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man, and a view of eternity, may afford a season wherein the wild ass may be caught.
II. But there is no ground here for the crafty delaying sinner to put off repentance, especially till a dying hour. To set this matter in a true light, consider these following things.
1. It is a most rare example. There is not an instance like it in all the book of God, unless it be that of Achan, Josh, vii. 20, 21. Yet the Lord has left that case of Achan's much under a cloud ; so that it is not positively determined as this is, though we may charitably hope the best in his case too. Now, here I would have you to consider,
1st, What less could there have been to have cleared a possibility of acceptance with God, for a sinner at the last, after he has spent all his days in sin? If we had not had this instance, what could have been said to shew such wretched misspenders of time, that ever any that was so long a setting off in their journey to heaven did get in? And because this says, that none should despair; must it therefore import, that they may safely delay ? The sun once stood still in the days of Joshua ; which says it is possible such a thing may be: but will any man delay his work in hope of such an extraordinary cast again? And why will ye?
2dly, As one swallow makes not spring, so neither can this one event make a general rule that you or I may trust to. The ordinary rule is, that as men live, so they die ; a holy life, a happy end; a graceless, careless life, an unhappy and miserable end. Because Providence may go off the ordinary road, and do that in a few minutes with some, that ordinarily cosis many years to others; can you venture eternity on that, that he will do so with you? Moses fasted forty days and nights, Exod. xxxiv. 28: yet who will venture on that in hopes of having his life preserved without food ?
3dly, Are there not eminent instances to the contrary, wherein men living in their sin have been struck down in a moment, getting no time to repent of them, but fiery wrath has put an end to their days ? Consider the case of Nadab and Abihu, Lev. x. 1, 2, of whom it is thought they had erred through drink, ver. 9; Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, Numb. xvi. 31, &c.; Ananias and Sapphira, Acts v., who died instantly with a lie in their mouth. But why do I instance in particular persons ? Did not millions die together in their sins, by the deluge that swept away the old world, the fire and brimstone that burned up Sodom, Gomorrha, Admah, and Zeboim ? What multitudes were there there, who, being warned, put off to the day they never saw ? And shall this one instance encourage you to delay, over the belly of the dreadful example of millions on the other hand ?
4thly, The most that this so rare an example can amount to, is possibility. It is not to so much as a probability or likelihood. That is a probable event, which though it does not always fall out, yet for the most part it does so; as that the husbandman shall get more than his seed again. But from what is said it appears, that for the most part it falls out otherwise, namely, that people even die as they live. So that it is probable, that if thou do not repent before, God will deny thee grace to repent at the last. How then can a man that has any belief of a God, a heaven, and a hell, venture his salvation on a mere possibility, while the probability lies the other
2. Thongh there were two thieves on the cross at that time, yet it was but one of them that got grace to repent. The one indeed was a true penitent; but the other died as he lived, hardened in his sin ; nay, perhaps worse; for he died blaspheming the Son of God, before whose tribunal he was to appear, ver. 39. Now, upon this I would make these rational reflections.
1st, Is it not possible that thou mayst die blaspheming, if thou do not repent now in time? Thou canst not deny the possibility of it, when there is such a plain instance of it in the case of one of these thieves. Thou thinkest it may be thou may die a penitent with the good thief; and I say, it may be thou mayst die blaspheming with the other. The one is even as certain, as to us, as the other. Thou livest impenitent all thy days; when thou comest to a death-bed, God may withhold his grace from thee which thou hast all along refused; he may let thee see thy case hopeless for ever, and thou mayst be filled with despair; and in that case it is more than possible that both tongue and heart may rise against God.
2dly, It is at least an equal venture, that thou mayst die impenitent, as that thou mayst die a penitent. Thou hopest to repent at the last; why? because the thief on the cross repented. And I must say, that delaying repentance till then, thou runnest the risk of dying impenitent; for the other thief died so. And who has told thee, whether thy lot shall be with the one or with the other? Now, to repent presently, makes thy salvation certain; to delay it, does at best leave it to a venture. And consider with yourself seriously, if salvation and damnation be such trifling things, as to be left to an uncertainty, you do not know how it may fall.
3dly, It is inconsistent with common sense, to leave that thing to a venture, which may be made sure, where a hit or a miss is of the utmost concern. Suppose a rebel might certainly have his life by a willing submission to his prince, should he choose to stay till he were apprehended by the officers, he would act most unreasonably, and put his life in hazard where there is no need ; as in the case of Shimei, 1 Kings ii. 42. A thousand times more unreasonable art thou in such delays of repentance, for now thou mayst make heaven sure: but if thou delay, thy soul is left to a dreadful venture; and if thou miss when it comes to the point, thou art ruined for ever.
4thly, Nay but the venture is very unequal; for it is far more likely that delaying thou mayst die impenitent, than that thou mayst die penitent. Few took part with the good thief amongst all the crowd of spectators; the multitude went the other thief's way, mocking, ver. 35. And what casts the balance here in case of likelihood, is,
(1.) Common observation, that tells us, that most people even die as they live. Repentance is a flower rarely seen springing up from a death-bed. A melting of heart for sin, because of the dishonour done to God by it, is seldom seen in such as have lived a graceless, careless, presumptuous life; but that disposition even hangs about them to the end.
(2.) It is certain that few are saved, in comparison of them that are left : Matt. vii, 14, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” As to what some say of the infants of all mankind; all that are saved must go by the strait gate, and still these are few. It is evident, that most men live impenitent; yet all must die ; and therefore it follows, that few get grace to repent at their last, but most of those that live impenitent even die so too.
(3.) The sad threatenings denounced against sinners going on in their sin, with respect to their latter end : Prov. i. 24–27, “Because I have called, and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded ; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you." Ezek. xxiv. 13, “In thy filthiness is lewdness : because I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged, thou shalt not be purged from thy filthiness any more, till I have caused my fury to rest upon thee.” Now, show me one promise in all the Bible, promising the grace of repentance to those that delay, for to balance this. It is true, the gospel-offer is general, and excludes none while in this world: but O what a hazard is there, that these threatenings be accomplished to the denying the grace to lay hold on them then.
(4.) Corrupt nature sticks fast in thee ; and it will harden thee in
the face of death as well as it does now, unless thou get grace from above. Now, that corruption has possession long continued already, thou art sure of it; but thou hast no certainty for the grace of God to break it in thee, and work repentance in thy so long impenitent heart. And therefore I must conclude the venture to be very unequal.
(5.) Repentance is not to be wrought by the sinner's being brought to an extremity, as you may possibly imagine. Here was a man that was hanging on a cross, bleeding to death in great torment, having a present prospect of eternity before him, who could have no more pleasure in the world. But did that humble him ? No, no. His heart remains obdured to the last gasp. He is going into eternity; yet he is adding sin to sin, and going out of the world as he lived in it, if not worse. We find from Matt. xxvii. 44, that after the chief priests, scribes, and elders had mocked and railed on Christ, it is added, that “the thieves also which were crucified with him” joined in the railing. Whence some think, that even the other too joined in this railing on Christ, till grace broke in upon him and overcame his nature.
(6.) The most powerful and likely means of grace will not prevail, unless accompanied with a special operation of the Spirit. This blaspheming thief was near Christ himself, and might hear his words and groans. He had the example of his companion moving him to repent.
Grace was at work working wonders upon his neighbour. He had a dying preacher to call him to repent. The sun's light was eclipsed, the earth quaked, the rocks rent, the graves opened: yet for all these he died impenitent, and hard-hearted. Think on this, ye that deem it so easy to repent, if ye were come to your last.
(7.) They that delay repentance till a dying hour, readily find they have another thing to do then, than to repent; as is evident from the case of the other thief on the cross, ver. 39. “And one of the malefactors which were hanged, railed on him, saying, if thou be Christ save thyself and us." Death is the destruction of nature, and therefore nature wrestles against it, though there be no hope. This man was more concerned to get his body saved than to gei his soul saved. And, alas! is not this the case of the most part at that time? They have so much ado with the disease, that they can hardly get a due concern for their souls, or a composed thought.
3. There is no evidence that this thief had before such means of grace as you have. Who can say, that ever he heard the gospel preached by Christ or any of his disciples? It is most likely he was a rake; that if he heard any thing of God, it was from the
Scribes and Pharisees at times; and may be, when he might have heard either them, or Christ and his disciples, he was about his thievish trade. Now,
1st, It is unreasonable to think, that it should fare at the last with those who have had means of grace all their days, and despised them, as it may do with those who never have such means till they come to die. One would think it no wonder at all, to see a man converted at his last, who gets the first notice of Christ and the way of salvation when on his death-bed. But what is that to thee, who hast all along been invited to repent, and come to Christ, but wouldst not? The former is no wonder in comparison of the latter.
2dly, This conversion of the thief doubtless was a perfect surprise to him, a thing he was not looking for. But thou art setting tryst with repentance at thy last hours. Can you believe, that ever this thief delayed repentance in hopes of what he met with, namely, to die on a cross with Christ, and then to feel the power of his grace? Nobody can believe it. What is his example then to thee? Is it rational for thee to expect that favour which one has sometimes been surprised with, and got when he was not looking for it?
4. This thief was converted, when by the hand of public justice he was to die. When he was made a public example to the world, and as a malefactor brought to an untimely end for his crime, he got repentance at the gallows, not on a death-bed. He was cut off perhaps in the midst of his days; at least he died not by the course of nature, nor by any sickness, but was executed for bis evil deeds. And it is observable, that the one other case which looks likest to this in the Bible, was of the same sort, namely Achan's. Now,
1st, It is evident, that wicked men who are running on in such courses as will bring them to an untimely death, by the laws of the land, such as thieves, robbers, murderers, &c. have a fairer ground from this to delay repentance till they come to the scaffold, than you have, who are looking for a death-bed, and delay repentance tillyou come there.
For their case is nearer akin to this than yours. But are not they most foolish if they so do, even in your eyes ? No doubt they are. And so are ye in the eyes of others, whose eyes God has opened.
2dly, If we compare the case of this thief put to death for his crimes, and of other malefactors so dying, with the case of men that have lived impenitently dying in their heds; though grace is alike free to both, yet, humanly speaking, there is more hope of the repentance of the former than of the latter. And this I say on these three grounds.
(1.) It is more easy to convince a malefactor upon the scaffold, of