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2 COR. vi. 2.
-Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of falvation.
THERE is not a man upon the earth but who has fome fenfe of religion upon his mind, and intends one day or another to work out his falvation. When we look into the world, we find that all men are just about to reform. However loose in their principles, however profligate in their lives, they feriously purpose to amend their conduct, and the finner of today refolves to be a faint tomorrow. Seeing then that all men are so favourably difpofed towards religion; seeing that all men are in earnest one day to repent; how does it come to pass that fo many men never repent; that fuch multitudes live and die in their fins? It is because they delay their repentance; it is because they put off the day of falvation; because they begin not a course of refor. mation, but are only about to reform. This infatuation is not confined to the inexperience of our early years, it extends through every period of life. In this the hoary head is no wiser than the youth of yesterday; and the fame lying spirit that deceived us at twenty, is believed at threefcore and ten. In this, experience does not make us wife, and when we buy inftruction it avails us not. The fool, who,
wanting to cross the river, lay down on its bank till the waters all ran by, is but a juft emblem of that man who delays his repentance from time to time, who is always purpofing but never performing, and who, neither warned by the past, nor alarmed for the future, purposes on to the laft, and dies the fame. Such is the life which numbers of men lead in the world, spending the prime and vigour of their life in vain pursuits; letting all their religion evaporate in empty resolutions, till, in an hour in which they are not aware, the warning is given. At midnight is the cry made, and when they seek to enter in with the bridegroom, the door is fhut!
That you may understand the expreffions made ufe of in the text, I must recall to your remembrance, that in the language of Scripture, the period of our probation is called a time, a feafon, or a day. There is an accepted time, there is a feason of merciful vifitation, there is a day of grace, which, if we let flip, the night cometh, in which no man can work, in which we fhall grope for the wall like the blind, in which we shall ftumble at noon-day as in the night, and be in defolate places as dead men. This does not arise from a defect of mercy in God, from a defect of merit in Chrift, or from a defect of grace in the Holy Spirit; it arifes from ourselves and from the nature of things. Almighty God hath appointed this life to be our state of probation. He hath fet apart a time to fix the character for eternity. When, therefore, by repeated acts and by long habits, this everlasting character is fixed, no alteration can fuc ceed. To give an instance that may have occurred to the obfervation of you all; you have feen, or you
have heard of, criminals who have been trained up from their youth in the practice of vice, who have advanced from less to greater crimes, who have been punished according to law, who have been imprisoned, who have been banifhed, who have returned from banishment, and for greater crimes have been condemned to die, who from fome artifice or incident have escaped in the critical moment, and who, instead of being reformed by all these punishments, have fallen into the fame crimes again, and even grown bolder in wickedness. There have indeed been inftances of great finners who have turned penitents, and been good Chriftians; but it is much to be questioned if there be any fuch inftance among those who have been long finners, who have committed iniquity, not by fits and starts, but upon a fixed and determined plan, who have spent in the service of fin all the fire of youth and coolness of age.
Having explained to you the meaning of the phrafe ufed in the text, before proceeding further, take next a view of life, and you will fee, that a great part of men let flip the accepted time and day of falvation, till it be too late. It is the happiness of moft men in countries where the Chriftian religion is profeffed, to receive a good education, and to be trained up from their youth in the principles of religion, and in the practice of virtue. But when this period of dif cipline is over, when a man fets out in life, and becomes his own mafter, he frequently becomes a different person in that different state, and looks upon the good habits of his youth as fome of those childish things which he ought now to put away. If his edu- '
cation has been fevere and rigorous; if his parents restrained in him that gaity of heart and flow of the fpirits which is the portion of youth; if he pined in his clofet, whilft his equals in age frequented thofe entertainments which can be enjoyed with innocence, he then generally goes to the other extreme, and plunges with a precipitant ftep into all the follies and vices of the age. The prifoner having got loose, grows wild and extravagant. Being formerly fhut up, he now wants to know the world; and, in or der to this, ventures on forbidden paths, refigns the reins of conduct to inclination, and gives a loose to all his defires. Having found his former principles to be inconsistent with the enjoyment of life, he confounds his early prejudices with true piety; for which caufe he throws off religion altogether; he becomes a patron and defender of vice; he laughs at every thing that is ferious; and perhaps out of contempt to this day, in which we affemble together to worship the God of our fathers; out of contempt to the facred rites of his country, which all wife hea thens have revered; out of contempt to the venerable inftitutions of our holy religion, spends this day in diffipation and profanenefs, and open impiety.
But, not to draw the character with fuch black ftains, let us fuppofe men at that period paffing their days in folly rather than in vice, at the head of every idle scheme, firft in every fafhionable amusement, and as the Scripture happily expreffeth it, "walking "in a vain show." Behold them making amufement one of the cares of life; fpending those precious hours, which no power can ever recall, which no future labour can ever compenfate, spending those
precious hours in vanity and folly, whilst all along they forget the bufinefs of their falvation, and are no more affected with the profpect of a world to come, than with a tale that is told. But whilst thus they dance round in a circle of folly; whilft they folace themselves with the profpect of pleasures rifing upon pleasures, never to have an end, and fay in fecret to their fouls, "Tomorrow fhall be as this day, and "much more abundant;" whilft, like the foolish virgins, they flumber and fleep in the arms of this Delilah, at midnight is the cry made, O man, thy hour is come! And the trembling foul takes its departure unawares and unprepared to God the Judge of all!
To guard you against the fatal error which has undone its thousands, allow me to recommend to your practice the neceffity of inftant repentance and reformation. In the first place, No time is fo proper as the prefent; fecondly, If you delay, your reformation will be difficult; thirdly, If you delay long, it may become altogether impoffible.
In the first place then, There is no time so proper as the prefent.
The prodigal fon exhibits to us a fcene which we often fee realized in life. A young man, who had been educated in the paths of virtue, declining from these paths, and going aftray into forbidden ground, from the fond expectation of meeting with fome strange, vaft, unknown happiness in the gratification of fenfual defire. In the courfe of this unhallowed pilgrimage, he gives loofe reins to his mind, he indulges every wandering inclination, he denies himself nothing that his heart wishes for. At laft he comes