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When we begin with God, we begin out of self-love; we come for our ease and interest, that we may be safe and happy : afterwards, we come to a delight of spirit in his service, and, having opportunity, show in our works the power of our affection to God, and manifest the soundness of our conversion. It is possible a death-bed repentance may be true; but it is very doubtful. There is but one instance, which is that of the thief upon the cross. The Scriptures are a history of five thousand years; yet all that while we have but one instance of a man that repented when he came to die; and in that one instance, there is an extraordinary conjunction of circumstances, such as will never fall out again: Christ was at the thief's right hand, in the height of his love drawing sinners to salvation; and probably this man had never any such call till then. Some may at the eleventh hour be converted, because they were not called till then. Every one came when they were called. Therefore, there being so great and just a suspicion that lies against a late repentance, certainly we should not delay.
Reason V.—The reasons for delay are very inconsiderable. Solomon saith, “ The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason" (Prov. xxvi. 16). Mark, as Solomon's fool is not to be taken literally but spiritually, so Solomon's sluggard is not to be taken morally but spiritually. They that are sluggish and slow of heart in the things of God, they think they have a great deal of reason on their side, and will not be persuaded on the contrary but they shall do well enough for all that; and they can argue against the calls and injunctions of God; yet how little can they say for themselves! See what reasons may be said for delay! I mean not that they plead and argue, but it is that which sways them, that which lies next the heart is this; why they keep off from God, and are satisfied with their present estate.
1. The pleasures of sin are sweet, and they are loath to forego them, and to engage their souls in the severities of a strict obedience. Here is the bottom reason: this is that which sways them. I will not speak to this plea as it lies against conversion itself, but only as it makes men to delay. If I were to plead for conversion itself, I would tell these carnalists of higher pleasure ; that their delights shall not be abrogated, but preserved; their delight shall be transplanted from Egypt to Canaan, that it may thrive and prosper in a happier soil; that they may have purer contentments, and those chaste and happy satisfactions of enjoying communion with God. But I shall only deal with them as it relates to the delay of conversion. Therefore I thus argue: these pleasures of sin must one day be renounced, or you are for ever miserable; and, if you must one day, why not now? For, mark; sin will be as sweet hereafter as now it is, and salvation is always dispensed upon the same terms. You cannot be saved hereafter with less ado, or bring down Christ and Heaven to a lower rate; and therefore, if this be a reason now, it will ever lie as a reason against Christ and religion: then you will never tend to look after the ways of life: if you are loath to part with sin now, you will never part with it. The laws of Christianity are always the same: God will not bate you anything of repentance; and your heart is not like to be better but worse. That is the sum of it; and therefore this reason signifies nothing when it comes to be tried in the balance of the sanctuary, and yet this is the main reason.
2. They can plead other things, hope God will be merciful to them
hereafter; though they indulge themselves a little longer in sin, he will at length save them. I answer, you cannot bend his mercy and make it safe, it is a mere uncertainty ; peradventure he will, peradventure not. Would you take poison out of hope that afterward you may meet with an antidote? And this is the very case between God and us. I answer further, there are shrewd suspicions that God will not be merciful to those that run auch a desperate adventure. For whoever delays his repentance, doth in effect pawn his soul with the Devil, and leaves it in his hands, and says, 'Here, Satan, keep my soul: if I fetch it not again by such a day, it is thine for ever. And can you think mercy will bring it out? Again, there are great causes of fear, because there is such a thing as judicial hardness of heart, by a sentence of obduration. There are some that God gives up to their own ways and counsels, and God inflicts this sentence upon those that continue in sin, notwithstanding conviction of their hearts to the contrary : “ Ye hare set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I will also laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh” (Prov. i. 24). There are thousands in Hell merely upon this account, that have forfeited the benefit of God's mercy, and tenders of his grace, and have been shut up by hardness of heart, by God's sentence of obduration ; the most dreadful punishment that can light upon a creature on this side Hell.
3. “Ay, but we are willing, and would turn to the Lord now, but we have no leisure, and have not those conveniences that we shall have hereafter; for then we shall get things into a better frame and posture.' Oh! no, no; it is mere hypocrisy to think you are willing when you delay; for there is nothing hinders but a want of will, and a loathness to comply with the commands of God. When we dare not flatly deny, then we delay. Non varat, that is the sinner's plea, I am not at leisure;' but, Non placet, there is the reality. They which were invited to the wedding varnished their denial over with an excuse (Matt. xxi. 7). Delay is a denial; for, if they were willing, there would be no excuse. To be rid of importunate and troublesome creditors, we promise them payment another time; and we know our estate will be more wasted by that time, it is but to put them off': so this delay and putting off God is but a shift. Here is the misery, God always comes unseasonably to a carnal heart. It was the devils that said, “ Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" (Matt. viii. 29.) Good things are a torment to a carnal heart; and they always come out of time. Certainly, that is the best time when the word is pressed upon the heart with evidence, light, and power, and when God treats with thee about thine eternal peace.
REASON VI.-There are very urgent reasons to quicken us to make haste.
1. The state wherein we are at present, is so bad and dangerous that we can never soon enough come out of it. The state of a man in his carnal condition is compared in Scripture to a prison: “God hath concluded (or shut up them all in unbelief” (Rom. xi. 32). And mark, it is a prison that is all on fire. Oh! when poor captives are bolted and shut up in a flaming prison, how will they run hither and thither to get out! So should we run and strive to get out of this flaming prison. You cannot be too soon out of the power of the Devil, or from under the curse of the Jaw, the danger of hell-tire and the dominion of sin: “ Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. iii. 7.) He doth not say, to
go, nor to run, but “to flee." Fleeing from wrath to come, that is the truest motion; and so they which had the avenger of blood at their heels, fled for refuge to take hold of the hope set before them (Heb. vi. 18). If there be poison in our bowels, we think we can never soon enough cast it out. If fire hath taken hold of a building, we do not say we will quench it hereafter, the next week, or next month, but think we can never soon enough quench it. Or, if there be a wound in the body, we do not let it alone till it fester and rankle. Christians, you may apply all this to the present case ; here the danger is greater. There is no poison so deadly as sin, which hath infected all mankind ; no wound so dangerous, for that will be the death of body and soul; no fire so dreadful as the wrath of God, therefore we cannot soon enough come out of this condition.
2. We cannot be happy soon enough ; for the state we make after is the arms of God, the bosom of Jesus, the hopes of eternal life: we cannot soon enough get within the compass of such privileges. Oh! shall Christ lie by as a dead commodity, or bonded ware? It shows we know not the gift of God (John iv. 10). If we had a due sense and value of his excel. lency, we should take the morning market, and let not Christ Jesus with all his benefits lie by as a commodity that may be had at the last, at any time of the day: we should look upon him as the quickest ware in the market, and flock to him as doves to the windows (Isa. Ix. 8). You would force your way that you might get into his heart, you would count all things but dross and dung that you might gain him. It will be sweet to be encircled in the embraces of Jesus Christ; to have his left hand under your head, and his right hand to embrace you (Cant. i. 6); and will you delay when he stands offering himself, and stretching out his hands all the day long to receive you?
SERMON LXVIII. VERSE 60—1 made haste, and delayed not to keep thy com
mandments. I come now to the application.
Cse I.-Is to reprove the dallying with God, which we are conscious to in the work of conversion, which is so common and natural to us. We are apt to put off God from time to time, from childhood to youth, from youth to man's age, from man's age to old age, from old age to death-bed; and so the Devil steals away one hour after another, till all time be past.
I shall first speak of the causes of this delay ; secondly, represent the heinousness of it, that you may not stroke this sin with a gentle censure, and think lightly of the matter.
I. Of the causes of this delay.
1. Unbelief, or want of a due sense or sight of things to come. If men were persuaded of eternal life and eternal death, they would not stand hovering so long between Heaven and Hell, but presently engage their hearts to draw nigh to God. But we “cannot see afar off” (2 Pet. i. 9). Nature is purblind : to carnal hearts there is a mist upon eternity, they have no prospective whereby to look into another world ; therefore, it hath no influence upon them, to quicken them to more speed and earnestness. If we had a true sense of eternal death, surely we should be fleeing from the wrath to come: no motion would be earnest and swift enough to get from
such a danger. If we had a due sense of eternal life, we should be running to take hold of the hope that is before us (Heb. vi. 18).
2. Security. If men have a cold belief of Heaven and Hell, if they take up the current opinions of the country, yet they do not take it into their serious thoughts, they “ put far away the evil day” (Amos vi. 3). Things at a distance do not startle us, as a clap of thunder afar off doth not fright us so much as when it is just over our heads in our own zenith. We look upon these things as to come, so put off the thought of them. Next to a want of a sound belief, the want of a serious consideration is the cause why men dally with God. If we had the same thoughts living and dying, our motions would be more earnest and ready. When death and eternity are near, we are otherwise affected than when we look upon them as afar off. One said of a zealous preacher, “He preacheth as if death were at my back.' Oh! could we look upon death as at our back or heels; if men did but consider that within a few days they must go to Heaven or Hell; that there is but the slender thread of a frail life upon which they depend that is soon fretted asunder, they would not venture any longer to be out of a state of grace, nor dally with God. But we think we may live long, and time enough to repent by leisure: we put far off the day of our change, and so are undone by our own security,
3. Averseness of heart from God. That which makes us desirous to stay longer in a way of sin, doth indeed make us loath to turn at all; and what is that? Obstinacy and unsubjection of heart to God. “ The carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. vii. 7). We manifest our enmity to the law of God by delays as well as by a downright opposition. Neh. iv. 6, it is said the work went on speedily; why ? “ For the people had a mind to work.” Where there is an earnest bent of heart, there we cannot linger and dally any longer. But men have no love nor affection to God; therefore do they delay and keep off from him.
4. The love of the world rooted in us, the love of present delights and present contentments. This is so deeply rooted in our nature that here we stick, and are loath to come off kindly to the work of God. In Matt. xxii., when they were invited to the marriage-feast of the king's son; that is, to the privileges of the Gospel, what did they plead? The farm, oxen, merchandise; and one had married a wife : they were loath to be divorced from their dearest lusts, and to renounce the satisfaction they had in carnal things, that so they might walk with God in a way of strict obedience.
II. Let me represent the heinousness of it. Because we are apt to stroke it with a gentle censure, and to speak of this with soft words, let us see what this delay and putting off God is, when he comes with a great deal of importunity and affectionate earnestness, inviting us to partake of his grace.
1. It is flat disobedience to God. You think it is but putting it off for a while: no; it is flat disobedience. Why? God is as peremptory for the time and season as he is for the duty itself. God doth not only say, Turn to me; but, to-day, even while it is called to-day harden not your hearts (Heb. iii. 8). The Lord deals with us as the Roman ambassador dealt with Antiochus: when he was shifting and putting off the matter, that he might not give a direct answer to the Romans, the ambassador draws a circle round about him; saith he, Intra hunc, let me have an answer before thou passest from hence: so God will not only have an answer, but a present answer. If he saith to-day, it is flat disobedience for you to say
to-morrow. He saith, Now is the time of salvation : we are charged in his name, and by his authority, to do it now, in this instant.
2. It is ingratitude and unthankfulness for God's eternal love. “ The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him” (Psalm ciii. 17). From all eternity God was mindful of us, and before the world was. With reverence we may speak it, ever since he was God he was our God: from eternity to eternity his lovingkindness is great; and shall we adjourn and put him off to an odd corner of our lives, when he thought he could never soon enough think of us? Shall the whole duration of God be taken up by his love to us, and shall we be content to grieve the Spirit of God, and trample his laws under our feet, for all this? Can you have hearts to abuse such a God, and to deal so unkindly with him?
3. It is base disingenuousness. We do not deal with God as we would have God to deal with us. If we have any business or errand at the throne of grace, we would be heard presently, and are ready to complain if we have not a quick dispatch. “Answer me speedily” (Psalm cii. 2); here is our language when praying for any relief we stand in need of. Today is a season for mercy, but to-morrow we make always to be the season for duty. We would have God to tarry our sinful leisure, till the heat of our lusts be spent, and fervours of youth be abated; yet we will not tarry his holy leisure. We are bound ; but the Lord is free, whether he will answer us or not: yet we murmur if God come not in at our beck. We are always in haste, if in any danger, and want any relief: we cry, How long? And shall God stand waiting till we turn from our evil ways? If any cry, How long? God may, as he doth, " When shall it once be?” (Jer. xiii. 27.)
4. It is base self-love, when we can be content to dishonour God longer, provided that at length we may be saved. Shall I say that this is to prefer our salvation before God? No; but it is to prefer our sins before God. And it shows that we are not willing to part with sin upon reasons of duty, or any real inclination of heart towards God; but only upon reasons of interest that we may be saved; yea, never to part with it at all, if you might have your wills. Not but that a man may and ought to eye rewards and punishments. It is part of the exercise of our faith to eye the reward, and also to eye the punishment; but this manifests an inordinate respect to the reward, when we would enjoy our personal happiness, and so that be obtained at length, we care not how God be disobeyed and dishonoured. You do but, in effect, say to God thus, “Let me despise thy commands, and abuse thy mercies a little longer; then I will look after my salvation, when my lusts are satisfied.' This is base self-love: Christ did not redeem us only that we might die well, but that we might live well; not only that we might be safe at last, but glorify God here upon earth; not only that we might enter into Heaven, but do him service, and that all our days: “ That we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life" (Luke i. 74, 75).
5. It is great injustice and injury to God, who hath been too long kept out of his right already. Oh! look back, how ungratefully have you spent all your former time! Too much time hath been spent already, and you would delay longer: “The time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Guntiles,” &c. (1 Pet. iv. 3.) It is enough, and