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pretensions to conversion and grace, we was still, as much as ever, in a state of nature-Hence Peter addressed him in the words of the text-In discoursing on them we shall enquire
I. What is the state here described?
The various terms here used are not unfrequent in the holy scriptures"-They import
1. A state of subjection to sin
[Nothing can so justly be termed "gall" as sin-It is indeed the bitterest gall, and the sorest bondage-Men may "roll it as a sweet morsel under their tongue, but they invariably find it gall in the stomach"-It may please them for a time, but at last "it will bite like a serpent and sting like an adder"-Let those, whose conscience is at all awakened, testify respecting this-Whether we be penitent or not, if our sin have found us out, it will prove a bitter cup-Peter wept bitterly at the remembrance of his guilt; and Judas could not even endure his own existence, when his conscience upbraided him with the act he had committed-And a dreadful vassalage it is to be led captive by sin-No slave in the universe is so much an object of pity, as he who "for a morsel of meat sells his birthright," and for a momentary gratification consigns his soul over to perdition-]
2. A state of condemnation on account of sin
[This necessarily accompanies the former-There is no freedom from condemnation where there is bondage to sinChrist came not to save his people in their sins, but from them-And the certainty of punishment is that, which renders sin so bitter and so formidable-Were there no future account to be given of our actions, the bonds of iniquity would lose their terror-But it is the thought of hell that gives a poignancy to the accusations of conscience, and makes the sinner often wish for utter annihilation-We say not that every sinner feels such anguish of soul (for many are past feeling, having seared their consciences as with an hot iron") but we are sure that they would do so if they knew their state, and will do so the very instant they enter into the invisible world-They are therefore in the gall of bitterness because "the wrath of God abideth on them"-]
That this is the lamentable condition of many amongst us will appear, if we enquire
II. Who may evidently be "perceived" to be in that state?
While some are manifestly in a very different state, and
Deut. xxix. 18. and xxxii. 32. Heb. xii. 15. Isaiah. Iviii. 6.
the condition of others is dubious, there are some who are indisputably in the state just described;
1. They who are yet under the dominion of their former lusts
[Simon had lately been a sorcerer, but upon embracing Christianity had ceased from the practice of his magic artsNevertheless his desire of gain and his love of man's applause were altogether unmortified-Hence when a prospect of aggrandizing himself opened to his view, he was ready to return to his former course of life-Nor did he regard what means he used, provided he might but attain his end-And are there not too many amongst ourselves who are yet addicted to their former lusts?-Are not many, who in the days of their ignorance were proud, passionate, unforgiving, still prone to relapse into their former sins the very instant that any temptation occurs? Are not many as earthly, sensual, and devilish in their tempers and dispositions as ever?-Let them then not deceive themselves Their state may be easily and clearly "perceived"-It was by such marks that Peter knew beyond a doubt the state of Simon-And by such may the state of every professor in the universe be determined-If they practise, or desire to practise, the same iniquities that they did in their unenlightened state, they are surely "in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity"-"Whosoever allowedly committeth sin is most assuredly the servant of sin," and the child "of the devil"-]
2. They who pursue religion for carnal ends
[Simon earnestly desired the power of conferring the Holy Ghost-And would have given a sum to obtain it—But from what motive did this spring? Was he desirous of honouring Christ, or of benefiting his fellow-creatures? No: he only desired to advance his own reputation and interestAlas! how many are there who follow Christ from no better motive! They hope that by mixing with the society of God's people they shall promote their temporal interestsThey wish to be caressed by religious persons, and to be held in reputation for their sanctity and zeal--They do not merely, as even sincere Christian's too often do, feel a mixture of principle within them, which they mourn over and resist; but they act uniformly from selfish motives, and with a view to their own ease, interest or honour-Need we ask the state of such people? It may be too easily "perceived"-Like those who followed Christ for the loaves and fishes, they are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity-]
e John viii. 34, 44. and 1 John iii. 8.
3. They who are not attentive to their thoughts as well as their actions
[Many, from the customs of the world, take care to regulate their outward actions, while their thoughts range at liberty and without controul-Simon conceived the thought of purchasing the power of conferring the Holy Ghost; and, instead of mortifying, indulged it--Peter, in his reproof, bade him particularly "pray, if perhaps the thought of his heart might be forgiven him;" and perceived by this thought, which he had so unadvisedly divulged, that his "heart was not right in the sight of God, and that he had no part or lot in the gospel salvation"-And may not many amongst ourselves draw the same conclusion from the vain thoughts that lodge within them?-We are well aware that the best of men may have sinful thoughts rushing into their minds-But will they harbour them? No:-Every true Christian may say as in the presence of God, "I hate vain thoughts"-But they, who "regard iniquity in their hearts," are in a state of desperate delusion-God, who searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins, "will bring every secret thing into judgment," and acquit or condemn, according as he sees the prevailing bent of the heart-If then our "thoughts be not so far captivated to the obedience of Christ" that we cherish those that are holy, and mortify all that are corrupt, we may perceive beyond a doubt that we are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity-]
1. What need is there for the professors of religion to examine their own hearts!
[Simon had been approved by his fellow-creatures, and even by an inspired servant of God-From hence doubtless he would augur well respecting his own state-Yet in the midst of all he only deceived his own soul-What need then have we to examine ourselves!--The approbation of men is but a small matter-It is not he who commendeth himself, or is commended by others, but he whom the Lord commendeth, that shall stand before him with approbation in the last dayd Judge yourselves then, brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord-Examine not your actions only, but your desires, your motives, and your thoughts-By these will God determine your state in the last day-Nor shall any but the upright in heart be accepted of him-]
2. What reason have true Christians to rejoice!
[The declaration made to Simon intimated that no true Christian was in his state--Blessed thought! If we really be
• 2 Cor. 1. 18.
lieve in Jesus, and experience the purifying efficacy of that faith, we have nothing to fear-The bonds of sin are broken. asunder-Nor shall one drop of the cup of bitterness be ever tasted by us to all eternity-Rejoice, believer, in thy deliverer -Thou once wast in the state of Simon, a miserable, enslaved, condemned sinner-But now "the Son hath made thee free, and thou art free indeed"-"There is no condemnation to thee since thou art in Christ Jesus"-Rejoice evermore-But endeavour still to maintain a guard over thy words and thoughts-"Seek not great things for thyself," nor "the honour that cometh of man"-Be more solicitous about graces than about gifts-And whatever God hath bestowed on thee, labour to improve it, not for thine own glory, but for the good of men and the glory of God-Thus shall it be evidently "perceived" that thou art in the way of peaceAnd thou shalt receive the plaudit of thy Lord himself in the day of judgment-]
CCCXLVIII. THE WICKEDNESS, MADNESS, AND
MISERY OF UNREGENERATE MEN.
Eccl. ix. 3. The heart of the sons of men is full of evil; and madness is in their heart while they live; and after that, they go to the dead.
IF we look only on the surface of things, we shall think that all things come alike to all, since all are subject to the same afflictions, and go down to the grave in their appointed season. But the righteous, however afflicted, "are in the hands of God," who ordereth and overruleth every thing for their good; whereas the wicked, however prosperous, are left to run their career of sin, till they fall into the pit of everlasting destruction. The state and end of unregenerate men are awfully declared in the words before us; wherein is depicted
I. Their wickedness
["The hearts of unregenerate men are full of evil." Every species of filthiness, whether fleshy or spiritual," abounds within them-They have not a faculty either of body or soul that is not defiled with sin"-So full of iniquity are they, that there is no good within theme-And this is the state, not of
a Ver. 1.
Rom. i. 29-31. e Gen. vi. 5. Rom. vii. 18.
a few only, but of every child of man, till he has been renewed by the Holy Spirit—]
II. Their madness
[It may well be expected that creatures so deprav ed should manifest their depravity in the whole of their conduct. And in truth they do: for they are even mad. They pour contempt upon the greatest good. Can any thing be compared with the salvation of the soul? And do they not disregard this? And is not such conduct madness? They also disregard the greatest of all evils, the wrath of God-And would not this be madness, if there were only a bare possibility of their falling under his everlasting displeasure?-How much more then, when it is as certain, as that there is a God!--Moreover, they continue in this state, for the most part, "as long as they live." If they acted only through ignorance, or were drawn aside for a little time by temptation, or if they turned from this way, as soon as they came to the full exercise of their reason, yea, if they rectified their conduct as soon as their own consciences condemned it, they would have some shadow of an excuse. But, when they persist, against light and knowledge, against warnings and judgments, yea, against their own vows and resolutions, what is it but madness itself? Let a man act in such a way with respect to the things of this world, and no one will hesitate a moment to pronounce him mad.®]
III. Their misery
[How pleasant soever the ways of ungodly men appear, they will soon terminate in death"-But the righteous also must go to the grave: no doubt therefore it is another death that is here spoken of, even "the second death, in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone." This is affirmed by God in the strongest manner-And, however disbelieved by those whom it most concerns, it shall assuredly be found true at the last. Yea, we have even now the consciences of men attesting this awful truth: and if we should say, that the ungodly, after such a life, should "go to" heaven, instead of to "the dead," though they might be wicked enough to wish it, they would not be mad enough to believe it. They have a presentiment, in spite of all their reasonings to the contrary, that "their end shall be according to their works"-]
I. How necessary is it to deal faithfully with the souls of men!
John iii. 6. Tit. iii. 3. Jer. xvii. 9.
h Job. xx. 5-9.
i 1 Cor. vi. 9. Ps. ix. 17.
5 Luke xv. 17.
k 2 Cor. xi. 15.