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many are the reflections, so many the proofs, that the faith and repentance, without which we can find no access to the throne of grace in a dying hour, consist not in a simple desire to be saved, in a superficial recourse to the merits of Jesus Christ; they include, in their notion, the renunciation of the world, the abandoning of our crimes, and the renovation of heart, of which we have just spoken; and, that, without this faith, there is no grace, no mercy, no salvation.
will work the like miracle in your favour? Say rather, how many presumptive arguments are opposed in the first part of our discourse to a hope so preposterous.
a tardy repentance; that nothing is so unwise We conclude, that nothing is so doubtful as as the delay of conversion. clude, that, in order to receive the aids of We farther congrace, we must live in continual vigilance; in order to become the objects of mercy, we must sure tests of having these virtues, is a long have both repentance and faith; and the only course of pious offices. In the ordinary course of religion, without a miracle of mercy, a man who has wasted his life in sin, whatever sighs he may send to heaven at the hour of death, has cause to fear that all access to mercy will be cut off.
I know that there are tender conversions; that faith has degrees; that piety has a beginning; that a Christian has his infancy; and that, at the tribunal of a merciful God, the sincerity of our repentance will be a substitute for its perfection. But do you call that a growing conversion, do you denominate that faith, do you take that for repentance, which is the remorse of a conscience alarmed, not by abhor-thren; nevertheless, the wicked love to deceive All these things appear very clear, my brerence of sin, but the fear of punishment; not by themselves; they affect rationally to believe the a principle of divine love, but a principle of things of which they are only persuaded by caself-love; not by a desire to be united to God, price; and they start objections, which it is of but by horror, excited by the idea of approach- importance to resolve; with this view we proing death, and the image of devouring fire? ceed to apply the whole of this discourse. Farther, is it not true, that to what degree soever we may carry evangelical condescension, it is always evident, that faith and repentance include, in their notion, the principles, at least, of detachment from the world, of renunciation of vice, and the renovation of heart, the necessity of which we have pressed.
This being established, it seems to me that truth is triumphant; having proved how little ground a man, who delays conversion, has to rely on the mercy of God, and expect salvation. For, after having lived in negligence, by what unknown secret would you form in the soul the repentance and faith we have described, without which, access to the mercy of God is excluded? Whence would you derive these virtues? From your own strength, or from the operations of the Holy Spirit? Do you say from your own strength? What then becomes of your orthodoxy? What becomes of the doctrine of human weakness, and of the necessity of grace; of which pretext you avail yourselves to defer conversion? Do you not perceive how you destroy your own principles, and sap with one hand, what you build with the other?
cannot comprehend these things; that they can-
suppositions without foundation, and frivolous
rous, you say, as we have affirmed. It is true, The justice of God is, perhaps, not so rigothat it may be so. some covenant of grace not yet revealed; if he If God have, by himself, should have some new gospel; if God have prepared some other sacrifice, your conjectures may be right. But if "there is no name under heaven whereby we can be saved, but that of our Jesus," Acts iv. 12; if there is no other blood than that shed by this divine Saviour; if gospel," Rom. ii. 16; then your arguments fail, "God shall judge the world according to my and your salvation is hopeless.
Farther, what sort of reasoning is this?
Recollect farther what we established in our first discourse on the force of habits. And how can you presume that a habit formed by a thousand acts; a habit in which a man has grovel-"There is but an appearance: I cannot conled and grown old, should be changed in a moment? How can you dream that a man who has wasted so many years in sin; a man accustomed to regard the world as his portion, and virtue not as valuable, except as a final resource; how can you think that such a man should be converted in a moment? Ah! and in what circumstances? in an expiring old age, when the senses are dulled, when the memory fails, when reason is disturbed with reverie, and when the vivacity of nature is extinguished, or indeed, on the approaches of death, when the mere idea of "the king of terrors," agitates, affrights, and confounds him? Nothing then, most assuredly, but the extraordinary grace of the Holy Spirit can convert such a man. what assurance have you that the Holy Spirit But VOL. II.-33
ceive: I cannot imagine." And who are you
thing mercy with you, but that which permits a universal inundation of vice?
You still say, if the conditions of the new covenant are such as you have laid down, it is then an arduous task to become a Christian, and consequently very difficult to obtain salvation. But do you think, my brethren, that we are discouraged at the difficulty? Know you not, that "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life?" Matt. vii. 14. Know you not, that we must "pluck out the
I will go farther still; I will venture to affirm, that if reason must be consulted on the portrait we have drawn of God's justice, it perfectly accords with revelation. Thou canst not conceive how justice should be so rigorous; and I cannot conceive how it should be so indulgent. I cannot conceive how the Lord of the universe should be clothed with human flesh, should expose himself to an infuriated populace, and expire on a cross; this is the greatest difficulty I find in the gospel. But be thou silent, imperious reason; here is a satisfac-eye, and cut off the hand?" ver. 29. Surtory solution. Join the difficulty which thou findest in the administration of justice, with that which proceeds from thy notion of mercy; the one will correct the other. The superabundance of mercy will rectify the severity of justice; for the severity of justice proceeds from the superabundance of mercy.
If the people who talk in this manner; if the people who find the divine justice too severe; if they were a people diligently labouring to promote their own salvation; if they devoted an hour daily to the work, the difficulty would be plausible, and they would have apparent cause of complaint. But who are these complainants? They are people who throw the reins to their passions; who glory in their infamous intrigues; who are implacable in hating their neighbour, and resolved to hate him during life: they are votaries of pleasure, who spend half the night in gaming, in drunkenness, in theatres, and take from the day the part of the night they have devoted to dissipation: they are proud, ambitious men, who, under a pretext of having sumptuous equipage, and dignified titles, fancy themselves authorized to violate the obligations of Christianity with impunity. These are the people, who, when told if they persist in this way of life, that they cannot be saved, reply, that they cannot conceive how the justice of God should treat them with such severity. And I, for my own part, cannot conceive how God should treat you so indulgently; I cannot conceive how he should permit the sun to enlighten thee. I cannot conceive how he, who holds the thunder in his hand, can apparently be an idle spectator of thy sacrileges. I cannot conceive how the earth does not open beneath thy feet, and, by its terrific jaws, anticipate the punishment prepared in hell for thee by the divine vengeance.
You say again, that this mercy, of which we draw so magnificent a portrait, is consequently very circumscribed. But say rather, how is it that you dare to start difficulties of this nature? God, the blessed God, the Supreme Being, has formed you of nothing; has given you his Son, has offered you his Spirit, has promised to bear with you such as you are, with all your infirmities, with all your corruptions, with all your weakness; has opened to you the gates of heaven; and being desirous to give you himself, he requires no return, but the consecration to him of your few remaining days on earth; he excludes none from paradise, but hardened and impenitent men. How then, can you say that the mercy of God is circumscribed! What! is it imposible for God to be merciful unless he reward your crimes? Is no
mount the most dear and delicate propensities; dissolve the ties of flesh and blood, of nature and self-attachment. Know you not, that we must "crucify the old man, and deny ourselves?" xvi. 24. Know you not, that "we must add to our faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge patience, to patience brotherly kindness, to brotherly kindness charity, and to charity godliness," 2 Pet. i. 5.
But you add, that few persons will then be saved; another objection we little fear, though, perhaps, it would have been unanswerable, had not Jesus Christ himself taught us to reply.But is this a new gospel? Is it a new doctrine to say, that few shall be saved? Has not Jesus Christ himself declared it? I will address myself, on this subject, to those who understand the elucidation of types. I will adduce one type, a very distinguished type, a type not equivocal but terrific; it is the unhappy multitude of Israel, who murmured against God, after being saved from the land of Egypt.The object of their journey was Canaan. Deut. i. 35, 36. God performed innumerable miracles to give them the land; the sea opened and gave them passage; bread descended from heaven to nourish them; water issued from the deaf rock to quench their thirst. There was but one in which they failed; they never entered into Canaan: there were but two adults, among all these myriads, who found admission. What is the import of this type? The very thing to which you object. The Israelites represent these hearers; the miracles represent the efforts of Providence for your salvation; Canaan is the figure of paradise, for which you hope, and Caleb and Joshua alone were admitted into the land, which so many miracles had apparently promised to the whole nation. What do these shadows adumbrate to the Christian world? My brethren, I do not dare to make the application. I leave with you this object for contemplation; this terrific subject for serious reflection.
But you still ask, "why do you preach to us such awful doctrine? It subverts religion; it drives people to despair." Great risk, indeed, and imminent danger of driving to despair, the men whom I attack! Suppress the poison, remove the dagger, exclude the idea of death from the mind, until the recollection of their sins shall drive them to the last extremity.— But why? The characters whom we have described, those nominal men of apathy, those indolent souls, those hearts sold to the world and its pleasures, have they weak and delicate consciences, which we ought to spare, and for whom we ought to fear, lest the displays of divine justice should produce effects too severe
and strong? Ah! unhappy people, even to mention difficulties of this nature. If you were already stretched on a dying bed; already come to the close of a criminal course; if hell had opened beneath to swallow you up; if you had no resource but the last efforts of an expiring soul, then you would be worthy of pity. But you are yet alive; grace is offered; all the avenues of repentance are open to you; "the Lord may yet be found:" there is not one among you, but may call upon him with success. Yet you devote the whole of life to the world; you confirm the habits of corruption; and when we warn you, when we unmask your turpitude, when we discover the abyss into which you precipitate yourselves by choice, you complain that it is driving you to despair! Would to God that our voice might be exalted like thunder, and the brightness of our discourse be as that which struck St. Paul on the road to Damascus; prostrating you, like that apostle, at the feet of the Lord! Would to God that the horrors of despair, and the frightful images of hell, might fill you with salutary fear, inducing you to avoid it! Would to God that your body might, from this moment, "be delivered to Satan, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord," 1 Cor. v. 3.
a man is more than converted; and, in that rash conclusion, you would have us offer him the highest place in the mansions of the blessed.
But wo, wo to those ministers, who, by a cruel lenity, precipitate souls into hell, under the delusion of opening to them the gates of paradise. Wo to that minister, who shall be so prodigal of the favours of God. Instead of speaking peace to such a man, "I would cry aloud; I would lift up my voice like a trumpet; I would shout," Isa. lviii. 1. "I would thunder; I would shoot against him the arrows of the Almighty; I would make him "suck the venom," Job vi. 4. Happy, if I might irradiate passions so inveterate; if I might save by fear; if I might pluck from the burning, a soul so hardened in sin.
Jesus Christ; I would prevent your taking an anti-Christian death for a happy death; I would profit by the loss I have now described; and hold up this prey of the devil as a terror to the spectators, to the family, and to the whole church.
But if, as it commonly occurs, this dying man shall devote to his conversion but an exhausted body, and the last sighs of expiring life; wo, wo again, to that minister of the gospel, who, by a relaxed policy, shall, so to speak, come to canonize this man, as though he had died "the death of the righteous!" Let no one ask, What would you do? Would you trouble the ashes of the dead? Would you drive a family to despair? Would you affix a brand of infamy on a house?-What would I It rests with you, my brethren, to apply these do? I would maintain the interests of my truths; and to profit by the means which Pro-Master; I would act becoming a minister of vidence this day affords for your conversion. If there yet remains any resources, any hopes for the man who delays conversion, it is not with ministers of the gospel to point them out. We are not the plenipotentiaries of our religion; we are the ambassadors of Christ; we have explicit instructions, and our commission prescribed. God requires that we publish his covenant, that we promise you every aid of grace, that we open the treasures of mercy, that we lead you to heavenly places by the track, sprinkled with the blood of the Saviour of the world. But each of these privileges has conditions annexed, the nature of which you have heard. Comply with them, repent, give your conversion solid, habitual, and effective marks; then the treasures of grace are yours. But if you should persist in sin (to tell you truths to-day, which, perhaps, would be useless to-morrow,) if you should persist during life, and till the approaches of death, and the horrors of hell shall extort from you protestations of reform, and excite in you the semblance of conversion, we cannot, without doing violence to our instructions, and exceeding our commission, speak peace to your souls, and make you offers of salvation.
These considerations must exculpate ministers of the gospel, who know how to maintain the majesty of their mission, and correspond with their character. And if they exculpate us not in your estimation, they will justify us, at least, in the great day, when the most secret things shall be adduced in evidence. You are not properly acquainted with our ministry.You call us to the dying, who we know to have been wicked, or far from conforming to the conditions of the new covenant. This wicked man, on the approach of death, composes himself; he talks solely of repentance, of mercy, and of tears. On seeing this exterior of conversion, you would have us presume, that such
Would you know, my dear brethren, which is the way to prevent such great calamities? Would you know what is the accepted time to implore forgiveness, and to derive the Holy Spirit into your heart? It is this moment, it is now. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found." Yes, he may be found to-day: he may be found in this assembly; he may be found under the word we are now speaking; he may be found under the exhortations we give in his name; he may be found in the remorse, the anguish, the emotions, excited in your hearts, and which say, on his behalf, "seek ye my face." He may be found in your closets, where he offers to converse with you in the most tender and familiar manner: he may be found among the poor, among the sick, among those dying carcases, among those liv ing images of death, and the tomb, which solicit your compassion; and which open to you the way of charity that leads to God, who is charity itself. He may be found to-day, but perhaps to-morrow he will be found no more. Perhaps, to-morrow you may seek in vain; perhaps, to-morrow your measure may be full; perhaps, to-morrow grace may be for ever withdrawn; perhaps, to-morrow the sentence which must decide your eternal destiny shall be pronounced!
Ah! who can estimate the value of a moment so precious! Ah! who can compare his situation with the unhappy victims, that divine vengeance has immolated in hell, and for whom "time is no longer!" Ah! who, on withdrawing from this temple, instead of so much vain conversation and criminal dissipation, would
not prostrate himself at the footstool of the Divine Majesty; weeping for the past, reforming the present, and taking salutary precautions for the future. Ah! who would not force him by broken sighs, by fervent prayers, by torrents of tears, never to depart! Who would not say, and more with his heart than with his mouth, "Stay with me, Lord; I will not let thee go, until thou hast blessed me," Gen. xxxii. 20; until thou hast vanquished my corruption, and given me the earnest of my salvation. The time of my visitation is almost expired; I see it, I know it, I feel it; my conversion requires a miracle; I ask this miracle of thee, and am resolved to obtain it of thy compassion.
to-day in this pulpit. In illustrating the words of the text, it was not sufficient that we demonstrated, in our preceding discourses, from reason and Scripture, the folly of the sinner, who delays his conversion; it was not sufficient that philosophy and religion have both concurred to prove, that in order to labour successfully at the work of salvation, we must begin in early life, in the time of health, and in the days of youth. We will prove it by experience; we will demonstrate it by sad tests and instances of the truths we have delivered; we will produce to you awful declarations of the wrath of heaven, which cry to you with a strong and tender voice, "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near."
These witnesses, these tests, these examples shall be adduced from persons, who once stood in your present situation; acquainted with the will of God, warned by his servant, and living, as St. Peter expresses himself, "at a period, in which the long-suffering of God awaited them," 1 Pet. iii. 20. And you, even you, Christians, must one day become what they now are, awful examples of the wrath of God; eternal monuments of his indignation and vengeance; unless your eyes, opened by so much light, un
My brethren, my dear brethren, we have no expressions sufficiently tender, no emotions sufficiently pathetic, no prayers sufficiently fervent, to draw you to these duties. Let your zeal supply our weakness. If we have brandished before your eyes the sword of divine vengeance, it is not to destroy you, but to save you; it is not to drive you to despair, but to induce you "to sorrow after a godly sort, and with a repentance not to be repented of," 2 Cor. ii. 10. It is incumbent on each of you who hear, and regard what I say, to participate in these advantages. May you, from the pre-less your hearts, impressed by so many motives, sent moment, form a resolution to profit by an opportunity so precious. May the hour of your death, corresponding with the sincerity of your resolutions, and with the holiness of your lives, open to you the gates of heaven, and enable you to find in glory that God, whom you shall have found merciful in this church. God grant you grace so to do. To Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be honour and glory for ever. Amen.
ON THE DELAY OF CONVERSION.
ISAIAH lv. 6.
Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.
EXPERIENCE, my brethren, is a great teacher; it is a professor which adduces clear, solid, and indisputable proofs. Reason is an admirable endowment, given us as a guide in our researches after truth. Revelation has been happily added to reason, to correct and guide it; but both have their difficulties. Reason is circumscribed, its views are confined, its deviations frequent; and the false inferences we perceive it deduces, render doubtful its most clear and evident conclusions. Revelation, however venerable its tribunal, however infallible its decisions, "is foolishness," says the apostle, "to the natural man;" it is exposed to the glosses of erroneous critics, to the difficulties of heretics, and the contradictions of infidels. But experience is without exception; it speaks to the heart, to the senses, and the understanding; it neither reasons nor debates, but carries conviction and proof. It so commands the consent of the Christian, the philosopher, and even the atheist, that nothing but mental derangement can revoke its decisions in doubt.
This is the grand instructer that must preach
unless your consciences, alarmed by the dreadful judgments of God, shall take measures to prevent the sentence, already prepared in his eternal counsels, and whose execution is at the door.
But does it not seem to you, my brethren, that we undertake a task too arduous, when we engage to prove, from experience, that the long-suffering of God is restricted; and that, by delaying conversion, we risk the total frustration of the work? You have already alleged, I am aware, an almost infinite number of sinners, who apparently subvert our principles; so many servants, called at the eleventh hour, so many hearts, which grace has changed in a moment; so many penitents, who, in the first essays of repentance, have found the arms of mercy open; and whose happy success consoles, to the present hour, the imitators of their crimes.
We shall hear your reasons, before we propose our own. We would leave nothing behind, which might occasion a mistake, in which it is so dangerous to be deceived. Our discourse shall turn on these two points: first, we shall examine the cases of those sinners which seem to favour the conduct of those who delay conversion; then we shall allege, in the second place, those which confirm our principle, and make a direct attack on security and delay.
I. We shall examine the case of those sinners, which seem to militate against what we have advanced in the preceding discourses. All that we then advanced, may be comprised under two heads. We said, first, that in order to acquire the habit of piety, there was but one way, the daily exercise of all its duties. We affirmed, secondly, that the period of mercy, is restricted; and that we risk a total exclusion when we offer to God only the last groans of expiring life. We founded our first proposition on the force of habits, and on the nature of the Holy Spirit's economy, who, for the most part, abandons to their own turpitude, those that resist his grace. This was the subject of our first
power, which converted them in a moment? Why should I make myself a perpetual martyr to forward a work, which one of those happy moments shall perfectly consummate? These are the first difficulties, and the first examples, you adduce.
sermon, and the second part of the other. We established our second proposition on the new covenant, which offers us mercy, solely on condition of repentance, faith, and the love of God; consequently, which renders dubious the state of those, who have not bestowed upon those virtues, the time adequate to their acquisition. You oppose, in the second plea, the case of These are the two principal heads, which com- those sinners, who, after committing the greatprise all that we have advanced upon this sub-est crimes, have found, on the first efforts of
You may also oppose to us two classes of examples. In the first class you may arrange those instantaneous conversions and changes, which grace has effectuated in a moment by a single stroke; and which apparently destroy what we have advanced on the force of habits, and the nature of the economy of the Holy Spirit. In the second class, you will put those other sinners, who, after the perpetration of enormous crimes, have obtained remission by a sign, by a prayer, by a few tears; and who afford presumptive hopes, that to whatever excess we may have carried our crimes, we shall never exceed the terms of mercy, or obstruct reception at the throne of grace. Let us consider the difficulties which may be drawn from both these sources.
repentance, the arms of mercy open for their reception. Of this class, there are many in the Scriptures; the principal are that of David; that of St. Peter; that of St. Paul; and that of the converted thief, which has a nearer connexion with our subject than any of the others. These are names, which the wicked have continually in their mouths; and it must be acknowledged, that they are distinguished monuments of divine mercy. It would seem that you may deduce from them this consequence, that to whatever degree you may have carried vice, there is some ground to expect pardon and salvation.
After so many examples of divine mercy, sinners will readily say, how is it that you alarm us with so many fears? Why draw so many terrific portraits of the justice of God? And why exclude the sinner, however corrupt, from the throne of grace? I who may have a secret intrigue, scarcely suspected, very far from being known to the world, shall I have more difficulty in obtaining mercy than David, who committed adultery in the face of all Is
You adduce first those sudden conversions, those instantaneous changes on the spot, without difficulty, labour, and repeated endeavours. Of this class, we have various examples in Scripture. We have Simon, we have Andrew, we have James the son of Zebedee, and most of the apostles, whom Jesus Christ found cast-rael? I who may have absented myself for a ing their nets into the sea, and engaged in the time from the true church, shall I have more humble trade of fishing, or collecting the tri- difficulty in obtaining mercy than St. Paul, bute; and who were instantaneously, and on the who persecuted the saints; or St. Peter, who spot, endued with divine thoughts, new desires, openly denied his Master, and in his Master's and heavenly propensities; who, from the mean- presence? I who have not directly robbed, but est artisans became the heralds of the gospel; have been contented with acquiring goods by formed the noble design of conquering the uni-means clandestine indeed, but at the same time verse, and subjugating the whole world to the empire of their Master.
With this class, may also be associated the example of Zaccheus; who seems to have been renovated in a moment, and to have reformed on the spot, and without the previous duties of piety, a passion the most obstinate, which grows with age, and from which scarcely any one is converted. He assumed a language unheard of in the mouth of a merchant, and especially a covetous merchant: "The half of my goods I give to feed the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold," Luke xix. 8. To the same class you may add those thousands of persons who changed their faith and reformed their lives, on the first preaching of the apostles.
After so many trophies erected to the power of grace, what becomes of your arguments, you say, on the force of habits, on the genius of the Holy Spirit's economy? Who will dare to maintain, after the adduction of these that habits of piety may not be acquired without labour, fatigue, and the duties of devotion? Why may I not promise myself, after devoting the most of my life to pleasure, to have the same power over my heart as Zaccheus, the apostles, and first converts to Christianity? Why may I not expect the irradiations which enlightened, the aids which attracted, and the omnipotent
sanctioned by example, by custom, by the usages of fraud, and art; by palliated lies, and oaths contrary to truth, but essential in the employment to which I am providentially called; shall I be more culpable than the converted thief who robbed on the highway? What should hinder me then from following those personages in vice during life, reserving time to throw myself into the arms of mercy, and imitate their repentance, in my last hours?
Have you, sinners, said enough? Are these all your hidden things of dishonesty, and all the frivolous pretences in which you are cradled by the demon of security? See then to what tends your religion, and the use you make of our Scriptures. The Holy Spirit has there delineated the lives of those illustrious men who once were vessels of honour in the Lord's house; he has "surrounded you with a cloud of witnesses," for animation in your course, by the example of men like yourselves, who have finished it with joy. He has also left you a history of their defects, to excite you to vigilance, saying to every sinner, take care, if those distinguished saints stumbled, what will thy fall be when thou shalt relax? If those main pillars have been shaken, what has not the bruised reed to fear? If the cedars of Lebanon have been ready to tumble, what shall be the destiny of the hyssop of the wall? To those reflections you are deaf; and to deceive