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of God? Will it appease his justice? Will it close the gates of hell? Will it open the gates of immortality? Ah! let us form better ideas of religion. There is an infinite distance between him, accounted by the world an honest man, and a real Christian; and if the love of God have not been the predominant disposition of our heart, let us tremble, let us weep, or rather let us endeavour to reform. This is the first conclusion we deduce from our dis
The second turns on what we have said with regard to the force of habits; on the means of correcting the bad, and of acquiring the good. Recollect, that all these things cannot be done in a moment; recollect, that to succeed, we must be fixed and firm, returning a thousand and a thousand times to the charge. We should be the more struck with the propriety of this, if, as we said in the body of this discourse, we employed more time to reflect on ourselves. But most people live destitute of thought and recollection. We are dissipated by exterior things, our eyes glance on every object, we ascend to the heavens to make new discoveries among the stars, we descend into the deep, we dig into the bowels of the earth, we run even from the one to the other world, seeking fortune in the most remote regions, and we are ignorant of what occurs in our own breast. We have a body and a soul, noblest works of God, and we never reflect on what passes within, how knowledge is acquired, how prejudices originate, how habits are formed and fortified. If this knowledge served merely for intellectual pleasure, we ought at least to tax our indolence with negligence: but being intimately connected with our salvation, we cannot but deplore our indifference. Let us therefore study ourselves, and become rational, if we would become regenerate. Let us learn the important truth already proved, that virtue is acquired only by diligence and application.
Nor let it be here objected, that we ought not to talk of Christian virtues as of the other habits of the soul; and that the Holy Spirit can suddenly and fully correct our prejudices, and eradicate our corrupt propensities. With out a doubt we need his aid-Yes, O Holy Spirit, source of eternal wisdom, however great may be my efforts and vigilance, whatever endeavours I may use for my salvation, I will never trust to myself, never will I "offer incense to my drag, or sacrifice to my net," never will I lean upon this "bruised reed," never will I view my utter insufficiency without asking thy support.
But after all, let us not imagine that the operations of the Holy Spirit are like the fabulous enchantments celebrated in our romances and poets. We have told you a thousand times, and we cannot too often repeat it, that grace never destroys, but perfects nature. The Spirit of God will abundantly irradiate your mind, if you vigorously apply to religious contemplation; but he will not infuse the light if you disdain the study. The Spirit of God will abundantly establish the reign of grace in your heart, if you assiduously apply to the work; but he will never do it in the midst of dissipation and sin. We ought to endeavour VOL. II.-32
to become genuine Christians, as we endeavour to become profound philosophers, acute mathematicians, able preachers, enlightened merchants, intrepid commanders, by assiduity and labour, by close and constant application.
This is perhaps a galling reflection. I am not astonished that it is calculated to excite in most of you discouragement and fear: here is the most difficult part of our discourse. The doctrines or truths we discuss being unwelcome, and such as you would gladly evade, we must here suspend the thread of this discourse, that you may feel the importance of our ministry. For, after having established these truths, we must form the one or the other of these opinions concerning your conduct, either that you do "seek the Lord while he may be found," and endeavour, by a holy obstinacy, to establish truth in the mind, and grace in the heart; or that you exclude yourselves from salvation, and engage yourselves so afore in the way of destruction, as to occasion fear lest the Spirit of God, a thousand and a thousand times insulted, should for ever withdraw.
What do you say, my brethren? Which of these opinions is best founded? To what end do you live? Does this unremitting vigilance, this holy obstinacy, this continual recurrence of watchfulness and care, form the object of your life? Ah! make no more problems of a truth, which will shortly be but too well established.
Ministers of Jesus Christ, sent by the God of vengeance, not to plant only, but also to root out; to build, but also to throw down; Jer. i. 10, to "proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord," Isa. lxi. 2, but also to blow the alarming trumpet of Zion in the ears of the people; awaken the conscience; brandish the awful sword of Divine justice; put in full effect the most terrific truths of religion. In prosperous seasons the gospel supplies us with sweet and consoling passages; but we should now urge the most efficacious, and not stay to adorn the house of God, when called to extinguish a fire which threatens its destruction. Yes, Christians, did we use concerning many of you, any other language, we should betray the sentiments of our hearts. You suffer the only period, proper for your salvation, to escape. You walk in a dreadful path, "the end thereof is death," and your way of life tends absolutely to incapacitate you from tasting the sweetness of a happy death.
It is true, if you call in some ministers at the close of life, they will perhaps have the weakness to promise, to the appearance of conversion, that grace which is offered only to a genuine change of heart. But we solemnly declare, that if, after a life of inaction and negligence, they shall speak peace to you on a death-bed, you ought not to depend on this kind of promises. You ought to class them with those things which ought not to be credited, though "an angel from heaven should come and preach them." Ministers are but men, and weak as others. You call us to attend the dying, who have lived as most of the human kind. There we find a sorrowful family, a father bathed in tears, a mother in despair: what would you have us to do? Would you have us speak honestly to the sick man? Would you have us
You are now precisely at the age for salvation, you have all the necessary dispositions for the study of religious truths, and the subjugation of your heart to its laws. What penetration, what perception, what vivacity, and consequently what preparation for receiving the yoke of Christ. Cherish those dispositions, and improve each moment of a period so precious. "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth," Eccles. xii. 1. Alas, with all your acuteness you will have enough to do in surmounting the wicked propensities of your heart. And what would it be, if to the depravity of nature, and the force of habit, you should add, the grovelling all your life in vice?
And you aged men, who have already run your course, but who have devoted the best of your days to the world: you who seek the Lord to-day, groping your way, and who are making faint efforts in age to withdraw from the world, a heart of which it has possession: what shall we say to you? Shall we say that your ruin is without remedy, that your sentence is already pronounced, that nothing now remains but to cast you headlong into the abyss you have willingly prepared for yourselves? God forbid that we should thus become the executioners of Divine vengeance. We address you in the voice of our prophet. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found." Weep at the remembrance of your past lives, tremble at the thought, that God sends strong delusions on those that "obey not the truth." Oh! happy docility of my youth, whither art thou fled? Ah! soul more burdened with corruption than with the weight of years: Ah! stupidity, prejudice, fatal dominion of sin, you are the sad recompense I have derived from serving the enemy of my salvation.
But, while you fear, hope; and hoping, act: at least, O! at least the span of life, which God may add, devote to your salvation. You have abundantly more to do than others; your task is greater, and your time is shorter. You have, according to the prophet, "to turn your feet unto the testimonies of the Lord," Ps. cxix. 59. But swim against the stream; ter in at the strait gate." Above all,-above all, offer up fervent prayers to God. Perhaps, moved by your tears, he will revoke the sentence; perhaps, excited to compassion by your misery, he will heal it by his grace; perhaps, surmounting by the supernatural operations of the Spirit, the depravity of nature, he will give you thoughts so divine, and sentiments so tender, that you shall suddenly be transformed into new men.
tell him, that all this exterior of repentance is | a vain phantom without substance, without reality? That among a thousand sick persons, who seem converted on a death-bed, we scarcely find one who is really changed? That for one degree of probability of the reality of his conversion, we have a thousand which prove it to be extorted? And to speak without evasion, we presume, that one hour he will be taken from his dying bed, and cast into the torments of hell? We should do this-we should apply this last remedy, and no longer trifle with a soul whose destruction is almost certain. But you forbid us, you prevent us; you say that such severe language would injure the health of the sick. You do more; you weep, you lament. At a scene so affecting, we soften as other men: we have not resolution to add one affliction to another; and whether from compassion to the dying, or pity to the living, we talk of heaven, and afford the man hopes of salvation. But we say again, we still declare that all these promises ought to be suspected; they can change neither the spirit of religion, nor the nature of man. "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord," Heb. xii. 14. And those tears which you shed on the approach of death, that extorted submission to the will of God, those hasty resolutions of obedience, are not that holiness. In vain should we address you in other language. You yourselves would hear on your dying bed an irreproachable witness always ready to contradict us.5.-That witness is conscience. In vain does the degenerate minister endeavour to afford the dying illusive hope; conscience speaks without disguise. The preacher says, "Peace, peace," Jer. vi. 14; conscience replies, "There is no peace to the wicked, saith my God," Isa. lv. 21. The preacher says, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors," Ps. xxiv. 7. Conscience cries, "Mountains, mountains, fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb," Rev. vi. 16.
But, O gracious God, what are we doing in this pulpit? Are we come to trouble Israel? Are we sent to curse? Do we preach to-day only of hell, only of devils? Ah! my brethren, there is no attaining salvation but in the way which we have just prescribed: it is true, that to the present hour you have neglected: it is true, that the day of vengeance is about to succeed the day of wrath. But the day of vengeance is not yet come. You yet live, you yet breathe: grace is yet offered. I hear the voice of my Saviour, saying, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem," Isa. xl. 1. I hear the delightful accents crying upon this church, "Grace, grace unto it," Zech. iv. 7. "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me, my relentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger: I will not return to destroy Ephraim," Hos. xi. 8, 9. It speaks peculiarly to you, young people, whose minds are yet free from passion and prejudice, whose chaste hearts have not yet been corrupted by the world.
To the utmost of our power, let us reform. There is yet time, but that time is perhaps more limited than we think. After all, why delay? Ah! I well see what obstructs. You regard conversion as an irksome task, and the state of regeneration as difficult and burdensome, which must be entered into as late as possible. But if you knew-if you knew the gift of God!-If you knew the sweetness felt by a man who seeks God in his ordinances, who hears his oracles, who derives light and truth from their source:-If you knew the joy of a man transformed into the image of his Maker, and who daily engraves on his heart some new trait of the all-perfect Being:-If
you knew the consolation of a Christian, who seeks his God in prayer, who mingles his voice with the voice of angels, and begins on earth the sacred exercises which shall one day constitute his eternal felicity:-If you knew the joys which succeed the bitterness of repentance, when the sinner, returning from his folly, prostrates himself at the feet of a merciful God, and receives at the throne of grace, from the Saviour of the world, the discharge of all their sins, and mingling tears of joy with tears of grief, repairs by redoubled affection, his lukewarmness and indolence:-If you knew the raptures of a soul persuaded of its salvation, which places all its hope within the veil, as an anchor sure and steadfast, which bids defiance to hell and the devil, which anticipates the celestial delights; a soul "which is already justified, already risen, already glorified, already seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus," Eph. ii. 6.
Ah! why should we defer so glorious a task? We ought to defer things which are painful and injurious, and when we cannot extricate ourselves from a great calamity, we ought at least to retard it as much as possible. But this peace, this tranquillity, these transports, this resurrection, this foretaste of paradise, are they to be arranged in this class? Ah no! I will no longer delay, O my God, to keep thy commandments. I will "reach forth," I will press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling," Phil. iii. 14. Happy to have formed such noble resolutions! Happy to accomplish them! Amen. To God, the Father, Son, and Spirit, be honour and glory for ever. Amen.
ON THE DELAY OF CONVERSION. PART II.
ISAIAH lv. 6.
Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.
Ir is now some time, my brethren, if you recollect, since we addressed you on this subject. We proposed to be less scrupulous in discussing the terms than desirous to attack the delay of conversion, and absurd notions of divine mercy. We then apprised you, that we should draw our reflections from three sources, from the nature of man,-from the authority of Scripture,-and from actual experience. We began by the first of these points; to-day we intend to discuss the second; and if Providence call us again into this pulpit, we will explain the third, and give the finishing hand to the subject.
If you were attentive to what we proposed in our first discourse, if the love of salvation drew you to these assemblies, you would derive instruction. You would sensibly perceive the vain pretensions of those who would indeed labour to obtain salvation, but who always delay. For what, I pray, is more proper to excite alarm and terror in the soul, negligent of conversion, than the single point to which
we called your attention, the study of man? What is more proper to confound such a man, than to tell him, as we then did, your brain will weaken your age; your mind will be filled with notions foreign to religion; it will lose with years, the power of conversing with any but sensible objects; and of commencing the investigation of religious truths? What is more proper to save such a man from his prejudices, than to remind him, that the way, and the only way of acquiring a habit is practice; that virtue cannot be formed in the heart by a single wish, by a rash and hasty resolution, but by repeated and persevering efforts; that the habit of a vice strengthens itself in proportion as we indulge the crime? What, in short, is more proper to induce us to improve the time of health for salvation, than to exhibit to him the portrait we have drawn of a dying man, stretched on a bed of affliction, labouring with sickness, troubled with phantoms and reveries, flattered by his friends, terrified with death, and consequently incapable of executing the work he has deferred to this tragic period? I again repeat, my brethren, if you were attentive to the discourse we delivered, if the desire of salvation drew you to these assemblies, there is not one among you that those serious reflections would not constrain to enter into his heart, and to reform without delay the purposes of life.
But it may appear to some, that we narrow the way to heaven; that the doctrines of faith being above the doctrines of philosophy, we must suppress the light of reason, and take solely for our guide in the paths of piety, the lamp of revelation. We will endeavour to afford them satisfaction: we will show that religion, very far from weakening, strengthens the reflections which reason has suggested. We will prove, that we have said nothing but what ought to alarm those who delay conversion, and who found the notion they have formed of the Divine mercy, not on the nature of God, but on the depraved propensity of their own heart, and on the impure system of their lusts. These are the heads of this discourse.
You will tell us, brethren, entering on this discourse, that we are little afraid of the diffi culties of which perhaps it is susceptible; we hope that the truth, notwithstanding our weakness, will appear in all its lustre. But other thoughts strike our mind, and they must for a moment arrest our course. We fear the difficulty of your hearts: we fear more: we fear that this discourse, which shall disclose the treasures of grace, will aggravate the condemnation of those who turn it into wantonness: we fear that this discourse, by the abuse to which many may expose it, will serve merely as a proof of the truths already established. God! avert this dreadful prediction, and may the cords of love, which thou so evidently employest, draw and captivate our hearts. Amen.
I. The Holy Scriptures to-day are the source from which we draw our arguments to attack the delay of conversion. Had we no design but to cite what is positively said on this subject, our meditation would require no great efforts. We should have but to transcribe a mass of infallible decisions, of repeated warn|ings, of terrific examples, of appalling menaces,
with which they abound, and which they address to all those who presume to delay conversion. We should have to repeat this caution of the prophet, "To-day if ye will hear his voice harden not your hearts," Ps. xcv. 7. A caution he has sanctified by his own example, "I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments," Ps. cxix. 60. We should have only to address to you this reflection, made by the author of the second book of Chronicles: "The Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people; but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew the young men with the sword. And had no compassion upon young men or maidens, old men or him that stooped for age. They burned the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all the palaces thereof with fire," 2 Chron. xxxvi. 15, &c. We should only have to propose the declaration of Eternal Wisdom, "Because I called and ye refused, I will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh," Prov. i. 26. We should have but to represent the affecting scene of Jesus Christ weeping over Jerusalem, and saying, "O that thou hadst known, at least in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes," Luke xix. 41. We should have but to say to each of you, as St. Paul to the Romans: "Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearing, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgments of God," Rom. ii. 4, &c. And elsewhere that God sends strong delusion on those who believe not the truth, to believe a lie, 2 Thess. ii. 8. We should have but to resound in this assembly, those awful words in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "If we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries," Heb. x. 26. For if the mercy of God is without bounds, if it is ready to receive the sinner the moment he is induced by the fear of punishment to prostrate himself before him, why is this precise day marked to hear the voice of God? Why this haste? Why this exhausting of resources and remedies? Why this strong delusion? Why this refusal to hear the tardy penitent? Why this end of the days of Jerusalem's visitation? Why this heaping up of the treasures of wrath? Why this utter defect of sacrifice for sin? All these passages, my brethren, are as so many sentences against our delays, against the contradictory notions we fondly form of the divine mercy, and of which we foolishly avail ourselves in order to sleep in our sins.
All these things being hereby evident and clear, we stop not for farther explication, but proceed with our discourse. When we employed philosophical arguments against the
delay of conversion; when we prove from the force of habits, that it is difficult, not to say impossible, for a man aged in crimes, to be converted at the hour of death; it appeared to you, that we shook two doctrines which are in fact the two fundamental pillars of your faith.
The first is the supernatural aids of the Holy Spirit, promised in the new covenant; aids which bend the most rebellious wills, aids which can surmount in a moment all the difficulties which the force of habit may oppose to conversion.
The second doctrine is that of mercy, access to which being opened by the blood of Christ, there is no period it seems but we may be admitted whenever we come, though at the close of life. Here is, in substance, if I mistake not, the whole of what religion and the Scriptures seem to oppose to what has been advanced in our first discourse. If we make it therefore evident, that these two doctrines do not oppose our principles; if we prove, that they contain nothing directly repugnant to the conclusions we have drawn, shall we not thereby demonstrate, that the Scriptures contain nothing but what should alarm those who trust to a tardy repentance. This we undertake to develope. The subject is not without difficulty; we have to steer between two rocks equally dangerous; for if, on the one hand, we should supersede those doctrines, we abjure the faith of our fathers, and draw upon ourselves the charge of heterodoxy. On the other hand, if we should stretch those doctrines beyond a certain point, we furnish a plea for licentiousness: we sap what we have built, and refute ourselves. Both these rocks we must cautiously avoid.
The first proofs of which people avail themselves, to excuse their negligence and delay, and the first arguments of defence, which they draw from the Scriptures, in order to oppose us, are taken from the aids of the Spirit, promised in the new covenant. "Why those alarming sermons?" say they. "Why those awful addresses, to the sinner who defers his conversion? Why confound, in this way, religious with natural habits?" The latter are formed, I grant, by labour and study; by persevering and uninterrupted assiduity. The former proceed from extraneous aids; they are the productions of grace, formed in the soul by the Holy Spirit. I will not, therefore, invalidate a doctrine so consolatory; I will profit by the prerogatives of Christianity; I will devote my life to the world; and when I perceive myself ready to expire, I will assume the charac ter of a Christian. I will surrender myself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and then he shall, according to his promise, communicate his powerful influence to my heart; he shall subdue my wicked propensities, eradicate my most inveterate habits, and effectuate, in a moment, what would have cost me so much labour and pain. Here is an objection, which most sinners have not the effrontery to avow, but which a false theology cherishes in too many minds; and on which we found nearly the whole of our imaginary hopes of a death-bed conversion.
To this objection we are bound to reply.
We proceed to make manifest its absurdity, 1. | you not perceive, on the contrary, that the
By the ministry God has established in the church. 2. By the efforts he requires us to make, previously to our being satisfied that we have received the Holy Spirit. 3. By the manner in which he requires us to co-operate with the Spirit, when we have received him. 4. By the punishment he has denounced against those who resist his work. 5. By the conclusions which the Scripture itself deduces from our natural weakness, and from the necessity of grace. Here, my brethren, are five sources of reflection, which amount to demonstration, that every man who draws consequences from the promised aids of the Spirit, to live in lukewarmness, and to flatter himself with acquiring, without labour, without difficulty, without application, habits of holiness, offers violence to religion, and is unacquainted with the genius of the Holy Spirit's economy.
youth who learns his catechism with care, becomes a good catechumen; that the candidate who profoundly studies divinity, becomes an able divine; and that the Christian, who endeavours to subdue his passions, obtains the victory over himself? Hence, the Holy Spirit requires you to use exertions. Hence, when we exhorted you to become genuine Christians, with the same application that we use to become enlightened merchants, meritorious officers, acute mathematicians, and good preachers, by assiduity and study, by labour and application, we advanced nothing inconsistent with the genius of our religion. Hence, he who draws from the aids of the Holy Spirit conclusions to remain inactive, and defer the work of salvation, offers violence to the economy of grace, and supersedes the design of the ministry God has established in his church. This is our first reflection.
We have marked, secondly, the efforts that God requires us to use to obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit, when we do not account ourselves as yet to have received them. For it is fully admitted that God required us, at least, to ask. The Scriptures are very express. "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God," Jam. i. 5; "seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened," Matt. vii. 7. And, if we are required to ask, we are also obliged to use efforts, however weak and imperfect, to obtain the grace we ask. For, with what face can we ask God to assist us in the work of salvation, when we deliberately seek our own destruction? With what face can we ask God not to lead us into temptation, and we ourselves rush into temptation, and greedily riot in sin? With what face can we ask him to extinguish the fire of concupiscence, when we daily converse with objects which inflame it?
The ministry established in the church, is the first proof that the aids of the Spirit give no countenance to lukewarmness, and the delay of conversion. Had it been the design of the Holy Spirit to communicate knowledge, without the fatigue of religious instruction; had it been his design to sanctify, in a moment, without requiring our co-operation in this great work, why establish a ministry in the church? Why require us in infancy to be taught "line upon line, and precept upon precept," as Isaiah expresses himself, Isa. xxxviii. 10. Why, as St. Paul says, require us afterward to "leave the principles of the doctrines of Christ, and go on to perfection?" Heb. vi. 1. Why require, as the same apostle says, that we proceed from "milk to strong meat?" 1 Cor. iii. 2. Why require to propose motives, and address exhortations? Why are we not enlightened and sanctified without means, without ministers, without the Bible, without the ministry? Why act exactly in the science of salvation, as in the sciences of men? For, when we teach a science to a man, we adapt it to his capacity, to his genius, and to his memory; so God requires us to do with regard to men. "Faith comes by hearing," says St. Paul," and hearing by the word," Rom. x. 17. "Being ascended up on high, he gave some to be apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry (mark the expression,) for the edifying of the body of Christ," Eph. iv. 11, 12. Perceive you not, therefore, the impropriety of your pretensions? Seeing it has been God's good pleasure to establish a ministry, do you not conceive that he would have you regard it with deference? Seeing he has opened the gates of these temples, do you not conceive that he requires you to enter his courts? Seeing he has enjoined us to preach, do you not conceive that he requires you to hear? Seeing he requires you to hear, do you not conceive that he likewise requires you to comprehend? Seeing he commands us to impress you with motives, would he not have you feel their force? Do you think he has any other object in view? Show us a man, who has lived eighty years without meditation and piety, that has instantaneously become a good divine, a faithful Christian, perfected in holiness and piety. Do
We ought, therefore, to conduct ourselves, with regard to the work of salvation, as we do with regard to life and health. In vain should we try to preserve them, did not God extend his care: nature, and the elements, all conspire for our destruction; we should vanish of our own accord; God alone can retain the breath which preserves our life. Asa, king of Israel, was blamed for having had recourse to physicians, without having first inquired of the Lord. But should we not be fools, if, from a notion that God alone can preserve our life, we should cast ourselves into a pit; abandon ourselves to the waves of the sea, take no food when healthy, and no medicine when sick? Thus, in the work of salvation, we should do the same; imploring the grace of God to aid our endeavours. We should follow the example of Moses, when attacked by Amalek; he shared with Joshua the task of victory. Moses ascended the hill, Joshua descended into the plain: Joshua fought, Moses prayed: Moses raised his suppliant hands to heaven, Joshua raised a warrior's arm: Moses opposed his fervour to the wrath of Heaven, Joshua opposed his courage and arms to the enemy of Israel: and, by this judicious concurrence of praying and fighting, Israel triumphed and Amalek fled.
Observe, thirdly, the manner in which the Holy Spirit requires correspondent co-operation