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THE DANGER AND MISCHIEF OF DELAYING
PSALM CXIX.-VERSE 60,
I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.
This Psalm (no less excellent in virtue, than large in bulk) containeth manifold reflexions on the nature, the properties, the adjuncts and effects of God's law ; many sprightly ejaculations about it, (conceived in different forms of speech; some in way of petition, some of thanksgiving, some of resolution, some of assertion or aphorism ;) many useful directions, many zealous exhortations to the observance of it; the which are not ranged in any strict order, but (like a variety of fair flowers and wholesome herbs in a wide field) do with a grateful confusion lie dispersed, as they freely did spring up in the heart, or were suggested by the devout spirit of him who indited the psalm; whence no coherence of sentences being designed, we may consider any one of them absolutely, or singly by itself.
Among them, that which I have picked out for the subject of my discourse implieth an excellent rule of practice, authorised by the psalmist's example: it is propounded in way of devotion or immediate address to God; unto whose infallible knowlege his conscience maketh an appeal concerning his practice; not as boasting thereof, but as praising God for it, unto whose gracious instruction and succor he frequently doth ascribe all his performances : but the manner of propounding I shall not insist on; the rule itself is, that speedily, without any procras
tination or delay, we should apply ourselves to the observance of God's commandments; the practice of which rule it shall be my endeavor to recommend and press.
It is a common practice of men that are engaged in bad courses, which their own conscience discerneth and disapproveth, to adjourn the reformation of their lives to a farther time, so indulging themselves in the present commission of sin, that yet they would seem to purpose and promise themselves hereafter to repent and take up: few resolve to persist finally in an evil way, or despair of being one day reclaimed; but immediately and effectually to set on it, many deem unseasonable or needless; it will, they presume, be soon enough to begin to-morrow, or next day, a month or a year hence, when they shall find more commodious opportunity, or shall prove better disposed thereto: in the mean time with Solomon's sluggard, • Yet,' say they, “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands :' let us but neglect this duty, let us but satisfy this appetite, let us but enjoy this bout of pleasure ; hereafter, God willing, we mean to be more careful, we hope that we shall become more sober : so like bad debtors, when our conscience dunneth us, we always mean, we always promise to pay; if she will stay awhile, she shall, we tell her, be satisfied ; or like vain spendthrifts, we see our estate fly, yet presume that it will hold out, and at length we shall reserve enough for our use. Eis aóplov tà o noudaia, Let serious business stay till the morrow,' was a saying that cost dear to him who said it; yet we in our greatest concerns follow him.
But how fallacious, how dangerous, and how mischievous this manner of proceeding is; how much better and more advisable it is, after the example propounded in our text, speedily to betake ourselves unto the discharge of our debt and duty to God, the following considerations will plainly declare.
1. We may consider that the observance of God's commandments (an observance of them proceeding from an habitual disposition of mind, in a constant tenor of practice) is our indispensable duty, our main concernment, our only way to happiness; the necessary condition of our attaining salvation ; that alone which can procure God's love and favor toward us; that
unto which all real blessings here, and all bliss hereafter, are inseparably annexed : 'Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole of man;' (the whole duty, the whole design, the whole perfection, the sum of our wisdom, and our happiness.) • If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments :' • The righteous Lord Joveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright :' «God will render to every man according to his works :' these are oracles indubitably clear and infallibly certain ; these are immovable terms of justice between God and man, which never will, never can be relaxed ; being grounded on the immutable nature of God, and eternal reason of things : if God had not decreed, if he had not said these things, they would yet assuredly be true; for it is a foul contradiction to reason, that a man ever should please God without obeying him ; it is a gross absurdity in nature that a man should be happy without being good; wherefore all the wit in the world cannot devise a way, all the authority on earth (yea, I dare say, even in heaven itself)cannot establish a condition, beside faithful observance of God's law, that can save, or make us happy; from it there can be no valid dispensation, without it there can be no effectual absolution, for it there can be no acceptable commutation ; nor, in defect thereof, will any faith, any profession, any trick or pretence whatever, avail or signify any thing: whatever expedient to supply its room superstition, mistake, craft, or presumption may recommend, we shall, re. lying thereon, be certainly deluded. If therefore we mean to be saved, (and are we so wild as not to mean it ?) if we do not renounce felicity, (and do we not then renounce our wits ?) to become virtuous, to proceed in a course of obedience, is a work that necessarily must be performed : and why then should we not instantly undertake it? wherefore do we demur or stick at it? how can we at all rest quiet, while an affair of so vast importance lieth on our hands, or until our mind be freed of all uncertainty and suspense about it? Were a probable way suggested to us of acquiring great wealth, honor, or pleasure, should we not quickly run about it? could we contentedly sleep till we had brought the business to a sure or hopeful issue ? and why with less expedition or urgency should we pursue the certain means of our present security and comfort, of our final
salvation and happiness? In doing so, are we not strangely inconsistent with ourselves ?
Again, disobedience is the certain road to perdition ; that which involveth us in guilt and condemnation, that which provoketh God's wrath and hatred against us, that which assuredly will throw us into a state of eternal sorrow and wretchedness : • The foolish shall not stand in God's sight; he hateth all the workers of iniquity :' *If ye do not repent, ye shall perish :' • The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God:' The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God :' • The wicked shall go into everlasting punishment:' these are denunciations no less sure than severe, from that mouth, which is never opened in vain ; from the execution whereof there can be no shelter or refuge. And what wise man, what man in his right senses, would for one minute stand obnoxious to them? Who, that anywise tendereth his own welfare, would move one step forward in so perilous and destructive a course ? the farther in which he proceedeth, the more he discosteth from happiness, the nearer he approacheth to ruin.
In other cases common sense prompteth men to proceed otherwise ; for who, having rendered one his enemy, that far overmatcheth him, and at whose mercy he standeth, will not instantly sue to be reconciled? Who, being seized by a pernicious disease, will not haste to seek cure? Who, being fallen into the jaws of a terrible danger, will not nimbly leap out thence ? And such plainly is our case : while we persist in sin, we live in enmity and defiance with the Almighty, who can at his pleasure crush us; we lie under a fatal plague, which, if we do not seasonably repent, will certainly destroy us; we incur the most dreadful of all hazards, abiding in the confines of death and destruction ; God frowning at us, guilt holding us, hell gaping for us: every sinner is, according to the wise man's expression, ' as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth on the top of a mast.' And he that is in such a case, is he not mad or senseless, if he will not forthwith labor to swim out thence, or make all speed to get down into a safer place ? Can any man with comfort lodge in a condition so dismally ticklish?
2. We may consider that, in order to our final welfare, we have much work to dispatch, the which requireth as earnest care and painful industry, so a competent long time; which, if we do not presently fall on, may be wanting, and thence our work be left undone, or imperfect. To conquer and correct bad inclinations, to render our sensual appetites obsequious to reason, to compose our passions into a right and steady order, to cleanse our souls from vanity, from perverseness, from sloth, from all vicious distempers, and in their room to implant firm habits of virtue; to get a clear knowlege of our duty, with a ready disposition to perform it ; in fine, to season our minds with holy affections, qualifying us for the presence of God, and conversation with the blessed spirits above ; these things that must be done, but cannot be done in a trice; it is not dictum factum, as soon done as said ; but ůropovi épyov åyadoy, 'a patient continuance in well-doing,' is needful to achieve it; for it no time can be redundant; the longest life can hardly be sufficient: 'Art is long, and life is short,' may be an aphorism in divinity as well as in physic; the art of living well, of preserving our soul's health, and curing its distempers, requireth no less time to compass it than any other art or science.
Virtue is not a mushroom, that springeth up of itself in one night, when we are asleep, or regard it not; but a delicate plant, that groweth slowly and tenderly, needing much pains to cultivate it, much care to guard it, much time to mature it, in our untoward soil, in this world's unkindly weather: happiness is a thing too precious to be purchased at an easy rate; heaven is too high to be come at without much climbing; the crown of bliss is a prize too noble to be won without a long and a tough conflict. Neither is vice a spirit, that will be conjured down by a charm, or with a presto driven away; it is not an adversary, that can be knocked down at a blow, or dispatched with a stab. Whoever shall pretend that at any time, easily, with a celerity, by a kind of legerdemain, or by any mysterious knack, a man may be settled in virtue, or converted from vice, common experience abundantly will confute him ; which showeth that a habit otherwise (setting miracles aside) cannot be produced or destroyed, than by a constant exercise