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case, and even in any case, we may, if we please, avoid the subject; we may shut our eyes against, or turn them aside from any object, how great soever, or however near : but it is an unnatural effort so to do.
Thirdly: A great and loud call upon the conscience of the most thoughtless and hardened sinner, is any thing which puts him in mind of the uncertainty of his life, or gives him reason to expect that it will be short. The common course of human mortality, though it ought to be the most affecting consideration in the world, does not much affect us: it has lost its force by its familiarity: but particular admonitions have, with most men, their influence. It is something to see our companions go down into the grave. It is more when they are of our own age, our own apparent strength, habit and constitution of body; more still when they appear to have hastened their end by the same practices to which we have been addicted. But many, who will not take warning from others, begin for the first time to be startled and alarmed by what they feel in themselves-symptoms of danger and decline in their own bodies. There may be fatal symptoms, and known to be so; there may be dangerous symptoms, and known to be so; there may be symptoms and inward sensations of which we know little : but all these are strong and loud calls.
There are two opposite courses which men take upon this occasion : the one is to put from them, obstinately and strenuously, the thoughts of approaching death; the other is, to prepare and make themselves ready for it. And it is in this last way (not, we may hope, unfrequently) that religion begins in the heart, and begins too with an operation which is finally successful. Above all things we must avoid the following thought, that it is to no purpose to begin to be religious now. From religion having hitherto made no impression upon us, it does not follow that it can make none. We are altered-our case is altered : we have not, as in times past by, a long life before us; schemes of futurity in prospect; and death and judgment, sure indeed, but lying at the end of a long train of worldly hopes. Let our souls experience the benefit of this change! Why should we suffer depressions of mind, body or estate, waste of years, lapse of life, without drawing from them religious advantages, which they are capable of yielding ; some amendment, some improvement at least in the condition of our souls ? Repentance, be it how or when it may, will, if sincere, be accepted in Jesus Christ. If it would produce reformation, supposing life and opportunity to be allowed, it may be, in the sight of God, the same as if it did. This is true, and therefore it is not impossible that even the repentance of a death-bed may be effectual. But it is only not impossible; to say that it is an uncertain dependence, is to say too little for it. It is only not impossible, because it is only not impossible to give to it that sincerity which is required in repentance; and it is absolutely impossible for the person himself to be assured of that sincerity, or to distinguish it from those fits of remorse and penitence which he and every sinner has a thousand times felt, and felt in vain, because they passed away with the alarm and danger which produced them. And this is still more true, when it is the beginning of religion in the heart, when there has been no religion in that place before. We must not therefore speak of the extremity of a death-bed; but of some serious case short of that, which is, when men are reminded by their bodily constitution that their time is drawing towards its conclusion, yet have enough both of strength and life left to carry, if they will, their good resolves into execution ; not only to repent, but to reform, to put their repentance, by their future conduct, to the proof, whether it be sincere or not. If it be sincere, it will be accepted; if it be not, which in this case the effect upon our lives will show, let not the grace or mercies of God be accused, because no acceptance is promised to such repentance. This, therefore, is a case, in all respects, capable of generating religion in the soul, and of giving proofs of it; and therefore it is thought to be highly probable, that saving religion frequently begins in the soul from this cause, and under those circumstances.
Fourthly: Pain itself, abstractedly considered, has a close connexion with religious sentiment, inasmuch as it induces us to reflect what creatures we are, and what we are liable to; particularly, what inexhaustible stores of punishment and misery are in the hands of our Creator, when he pleases to use them, that is, when insulted or despised mercy is turned into correction and exemplary justice, which is the case when the denounced and forewarned judgement of God upon sinners comes to be executed. What torment can even the touch of his hand inflict! Let a person under the agonies of pain reflect, what it must be to exist for ages in that condition; and yet that his sins may bring him to this, and worse. The risk, the danger, the very chance, , the very possibility of such a thing coming to pass, must rouse, one would suppose, every fear in his nature; must put him upon considering betimes, how he may secure himself against it; and when he finds, which he soon will do, that his only security is repentance and change, he betakes himself in earnest to those resources.
It may now be remarked very obviously, that though what has been stated may be allowed to be a true representation, yet it may be deemed a base and unworthy beginning of religion in the heart; it may be said, that if the principles of men are no better than those, they are principles lodged in the very lowest part of our nature, and have nothing in them of dignity or virtue. Religious obedience, provided it be sincere, from whatever cause it proceeds, will at last, will after a little time, produce unbounded love and gratitude to our God of so great mercies; will finally avail us, and work our eternal salvation.
THE STIRRING OF CONSCIENCE.
EPHESIANS II. 1.
And you hath he quickened who were dead in tres
passes and sins.
The quickening and stirring of conscience within us, are sometimes the first signs of a renewed and regenerated soul. There have been disputes concerning this principle of conscience, its origin, nature, extent; but all sides agree in one thing, namely, that it may be dead for a time in the human breast without any energy or activity whatsoever.
The causes of this torpor and deadness, or rather the circumstances under which it is found, have been often assigned. In many cases, I am afraid, it takes place so early in life, that the person can hardly be said to have ever known what the remonstrances and admonitions of conscience were. His conscience may be said to be dead-born. He remembers not the time when he found any check concerning any action which he set himself to do. If there was any pleasure or gratification in view; if there was any thing to be got by the action ; that was all he considered about it: its being right and its being wrong