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As we do not use unrestrained familiarity towards strangers as well as friends, or to inferiors or superiors, but only to our intimates, yet still may feel all Christian love towards them, so we surely may observe certain rules for a time, or for a permanence, towards those who have been open sinners, simply as a matter of duty, but not at all forgetting that in Christian privileges they are on an equality with ourselves, and may be, or are in the way to be, even our superiors in the kingdom of heaven. No one thing is more distinct from another than is the treating a person with distance or reserve from looking down upon him. And penitents often have actually put themselves into some new state or rank in life, which thus constituted their penance, and saved their brethren from the task of taking notice of their past sins, and enabled them to forget that they are penitents.
Now there are various reasons for insisting on this subject. One reason is thereby to enforce the following parallel truth; for if it is true that a sinner may become a saint, it is at least as true that an innocent person, who has never fallen into gross sin, notwithstanding need not be a saint. It frequently happens that repentant sinners become more holy and pleasing to God than those who have never fallen. There are a multitude of persons who go through life in a safe, uninteresting mediocrity. They have never been exposed to temptation; they are not troubled with violent passions; they have nothing to try them; they have never attempted great things for the glory of God; they have never been thrown upon the world; they live at home in the bosom of their families, or in quiet situations ;
and in a certain sense they are innocent and upright. They have not profaned their baptismal robe in any remarkable way; they have done nothing to frighten their conscience; they have ever lived under a sense of religion, and done their immediate duties respectably. And, when their life is closed, people cannot help speaking well of them, as harmless, decent, correct persons, whom it is impossible to blame, impossible not to regret. Yet, after all, how different their lives are from that described as a Christian’s life in St. Paul's Epistles ! I do not mean different in regard to persecutions, wanderings, heroic efforts, and all that is striking and what is called romantic in the Apostle's history; but (if I must condense all I mean in one word) in regard to unselfishness. All the peculiarity of a Christian consists in his preferring God and his neighbour to self,-in self-denial for the sake of God and his brethren; according to St. Paul's words “None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself; but whether we live, we live unto the Lord, and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.” But how many there are who live a life of ease and indolence, as far as they can-or, at least, who, far from setting the glory of God before them, as the end of their being, live for themselves, not to God! And what especially lulls their consciences in so doing, is the circumstance that they have never sinned grossly; forgetting that a mirror is by nothing more commonly dimmed than by the small and gradual accumulations of daily impurities, and that souls may silently be overspread and choked up with mere dust, till they reflect back no portion of
the heavenly truths which should possess them. And thus, while they dream life away, others who started with them, first, being overtaken by pride or passion, fall into sin, and lose their way; and then are shocked and terrified, and manage to regain it, and run forward impetuously, and pass by them; and the last become first, and the first last. I have also enlarged on this subject
, for the sake of those (how many they are !) who are conscious to themselves that they have, by wilful sinning, lost the fulness of that blessedness which baptism conveyed to them. Oh, happy they, who have not this consciousness, yet without on that account ceasing to be watchful and fervent in spirit! O my brethren, make much of your virginal state, if you possess it, and be careful not to lose it; lose not the opportunity of that special blessedness, which none but they can have who serve God from their youth up in consistent obedience. What is passed cannot be recalled. Whatever be the heights of holiness to which repentant sinners attain, yet they cannot have this pearl of great price, not to have sinned. No true penitent forgets or forgives himself: an unforgiving spirit towards himself is the very price of God's forgiving him. Yet still, though sinners never can be to themselves as if they had not sinned, though they cannot so rid them of their past sins, as to be sure that those sins will not, in the words of Scripture, find them out, and bring retribution upon them; yet, as regards the love of God and of their brethren, in this respect, they are, on their repentance, in the condition of just persons who need no repentance. Let this comfort and
encourage all penitents,—they may be high, they may be highest in the kingdom of heaven; they may be, like St. Paul, not a whit behind the chiefest. Keen indeed must be the discipline which brings them to that lofty seat. Not by languid efforts, not without great and solemn trials is it reached; not without pain and humiliation, and much toil, will they make progress towards it; but it can be gained. This is their great consolation,-it is in their grasp; they have not forfeited, they have but delayed, they have but endangered and made difficult, the prize of their high calling in Christ Jesus. Let them turn to God with a perfect heart; let them beg of Him that grace which wrought so powerfully in the blessed Apostle ; let them put on the whole armour of God, that they may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. Let them be sure that, if they have but the will for great things, they have the power. Let them meditate upon the lives of the Saints in times past, and see how much a resolute unflinching will did for them. Let them aim at God's glory; let it be their daily prayer that God may be glorified in them, whether in their life or in their death, whether in their punishment or in their release, in their pain rir in their refreshment, in their toil or in their repose, in their honour or in their dishonour, in their lifting up or in their humiliation. Oh, hard it is to say this, and to endure to put one's self into God's hands! Yet He is the faithful God, not willingly afflicting the sons of men, but for their good; not chastising us, but as a loving Father; not tempting us, without making a way to escape; not implanting
the thorn in our flesh, save to temper the abundance of His revelations. Whatever be our necessary trial, He will bring us through it—through the deep waters, through the thick darkness--as He guided and guarded the blessed Apostle; till we in turn, whatever be our past sins, shall be able to say, like him, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.”