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hope for from God, if we ourselves be not ready to forgive one another !
He shall have judgment without mercy, says St. James, who hath dhewed no mercy.
And in that excellent forin prayer which our Lord himself hath given us, he hath taught us so to ask forgiveness of God, as not to expect it from him, if we do not forgive one another. So that if we do not practise this duty, as hard as we think it is, every time that we put up this petition to God, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us; we fend up a terrible imprecation against ourselves, and do in effect beg of God not to forgive us. And therefore, to imprint this matter the deeper upon our minds, our blessed Saviour, immediately after the recital of this prayer, hath thought fit to add a very remarkable inforcement of this petition, above all the rest : For if (says he) se forgive men their trefpalles, your heavenly Father will also forgive you : but if s'e forgive not men i heir trespases, neither will your Father forgive your trespalles, Matth. vi. 14. 15.
And our Saviour hath likewise in his gospel represented to us, both the reasonableness of this duty, and the danger of doing contrary to it, in a very lively and afe fecting parable, delivered by him to this purpose, Matth, xviii. 23. concerning a wicked fervant, who when his lord had but just before forgiven him a vast debt of ten thousand talents, took his poor fellow-servant by the throat, and, notwithstanding his humble fubmission, and earnest intreaties to be favourable to him, haled him to prison for a trifling debt of an hundred pence. And the application which he makes of this parable, at the end of it, is very terrible, and such as ought never to go out of our minds : Sotikewise (says hc) Jball my heavenly Fa. ther do also unto you, if ye do not from your hearts forgive every one his brother his trespases, v 35. One might be apt to think at first view, that this parable was overdone, and wanted something of a due decorum; it being hardly credible, that a man after he had been so mercifully and generously dealt withal, as upon his humble request to have so huge a debt so freely forgiven, should, whilft the memory of so much mercy was fresh upon him, even the very next moment, handle his fellow-fervant, who
had made the same humble submission and request to him which he had done to his lord, with so much roughness and cruelty, for so inconsiderable a sum. This, I say, would hardly seem credible ; did we not see in experience, how very unreasonable and unmerciful some men are, and with what confidence they can ask and cxpect great mercy from God, when they will shew none to men.
The greatness of the injuries which are done to us, is the reason commonly pleaded by us why we cannot forgive them. But whoever thou art that makest this an argument why thou canst not forgive thy brother, lay thine hand upon thine heart, and bethink thyself how many more and much greater offences thou halt been guilty of against God. Look up to that just and powerful being that is above, and consider well, whether thou doft not both expect and stand in need of more mercy and favour from him, than thou canst find in thine heart to shew to thine offending brother.
We have all certainly great reason to expect, that as we use one another, God will likewise deal with us. And yet'after all this, how little is this duty practised among Christians ? and how hardly are the best of us brought to love our enemies, and to forgive them ? and this not withstanding that all our hopes of mercy and forgiveness from God do depend upon it? How strangely inconlistent is our practice and our hope? And what a wide di. stance is there between our expectations from God, and our dealings with men ? How very partial ard unequal are we, to hope focasily to be forgiven, and yet to be so hard to forgive ?
Would we have God, for Christ's fake, to forgive us those numberless and monstrous provocations which we have been guilty of against his divine Majesty ; and shall we not, for his fake for whose fake we ourselves are forgiven, be willing to forgive one another?
We think it hard to be obliged to forgive great injurics, and often repeated; and yet wo be to us all, and' most miserable shall we be to all eternity, if God do not all this to us, which we think to be so very hard and unreasonable for us to do to one another.
I have sometimes wondered how it should come to pass, that so many persons should be so apt to despair of
the mercy and forgiveness of God to them ; especially considering what clear and express declarations God hath made of his readiness to forgive our greatest lins and provocations upon our sincere repentance : but the wonder will be very much abated, when we shall consider, with how much difficulty men are brought to remit great inju. ries, and how hardly we are persuaded to refrain from flying upon those who have given us any considerable provocation. So that, when men look into themselves, and shall carefully observe the motions of their own minds towards those against whom they have been juftly exasperated, they will see but too much reason to think that forgiveness is no such easy matter.
But our comfort in this case is, that God is not as man; that his ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts; but as the heavens are high above the earth, so are his ways above our ways, and his thoughts an bove our thoughts.
And the best way to keep ourselves from despairing of God's mercy and forgiveness to us, is to be caly to grant forgiveness to others : and without this, as God hath reason to deny forgiveness to us, so we ourselves have all the reason in the world utterly to despair of it.
It would almost transport a Christian to read that admirable passage of the great Heathen Emperor and philoSopher M. Aurelius Antoninus, 1. 7. “Can the gods,
says he, that are immortal, for the continuance of fo many ages, bear without impatience with such and fo
many finners as have ever been.; and not only fo, « but likewise take care of them, and provide for them, « that they want nothing: and doft thou fo grievously “ take on, as one that can bear with them no longer; « thou that art but for a moment of time; yea, thou “ that art one of those finners thyself ?”
I will conclude this whole discourse with those weighty and pungent sayings of the wise fon of Sirach, Ecclus xxviii. 1. 2. 3 4. He that revengeth fhall find vengeance from the Lord, and he will certainly retain his sins. For give i hy neighbour that hath hurt thee, folhall thy fins also be forgiven when thou prayest. One man bearetb hatred against another; and doth be feek pardon of the Lord? He
seweth no mercy to a man like himself; and doth he ask for. giveness of his own fins ?
Enable us, O Lord, by thy grace, to practise this ex. cellent and difficult duty of our religion; and then, Fora give us our trespasses, as we, forgive them that trespass an gains us, for thy mercies fake in Jesus Chrilt. To whom with thee, O Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, adoration and obedience, both now and ever. Amen.
S E R M O N
The care of our souls, the one thing needful,
Preached before the King and Queen at Hampton-court,
April 14. 1689.
LU KE X. 42.
N the accounts of wise men, one of the first rules and measures of human actions is this, To regard every
thing more or less, according to the degree of its consequence and importance to our happiness. That which is most necessary to that end, ought in all reason to be minded by us in the first place; and other things only so far as they are consistent with that great end, and subservient to it.
Our blessed Saviour here tells us, that there is one thing needful ; that is, one thing which ought first and principally to be regarded by us: and what that is, it is of great concernment to us all to know, that we may mind and pursue it as it deserves.
And we may easily understand what it is, by considering the context, and the occasion of these words; which
was briefly this. Our Saviour, as he went about preach. ing the kingdom of God, came into a certain village, where he was entertained at the house of two devout filters. The elder, who had the care and management of the family, and the affairs of it, was employed in making entertainment for such a guest; the other fat at our Saviour's feet, attending to the doctrine of salvation which he preached.
The elder, finding herself not able to do all the business alone, desires of our Saviour that he would command her Gster to come and help her. Upon this our Saviour gives her this gentle reprehenfion, Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and troubled about many things : but one thing is needful. And what that is, he declares in the next words, And Niary hath chofen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her; that is, the hath chosen to take care of her salvation, which is infinitely more considerable than any thing else.
Our Saviour doth not altogether blame Martha for her respectful care of him ; but commends her sister for her greater care of her soul ; which made her either 'wholly to forget, or unwilling to mind other things at that time. So that, upon the whole matter, he highly approves her wise choice, in preferring an attentive regard to his doetrine, even before that which might be thought a necessary civility to his person.
From the words thus explained, the observation which I shall make is this :
That the care of religion and of our souls is the one thing necessary, and that which every man is concerned in the first place and above all other things to mind and regard.
This observation seems to be plainly contained in the text. I shall handle it as briefly as I can; and then, by way of application, fhall endeavour to perfuade you and myself to mind this one thing nerell'ary.
And in speaking to this serious and weighty argument, I shall do these two things..
1. I hull endeavour to fhow wherein this care of religion and of our souls does contist. 2. To convince men of the necessity of taking this