« VorigeDoorgaan »
this, which was true in a nation, is also clearly affirmed true in the case of single persons. "Look diligently, lest any fail of the grace of God; lest there be any person among you as Esau, who sold his birth-right, and afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place for his repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears."* Esau had time enough to repent his bargain as long as he lived; he wept sorely for his folly, and carefulness sat heavy upon his soul; and yet he was not heard, nor his repentance accepted; for the time was past. And take heed,' saith the Apostle, lest it come to pass to any of you to be in the same case. Now if ever there be a time, in which repentance is too late, it must be the time of our death-bed, and the last time of our life. And after a man is fallen into the displeasure of Almighty God, the longer he lies in his sin without repentance and amendation, the greater is his danger, and the more of his allowed time is spent; and no man can antecedently, or beforehand, be sure that the time of his repentance is not past; and those who neglect the call of God, and refuse to hear him call in the day of grace," God will laugh at them when their calamity comes: they shall call, and the Lord shall not hear them." And this was the case of the five foolish virgins, when the arrest of death surprised them: they discovered their want of oil, they were troubled at it; they begged oil, they were refused; they did something towards the procuring of the oil of grace, for they went out to buy oil: and, after all this stir, the Bridegroom came before they had finished their journey, and they were shut out from the communion of the Bridegroom's joys.
Therefore, concerning the time of beginning to repent, no man is certain but he that hath done his work. "Mortem venientem nemo hilaris excipit, nisi qui se ad eam diu composuerat," said Seneca:† "He only dies cheerfully, who stood waiting for death in a ready dress of a long preceding preparation." He that repents to-day, repents late enough that he did not begin yesterday: but he that puts it off till to-morrow, is vain and miserable.
hodie jam vivere, Postume, serum est:
Heb. xii. 15, &c.
Mart. 5. 58.
Well; but what will you have a man do that hath lived wickedly, and is now cast upon his death-bed? shall this man despair, and neglect all the actions of piety, and the instrument of restitution in his sickness? No, God forbid. Let him do what he can then; it is certain it will be little enough; for all those short gleams of piety and flashes of lightning will help towards alleviating some degrees of misery; and if the man recover, they are good beginnings of a renewed piety: and Ahab's tears and humiliation, though it went no farther, had a proportion of a reward, though nothing to the proportions of eternity. So that he that says, it is every day necessary to repent, cannot be supposed to discourage the piety of any day: a death-bed piety, when things are come to that sad condition, may have many good purposes: therefore, even then neglect nothing that can be done.-Well; but shall such persons despair of salvation? To them I shall only return this that they are to consider the conditions, which, on one side, God requires of us; and, on the other side, whether they have done accordingly. Let them consider upon what terms God hath promised salvation, and whether they have made themselves capable, by performing their part of the obligation. If they have not, I must tell them, that, not to hope where God hath made no promise, is not the sin of despair, but the misery of despair. A man hath no ground to hope, that ever he shall be made an angel, and yet that not hoping is not to be called despair: and no man can hope for heaven without repentance; and for such a man to despair, is not the sin, but the misery. If such persons have a promise of heaven, let them show it, and hope it, and enjoy it: if they have no promise, they must thank themselves, for bringing themselves into a condition without the covenant, without a promise hopeless and miserable.
But will not trusting in the merits of Jesus Christ save such a man? For that, we must be tried by the word of God in which there is no contract at all made with a dying person, that lived in name a Christian, in practice a heathen: and we shall dishonour the sufferings and redemption of our blessed Saviour, if we think them to be an umbrella to shelter impious and ungodly living. But that no such person may, after a wicked life, repose himself on his death-bed upon Christ's merits, observe but these two places of Scripture:
"Our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us"*—what to do? that we might live as we list, and hope to be saved by his merits? no-but " that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak and exhort," saith St. Paul. But, more plainly yet in St. Peter; "Christ bare our sins in his own body on the tree,"―to what end?" that we, being dead unto sin, should live unto righteousness.”† Since therefore our living a holy life is the end of Christ's dying that sad and holy death for us, he that trusts on it to evil purposes, and to excuse his vicious life, does, as much as lies in him, make void the very purpose and design of Christ's passion, and dishonours the blood of the everlasting covenant; which covenant was confirmed by the blood of Christ: but, as it brought peace from God, so it requires a holy life from us.‡
But why may not we be saved, as well as the thief upon the cross? even because our case is nothing alike. When Christ dies once more for us, we may look for such another instance: not till then. But this thief did but then come to Christ, he knew him not before; and his case was, as if a Turk, or heathen, should be converted to Christianity, and be baptized, and enter newly into the covenant upon his death-bed: then God pardons all his sins. And so God does to Christians when they are baptized, or first give up their names to Christ by a voluntary confirmation of their baptismal vow but when they have once entered into the covenant, they must perform what they promise, and do what they are obliged. The thief had made no contract with God in Jesus Christ, and therefore failed of none; only the defailances of the state of ignorance Christ paid for at the thief's admission; but we, that have made a covenant with God in baptism, and failed of it all our days, and then return at 'night, when we cannot work,' have nothing to plead for ourselves; because we have made all that to be useless to us, which God, with so much mercy and miraculous wisdom, gave us to secure our interest and hopes of heaven.
And therefore, let no Christian man, who hath covenanted with God, to give him the service of his life, think that God
will be answered with the sighs and prayers of a dying man : for all that great obligation, which lies upon us, cannot be transacted in an instant, when we have loaded our soul with sin, and made them empty of virtue; we cannot so soon grow up to a perfect man in Christ Jesus' ovdèv sãv meyáλων ἄφιω γίνεται. * You cannot have an apple or a cherry, but you must stay its proper periods, and let it blossom and knot, and grow and ripen ; "and in due season we shall reap, if we faint not," saith the Apostle: far much less may we expect that the fruits of repentance, and the issues and degrees of holiness, shall be gathered in a few days or hours. Γνώμης δ ̓ ἀνθρώπου καρπὸν θέλεις οὕτω δι ̓ ὀλίγου καὶ εὐκόλως xrhood. You must not expect such fruits in a little time, nor with little labour.
Suffer not therefore yourselves to be deceived by false principles and vain confidences: for no man can in a moment root out the long-contracted habits of vice, nor upon his death-bed make use of all that variety of preventing, accompanying, and persevering grace, which God gave to man in mercy, because man would need it all, because without it he could not be saved; nor, upon his death-bed, can he exercise the duty of mortification, nor cure his drunkenness then, nor his lust, by any act of Christian discipline, nor run with patience nor resist unto blood,' nor endure with long-sufferrance;' but he can pray, and groan, and call to God, and resolve to live well when he is dying. But this is but just as the nobles of Xerxes, when in a storm they were to lighten the ship, to preserve their king's life; they did gooxuvéovras STITηdav Siç THV Jáλaccav, they "did their obeisance, and leaped into the sea:" so, I fear do these men pray, and mourn, and worship, and so leap overboard into an ocean of eternal and intolerable calamity: from which God deliver us, and all faithful people.
Hunc volo laudari qui sine morte potest.†
Vivere quòd propero pauper, nec inutilis annis,
*Arrian. Epictet. 1. 1. c. 15. † Martial. 1. 9. 6.
Ib. 2. 90. 3.
THE DECEITFULNESS OF THE HEART.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it ?-Jer. xvii. 9.
FOLLY and subtilty divide the greatest part of mankind; and there is no other difference but this; that some are crafty enough to deceive, others foolish enough to be cozened and abused; and yet the scales also turn; for they that are the most crafty to cozen others, are the veriest fools, and most of all abused themselves. They rob their neighbour of his money, and lose their own innocency; they disturb his rest, and vex their own conscience; they throw. him into prison, and themselves into hell; they make poverty to be their brother's portion, and damnation to be their own. Man entered into the world first alone; but as soon as he met with one companion, he met with three to cozen him: the serpent, and Eve, and himself, all joined ;—first to make him a fool, and to deceive him, and then to make him miserable. But he first cozened himself, giving himself up to believe a lie ;' and, being desirous to listen to the whispers of a tempting spirit, he sinned before he fell; that is, he had within him a false understanding, and a depraved will: and these were the parents of his disobedience, and this was the parent of his infelicity, and a great occasion of ours. And then it was that he entered, for himself and his posterity, into the condition of an ignorant, credulous, easy, wilful, passionate, and impotent person; apt to be abused, and so loving to have it so, that if nobody else will abuse him, he will be sure to abuse himself; by ignorance and evil principles being open to an enemy, and by wilfulness and sensuality doing to himself the most unpardonable injuries in the whole world. So that the condition of man, in the rudeness and first lines of its visage, seems very miserable, deformed, and accursed.
For a man is helpless and vain; of a condition so exposed to calamity, that a raisin is able to kill him; any trooper out