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sentence of death, of imprisonment, of banishment ? How diligent to obtain some temporal advantage? Yet how neglectful in things of highest importance? It may be, says the secure wretch, God will give me repentance at last, as he did to others. * Remember you speak of that that most nearly concerns your soul, and dare you venture the salvation of an immortal soul upon a naked possibility of receiving grace? What reasonable person would neglect a disease that may prove deadly, and rely on extreme remedies ? And can you be guilty of such a cruel indifference, such a desperate carelessness, as to leave eternal salvation and damnation to a peradventure ?
(2.) Consider how many thousands have died in their sins, + and of them great numbers cherished fallacious hopes of repenting at last. Diagoras the atheist, that denied a governing providence of things in this lower world, the sphere of mutability, when one for his conviction showed him in the temple of Neptune many votive tables, containing the grateful acknowledgments of those who by addresses to the gods in dangerous storms, had arrived safe at their ports; and asked him, whether he had observed those numerous testimonies for divine providence? S He replied, 'I see them; but how many having invocated Neptune, yet perished in the ocean, and never came to pay their vows for deliverance ?' It was impiety in him to argue so against God's disposing providence; but it may be justly said to those who neglect their present duty, presuming upon some examples of his glorious goodness on those who were converted and saved in their approaches to death, how many have finally miscarried in shooting that gulph, to one that has arrived safe at heaven? How many that presume upon their youth and strength to delay repentance, are suddenly cut off? the first symptom of their sickness is death. And what the angel with such solemnity declared, “that time should be no more,” is verified concerning them by an unexpected dissolution. How many, when sick, hope either by the vigour of nature, or the virtue of medicines, to overcome the disease? and thus hope is cherished by the mortal kindness, the cruel deceit of friends, who are unwilling to discover their danger, lest their spirits should sink under the apprehension of it. And thus deluded, many never see death till they feel it, and perish for ever in their impenitence. How many that are guilty and graceless, when distant from death and hell but a few hours; yet from atheism are secure as Jonah, who slept in the midst of a tempest at sea ? The tenor of their lives discovers this to be divine vengeance, they are seized by a spirit of slumber, and pass without fear into the state of everlasting desperation. How many are deceived with the appearance of repentance, and mistake a false peace for a true, and assuage the anguish of conscience, by palliating remedies? Their sorrow for sin, their prayers, their resolutions of reformation, are the product of servile fear, that is ineffectual to salvation : and as it is with crafty tradesmen, that take up much upon trust when near breaking ; so they are very liberal of the promises of amendment when they are near dying. From hence they vainly presume that God is reconciled to them, whose all-discerning eye sees the inward spring of their sorrows, and the principle of all the religious resolutions is the guilty fear of eternal judgment. Now a false tranquillity is more terrible than the storms of a troubled spirit: for those who hope upon deceitful grounds, are in the most hopeless state, neglecting what is requisite in order to salvation. Thus innumerable pass in a cloud of delusion to the kingdom of darkness. And how many who have lived in careless security, as if they had “made a covenant with death,” when conscience is awakened, and looks into the depth of their guilt, when they see death before them attended with judgment, and judgment with an everlasting hell, as we read of Sisera, who from extreme fear passed to extreme security; so on the contrary, these self-deceivers from security have fallen into despair. Then truth and conscience, that were so long under unrighteous restraints, break the fetters, and terribly charge the sinners : then innumerable acts, which they thought to be innocent, appear to be sins; and sin, that they made light of, to be infinitely evil, and in the highest degree hateful to God. And sometimes by the suggestions of the enemy of souls, they are overwhelmed with despair, and their last error is worse than the first. The devil makes his advantage of the timorous conscience, as well as of the seared; solitude is his scene, as well as the noisy theatre; and by contrary ways, either presumption or despair, brings sinners to the same end. He changes his methods according to their dispositions; the tempter turns accuser, and then such who had but a dim sight of sin before, have an over-quick sight of it, and are swallowed up in an abyss of confusion: the condition of such is extremely miserable. It is observed by those who are bitten with a mad dog, that their cure is extremely * difficult, if not impossible; for being tormented with thirst, yet are so fearful of water, that the sight of it sometimes causes sudden convulsions and death. This is a significant emblem of a despairing soul : for when enraged conscience bites to the quick, the guilty person filled with estuations and terrors, ardently thirsts for pardon, yet fearfully forsakes his own mercies. Whatever is propounded to encourage faith in the divine promises, he turns to justify his infidelity. Represent to him the infinite mercies of God, the invaluable merits of Christ sufficient to redeem the lost world, it increases his despair, because he has perversely abused those mereies, and neglected those merits. The most precious promises of the gospel are killing terrors to him : as the sweet title of friend, wherewith our Saviour received Judas when he came to betray him, was the most stinging reproach of his perfidious villany. Thus it appears how dangerous it is to delay repentance and reconciliation with God till sickness and a deathbed, when the remembrance or forgetfulness of sin, the sense or security of conscience may be equally destructive.
* Τί λέγεις ίσως έννόησαν ότι περι Ψυχης βολέυν. Chrys. † Vix dici potest quantos, hæc inanis spei umbra deceperit. Aug.
The sum of what has been amplified in this part is this : a vain hope of living long, and being reconciled to God when men please, is the fatal foundation of their sins and misery. They apply the word of God against the mind of God, and securely provoke him, as if they could take heaven by violence, in contradiction to the gospel. But they usually dispose of that time they shall never enjoy, and presume upon that mercy and grace they shall never obtain. We are commanded “to seek the Lord while he mav be found ;” a sad intimation that it is not in our power to find him to our comfort when we please. He spares long, but abused patience will deliver sinners to revenging justice. Samson was three times in the chamber of his lust exposed to treachery,
Miserrimum morbi genus, in quo æger & siti & aquæ metu cruciatur, qnorum spes in angusto est. Cels.
and escaped ; but the fourth time he said, “I will arise," but was surprised by his enemies, and lost his strength, and sight, and liberty. How justly will the wilful neglect of salvation so long, and so compassionately offered to sinners, render the divine mercy inexorable to their prayers and tears at last ? When a Roman gentleman that was wont to revel in the night, and sleep in the day, had wasted a great estate by luxury, he petitioned the emperor Tiberius to relieve his poverty, and was dismissed with this upbraiding answer, Sero erperrectus es, you are risen too late. He never opened his eyes to see his condition till it was past remedy. This is the sad case of many that waste the seasons of grace, and are careless of their duty, till upon the point of perishing, and then address themselves to God for his favour and pardon, but are justly rejected with the reproaches of their obstinate neglect of salvation in the time of their lives. I doubt not that some are wonderfully converted and saved at last; but these special mercies are like our Saviour's miraculous healing the two blind persons as he was passing in the way, when great numbers of the blind remained uncured. We read a prodigious story in the book of Kings, that a captain and his fifty men commanded Elias to come to the king, and immediately a tempest of lightning destroyed them. Now who would think that another captain with his fifty should be so desperate, having the ashes and relics of those miserable carcasses before their eyes, as to make the same citation to the prophet ? yet they did, and provoked the justice of heaven to consume them. And this madness is exemplified in thousands every day; for notwithstanding they see sinners like themselves cut off in their evil ways, they continue unreformed, as if they were fearless of hell, as if resolved to secure their own damnation.
I would not from what has been represented in this matter so universally useful, discourage any that have lived in a course of sin, from earnest seeking to God in their last hours: for even then they are not utterly destitute of hope. The gospel sets forth the mercy of God to returning sinners, in various representations and expressions of admirable tenderness. When the lost sheep was recovered, there was joy as if a treasure had been found. The prodigal had wasted his estate in lasciviousness and luxury, and by a harsh reduction came to himself, reflecting with shame upon his folly and rebellion; and the sense of his misery
(not a more ingenuous or noble principle at first) compelled him to go to his father, to try what his affections would do. And it was not a vain presumption, for he found the effects of fatherly and compassionate love: “When he was a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said, father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
But the father said to his servants, bring out the best robes, and put a ring on his finger, and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; let us eat and be merry, for this my son was dead, and is alive again ; was lost, and is found.” The design of Christ was to represent his heavenly Father in that parable: and to wounded spirits that feel the intolerable weight of sin, the mercy and mildness of the gospel is to be exhibited. God is rich in mercy to all that call upon him in truth. But to tell sinners who securely proceed in their sinful ways, that they may be saved at last, and notwithstanding their presumptuous repulses of God's calls to his service, yet think they may come into the vineyard at the eleventh hour, and be rewarded, is to give countenance and protection to sin, and to harden them to destruction. Poison is not cured by giving food, but antidotes, that put nature into a passion till it be expelled. The terrors of the Lord can only prove medicinal to such depraved souls.
To conclude this argument, let us seriously consider the reve-, lation God has afforded of himself in the gospel. He is a Father and a judge; justice and holiness as well as mercy are essential to his nature, that our affections may be accordingly moved towards him. “ If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” Presumption and despair are very dishonourable to God, and pernicious to the soul : the one destroys the fear, the other the love of God. But hope contempered with fear, has an excellent influence in the christian life. As the ballast and the wind are both necessary, that the ship may sail safely; without the wind the ship can make no way; and without ballast it is in danger of oversetting by every gust. Thus hope and fear are necessary to bring us safely to heaven, Fear without hope chills, and stupifies the vigour and alacrity of the soul, that it cannot come to God: and hope without fear,