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MOTIVE 1. Consider ye do but mock God, and cheat yourselves by your delaying. For it is inconsistent with a sincere purpose to repent and turn from sin, 1 Pet. iv. 1, 2, 3. For he that sincerely minds to turn from sin, will presently turn from it.
MOTIVE 2. Repentance is not in your power ; it is God's gift, which he gives when he will, Acts v. 31. “God hath exalted Christ with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel.” The time of God's grace is limited : a time wherein he will be found, and when not: Is. lv. 6. " Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.” Death certainly puts a period to it. But it seems to be clear, that men may outlive their day of grace : Luke xiv. 24. “I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden, shall taste of my supper." Time was when Esau might have had the blessing, but then he despised it; but the time came when he could not have it: Heb. xii. 17. “ Ye know how that afterward when he would have inberited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” Strike in then with the occasion ; for if wind and tide fail, there can be no setting to sea.
MOTIVE 3. Though we knew certainly, that our day of grace were far from the end; yet it is a most unworthy thing so to deal with God. Shall men abuse mercy and grace because the Lord waiteth to be gracious ? Will men abuse the divine patience, because it suffers long? What a folly is it to stand off as long as we can from him to whom we must needs submit ourselves at length ?
MOTIVE 4. The time is short, the work great, and so is the opposition. Salvation-work is a great work; it is no easy thing to be a Christian; ye must lay your account with all the opposition the devil, the world, and the flesh can make you; ye have but an age that is an handbreadth, as nothing to do it in.
MOTIVE 5. Your life is most uncertain. We are tenants-at-will, we have no tack for to-morrow, Jam. iv. 13, 14. forecited. We are agreed about the necessity of repentance; the only question is, When shall it be done? God says, To-day; and to morrow is not yours, but God's. How then can ye destinate for this use the time that is not yours? Return to God one day before thy death, say the Jewish doctors. Wisely said; return then to-day, for it may be ye shall die to-morrow.
Motive 6. The longer ye delay, the work will be the harder. For sin becomes stronger, as the waters, the farther from the head, the greater they grow. And the arrow that going from the bow strays from the mark, how far wide will it be ere it come to the utmost point? It is observed, that Christ groaned at the raising of Lazarus four days dead ; but not so at the raising of the young man of Nain, or Jarius' daughter. Jer. xiii. 23. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” Their number increaseth; the devil who comes alone at first, at length his name is Legion. The heart grows harder, the mind blinder, the will more perverse, the affections more carnal.
MOTIVE 7. A moment's delay may be an eternal loss, because thou kuowest not any moment that may not be thy last.
MOTIVE ult. God commands you to repent presently, Heb. iv. 7. Therefore upon your peril it is, if ye delay any more.
OBJECTION. The thies on the cross repented at the last gasp. ANSWER. His repentance was one of the miracles at Christ's death; and he glorified God more at his death than ye could if ye had been a penitent all your days. But though there was one that none might despair, yet there was but one that none might presume. The other thief even died as he lived.
THE EXTRAORDINARY CASE OF THE THIEF ON THE CROSS NO
ARGUMENT FOR DELAYING REPENTANCE.
Two Sermons preached, at Ettrick, in June, 1717.
LUKE xxiii. 42,
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy
The love that sinners bear to their lusts, and the conviction men generally have of the necessity of repentance, each of them putting in for a share, do natively produce a delay. And Satan and the corrupt heart join to support the delaying temper, both by pretended reasons, and abused examples: amongst which last none is more so than this of the thief who repented on the cross.
My great design being to convince you, that this instance can be no encouragement to delay repentance, I need not here lay for a foundation the proof of this man's sincerity, which the text and context put beyond all doubt; nor insist on explaining this his prayer, full of faith and repentance, which had a most gracious Every body knows the story; and they that know very little of the Bible, will be found acquainted with this instance of the penitent thief on the cross; and they abuse it to their own ruin, drawing encouragement from it to put off repentance till they come to a death-bed.
We need not much wonder, that this becomes a stumbling-stone to many, on which they are ruined. Hearing the thief was converted near the last gasp, and having led a sinful life, the thread was suddenly broken, and he died happily; his day was a dark day all over, till in the evening, the sun broke out with a bright though short glimpse, and then set; That this, I say, is abused and turned to a stumbling-stone by impenitent sinners, is no great wonder, if ye consider the following things.
1. As a vicious stomach corrupts the best of meat; so impenitent sinners abuse the best things to their own ruin: so that what raises up others taught of God, is an occasion of falling to them. The altar of God, and the whole law was so to the unbelieving Jews, Rom. xi. 9. Is not the very gospel, and the preachers thereof, a savour of death to some ? 2 Cor. ii. 16. Nay, Christ himself is a stumbling-block to them. 1 Pet. 7, 8.
2 There is a particular disposition in the hearts of impenitent sinners to abuse and wrest the Scriptures. Hence Peter, speaking of Paul's epistles, says, “In them are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction,” 2 Pet. iii. 16. The Scripture is a light, and a rule of divine authority; and it may well be expected, that if sinners can persuade themselves of a shelter there for their sins, it will be the most effectual one. This is the most feasible means for stilling the clamours of an ill conscience, and cheating men into their own ruin.
3. Abused Scripture is one of the chief pieces of Satan's armour, wherewith he maintains and promotes his kingdom among those that have the Scriptures. Thus Satan said to Christ, Matt iv. 6. “ If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down : for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Hence unclean persons still their consciences with the example of David, swearers with that of Joseph by the life of Pharaoh, or Peter's, &c. Men that are mere moralists screen themselves with that, Mic. vi. 8, “ He hath shewed thee, 0 man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God ?" And others satisfy themselves with good meanings and desires, because of that, Matt. v. 6, “ Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness : for they shall be filled.” Others think, they may repent at any time, from that Scripture, Ezek. xviii. 27, “When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive." And thus it becomes harder to convince men that have some notional knowledge of the Bible, than those that never knew it.
4. Reigning love to sin makes people very dexterous to find out shifts to preserve their lusts; as in Saul's speech to Samuel, 1 Sam. xv. 15, “ They have brought them from the Amalekites : for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God, and the rest we have utterly destroyed." What people would fain have to be true, it is easy to persuade them of: and what they are loathe to part with, it is not hard to invent shifts to hold it still. Were men willing to be the Lord's, they would be so presently; and they would be loathe to delay one moment, lest they should never see another.
To come to this particular instance in the text, I must tell you, That though here is ground of hope for poor trembling sinners, that they may be brought to repentance, and be accepted of God; yet there is no ground here for crafty delaying sinners to put off repentance, in hopes to go through with it afterwards, especially in a dying hour.
I. There is ground of hope for trembling sinners. And we may learn from this instance these following lessons.
1. They may go long on, and far on in the way to hell, whom yet God may bring home to himself. Here is a man, a thief, whose course brought him to an ill end, to a violent death, and yet grace reaches him. See the following remarkable passage, 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10, 11, “Know ye not that the uprighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived : neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you : but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” From this it appears, that some of the Corinthian converts had been formerly the vilest of wretches, and guilty of the most enormous lewdness and impiety; and yet became famous monuments of the triumphs of sovereign efficacious grace. What a length did Manasseh and Paul go; and yet what illustrious penitents did they afterwards become? The latter justly acquired the
character of the greatest of saints, and the most eminent of all the apostles.
2. Grace sometimes catches them that in appearance, and to the eyes of the world, are farthest from it. It passeth by the most likely, and pitches on the most unlikely objects. While chief priests, scribes, and elders mock Christ, the thief on the cross is converted. The Lord loves to set up the trophies of his victory in the midst of the devil's kingdom. Hence is that promise, Is. lv. 5, “Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee, shall run unto thee, because of the Lord thy God; and for the holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee."
3. Grace makes a vast difference betwixt those betwixt whom it finds none.
Here are two thieves, both on the cross : grace touches the heart of the one, but passeth by the other; and makes the one a convert, while the other dies hardened. So true is Paul's observation, Rom. ix. 16, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy."
4. Lastly, While there is life there is hope. Here is one converted when near the last gasp; while his last sand was running, grace overtakes him, opens the eyes that before were closed, wins the heart that had been all along hardened. But I stay not on these things. Only the use that is to be made of this, is,
1. Let those that seek God early be encouraged from this, that they shall find him: Prov. viii. 17, I love them that love me, and those that seek me early shall find me.” Was he so ready to receive a penitent soul coming in at the last hour, then surely he will be very ready to receive thee that comes in before that time. He rejected him not because he was long a-coming ; but received him because he came. Come then forward with assured hope of thy acceptance upon thy early return.
2. Let not those whose day is almost gone, before they have begun their work, despair. Who knows but that may be done in the evening, that was neglected the whole day before? A gale for heaven may blow, that may put life in an old sinner, and make his flesh fresher than that of a child. The door of the vineyard stands open for labourers to come in even at the eleventh hour. Sovereignty is not pent up to times and ways, but takes a latitude in both.
3. Lastly, Let us sow beside all waters, in the morning and in the evening. It depends on the working of free grace, which shall prosper. We are ready to be hopeless of success, where persons have long stood out against the Lord. But God's heavy hand on a