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day, obediently and immediately, upon no less penalty than being excluded from his blessed rest forever: Heb. 2. 7. 8. Yet the self-deceiving sinner preaches another gospel to himself, and thinks the vanities of childhood, the pleasures of youth, the business of middle age, and the infirmity of old age, are plausible pretences to put off the serious work of repentance: 0 that such would duly consider the desperate uncertainty upon which men build their hopes of future repentanee, and divine acceptance !
(1.) Men delay repentance upon the presumption of a long life: But what is more uncertain? It is the wisdom and goodness of God to conceal in his impenetrable counsels, the time of our sojourning here : For if men, though liable to death every hour, and therefore should be under just fear, lest it surprse them unprepared, yet against so strong a curb, run with that exorbitant vehemence after the present world; how much more licentious would they be, if secured from sudden death? But none can promise to himself one day. Death comes not according to the order of nature, but the decree of God. How many in the flower of their youth and strength thought themselves at as great distance from death as the East is from the West, when there was not the space of an hour between them and death, between them and hell ? The lamp suddenly expires by a blast of wind, when there is plenty of oil to feed it. The rich man pleased himself with designs of sensual enjoyments for many years, yet did not see the dawning of the next morning; “thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.” This sentence is pronounced in heaven against thousands that are now alive, conversant in the vanities and business of the world, eating and drinking, playing and trading, and all unconcerned as to dying, yet shall breath their last before to-morrow, and their unwilling souls be rent from the embraces of their bodies. In various manners men die from inward and outward causes; an apoplexy, an imposthume, a flux of rheum stopping respiration, kills the body, without any presaging signs of death: as if the roof and all the chambers should fall within the house, while the walls are standing entire. And how many unforeseen accidents, and therefore inevitable, put a sudden period to life? Is it not our truest wisdom, by an early repentance, to prepare for death, when the season is certainly short, and but uncertainly continued, and the omission is irreparable ?
(2.) Suppose life be continued, yet sinners that delay repentance, can have no rational hopes that they shall sincerely repent in time to come. For,
1. Saving repentance is the gift of God: And is it likely that those who have been insensible of the loud and earnest calls of the Word, inflexible to the gracious methods of his providence leading them to repentance, should at last obtain converting grace?
The gales of the Spirit are very transient, and blow where he pleases; and can it be expected that those who have wilfully and often resisted him, should by an exuberant favour receive afterwards more powerful grace, to overrule their stubborn wills, and make them obedient? To expect divine grace, and the powerful workings of the Spirit, after long resisting bis holy excitations, is both unreasonable and unrevealed. It is written as with a sun-beam, that God will graciously pardon repenting sinners that reform their lives; but it is no where promised, that he will give saving* repentance to those who securely continue in sin, upon a corrupt confidence they will repent at last. Our Saviour threatens to him that neglects the improving the grace that is offered, " that which he hath shall be taken away :" yet men unwilling at present to forsake their sins of pleasure and profit, vainly hope they shall obtain grace hereafter, without any promise from God, and against the tenor of his threatnings. God has threatened that his Spirit “ shall not always strive with rebellious sinners," and then their state is remediless. This may be the case of many in this life, who are insensible of their misery. As consumptive persons decline by degrees, lose their appetite, color and strength, till at last they are hopeless : so the withdrawings of the Spirit are gradual, his motions are not so strong nor frequent; and upon the continued provocations of the disobedient, finally leaves them under that most fearful doom," he that is filthy, let him be filthy still; he that is unrighteous, let him be unrighteous still :" and thus punishes them on this side hell, as he does the damned, by giving them over to sin. It is a bloody adventure for men to indulge their carnal appetites, as if they had infallible assurance that they should not die in an impenitent state. The delayer does not regularly trust, but tempt God.
2. Suppose the holy Spirit be not totally withdrawn, yet by every day's continuance in sin, the heart is more hardened against the impressions of grace, more averse from returning to God, and repentance more difficult and hazardous. The last guilty disposition that seals up the damnation of sinners, is impenitence. Now be that delays the returning to his duty, shall have more cause to repent hereaster, but less will and power; for sin repeated, makes him more uncapable of repentance, and that which is indisposition, will become averseness and obstinacy. The heart with difficulty changes its last end. Actions may be suddenly changed, when there is a disability to perform them; but the inward inclinations to sin, without supernatural renewing grace, remain. It is therefore the subtilty of the old serpent to make the entrance of sin easy : for he knows that custom is a second nature, and has a mighty power in us : “can an Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard change his spots ? then may you who are
*Nemo ergo sibi promittat, quod evangelium non promittit. Aug.
accustomed to do evil, do good.” If sin in its infancy can make such resistance, that the spirit of grace is foiled in his motions to rescue the soul from its bondage, bow much more when it is grown
into a confirmed habit? Therefore the apostle urges so zealously ; “to-day, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, lest any be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
(3.) How uncertain is it whether God will accept the addresses of such at last ? We are commanded, “ seek the Lord while he may be found ; call upon him while he is near.” The limitation implies, if the season be neglected, he will hide his face for
Now in cases of great moment and hazard, what diligence, what caution should be used ?
1. Consider how derogatory it is to his majesty, to offer to him the dregs of our age, the relics of a licentious careless life, spent in the works of vanity. Is this to give glory to God ? Jer. 13. 16. Contempt provokes superiors as much as actual injuries : how villifying is it of his eternal greatness, that men lavishly waste the best of their time and strength upon their lusts; and when through weakness of age, or the violence of a disease, they can no more do the acts of sin, nor relish the pleasures of sin, presume that God will upon their prayers forgive their sins so long indulged, and of such violent provocations, and receive them into his kingdom, as if he could not be happy without them, and it were his interest to receive them ? God has laid his exceptions against such addresses : he may justly stand upon his greatness and honor : “ if ye offer the blind for a sacrifice, is it not evil ? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now to thy governor, will he be pleased with it, to accept thy person, saith the Lord of hosts?” As the Lord upbraids the Jews for their black ingratitude in bargaining for thirty pieces of silver, to have him betrayed to their malice; “a goodly price that I was prized at of them :” so when there is an universal prostration of all the powers and faculties, when the spirits are damped, the vital heat is checked, and the function of the senses is obstructed, then to seek to God for mercy, and to make fair promises of obedience, he may justly reproach the presumer, a goodly time you have allotted for me? Your youth and strength, the golden age of life, has been wasted on your lusts, and in the business of the world, and the wretched remains you think worthy of my acceptance.
2. Consider what sincerity or moral value is in religion that merely proceeds from bitter constraint. It is a rule in law, Falsum est eam peperisse, cui mortuæ filius extractus est : It is not a natural birth when the child is extracted from the dead mother: it is not genuine piety that is extorted by the rack, whilst the heart full of reluctancy does not truly consent. Pure religion flows uncompelled from love to God; it is the dregs that come
forth with pressing. It is observed of the Israelites, that* when “God slew them, they sought him, and returned and inquired early after God.” But it is added, “nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouths, and they lied to him with their tongues: for their hearts were not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.” How often does experience convince us of the inefficacy of a sick-bed repentance? How many that were devout and mournful, with one foot as it were in the grave, and another in hell, and were as a brand plucked out of the fire; yet when the fear of death is removed, all the terrors of conscience, the religious affections that were felt and expressed by them, vanish as the morning dew? Now converting grace is distinguished by its radication and efficacy, not only from the mere pretences of those who know their own insincerity, but from the real workings of conscience, and the imperfect dispositions to good that are in the unrenewed. And those persons who with the return of health, have returned to their sins, if they had died with their religious resolutions, would have presumed that their repentance was unto life, and of their interest in the divine mer. cy.
“The heart is deceitful above all things," and above all things deceitful to itself. Besides, when sinners are plunged in deep distress, when the shadow of death sits upon their eye-lids, they may with plentiful effusions of tears desire God to receive them to heaven, not to see and praise his adorable excellencies, not to please and glorify him forever, but as a sanctuary from revenging justice, a refuge from hell. And will such prayers prevail? What swells the confidence of sinners, but unworthy notions of God, as if a forced and formal confession of their sins could deceive bis all-discerning eye; and desires merely terminated on themselves, were sufficient to reconcile his offended majesty?
(3.) There is nothing renders men more unworthy of mercy, than a continuance in sin, upon presumption of an easy pardon at last. This is a most provoking abuse of his goodness and long suffering, that should lead them unto repentance, Rom. 2. He can in the twinkling of an eye, in the beating of a pulse, cut off the sinner : It is as easy to his power as to will it. And there is no consideration so melting and moving as his Clemency. We'read of David, that he had more than once in his power Saul, bis unjust and cruel enemy, yet spared him: The effect of it was, that Saul was softened, and under such consumption of spirit, that he wept, confessed his guilt, and persecuted him no more, overcome by that unexampled love : If a man find his enemy, will he let him go ? 1 Sam. 26. 21. Yet men take advantage from the goodness of God, securely to despise his laws. The habitual sinner thinks that God is so gracious, such a lover
*Psal. 78. 3, 39.
of souls, so easy to be intreated, that upon his dying prayer, “ Lord remember me in thy kingdom,” the answer will be, "today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” This is the deceitful principle upon which men usually build their hopes, as actions that bear the image of their minds clearly manifest. Now this presumptuous indulgence gives the deepest grain to their sins, and makes them more uncapable of pardon. Chrysostom observes, that Judas was encouraged to betray his master, presuming on his lenity, goodness, benignity; which considerations intolerably aggravated his treason, and confounded his hopes. There is a dreadful threatening against those who reject the invitations of grace in their prosperity, and when the righteous judge comes to sentence and execution, are earnest suppliants for mercy. Because I have called, and ye have refused; I have stretched out my hands, and no man regarded : but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I will also laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear comes : When your fear comes as a desolation, and your destruction as a whirlwind when distress and anguish come upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but shall not find me : For they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord, Prov. 1. A doleful case, beyond all possible expression ! when the sinful creature, forsaken of all comforts below, addresses to heaven for relief, and meets with derision and fury, scorn and indignation. The foolish virgins, careless to prepare for the bridegroom's coming, in vain at last discovered their want of oil, in vain solicited the wise virgin's for supply, in vain knocked at the door, crying, Lord, Lord, open to us, Matth. 25. The answer was severe and peremptory, I know you not; and they were forever excluded from the joys of heaven.