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herdsman, who thought the time would come, when all his black cattle would turn white? You would conclude such a man to be out of his senses. But doth not the sinner; doth not he, who knows he cannot make one hair of his head white or black, expect that this may happen to bimself? Doth not he persuade himseit, that his soul, hardened and blackened by sin, (by a life of sin) may become pure and white before he dies ? Thousands commit this mistake, and the world wonders not at it; neither will such people appear in their true character, till the last day shall shew them without disguise to men and angels.
4. There is another reason, why such men never repent; because they see so many around them who do not. Well therefore may the Spirit warn us against this danger : follow not a multitude to do evil. And if you would know what the power of a multitude is, look at the fashions : see how fast people run into them, and how they are never ashamed of them; ashamed did I say; how they are proud of them: and certainly very many are proud of their sin, for the same reason, because without it they cannot be like the multitude. The world is always wrong, and it never repents; neither will he repent who conforms to it; the world will keep the impenitent sinner in countenance: there are so many of his own sort, that he peed never be ashamed; and if it is like to be well with them all, he has nothing to be afraid of: but we know that the world, which lieth in wickedness, is to be condemned ; and he that looks up to it as a rule will be condemned with it.
If you consider, that true repentance is a conversion from sin to a life of righteousness, you will be sure that it must be a work, not only of difficulty, but of time. It is in grace, as it is in nature: the grain comes to be fit for the harvest by slow degrees. The ground is first to be broken up by the plough; then it is to be sown; then follow the blades of corn ; at firft they are tender, and remain long upon the ground before the ears of corn are found upon them. This is a process wbich begins in the spring, and is not finished till late in the summer. It is thus with the Christian; the fallow ground of his heart must be broken up by true contrition, before the seed of God's word which falls upon it can spring up, and bear fruit. Yet there are some people, who think they can be Christians all at once, when they please to find time for it. You never heard of a field that was ploughed, and sown, and full grown, and fit to be reaped, and all this in one day: and you never yet saw a Christian, who attained all at once to the life of grace. At the creation of the world, plants grew up instantly at the word of God; but no farmer of any sense expects that such a thing will happen now. So, at the beginning of the gospel, Paul, by.a miracle of which he had no expectation, and against his own will, was a complete Christian in a few days: but the like is not to be expected now, any more than that God should raise up the fruits of the earth as he did at the creation of the world. As he would be a foolish husbandman, who should neglect his land, and let the weeds grow till midsummer, and presume that God will give him a crop by a miracle at the harvest; so must he needs be a foolish Christian, who puts off the great work of re-. formation to the close of his life, till the opportunity, and the accepted season of grace, is lost: who thinks the good seed of God's word inay take effect in a heart, where sin has been striking its roots deeper and deeper every year: who thinks, that the religion of Christ may be learned at a time of life, when few men,
who had not learned them before, would be able to learn their letters : who can flatter himself, that he may be entitled to the reward of good works, after his life has been spent in filling up the measure of his iniquities.
Christian reformation then is a work of time; and the man who puts it off to another day will not be reformed at all, unless by a miracle of grace; which he bath no reason to expect; whose vain presumption is a tempting of God to transgress the laws of his justice, in favour of an impenitent sinner, who hath so long trifled with the offers of his mercy and goodness. Repentance, at whatever season it comes, is the gift of God; and St. Paul makes it very doubtful whether God will grant it at all times, even to those that ask it: for to some whom he adviseth to pray for it, he uses these remarkable words, if God peradventure will give them repentance : as if there were no rule nor promise to render it certain, that every sort of offender might have it for asking. St. Peter expresses the same doubt in the case of Simon Magus :
repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray “ God, if PERHAPS the thought of thine heart may " be forgiven thee.” But the most terrible of all to this purpose is the declaration of God by Solomon; whence it may certainly be inferred, that the dilatory presumptuous sinner, who has dared to try the patience of God, by refusing to hear him, shall at last find no place for repentance and acceptance.
" Because I have cailed and ye refused, I will also laugh at your .calamity, and mock when your fear cometh. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.” Therefore seek God while he may be found : refuse not to hear him at the first call; for after that refusal, you
know not what the second may be: death and judgment may be the only things remaining to you.
We often see how dreadfully they are disappointed, who deceive themselves with the assurance of future opportunities, when there can be no such assurance. Two things are requisite toward a true repentance, time and ability, neither of which are in our power ; both are in the hands of God. I look upon it as a sure sign of repentance, when a person thinks of the blessed sacrament, who never thought of it before, and is desirous of preparing liis mind for it by prayer and a serious examination of his conscience, as the Church of England directs, in her exhortations to the people. That person I consider as a true penitent, who is forsaking his sins, and putting himself in a way of salvation; and I pray to God to help him forward and give him perseverance. But I have met with those, who seemed to have formed a good intention to do their duty, yet have put off the performance for the present, and said in their hearts, “Not this time; the next will do very well;" but, alas, before the next time came, I have seen them seized with sudden incapacity, and hurried without warning into their grave; where every farther opportunity was lost, and while their great account remained unsettled.
On the other hand, if I see a man, who from time to time can hear the exhortations, the solemn, and carnest, and affectionate exhortations of the Church, to bring the congregation to the holy communion, and pay no regard to them; I am sure that man does not repent; and I have all the reason in the world to fear and believe, that he never intends it. What is to become of him hereafter, when he shall make his appearance before the tribunal of Christ, we do not yet see: but I can tell you what generally comes of him here; (I say generally; for we must not presume to make a certain rule for the searcher of hearts to follow :) generally then it happens to such a person, that he dies as insensible as he lives; and when death gives him warning, that warning is not taken. He who has hardened his ears against the language of the Church, does at last not understand the language of death, though it speaks loud enough and plain enough for every body else to understand it. For it is the endea. vour of Satan, after he has deceived a sinner all his life, to deceive him at his death, and make him as insensible of his bodily, as he has always been of his spiritual danger: so that when his neighbours and friends see him sinking apace out of life, his head is filled with nothing but thoughts of this world: he is contriving how some business shall be done a month or a year hence, and perhaps at some greater distance. He determines in his sickness, what a man dare not determine in his health, if he has any wisdom about him. If it happens that he is aware of his ill state, then he is amused with hopes of recovery: his old Enemy suggests to him, that he is not in such danger as people think him ; that there is but a very little between him and health ; and with these vain expectations he is buoyed up, till his last breach undeceives him. This is the common end of one who has hardened hiinself against the grace of God, and lived in the total neglect of repentance, or put it off to the time of his death : he and his intended repentance go on and on, from time to time, till they drop both together into another world, wherein there is no repent