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your fasting, prayer, your strict conversation, and rigid life, which you yourself have owned, as concerning the righteousness of the Jewish law, to have been blameless?
Paul. Whatever were the appearances, your life and mine were highly sinful, and both utterly unjustifiable. But if you debate with mé; who was the greater sinner before God, and not before man only; and who, in consequence, is and was peculiarly the object of God's greater mercy; I believe, it will be found, upon due examination, that your degree of criminality, in the sight of the Most Holy, was less than mine.
Thief.-I have scarcely thought it possible, that a greater sinner than myself could have been found amongst the redeemed; so notoriously wicked, and shameless, was I. You will give me leave, therefore, to speak of this matter a little with you, and to state the circumstances of my case for your farther consideration.
I was a wretched creature most surely: a poor, low fellow, of Gentile or mongrel extraction. Born of parents obscure, and perhaps no better than myself, they seemed neither capable nor desirous of giving me an education, but such as might qualify me to be a distinguished or $uccessful villain. No crime, no roguery, no baseness, , no murder, did I hesitate to commit. I felt, upon the commission of these, no remorse: I was touched with no tenderness or shame. This kind of life I followed for many years, hardened in my heart against the cries of the injured, defying or regardless of the vengeance of beaven, a mere calamitous scourge, the pest of society, the audacious foe of God and man. Can you pretend, dear Paul, to say, that your life
B b 2
was like mine? that it was marked with such abandoned guilt? that it discovered such extreme depravity? or, that it could possibly be so odious and abominable, in the sight of heaven or earth, as mine was? You cannot surely dispute the palm of wickedness with me, and consequently are not quite so much a monument of superabundant goodness as myself. All heaven, I think, can scarcely produce such another.
Paul.--That your course of life was wicked and detestable, I have allowed; nor do I mean to lessen or extenuate one of your crimes. Bad enough they were, most assuredly, before God and man. However, my brother, you and I are not to judge according to outward appearance, but according to a more righteous judgement.
Respecting the flesh, I had certainly advantages superior to your’s. I grant, and have granted, that no man had more;* and, after me, not any one had, or could have, so many. I was born of the unmixed stock of Abraham, and of one of the most highly favoured tribes. My parents initiated me into the outward church without delay, and afforded me every assistance, that kindness and piety could afford, to render me both a great and good man: nor was their tender concern lost upon me; for I profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, and became, among the Pharisees themselves, who, you know, were reputed supereminently strict and devout, one of the most strict, devout, and zealous of any. And yet all this I counted loss, I counted dung: mere filth it was, and I found it to
Phil, iii. 4.
be so, when it pleased God to open my eyes, and to apply his law in its pungent spirituality to my heart. Then the sin, which was in the whole and every part of my corrupt nature, revived ; and I, poor Paul, a convicted, self-condemned, overwhelmed sinner, sunk under the load and spiritually, or legally, died.* Here it was that mercy found me; and, from this sad condition, the power of God restored me to newness of life. O astonishing mercy, that could descend to such a caitiff as I was; that could change so base, so rebellious, so proud, so odious a will, as mine; that could open my blinded
eyes, could humble the pride of my heart, and turn such a wretch as myself, from darkness to light, and from the power of satan unto God!
Thief:-But, granting that your former life had in it the nature of sin, how can you prove, that it was so exceedingly sinful as mine? You fasted and prayed, while I plundered and stole; you demeaned yourself soberly and justly before all men, while I was a ravager and a murderer; you had knowledge, and usefulness, and reputation, while I was hardened in ignorance, impudence, and every scandalous enormity. How then was your state of sinfulness, so dangerous, or so deplorable, as mine?
Paul.-In the sight of men, and so far indeed as regards the outward welfare of society, I allow it was not. But, when we come to consider the principles of action, and their final tendency, I inust esteem the spirit of my sins (if I may use the expression) to have in it a greater
malignity than even your's had, though there was enough of it in your's to damn a thousand worlds.
The depravity of your nature and mine was undoubt. edly equal and the same; but the exercise, the force, the direction of that depravity in you, were mostly of a carporal nature, and affected the properties or persons of men, without the thought, indeed, or the fear of God before your eyes. You had the fierce and ravaging passions of the beast, driving you on to excesses without consideration. Sensuality was your principle, your aim, and your end. My corruptions, on the other hand, took a different course. They were altogether under a more refined and spiritual management.
With the notion of serving God, I was altogether a rebel against him; setting up my own perverse will against his; my ignorance against his wisdom; my duties against his righteousness; the form of godliness against the substance or power of it; the legal shadows, by a vile perversion, against what those shadows exhibited and were intended to teach ; and, in a word, my sinful self (garnished and set off by human skill and labour) in direct opposition to Christ the Redeemer, and the whole plan of his salvation.
Thief.—But was not I guilty of a similar offence against him, and in a most dreadful degree too, when I joined, not only with my fellow-thief, but with the scribes, pharisees, and chief priests, in casting the most blasphes mous invectives in his teeth 2*
Paul.-True; you joined in the outward and outrageous expression of their sin; but it was not possible for you,
• Matt, xxvii, 44.
in your state, to have the peculiar malignity of it in your heart against your Saviour. You did not attempt to justify yourself. You owned, that you received the just reward of your deeds, and therefore that you had no claim whatever, before God or man, of better treatment for your villainies. But I, and those chief priests and pharisees, reputedly learned and devout, detested Christ and his gracious work of redemption both together; resisted constantly and maliciously the Spirit of God, in the merciful revelation of his will; preferred the carnal and erroneous reasonings and traditions of sinful and arrogant men to his positive truth, making it, as far as we could, of none effect; and doing all the despight in our power to the grace, wisdom, designs, and love of God. And we did all this too, with peculiar aggra. vation, under the cover of his own institutions, perverting them by satanic pride, and under the most subtle and vehement influence of the satanic spirit.
Thief.-But surely I was under diabolic influence in my state of nature as well as you, or (as you have some. where expressed it) was taken captive by the prince of the power of the air at his willet
Paul. Granted; but yet in another manner, and in a way of less direct and special malignity against God. The devil, as the Samael, or blinding god of this world, ruleth and worketh in the children of disobedience universally; but, in some, by the grossness of their corporal faculties; and, in these, because the offence is more apparent and hideous to man's outward senses, he appears as the devil in black, altogether troublesome
* Acts vii, 51,
1 ? Cor. iv. 4.
+ 2 Tim. ii. 26,