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BY THE REV. JOSEPH SUTCLIFFE.
SAURIN'S SERMONS, one hundred and sixtyeight in number, are comprised in twelve volumes. I have read them with edification and delight. Actuated by these sentiments, I doubted whether I could better employ my leisure moments than in preparing an additional volume, to those already before the English reader.
with the duties they owe to God; we see a metropolis, in which it is estimated that not more than one adult out of fifteen attends any place of divine worship. Ought not ministers so circumstanced, to take the alarm, and to weep for the desolations of the sanctuary? If impiety and effeminacy were, confessedly, the causes of the desolation of Greece and Rome, ought The three Discourses on the Delay of Con- we not to be peculiarly alarmed for our counversion, are a masterly performance, and in try? and while our brave warriors are defendgeneral, a model of pulpit eloquence. They ing it abroad, endeavour to heal at home the are not less distinguished by variety and evils which corrode the vitals? Ought we not strength of argument, than by pathos and unc- to adopt a mode of preaching like that which tion: and they rise in excellence as the reader first subdued the enemies of the cross? If our proceeds. Hence, I fully concur in opinion former mode of preaching has failed of effect; with Dupont, and the succeeding editors, who if the usual arguments from Scripture have no have given the first place to these Discourses: weight; ought we not to modify those argumy sole surprise is, that they were not trans-ments according to existing circumstances, lated before. Whether they were reserved to that, fighting the sinner on the ground of ornament a future volume, or whether the ad- reason, and maintaining the rights of God at dresses to the unregenerate were deemed too the bar of conscience, we may vanquish the severe and strong, I am unable to determine. infidelity of his heart? The wound must be By a cloud of arguments derived from reason, opened before he will welcome the balm of from revelation, and from experience, our au- Calvary, and be enraptured with the glory and thor certainly displays the full effusions of his fulness of the gospel. Hence, I am fully of heart, and in language unfettered by the fear opinion that we ought to go back to the purest of man. The regular applications in the first models of preaching; that addressing the sinner and second Sermons, are executed in such a in the striking language of his own heart, we style of superior merit, that I lament the defi- may see our country reformed, and believers ciency of language to convey his sentiments adorned with virtue and grace. with adequate effect.
On the subject of warm and animated addresses to wicked and unregenerate men, if I might be heard by those who fill the sanctuary, I would venture to say, that the general character of English sermons is by far too mild and calm. On reading the late Dr. Enfield's English Preacher, and finding on this gentleman's tablet of honour, names which constitute the glory of our national church, I seem unwilling to believe my senses, and ready to deny, that Tillotson, Atterbury, Butler, Chandler, Coneybeare, Seed, Sherlock, Waterland, and others, could have been so relaxed and unguarded as to have preached so many sermons equally acceptable to the orthodox and the Socinian reader. Those mild and affable recommendations of virtue and religion; those gentle dissuasives from immorality and vice, have been found, for a whole century, unproductive of effect. Hence, all judicious men must admit the propriety of meeting the awful vices of the present age with remedies more efficient and strong.
Our increase of population, our vast extent of commerce, and the consequent influx of wealth and luxury, have, to an alarming degree, biassed the national character towards dissipation, irreligion, and vice. We see a crowd of families rapidly advanced to affluence, and dashing away in the circles of gay and giddy life; we see profane theatres, assembly-rooms, and watering-places, crowded with people devoted to pleasure, and unacquainted
But, though our author be an eminent model in addressing the unregenerate, he is by no means explicit and full on the doctrines of the Spirit: his talents were consequently defective in building up believers, and edifying the church. It is true, he is orthodox and clear, as far as he goes: and he fully admits the Scripture language on the doctrine of assurance; but he restricts the grace to some highly favoured souls, and seems to have no idea of its being the general privilege of the children of God. Hence this doctrine which especially abounds in the New Testament, occupies only a diminutive place in his vast course of Sermons. On this subject, indeed, he frankly confesses his fears of enthusiasm; and, to do him justice, it seems the only thing he feared in the pulpit.
But, however prepossessing and laudable this caution may appear in the discussion of mysterious truths, it by no means associates the ideas we have of the divine compassion, and the apprehensions which awakened persons entertain on account of their sins. Conscious of guilt on the one hand, and assured on the other that the wages of sin is death, mere evangelical arguments are inadequate to allay their fears, and assuage their griefs. Nothing will do but a sense of pardon, sufficiently clear and strong to counteract their sense of guilt. Nothing but the love of God shed abroad in the heart, can disperse their grief and fear, Rom. v. 5; Luke xxiv. 32; 1 John iv. 18. Nothing but the Spirit of adoption can remove the spirit
of bondage, by a direct assurance that we are the children of God, Rom. viii. 15, 16. Every awakened sinner needs, as much as the inspired prophet, the peace which passeth all understanding, to compose his conscience; the Spirit of holiness to regenerate his heart; the Spirit of grace and supplication, to assist him in prayer; the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, and the joy unspeakable and full of glory, to adopt the language of praise and thanksgiving, which seem to have been the general sentiments of the regenerate in acts of devotion. That is the most satisfactory ground of assurance, when we hope to enjoy the inheritance, because we have the earnest; and hope to dwell with God, because he already dwells with us, adorning our piety with the correspondent fruits of righteousness. Revelation and reason here perfectly accord: Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find. If ye being evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more shall your Father, which is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him. Hence, SAURIN, on this subject, was by far too contracted in restricting this grace to a few highly favoured souls.
their reckonings with Heaven. Perhaps their
"What nothing earthly gives, or can destroy,
Farther still, it is not enough for a minister to beat and overpower his audience with arguments; it is not enough that many of his hear-mity of vice, with the utmost simplicity and ers weep under the word, and form good reso- ease. It captivates the mind, and sways the lutions for the future; they must be encou- passions of an audience in addresses apparently raged to expect a blessing before they depart destitute of study or art: art, indeed, can never from the house of God. How is it that the attain it; it is the soul of a preacher speaking good impressions, made on our hearers, so ge- to the heart of his hearers. However, SAURIN nerally die away; that their devotion is but as ought to have an indulgence which scarcely the morning cloud? After making just de- any other can claim. He addressed at the ductions for the weakness and inconstancy of Hague an audience of two thousand persons, men; after allowing for the defects which bu- composed of courtiers, of magistrates, of mersiness and company produce on the mind, the chants, and strangers, who were driven by pergrand cause is, the not exhorting them to look secution from every part of France. Hence for an instantaneous deliverance by faith. In it became him to speak with dignity approprimany parts of the Scriptures, and especially in ate to his situation. And if, in point of pure the Psalms, the supplicants came to the throne eloquence he was a single shade below Masof grace in the greatest trouble and distress, and sillon, he has far exceeded him as a divine. they went away rejoicing. Now, these Psalms I take to be exact celebrations of what God did by providence and grace for his worshippers. Hence we should exhort all penitents to expect the like deliverance, God being ready to shine on all hearts the moment repentance has prepared them for the reception of his grace.
With regard to the peculiar opinions of the religious denominations, this venerable minister discovered superior knowledge, and admirable moderation. Commissioned to preach the gospel to every creature, he magnifies the love of God to man; and charges the sinner with being the sole cause of his own destrucSome may here object that many well-dis- tion (Sermon, Hosea xiii. 9.) Though he asposed Christians, whose piety has been adorn-serts the perseverance of the saints, it is, nevered with benevolence, have never, on the sub-theless, with such restrictions as tend to avoid ject of assurance, been able to express them- disgusting persons of opposite sentiments. selves in the high and heavenly language of Against Antinomianism, so dangerous to salvainspired men; and that they have doubted, tion, he is tremendously severe: and it were whether the knowledge of salvation by the remis- to be wished that the supporters of these opision of sins, Luke i. 77, were attainable in this nions would profit by his arguments. It is life. Perhaps, on inquiry, those well-disposed much safer to direct our efforts, that our Christians, whose sincerity I revere, have sat hearers may resemble the God they worship, under a ministry, which scarcely went so far than trust to a mere code of religious opinions, on the doctrines of the spirit as SAURIN. Per- dissonant to a multitude of Scriptures. haps they have sought salvation, partly by their works, instead of seeking it solely by faith in the merits, or righteousness, of Jesus Christ. Perhaps they have joined approaches to the altars of God, with the amusements of the age; and always been kept in arrears in
May Heaven bless to the reader this additional mite to the store of public knowledge, and make it advantageous to his best interests, and eternal joy!
series of reflections, derived from three sources: From man;-from the Scriptures;-and from experience. We shall have recourse in order, to religion, history, and experience, to make us sensible of the dangerous consequences of deferring the work. In the first place, we shall endeavour to prove from our own constitution, that it is difficult, not to say impossible, to be converted after having wasted life in vice.-
ISAIAH IV. 6.
Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye We shall secondly demonstrate that revela
upon him while he is near.
tion perfectly accords with nature on this head; and that whatever the Bible has taught concerning the efficacy of grace, the supernatural aids of the Spirit, and the extent of mercy, favour in no respect the delay of conversion. Thirdly, we shall endeavour to confirm the doctrines of reason and revelation, by daily observations on those who defer the change.These reflections would undoubtedly produce a better effect delivered in one discourse than divided, and I would wish to dismiss the hearer convinced, persuaded, and overpowered with the mass of argument; but we must proportion the discourse to the attention of the audience, and to our own weakness. We design three discourses on this subject, and shall confine ourselves to-day to the first head.
"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near." On this subject, to be discussed in order, shall our voice resound for the present hour; if Providence permit us to ascend this pulpit once more, it shall be resumed: if we ascend it the third time, we will still cry, "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near." If a Christian minister ought to be heard with attention, if deference ought to be paid to his doctrine, may this command change the face of this church! May the scales fall from our eyes! and may the spiritually blind recover their sight!
Our mind, prevented by passion and preju dice, requires divine assistance in its ordinary reflections; but now attacking the sinner in his chief fort and last retreat, I do need thy invincible power, O my God, and I expect every aid from thy support.
I. Our own constitution shall supply us today with arguments on the delay of conversion. It is clear that we carry in our own breast principles which render conversion difficult, and I may add, impossible, if deferred to a certain period. To comprehend this, form in your mind an adequate idea of conversion, and fully adunit, that the soul, in order to possess this state of grace, must acquire two essential dispositions; it must be illuminated; it must be sanctified. It must understand the truths of religion, and conform to its precepts.
ON THE DELAY OF CONVERSION.
THAT is a singular oath, recorded in the tenth chapter of the Revelation. St. John saw an angel; an angel "clothed with a cloud; a rainbow encircled his head, his countenance was as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire. stood on the earth and the sea. He sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, that there should be time no longer." By this oath, if we may credit some critics, the angel announces to the Jews, that their measure was full, that their days of visitation were expired, and that God was about to complete, by abandoning them to the licentious armies of the emperor Adrian, the vengeance he had already begun by Titus and Vespasian.
We will not dispute this particular notion, but shall consider the oath in a more extended view. This angel stands upon the earth and the sea; he speaks to all the inhabitants of the world: he lifts his voice to you, my brethren, and teaches one of the most terrific, but most important truths of religion and morality, that the mercy of God, so infinitely diversified, has, notwithstanding, its restrictions and bounds. It is infinite, for it embraces all mankind. It makes no distinction between "the Jew and the Greek, the Barbarian and the Scythian." It pardons insults the most notorious, crimes the most provoking; and extricating the sinner from the abyss of misery, opens to him the way to supreme felicity. But it is limited. When the sinner becomes obstinate, when he long resists, when he defers conversion, God shuts up the bowels of his compassion, and rejects the prayer of those who have hardened themselves against his calls.
From this awful principle, Isaiah deduces the doctrine which constitutes the subject of our text. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near." Dispensing with minuteness of method, we shall not stop to define the terms, "Seek ye the Lord, and call ye upon him." Whatever mistakes we may be liable to make on this head, and however disposed we may be to confound the appearance of conversion with conversion itself, errors of this kind, it must be acknowledged, are not the most destructive. We propose to-day to probe the wound, to penetrate to the source of our depravity, to dissipate, if possible, the illusive charm which destroys so many of the Christian world, and of which Satan too successfully avails himself for their seduction. This delusion, this charm, I appeal to your consciences, consists of, know not what, confused ideas we have formed of the divine mercy, fluctuating purposes of conversion on the brink of futurity, and chimerical confidence of success whenever we shall enter on the work.
On the delay of conversion, we shall make a
First. You cannot become regenerate unless you know the truths of religion. Not that we would preach the gospel to you as a discipline having no object but the exercise of speculation. We neither wish to make the Christian a philosopher, nor to encumber his mind with a thousand questions agitated in the schools. Much less would we elevate salvation above the comprehension of persons of common understanding; who, being incapable of abstruse thought, would be cut off from the divine favour, if this change required profound reflection, and refined investigation. It can
in the veins, and a cloud of darkness envelopes all the faculties. Hence the drowsiness of aged people: hence the difficulty of receiving new impressions; hence the return of ancient objects; hence the obstinacy in their sentiments; hence the almost universal defect of knowledge and comprehension; whereas people less advanced in age have usually an easy mind, a retentive memory, a happy conception, and a teachable temper. If we, therefore, defer the acquisition of religious knowledge till age has chilled the blood, obscured the understanding, enfeebled the memory, and confirmed prejudice and obstinacy, it is almost impossible to be in a situation to acquire that information without which our religion can neither be agreeable to God, afford us solid consolation in affliction, nor motives sufficient against temptation.
If this reflection do not strike you with sufficient force, follow man in the succeeding periods of life. The love of pleasure predominates in his early years, and the dissipations of the world allure him from the study of religion. The sentiments of conscience are heard, however, notwithstanding the tumult of a thousand passions: they suggest that, in order to peace of conscience, he must either be religious, or persuade himself that religion is altogether a phantom. What does a man do in this situation? He becomes either incredulous or superstitious. He believes without examination and discussion, that he has been educated in the bosom of truth; that the religion of his fathers is the only one which can be good; or rather, he regards religion only on the side of those difficulties which infidels oppose, and employs all his strength of intellect to augment those difficulties, and to evade their evidence. Thus he dismisses religion to escape his conscience, and becomes an obstiho-nate Atheist, to be calm in crimes. Thus he wastes his youth, time flies, years accumulate, notions become strong, impressions fixed in the brain, and the brain gradually loses that suppleness of which we now spake.
A period arrives in which these passions seem to subside; and as they were the sole cause of rendering that man superstitious or incredulous, it seems that incredulity and superstition should vanish with the passions. Let us profit by the circumstance; let us endeavour to dissipate the illusion; let us summons the man to go back to the first source of its errors; let us talk; let us prove; let us reason; but all is unavailing care; as it commonly happens that the aged talk of former times, and recollect the facts which struck them in their youth, while present occurrences leave no trace on the memory, so the old ideas continually run in their mind.
not, however, be disputed, that every man should be instructed according to his situation in life, and according to the capacity he has received from heaven. In a word, a Christian ought to be a Christian, not because he has been educated in the principles of Christianity transmitted by his fathers, but because those principles came from God.
To have contrary dispositions, to follow a religion from obstinacy or prejudice, is equally to renounce the dignity of a man, a Christian, and a Protestant:-The dignity of a man, who, endowed with intelligence, should never decide on important subjects without consulting his understanding, given to guide and conduct him:-The dignity of a Christian; for the gospel reveals a God who may be known, John iv. 22; it requires us to " prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good," 1 Thess. v. 21. The dignity of a Protestant; for it is the foundation and distinguishing article of the Reformation, that submission to human creeds is a bondage unworthy of him whom the "Son has made free." Inquiry, knowledge, and investigation, are the leading points of religion, and the first step, so to speak, by which we are to "seek the Lord."
The second disposition is sanctification. The truths proposed in Scripture for examination and belief, are not presented to excite vain speculations, or gratify curiosity. They are truths designed to produce a divine influence on the heart and life. "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar. If you know these things, happy are you, if you do them. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction," 1 John ii. 4; John xiii. 17; James i. 27. When we speak of Christian obedience, we do not mean some transient acts of devotion; we mean a submission proceeding from a source of liness, which, however mixed with imperfection in its efforts, piety is always the predominant disposition of the heart, and virtue triumphant over vice.
These two points being so established, that no one can justly dispute them, we may prove, I am confident, from our own constitution, that a conversion deferred ought always to be suspected; and that, by deferring the work, we risk the forfeiture of the grace.-Follow us in these arguments.
This is true, first, with regard to the light essential to conversion. Here, my brethren, it were to have been wished, that each of you had studied the human constitution; that you had attentively considered the mode in which the soul and body are united, the close ties which subsist between the intelligence that thinks within, and the body to which it is united. We are not pure spirit; the soul is a lodger in matter, and on the temperature of this matter depends the success of our researches after truth, and consequently after religion.
Now, my brethren, every season and every period of life are not alike proper for disposing the body to the happy temperature, which leaves the soul at liberty for reflection and thought. The powers of the brain fail with years, the senses become dull, the spirits evaporate, the memory weakens, the blood chills
Let us farther remark, that the soul not only loses with time the facility of discerning error from truth, but after having for a considerable time habituated itself to converse solely with sensible objects, it is almost impossible to attach it to any other. See that man who has for a course of years been employed in auditing accounts, in examining the nature of trade, the prudence of his partners, the fidelity of his correspondents; propose to him, for instance, the solution of a problem; desire him to inves
tigate the cause of a phenomenon, the founda- truths before the world has engrossed its cation of a system, and you require an impossi-pacity. bility. The mind, however, of this man, who finds these subjects so difficult, and the mind of the philosopher who investigates them with ease, are formed much in the same way. All the difference between them is, that the latter has accustomed himself to the contemplation of mental objects, whereas the other has voluntarily debased himself to sordid pursuits, degraded his understanding, and enslaved it to sensible objects. After having passed our life in this sort of business, without allowing time for reflection, religion becomes an abyss; the clearest truth, mysterious; the slightest study, fatigue; and, when we would fix our thoughts, they are captivated with involuntary deviations. In a word, the final inconvenience which results from deferring the study of religion, is a distraction and dissipation proceeding from the objects which prepossess the mind. The various scenes of life, presented to the eye, make a strong impression on the soul; and the ideas will obtrude even when we would wish to divert the attention. Hence distinguished employments, eminent situations, and professions which require intense application, are not commonly the most compatible with salvation. Not only because they rob us, while actually employed, of the time we should devote to God, but because they pursue us in defiance of our efforts. We come to the Lord's house with our bullocks, with our doves, with our speculations, with our ships, with our bills of exchange, with our titles, with our equipage, as those profane Jews whom Jesus Christ once chased from the temple in Jerusalem. There is no need to be a philosopher to perceive the force of this truth; it requires no evidence but the history of your own life. How often, when retired to the closet to examine your conscience, have worldly speculations interrupted your duty! How often, when prostrated in the presence of God, has this heart which you came to offer him, robbed you of your devotion by pursuing earthly objects! How often, when engaged in sacrificing to the Lord a sacrifice of repentance, has a thousand flights of birds come to annoy the sacred service! Evident proof of the truth we advance! Every day we see new objects: these objects leave ideas; these ideas recur; and the contracted soul, unable to attend to the ideas it already possesses, and to those it would acquire, becomes incapable of religious investigation. Happy is the man descended from enlightened parents, and instructed, like Timothy, in the Holy Scriptures from his infancy! Having consecrated his early life to the study of truth, he has only, in a dying and retired age, to collect the consolations of a religion magnificent in its promises, and incontestable in its proofs.
Hence we conclude, with regard to whatever is speculative in our salvation, that conversion becomes more difficult in proportion as it is deferred. We conclude with regard to the light of faith, that we must "seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near." We must study religion while aided by a collected mind, and an easy conception. | We must, while young, elevate the heart above sensible objects, and fill the soul with sacred
This truth is susceptible of a much clearer demonstration, when we consider religion with regard to practice. And as the subject turns on principles to which we usually pay but slight attention, we are especially obliged to request, if you would edify by this discourse, that you would hear attentively. There are subjects less connected, which may be comprehended, notwithstanding a momentary absence of the mind; but this requires an unremitting attention, as we lose the whole by neglecting the smallest part.
Remember, in the first place, what we have already hinted, that in order to true conversion, it is not sufficient to evidence some partial acts of love to God: the principle must be so profound and permanent, that this love, though mixed with some defects, shall ever be the predominant disposition of the heart. We should not apprehend that any of you would dispute this assertion, if we should content ourselves with pressing it in a vague and general way; and if we had no design to draw conclusions directly opposite to the notions of many, and to the practice of most. But at the close of this discourse, unable to evade the consequences which follow the principle, we are strongly persuaded you will renew the attack on the principle itself, and deny that to which you have already assented. Hence we ought not to proceed before we are agreed what we ought to believe upon this head. We ask you, brethren, whether you believe it requisite to love God in order to salvation? We can scarcely think that any of our audience will answer in the negative; at least we should fear to speak with much more confidence on this point, and on the necessity of acquiring instruction in order to conversion, than to supersede the obligation of loving God, because it would derogate from the dignity of man, who is obliged to love his benefactor; from the dignity of a Christian, educated under a covenant which denounces anathemas against those who love not the Lord Jesus; from the dignity of a Protestant, who cannot be ignorant how all the divines of our communion have exclaimed against the doctrine of Rome on the subject of penance.
Recollect, my brethren, that we are agreed upon this point; recollect in the subsequent parts of this discourse, that, in order to conversion, we must have a radical and habitual love to God. This principle being allowed, all that we have to say against the delay of conversion, becomes self-established. The whole question is reduced to this; if in a dying hour, if at the extremity of life, if in a short and fleeting moment, you can acquire this habit of divine love, which we have all agreed is necessary to salvation; if it can be acquired in one moment, then we will preach no more against delay: you act with propriety. Put off, defer, procrastinate even to the last moment, and by an extraordinary precaution, never begin to seek the pleasures of piety till you are abandoned by the pleasures of the world, and satiated with its infamous delights. But if time, if labour, are required to form this genuine source of love to God, the necessity of which we have already