
until he sees that, through the substituted sufferings of Christ, God can
_punish_ sin while at the same time He _pardons_ it, - can punish it in
the Substitute while He pardons it in the sinner, - it is not until he is
enabled to apprehend the doctrine of _vicarious_ atonement, that his
doubts and fears respecting the possibility and reality of the Divine
mercy are removed. The instant he discovers that the exercise of pardon
is rendered entirely consistent with the justice of God, by the
substituted death of the Son of God, he sees the Divine mercy, and that
too in the high form of _self-sacrifice,_ and trusts in it, and is at

These considerations are sufficient to show, that according to the
natural and spontaneous operations of the human intellect, justice
stands in the way of the exercise of mercy, and that therefore, if
man is not informed by Divine Revelation respecting this latter
attribute, he can never acquire the certainty that God will forgive his
sin. There are two very important and significant inferences from this
truth, to which we now ask serious attention.

1. In the first place, those who deny the credibility, and Divine
authority, of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments _shut up the
whole world to doubt and despair_. For, unless God has spoken the word of
mercy in this written Revelation, He has not spoken it anywhere; and we
have seen, that unless He has spoken such a merciful word _somewhere_, no
human transgressor can be certain of anything but stark unmitigated
justice and retribution. Do you tell us that God is too good to punish
men, and that therefore it must be that He is merciful? We tell you, in
reply, that God is good when He punishes sin, and your own conscience,
like that of Plutarch, re-echoes the reply. Sin is a wicked thing, and
when the Holy One visits it with retribution, He is manifesting the
purest moral excellence and the most immaculate perfection of character
that we can conceive of. But if by goodness you mean mercy, then we say
that this is the very point in dispute, and you must not beg the point
but must prove it. And now, if you deny the authority and credibility of
the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, we ask you upon what ground
you venture to affirm that God will pardon man's sin. You cannot
demonstrate it upon any _a priori_ and necessary principles. You cannot
show that the Deity is obligated to remit the penalty due to
transgression. You can prove the necessity of the exercise of justice,
but you cannot prove the necessity of the exercise of mercy. It is purely
optional with God, whether to pardon or not. If, therefore, you cannot
establish the fact of the Divine clemency by _a priori_ reasoning, - if
you cannot make out a _necessity_ for the exercise of mercy, - you must
betake yourself to the only other method of proof that remains to you,
the method of testimony. If you have the _declaration_ and _promise_ of
God, that He will forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin, you may be
certain of the fact, - as certain as you would be, could you prove the
absolute necessity of the exercise of mercy. For God's promise cannot be
broken. God's testimony is sure. But, by the supposition, you deny that
this declaration has been made, and this promise has been uttered, in the
written Revelation of the Christian Church. Where then do you send me for
the information, and the testimony? Have you a private revelation of your
own? Has the Deity spoken to you in particular, and told you that He will
forgive your sin, and my sin, and that of all the generations? Unless
this declaration has been made either to you or to some other one, we
have seen that you cannot establish the _certainty_ that God will forgive
sin. It is a purely optional matter with Him, and whether He will or no
depends entirely upon His decision, determination, and declaration. If
He says that He will pardon sin, it will certainly be done. But until He
says it, you and every other man must be remanded to the inexorable
decisions of conscience which thunder out: "The soul that sinneth it
shall die." Whoever, therefore, denies that God in the Scriptures of the
Old and New Testaments has broken through the veil that hides eternity
from time, and has testified to the human race that He will forgive sin,
and has solemnly promised to do so, takes away from the human race the
only ground of certainty which they possess, that there is pity in the
heavens, and that it will be shown to sinful creatures like themselves.
But this is to shut them up again, to the doubt and hopelessness of the
pagan world, - a world without Revelation.

2. In the second place, it follows from this subject, that mankind must
_take the declaration and promise of God, respecting the exercise of
mercy, precisely as He has given it_. They must follow the record
_implicitly_, without any criticisms or alterations. Not only does the
exercise of mercy depend entirely upon the will and pleasure of God, but,
the mode, the conditions, and the length of time during which the offer
shall be made, are all dependent upon the same sovereignty. Let us look
at these particulars one by one.

In the first place, the _method_ by which the Divine clemency shall be
manifested, and the _conditions_ upon which the offer of forgiveness
shall be made, are matters that rest solely with God. If it is entirely
optional with Him whether to pardon at all, much more does it depend
entirely upon Him to determine the way and means. It is here that we stop
the mouth of him who objects to the doctrine of forgiveness through a
vicarious atonement. We will by no means concede, that the exhibition
of mercy through the vicarious satisfaction of justice is an optional
matter, and that God might have dispensed with such satisfaction, had
He so willed. We believe that the forgiveness of sin is possible even to
the Deity, only through a substituted sacrifice that completely satisfies
the demands of law and justice, - that without the shedding of expiating
blood there is no remission of sin possible or conceivable, under a
government of law. But, without asking the objector to come up to this
high ground, we are willing, for the sake of the argument, to go down
upon his low one; and we say, that even if the metaphysical necessity of
an atonement could not be maintained, and that it is purely optional with
God whether to employ this method or not, it would still be the duty and
wisdom of man to take the record just as it reads, and to accept the
method that has actually been adopted. If the Sovereign has a perfect
right to say whether He will or will not pardon the criminal, has He not
the same right to say _how_ He will do it? If the transgressor, upon
principles of justice, could be sentenced to endless misery, and yet the
Sovereign Judge concludes to offer him forgiveness and eternal life,
shall the criminal, the culprit who could not stand an instant in the
judgment, presume to quarrel with the method, and dictate the terms by
which his own pardon shall be secured? Even supposing, then, that there
were no _intrinsic_ necessity for the offering of an infinite sacrifice
to satisfy infinite justice, the Great God might still take the lofty
ground of sovereignty, and say to the criminal: "My will shall stand for
my reason; I decide to offer you amnesty and eternal joy, in this mode,
and upon these terms. The reasons for my method are known to myself. Take
mercy in this method, or take justice. Receive the forgiveness of sin in
this mode, or else receive the eternal and just punishment of sin. Can I
not do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good?"
God is under no necessity to offer the forgiveness of sin to any criminal
upon any terms; still less is He hedged up to a method of forgiveness
prescribed by the criminal himself.

Again, the same reasoning will apply to the _time during which the offer
of mercy shall be extended_. If it is purely optional with God, whether
He will pardon my sin at all, it is also purely optional with Him to fix
the limits within which He will exercise the act of pardon. Should He
tell me, that if I would confess and forsake my sins to-day, He would
blot them out forever, but that the gracious offer should be withdrawn
tomorrow, what conceivable ground of complaint could I discover? He is
under no necessity of extending the pardon at this moment, and neither
is He at the next, or any future one. Mercy is grace, and not debt. Now
it has pleased God, to limit the period during which the work of
Redemption shall go on. There is a point of time, for every sinful man,
at which "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin" (Heb. x. 26). The
period of Redemption is confined to earth and time; and unless the sinner
exercises repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,
before his spirit returns to God who gave it, there is no redemption for
him through eternal ages. This fact we know by the declaration and
testimony of God; in the same manner that we know that God will exercise
mercy at all, and upon any conditions whatever. We have seen that we
cannot establish the fact that the Deity will forgive sin, by any _a
priori_ reasoning, but know it only because He has spoken a word to this
effect, and given the world His promise to be gracious and merciful,
In like manner, we do not establish the fact that there will be no second
offer of forgiveness, in the future world, by any process of reasoning
from the nature of the case, or the necessity of things. We are willing
to concede to the objector, that for aught that we can see the Holy
Ghost is as able to take of the things of Christ, and show them to a
guilty soul, in the next world, as He is in this. So far as almighty
power is concerned, the Divine Spirit could convince men of sin, and
righteousness, and judgment, and incline them to repentance and faith, in
eternity as well as in time. And it is equally true, that the Divine
Spirit could have prevented the origin of sin itself, and the fall of
Adam, with the untold woes that proceed therefrom. But it is not a
question of power. It is a question of _intention_, of _determination_,
and of _testimony_ upon the part of God. And He has distinctly declared
in the written Revelation, that it is His intention to limit the
converting and saving influences of His Spirit to time and earth. He
tells the whole world unequivocally, that His spirit shall not always
strive with man, and that the day of judgment which occurs at the end of
this Dispensation of grace, is not a day of pardon but of doom. Christ's
description of the scenes that will close up this Redemptive
Economy, - the throne, the opened books, the sheep on the right hand and
the goats on the left hand, the words of the Judge: "Come ye blessed,
depart ye cursed," - proves beyond controversy that "_now_ is the accepted
time, and _now_ is the day of salvation." The utterance of our Redeeming
God, by His servant David, is: "_To-day_ if ye will hear His voice harden
not your hearts." St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, informs the
world, that as God sware that those Israelites who did not believe and
obey His servant Moses, during their wanderings in the desert, should not
enter the earthly Canaan, so those, in any age and generation of men, who
do not believe and obey His Son Jesus Christ, during their earthly
pilgrimage, shall, by the same Divine oath, be shut out of the eternal
rest that remaineth for the people of God (Hebrews iii. 7-19).
Unbelieving men, in eternity, will be deprived of the benefits of
Christ's redemption, by the _oath_, the solemn _decision_, the judicial
_determination_ of God. For, this exercise of mercy, of which we are
speaking, is not a matter of course, and of necessity, and which
therefore continues forever and forever. It is optional. God is entirely
at liberty to pardon, or not to pardon. And He is entirely at liberty to
say when, and how, and _how long_ the offer of pardon shall be extended.
He had the power to carry the whole body of the people of Israel over
Jordan, into the promised land, but He sware that those who proved
refractory, and disobedient, during a _certain definite period of time_,
should never enter Canaan. And, by His apostle, He informs all the
generations of men, that the same principle will govern Him in respect to
the entrance into the heavenly Canaan. The limiting of the offer of
salvation to this life is not founded upon any necessity in the Divine
Nature, but, like the offer of salvation itself, depends upon the
sovereign pleasure and determination of God. That pleasure, and that
determination, have been distinctly made known in the Scriptures. We know
as clearly as we know anything revealed in the Bible, that God has
decided to pardon here in time, and not to pardon in eternity. He has
drawn a line between the present period, during which He makes salvation
possible to man, and the future period, when He will not make it
possible. And He had a right to draw that line, because mercy from first
to last is the optional, and not the obligated agency of the Supreme

Therefore, _fear_ lest, a promise being left us of entering into His
rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto you is the
gospel preached, as well as unto those Israelites; but the word, did not
profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. Neither
will it profit you, unless it is mixed with faith. God limiteth a certain
day, saying in David, "_To-day_, after so long a time," - after these many
years of hearing and neglecting the offer of forgiveness, - "_to-day_, if
ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts." Labor, therefore, _now_,
to enter into that rest, lest any man fall, after the same example of
unbelief, with those Israelites whom the oath of God shut out of both the
earthly and the heavenly Canaan.

[Footnote 1: Compare, also, the very full announcement of mercy as a
Divine attribute that was to be exercised, in Exodus xxxiv. 6, 7.

This is the more noteworthy, as it occurs in connection with the giving
of the law.]

[Footnote 2: Their creed lives in the satire of YOUNG (Universal Passion.
Satire VI.), - as full of sense, truth, and pungency now, as it was one
hundred years ago.

"From atheists far, they steadfastly believe
God is, and is Almighty - to _forgive_.
His other excellence they'll not dispute;
But mercy, sure, is His chief attribute.
Shall pleasures of a short duration chain
A lady's soul in everlasting pain?
Will the great Author us poor worms destroy,
For now and then a sip of transient joy?
No, He's forever in a smiling mood;
He's like themselves; or how could He be good?
And they blaspheme, who blacker schemes suppose.
Devoutly, thus, Jehovah they depose,
The Pure! the Just! and set up in His stead,
A deity that's perfectly well-bred."]

[Footnote 3: Plutarch supposes a form of punishment in the future world
that is disciplinary. If it accomplishes its purpose, the soul goes into
Elysium, - a doctrine like that of purgatory in the Papal scheme. But in
case the person proves incorrigible, his suffering is _endless_. He
represents an individual as having been restored to life, and giving an
account of what he had seen. Among other things, he "informed his friend,
how that Adrastia, the daughter of Jupiter and Necessity, was seated in
the highest place of all, to punish all manner of crimes and enormities,
and that in the whole number of the wicked and ungodly there never was
any one, whether great or little, high or low, rich or poor, that could
ever by force or cunning escape the severe lashes of her rigor. But
as there are three sorts of punishment, so there are three several
Furies, or female ministers of justice, and to every one of these
belongs a peculiar office and degree of punishment. The first of
these was called [Greek: Poinae] or _Pain_; whose executions are swift
and speedy upon those that are presently to receive bodily punishment
in this life, and which she manages after a more gentle manner, omitting
the correction of slight offences, which need but little expiation. But
if the cure of impiety require a greater labor, the Deity delivers those,
after death, to [Greek: Dikae] or _Vengeance_. But when Vengeance has
given them over as altogether _incurable_, then the third and most severe
of all Adrastia's ministers, [Greek: 'Erinys] or _Fury_, takes them in
hand, and after she has chased and coursed them from one place to
another, flying yet not knowing where to fly for shelter and relief,
plagued and tormented with a thousand miseries, she plunges them headlong
into an invisible abyss, the hideousness of which no tongue can express."
PLUTARCH: Morals, Vol. IV. p. 210. Ed. 1694. PLATO (Gorgias 525. c.d. Ed.
Bip. IV. 169) represents Socrates as teaching that those who "have
committed the most extreme wickedness, and have become incurable through
such crimes, are made an example to others, and suffer _forever_ ([Greek:
paschontas ton aei chronon]) the greatest, most agonizing, and most
dreadful punishment." And Socrates adds that "Homer (Odyssey xi. 575)
also bears witness to this; for he represents kings and potentates,
Tantalus, Sysiphus, and Tityus, as being tormented _forever_ in Hades"
([Greek: en adon ton aei chronon timoronmenos]).-In the Aztec or Mexican
theology, "the wicked, comprehending the greater part of mankind, were to
expiate their sin in a place of everlasting darkness." PRESCOTT: Conquest
of Mexico, Vol. I. p. 62.]

[Footnote 4: It may be objected, at this point, that mercy also is a
necessary attribute in God, like justice itself, - that it necessarily
belongs to the nature of a perfect Being, and therefore might be inferred
_a priori_ by the pagan, like other attributes. This is true; but the
objection overlooks the distinction between the _existence_ of an
attribute and its _exercise_. Omnipotence necessarily belongs to the idea
of the Supreme Being, but it does not follow that it must necessarily be
_exerted_ in act. Because God is able to create the universe of matter
and mind, it does not follow that he _must_ create it. The doctrine of
the necessity of creation, though held in a few instances by theists who
seem not to have discerned its logical consequences, is virtually
pantheistic. Had God been pleased to dwell forever in the
self-sufficiency of His Trinity, and never called the Finite into
existence from nothing, He might have done so, and He would still have
been omnipotent and "blessed forever." In like manner, the attribute of
mercy might exist in God, and yet not be exerted. Had He been pleased to
treat the human race as He did the fallen angels, He was perfectly at
liberty to do so, and the number and quality of his immanent attributes
would have been the same that they are now. But justice is an attribute
which not only exists of necessity, but must be _exercised_ of necessity;
because not to exercise it would be injustice.-For a fuller exposition of
the nature of justice, see SHEDD: Discourses and Essays, pp. 291-300.]


MARK x. 15. - "Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the
kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."

These words of our Lord are very positive and emphatic, and will,
therefore, receive a serious attention from every one who is anxious
concerning his future destiny beyond the grave. For, they mention an
indispensable requisite in order to an entrance into eternal life.
"Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he
_shall not_ enter therein."

The occasion of their utterance is interesting, and brings to view a
beautiful feature in the perfect character of Jesus Christ. The Redeemer
was deeply interested in every age and condition of man. All classes
shared in His benevolent affection, and all may equally partake of the
rich blessings that flow from it. But childhood and youth seem to have
had a special attraction for Him. The Evangelist is careful to inform us,
that He took little children in His arms, and that beholding an amiable
young man He loved him, - a gush of feeling went out towards him. It was
because Christ was a perfect man, as well as the infinite God, that such
a feeling dwelt in His breast. For, there has never been an uncommonly
fair and excellent human character, in which tenderness and affinity for
childhood has not been a quality, and a quality, too, that was no small
part of the fairness and excellence. The best definition that has yet
been given of genius itself is, that it is the carrying of the feelings
of childhood onward into the thoughts and aspirations of manhood. He who
is not attracted by the ingenuousness, and trustfulness, and simplicity,
of the first period of human life, is certainly wanting in the finest and
most delicate elements of nature, and character. Those who have been
coarse and brutish, those who have been selfish and ambitious, those who
have been the pests and scourges of the world, have had no sympathy with
youth. Though once young themselves, they have been those in whom the
gentle and generous emotions of the morning of life have died out. That
man may become hardhearted, skeptical and sensual, a hater of his kind,
a hater of all that is holy and good, he must divest himself entirely of
the fresh and ingenuous feeling of early boyhood, and receive in its
place that malign and soured feeling which is the growth, and sign, of a
selfish and disingenuous life. It is related of Voltaire, - a man in whom
evil dwelt in its purest and most defecated essence, - that he had no
sympathy with the child, and that the children uniformly shrank from that
sinister eye in which the eagle and the reptile were so strangely

Our Saviour, as a perfect man, then, possessed this trait, and it often
showed itself in His intercourse with men. As an omniscient Being, He
indeed looked with profound interest, upon the dawning life of the human
spirit as it manifests itself in childhood. For He knew as no finite
being can, the marvellous powers that sleep in the soul of the young
child; the great affections which are to be the foundation of eternal
bliss, or eternal pain, that exist in embryo within; the mysterious
ideas that lie in germ far down in its lowest depths, - He knew, as no
finite creature is able, what is in the child, as well as in the man, and
therefore was interested in its being and its well-being. But besides
this, by virtue of His perfect humanity, He was attracted by those

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Online LibraryWilliam G.T. SheddSermons to the Natural Man → online text (page 23 of 26)