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all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases,” Psa. ciii. 1,
3. “ He healeth the broken in heart; he bindeth up their wounds, Psa. cxlvii. 3. To many, perhaps very many of my readers, I need not say one word to describe the way by which healing is thus imparted to a wounded spirit. They who are Christians will recognise what they themselves have experienced in the language of one who keenly felt the wounds which sin has made in the soul :
“I was a stricken deer, that left the herd
COWPER, Task, b. üi. Wounded spirit! that same soft and gentle hand can remove every poisoned arrow with which sin has smitten thy soul, and that great Healer of mankind can make you also live. Nor have I any other remedy to mention,--nor do I believe
you would elsewhere find it. There are wounds in the soul made by sin, by conscious guilt, by remembered ingratitude and evil affections, which nothing earthly can heal, and which can be remedied effectually and for ever only by the healing balm of the gospel of Christ.
Deep are the wounds which sin has made;
WHAT WILL GIVE PERMANENT PEACE TO A SOUL CONVICTED
JER. vi. 14.-They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.”
LUKE vii. 48–50.—“And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also ? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”
WHAT will restore peace to a guilty conscience? This is a great and grave question in philosophy and in religion. It is a question which there is abundant occasion to ask in our world; a question of interest to every man--for every man is a sinner. The answer to this question will introduce us to the provisions made in the gospel, and to the harmony of those provisions with the laws of our mental operations.
The immediate question before us now is, What will give permanent peace to a soul convicted of sin? That is, What is demanded by the laws of mind in order that a soul disturbed and agitated with the remembrance of guilt, and apprehensive of punishment, should find peace ? This might be prosecuted as a mere inquiry of mental philosophy. It is my business, however, while I shall be compelled to regard it, in some measure, in this light, to prosecute it mainly with reference to the provisions made in the gospel to meet the case.
The natural division of the subject is this : I. On what do men naturally rely in that state of mind to obtain peace? And, II. What is necessary in any true system of religion to furnish permanent peace? The consideration of the first will make it necessary to show the inefficacy of the methods resorted to by men without the gospel. The consideration of the second will prepare us to show that the gospel has revealed a plan which accords with the laws of our nature, and which is effectual. The first of these points is suggested by the text from Jeremiah: “ They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace ; when there is no peace.” The second by the text in Lukethe case of the penitent female who came to the Saviour, and washed his feet with her tears, and to whom he said, “ Thy sins are forgiven; thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace.”
The case which we are to consider is that of a convicted sinner; and the first inquiry relates to the methods which are commonly employed to obtain peace, and the inefficacy of those methods. In prosecuting this inquiry, we may lay out of view the two following things, as matters which cannot be affected by any plan
(1.) The fact that the sin has been committed cannot be changed. That is to remain historically true for ever. The murder has been done; the property has been stolen ; the act of seduction has been perpetrated; the words of blasphemy have gone out of the mouth ; the feeling of pride, envy, malice, hatred, lust, ambition, has been in the heart. Nothing now can change the fact, whatever may be done in regard to it, or however it may be disposed of. There it is in history, and there it will be for ever.
No plan of salvation, human or Divine, can change that; not even God can make it otherwise than it is.
(2.) The sin cannot be so forgotten as to make that a ground of peace. It may indeed have never been known to many; and it may pass away from the recollection of many who do know it. But by Him who is most interested in it-the “ Lord of the conscience”-it is not, and cannot be forgotten; and we can never find permanent peace in any plan which proceeds on the presumption that he will not remember it, or that it is not recorded in his book. And as little can we find permanent peace in any plan which presumes that we ourselves shall forget it. We cannot flatter ourselves with any such hope or assurance, for it remains yet to be proved that any sin that man has ever committed is permanently effaced from his own memory, or that he may not be in circumstances in which it may be recalled with all its original power.
Laying these, therefore, out of view, the inquiry returns as to the methods to which men sometimes resort to give peace to the mind when troubled with the recollection of guilt.
Those methods may be reduced to the following classes :
(1.) To regard the mind, when in such a state, as morbid or diseased, and to apply remedies rather of a physical nature to heal it, than of a moral nature to make it pure. The mind is contemplated rather in its relation to the nervous system than to the moral law, and the thing to be done is to restore health to the physical frame, and through that by sympathy to the soul, rather than to adopt any measures to give peace to a troubled conscience or to a guilty mind as such. The account given of one in that state by himself would be, that he is lowspirited, dejected, and sad, rather than that he is guilty ; and the aim would be the restoration to health of the bodily functions rather than the treatment of a guilty conscience.
(2.) To divert the mind to other than gloomy thoughts : the thoughts of sin, of death, and of the judgment. The pleasant scenes of nature, poetry, romance, travel, social enjoyments, gaiety--any or all of these would occur as adapted to calm the troubled soul, and to turn the thoughts to objects of more pleasant contemplation.
(3.) To conceal the convictions, with the hope that time, which "does wonders," will restore the mind to peace. It is hoped that these troublesome thoughts will gradually die away ; perhaps that by assuming a cheerful external manner there will be a reflex influence on the soul itself, and that it may be restored to peace—that thus by the cheerfulness of the countenance the heart may be made less sad.
(4.) To suppress these convictions by a direct mental effort; to assume the attitude of self-government, and to resolve to be one's own master. A direct warfare is thus made on the sources of trouble, and the mind summons to itself all the power of an “iron will," and resolves not to be serious--not to yield---not to be converted,
(5.) To these methods a fifth may be added-which is, that of embracing some views of religion which affirm that the soul need not be alarmed; which teach that sin is not so great an evil as it is represented to be; and which suppose that there is no ground for apprehension in regard to the world to come: that God is so merciful that he will not punish hereafter, or rather, as the doctrine is embraced in the view of the mind, that he is so just that he will not send one of his creatures to a world of woe, and that, therefore, there need be no alarm.
I proceed now to consider these things with reference to the inquiry whether they can give permanent peace to a soul agitated with the conviction of guilt. I do not deny that they may give temporary peace, and that often under their influence the agitations of the soul subside, and that the mind becomes again for a time calm, joyous, gay. But that is not the question which I wish to consider ; that is not a question which it is of much importance to consider. The true inquiry is, What is the proper and effectual way of meeting the convictions of guilt in the mind; what is the way to produce permanent peace ? Are these the true methods ?
Now, in reply to this question, I have the following remarks to make :
(1.) This is not the high and honourable method which a man should take in regard to his own sins. If a man is to be saved, he should be saved in a manner consistent with a due self-respect, and so that he can feel that he has met the great questions which have come before him in an open, frank, manly, and dignified manner. But it does not accord with this to attempt to conceal his true character ; to regard the conviction of guilt as the fruit of imbecility, or of a morbid state of mind; to attempt to divert the mind to other subjects as if this were not worthy of his attention; to assume an aspect of gaiety in order to conceal what is within ; or to embrace an opinion merely to evade the necessity of a frank acknowledgment of what is true. Sin should always be dealt with as a serious matter, and a man
one who is worthy the name of a man-- -should always be willing to look candidly at his own real character and condition. Crime is not to be treated as a disease--for it is not a disease ; conviction of guilt is not to be regarded as a nervous excitement, or as morbid melancholy-for it is neither. When a man is made to feel that he is a sinner before God, the fact is worthy of his profound attention, for it may have higher bearings than he can yet understand. There is nothing that is more likely to be followed with important results than a conviction of guilt, and no question can be more important for him to settle than this :
-how can a man in that state find permanent and solid peace ?
(2.) My next remark is, that none of these methods furnish any security of permanent peace. I say “permanent peace," for hat is what we are inquiring after; that is what any true system of religion must furnish. And by permanent peace I mean such a disposal of guilt that it shall not rise up hereafter to trouble or annoy us; that we shall be free from all the penalties which it incurs; and that the mind can contemplate that very act of guilt without the harrowing feeling of remorse, and without the apprehension of the wrath of God. Now I say that none of these methods give such peace to a troubled conscience. The reasons for this affirmation I can present in such a manner as to be applicable to each and all of them.
(a) One is, that this very method of meeting the case may be itself a source of great misery to the mind. Nature, as we shall see, demands that when a wrong is done it should be confessed
that the burden should be thrown off by acknowledgmentand that relief should be sought by repairing the wrong done,