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if thou dealest with it whilst thou art young, and it in thee, before it hath taken root, thou mayest easily wield it, at least with more facility, than otherwise thou couldst; but if thou let it run on to confirmed habits, it becomes immoveable. Wherefore saith the apostle, "Let us lay aside the sin which doth so easily beset us." The reason is evident, because, else we shall be so hardened, as that we shall not be able. A man that hath a green wound, if he will seek for his cure betimes, it may be quickly, and easily remedied; but through delay, it begins to fester, and must be lanced to the quick, not without great pain and anguish to the patient. Sin is such a wound; if it be let alone, it corrupts; and proud flesh the more grows up, the longer the cure is delayed. This therefore should be a chief thing we should take heed of, how we put from us God's time, and the proffers of mercy, till another day.
2. But there are another sort, as greatly befooled, as these, yea more, if more may be: and those are they who put it off till the hour of their death, till the last gasp, as if they desired to give God as little of their service as possibly they might, who think if they can but cry Peccavi, and "Lord have mercy upon me," when their breath departs their bodies, they shew a good disposition, and perform such acceptable service, as that God cannot choose but grant them a pardon: but think not all will be surely well, because thou hastest to shake hands with God, at thy journey's end, when thou hast not walked with him all the way.
OBJ. But did not the thief repent at the last on the cross, and why not I on my death bed.
SOL. This is no good warrant for thy delay, for Christ might work this miraculously, for the glory of his passion. Dost thou think when in thy health and strength, thou hast, for several years, despised the riches of God's goodness and forbearance, and long suffering that leads thee to repentance, that as soon as thou art cast on thy
y Heb. chap. 12. ver. 1.
death bed, and ready to breathe out thy soul, the rocks shall be rent again, and the graves opened, to quicken thy repentance and beget in thee a saving faith? Trust not therefore on this, nor content thyself with good intentions, but set about the business in good earnest and presently. Our death beds will bring so many disadvantages, as will make that time very unseasonable: whether we respect,
2 Exod. chap. 9. ver. 6.
1. External hindrances, such as are pangs and pains in thy body, which must be undergone: and thou shalt find it will be as much, as thou well canst do, to support thyself under them. Every noise will then offend thee; yea thou wilt not be able to endure the speech of thy best friends. When Moses came to the children of Israel, and told them God had sent him to deliver them, what acceptation found this comfortable message? The text saith, "They hearkened not through anguish of their spirits." See here the effects of anguish and grief; Moses spake comfortably, but "by reason of their pains, they hearkened not unto him;" they were indisposed to give attendance. So shall it be with us on our death beds, through the anguish of our spirits we shall be unfit to meddle with ought else; especially, when the pains of death are upon us, the dread whereof is terrible: how will it make us tremble, when death shall come with that errand, to divide our souls from our bodies, and put them into possession of hell, unless we repent the sooner. Now thou art in thy best strength, consider what a terror it will be, what a sad message it will bring, when it comes not to cut off an arm, or leg, but soul from body. Now then make thy peace with God: but that these men are fools, they would "through fear of death be all their lifetime in bondage." It is the apostle's expression". The consideration hereof should never let us be at rest, till we had made our peace with God; it should make us break our recreations and sports. The considerations of what will become of us should put us in an extacy. Nor are
a Heb. chap. 2. ver. 15.
these all our troubles; for besides these, outward troubles will then even overwhelm us, when a man is to dispose of his wife and children, house and lands, he must needs be very unfit at this time, for the work of repentance. These things will cast so great a damp on his heart, as that he shall be even cold in his seeking after peace with God.
2. But suppose these outward hindrances are removed, that neither pains of body, nor fear of death seize on thee, neither care of wife nor children, houses, nor lands distract thee, but that thou mightest then set about it with all thy might, though thou wert in the most penitent condition, that might be to man's seeming, yet where is the change or new nature should follow thy contrition, unless we see this in truth, we can have but little comfort. Shall I see a sinner run on in his ill courses, till the day of death, and then set on this work, I could not conclude therefore the safety of his soul, because it is the change of the affections, not of the actions, that God looks after; for the fear of death may extort this repentance, where the nature is not changed. Take an example of a covetous man, which dotes on his wealth more than any thing else in the world; suppose him in a ship with all his riches about him, a tempest comes and puts him in danger of losing all, both life and goods, in this strait he sticks not to cast out all his wealth, so he may preserve his life; and shall we therefore say he is not covetous ? No, we will account him nevertheless covetous for all this, not that he loved his goods the less, but his life the more. It is so in this case, when an impenitent person is brought upon his death bed; he is apt to cry out in the bitterness of his soul, If God will but grant me life, and spare me now, I will never be a drunkard, swearer, or covetous person, more. Whence comes this? Not from any change of his nature, and loathing of what he formerly loved, but because he cannot keep these and life together: fear alters his disposition, the terrors of the Almighty lying upon him. I have myself seen many at such a time as this, that have been so exceeding full of sorrow, and
penitent expressions, that the standers by have even wished their souls to have been in the other souls' cases, and yet when God hath restored them, they have fallen into their former courses again; and why is this? But because when repentance comes this way, it alters only the outward actions for the present, not the sinful dispositions, things that are extracted from a man, after the outward appearance, not the nature. Therefore saith the Lord, "I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early." Mark, when God's hand is on them, they will seek him: and as in chap. VI. ver. 1. say one to another, "Come let us return unto the Lord, for he hath torn and he will heal us, he hath smitten and he will bind us up." How penitent were they, when God's hand was on them: but let it once be removed, and hear how God presently complains of them: "O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? For your goodness is as a morning cloud," such a goodness as is extorted, that is as temporary as earthly dew! Another considerable place we have in Psalm LXXVIII. ver. 34. "When he slew them, then they sought him, and returned, and inquired early after God." Was not this a great conversion? When they were in this dismal condition, they were not troubled with cares, for wife or children, houses or lands, how can we think but that these men died in peace, that were in so good a humour; yet see what follows: "Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouths, and lied unto him with their tongues."
b Hos. chap. 5. ver. 15.
Besides, consider the unworthiness of it; I will forsake sin, when sin forsakes me: we leave it when we can keep it no longer: "Thank you for nothing," may God say, if you could, you would sin longer, this is that folly, which deferring our repentance brings us to.
But to draw to a conclusion: God hath set us a certain day, and if we pass the time, wo be to us. For though
c Psalm 78. ver. 36.
he is full of mercy, and patience, yet patience hurt oftentimes harms, and provokes the Almighty to fury. "Godd will not always strive with man, but his days shall be an hundred and twenty years," if he convert in that space, and return, well, if not, he shall be swept away. And to this purpose is that parable: "A certain man had a figtree planted in his vineyard, and he came and sought fruit thereon and found none, Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, behold these three years I came seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none: Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?" There is an appointed time, then, fore-ordained by God, wherein he offers us grace. "Let it alone," saith the dresser, "one year more:" it may be seven years, or ten, it may be but two hours, for ought thou knowest, that God may offer thee longer this space. No man knows the time, and its continuance, but he that hath appointed it to this purpose: which is a point I thought not to speak of, but now I will.
You hear much talk of God's eternal and everlasting election, and we are too apt to rest on this, that if we are elected to salvation we shall be saved, and if not, we shall be damned, troubling ourselves with God's work of predestination, whereas this works no change in the party elected, until it come unto him in his own person. What is God's election to me? it is nothing to my comfort, unless I myself am effectually called. We are to look to this effectual calling. The other is but God's love to sever me from the corrupt mass of Adam's posterity. But what is my effectual calling? It is that, when God touches my heart, and translates me from the death of sin, to the life of grace. Before this effectual calling, even the elect Ephesians were "without' Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenant of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." Now there are certain times which God appoints for this effectual calling, wherein he uses the means to work on
d Gen. chap. 6. ver. 3.
Luke, chap. 13. ver. 6.