« السابقةمتابعة »
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; 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 259 rash conclusion, you would have us offer him the highest place in the mansions of the blessed.
cruel lenity, precipitate souls into hell, under But wo, wo to those ministers, who, by a 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 cry aloud; I would lift up my voice like a of speaking peace to such a man, "I would 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.
man shall devote to his conversion but an exBut if, as it commonly occurs, this dying hausted 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 do? I would maintain the interests of my brand of infamy on a house?-What would I Master; I would act becoming a minister of 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.
It rests with you, my brethren, to apply these truths; and to profit by the means which Providence 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 dur-"seek ye my face." He may be found in your ing life, and till the approaches of death, and closets, where he offers to converse with you the horrors of hell shall extort from you protes- in the most tender and familiar manner: he tations of reform, and excite in you the sem- may be found among the poor, among the sick, blance of conversion, we cannot, without doing among those dying carcases, among those livviolence to our instructions, and exceeding our ing images of death, and the tomb, which solicommission, speak peace to your souls, and cit your compassion; and which open to you make you offers of salvation. charity itself. He may be found to-day, but the way of charity that leads to God, who is 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!
is the way to prevent such great calamities?
ment so precious! Ah! who can compare his
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
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.
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 present 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.
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, unless your hearts, impressed by so many motives, 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.
ISAIAH lv. 6.
Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.
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.
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 here tics, and the contradictions of infidels. But experience is without exception; it speaks to the heart, to the senses, and the understand-is restricted; and that we risk a total exclusion ing; it neither reasons nor debates, but carries when we offer to God only the last groans of conviction and proof. It so commands the expiring life. We founded our first proposition consent of the Christian, the philosopher, and on the force of habits, and on the nature of the even the atheist, that nothing but mental de- Holy Spirit's economy, who, for the most part, rangement can revoke its decisions in doubt. abandons to their own turpitude, those that reThis is the grand instructer that must preach sist his grace. This was the subject of our first
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,
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. These are the two principal heads, which comprise all that we have advanced upon this subject.
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.
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.
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 es pecially 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 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? You adduce first those sudden conversions, And why exclude the sinner, however corrupt, those instantaneous changes on the spot, with- from the throne of grace? I who may have a out difficulty, labour, and repeated endeavours. secret intrigue, scarcely suspected, very far Of this class, we have various examples in from being known to the world, shall I have Scripture. We have Simon, we have Andrew, more difficulty in obtaining mercy than David, we have James the son of Zebedee, and most who committed adultery in the face of all Isof 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 sanctioned by example, by custom, by the empire of their Master. 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
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
You oppose, in the second plea, the case of those sinners, who, after committing the greatest crimes, have found, on the first efforts of 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 con nexion 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.
the Eternal Wisdom, and "to be wiser in your foolish generation," than the Father of lights himself, you draw from these examples, designed to make you wise, motives to confirm you in your crimes. We shall endeavour to examine the whole of your sophisms.
We shall first make this general observation; that when we said in the preceding discourse, we must, in order to acquire the habit of piety, perform its duties, and to obtain admission at the throne of grace, we must demonstrate our faith by a course of virtuous actions, we told you only what commonly occurs in the course of religion. We did not include in our remarks, the overpowering and extraordinary operations of grace. For God, who was pleased sometimes to supersede the laws of nature, supersedes also, on some occasions, the laws of religion, by graciously enlarging the limits of the new covenant. The laws followed in nature are wisely established. He has assigned a pavilion to the sun, and balanced the earth on its poles. He has prescribed boundaries to the sea, and obliged this impetuous element to respect the commands of its Creator. "Hither-ed to shalt thou come, but no farther; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed," Job xxxviii. 11. We have likewise seen him supersede the laws of nature, and discover as much wisdom in their suspension as he manifested in their establishment. We have sometimes seen the earth quake; the sun stop and suspend his course; the waters of the sea advancing before, or retiring behind, "divide themselves as a wall on the right hand, and on the left," Exod. xiv. 22, as well to favour his chosen people, as to confound the rebellious nation. Just so the laws of religion, and the conditions of his covenant, are also perfectly wise, and equally founded on goodness and equity; meanwhile God is pleased sometimes to suspend them, and to enlarge the limits of grace.
This thought aptly applies to many of the cases you adduce, and particularly to instantaneous conversions. They are not the usual way in which the Holy Spirit proceeds; they do not occur in the ordinary course of religion. They are exceptions to the general laws; they are miracles. Instead, therefore, of judging of the general laws of religion, by these particular instances, you should rectify your notion of them by those general laws. Ah! temporizing directors, apostate casuists, pests of the public, you compose your penitents with deceitful hope. This is our first solution.
When a physician, after exhausting all the powers of art to restore the sick, finds his prescriptions baffled, his endeavour without effect, and his skill destitute of resource; when he finds the brain delirious, the circulation of the blood irregular, the chest oppressed, and nature ready to fall under the pressure of disease, he says, it is a lost case. He presumes not to say, that God cannot heal him; nor that he has never seen a recovery in similar circumstances; he speaks according to the course of nature; he judges according to the rules of art; he decides as a physician, and not as a worker of miracles. Just so, when we see a man in the church, who has persisted thirty, forty, or fifty years in a course of crimes; when we see this
man struck with death, that his first concern is for the health of his body, that he calls both nature and art to his assistance; but his hopes being lost, with regard to the world, he turns his attention towards religion; he makes a mighty ado about conversion; he weeps, he groans, he prays; that he discovers to us the semblance of repentance and conversion: we aver that this man's state is doubtful, and exceedingly doubtful. But we speak according to the ordinary course of religion: knowing that God is almighty, we exclude not the occurrence of miracles. Hence all the cases you adduce are prodigies of conversion, in which God has exceeded ordinary laws, and from which no conclusions can be drawn; and all that you add on the power of God, on the irresistible, renovating, and victorious efficacy of grace, however solid on other occasions, when applied to this subject, are empty declamations, and foreign to the point.
But are all those examples of conversion and repentance miracles? No, my brethren, nor is this the whole of our reply: and had we provthat they are all such in effect, we should indeed have done little, and you might have returned home, flattered, perhaps, that God would work the same prodigies for you in a dying hour. Let us enter into a more minute discussion; let us remark,-and this is our grand solution,-let us remark, that among all the sinners whose conversion you adduce, there is not one, no not one, in the condition of the Christian, who neglecting his salvation, presumes to offer to God only the dregs of life, and the last groans of expiring nature. No; of all those sinners, there is not one who was in the situation of such a man; consequently, there is not one, no not one, who can afford the shadow of a rational excuse to flatter the men we now attack. Let us illustrate this reflection; it is of the last importance. You may remark five essential distinctions. They differed either with regard to their light-or with regard to their motives-or with regard to the duration of their crime-or with regard to their virtues or with regard to the certainty of their repentance and conversion: five considerations, my brethren, which you cannot too deeply inculcate on your minds. Some of them apply to the whole, others to a part. Let each of you apply to himself that portion of our remarks on these conversions which corresponds with his case.
Speaking first of the illumination of those two classes of sinners, we affirm that there is an essential difference between the men whose example is adduced, and the Christians who delay conversion. Of all those sinners, there was not one, who possessed the light which we have at the present day. Zaccheus, the apostle, the prophets, David, and all the persons at the period in question, were in this respect inferior to the most ignorant Christian. Jesus Christ has decided, that "the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than they," Luke vii. 28. St. Peter had not seen the resurrection of his Master, when he had the weakness to deny him. The converted thief, had, perhaps, never heard his name, while abandoned to his crimes; and St. Paul, while
which constitutes a second difference; that is, the motives which press you to conversion were scarcely known to the others. You are pressed more than they by motives of gratitude. What were all the favours which they received of God, in comparison of those which are heaped on you; you are born in "an accepted time, in a day of salvation," 1 Cor. vi. 2; in those happy days" which so many right
This is the first consideration which aggravates your condemnation, and renders your salvation doubtful, if you defer the work. "The grace of God has appeared to all men." You are born in so enlightened an age, that the human mind seems to have attained the highest period of perfection to which its weak-eous men, and prophets had desired to see," ness will permit it to arrive. Philosophy has Matt. xiii. 17. You are pressed more than been disencumbered of all ambiguous terms, they by motives of interest," you have receivof all useless punctilios, and of all the pom-ed of his fulness, and grace for grace," John i. pous nothings, which confused, rather than 16; you to whom Christ has " revealed imformed the minds of youth; and our systems mortality and life," 2 Tim. i. 10; who having of moral philosophy seem to have attained per- received such promises you ought to be the fection. Theology is purged, at least on most more separated" from all filthiness of the flesh subjects, and would to God that it was alto- and of the spirit,"-more than they, by mogether purged of the abstruse researches, and tives of fear, "for knowing the terrors of the trifling disquisitions, which amused our fathers. Lord," you ought to be the more obedient to If some weak minds still follow the former no- his will. More than they by motives of emutions, they only render themselves ridiculous, lation; you have not only "the cloud of witweary the people, disgust the learned, and are nesses," but the grand pattern, the model of left to detail their maxims to the dusty walls perfection, who has left us so fine an example of their half deserted schools. that we should tread in his steps; who has said, "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart," Matt. xi. 29. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of your faith; you ought, according to St. Paul's exhortation, to be induced "not to cast away your confidence," Heb. x. 35. More than they by the grandeur of your heavenly birth; " you have not received the spirit of bondage unto fear, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father," Rom. viii. 15.
What is the result of all these arguments? If you have more motives, you are more culpable; and if you are more culpable, the mercy which they have obtained, concludes nothing in your favour; and the objection, which you derive from example, is altogether sophistical. And what is worse, this superabundance of motives renders your conversion more difficult, and thereby destroys the hopes you found on their example. For though the Holy Spirit has a supreme power over the heart, nothing, however, is more certain, that in promoting our conversion, he acts with us as rational beings, and in conformity to our nature; he proposes motives, and avails himself of their force, to induce us to duty. Consequently, when the heart has long resisted the grand motives of conversion, it thereby becomes obdurate.
persecuting the church, followed the old prejudices of Judaism," he did it ignorantly," as he himself affirms, 1 Tim. i. 13
How clearly have they proved, for instance, the being of God? On how many clear, easy, and demonstrative evidences, have they established this fundamental article of religion? How clearly have they illustrated the doctrine of the immortality of the soul? How admirably has philosophy coincided with religion on this article, to disengage spirit from matter, to mark the functions of each substance, to distinguish which belongs to the body, and which to the mind? How clearly also have they proved the truth of religion? With what industry have they investigated the abyss of ancient literature, demonstrated and rendered palpable the prodigies achieved seventeen centuries ago?
I speak not this to make an eulogium on our age, and elevate it in your esteem. I have, my brethren, views more exalted. All the knowledge of this period is dispensed by that wise Providence which watches over your salvation, and it will serve for your refutation. The economy of the Holy Spirit, who illuminates your mind, has been fully discussed. If, therefore, it be true, that the atrocity of sin is proportionate to the knowledge of the delinquent; if it be true, that those "who know their Master's will, and do it not, shall be punished with more stripes than those who are ignorant and negligent," Luke xii. 47;—if it be true, that the sin of such persons remains, as Jesus Christ has affirmed, John ix. 41;—if it be true, that "it were better not to have known the way of righteousness, than to turn from the holy commandment," 2 Pet. ii. 21;if it be true, that God will require five talents of those who have received five, while those who have received but two shall be accountable but for two, Matt. xxv.-If it be true, that it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, than for Chorazin and Bethsaida;-it is also true, that your arguments are sophistical; that the example of those sinners can afford you nothing but deceitful hopes, which flatter the delay of conversion.
How were those miraculous conversions effectuated to which you appeal? It was in a way totally inapplicable to you. The first time Zaccheus saw Jesus Christ, he received the promise of salvation. Zaccheus feeling, by the efficacy of grace, the force of a motive which had never been proposed before, yielded immediately without hesitation. The converts, on the day of Pentecost, were in suspense concerning what opinion they should form of Jesus Christ: they had crucified him in ignorance, and Jerusalem remained undecided what to think of him after his death. The apostles preached; they proved by their miracles the truth of his resurrection. Then those men, being struck with motives never before proposed, yielded at once. Thus the Holy Spirit operated in their hearts; but in a manner con
From this last consideration arises another,