THE TWENTY-SECOND DAY. Against delay of repentance.
CONSIDER, that of all the deceits of satan, by which he deludes poor sinners to their eternal ruin, there is none greater or more dangerous than the one by which he persuades them to put off their repentance and conversion from time to time, till there is no more time for them. Alas! thousands and millions of poor souls have been thus betrayed into everlasting flames, who never designed to damn themselves by dying in sin, any more than any one of us at present does. But by putting off their conversion, they have, by a just judgment of God, been surprised by death, when they least expected it; and, dying as they lived, have been justly sentenced to the second and everlasting death. Unhappy wretches! who would not believe their just Judge, who so often warns them in the gospel to watch; and declares to them that otherwise he shall come at a time when they least expect him. Ah! how dreadful and how common are these unprovided deaths!
2. Consider the great presumption of sinners, who put off their reconciliation with an offended God till another time, shutting their ears to his voice, by which he calls them at present; and refusing him entrance into their heart, where he stands and knocks. Alas! if he withdraws himself they are undone for ever: how dare they then treat him with so much contempt? Is it not infinite goodness, and inexpressible condescension in his Sovereign Majesty to call after them, when they are running from him; and so earnestly to press them, without any interest on his side, to return to him who is their only good and only happiness? What then ought they not to apprehend from his justice, if they obstinately and insolently refuse to embrace his mercy? How dare they pretend to dispose of the time to come, or promise themselves greater graces hereafter, than those which they now abuse? Do they not know that God alone is master of time and grace, and that by his just judgment those who presume to tempt him in this manner, generally speaking, die in their sins? Ah! it is too true, that he who has promised pardon to the sinner that is sincerely converted, has promised neither time nor efficacious grace to those who defer their conversion.
3. Consider the great folly of sinners, who put off their conversion to God till another time, upon pretence of doing it more easily hereafter: whereas, both reason and experience make it evident, that the longer they defer this work, the harder it is to bring it about. And how can it be otherwise, since by this delay, and by adding daily sin to sin, their sinful habits grow daily stronger; the devil's power over them increases; and God Almighty, who is daily more and more provoked, by degrees, is less liberal of his graces, so that they become less frequent and less pressing: till at length, by accustoming themselves to resist God's grace, they fall into the wretched state of blindness and hardness of heart, the very broad road to final impenitence!
4. Consider the unparalleled madness of those who defer their conversion upon the confidence of a death-bed repentance; designing to put a cheat upon God's justice, by indulging themselves in sin all their lifetime; and then making their peace with God, when they can sin no longer. Unhappy wretches! that will not consider that God is not to be mocked: that what a man soweth, the same shall he reap. Gal. vi. 7. 8. The general rule is, that as a man lives, so he dies: a rule so general, that in the whole scripture we have but one example of a person who died well after a wicked life, viz. of the good thief: an example so singular in all its circumstances, as to give no kind of encouragement to such sinners, as entertain a premeditated design of giving the slip to God's justice by a death-bed conversion. Ah! how dreadfully difficult must it be for a dying sinner, in whom the habit of sin by long custom is turned into a second nature, to attain to that thorough change of heart, that sincere sorrow and detestation of sin above all things, which he never thought of in his lifetime, and which now at least is certainly necessary. Ah! how deceitful too often are those tears, which are shed by dying sinners, (as we see in the case of king Antiochus) which, being wholly influenced by the fear of death, prevail not with the just Judge. And if there is so much danger, even when tears are plentifully shed, what must there be, when, as it commonly happens, either the dulness and stupidity caused by the sickness, or the pains and agonies of the body and mind are so great, as to hinder any serious application of the thoughts to the greatest of all our concerns; for if a little headache is enough to hinder us from being able to pray with any devotion, what must the agonies of death be? No wonder then that the saints and servants of God make so little account of these death-bed performances: especially as we see by daily experience, that those who have made the greatest show of repentance, when they were in danger of death, have no sooner escaped that danger, than they are the same men they were before. O Christians, let us not then be imposed upon by the false and flattering discourses of men, who are so free in pronouncing favourably of all those, who, after a life spent in sin, make some show of repentance at their death. Let us rather tremble at the deplorable case of such souls; and remember that God's judgments are very different from those of men.