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perience he had of support and comfort from it in his distresses and afflictions. He vows perpetual obedience and conformity to it, notwithstanding the discouragements he might meet with from the world about him, and the multitude, or the greatness of transgressors. He prays also for farther instruction in God's word, and help to keep it to the end. The psalm is suited to comfort the dejected, to assist those who aim at the greatest perfection in virtue, to quicken the slothful and indolent, and to awaken sinners, and reclaim them from their wanderings.
The words of the text are more especially adapted to some of the last mentioned cases.
In the preceding verse he declares, that he had "thought on his ways:" the result of which was, that he was thereby disposed and enabled to amend them: and "I turned my feet unto thy testimonies." He adds here a very happy and commendable circumstance of that conversion, or alteration for the better: it was speedy, and immediate. "I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments."
Having lately explained and recommended to you the duty of consideration, or " thinking on our ways:" I now intend to recommend the imitation of the Psalmist in this circumstance, speediness of amendment wherever any thing has been amiss. The want of which is, probably, one of the most common failings which men are incident to. There are few, or none, but have some convictions of the evil of sin, and some perception and persuasion of the excellence and necessity of real holiness. They are aware that sin, unrepented of, must be of fatal consequence: and that without holiness no man can attain to the happiness of a future state. They intend therefore and hope to be truly holy in time. They would not die in sin, nor continue in it always. No, they propose to repent of it, and forsake it. They design to humble themselves greatly for all their transgressions, and to turn themselves from them to a sincere obedience to all God's commandments. But the time for putting these resolutions in practice is not yet come, and they hope it may be well done hereafter. This is very different from the example in the text. Which, that all may be disposed to follow and imitate,
I. I will in the first place mention some considerations, showing the evil of delays in the things of religion.
II. I will consider those pleas and excuses which some make for delaying to reform, and their objections against immediate compliance with the commands of God.
III. I intend also at the end to offer some motives and
arguments, tending to induce men to perform what is their duty.
I. In the first place I shall mention some considerations, showing the evil of delays in the things of religion.
1. A sinner's delaying repentance and amendment is an act of great imprudence, and such as men are not ordinarily guilty of in other matters.
It is, I say, great imprudence to delay to reform; because it is a thing of the utmost importance, upon which depends our everlasting concerns, our happiness or misery in another state. Is not the condition of an habitual sinner extremely hazardous? Every one must own, that whilst a man is in any evil course, allowed of and indulged, he is under the displeasure of God. And if he die in that state and course, he is miserable beyond redress. The only way of averting the displeasure of God, and escaping future misery, is that of sincere repentance. And how imprudent must it be to defer that a moment? Should not every discreet and thoughtful person desire to be in a safe condition, rather than in a state of great danger?
Should we not then be all ready to embrace the pardoning mercy of God, now offered to us, by confessing and forsaking our sins, as he requires? He will, then, "receive us graciously, and love us freely," Hos. xiv. 2, 4.
2. We ought seriously to consider the shortness and uncertainty of life. Can it be reasonable to defer a thing which we own ought to be done, when we are not certain that we shall have another opportunity of doing it? For we cannot depend upon to-morrow, not knowing what the present day may bring forth. All do not arrive at old age, or any other of the advanced periods of life. Numberless are the dangers to which we are exposed. And the strongest and most healthy may be taken off by sudden accidents.
Suppose death to make gradual approaches. Yet we are not certain what pains, what indispositions they are, that shall bring on the dissolution of soul and body. They may be such as shall immediately and utterly unqualify us for settling any of our affairs relating to this life, or making any preparations for another. How inconvenient then, how unsafe, how unwise must it be, to defer this important concern to a distant, unknown, and uncertain futurity!
3. You defer repenting and giving up yourself to God for the present, in hopes of doing so hereafter. But repentance will be more unlikely hereafter than now.
There cannot, I apprehend, be any reason to think it should be more likely in some future time, than the pre
sent. But there are many reasons to suppose the contrary.
You are not sure of having such calls to repentance as you now have, even supposing the continuance of life. You now enjoy means of virtue and holiness: and earnest and frequent calls and invitations are made to you. But it may not be always so. Your worldly affairs may place you in some other situation, where the like means are not to be had, which are now afforded you. Or, if the principles of religion do not now make a deep and abiding impression upon your minds, you may be prevailed upon by some worldly considerations, to forsake and abandon the ordinances of divine worship, and all the usual means of awakening, reforming, and reclaiming sinners. For these, and other the like reasons, the scripture speaks of " an accepted time," and a day of salvation," Is. xlix. 8, which it is of importance to improve, and very dangerous to neglect, 2 Cor. vi. 2.
If the ordinary means of holiness and salvation are continued, what reason is there to think that you should be at any time hereafter better disposed to improve them than you are now? Is there not rather a great deal of reason to fear, lest the heart should contract some hardness by a long continuance in sin? And if reasonable and forcible arguments do not now sway and prevail, they will be so far from influencing more hereafter, that they will affect much less than at present. Besides, by delaying and deferring you contract a habit of delaying, and do it with less remorse. Your first put-offs and excuses, perhaps, are not made without a good deal of uneasiness: and you are almost ashamed, or even confounded, when you make them and your heart afterwards smites you for it. But having time after time excused and deferred compliance with the reasonable demands that have been made of you, you become more assured and confident; and such demands are for the future put off with little or no scruple, or concern of mind.
Moreover, it is a vain thing to imagine, that you may outlive temptations; and that the time may come, when there shall be no longer any impediments or obstructions of repentance and amendment. For there always will be temptations, suited to every age of life, which will have a powerful influence upon those who are not fully devoted to God, and have not attained to the government of their passions. If sensual pleasure be a bait that seduces and ensnares men in the early days of life, riches, and honour, and preferment are as taking with men of worldly minds, in the more advanced, and the very latest periods of life.
4. Late repentance, supposing it to be sincere and available and accepted of God, must be very bitter and sorrowful.
It cannot be otherwise. For you will have little or nothing to comfort you. And you will have a great number, and a long course of transgressions and neglects, to reflect upon with grief and concern. It will be very grievous to recollect many instances of ingratitude to God, who has been very good and gracious to you, who would not think of him, or pay a just regard to his reasonable and holy laws and commandments. You will then severely blame and condemn yourselves for acting contrary to conviction, and for refusing to hearken to former pressing and friendly calls and invitations. You will be filled with the utmost concern to think how you have multiplied transgressions, and persisted therein: thereby offending God, and perhaps grieving men, whose comfort and happiness should have been dear to you. And it is well if you have not also the sad and bitter reflection to make, that by your sins, some of them more especially, you have been the means of misleading some of your fellow-creatures, and causing them to fall and miscarry, and that finally, and for ever.
5. But late repentance is seldom sincere.
I do not say that it is never sincere; but there is too much reason to think it is seldom so. The confessions and lamentations of men in sickness, and in visible danger of death, appear rather forced and unavoidable, than free and voluntary. And very often, when the danger is over, and health and safety are restored, and the temptations of life return with their usual force, men show their repentance was not unfeigned and effectual, by returning to their former evil courses, and by being again entangled and overcome by this world, and the snares of it, as before.
6. Consequently, late repentance must be very uncomfortable.
For though it should be sincere, and accepted of God, you cannot ordinarily have a full and satisfactory persuasion of it in your minds. Some hope, possibly, you may entertain but it will be weak and fanguid: somewhat between hope and despair, a sad mixture of doubt and fear, whether this late humiliation will be accepted or not. And forasmuch as you have not now an opportunity of approving to yourselves, or others, the truth of your repentance by future acts of steady obedience, and that in time of temptation you must go out of the world without that assured hope and expectation of a better life, and the heavenly
happiness, which is very desirable and necessary to give peace in the hour of death.
These considerations show the folly and danger of delaying repentance."
II. I would now consider the pleas and excuses which some make for delaying to reform, and their objections against immediate compliance with the commands of God, and against forming a present resolution to be immediately religious.
1. Some think with themselves, and are apt to plead, that a life of strict virtue and serious religion is unpleasant, sad, and melancholy: depriving men of the pleasures and entertainments of life, and of much worldly gain and profit, which they might otherwise make.
To this I answer two things.
1.) Allowing the truth of all this, it is not a good and reasonable ground of deferring to be really good and vir tuous, and securing the happiness of a future life: because things earthly and temporal are not to be compared with things heavenly and eternal. These last are greatly superior and preferable in real excellence, just value, and length of duration. And therefore, if the possessions and enjoyments of this world are inconsistent and incompatible with heavenly treasures and enjoyments, they may be reasonably quitted and resigned for the sake of these. If both were proposed and set before us: but one, certainly, without the other: there could be no doubt or hesitation which should be chosen and preferred. Let the path of virtue be ever so thorny, strait, and difficult, if it lead to eternal life, we should resolve to enter on it, and persist in it. The reward at the end will crown all our labours, and make full recompense for all our self-denial and patience.
2.) But, secondly, this is not altogether true. Men have no reason to be shy of the paths of virtue, as sad, gloomy, and melancholy. Many are the testimonies, which wise and good men, who have made trial, have borne in favour of virtue and real goodness. Solomon recommending to men true wisdom, and the ways she prescribes and teaches, says, Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace," Prov. iii. 16, 17.
Put the case of the most prosperous sinner, and the most afflicted saint, and compare them together. The former will scarce have the advantage, as to this present life.
If any find this sermon too long for a single reading, here is a pro