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drawing, or the sweet and powerful attraction which the Spirit of God useth in the hearts of the elect. Instances I might give you in several calls and conversions spoken of in Scripture. When Christ called Andrew and Peter, they left their father, and went after him (Mark i. 20). So when Christ called Zaccheus, “ he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully” (Luke xix. 6). So Christ to Matthew, “ Follow me. And he arose and followed him” (Matt. ix. 9). Julian the apostate scoffs at these passages, as if it were irrational to conceive such a thing could be, that men should so soon leave their course of gain and their calling; or else, that Christ's followers were a kind of sots and fools, weak and poor-spirited creatures, that, upon a word speaking, they would come off presently all of a sudden; but impulsions of the spirit carry their own reason with them, and draw the heart without any more ado. But such as he were not acquainted with the workings of the Holy Ghost in conversion, therefore scoff at these things. So, “ Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Gal. i. 16): when our call is clear, there needs no debate. When men stand reasoning instead of running, there is not a thorough work upon them.
Reason II.—The sooner we turn to the ways of God, the better we speed. How so?
1. Partly in this, that the work goes on the more kindly, as being carried forth in the strength of the present influence and impulsion of grace; whereas, if the heart grow cold again, it will be the more difficult. A blow while the iron is hot, doth more than ten at another time when it grows cold again : so, when thy heart grows cold, thou wilt not have that advantage as when thou art under a warm conviction. And indeed, that is the Devil's cheat to speak of hereafter, to elude the importunity of the present conviction that is upon you. You know, when the waters were stirred, then was the time to put in: he that stepped in first had experience of the sanative virtue of the waters (John v. 4): so, when the heart is stirred, we should not lose this advantage, but come on upon that call. There are several metaphors in Scripture that do express this : sometimes, we must open when God knocks (Cant. v.); we must enter when God opens, lest the door be shut against us (Matt. xxv.); we must come forth when he bids us, as Lot out of Sodom, lest we perish: when a thing is done speedily and in season, it is a great advantage.
2. The more welcome to God, the sooner we turn to him. We value a gift, not only by its own worth, but by the readiness of him that gives ; if we have it at first asking, we count it a greater kindness, and give the more thanks : so the less we stand hucking with God, and demurring upon his call, the more acceptable is our obedience. Pharaoh did at length let Israel go, but was forced to it, and with much ado; no thanks to him. It is true, indeed, if we turn at length seriously, heartily, we are accepted with God, but not so accepted as when we come in at first. Surely, the fewer calls we withstand, the less we provoke God, and the more ready entertainment do we find. The spouse that would not open at the first knock, but only at length when her bowels were troubled, when she thought of her unkindness, then she went out to open to her beloved; but then, her beloved was gone. You will not find God at your beck, when you dally with him. Your comforts will cost you longer waiting for, when you make God wait for entrance, and would not give way to the work of his grace.
3. You speed better, because your personal benefit is the greater, the sooner you turn to the Lord. You have more knowledge, more experience ; you get more comfort; you would be more profitable to others, more useful to God. If ever God touch your hearts, and once you come to experience what an excellent thing it is to live in communion with God, you will be sorry you began no sooner. Paul complains that he was a man “ born out of due time" (1 Cor. xv. 8), and so had not the advantage of seeing Christ in the flesh, until he showed himself to him from Heaven in the vision upon his conversion. You lose many a comfortable sight of Christ, because you were so late acquainted with him. And it is said of Andronicus and Junia, they “ were in Christ before me'' (Rom. xvi. 7). Certainly, he that is first in Christ, and sooner called to grace, hath the advantage of us. An early acquaintance with God gives us advantages, both in point of enjoyment and service.
(1.) In point of enjoyment; peace, comfort, joy in the Holy Ghost. A man would not want these things: they are so valuable in themselves, the want of them is an incomparable loss to us. Certainly they would have been much better than all those flesh-pleasing vanities that you dote upon and keep you from Christ. A man that hath for a long while wasted his time and strength in driving on a peddling trade, when he is acquainted with a more gainful course, Oh !' saith he, that I had known this sooner ! so, none have any taste of the ways of God, but they will wish so: 'Oh! that I had sooner renounced my carnal delights, and betaken myself to the service of God!'
(2.) Then advantages in point of service. What honour might we have brought to God, what good done to others, if we had begun sooner! Oh!' saith one, ‘had I but the time to spend again which I trifled away in the Devil's service! What use might I have made of the vigour and freshness of my youth, and quickness of my parts, for God, and the large tract of time which I spent in sin and vanity ! Every day in a carnal state was a loss of opportunity of service, the glorifying of God, the great end for which you were made.
REASON III.-There is danger and hazard in delay and putting off a business of such concernment as conversion to God and his ways is, upon such uncertainties. For the understanding of the force of this reason,
1. Let us determine that this is a business of the greatest concernment, and that will show us the folly of our delays; for, certainly, the greatest work should first be thought of. Now, if you will believe the word of God, that will tell you the salvation of your souls should be your main care: “ Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,“' &c. (Matt. vi. 33); “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after," &c. (Psalm xxvii. 4.) Whatever is neglected, this is a business that must be looked after. And, “ One thing is needful” (Luke x. 42). Let us argue from these places. Certainly, that which is necessary should be preferred before that which is superfluous. A man would take care to get meat rather than sauce, and would prefer his business before his recreation ; that which is eternal, before that which is temporal. It is not necessary we should be great and rich in the world. Within a little while, it will not be a pin to choose what part we have acted here; but it is necessary we should be gracious, holy, and acquainted with God in Christ : that is our business. Again, that which is eternal should be preferred before that which is temporal. You count him a fool that is very exact and careful
to get his room in an inn furnished, when he neglects his house where his constant abode is. In the other world, there is our long home; and, if all our care should be here for the present estate, where we tarry but for a night, but a little while, and neglect eternity, our everlasting happiness, that were a very great folly. That which is spiritual, which concerns our soul, should be preferred before that which is carnal and corporal, and only concerns the body; for the better part should have the most care. As, for instance, a man that is wounded and cut through his clothes and skin and all, will sooner look to have the wound closed up in his body, than the rent made up in his garment; so the distempers of the inward man should be first cured, before we look after the outward man, which is as it were the garinent and clothing ; for these outward things shall be “added.” Here is your work, to please God, not satisfy the flesh. This is that which concerns us, not only for a while, but for ever, and concerns the inward man. This is the grand business of concernment; therefore, we should delay other things, rather than delay the work of our salvation: yet, usually, all other things have a quick dispatch, and this only is neglected and lies by the wall.
2. That this business of concernment is left upon great hazard and uncertainty.
(1.) Life is uncertain. He that does seriously consider the uncertain shortness of the present life, how can he delay a moment, lest he be called home to God before his great errand, for which he was sent into the world, be done? Many of you, when you seriously think of it, would not, for a thousand worlds, die the next day, so unprovided, unfurnished with promises, evidences, experiences ; and yet it may be so, that that may be the time when they shall be called home to God. This life is but a “ vapour" (James iv. 14), a little warm breath turned in and out by the nostrils, that is soon choked and stopped ; and, “ Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Prov. xxvii. 1): as that devout person said when he was invited to a meal the next day, to come to-morrow to a feast, 'I have not had a morrow for these many years.' We have no security for the next day, but our own word ; and he that hath nothing but his own word to secure him, is very weakly secured. Life is short, and we make it shorter by continuing in sin. It is uncertain. If there were a fixed time and period wherein we knew our continuance should be in the world, then we should be tempted to wallow freely in our carnal lusts, and entertain sin a little longer, and put off repentance till hereafter. But God hath left life upon great uncertainties: the hand of Providence may soon crop you off long before you come to your flower. None are nearer to destruction than those that promise themselves a longer time in sin: “ Thou hast much goods laid up for many years," but, “ Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee” (Luke xii. 19, 20). God loves to disappoint secure, careless souls, that promise themselves a longer life without his leave; he will break in upon a sudden. A poor, careless sinner would fain keep his soul a little longer. No; it is demanded now : he doth not give it up, but it is taken away from him. Reason with thyself as Isaac (I allude to it), "Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death, make me sa roury meats that my soul may bless thee before I die’ (Gen. xxvii. 2). So reason, “I have spent so much time in the world, and I know not the day of my dissolution, when God will call me home. Oh! let me go to God, that he may bless me before I die!'
(2.) You know not whether the means of grace shall be continued to you or not, and such affectionate offers and meltiny entreaties : “ Seeing ye put it (the word of God) from you, and julge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life" (Acts xii. 46). God will not always wait upon a lingering sinner, but will take the denial and be gone. They judge themselves un. worthy of that grace, they pass sentence upon themselves. “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation : we beseech you, receive not the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor. vi. 1, 2). God hath his seasons; and, when these are past, will not treat with us in such a mild, affectionate manner. The means of grace are removed from a people by strange pro. vidences, when they have slighted the offers of grace : “ These three years I came seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground ?" (Luke xiii. 7.) In that text there is, (i.) God's righteous expectation, “ These three years I came seeking fruit." He was the dresser of the vineyard, they were the three years of his ministry; as, by a serious harmonizing the evangelists, will appear that he was just now entering upon his last half-year they had his ministry among them. (ii.) Their unthankful frustration, “I find nonė,” nothing answerable to what means they enjoyed. (ii.) God's terrible denunciation, “ Cut it down ; why cumbereth it the ground ?" God will root up a people, or remove the means; and therefore, will ye leave it upon such uncertainties ?
(3.) There is an uncertainty of grace: “If God, peradventure, will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. ii. 25). It is a mere hazard; it may be he will, it may be not. It is uncertain whether the Spirit of God will ever put in your heart a thought of turning to God again : “ My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. vi. 3). The Spirit of God strives for a long while, follows a sinner, casts in many an anxious thought, troubles and shakes him out of his carnal quiet and secilrity; but this will not always last. Ah! Christians, there are certain seasons, if we had the skill to take hold of them; there is an appointed fixed time when God is nearer to us than at another time, and we shall never have our hearts at such an advantage : “ Seek ve the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isa. lv. 6). There are certain seasons which are times of finding. Some are of opinion that there are certain seasons when a inan may be rich if he will; when God offereth him an opportunity for an estate in the world, if he knew the time and how to take hold of it. Certainly, to those that live under the means of grace, there is a time of finding, when God is nearer to them than at another time, and therefore will you slip that, and leave it upon such great uncertainties?
(4.) There is an uncertainty in this: we are not certain of having the use of our natural faculties: we may lose our understandings by a stupid disease; and God may bring a judgment upon those that dally with him in the work of repentance. It is a usual judgment upon them that while they were alive did forget God, when they come to die, to forget themselves, and have not the free use of their reason, but, invaded with some stupid disease, die in their sins, and so pass into another world.
REASON IV.—The fourth reason is the great mischief of delay.
1. The longer we delay, the greater indisposition is there upon us to embrace the ways of God. Oh! Christians, when we press you to holy things, to turn yourselves to the Lord, you begin to make some essay, and then are discouraged, and find it is hard and tedious to flesh and blood;
and so you give over. Now, mark; if it be hard to-day, it will be harder the next; so the third onward; for it is hardness of heart that makes the work of God hard. Now, the more we provoke God, the more we resist his call, the more hard the heart is: the impulsions of his grace are not so strong as before, and the heart every day is more hardened. As a path weareth the harder by frequent treading, so the heart is more hard, the mind more blind, the will more obstinate, the affections more engaged and rooted in a course of sin : “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. xiii. 23). Oh! to break off an inveterate custom, is hard. A plant newly set is more easily taken up than a plant that hath taken root. When we grow old and rotten in the way of sin, it will be much harder for us than now it is : the longer we lie soaking here in sin, the further off from God.
2. We provide the more discomfort for ourselves. Always the proportion of our sorrow is according to the measure of our sins. Whether it be godly sorrow, the sorrow of repentance, or despairing sorrow, those horrors which are impressed upon us as a punishment of our rebellion and impenitency, in both senses you still increase your sorrow the more you sin. For the sorrow of repentance, it is clear that sorrow must carry proportion with our offences. She that had much forgiven, wept much. Certainly, it will cost you the more tears, a greater humbling before God, the longer you continue in a course of sin against him. And for the sorrow of punishment, you are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath (Rom. ii. 5); your burthen will be greater and more increased upon you. It is too heavy for your shoulders already to bear : why should we add to the weight of it ? Either our sorrow of repentance will be greater, or the anxious sense of our punishment ; for in both God observes, and God requires, a proportion.
3. Consider how unfit we shall be for God's service if we delay a little longer, when our strength is spent, and vigour of youth exhausted. When our ears grow deaf, eyes dim, understanding dull, affections spent, memory lost, is this a time to begin with God, and to look after the business of our souls ? Certainly, he that made all, that was our Creator, deserves the flower of our strength (Eccl. xi. 1). When the tackling is spoiled and ship rotten, is that a time to put to sea; or, rather, when the ship is new built ? Shall the Devil feast upon the flower and freshness of your youth, and God only have the scraps and fragments of the Devil's table? When we are good for nothing else, then to think we are good enough for God, and the business of religion, which requires all our might and all our strength! When we are spent, is it a time to begin our warfare; or in our youth?
4. There is this, the just suspicion which is upon a late repentance, it is seldom sound. It is no true repentance which ariseth merely from horror and fears of Hell. It may be but the beginnings of everlasting despair ; and their desires may be but offers of self-love after their own ease. All men seek the Lord at length ; but wise men seek hin betimes, The difference is made on some in time; on others, out of time, upon their death-beds. The most profane would have God for their portion, when they can sin no more, and enjoy the world no longer. How can we tell this is a sound work? It seenis to be a very questionable thing, merely proceeding from self-love and natural desires of happiness in all men.