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The infinite danger of this I will unfold, to awaken the careless and secure.
The devil is a sophister in perfection; and his ordinary and successful artifice to elude the force of present conviction, and wrap men in sin and damnation, is to induce them to delay the great work of the soul till afterward. He is not so foolish to tell them, as he did our first parents, “ ye shall not die;" for the temptation is so palpable, that it could deceive none. Though the evidence and certainty of supernatural truths, that disturb the security of sinners, is sometimes obscured by affected doubts; yet there is no artifice that can resist the full and strong conviction in men, that death is inevitable. Though nature recoils from it with abhorrence, yet this sad truth is so visible, that it forces an assent from all. Those who are titular gods, the greatest princes, are not so vain as to pretend to an exemption by privilege from that fatal necessity; they cannot fancy to be embalmed alive, and that nature may be made incorruptible by art. The palace is as near the grave as the cottage : therefore the devil cherishes in men fond hopes of a long life. As some optic glasses deceive the sight, and make a superficial representation in colours on a wall but two or three steps distant, appear a long deep gallery: thus the tempter by a dangerous deceit, presents to the imagination the fatal term at a great distance; and since he cannot lessen the certainty of death in men's belief, he removes the image of it out of their memories, to weaken the impression that it is capable to make on their affections. They dare not venture to die, as they live, careless of salvation, and unprepared for their accounts with God; therefore they suspend the workings of conscience by a seeming compliance; they resolve at random to convert and reform hereafter, but will not determine at present to forsake their sins. The tempter insinuates there will be a long interval between the present time and the last hour, that shall decide their state for ever ; that it will be a convenient season to prepare for the other world when they have done with this; as if repentance were best at last, when there are no temptations, and therefore no danger of retracting it. And the heart of man is a great flatterer, very subtile to deceive and ruin him with vain resolutions of a devout retirement, and becoming seriously religious hereafter : and thus by an easy permission he gratifies the present desires of the Aesh, and goes in a circuit from one vanity to another, till death surprise the presumer. It is very applicable to this purpose, what is related of Alcæus the poet, who from every season of the year, * took arguments to give a new title to his intemperance: the spring, he said, required liberal drinking, in sign of joy for the renovation of nature; the summer to temper our heat, and refresh our thirst ; it was due to autumn that is dedicated to the vintage; and winter required it to expel the cold, that would congeal the blood and spirits : thus he pleaded for the allowance of his excess. And so men in the several ages of life (that are correspondent to the seasons of the year) frame some excuses to delay repentance, and give some colour to their rebellion against God, who commands us to hear his voice today, obediently and immediately, upon no less than being excluded from his blessed rest for ever: Heb. 2. 7, 8. yet the selfdeceiving 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 a future repentance, 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 surprise 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 a distance from death, as the east is from the west, when there was
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
# Athen. + Quis enim satis explicet verbis, quantum mali sit non obedire tante pe testatis imperio, & tanto tenenti supplicio :
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 breathe 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 rhume 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 repentanee, 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 his 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
* Nemo ergo sibi promittat, quod evangelium non promittit. Aug.
pleasure and profit, vainly hope they shall obtain grace hereafter, without any promise from God, and against the tenor of his threatenings. 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, colour 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 he that delays the returning to his duty, shall have more cause to repent hereafter, but less will and power; for sin repeated, makes him more incapable of repentance, and that which is indisposition, will become aversenes 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 eustom 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 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, how 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 it is 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 ever. Now in cases of great moment and hazard, what diligence, what caution should be used ?
Ist. Consider how derogatory it is to his majesty, to offer to him the dregs of our age, the reliques 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 vilifying 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, to 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 honour: “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, have been wasted on your lusts, and in the business of the world, and the wretched remains you think worthy of my acceptance.
2dly. 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 reli