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audience but a short one: for when it begins to reason with him of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, with Felix he trembles, and dismisses his conscience with the same answer; “Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee.”. And whereas this sinful dissembling, and double-dealing with God and himself, is the case, more or less, with every habitual sinner; and this more convenient season never arrives ; " in the primi. tive Church (says the Preface to the Commination) there was a godly discipline, that at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend; which said discipline it is much to be wished might be restored again.”
Greatly were it to be wished that one and all of us would take occasion of this solemn season* to present ourselves before God as sore and habitual offenders, and to judge ourselves, tha 80 we may not be judged of the Lord. For much, I fear, with the strictness of ancient discipline in our Church, the business of private repentance has been relaxed. Sorrow for sin, and bringing forth fruits meet for repentance, are in many cases, there is reason to apprehend, comparatively lost sight of in that other, equally indeed important duty of the returning sinner, yet, second in order of time-I mean Faith. The tears of contrition are wiped away too soon; sin is not sufficiently brought home and repented of; is not ever before the eyes of the sinner. Assurance too soon succeeds, joy too soon commences. The example of David may serve to show that repentance is a work of time a work of many tears, many prayers. « Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy spirit from me.” How far in respect to duration God may see fit to dispense with repentance (as in what are called sudden conversions) it is not for us to enquire. As sinners we are commanded to “ repent and believe,” in order to forgiveness. « Out of the deep, have I called unto thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice. If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it : for there is mercy with thee, therefore shalt thou be feared.” Yes, my brethren, there is indeed mercy for the greatest sinner (and God forbid that I should seek to limit that mercy): but then it is to be sought and obtained by means of the greatest, and most heartfelt, and continued repentance. Then only can the bones which God hath broken have cause in the end to rejoice: then only can the humble penitent reach forth his hand, by a true and lively faith in God's mercy through Christ, to a full assurance of hope : then only, when the storm is past, and all the billows of repentance have gone over the head of the sinner, will Christ hear the voice of his complaint, and say to his troubled soul, Peace, be still,' and there shall be a great calm.
And in the last place, if thus it be with every sinner, that some time or other he must repent of his sins, before he can lay hold of the covenanted mercies of God in Christ; that sin, if not ever before him, must some time or other be before him, and brought home to his conscience; and that in such a way as to be bitterly lamented, hated, forsaken; how great should be your fear and caution in committing it! If repentance be properly the work of a whole life, a daily sorrowing for sin, what room can he have for it (though he then seek it carefully and with many tears), who crowds the fearful and ever growing account into the narrow limits of a single day—the day of his death the season of sickness, langour, and decay! With God indeed, all things are possible: and such as his majesty is, so is also his mercy. But the death-bed sinner ought perhaps to be the last to look for a miracle in his favour, seeing he has despised the ordinary operations of God's spirit. And if the best of men have been filled with fearful amazement when they have come to die, at one glance of the appalling images of sin and death, what must be the sin. ner's feelings, who, never having had his sin before him, is now presented with the catalogue, and called upon to set his house in order. For conscience is like a perpetual pulse; and though it may be interrupted and silenced by the sinner, during the course of a life of health, thoughtlessness, and pleasure, yet will it beat before he dies, and bring all his sins to remembrance. Or if even at that awful moment he should be consigned over to judicial blindness; and conscience, so often stifled, should fail him when he most wants its warning voice; yet in the next world will she renew her office
y to reproach the sinner with his folly and madness : for conscience is that “worm that never dies, that fire that shall never be quenched.”