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formable to their nature, proposing motives, and employing their force to captivate the
But these operations of the Holy Spirit have lost their effect with regard to you. What motives can be in future proposed, which have not been urged a thousand times, and which have consequently lost their efficacy? Is it the mercy of God? That you have turned into lasciviousness. Is it the image of Jesus Christ crucified? Him you daily crucify afresh, with out remorse and without repentance. Is it the hope of heaven? You look only at "the things which are seen." Is it the fear of hell? That has been painted a thousand and a thousand times, and you have acquired the art of braving its terrors and torments. If God should, therefore, employ in your behalf the same degree of power, which effectuated those instantaneous conversions, it would be found insufficient; if he should employ for you the same miracle, that miracle would be too weak. It would require a more abundant portion of grace to convert you, than it did to convert the others; consequently, a miracle, less distinguished than was afforded them, concludes nothing in favour of that, which is the object of your hope, and the flimsy foundation of your security.
A third difference is derived from the duration of their crimes. Of all the sinners we have enumerated, if we may except the converted thief, there is not one who persevered in vice to the close of life. St. Peter, St. Paul, and David, were but a few moments, but a few days, or a few years at most, entangled in sin. They consecrated the best part of life to the service of God. They were unfaithful in a few instances, but afterward their fidelity was unremitting.
Their fall shook their confidence, but did not overthrow it: it was enveloped, but not choked; obscured, but not extinguished.
I acknowledge the good thief seems to have, with the sinners we attack, the sad conformity of persisting in vice to the end of life. But his history is so short in the gospel, the circumstances related are so few, and the conjectures we may make on this subject are so doubtful and uncertain, that a rational man can find in it, no certain rule for the regulation of his conduct.
refuted with the same ease. And though the whole of these probabilities were refuted, how many criminating circumstances occur in your life which were not in his? We said, that he had not received the education which you have; he had not received the torrent of grace, with which you are inundated; he was unacquainted with a thousand motives, which operate on you; the moment he saw Jesus Christ, he loved him, and he believed on him. How was that? With what faith? At what time? In a manner the most heroic in the world: a faith like his was never found in Israel. At the time when Jesus Christ was fixed on the cross; when he was pierced with the nails; when he was delivered to an infuriated populace; when they spit upon him; when he was mocked by the Greek; when he was rejected by the Jew; when he was betrayed by Judas; when St. Peter denied him; when his disciples fled; when Jesus made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant, the thief,-the thief seemed to have taken all the faith to himself, and to constitute the whole church: After all, this is but a solitary example: if the converted thief afford you consolation in your crimes, tremble, tremble sinners, when you cast your eyes on him, who was hardened at his side; and let the singularity of this late conversion induce you to fear, lest you should not have been chosen of God, to furnish to the universe a second proof of the success of a conversion deferred to the hour of death.
A fourth reflection turns on the virtues of those sinners, whose example you adduce. For though one criminal habit may suffice, where repentance is wanting, to plunge into the abyss, him who is enslaved with it, whatever his virtues may be; yet there is a vast disparity between the state of two men, one of whom has fallen, indeed, into a crime, but who otherwise has the virtues of a great saint; and the other of whom has fallen into the same crime, but is wanting in those virtues. You bear with a fault in a servant, when he is well qualified for your service; but this defect would be insupportable in the person of another, destitute of those talents.
Who was this thief? What was his crime? What induced him to commit it? What was the first instance of his depravity? What was that of his repentance? What means did grace employ for his conversion? So many questions, so many doubts, so many sufficient reasons for inferring nothing from his conversion. Perhaps he had been engaged in this awful course but a short time. Perhaps, seduced by an unhappy ease, he was less guilty of theft than of softness and compliance. Perhaps only the accomplice of Barabbas in sedition, he had less design of disturbing society, than of checking the tyrannic and exorbitant power of the Romans. Perhaps, surprised by weakness, or tempted by necessity, he had received sentence for his first offence. Perhaps, having languished a long time in prison, he had repented of his sin. We do not affirm these things, they are merely conjectures; but all that you can object are similar conjectures, which may be
Apply this remark to the subject in hand. It is to inquire, whether God will extend his mercy to you after the perpetration of notorious offences. You allege, for your comfort, the case of those sinners who have obtained mercy; after having proceeded in vice, at least, according to your opinion, as far as yourselves. Take two balances: weigh with one hand their crimes and your crimes: weigh with the other their virtues and your virtues. If the weights are equal, your argument is conclusive: the grace which they have obtained, is an infallible test that you shall not be excluded. But if you should find, on inquiry, a difference; if you should find, on your dying bed, that you have resembled them in what is odious, and not in what is acceptable, do you not perceive, my brethren, the impropriety of your presumption, and the absurdity of your hopes
Now, who is there, who is there among us, who abandons himself to vice, that will compare himself with those illustrious saints in regard to virtue; as it is readily acknowledged that they resemble them in regard to faults
You follow, to-day, the multitude to do evil, as Zaccheus, and, as the apostles before their conversion: so far the parallel is just; but can you prove, like them, that you obeyed the first calls of Jesus Christ; that you have never been of fended, either with the severity of his precepts, or with the bloody horrors of his cross and martyrdom? You sacrifice, like David, to an impudent Bathsheba, the rights of the Lord, who enjoins temperance and modesty: so far the parallel is just; but have you, like him, had "the law of God in your heart?" Have you, like him, "rose at midnight, to sing praises to God?" Have you, like him, made charity your glory, and piety your delight? You persecute the church, like St. Paul, by your malicious objections, and profane sneers; you draw away disciples, as the zealot once did, by persecutions and punishments: so far the parallel is just; but have you asked Jesus Christ, as he did, the first moment he appeared to him in the way to Damascus, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?" Have you neither conferred with flesh nor blood, when required, like him, to go up to Jerusalem, and abjure the prejudices of your fathers? Has your zeal resembled his, so as to feel your spirit stirred within you, at the sight of a superstitious altar? And has your love resembled his, so as to be willing to be accursed for your brethren? You have denied Jesus Christ, as St. Peter; and that criminal laxity, which induced you to comply in such and such company, when virtue was attacked, has made you like this apostle, who denied him in the court of Caiaphas: so far the parallel is just; but have you, like him, burned with zeal for the interests of his glory? Have you said, with an ardour like his, "Lord, thou knowest that I love thee?" Have you, like him, prodigal of your blood, been ready to seal the truths of the gospel; and, after being made a spectacle to the world, are you, like him, ready to be offered up? You, like the thief, have that false weight, and that short measure, which you secretly use on your counter, and in your warehouse; or that authority which you openly abuse in the face of the world, and on the seat of justice: you liberal culprits, who, perhaps, have imposed on strangers, or attacked them with open force: so far the parallel is just; but have you, like him, had eyes, which penetrated through the clouds, with which Christ was surrounded on the cross? Have you, like him, discovered the God of heaven and earth, in the person of the crucified Redeemer? Have you, like him, repaired, with the sincerity of your expiring breath, the crimes of your whole life? If the parallel be still just, your argument is good, and your recourse to mercy shall be attended with the same success. But if the parallel be defective; if you find, on your death-bed, that you have followed those characters solely in what was sinful, then your argument is false; and you ought, at least, to relinquish the hopes you have founded on their examples.
5. We find, in short, another difference between the men who delay conversion, and the sinners, whose cases they adduce; it is certain that they were converted and obtained mercy, whereas it is extremely doubtful whether the VOL. II.-34
others shall ever obtain it, and be converted. What, according to your mode of arguing. constitutes the strength of your objection, becomes the solidity of our reply. A sinner, in the career of crimes, is in a fluctuating condition, placed between life and death; equally uncertain whether he shall obtain salvation, or become the victim of perdition. These then, men who delay conversion, these are the sinners we have to attack. You allege the case of characters, whose state has been already determined; and whose repentance has been realized by experience. Each of these, while, like you, habituated to vice, was, like you, uncertain whether they should obtain mercy, or whether the door would be shut. Access has been opened, pardon has been granted. Thus the question is decided; and all doubts, with regard to them, are done away.
But your situation is quite the reverse. You have the sins of their fluctuating state, not the grace of their determined condition, which induces a favourable confidence. In this painful suspense, who is in the right? We, who tremble at the awful risk you run; or you, who rely on the precarious hope of extricating yourselves from sin? Who is in the right? Those accommodating guides, who, in your greatest profligacy, continually assure you of the divine mercy, which serves merely as a pretext to confirm you in crimes; or we, who brandish before your eyes the awful sword of justice, to alarm your indolence, and rouse you from soft security?
Collect now, my brethren, all this variety of reflections; and, if there remain with you a shadow of honesty, renounce the advantage you pretend to derive from these examples. Consider, that many of these conversions are not only out of the common course of religion, but also that they could not have been effectuated by less than miraculous powers. Consider that, among all those sinners, there was not one in the situation of a Christian, who delays conversion to the close of life. Consi der that you are enlightened with meridian lustre, which they have scarcely seen. Consider that you are pressed with a thousand motives totally unknown to them. Consider, that they continued, for the most part, but a short time in sin; but you have wasted life in folly. Consider, that they possessed distinguished virtues, which rendered them dear to God; but you have nothing to offer him but dissipation or indolence. Consider, that they were distinguished by repentance, and afforded lasting proofs of their sincerity: whereas it is still doubtful whether you shall ever be converted, and you go the way to make it impossible. See, then, whether your arguments are just, and whether your hopes are properly founded.
These examples, we acknowledge, my brethren, are very encouraging to those who diligently endeavour to reform. We delight in enforcing them to those contrite and simple souls; to consciences bruised and tender that tremble at God's word. We came not to straiten the way to heaven; we came not to preach a severe morality, and to announce a divinity ferocious and cruel. Would to God that every sinner, in this assembly, would re
collect himself, and swell the catalogue of con- | blood; Judea buried in ashes, or swimming verts, in which grace has been triumphant! with the blood of its inhabitants? How often But hardened men can infer nothing hence, with a voice yet more tender did he cry, "O except alarming considerations. that thou hadst hearkened to my commandment! Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the crown of the head, there is no soundness in it," Isa. i. 5, 6. Howl, O gate, cry, O City, thou whole Palestina art dissolved," Isa. xiv. 31. "Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust for the fear of the Lord," Isa. ii. 10. That was the time to avert all these calamities; that was the aim of the prophet and the design of our text. But the Jews hardened themselves against his voice. God pronounced the sentence; he executed his word: he commanded the Chaldeans to invest the walls of Jerusalem; and then says the sacred historian, "there was no remedy," 2 Chron. xxxvi. 16. The Israelites made many efforts to appease the wrath of Heaven; the aged raised aloud their plaintive and trembling voices, the young poured forth a mournful and piercing cry; the daughters of Jerusalem lifted up their lamentations to Heaven; the priests wept aloud between the porch and the altar, they said a thousand and a thousand times, "Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage unto shame," Joel ii. 17. But the deed was done, the time was past, the Lord would not be found, and all this semblance of repentance, the smallest portion of which would perhaps, on another occasion, have sufficed to disarm the wrath of Heaven, was now without effect. This is expressed in so noble and energetic a manner, that we would for ever imprint it on your memory. "The Lord God of their fathers sent to them his messengers, rising up betimes and sending, because he had compassion on his people. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, till the wrath of the Lord arose against his people. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew the young people with the sword, and had no compassion on the young man, nor the aged, nor the infirm. They burnt the house of God, and demolished his palaces," 2 Chron. xxxvi. 15-17.
Hitherto we have examined the cases of those sinners, who apparently contradict our principles; let us, in the next place, briefly review those, by which they are confirmed. Let us prove that the long-suffering of God has its limits; and that in order to find him" propitious, we must "seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near." This is our second head.
II. Three distinguished classes of examples, my brethren, three alarming monuments, confirm those illustrious truths. These are
I. Public catastrophes. II. Obdurate sinners. III. Dying men.-Happy are they who are cautioned by the calamities of others!
I. Public catastrophes. There is to every government, to every nation, and to every church, a limited day of visitation: there is a time in which the Lord may be found, and a time in which he will not be found. "A time when he may be found:" when commerce flourishes, when families prosper, when armies conquer, when politics succeed, when the temples are open, when the solemn feasts are observed, and the faithful say one to another, "O come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord." This is the time when the Lord may be found. Happy time, which would have been restricted only by the duration of the world, had not the ingratitude of man introduced another time, in which the Lord will not be found. Then commerce languishes, families degenerate, armies are defeated, politics are confused, churches are overturned, the solemn feasts subside; "and the earth," according to the expression of Moses, "vomiteth out its inhabitants."
Isaiah has given us a proof of this awful truth, in the Jews of his own age. He preached, he prayed, he exhorted, he threatened, he thundered. How often was his voice heard in the streets of Jerusalem! Sometimes he would draw them with the cords of love; sometimes he would save them "with fear, pulling them out of the fire." How often did he thunder those terrific words-" Behold the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem, and from Judah, the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water; the mighty man, and the man of war; the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, and the captain of fifty; and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator," Isa. iii. 1-3. How often did he say to them, by divine authority-"Hear ye what I will do to my vineyard; I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down; and I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned nor digged, but there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds, that they rain no rain upon it," ver. 5, 6. How often did he uplift the veil of future times, and represent the Chaldeans approaching; Jerusalem besieged; the city encumbered with the dead; the temple of the Lord reduced to heaps of stones; the holy mountain streaming with
What happened to ancient Jerusalem, happened also to modern Jerusalem; I would say, Jerusalem as it stood in our Saviour's time. A thousand oracles had predicted the advent of the Messiah; the prophets had said that he was about to come; St. John the Baptist affirmed, that he was at the door; Jesus Christ came, in short, saying, Here I am. He walked in the streets of Jerusalem, he instructed them by his doctrine, he astonished them by his miracles, he influenced them by his example; he cried in their assemblies, "Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you," John xii. 35. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not," Matt. xxiii. 37. That was the time; but they suffered the precious moments to escape. And what did Jesus Christ add? "He wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known,
even thou, at least in this thy day, the things | give of your objections; this is really the time which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes," Luke xix. 42. Do you feel all the force of these last words, "now they are hid from thine eyes?" Jerusalem was not, however, yet destroyed; the temple still stood; the Romans offered them peace; the siege was not commenced; more than forty years elapsed between the threatening and the stroke. But, ah! from that time, from that time, these things were hid from their eyes; from that time their destruction was determined; from that time their day of grace was expired, and their ruin finally fixed. So true it is, that the long-suffering of God is limited, and that mercy cannot always be obtained at the expected period, and precise moment on which we had fondly relied.
in which "the Lord will not be found." For, since your calamities, what efforts have been used to terminate them, and to soften the vengeance which pursues you! How many humiliations! How many fasts! How many intercessions! How many tears! How many protestations! How many disconsolate mothers, satis fied with the ruin of their families, have asked no spoil, but the souls of their children! How many Moseses, how many Samuels have stood before God, and implored the liberation of his church! But all in vain. The time was past, the Lord would be found no more, and perhaps,-perhaps,—no more for ever.-Jer. xv. 5.
Happy in the extreme of our misery, if we may yet hope, that they will be salutary to those who have reached the shore on the broken boards of the shipwreck? For, my brethren, we consent that you should turn away your eyes from whatever is glorious in our exile, to look solely at that which is deplorable. What do those groups of fugitives, and dismembered families say to you? We are sent by the God of vengeance. In banishing us from our country, he said, go,-go, unhappy people;-go, and tell the world the consequences of falling into the hands of an angry God. Teach the Christian world your bloody, but salutary lessons; say to my children, in whatsoever part of the earth you may be cast; “ except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish," Luke xiii. 3. But you yet stand, ye walls of this temple; you yet flourish, O happy provinces; though the long-suffering of God has its limits. But I check myself on the verge of this awful prediction.
But, my brethren, to whom do I preach? To whom do I this day prove these melancholy truths? Of whom is this audience composed? Who are those "brands plucked from the burning," and "come up out of great tribulation" By what stroke of Providence is the mass I now see convened from so many provinces Whence are you? In what country were you born? Ah! my brethren, you are but too well instructed in the truths I now preach! The time of long-suffering is limited; need we prove it? Can you be ignorant of it? Are you not witnesses of it by experience Are not our proofs sufficiently evident? Do you ask for arguments more conclusive? Come, see; let us go to the ruins of our temples: let us survey the rubbish of our sanctuaries; let us see our galley-slaves chained to the oar, and our confessors in irons; let us see "the land which has vomited us on the face of the earth;" and the name of refugee, venerable shall I call it, or the horrors of the whole world? And to present you with objects still more affecting; let us see our brethren at the foot of an altar which they believe idolatrous, mothers preserving the fortune of their families at the expense of their children's souls, whom they devote to idolatry; and by a sad reverse, preserving that same fortune to their children at the expense of their own souls. Yield, yield to our calamities, ye catastrophes of ages past! Ye mothers whose tragic memory appals posterity, because you were compelled by the horrors of the famine to eat the flesh of your sons, preserving your own life by snatching it from those who had received it of you! However bloody your situation may be, you deprived them after all but of a momentary life, thereby saving both them and yourselves from the horrors of famine. But here both are precipitated into the same abyss. The mother, by a prodigy unheard of, if I may so speak, nourishes herself with the substance of her son's soul, and the son in his turn nourishes himself with the substance of his mother's soul.
Ah! my brethren, these are our proofs; these are our arguments; these are the solutions we
*France was then formed into twenty-four provinces, now it is divided into about eighty-three departments.
An edict was published by the king of France, commanding his officers to confiscate the goods of those who did not perform the acts of a good Catholic in their last
II. Merely enumerating the remaining subjects, I would say, that experience, in the case of hardened sinners, supplies us with a second example. It is a received opinion, and not without some foundation, that the period allotted for repentance extends to the whole of life, and that God has no design in sparing us, but to promote our conversion. This is the sense of the Chaldee paraphrase; for so it renders the text; "Seek ye the Lord while you have life, call ye upon him while you are spared upon the earth." We will not oppose the thought; meanwhile we confidently affirm, that we daily see among our hearers sinners whom grace seems to have forsaken, and who appear to be lost without resource.
How often do we see people among us so habituated to offend against the dictates of conscience, that they now sin without remorse, and without repentance! If the things we preach to you were problematical;-if they were things which so far excited doubt and uncertainty in the mind, that we could not be assured of their reality;-if they were merely allowed, or forbidden, we should not be surprised at this insensibility. But do we not see persons in cold blood committing the most atrocious crimes, carrying on infamous intrigues, nourishing inveterate prejudices, handing them down from father to son, and making them the heritage of the family? Do we not see them committing those things in cold blood, and less shocked now at the enormity of their crimes, than they formerly were at the mere thought of them, and who are as insensible of all we
say to affect them, as if we were repeating fa- | acquiring some knowledge of the human heart, bles, or reciting frivolous tales? Whence does we fully perceive that there is nothing in it but this proceed, my brethren? From the same what is extorted; that it is the fear of punishcause we have endeavoured to prove in our ment, not the sentiments of religion and equity; preceding discourses, that habits, if not correct- that it is the approach of death, not an abhored, become confirmed: that the Holy Spirit rence of sin; that it is the terrors of hell, not withdraws himself; that he ceases to knock at the effusions of true zeal, which animate the the door of our hearts, and leaves us to our heart. The sailor, while enjoying a favourable selves when we resist his.grace. These are breeze, braves the Deity, uttering his blaspheseared consciences; they are fascinated minds; mies against Heaven, and apparently acknowthese are men given up to a spirit of delusion, ledging no Providence but his profession and Rom. i. 21; "Their hearts are waxed gross; industry. The clouds become black; the sluices they have eyes, and they see not, they have of heaven open; the lightnings flash in the air; hearts, and they do not understand," Isa. vi. the thunder becomes tremendous; the winds 10. If the arguments advanced in the preceding roar; the surge foams, the waves of the ocean discourses, have been incapable of producing seem to ascend to heaven; and heaven in turn conviction, do not, at least, dispute with us seems to descend into the abyss. Conscience, what you see every day, and what passes before alarmed by these terrific objects, and more so your eyes. Preachers, be not astonished after by the image of hell, and the expectation of this, if your arguments, if your proofs, if your immediate and inevitable death, endeavours to demonstrations, if your exhortations, if your conceal herself from the pursuing vengeance of most tender and pathetic entreaties have so lit- God. Blasphemy is changed to blessing, pretle effect. God himself fights against you. sumption to prayer, security to terror. This You demonstrate, and God blinds their eyes: wicked man all at once, becomes a saint of the you exhort, and God hardens the heart; and first class: and as though he would deceive the that Spirit, that Spirit, who by his victorious Deity, after having first deceived himself, he power endeavours to illuminate the simple, and arrogates, as the right of this false reform, admake them that fear him to understand his se- mission into heaven, and claims the whole recret; that Spirit, by the power of vengeance, wards of true repentance. hardens the others in their wilful insensibility.
This awful period often comes with greater rapidity than we think. When we speak of sinners who are become incorrigible, we understand not only the aged, who have run a course of fifty or sixty years in crimes, and in whom sin is become natural. We speak also of those less advanced in age; who have refused to devote to God the early years of youth; who have assumed the flourishing titles of infidelity, and atheism; who are in effect, become Atheists, and have imbibed prejudices, from which it is now impossible to move them. At first, this was simply a want of zeal; then it became indifference, then followed coldness and indolence, afterward contempt of religion, and in the issue, the most obstinate and outrageous profaneness. I select cases for you who are yet susceptible of good impressions. They are providentially placed in open view to inspire you with holy fear; God has exposed them in his church as buoys and beacons, erected on the coast to warn the mariners; they say, keep your distance in passing here, fly this dreadful place, let the remains of this shipwreck induce you to seek deep waters and a safer course.
III. Let this produce a third example, and would to God that we had less authority for producing it, and were less instructed on the subject. This is dying men;—an example which you may adduce, to harden yourselves in vice; but which if properly understood, is much more calculated to excite alarm. We see in general, that every dying man, however wicked he may have been during life, seems to be converted on the approach of death; and we readily persuade ourselves that it is so in effect: and consequently, that there is no great difficulty in becoming regenerate in our last moments. But two things have always prejudiced me against a late repentance; the nature of those sorrows, and especially the consequences.
First, The nature of those sorrows. After
What! conversions of this kind dazzle Christians! What! sailors, whose tears and cries owe their origin to the presence of immediate danger, from which they would be saved! But it is not in the agitation produced by peril, that we may know whether we have sincere recourse to God. It is in tranquil and recollected moments that the soul can best examine and investigate its real condition. It is not when the world has quitted us, that we should begin like true Christians to quit the world; it is when the world smiles, and invites us to taste its charms.
But what finally decides on those hasty resolutions are the consequences. Of all the saints that have been made in haste, you find scarcely one, on deliverance from danger, who fulfils the vows he has made. There is scarcely one who does not relapse into vice with the same rapidity with which he seemed to abandon it; a most conclusive argument, that such conversions are not sincere. Had it been true zeal, and divine love which dictated all those professions, and kindled that fire which seemed to burn, you would, no doubt, have retained the effects; but finding no fruit of your fervent resolutions, we ought to be convinced that they were extorted. Could your heart thus pass in one moment from one extreme to the other? Could it pass in one moment from repentance to obduracy, and from obduracy to repentance? Could it correct in one moment habits of vice, and assume habits of piety, and renounce with equal ease habits of piety, to resume habits of vice? The case of those whom God has restored to life, ought to correct your judgment, concerning those whom he takes away.
To all these proofs, my brethren, which I am not permitted to state in all their lustre, I fear lest another should soon be added;-I fear lest a fourth example should convince the world how dangerous it is to delay conversion. This proof, this example, is no other than the major