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fore the season of working begins : It is.a great while before the use of our reason begins, aud we come to have our senses exercised to discern between good and evil ; before our understandings are ripe for the serious consideration of God and religion, and for the due care of our fouls, and of the eternal concernment of another world, so that this first part of our life is in a great measure useless and unprofitable to us, in regard to our great design. For infancy and childhood are but the dawnings of tkis day, and no fit time to work in ; and youth, which is as the morning of this day, though it is the flower of our
the remembrance of God, and the impressions of religion; yet it is usually possest by vanity and vice: The- common custom and practice of the world, hath devoted this best part of our age to the worst employments, to the service of sin and of our lusts. How very few are there that lay hold of this opportunity, and employ it to the best purposes I And yet the following course of our lives doth in a great measure depend upon it: for most persons do continue and bold on in the way in which they set put at first, whether it be good or bad. And those who neglect to improve this first opportunity of their lives, do seldom recover themselves asterwards. God's grace may seize upou men in any part of their lives; but according to the most ordinary methods of it, the foundations and principles of religion and virtue are most commonly laid in a pious and virtuous education. This is the great opportunity of our lives, which scttleth and fixeth most men, either in a good or bad course, and the fortune of their whole lives does usually follow it and depend upon it.
It is true indeed our day continues many times a great while longer, and we are to work while it continues; and it is never too late to begin to do well, and to enter upon a good course : But there is no such proper and advantageous season for the beginning of this work, as in our youth and tender^'ears. This is the accepted time, this is the day of salvation. Cod's grace is then most forward and ready to
proper season of all other, for assist us ; and we are then least of all indisposed for; the receiving of the impressions of it ; and the impressions of it do then go deepest into our minds, and are most lasting and durable. But if we neglect this opportunity, we provoke God by degrees to withdraw his grace, and to take away his Holy Spirit from us, and by degrees we settle in vicious habits* and are every day more and more hardened through the deceitfulness of fin. It is never too late to work while the day lasts; but the sooner we. begin this work, and set about it in good earnest, the easier we shall find it ; if we defer it late, every step will be up the hill, and against the grain.
Thirdly; After this season is expired, there will be no further opportunity of working ; when this day is once at an end, then cometh the night when r.o man can work. The night is a time unfit for work, when we can hardly do any thing, if we had never so gr-eat a mind to it ; and there is such a night co-. ming upon every one of us, and wo be to us if we have our work to do when the night overtakes us.
There is usually an evening before this night, when it will be very difficult for us, and next to impossible, to do this work ; and this is the time of sickness and old age, in which men are commonly unfit for any work ; but most of all, that which requires :thg whole force and vigour of our minds, the business of religion. If we attempt this work then, we shall go very heartlefly about it, and do it very imperfectly, and be forced to slubber it over, and to huddle it up in great haste and confusion, and so as we can hardly hope that God will accept it. For how-unfit are.men to do any thing, when they are full of the fense of their own infirmities, and life itself is become so great a burden to them, that they are hardly able to stand under it! How incapable shall we then be of doing the greatest and most mo- mentous work of our lives, when our faculties are almost quite spent and worn out, and all the powers of life are decayed in us ; when our understandings are dark and dull, our memories frail and treacherous, and our hearts hard and deceitsHi above M Vol. V. T things l_ -' things! When sickness and old age overtake us, we shall then find to our sorrow, that sufficient for that day is tie evil thereof; we (hall have need then os nothing else to do, but to bear our infirmities with
1>atience and decency; and it is well if we can raly together of the broken forces of our reason, so much as may be a sufficient guard to us against peevishness and discontent; we had need then have nothing else to do, but to be old and weak, to be sick and dy.
Besides, how can we expecti that God should accept of any work that we do at such a time > With what face can we put off God with the dregs of our life? or how can we hope that he will be pleased with the service of those years, which we ourselves take no pleasure in? if wt offer the lame in sacrifice, is it not evil? and if wt offer the blind, is it not evil? Offer it now to thy governor, and fie if he will be f leased with thee.
And sickness is commonly as bad a time as old age, and usually incumbered with greater difficulties, and clog'dwith more indispositions. Jf a violent distemper seize upon us, it many times takes away the use of our reason, and deprives us of all opportunity of consideration; it makes us both insensible of the danger of our condition, and incapable of using the means to avoid it. And if we have neglected religion before, and have put off the great work of our life to the end of it, our opportunity is irrecoverably lostj for there is nothing to be done in religion, when our reason is once departed from us, the night is then come indeed, and darkness hath overtaken us i and though we be still alive, yet are. we as unfit for any work, as if we were naturally dead.
And this is no such rare .and extraordinary case; for it happens to many; and every man that wilfully defers the work of religion and repentance to a dying hour, hath reason to fear that he shall be thus surprized in his sin and security, and by the just judgment of God, deprived of all the opportunity of life and salvation, while lie is yet in the land of the living.;
But if God be more merciful unto us, and visit us with such a sickness as leaves us the use of our understandings, yet all that we do in religion at such a time., proceeds from so violent a cause, from the present terror of death, and the dreadful apprehension of that eternal misery which is just ready to swallow us up, that it is one of the hardest things in the world, not only for others, but even for ourselves, to know whether our resolutions, and this sudden and hasty fit of repentance be sincere or not: Tor it is natural, and almost unavoidable, for a man to repent, and be sorry for what he hath done when he is going to execution. But the great question is, What this man would do, if his fife were spared i whether his repentance would hold good, and he would become a new man, and change his former course of life, or relapse into it again \ And it is by no means certain, that he would not be as bad as he was before; because we see many, who, when they ly- upon a sick-bed, give all imaginable testimony of a deep sorrow, and a hearty repentance for their sins, who yet upon their recovery, return to their former sins with a greater appetite, and make themselves ten times more the children of wrath than they were before. So that all the work that we can do at such a time, ought not to be much reckoned upon, and
finitely uncertain whether it be real and sincere, and whether the effect of so violent a cause would last: and continue, if the cause were removed. Therefore we should work while it is day for whatever we do in this evening of our lives, will be done with great difficulty, and with very doubtful success.
But besides this evening, there is a night coming when no man can work: Death will seize upon us, and then our state will be irrecoverably concluded r aster that it will be impossible for us to do anything towards our own salvation, or to have any thing done for us by others; the prayers of the living wist not avail the dead, as the tree falls so it lies; there is no wisdom, nor counsel, nor device in the grave whither we are going; therefore, according to the
little or no comfort; because it is so in
counsel counsel of the wise man, what our hand findeth to do, let us do it with our might.
This counsel concerns all ages and persons. I will apply it to the young, in the words of the wise preacher, Ecclef. xii. i. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou [halt fay, I have no pleasure in them. To them who are in the vigour of their age, in the words of the Prophet, Isa. lv. 6. Seek the Lord while he may be sound, call ye upon him while he is near. And to them that are old, in the words of another Prophet, Jer. xiii. 16. Give* glory to the Lord your God, before he causeth darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while ye look for light, he turn it into tht -fhadow of death, and make it gross darkness. And let us, every one of us, of what age or condition soever, apply it to ourselves, in the words of our blessed Saviour here in the text, 1 must work the works of him that sent me, while it if day; the night cmttb when no man can work.