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to God! There is the fault: we do not know, and will not consider, what hath been done to God for this.
5thly, What it will come to, or what will become of you, if you should still so continue ; or, 'If I should go on in this course, what will be my portion for ever?' Nothing but an eternal separation from God, and end. less torments with the Devil and his angels : “Now, consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver” (Psalm 1. 22). Oh! this is the means to awaken the conscience, and to affect the heart with high and right thoughts of God. What will be the end of those that go far away from God, if they do not make haste to come home to him? Eternal and merciless vengeance: for God will not always bear with forgetful sinners : they shall be torn in pieces, the soul sent to Hell, and the body to the grave. Oh! it concerneth the poor impenitent wretch that now goeth on fearless in a course of sin, immediately to stop in his march, lest he be hurried away to the place of torment, and there be no escaping. Now, urge this upon the heart, and exercise your thoughts in the remembrance of it;' and, if you have overcome and overwrestled some former qualms of conscience, now lay it to heart, and do so no more. It may be the hour is at hand, when God will take away your souls from you, and all your sins shall be set in order before you, and the stupid conscience that is now senseless shall have a lively feeling of all your rebellions and unkindnesses done to God, as the paper which was but now white, when stamped with the printing irons, hath a story written upon it in legible characters.
6thly, How much it concerneth you to come out of this condition speedily; for God is not a God to be neglected or dallied with. When he calls in the seasons of grace, he will be observed; otherwise, you may call, and he will have no regard : “ Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me" (Prov. i. 28). When you receive many checks of conscience, entreaties of grace, motions of the Spirit, in vain, God will be gone. God doth commonly give men a day, and no man or angel knoweth how long this day shall last. God gave Cain a day : “ If thou doest well, shalt thou . not be accepted ? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door." Oh! then, when you begin to have thoughts of turning unto God, let them not be quelled. God reckoneth every hour : “ These three years,” “ This second epistle,” “ This second miracle ;” and when his patience will expire, you cannot tell.
7thly, How happy it will be for you, when once you change your course. The prodigal remembered the plenty in his father's house ; you will find a manifest difference : " What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed ? for the end of those things is death. But now, being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Rom. vi. 21, 22): in the way, no such gripes of conscience, no shame, sorrow, fears ; in the end, everlasting life. It was your mistaking that called the days of sin good days : oh! but, when fruitful in holiness, you will have present comfort and serenity of mind, a taste of the clusters of Canaan in the wilderness, hope of a glorious state, and the best will be at last. Compare pain with pain, pleasure with pleasure. We do not compare right, the pains of godliness with pleasures of sin ; and yet there you may see, the discharge
ing of our duty will yield more true comfort and peace than all the pleasures of sin can bring us.
8thly, What hopes by Christ : “ Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus” (Heb. iii. 1); what provision God hath made.
Thirdly, Let me argue the necessity of this consideration.
Ist, Otherwise, men are rash, careless, and precipitant, and act as they are carried on by their own lusts; whereas, if they did consider, it would stop them in the course of sin. They rush, like a horse, into the battle, because no man saith, “ What have I done?" (Jer. viii. 6.) Men run on, like a headstrong horse, after their lusts and fancies ; whereas, if they do seriously bethink themselves, and cast in a few grave thoughts about things to come, it would be like the putting in of cold water into a boiling pot, abate the fervour of their lusts. Men are wicked because they are inconsiderate : there are arguments enough against sin, if they would but pause and weigh them seriously ; but we do not think of Heaven and Hell, and therefore they do not work upon us : “Know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment” (Eccl. xi. 9).
2ndly, This serious consideration is a good means to awaken us from the sleep of security. When we consider the end why we were made, the rule we are to walk by, and pose ourselves about conformity or nonconformity to this rule, and do withal revolve the issues of things in our minds, it cannot but rouse us up out of our sloth and stupidness, and make us act more vigorously and regularly as to the ends of our creation. Oh! what shall I do? The first grace is awakening; that maketh way for other graces: “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead ; and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. v. 14): whereas, otherwise, when we consider not, we are stupid and sottish : “None considereth in his heart, Is there not a lie in my right hand? I have burnt part in the fire" (Isa. xliv. 19, 20): they offer the sacrifice of fools, for they consider not that they have done evil (Eccl. v. 1): they do not weigh their actions. The reason why they go wrong and continue wrong is, they do not seriously ponder and debate with themselves what it will come to.
3rdly, By consideration we come to find where the work of God sticketh with us; and so conviction, being the more particular, worketh the more kindly. A blunt iron that toucheth many points, doth not so soon go to the quick, as a needle that toucheth but one point: they said, “Wherein shall we return ?(Mal. iii. 7:) we do not see the need of repentance so much as by prying narrowly into our own ways. In short, without this, life is not so regular, the heart is not overpowered with such strong and full reason to comply with God's counsel.
II. How much it concerneth us, after we have considered our ways, to turn to the Lord, and diligently to pursue the course which he hath prescribed. I “ turned my feet unto thy testimonies :" a sound conversion is here described.
First, I “turned,” in the thorough purpose of his heart; that is the act on our part. It is by God's grace that we are turned, but we turn ourselves when the purpose of our souls is fixed. “ Turn thou me, and I shall be turned.” God inclineth the heart; and we manifest it by binding ourselves by a thorough purpose. A wish, an offer, when it endeth only in that, we have not considered enough; but, when the heart is bent, I
am turned. The prodigal, when he took up, came to himself, and had reasoned the case, says, “I will arise, and go to my Father" (Luke xv. 18): it must be such a purpose as is diligently pursued.
2ndly, The object or rule, “my feet unto thy testimonies.” By his feet is meant the course of his life. Our will and natural inclination should be no rule to us, but God's testimonies. We must entirely give up ourselves to the direction of his word. “As many as walk according to this rule” (Gal. vi. 16): we are not to walk as we list. There is a fixed determinate rule, which must be kept with all accurateness and attention : a godly man is very tender of breaking this rule ; he makes conscience of keeping to this rule.
Now, it concerneth us to make sure work of it.
1. Because convictions lost occasion the greater hardness of heart. No iron so hard as that which has been often heated and oft quenched; and no heart so bad as theirs that seemed to have some serious and anxious thoughts about their eternal condition. The Devil is more busy and watchful about them, because of their offer to escape : and God is the more provoked, because they started aside when they were at the point of yielding. As better a match were never proposed, than to break off just as it is ready to be concluded. Always according to the closeness of the application, if it succeed not, so doth our hardness of heart increase : they that were ministerially stirred, when they pull away the shoulder, their hearts grow like an adamant stone : “ But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of Hosts hath sent in his Spirit by the former prophets : therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of Hosts" (Zech. vii. 11, 12). When the Spirit is in a way of striving (Gen. vi. 3), when you are any way affected, if resistance be continued, he withdraws. When men blunt the edge of conscience, deaden their affections, they lose all feeling : “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning ; for it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Peter ii. 20, 21). They sin against former knowledge, experience, and sense of the truth. As their light is, so their resisting causeth hardness; and all the sensible work comes to nothing. But that is not all : it turneth to loss; it maketh it more difficult than it was before in regard of us : it maketh us more careless : when we had some stirring in our consciences before, we healed it slightly; and we think to do so again.
2. You will provoke God to use a rougher dispensation, when the persuasions of the word and the strivings of the Spirit cannot bring you to repentance. They will not be won by arguments; God teacheth them by blows, as Gideon did the men of Succoth by briars and thorns: therefore, they shall shortly find themselves so involved in the fruit of their sins, as they shall not look off from it; their guilt shall lay hold of them at every hand : “ They consider not in their hearts, that I remember all their wickedness; now their own doings have beset them about” (Hos. vii. 2). We should be much with our hearts, considering our case, how it is with us. God useth not the rod till forced to it: “He doth not afflict willingly
nor grieve the children of men" (Lam. iii. 33). When milder means work but half a cure, the rest is supplied by some pressing judgments : his work is stopped, and therefore he promotes it this way.
3. It is a sign your consideration is not serious when you are off and on, and it produceth no good effect in the soul. A plaister may be sovereign; but, when you are still pulling it off and putting it on, it does no good. Light thoughts work not: when they are deep and ponderous, then they leave a durable impression. Still it is “ remember and turn :" “ All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord" (Psalm xxii. 27): bethink and repent, “ If they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent” (1 Kings viii. 47), search and try, and turn unto the Lord. Some are semper victuri, always considering, about to live; but you must once resolve: kindly conviction swill not die, nor let the convinced sinner alone, till they appear in the fruits of obedience.
4. The Devil hath his purposes : the wicked one “ catcheth away that which was sown in his heart” (Matt. xiii. 10): he watcheth troubled sinners, that the work may die away.
USE I.—To reprove us.
1. For not considering our ways. When did you ever go aside, and seriously debate with yourselves about your turning to God ? Did you ever lay it to your hearts how matters stand between you and God? There are certain seasons when God calleth you to it; and that is,
(1.) When the doctrine of life and the way of salvation have been represented unto you with evidence and power, and you have felt some stirring and trouble in your consciences, did you go home and say, “ What shall we, then, say to these things?" (Rom. viii. 31.) God hath spoken to me this day; now, shall all this be lost and come to nothing? “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" (Heb. ii. 3.) Now I am called to mind Christ and salvation more : if I should give no heed to these things, or only give them the hearing for the present, oh! what will become of me? There is a special providence in every message, warning, offer, or instruction by the word : “ To you is the word of this salvation sent” (Acts xiii. 26): he doth not say, We brought it; but, God sent it, as some message of God for your trial. Do we think of these things wbich we have heard and learned ?
(2.) When God appeareth against you in a course of judgments, cutting off one comfort after another; now taking away a child, then blasting the estate. Now consider your ways: “In the day of adversity consider” (Eccl. vii. 14): then is the duty in season. Affliction doth not rise out of the dust, God hath some end in these providences; and what is his end but to make me mindful of my duty to him? See for what end these things come, and to what issue they tend, that we may hear the rod, and know the meaning of the providence. If you do not consider, God will make you consider before he hath done with you. “ The anger of the Lord shall not return, till he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly” (Jer. xxiii. 20). God will follow blow after blow, till we do consider his mind and purpose: “ The fierce anger of the Lord shall not return, until he have done it, and until he have performed the intents of his heart" (Jer. xxx, 24).
2. To reprove us for not taking this advantage. When we are set
thinking of our ways, we have many thoughts and sensible stirrings; but they come to nothing, because we do not follow it close. You think, and have some workings of conscience; but do they end in a fixed purpose ? Some break through all, as Saul forces himself (1 Sam. xii. 12); break through all restraints of conscience. Felix had his qualm; but he puts it off to another season. Oh! consider, these things will one day be a witness against you, the sensible workings upon your hearts by the word and rod.
USE II.-Is to stir us up to this work, serious consideration in order to sound conversion.
1. Be frequent in it. If daily you called yourselves to an account, all acts of grace would thrive the better. Seneca of Sextius, Quid hodie malum sanasti ? cui vitio obstitisti ? You have God's example in re. viewing every day's work, and in dealing with Adam before he slept. The man that was unclean was to wash his clothes at eventide.
2. Seriously set yourself to it: “ Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day” (Deut. xxxi. 46). It is a weighty matter of life and death. “Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psalm iv. 4): this is the way to check sin, and to come on most hopefully in a course of obedience.
3. Drive your thoughts to a resolution, to rectify whatever is amiss. Never leave thinking of your ways, till you grow anxious about eternal life; nor let your anxiousness cease, till you bring it to somewhat. Grow to some resolution about the ways of God. Pray God to make your consideration effectual. “Consider what I say, and the Lord give thee understanding in all things" (2 Tim. ü. 4): this is but the means, God giveth the grace.
END OF VOL. I.