Page images

feigned abhorrence and forsaking of sin, and turning to the Lord our God with all our hearts.

For so we find them expressly joined together by St Paul, when he charges those whom by vision he was sent to convert, to change* their mind, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance :' Acts xxvi. 20. And a little before he says, he was sent 'to open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins:' verse 18. And we shall always find, when we are commanded to cease from evil, it is in order to do good.

The penitent, therefore, must be reminded, not only to confess and be sorry for his sins, but likewise to forsake them. For it is he only who confesseth and forsaketh his sins, that shall have mercy : Prov. xxviii. 13. And this forsaking must not be only for the present, during his sickness, or for a week, a month, or a year ; but for his whole life, be it never so protracted; which is the

4. Last thing requisite in a true repentance, viz. ' a patient continuance in well-doing to the end of our lives. For as the Holy Jesus assures us, that'he that endureth unto the end shall be saved ;' so does the spirit of God profess, that 'if any man draw back, his soul shall have no pleasure in him:' Heb. x. 38. Hence we are said to be partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end :' Heb. iii. 14. but not else : for it is to him only that overcometh, and keepeth his works to the end,' that our Saviour hath promised a reward: Rev. ii. 26. Hence our religion is said to be a continual warfare, and we must be constantly 'pressing forward toward the mark of our high calling, with the apostle, lest we fail of the prize.

And this it is which makes a death-bed repentance so justly reckoned to be very full of hazard; such as none who defer it till then, can depend upon with any real security. For let a man be never so seemingly penitent in the day of his visitation, yet none but God can tell whether it be sincere or not; since nothing is more common than for those who expressed the greatest signs of a lasting repentance upon a sick bed, to forget all their vows and promises of amendment, as soon as God had removed the judgment, and restored them to

[blocks in formation]

their former health. It happened to them according to the true proverb,' as St Peter says, 'the dog is turned to his own vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire :' 2 Pet. ii. 22.

The sick penitent, therefore, should be often reminded of this :--That nothing will be looked upon as true repentance, but what would terminate in a holy life: that, therefore, he ought to take great heed, that his repentance be not only the effect of his present danger, but that it be lasting and sincere, 'bringing forth works meet for repentance, should it please God mercifully to prove him by a longer life.

But here it is much to be feared, that after all his endeavours to bring men to a sight of themselves, and to repent them truly of their sins, the spiritual man will meet with but very little encouragement: for if we look round the world, we shall find the generality of men to be of a rude indifference, and a seared conscience, and mightily ignorant of their condition with respect to another world, being abused by evil customs and principles, apt to excuse themselves, and to be content with a certain general and indefinite confession; so that if you provoke them never so much to acknowledge their faults, you shall hardly ever extort any thing farther from them than this, viz. "That they are sinners, as every man hath his infirmity, and they as well as any; but, God be thanked, they have done no injury to any man, but are in charity with all the world. And, perhaps, they will tell you, 'they are no swearers, no adulterers, no rebels, &c. but that, God forgive them, they must needs acknowledge themselves to be sinners in the main,' &c. And if you can open their breast so far, it will be looked upon as sufficient; to go any farther, will be to do the office of an accuser, not of a friend.

But, which is yet worse, there are a great many persons who have been so used to an habitual course of sin, that the crime is made natural and necessary to them, and they have no remorse of conscience for it, but think themselves in a state of security very often when they stand upon the brink of dam. nation. This happens in the cases of drunkenness and lewd practices, and luxury, and idleness, and misspending of the Sabbath, and in lying and vain jesting, and slanderings of others; and particularly in such evils as the laws do not punish, nor public customs shame, but which are countenanced

[ocr errors]

by potent sinners, or wicked fashions, or good-natured and mistaken civilities.

In these and the like cases, the spiritual man must endeavour to awaken their

consciences, by such means as follow.

Arguments and general Heads of Discourse, by way of Consider

ation, to awaken a stupid Conscience and the careless Sinner.

1. And here let the minister endeavour to affect his conscience, by representing to him,

That Christianity is a holy and strict religion : that the promises of heaven are so great, that it is not reasonable to think a small matter and a little duty will procure it for us : that religious persons are always the most scrupulous : and that to feel nothing, is not a sign of life, but of death : that we live in an age, in which that which is called and esteemed a holy life, in the days of the apostles and primitive Christianity would have been esteemed indifferent, sometimes scandalous, and always cold ; that when we have done our best, all our righteousness is but as filthy rags;' and we can never do too much to make our calling and election sure:' that every good man ought to be suspicious of himself, fearing the worst, that he may provide for the best : that even St Paul, and several other remarkable saints, had at some time great apprehensions of failing of the

mighty prize of their high calling :' that we are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling;' inasmuch as we shall be called to an account, not only for our sinful words and deeds, but even for our very thoughts : that if we keep all the commandments of God, and yet offend in one point (i. e. wilfully and habitually), we are guilty of all :' James ii. 10.: that no man can tell how oft he offendeth, the best of lives being full of innumerable blemishes in the sight of God, however they may appear before men : that no man ought to judge of the state of his soul by the character he has in the world ; for a great many persons go to hell, who have lived in a fair reputation here; and a great many, on the other hand, go to heaven, who have been loaded with infamy and reproach: that the work of religion is a work of great difficulty, trial, and temptation: that 'many are called, but few are chosen :' that 'strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth to life, and few there be that find it:'and, lastly, that, “if the righteous themselves shall scarcely be saved,' there will be no place for the unrighteous and sinner to appear in, but of horrour and amazement.

By these and such-like motives to consideration, the spiritual man is to awaken the careless sinner, and to bring him to repentance and confession of his sins; and if either of himself, or by this means, the sick man is brought to a right sense of his condition ; then,

2. Let the minister proceed to assist him in understanding the number of his sins, i. e. the several kinds of them, and the various ways of prevaricating with the divine commandments. Let him make him sensible how every sin is aggravated, more or less, according to the different circumstances of it; as by the greatness or smallness of the temptation, the scandal it gives to others, the dishonour it does to religion, the injury it brings along with it to those whom it more immediately concerns; the degrees of boldness and impudence, the choice in acting it, the continuance in it, the expense, desires, and habit, of it, &c.

3. Let the sick man, in the scrutiny of his conscience and confession of his sins, be carefully reminded to consider those sins, which are no where condemned but in the court of conscience : for there are certain secret places of darkness, artificial blinds of the Devil, which he uses to hide our sins from us, and to incorporate them into our affections, by the general practice of others, and the mistaken notions of the world : as, 1. Many sins before men are accounted honourable; such as fighting a duel, returning evil for evil, blow for blow, &c. 2. Some things are not forbidden by the law of man, as lying in ordinary discourse, jeering, scoffing, intemperate eating, ingratitude, circumventing another in contracts, outwitting and over-reaching in bargains, extorting and taking advantage of the necessities or ignorance of other people, importunate entreaties, and temptations of persons to many instances of sin, as intemperance, pride, and ambition, &c.; all which, therefore, do strangely blind the understanding and captivate the affections of sinful men, and lead them into a thousand shares of the Devil which they are not aware of. 3. Some others do not reckon that they sin against God, if the laws have seized upon the person : and many who were imprisoned for debt, think themselves disengaged from payment; and when they pay the penalty, think they owe nothing for their scandal and disobedience. 4. Some sins are

thought not considerable, but go under the titles of sins of infirmity, or inseparable accidents of mortality; such as idle thoughts, foolish talking, loose revellings, impatience, anger, and all the events of evil company. 5. Lastly; many things are thought to be no sins; such as misspending of their time, whole days or months of useless or impertinent employment, long gaming, winning men's money in great portions, censuring men's actions, curiosity, equivocating in the prices of buying and selling, rudeness in speech or behaviour, speaking uncharitable truths, and the like.

These are some of those artificial veils and coverings, under the dark shadow of which the enemy of mankind makes very many to lie hid from themselves, blinding them with false notions of honour, and the mistaken opinions and practices of the world, with public permission and impunity, or (it may be) a temporal penalty; or else with prejudice, or ignorance and infirmity, and direct error in judgment.

Now, in all these cases, the ministers are to be inquisitive and strictly careful, that such kind of fallacies prevail not over the sick; but that those things, which passed without observation before, may now be brought forth, and pass under the severity of a strict and impartial censure, religious sorrow and condemnation.

4. To this may be added a general display of the neglect and omission of our duty; for in them lies the bigger half of our failings: and yet, in many instances, they are undiscerned; because our consciences have not been made tender and perceptible of them. But whoever will cast up his accounts, even with a superficial eye, will quickly find that he hath left undone, for the generality, as many things which he ought to have done, as he hath committed those he ought not to have done : such as the neglect of public or private prayer, of reading the Scriptures, and instructing his family, or those that are under him, in the principles of religion: the not discountenancing sin to the utmost of his power, especially in the personages of great men: the not redeeming the time, and growing in grace,' and doing all the good he can in his generation : the frequent omissions of the great duty of charity, in visiting the sick, relieving the needy, and comforting the afflicted: the want of obedience, duty, and respect to parents : the doing the work of God negligently, or not discharging himself with that fidelity, care, and exactness which is incum

« PreviousContinue »