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kind, into which we are degenerated; and then nowise, without a downright miracle, are we capable of being reformed. How long,' saith Solomon, 'wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? We may be so often called on; and it is not easy to awaken us when we are got into a spiritual slumber; but when we are dead in trespasses and sins,' so that all breath of holy affection is stopped, and no spiritual pulse from our heart doth appear; that all sense of duty is lost, all appetite to good doth fail, no strength or activity to move in a good course doth exert itself, that our good complexion is dissolved, and all our finer spirits are dissipated, that our mind is quite crazed, and all its powers are shattered or spoiled; when thus, I say, we are spiritually dead, how can we raise ourselves, what beneath omnipotency can effect it? As a stick, when once it is dry and stiff, you may break it, but you can never bend it into a straighter posture; so doth the man become incorrigible, who is settled and stiffened in vice. The stain of habitual sin may sink in so deep, and so thoroughly tincture all our soul, that we may be like those people of whom the prophet saith, Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye do good, that are accustomed to do evil.' Such an impossibility may arise from nature; one greater and more insuperable may come from God.
To an effectual repentance, the succor of divine grace is necessary; but that is arbitrarily dispensed; the Spirit bloweth where it listeth' yet it listeth wisely, with regard both to the past behavior and present capacities of men; so that to such who have abused it, and to such who will not treat it well, it shall not be imparted. And can we be well assured, can we reasonably hope, that after we by our presumptuous delays have put off God, and dallied with his grace; after that he long in vain hath waited to be gracious;' after that he hath endured so many neglects, and so many repulses from us; after that we frequently have slighted his open invitations, and smothered his kindly motions in us; in short, after we so unworthily have misused his goodness and patience, that he farther will vouchsafe his grace to us; when we have forfeited it, when we have rejected it, when we have spurned and driven it away, can we hope to recover it?
There is a time, a season, a day, allotted to us; our day,' it is termed, a day of salvation,' the season of our visitation,' an acceptable time;' wherein God freely doth exhibit grace, and presenteth his mercy to us: if we let this day slip, the night cometh, when no man can work;' when the things belonging to our peace will be hidden from our eyes:' when (as the prophet expresseth it) we shall grope for the wall like the blind, and stumble at noon-day as in the night, and be in desolate places as dead men:' after that day is spent, and that comfortable light is set, a dismal night of darkness, of cold, of disconsolateness, will succeed; when God being weary of bearing' with men, doth utterly desert them, and delivereth them over to a reprobate mind;' when subtracting his gracious direction and assistance, he giveth them over to their own heart's lusts, and to walk in their own counsels;' when they are brought to complain with those in the prophet, O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?' when, like Pharoah, they survive only as objects of God's justice, or occasions to glorify his power; when, like Esau, they cannot find a place of repentance, although
they seek it carefully with tears;' when, as to the foolish loitering virgins, the door of mercy is shut on them;' when the 'Master of the house doth rise and shut the door,' &c. when that menace of divine wisdom cometh to be executed; 'They shall call on me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me; for that they hated knowlege, and did not choose the fear of the Lord.' And if, neglecting our season and present means, we once fall into this state, then is our case most deplorable; we are dead men irreversibly doomed, and only for a few moments reprieved from the stroke of final " vengeance: we are vessels of wrath fitted (or made up) for destruction;' by a fatal blindness and obduration sealed up to ruin; we are like the terra damnata, ' that earth (in the Apostle) which drinking up the rain that cometh oft on it, and bearing thorns and briars, is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing,' and 'whose end is to be burned.' Wherefore, according to, the advice of the prophet, 'Seek ye the Lord when he may be found, call ye on him while he is near.'
It is true that God is ever ready, on our true conversion, to receive us into favor; that his arms are always open to embrace a sincere penitent; that he hath declared, whenever a wicked man turneth from his wickedness, and doeth that which is right, he shall save his soul alive;' that if we do wash ourselves, make us clean, put away the evil of our doings, and cease to do evil,' then, although our sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be like crimson, they shall be as wool;' that if we rend our hearts, and turn unto the Lord, he is gracious and merciful, and will repent of the evil;' that God is good and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all that call on him ;' and whenever a prodigal son, with humble confession and hearty contrition for his sin, doth arise and go to his father,' he will embrace him tenderly, and entertain him kindly; that even a profane apostate, and a bloody oppressor, (as Manasses,) a lewd strumpet, (as Magdalene,) a notable thief, (as he on the cross,) a timorous renouncer, as St. Peter,) a furious persecutor, (as St. Paul,) a stupid idolater, (as all the Heathen world, when the gospel came to them, was,) the most heinous sinner that ever hath been, or can be imagined to be, if he be disposed to repent, is capable of mercy: those declarations and promises are infallibly true; those instances peremptorily do evince that repentance is never superannuated; that if we can turn at all, we shall not turn too late; that pænitentia nunquam sera, modo seria, is an irrefragable rule. Yet nevertheless delay is very unsafe; for what assurance can we have that God hereafter will enable us to perform those conditions of bewailing our sins, and forsaking them? Have we not cause rather to fear that he will chastise our presumption by withholding his grace? For although God faileth not to yield competent aids to persons who have not despised his goodness and long-suffering, that leadeth them to repentance;' yet he that wilfully or wantonly loitereth away the time, and squandereth the means allowed him; who refuseth to come when God calleth, yea wooeth and courteth him to repentance, how can he pretend to find such favor?
We might add, that supposing God in superabundance of mercy might be presumed never to withhold his grace; yet seeing his grace doth not work by irresistible compulsion; see
ing the worse qualified we are, the more apt we shall be to cross and defeat its operation; seeing that we cannot hope that hereafter we shall be more fit than now to comply with it; yea seeing we may be sure that, after our hearts are hardened by perseverance in sin, we shall be more indisposed thereto; we by delay of repentance do not only venture the forfeiture of divine grace, but the danger of abusing it, which heinously will aggravate our guilt, and hugely augment our punishment.
We should do well therefore most seriously to regard the Apostle's admonition; Exhort one another to-day, while it is called to-day, lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.' Now that we find ourselves invited to repent; now that we apprehend so much reason for it; now that we feel our hearts somewhat inclined thereto; now that we have time in our hands, and are not barred from hopes of mercy; now that it is not extremely difficult, or not absolutely impossible, let us in God's name lay hold on the occasion, let us speedily and earnestly set on the work. Farther yet,
shall have a
6. We should consider that we are mortal and frail, and thence any designs of future reformation may be clipt off, or intercepted by death; which is always creeping toward us, and may, for all we can tell, be very near at hand. You say you will repent to-morrow: but are you sure you morrow to repent in? Have you an hour in your hand, or one minute at your disposal? Have you a lease to show for any term of life? Can you claim or reckon on the least portion of time without his leave, who bestoweth life, and dealeth out time, and ordereth all things as he pleaseth? Can you anywise descry the just measure of your days or the bounds of your appointed time, without a special revelation from him, in whose hands is your breath;' and with whom alone the number of your months is registered? Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth,' saith the wise man; boast not of it, that is, do not pretend it to be at thy disposal, presume not on any thing that may befal therein; for whilst thou presumest thereon, may it not be said unto thee, as to the rich projector in the gospel, Thou fool, this night
shall thy soul be required of thee?' Doth not, secluding hidden decrees, every man's life hang on a thread very slender and frail? Is it not subject to many diseases lurking within, and to a thousand accidents flying about us? How many, that might have promised themselves as fair scope as we can, have been unexpectedly snapt away? How many have been cropt in the flower of their age, and vigor of their strength? Doth not every day present experiments of sudden death? Do we not continually see that observation of the preacher verified, Man knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds are caught in the snare, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it cometh suddenly on them?' Old men are ready to drop of themselves, and young men are easily brushed or shaken down; the former visibly stand on the brink of eternity, the latter walk on a bottomless quag, into which unawares they may slump; who then can anywise be secure? We are all therefore highly concerned to use our life, wh le we have it; to catch the first opportunity, lest all opportunity forsake us; to cut off our sinning, lest ourselves be cut off before it; and that the rather, because by lavishing, or misemploying our present time, we may lose the future, provoking God to bereave us of it: for as prolongation of time is a reward of piety; as to observance of the commandments it is promised, Length of days, and long life, and peace, shall be added unto thee;' so being immaturely snatched hence is the punishment awarded to impious practice: so it is threatened, that 'evil men shall be cut off;' that bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days;' that God will wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalp of such an one as goeth on still in his wickedness:' the very being unmindful of their duty is the cause why men are thus surprised; for, If,' saith God, 'thou dost not watch, I shall come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know when I come on thee.' And, If,' saith our Lord, that servant doth say in his heart, My Lord delayeth his coming,' &c. the Lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him,' &c.
If then it be certain that we must render a strict account of all our doings here; if, by reason of our frail nature and slippery state, it be uncertain when we shall be summoned thereto;