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3dly, What all this is owing to: “So shall thy poverty come as one that travaileth,” &c. It is all owing to the cursed love of ease, to sloth, to the delays and put-offs, where with precious time is squandered away, and the precious soul is irrecoverably lost. They delay and delay on, till the golden opportunity is lost, and they are swept away into the pit, with all their good resolutions for the time to come, which they never see.
The point I intend to speak to from these words, is,
DOCTRINE, The delaying and putting off of repentance or salvation-work, is a soul-ruining course among gospel hearers.
In discoursing this doctrine, I shall shew,
I. I shall shew why it is that gospel hearers delay and put off repentance. There is a generation that are not resolved never to repent, never to ply salvation-work; but only they are not for it yet. They hope to mend and reform afterwards, but for the present they have no heart to it: so by cheating themselves out of their present time, they put a cheat on themselves for ever. They are called by the word, and by their own consciences, to make ready for another world, to work out their salvation ; but their hearts say, “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep;" and their practice is conformable thereto. Why is it so?
1. Satan has a great hand in this. If he cannot hold out the light altogether from disturbing them, he will do what he can to lull them asleep again, before they be fully wakened : Luke xi. 21. “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.” Thus he did with Felix, Acts xxiv. 25, who, “as Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." When the soul begins to think on making its escape, all the art of hell will be employed to hold it fast; and it is easier to get one to put off salvation-work till afterwards, than downright to refuse it altogether. And thus Satan is always on one of the two extremes, urging either that it is too soon, or else that it is too long a doing.
2. The cares and business of the world contributê much to this. Hence our Lord explained the seed which fell among thorns, to be those, who when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches, and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection,” Luke viii. 14. How often are people in such an unsanctificd throng of business, that they cannot find a convenient season for putting their salvation-work to a point? They have so many other cares upon their hands, that they jostle out the care of their souls. They find themselves wrapt up in a cloud of cares; but think with themselves, that were they but once through that, they shall ply their main work. Well, but they are no sooner out of that than they are in to another; and so on, till the work being put off from time to time, is quite neglected. The truth is, persons in such a case will hardly find a time for that work, till they be resolute that they shall take it as they can find it.
3. The predoninant love of carnal ease : Prov. xxvi. 15, “ The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom, it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth.” We are all naturally like Issachar, who saw " that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute," Gen. xlix. 15. Could people get sleeping to heaven on the sluggard's bed, would drowsy wishes carry them thither, many would be the passengers in that way. But that will not do. Men must labour, strive, and wrestle; and that is hard in the eyes of carnal men; and therefore, if it cannot be altogether refused, it is put off as long as may be. And hence never will a soul ply salvation-work in earnest, till it be effectually roused out of its lazy disposition.
4. The predominant love of sin. Why do persons stave off repentance, but because they are like those who entertaining their friends whom they have no will to part with, do therefore put off their departure from day to day? The parting with sin is like the cutting off of a member of the body, Matth. v. 30; which one will never yield to, unless he be very resolute. No man will delay a minute to throw a burning coal out of his bosom; but they will love to keep a sweet morsel under the tongue, who yet know that they must spit it out at length. And hence it is, that no purpose of reformation, which is only for afterwards, can be sincere ; because it argues a love to, and loathness to part with sin.
5. A natural aversion and backwardness to holiness : Rom viii. 7. “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” The heart will never be reconciled to the yoke of Christ, till grace make it so, Psal. cx. 3. But like as the bullock unaccustomed to the yoke is loath to stoop to it, and therefore still draws aback; so will the heart of man do, till overcoming grace reach it, Jer. xxxi. 18. Hence, when light is let into the mind, but the aversion still remains in the will, what can be expected, but that the business of repentance, which they dare not absolutely refuse, will be delayed ?
6. The hope of finding the work easier afterwards. The sluggard thinks with himself, that a little more sleep, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands to sleep, would make it easier to him to get out of his bed; though, on the contrary, the more he sleeps- unseasonably, the more he would sleep; and the longer persons delay the work of repentance, it is the harder to go through with it. For sin is a disease, which, the longer it lasts, gathers the more strength, and is harder to cure. And he that is not fit to-day to repent, will be less fit to-morrow.
7. A large reckoning on the head of time that is to come: Hence the rich man reckoned, "I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." But let us hear the judgment of God concerning this speech : “But God said unto him, thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided ?” Luke xii. 19. 20: God has given no man a tack of years, no nor hours; yet every body is ready to tell what they will do to-morrow, next month, or next year. people think they have a great deal of time before their band for repentance; the old people think they have enough before them for that too: and in people's conceit there is always enough, till their time be gone quite, and they be wakened out of their dream. Hopes of long life have ruined many a soul. O to be wise! James iv. 13. 14. “Go to now, ye that say, to-day or to-morrow we will go unto such a city, and continue there a year, and buy, and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow: For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." But what folly is it to venture eternity on such uncertainty !
8. A fond conceit of the easiness of salvation-work. There is a generation that please themselves with the thought, that it is but to believe and repent, and that is soon done. What persons can do with a touch of their hand, they think they need to be in no haste with. But O how contrary is this to the whole strain of Scripture, and the saint's experience ? Matth. vii. 14, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." Luke xiii. 24. “ Strive to enter in at the strait gate : for many,
I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” Eph. i. 19, 20, “ The apostle speaks of the exceeding greatness of God's power toward them who believe, according to the working of his mighty power; which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead. 1 Pet. iv. 18." If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear ?" Did men believe this, that there is such a difficulty in getting to heaven, they would not dare delay for a minute entering on the way.
9. A conceit of sufficient ability in ourselves to turn ourselves from sin unto God. That the doctrine advancing the power of natural reason and ability in spiritual things, does take so much with the world, is no wonder, since man naturally is such a stranger to his own spiritual impotency. Hence it is observed, that the first question with the awakened is, “ What shall I do to be saved ?" It is worth observing how the carnal heart turns itself into different shapes, to retain its sinful lusts. Sometimes the man says, that he is not able to do any good ; but when his sin cannot find shelter under this covert but he is pursued hot with conviction, he puts off his reformation and repentance to another time; thereby in effect declaring that he can do it, if he had but a season for it. He that is to use his oars may row at what hour he pleases; but he that must sail by the help of the wind must set off while it blows, because he cannot command it.
II. I shall show that this delaying is a soul-raining course.
1. It is directly opposite to the gospel call; which is for to-day, not for to-morrow : Heb. iii. 7, 8, “To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." All the calls of the gospel require present compliance, and do not allow sinners to put off till another day. It is true, salvation-work must be deliberate work; but ye are not allowed a time to deliberate whether ye will come to Christ and be holy or not. It is like the call to quench fire in a house, that must presently be done, yet done deliberately, so as the work be not marred in the making. How then can it be but a soul-ruining course?
2. It is threatened with ruin. The text is very express, “So shall thy poverty come as one that travaileth, and thy want as an armed man.” And one with a thousand times more safety might venture on a sword-point, than the edge of such a divine threatening. See Prov. xxiii. 21 ; Eccl. x. 18. And this threatening has been accomplished in many, whom their slothful delays have caused to perish; as in the case of Ephraim, Hos. xiii. 13. and of Felix, Acts xxiv. 25. Many have been not far from the kingdom of God, who yet never came to it.
3. Whenever grace touches the heart, men see that it is so. Hence says the Psalmist, Psal. cxix. 60, “I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.” When men are in earnest to get into Christ by faith, and to get back to God by repentance, they dare linger no more in the state of wrath, they flee out of it,
as one fleeing for his life, Matt. iii. 7. Their eyes are opened to see their danger, and therefore they are presently determined.
4. It has a native tendency to soul-ruin, which inevitably overtakes them, if they do not at length break off all delays, and come away. This is evident, if ye consider,
1st, The state of sin is a state of wrath, where ruin must needs compass a man about on every hand: John iii. 36, “He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life ; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” To have staid in Sodom that day it was to be burnt, was dangerous; but to abide a moment in the state of wrath, is far more dangerous. Who would venture into a house that is about to fall? who would not presently leave it? And will men venture “yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep," in a state of enmity with God ? Surely such persons know not God's greatness, nor the worth of their own souls.
2dly, The longer ye continue in sin, your spiritual death advanceth the more upon you. Every sin sets you a step farther from God, is a new bar in the way of your peace with him, strengthens your natural enmity against him, and alienates you more from the life of God. And where can this natively end, but in your souls' ruin? Ah! are we not far enough on in that way already? why delay more, that we may go yet farther off from God?
3dly, While ye remain in this state, there is but a step betwixt you and death, which you may be carried over by a delay of ever so short a time. All that is your security in this case, so far as ye can see, is the brittle thread of your life, which may be broken with a touch, and then ye are ruined without remedy. So that every delay, shorter or longer, of repentance, is a venturing of eternity on that uncertain life of yours, which in a moment may be taken from you.
USE I. For Information. This lets us see,
1. That delayers of repentance are self-destroyers, self-murderers. Well may it be said to such, as Ezek. xviii. 31, “Why will yo die ?” Should a man wilfully neglect a remedy for his disease, which puts him in hazard of his life, he could not be guiltless of his own death ; more than one who being called to rise and quench the fire in his house, and yet would lie still till it were consumed to ashes, would be blameless of its ruin. Self-love, that is, love of sinful self, is the source of the greatest cruelty; whereby lusts are spared to the destruction of the life of the soul.
2. By delays the interest of hell is advanced; where many are this day who had resolved to repent, but death did not wait their time, and so they were disappointed. No wonder new grounds of