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Intimations of its terrible inflictions have been given in this world, just enough to tell us what it may be in hell. We have only to see its power in heathen lands, where man at bloody altars will offer his first-born son and his dearest objects of affection to obtain peace; we have only to follow a convicted sinner through the gloom of many weeks and years in that starless night when he is professedly inquiring the way to God; we have only to look upon the pale face, and trembling limbs, and retreating eye of the murderer, who, though the crime was long since committed, finds that the blood of innocence will still be in his path, and the stains, to his eye, WILL NOT be wiped out, and who at last yields himself to justice and flees to the grave as if this reprover would not follow him there, to see what the power of conscience may be, if rightly used, as a means of leading the sinner back to God. Its whole testimony coincides with the appeals of the gospel. Never do we preach a sermon, however severe and cutting its truths, that does not find the concurrence of conscience. And the gospel comes to avail itself of this power, and to excite and direct it, till the man cannot but feel his guilt and tremble. It seems almost as if in the constitution of man--before his fall--there was laid the foundation for his recovery; and that God deposited there, in innocence, an ever-abiding principle, which, while man was innocent, might be innocuous or consoling, but which was fitted also for terrible inflictions in the days of guilt; as beneath a city he may lay sulphur, and pent-up gases, and nitre, innocent or useful while the city is innocent; but terrible when some sinful Lisbon or Calabria shall demand that God shall kindle the elements and whelm guilty men in ruin.
3. Man is a creature of emotions, of hopes, and fears, and love; susceptible of pain, and joy; of anxiety, or sorrow; seeking peace here, and capable of immortal joys in another world. The gospel addresses itself to all these; and it is the
gospel alone which meets them fully. The utmost power of fear may be felt when man looks at an eternal hell. The farthest limit of hope may be met when he looks at an eternal heaven. All the desires of sympathy, friendship, love, may be gratified in the prospect of an eternal heaven. The utmost intensity of love may be exhausted in the effort to love God. And all the mightiest powers of the soul may be summoned in an effort to understand the works and word of God, and to do his will. Man is in ruins-but the ruins are mighty, and are grand, and tell us what he was, as broken arches and columns tell us what once Thebes was. And ruined as he is, there is no object in this world that satisfies the original susceptibilities of the mind. After men have sought the world, gained its wealth, run its round of pleasure, and climbed its steeps of ambition, still they sit down in the evening of life, and the big tear steals down the cheek when they reflect that not one single propensity of the mind has been met and gratified. Wealth had no such happiness to bestow as it promised; and the theatre and assembly-room never met and filled up the desire of joy; the toils of professional life have not filled the measure of the soul; the country's call to the field of liberty and victory has not satisfied the desires of the immortal mind. And there sits the man great in the ruins of sin, and even of age, still showing desires of something unreached and untasted, and still as restless, and unsatisfied as he was in all the aspirings of youthful ambition. There he sits wailing, as it were, on the shore of a boundless and unpassed ocean, for some new bark to bear him to climes he has never trod, and to an Elysium he has not yet found. How do the heavings of his bosom, and the last kindlings of his eye, and the last sighs of ambition, show that he has never found what was adapted to ALL the original propensities of men. That is the gospel of the blessed God-the voice of pardon-the hope of immortality. There the mind reposes, and is at ease. There like
the weary traveller at the end of his journey, not among strangers, but at last at home, it finds that which meets his demands; nor is there a desire of happiness, or peace; a susceptibility of hope, of fancy, of friendship, of love, of boundless wishes, that is not fully met by the gospel of God, and the looking forward to immortality. When man.feels this, he weeps over the sins which so long shut it from his view, and repents and turns to God. He reclines his head on his Redeemer's bosom, and every desire is satisfied, and he calmly ́ waits his change.
On a soul thus endowed with reason, conscience, and the strongest susceptibilities, the gospel is fitted to act. To the soul thus endowed, it brings its appeal, that man may feel his guilt, and turn to God by repentance. Our last inquiry, then, is, what does the gospel bring adapted to produce repentance in such a state of mind. Here we remark,
1. That the gospel comes to men under the full benefit of a concession to its demand. The man knows, sees, admits that he ought to repent. He feels that it is right to weep at guilt, and turn from it. He knows he ought to be humbled before God, and seek pardon for his sins. Here we have an advantage that is felt scarcely anywhere else but in religion. We may urge the duty on sinners as ingenuous men who have conceded all we ask of them, and who are pressed with all the considerations drawn from heaven, earth, and hell, to repent and turn to God. On a man's own admission of guilt, we may press upon him a return by every thing sacred in religion, tender in the love of God, and momentous in the eternal destiny of the soul.
2. The gospel comes with all the terrors and the demands of law. The thunders of Sinai were preliminary to the designs of the gospel. They denounce, for the purpose of arousing men to seek for mercy. The law was a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. It is designed to affect the hearts of men
with a consciousness of guilt, that they may be led to seek for pardon. Men are called upon to repent by all the evils of violated law; by all its solemn and awful claims; by the beauty and order which obeyed law would confer on the universe. That law, if obeyed, would have diffused peace and happiness in all worlds. That law, broken, has been the source of all our woes, and is now the great terrifier of men in view of future calamities. Man may be made to feel that this law is right. His reason, his conscience, his fears may all be roused, and his eye be fixed on the terrors of justice, and the pains of hell, till he trembles, turns pale, and his heart sinks within him, at the remembrance of his sins. Yet we do not mean that the preaching of terror is the only, or the happiest way of bringing men to see their guilt. It is not simply to terrify that the claims of law are urged. It is that men may see and feel, that that sin which has broken in upon the order of the universe, is an evil of amazing magnitude; and while the sinner looks upon the tide of woes which is rolling onward here; and the broad, and deep, and turbid tide of guilt and despair, that is hour by hour, and day by day, and age by age, pouring by a measureless cataract into eternity, that the eye may weep, and the heart relent. We do not believe that great good results to the cause of religion from a very frequent use of vivid pictures of future misery; still less that these should be used to round or point a period, or to supply materials for an awful or imposing declamation. God never used them with such an intention. He never held them up to view merely to frighten men. In his word they have a meaning. They are full of significancy to the entire measure of the language; and they seem to be drawn from his bosom, and uttered with a suppressed aud solemn voice, when the benevolent God must speak of the endless wretchedness of his creatures. So they should be used by us--with the deep conviction that we deserve all that they convey, and that in using
them of others, we are expressing the measure of our own guilt. Yet that men should hear those truths, and see that law, be fixed in contemplation of them, is indispensable, in order that they may see their guilt. And we come to men with this advantage-presenting a law which conscience approves, and whose penalty has been fixed by the unerring decision of the wisest mind in the universe. When a man sees that he has injured a friend or a benefactor, he will weep. When a child is made conscious that he has violated the law of a parent, and that that law is good, he will weep. When a felon feels that he has injured his country; that he has aimed a blow at its interests; that, in violating law, he has aimed a stab at all which gives to his fellow-men security of property, reputation, or life; when a man can be made to see that, you have found the way to bring him to repentance. And, when to all this you add the higher laws of the universe, you have completed the pressure on the man's conscience, and the mighty sinner must bow before God and bewail his crimes.
And here we may remark, that the gospel owes much of its success in modern times, to the doctrine of the immediate obligation of man to obey that law. In the preaching of the most successful ministers, and in the revivals of religion which have characterized this age and land, this doctrine has more prominently than any other been kept before the view. Nor is it known that any marked success has attended any other preaching than that which is based on this doctrine. This we regard as the cardinal point; the limit which separates schools of divinity; and draws the boundaries around the places where God eminently blesses the ministry. Let a man honestly and fully press this point, and on other subjects of practical preaching he will not be likely to go wrong. It was this which was connected with the prototype and grand exemplar of all true revivals of religion on the day of Pentecost. Acts ii. 37, 38. And the reason of this fact is easily understood.