Before I left for summer project in May, I had begun reading a series of sermons from 1754 by Benjamin Hoadly, the Lord Bishop of Winchester. Unfortunately I have not finished the whole series, however, I did get far enough in to come across four possibilities that Hoadly presents of what God could do with sinners for the sake of Christ’s death on the cross. I really want to share them with you, but you must enter this with the assumption that Christ actually did live the perfect life that the Bible proclaims and that he died on the cross and that he was resurrected. So no matter what you believe, make these assumptions when reading this to get the full effect.
The four possibilities:
1. He will accept them [sinners ] for Christ’s sake, let their outward behavior and inward sentiment continue without change on their part.
2. He will, for the sake of Christ, accept them without any alteration in the outward conduct provided they conceive and express a great sorrow and concern that they have broken the law.
3. He will, for the sake of Christ, once pardon to them ALL their former transgressions, or forgive a certain number of sins at which point there is no longer any hope for the pardon of willful sins (those sins that one knowingly commits in the knowledge that it is a sin).
4. That, for the sake of Christ, the sinner will be pardoned, who, at any time, forsakes his sins, and lives by the contrary virtues and does the whole will of God.
What do they each mean?
1. This would be a declaration by God that morality is of no importance. The differences between virtue and vice does not need to be regarded by rational creatures. This actually encourages sin and lowers Christ’s birth into the world to the worst purpose—the perpetuation of immorality, oppression and depravity. Essentially God has given no moral laws or does not care whether we follow them or not. Sound kind of ridiculous?
2. Grief and sorrow mean over sin mean nothing, because they are just feelings and most likely will not last. Like the last possibility, sin doesn’t really matter here either. Most judges wouldn’t accept simple guilt and sorrow as sufficient, so why should God?
3. This option looks as if it discourages sin. But what happens after your last pardon? Essentially, we would go as far as we could go, “It’s ok, I’ve still got ten sins to go until its too late.” The whole time, though, we are building up habit and may not be able to stop at the point of desperation. The when we’ve gone past it, we have no hope and therefore, morality again does not matter.
4. This option is quite encouraging. It encourages us to practice virtue, but never makes the cause so desperate. There is also discouragement to vice that does not throw the sinner into such a desperate condition as to tempt them back to sin for comfort.
Now while none of these options make us perfect humans, living completely free of sin, only one has the capacity and ability to encourage moral behavior. And as humans we do need a reason to do the moral thing. It is no hidden secret that pleasure is something that is hard to resist and if we have no reason to do something that, though maybe right, isn’t pleasurable, why should we do it? So, these are the four possibilities that Christ’s death created for us sinners. Only the last one does not make Jesus’ death a vain act. Only one encourages moral behavior from sinners.