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even thou, at least in this thy day, the things | give of your objections; this is really the time
Happy in the extreme of our misery, if we
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 de-bituated to offend against the dictates of conprived 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.
II. Merely enumerating the remaining sub-
How often do we see people among us so ha
science, that they now sin without remorse,
breeze, braves the Deity, uttering his blasphemies against Heaven, and apparently acknowledging no Providence but his profession and industry. The clouds become black; the sluices of heaven open; the lightnings flash in the air; the thunder becomes tremendous; the winds roar; the surge foams, the waves of the ocean seem to ascend to heaven; and heaven in turn seems to descend into the abyss. Conscience, alarmed by these terrific objects, and more so by the image of hell, and the expectation of immediate and inevitable death, endeavours to conceal herself from the pursuing vengeance of God. Blasphemy is changed to blessing, presumption to prayer, security to terror. This wicked man all at once, becomes a saint of the first class: and as though he would deceive the Deity, after having first deceived himself, he arrogates, as the right of this false reform, admission into heaven, and claims the whole rewards of true repentance.
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 seared consciences; they are fascinated minds; these are men given up to a spirit of delusion, Rom. i. 21; "Their hearts are waxed gross; they have eyes, and they see not, they have hearts, and they do not understand," Isa. vi. 10. If the arguments advanced in the preceding discourses, have been incapable of producing conviction, do not, at least, dispute with us what you see every day, and what passes before your eyes. Preachers, be not astonished after this, if your arguments, if your proofs, if your demonstrations, if your exhortations, if your most tender and pathetic entreaties have so little effect. God himself fights against you. You demonstrate, and God blinds their eyes: you exhort, and God hardens the heart; and that Spirit, that Spirit, who by his victorious power endeavours to illuminate the simple, and make them that fear him to understand his secret; that Spirit, by the power of vengeance, 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
part of this congregation. On considering the way of life which most of you follow, we find but too much cause for this awful conjecture. But should we see you, without alarm, run headlong into the abyss from which you cannot be delivered by never-ceasing lamentations and tears? No, my brethren, we will redouble our entreaties, we will make fresh exertions to press on your minds these important truths.
The first thing we require of you is to enter into your own heart, to do justice to yourselves, to confess that most of you are in the awful situation we have attacked; that you are nearly all guilty of delaying conversion. I know that the human heart has its evasions, and that conscience has its depths. But, after all, you are not so far blind as to believe that, while carried away as some of you are with avarice, others with ambition; some with voluptuousness, others with slander; and some with a haughtiness which nothing can bend; living, as most of you do, resident in a city where you find all the temptations of vice in high life, and all the facility in the haunts of infamy, you are not so far blinded as to think that you are in a state of regeneration, while persisting in this course. And, as I supposed before, that no one of you is so far infatuated as to say, I have made my choice, I am resolved to cast myself headlong into the pit of destruction, and to be a victim of eternal vengeance; as no one of you has carried infatuation to this extreme, I am right in concluding, that nearly all of you rely on a future conversion. Begin here, begin by doing justice to yourselves on this point. This is the first thing we require you to do.
zeal, this fervour; these indispensable duties of religion, the essential characters of a Christian, is it not true that they are not the acquisitions of a moment, of an hour, of a day? Is it not true, that, to attain this happy state, there must be time, labour, and repeated endeavours; consequently, that a transient thought on a death-bed, and in the last periods of life, is quite inadequate to so great a work? Is it not true, that the Holy Spirit, in extending his assistance, requires that we should ask his aids, yield to his entreaties, and pay deference to an evangelical ministry? Is it not true, that he abandons to themselves those who resist his work; that it is thence concluded in the Scripture that we need his grace for our sanctification; and that we ought to work out our salvation with so much the more diligence? Is it not true, that mercy has restrictions and bounds, that it is promised to those only who conform to the covenant of grace, that those conditions are not a momentary repentance, a slight recourse to mercy, a superficial desire to participate in the merits of Christ's death; they imply such a total change, renovation of heart, and transformation of the soul, and in such sort, that when one is not in a state to conform to the conditions, we are no longer within the sphere of evangelical promises. Is it not true, in short, that those truths are not founded merely on arguments, on a chain of consequences, and remote principles? But they are demonstrated by sound and incontestable experience. Hence we ask you once more to admit the force of our arguments, and to do justice to the evidence we have adduced.
Thirdly, what we also require is, that you should acknowledge the inefficacy of sermons with regard to you, the little effect they commonly have, and consequently the little influ
The second is, to recollect the arguments we have urged in our preceding discourses, against the delay of conversion, and confess their force.ence which ours (and especially those last In the first, we addressed you as well-informed delivered) have produced on your conduct. and rational beings; we proved from the human There is not a week, but some vice is atconstitution, that conversion becomes either tacked;-not a week, but some one ought to difficult or impracticable in proportion as it is be corrected;-not a week, but some evident deferred. In the second, we addressed you as change ought to be produced in civil and reliChristians, who acknowledge a revelation re- gious society. And what do we see? I apceived from heaven; and we endeavoured to peal to your consciences; you regard us as prove these truths by that revelation;-by the declaimers, called to entertain you for an hour, character of the economy of the Holy Spirit;- to diversify your pleasure, or to pass away the by the nature and conditions of the new cove- first day of the week; diverting your attention nant;-capital points of faith, fundamental ar- from secular concerns. It seems that we asticles of religion, which you cannot evade, if cend our pulpits to afford you amusement, to you have the smallest shadow of Christianity. delineate characters, implicitly submitting to To-day we have directed all our efforts to ena- your judgment, academic compositions; to say, ble you to comprehend the same things by clear," Come, come and see whether we have a fercertain, and indisputable experience. Overlooking, therefore, every thing which concerns us in particular, and our weakness, which we acknowledge and feel, do justice to our proofs; acknowledge their force; and inquire, whether you have yet any thing further to object. Seek, examine, investigate. Is it not true, that bad habits become confirmed with age? Predominate in the heart? Take possession of all the intellectual powers, and transform themselves, so to speak, into our nature? Is it not true, that habits of piety are not acquired instantaneously, in a moment, by a sudden wish, and a simple emotion of the soul? Is it not true, that this detachment from sensible objects, this giving up the world, this self-denial, this
tile imagination, a fine voice, a graceful_gesture, an action agreeable to your taste." With these detestable notions, most of you establish your tribunal, judging of the object of our sermons: which you sometimes find too long, sometimes too short, sometimes too cold, and sometimes too pathetic. Scarcely one among you turns them to their true design, purity of heart, and amendment of life. This is the success of the sermons you have heard. Should we think our discourses more happy? We should be too credulous did we expect it. It must be acknowledged, my brethren, that all we have said on the delay of conversion, has been of little avail with regard to most of you. Philosophy, religion, experience, all leave you
ON THE DELAY OF CONVERSION.
much the same as you were before. This is
When you have made these reflections, we
I know the part you are going to take; that,
My brethren, my very dear brethren, think,
If your salvation is dear to you, if you have yet the least sensibility, the smallest spark of love to God-if you have not resolved on your own ruin, and sworn to your own destruction, enter into your hearts from this moment. Let each, from this moment, take salutary measures to subdue his predominant propensity. Withdraw not from this temple, without being firmly resolved on a change of life.
Consider that you were not sent into the world, to aggrandize and enrich yourselves; to form attachments which serve as unhappy ties to hold you on the earth; much less to scandalize the church, to be high-spirited, proud, imperious, unjust, voluptuous, avaricious. God has placed you here in a state of probation, that you might become prepared for a better world. Consider, that, though the distractions of life may frequently call a considerate man to be engaged in the world, in defiance of his wishes; yet there is nothing so unworthy as to be, like most of you, always dissipated, always devoted to pleasure. Consider, that though
this vacuity of life might be excused in a youth [SER. LXXXI. following the impulse of nature, before he has that, at least, he should devote the remains of had time to reflect, yet games, diversions and theatres, do but ill accord with gray hairs; and life, to the service of God, and the advancement of his own salvation.
make them the touchstone of his conduct; let him derive from them motives of reformation; Examine yourselves on these heads; let each let the time past suffice to have gratified his concupiscence; let him tremble on considering the wounds he has given his soul, and the dangers he has run, in delaying to the present hour.
into the world? What have I been doing?
abyss of divine compassion! "O length, breadth,
not be in vain in the Lord. For what is it
damn you? Are you so little acquainted with | the Father of mercies, with the God of love? Does he take pleasure in the death of the sinner? Would he not rather that he should repent and live?
These are the consolations which follow the exhortations of the prophet, and the words of my text. For after having said, "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near;" he draws this conclusion, to which I would lead you, which has been the design of these three discourses, and by which I would close the subject. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." And, lest the penitent sinner should be overburdened with the weight of his sins,-lest, estimating the extent of divine mercy by his own contracted views, he should despair of salvation, I will add this declaration from God himself, a declaration which admirably expresses the grandeur of his compassion: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways; for, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts." Now to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be honour and glory for ever.Amen.
HEBREWS xii. 1. Wherefore, seeing we are also compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us; and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.
My brethren, the Holy Spirit proposes to us in the words we have read, distinguished duties, excellent models, and wise precautions. "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us." These are the distinguished duties. "We are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses." These are the excellent models. "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.' These are the wise precautions.
selves in some sort as saints, when they can allege some one who surpasses them in wickedness. In short, we are going to prescribe the best precautions to people, who expose both their flanks to the enemy of their salvation; and who in the midst of beings, leagued for our everlasting ruin, live in the same security as if the profoundest peace prevailed, and as if they were walking in the only way which leads to eternal felicity.
Again, if it were only with regard to people of this character, for whom we have so just a cause to fear miscarrying, we ought to enrol ourselves in the little number, that associating ourselves among the disciples of wisdom, according to the example of Jesus Christ, we might hope to say to God as he did, "Behold me, and the children which God hath given me," Heb. ii. 13; Isa. viii. 18. But when I consider the limits in which the greatest saints among us include their virtues, the scanty bounds which comprise their duties, I am afraid they will revolt against the doctrine of my text. And you, who carry piety to the highest degree, are you fully prepared to enter into the spirit of the exhortation which St. Paul addresses you to-day? You, who on the pressing entreaties of Eternal Wisdom, which says, "give me thy heart," feel hard conflicts with yourselves not to bestow on an only son sentiments which you owe solely to the giver, you have not yet carried divine love to the most eminent degree: it is not enough that you inspire your son with the fear and love of God, you must acquire the disposition of the father of the faithful, who obeyed this command; "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him for a burnt-offering," Gen. xxii. 2. You who, rather than abjure the truth, have sacrificed one part of your fortune, you have not carried divine love to the highest degree; you must acquire the disposition of those extraordinary men, some of whom were stoned for religion, others were sawn asunder, others were killed with the sword, others wandered about in sheep-skins, and in goat-skins, others were afflicted and tormented. These are the grand models, on which St. Paul wished to form the piety of the Hebrews, when he addressed them in the words of my text: it is on the same models we would wish to-day to form your piety. "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us: and let us run with patience the race that is set before us."
These words may be considered in two different points of view; the one respects the Hebrews, to whom they were addressed, the other respects the whole Christian community.
I frankly acknowledge, my brethren, that on comparing the design of my text with the character of some among my hearers, I am in doubt whether I ought not to suspend the thread of my discourse; and whether the difficulty of success should not deter me from attempting the execution. We come to preach perseverance I. They have peculiar references to the Heto men, of whom so great a number live in su- brews, to whom they were addressed. These pineness, and to whom it is much more proper Hebrews had embraced the Christian religion, to say, Return unto the testimonies of the Lord, at a time of general exclamation against the than Continue to follow them. We come to pro- Christians. They were very sincere in the propose the most excellent models, the example of fession of Christianity; but there is a difference the Abrahams, the Moseses, the Davids, of between sincerity, and the constancy to which whom so great a number hitherto propose to the disciples of Jesus Christ are called, particuthemselves, if I may so express myself, only larly when the church seems abandoned to the negative models; I would say, who make it all fury of its persecutors. The grand design of their glory in not being altogether so bad as the the apostle in this epistle, was to inspire them worst of the human kind; they consider them-with this constancy, and to prevent the fear of