« PreviousContinue »
in vice, he admires, applauds, and teaches those practices he can no longer enjoy.
Or look at a sinner, suddenly arrest* ed, in his wicked career, by some unexpected illness. See him stretched upon his sick-bed, and you are amazed at the alteration in the man —You are tempted to think, that he is quite become a new creature—you hear prayers becoming the fervour of a saint; you hear the passionate protestations, the firm vows and resolves of a repenting Peter — Behold the effect: it pleases God to make one trial more of him— the disorder takes a favourable turn, health revives, his spirits rekindle, old objects present themselves again; and what is the consequence ?—I leave you to judge from the small number, that prove real penitents upon their return into the world.
Take lastly an instance from some
victim of public justice. This man has
O^. had had an opportunity of conversing long with himself in the solitude of confinement : some friendly minister of religion has assisted his devotion: he prays, he beats his breast, he lifts up his eyes to heaven; he thinks too that he repents. He encreases and- multiplies these expressions of repentance, as he is led to the place of punishment. His pious demeanour raises even your compassion. You wish to see such a reformed man pardoned and restored to the community. Suppose him then given to your wishes, restored from death — instant death, acting upon him in its strongest impressions—and you will find him restored— " only* that he may again take
. «« up "up his old trade again, his evil habits "are so rooted in him, and he is grown "so unfit for any other kind of employ"ment."
*dean Swift has given us the most natural picture of abandoned life, in the last dying words of Ebenezer Ellistrin.
"I Can, (fays he, in that man's character,) I can "fay farther from my own knowledge, that two of my "fraternity, after they had been hanged, and wonder
I Mean not to discourage the outward means and expressions of repentance: but certainly these representations, taken as you must know from real life, tend to show the danger of trifling with grace, the necessary instrument of salvation. It is ever ready, to be sure, to assist our endeavours. But we must remember that the spirit of God doth not always strive with man: those, whom it cannot reform, it leaves to the bias of their natural corruptions. There are certain states and dispositions of the Qj2 heart,
"fully came to life, and made their escapes, as it "sometimes happens, proved afterwards the wickedest "rogues I ever knew, and so continued until they were "hanged again for good and all; and yet they had the "impudence at both times they went to the gallows, *«. to smite their breasts, and life up their eyes to heaven .** all the way."
heart, inconsistent with its soft improving influences.
It is often seen, indeed, to awaken even the thoughtless far-gone sinner in some particular serious seasons, under the judgments and visitations of God. Where this effect begins at the heart, where it is permanent, where it leads a man to the discipline of religion, and brings forth in him the meet fruits of repentance; it is happy with him, he will be rewarded according to his proficiency in the spiritual life. But happier far is he, who from the very beginning of life forms and keeps up this acquaintance with the principle of holiness, in the regular use of the appointed methods and channels of its conveyance.
Thus, you see, the delaying of repentance proceeds upon four absurd suppositions. It supposes we have a command over our life, whereas nothing is more uncertain«— it supposes we can
calculate and repair the mischief of our sins ; whereas this grows soon beyond the power of the deliberate sinner — it supposes, we have a command of our resolutions and Divine grace, whereas every day more and more weakens our resolutions, and unfits us for the influences both of preventing and assisting grace.
The true meaning of all the sinner's excuses is plainly this, he wants inclination to repent. Only let him examine himself—why does he propose to repent to morrow, rather than to day ?—It is (his conscience will honestly tell him) because he is not willing at present to part with bisjins. Well then : since he plainly sees, that this difinclination must encrease upon him; is it not his business to begin immediately; as a moment lost may be his destruction? Is it not the part of madness to defer a neQ, 3 cessary