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gion 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 with their mouths, and they lied to them with their tongues : for their hearts were not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant." Psal. 78. 34, 36. How often does experience convince us of the inefficacy of a sickbed repentance ? How many that were very 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 then, 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 mercy. “ 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 for ever, 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 his 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 continuance in sin, upon presumption of an easy pardon at last. This is the most provoking abuse of his “Goodness and long-suffering, that should lead them to 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 should be so melting and moving as his clemency. We read of David, that he had more than once in his
power Saul his unjust and cruel enemy, yet spared him: the effect of it was that Saul was softened, and under such compunction 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 of souls, so easy to be entreated, that upon his dying prayer, “Lord, remember me in thy kingdom,” the answer will be, “ To-day shalt thou 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 incapable 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 supplicants 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 virgins for supply, in vain knocked at the door, crying, “ Lord, Lord, open to us,” Mat. 25. The answer was severe and peremptory, “I know you not ;" and they were for ever excluded from the joys of heaven.
It is most incongruous to delay our reconciliation with God till the time of
sickoess. It is very uncomfortable to delay it till our declining time. The vanity of men's presuming to delay repentance, because some have been converted in their last hours. The instances of such are rare, and pot to be drawn into example. Innumerable have died in their sins, deceived with hopes of repenting hereafter. Those who have delayed their repentance, are not utterly destitute of hopes if they earnestly seek God at last.
4. How incongruous is it to delay. the solemn work of rec ciliation with God till the time of sickness. This is an affair wherein our transcendent interest is concerned, and should be performed in our most calm and sensible condition, when we are most capable of reflecting upon our ways, and making an exact trial of ourselves in order to our returning to God by a holy change of our lives. Now that the time of sickness is not a convenient season for this work, is sadly evident; for some diseases are stupifying, and all the powers of the soul are benumbed in a dull captivity; so that the sick man only perceives with his animal faculties. Some diseases are tormenting, and cause a great disorder in the soul, and distract the thoughts from considering its spiritual state. When the storm is at the highest, and the pilot so sick that he can give no directions, the ship is left to the fury of the winds, and escapes by miracle. When there is a tempest in the humours of the body, and the soul by sympathy is so discomposed that it cannot apply itself to prepare for its appearance before the divine tribunal, what danger of being lost, and passing from a short agony to everlasting torment?
Besides ; suppose the sickness more tolerable, yet how unfit is a person weak and languishing, * when sense and conscience are both afflicted, to encounter with the cruel enemy of souls ? All that sincerely seek peace with God, must expect fierce anger and war from satan : therefore it is a point of necessary wisdom, whilst our bodies and minds are in the best order, to be
* Male cum bis agitur, quibus pecessitas incumbit belli & morbi. Veg.
preparing against his assaults.
5. Consider how uncomfortable it is to delay repentance till age and sickness, when the fruits of it are not so evident nor acceptable: in evil days, and the approaches of death, 'it is very hard to discover the sincerity of the heart, whether repentance proceeds from holy principles; whether the sorrow then expressed be godly for sin, or merely natural, for punishment; whether the good resolutions be the effects of permanent fidelity, or of violent fear, that will vanish, the cause being removed. When the invitations to sin cease, there may remain a secret undiscerned love to it in the heart, which is the centre of corruption, and root of apostacy. The snake that seemed dead in the frost, Tevived by the fire. The inordinate affections that seemed mortified, when the sensitive faculties were disabled to carnal enjoyments, may have inward life, and will soon be active and vigorous in the presence of temptations. And that a deathbed-repentance is usually deceitful, appears from hence, that not one of a thousand that recover from dangerous diseases are faithful in performing their most sacred and solemn vows. How many having the sentence of death in themselves, and under the terrors of the Lord, have expressed the greatest detestation of their sins, and resolved, as they thought sincerely, if God would spare them, to reform their ways, to become new creatures, exemplary in all holy conversation ; yet the danger being over, their heats of devotion expire as they revive, and their lusts recover strength with their bodies, and being suppressed only by fear, are more fierce in their return. Their hearts were as marble, that in rainy weather seems dissolved into water, but it is only from the moisture of the air, and remains as hard as ever: when the fear of death is removed, all their promises of reformation are ineffective, as violent and void; all their religious affections vanish as the morning-dew. Now if these persons had died before this visible trial and discovery, they had passed into the other world with the reputation of true penitents, deceiving others with their prayers and tears, and liberal promises, the outward signs of repentance, and deceived themselves by the inward workings of an alarmed conscience: therefore ministers should be very circumspect in applying the promises of mercy to persons in such a state; for an error in that kind has fearful consequences. A lit
tle opiate divinity may quiet the mind for a time, but the virtue of it will be soon spent, and the presumer perishes for ever. But suppose a dying person with true tears and unfeigned persevering affections returns to God; can he have a confortable assurance of his sincerity ? Indeed the searcher and judge of hearts will accept him: but how doubtful and wavering are his hopes? what anxious fears are in his breast, lest he builds upon a sardy foundation ? And how dreadful is it to appear before the tribunal of God, and expect an uncertain sentence ?
But sinners still please themselves in this, that God has effectually called some at the last hour, and they may find the same favour with others. To this I answer :
(1.) It is true we have some rare admirable instances of God's mercy and grace, the dying thief and some others, which showed it is possible with God to abolish the most confirmed habits in a short time, and by a swift conversion to prepare a sinner for heaven. But these miraculous examples are not to be drawn into consequence for the encouragement of any in their sins. A * prince will not endure that his free favours should be made a law to him, and the special privilege of some be extended to all. As Thales said, an old mariner that has escaped the various dangers by rocks and storms at sea, was a new miracle : so that one whọ has lived an obstinate sinner, dies a penitent believer, is very rare and extraordinary. What our Saviour said concerning the salvation of rich men, is justly applicable to this case, “ That it was as easy for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, as for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This so astonished the apostles, that they cried, “Who then can be sa
To mitigate the difficulty, he reminds them of the divine omnipotence : “All things are possible with God.” Thus
” for one who has been hardened in a long course of sin, and making himself meet for the company of damned spirits in hell, to be at last suddenly prepared and received into the pure and glorious society above, is possible, but possible only as miracles are, by the efficacy of infinite power; and we cannot reasonably expect such miracles. And are heaven and hell such trivial things as to be left to an uncertainty? Are not men concerned in another manner in the affairs of this world? How careful to prevent the
* Quod alicui gratiose coo
ir, trahi non debet ab aliis in exemplum: