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star, and every star is great as the sun, and shines for ever, unless we shut our eyes, or draw the veil of obstinate and final sins.
1. God is long-suffering, that is, long before he be angry; and
yet God is provoked every day, by the obstinacy of the Jews, and the folly of the heathens, and the rudeness and infidelity of the Mahometans, and the negligence and vices of Christians: and he that can behold no impurity, is received in all places with perfumes of mushrooms, and garments spotted with the flesh, and stained souls, and the actions and issues of misbelief, and an evil conscience, and with accursed sins that he hates, upon pretence of religion which he loves; and he is made a party against himself by our voluntary mistakes; and men continue ten years, and twenty, and thirty, and fifty, in a course of sinning, and they grow old with the vices of their youth; and yet God forbears to kill them, and to consign them over to an eternity of horrid pains, still expecting they should repent and be saved.
2. Besides this long-sufferance and forbearing with an unwearied patience, God also excuses a sinner oftentimes, and takes a little thing for an excuse, so far as to move him to intermedial favours first, and from thence to a final pardon. He passes by the sins of our youth with a huge easiness to pardon, if he be entreated and reconciled by the effective repentance of a vigorous manhood. He takes ignorance for an excuse; and in every degree of its being inevitable or innocent in its proper cause, it is also inculpable and innocent in its proper effects, though in their own natures criminal. “ But I found mercy of the Lord, because I did it in ignorance,” saith St. Paul. He pities our infirmities, and strikes off much of the account upon that stock: the violence of a temptation and restlessness of its motion, the perpetuity of its solicitation, the weariness of a man's spirit, the state of sickness, the necessity of secular affairs, the public customs of a people, have all of them a power of pleading and prevailing towards some degrees of pardon and diminution before the throne of God."
3. When God perceives himself forced to strike, yet then he takes off his hand, and repents him of the evil : it is as if it were against him, that any of his creatures should fall under the strokes of an exterminating fury.
4. When he is forced to proceed, he yet makes an end before he hath half done : and is as glad of a pretence to pardon us, or to strike less, as if he himself had the deliverance, and not we. When Ahab had but humbled himself at the word of the Lord, God was glad of it, and went with the message to the prophet himself, saying, Seest thou not how Ahab humbles himself?” What was the event of it? “I will not bring the evil in his days;" but in his son's days the evil shall come upon his house.
5. God forgets our sin, and puts it out of his remembrance; that is, he makes it as though it had never been, he makes penitence to be as pure as innocence to all the effects of pardon and glory: the memory of the sins shall not be upon record, to be used to any after-act of disadvantage, and never shall return, unless we force them out of their secret places by ingratitude and a new state of sinning.
6. God sometimes gives pardon beyond all his revelations and declared will, and provides suppletories of repentances, even then when he cuts a man off from the time of repentance,.accepting a temporal death instead of an eternal; that although the Divine anger might interrupt the growing of the fruits, yet in some cases, and to some persons, the death and the very cutting off shall go no farther, but be instead of explicit and long repentances. Thus it happened to Uzzah, who was smitten for his zeal, and died in severity for prevaricating the letter, by earnestness of spirit to serve the whole religion. Thus it was also in the case of the Corinthians, that died a temporal death for their indecent circumstances in receiving the holy sacrament: St. Paul, who used it for an argument to threaten them into reverence, went no farther, nor pressed the argument to a sadder issue, than to die temporally.
But these suppletories are but seldom, and they are also great troubles, and ever without comfort, and dispensed irregularly, and that not in the case of habitual sins, that we know of, or very great sins, but in single actions, or instances of a less malignity; and they are not to be relied upon, because there is no rule concerning them : but when they do happen, they magnify the infiniteness of God's mercy, which is commensurate to all our needs, and is not to be circumscribed by the limits of his own revelations.
7. God pardons the greatest sinners, and hath left them upon record : and there is no instance in the Scripture of the Divine forgiveness, but in such instances, the misery of which was a fit instrument to speak aloud the glories of God's mercies, and gentleness, and readiness to forgive. Such were St. Paul, a persecutor,--and St. Peter, that forswore his Master,—Mary Magdalene, with seven devils,—the thief upon the cross --Manasses, an idolater,-David, a murderer and adulterer,--the Corinthian, for incest,--the children of Israel, for ten times rebelling against the Lord in the wilderness, with murmuring, and infidelity, and rebellion, and schism, and a golden calf, and open disobedience : and above all, I shall instance in the Pharisees among the Jews, who had sinned against the Holy Ghost, as our blessed Saviour intimates, and tells the particular, viz. in saying that the Spirit of God, by which Christ did work, was an evil spirit; and afterward they crucified Christ; so that two of the persons of the most holy Trinity were openly and solemnly defied, and God had sent out a decree that they should be cut off: yet forty years' time, after all this, was left for their repentance, and they were called upon by arguments more persuasive and more excellent in that forty years, than all the nation had heard from their prophets, even from Samuel to Zacharias. And Jonah thought he had reason on his side to refuse to go to threaten Nineveh; he knew God's tenderness in destroying his creatures, and that he should be thought to be but a false prophet; and so it came to pass according to his belief. “ Jonah prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled; for I knew thou wert a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evila.” He told beforehand what the event would be, and he had reason to know it; God proclaimed it in a cloud before the face of all Israel, and made it to be his name: “ Miserator et misericors Deus:” “ The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious 6,” &c.
You see the largeness of this treasure; but we can see no end, for we have not yet looked upon the rare arts of conversion; nor that God leaves the natural habit of virtues, even
a Jonah, iv, 2.
b Exod. xxxiv. 6.
after the acceptation is interrupted; nor his working extraregular miracles, besides the sufficiency of Moses, and the prophets, and the New Testament; and thousands more, which we cannot consider now.
But this we can : when God sent an angel to pour plagues upon the earth, there were in their hands ‘phialæ aureæ,' 'golden phials :' for the death of men is precious and costly, and it is an expense that God delights not in: but they were phials, that is, such vessels as out of them no great evil could come at once; but it comes out with difficulty, sobbing and troubled as it passes forth; it comes through a narrow neck, and the parts of it crowd at the port to get forth, and are stifled by each other's neighbourhood, and all strive to get out, but few can pass; as if God did nothing but threaten, and draw his judgments to the mouth of the phial with a full body, and there made it stop itself.
The result of this consideration is, that as we fear the Divine judgments, so we adore and love his goodness, and let the golden chains of the Divine mercy tie us to a noble prosecution of our duty and the interest of religion. For he is the worst of men whom kindness cannot soften, nor endearment oblige, whom gratitude cannot tie faster than the bands of life and death. He is an ill-natured sinner, if he will not comply with the sweetnesses of heaven, and be civil to his angel-guardian, or observant of his patron God, who made him, and feeds him, and keeps all bis faculties, and takes care of him, and endures his follies, and waits on him more tenderly than a nurse, more diligently than a client, who hath greater care of him than his father, and whose bowels yearn over him with more compassion than a mother; who is bountiful beyond our need, and merciful beyond our hopes, and makes capacities in us to receive more. Fear is stronger than death, and love is more prevalent than fear, and kindness is the greatest endearment of love; and yet to an ingenuous person, gratitude is greater than all these, and obliges to a solemn duty, when love fails, and fear is dull and inactive, and death itself is despised. But the man who is hardened against kindness, and whose duty is not made alive with gratitude, must be used like a slave, and driven like an ox, and enticed with goads and whips; but must
never enter into the inheritance of sons. Let us take heed; for mercy is like a rainbow, which God set in the clouds to remember mankind: it shines here as long as it is not hindered; but we must never look for it after it is night, and it shines not in the other world. If we refuse mercy here, we shall have justice to eternity.