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misery, that he hath reason to curse the day in which he sinned, is this a fit argument to invite a man that is in his wits, to sin ? to sin in hope of repentance ? as if danger of falling into hell, and fear of the divine anger, and many degrees of the divine judgments, and a lasting sorrow, and a perpetual labour, and a never-ceasing trembling, and a troubled conscience, and a sorrowful spirit, were fit things to be desired or hoped for.
The sum is this: he that commits sins shall perish eternally, if he never does repent. And, if he does repent, and yet untimely, he is not the better ; and if he does not repent with an entire, a perfect, and complete repentance, be is not the better, But if he does, yet repentance is a duty full of fears, and sorrow, and labour ; a vexation to the spirit ; an afflictive, penal, or punitive duty; a duty which suffers for sin, and labours for grace, which abides and suffers little images of hell in the way to heaven : and though it be the only way to felicity, yet it is beset with thorns and daggers of sufferance, and with rocks and mountains of duty.
Let no man therefore dare to sin upon the hopes of repentance : for he is a fool and a hypocrite, that now chooses and approves what he knows hereafter he must condemn.
2. The second general consideration is, the necessity, the absolute necessity, of holy living. God hath made a covenant with us, that we must give up ourselves, bodies' and souls, not a dying, but 'a living and healthful • sacrifice.'* He hath forgiven all our old sins, and we have bargained to quit them, from the time that we first come to Christ, and give our names to him, and to keep all his commandments. We have taken the sacramental oath, like that of the old Roman militia, πειθαρχήσειν, και ποιήσεις το προσταττόμενον υπό tāv ågzóvtwy rard dúvajurv, we must believe,' and obey,' and do all that is commanded us,' and keep our station, and fight against the flesh, the world, and the devil, not to throw away our military girdle ; and we are to do what is bidden us, or to die for it, even all that is bidden us, according to our power. For, pretend not that God's commandments are impossible. It is dishonourable to think God enjoins us to do more than he enables us to do ; and it is a contradiction to say we cannot do all that we can ; and
• Rom. xii, 1.
through Christ which strengthens me, I can do all things," saith St. Paul. However, we can do to the utmost of our strength, and beyond that we cannot take thought ; impossibilities enter not into deliberation ; but, according to our abilities and natural powers, assisted by God's grace, so God hath covenanted with us to live a holy life. 66 For in Christ Jesus, nothing availeth but a new creature, nothing but faith working by charity, nothing but keeping the commandments of God.” They are all the words of St. Paul before quoted; to which he adds, “and as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them and mercy."
This is the covenant, • they are the Israel of God;' upon those 'peace and mercy' shall abide. If they become a new creature, wholly 'transformed in the image of their mind;' if they have faith, and this faith be an operative working faith, a faith that produces a holy life, 'a faith that works by charity ;' if they • keep the commandments of God,' then they are within the covenant of mercy, but not else: for “ in Christ Jesus nothing else availeth.' To the same purpose are those words, (Heb. xii. 14.) “ Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” • Peace with all men' implies both justice and charity, without which it is impossible to preserve peace : "holiness' implies all our duty towards God, universal diligence: and this must be followed, that is, pursued with diligence, in a lasting course of life and exercise; and without this we shall never see the face of God. I need urge no more authorities to this purpose : these two are as certain and convincing as two thousand : and since thus much is actually required, and is the condition of the covenant; it is certain that sorrow for not having done what is commanded to be done, and a purpose to do what is necessary to be actually performed, will not acquit us before the righteous judgment of God. “For the grace of God hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live godly, justly, and soberly, in this present world.” For upon these terms alone, we must “ look for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”*
1 shall no longer insist upon this particular, but only propound it to your consideration. To what purpose
• Tit. ii. 11, 12.
are all those commandments in Scripture, of every page almost in it, of living holily, and according to the commandments of God,—of adorning the gospel of God,--of walking as in the day,—of walking in light,—of pure and undefiled religion,—of being holy as God is holy,—of being humble and meek, as Christ is humble,-of putting on the Lord Jesus,—of living a spiritual life,—but that it is the purpose of God, and the intention and design of Christ dying for us, and the covenant made with man, that we should expect heaven upon no other terms in the world, but of a holy life, in the faith and obedience of the Lord Jesus ?
Now if a vicious person, when he comes to the latter end of his days, one that hath lived a wicked, ungodly life, can, for any thing he can do upon his death-bed, be said to live a holy life; then his hopes are not desperate : but he that hopes upon this only, for which God hath made him no promise, I must say of him as Galen said of consumptive perSons, “Η πλέον ελπίζουσιν, ταύτη μάλλον κακώς έχoυσι, το The more they hope, the worse they are:” and the relying upon such hopes is an approach to the grave and a sad eternity.
Peleos et Priami transit, vel Nestoris ætas,
Et fuerat serum jam tibi desinere.
Dum, quid sis dubitas, jam potes esse nihil.*
And now it will be a vain question to ask, whether or no God cannot save a dying man that repents after a vicious life. For it is true, God can do it if he please, and he can raise children to Abraham out of the stones,' and he can make ten thousand worlds, if he sees good ; and he can do what he list, and he can save an ill-living man though he never repent at all, so much as upon his death-bed: all this can he do. But God's power is no ingredient into this question : we are never the better that God can do it, unless he also will : and whether he will or no, we are to learn from himself, and what he hath declared to be his will in Holy Scripture. Nay, since God hath said, that without actual holiness no man shall see God, God by his own will hath restrained his power ; and though absolutely he can do all things, yet he cannot do against his own word. And, indeed, the rewards of heaven are so great and glorious, and Christ's
• Martial. 2. 64.
burden is so light, his yoke is so easy,' that it is a shameless impudence to expect so great glories at a less rate than so little a service, at a lower rate than a holy life. It cost the eternal Son of God his life's blood to obtain heaven for us upon that condition: and who then shall die again for us, to get heaven for us upon easier conditions ? What would you do, if God should command you to kill your eldest son, or to work in the mines for a thousand years together, or to fast all thy life time with bread and water ? were not heaven a great bargain even after all this? And when God requires nothing of us but to live soberly, justly, and godly,—which very things of themselves to men are a very great felicity, and necessary to his present well-being,—shall we think this to be a load, and an insufferable burden? And that heaven is so little a purchase at that price, that God in mere justice will take a death-bed sigh or groan, and a few unprofitable tears and promises, in exchange for all our duty? Strange it should be so: but stranger, that any man should rely upon such a vanity, when from God's word he hath nothing to warrant such a confidence. But these men do like the tyrant Dionysius, who stole from Apollo his golden cloak, and gave him a cloak of Arcadian homespun, saying, that this was lighter in summer, and warmer in winter.
These men sacrilegiously rob God of the service of all their golden days, and serve him in their hoary head, in their furs and grave-clothes, and pretend that this late service is more agreeable to the divine mercy on one side, and human infirmity on the other, and so dispute themselves into an irrecoverable condition; having no other ground to rely upon a death-bed or late-begun repentance, but because, they resolve to enjoy the pleasures of sin : and for heaven they will put that to the venture of an after-game. These men sow in the flesh, and would reap in the Spirit; live to the devil, and die to God: and therefore, it is but just in God that their hopes should be desperate, and their craft be folly, and their condition be the unexpected, unfeared inheritance of an eternal sorrow.
3. Lastly; our last inquiry is into the time, the last or latest time of beginning our repentance. Must a man repent a year or two, or seven years, or ten, or twenty, before his death? or what is the last period, after which all repentance
will be untimely and ineffectual? To this captious question I have many things to oppose. 1. We have entered into covenant with God, to serve him from the day of our baptism to the day of our death. He hath 66 sworn this oath to us, that he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered from fear of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”
Now although God will not της ανθρωπίνης και κοινής άσdevsias é inaváveoda, forget our infirmities,' but pass by the nakedness of an honest, a watchful, and industrious person; yet the covenant he makes with us, is from the day of our first voluntary profession to our grave; and according as we by sins retire from our first undertaking, so our condition is insecure : there is no other covenant made with us, no new beginnings of another period; but if we be returned, and sin be cancelled, and grace be actually obtained, then we are in the first condition of pardon: but because it is uncertain when a man can have mastered his vices, and obtained the graces, therefore no man can tell any set time when he must begin. 2. Scripture, describing the duty of repenting sinners, names no other time but 'to-day:' “ to-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” 3. The duty of a Christian is described in Scripture to be such as requires length of time, and a continual industry. “Let us run with patience the race, that is set before us:"+ and “consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." So great a preparation is not for the agony and contention of an hour, or a day, or a week, but for the whole life of a Christian, or for great parts of its abode. 4. There is a certain period and time set for our repentance, and beyond that all our industry is ineffectual. There is a day of visitation, our own day;' and there is a day of visitation,' that is God's day. This appeared in the case of Jerusalem : “ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if thou hadst known the time of thy visitation, at least in this thy day.” Well, they neglected it; and then there was a time of God's visitation, which was his day,' called in Scripture " the day of the Lord;" and because they had neglected their own day, they fell into inevitable ruin : no repentance could have prevented their final ruin. And * Luke i. 73, 74.
† Heb. xii. I. 3.