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4. Late repentance, supposing it to be sincere and avail. able 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 lamientations 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 languid: 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, anu 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 virtuous, 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 proper pause.
It should not be overlooked, nor forgotten, that religion does not deprive men of any of the innocent enjoyments of life, or of any lawful gain and worldly advantage. In the way of virtue many good men find a large share of these things. And whatever they possess, they enjoy it without the sting of guilty reflections, and the remorse of unrighteousness and oppression. And if at any time, in the course of things, they are called to resign any earthly advantages; their religious principles and virtuous dispositions enable them to do it without regret, and support them under such losses.
It must be obvious to all, that the end of such is preferable to that of other men, which is a thing of no small moment. This the Psalmist speaks of with the fullest assurance, and calls upon all men to take notice of it: “ Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace,” Ps. xxxvii. 37.
They have also many comforts in the way. They have a delightful communion with God in devout exercises of the mind, in prayer and praise, performed in a spiritual manner, accompanied with humility, gratitude, trust in the divine care and providence, and resignation to his will. They have pleasure in the persuasion of the divine approbation and acceptance, and the hope of a fuller participation of his likeness, and everlasting felicity in his presence. And do you not think the fellowship of saints may be as comfortable as that of sinners ? or that the conversation of wise and virtuous men is as pleasing, yea, more delightful and entertaining, as well as more edifying, than the society of the wicked and profane, or those who have no sense of religion, and mind the affairs of this world only ?
Moreover, the way of virtue will grow more and more easy, pleasant, and delightful: and that especially, as virtuous habits strengthen and improve. This well deserves the observation of those, who are discouraged by disadvantageous apprehensions concerning the way of obedience to God's commandments,
Once more, religion, and conformity to its rules and precepts, afford support and comfort under the troubles and afflictions of this life, from which none are exempted : as David says at ver. 165 of this psalm : “ Great peace have they that love thy law. And nothing shall offend them.”
Úpon the whole then, good men, who live in the fear of God all their days, who are upright and conscientious, serious, and truly religious, being conscious of their integrity, and persuaded of the divine favour, and having
hopes of a future recompense, have much comfort both in life, and in death: and their way and their condition are preferable to those of other men.
2. Another plea and excuse made by some is to this purpose: we do not intend by any means to persist in sin always: we fully purpose and hope to repent of, and forsake , it, before we die. And we have such persuasion of the grace and mercy of God that we believe he will accept of and pardon us, though it be ever so late.
But this plea has been considered and confuted already, in a great measure, under the first head, where we showed the uncertainty and unlikelihood of repentance, proposed to be made some time hereafter, and consequently the folly and danger of deferring it, and neglecting the present opportunity. With regard to the other part of this plea, the ground of delaying, here insisted upon, “ the grace and
, inercy of God," I now observe these following things.
1.) That this way of arguing is extremely disingenuous. . Because God is good and merciful, even to sinners, when they return to him, you encourage yourself in an evil way, and
presume to try the utmost of divine patience and mercy: and, as it were, resolve, at the least, that you will allow yourselves, for a long course of time, to multiply transgressions of his laws, and offences against him. Nor do you
think of forsaking those ways that are contrary to his will, and displeasing to bim, till near the end of life: when health and strength will be impaired by age, or sickness, or accidents: and you are as unfit for the service of God, as of man, and the enjoyments of life have lost all their relish. Is not this very disingenuous ? a thought unworthy of a rational being ?
2.) With regard to the extent of the divine mercy, and the hope of sharing in it upon the latest repentance, several things may be observed.
The mercy of God is certainly very great. Nor does it become us to set limits to it. It may
be extended to some very late, if sincere penitents. We dare not deny, that whensoever sinners forsake the evil of their ways and their doings, he will have mercy upon them, accept them, and pardon them. Nevertheless none are in more danger of being excluded, than those who in the early days of life are favoured with frequent and earnest calls and invitations, and withstand them. And there are in scripture some declarations and threatenings, which are very awful and affecting. You know, that a peremptory sentence passed upon the whole congregation of the people of Israel, who often re
peated their transgressions. “ Because," said the Lord, 5 all those men, which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt, and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice : surely they shall not see the land which I promised unto their fathers,” Numb. xiv. 22, 23. Which event is improved both by the Psalmist, and the Apostle in the epistle to the Hebrews, as a warning to men, not to provoke the Divine Being by long delays, and repeated acts of disobedience, and to improve the present opportunity, saying: “ To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation,” Ps. xcv. 7,8. Heb, iii. and iv. And men are directed by one of the prophets, in this manner : " Seek the Lord, while he may be found. Call ye upon him, while he is near,” Is. lv. 6. And very moving are the warnings and expostulations of Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, " How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity, —and fools hate knowledge,---Because I have called, and ye refused : I have stretched out my hands, but no man regarded: but ye bave set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity, and will mock, when your fear cometh. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer. They shall seek me early;" that is, when distresses and calamities have befallen them; “ but they shall not find me. For that they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord," Prov, i, 23–29.
As for the repentance and acceptance of the penitent thief, we do not know when he repented. The crime, for which he suffered, may have been committed by him, and repented of, some while before. Supposing his repentance to be very late, and very sudden, on the day of his death only : his case is altogether singular, on account of his suffering with Jesus. You know, likewise, that the other malefactor repented not, even then. Moreover the penitent gave extraordinary proofs of the sincerity of his repentance: under the pains of crucifixion acknowledging the justice of the punishment he underwent, professing faith in Jesus, and praying to him, in the time of his lowest abasement, when almost all the world rejected him, and the disciples themselves failed, through the weakness of their faith. Above all it should be considered, that there is a great difference between his case and theirs who live under the gospeldispensation. He had not in early life such instructions, such warnings, such calls and invitations, as you have had.
The parable of the labourers hired into the vineyard at