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I attempt to enforce upon you an immediate compliance with his commands, to press home upon your conscience the reasons, the motives, which should induce you to become religious to-day.
Before I proceed to do this, let me state particularly whom I mean to address. It is not the fool, who says in his heart, there is no God. It is not the profane scoffer, who disbelieving the Scriptures, sneeringly asks, Where is the promise of his coming? It is not he, who, having already presumptuously hardened his heart against the truth, has been given over by the righteous judgment of God to strong delusions, to believe a lie. Such characters I must leave where they have wilfully thrown themselves, in the hands of that God who is a consuming fire, who has declared, that he will deal with incorrigible offenders. It is the young, who are not hardened through the deceitfulness of sin ; it is those, who rationally convinced of the truth and importance of religion, intend at some future period to embrace it; those whose consciences, not yet seared as with a hot iron, sometimes cause them to tremble, as did Felix, when they hear of righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come; but who, like the same Felix, are postponing a compliance with their convictions to some more convenient
Such are the characters whom I now address, and upon whom I would press the importance, the necessity, of immediately becoming religious.
The first motive, which I shall set before you with this view, is the shortness and uncertainty of life. I urge you to become religious to-day, because you are not sure of tomorrow; because to-day is, perhaps, the only opportunity with which you will ever be favoured. Need I enter upon a laboured proof of this truth? Need I remind
that you are mortal, that it is appointed to all men once to die? Does not the tolling bell almost daily remind you of this ? Do you not see your fellow-mortals borne in rapid succession to their long home, while the mourners go about your streets ? Need I tell you, that you are frail, as well as mortal ; that you must not only die, but may die soon and suddenly; that ihe time allotted you, when longest, is short, and may prove much shorter than you are aware : that many are swept into eternity, as in a moment, by unexpected casualties; and that those who fall victims to disease, are in perfect health the day, nay, the hour, before it assailed them; and that of course, the full possession of health to-day, is no proof that you will not be assailed by fatal disease to-morrow ? Who,
let me ask, are the persons that die suddenly and unexpectedly? Are they the feeble, the infirm? Ño; observation will tell you, that they are the youthful, the vigorous, the strong. She will tell you, that, while the former, like a reed, bend before the blast and escape, the latter, like the stubborn oak, brave its fury, and are prostrated. She will tell you, and the physician will confirm her remark, that those who enjoy the most vigorous health, are most exposed to many of those diseases, which arrest their victims by sur. prise, and cut short the thread of life as in a moment. Will you boast of to-morrow as if it were your own, when you know not what a day may bring forth? You will pity and condemn the madness of a man, who should stake his whole fortune on the turn of a die, without the smallest prospect of gain. But, my delaying reader, you are playing a far more dreadful and desperate game than this. You are staking your soul, your salvation, on the continuance of life; on an event as uncertain as the turn of the die. You stake it without any equivalent; for if life should be spared, you gain nothing ; but should it be cut short, you lose all, you are ruined for eternity. You run the risk of losing every thing dear, and of incurring everlasting misery-for what? For the sake of living a little longer without religion, of spending a few more days or years in disobeying and offending your Creator, of committing sins which you know must be repented of. And is it wise, rather is it not madness, to incur such a risk? Let the following case furnish the reply. I will suppose that you intend to defer the commencement of a religious life for one year only. Select, then, the most healthy, vigorous person of your acquaintance, the man whose prospects are fairest for long life, and say, whether you would be willing to stake your soul on the chance of that man's life continuing for a year? Would
you be willing to say, I consent to forfeit salvation, to be miserable for ever, if that man dies before the expiration of a year? My delaying reader, if you would not stake your salvation on the continuance of any other person's life, why will you stake it on the continuance of your own? Yet this you evidently do, when you resolve to defer repentance to a future period; for if you die before that period arrives, you die impenitent, unprepared, and perish for ever. then, play no longer this desperate game; a game in which millions have staked and lost their souls ; but if
intend ever to become religious, begin to-day, for to-morrow is not.
A second reason is, that if you do not commence a religious life to-day, there is great reason to fear that you
commence it. This is a most important, as well as most alarming truth; and could I persuade you to believe it, I should feel strong hopes, that you would comply with the exhortation I have been endeavouring to enforce; for 1 venture to assert, that there is no one thing which encourages you to neglect religion now, so much as a secret hope, that you shall become religious at some future time. Could this delusive hope be destroyed, could you be made to feel that your eternal salvation depends on your becoming religious to-day, you would scarcely postpone it till to-morrow. Permit me then to attempt the destruction of this hope, by showing you how groundless it is, and how many circumstances combine to render it probable, that, if you do not hear God's voice to-day, you never will hear it. With this view, I remark, that the very causes which induce you
to defer the commencement of a religious life, render it highly improbable that you will ever become religious. When this duty is urged upon you now, you allege perhaps, that you are not able to become religious, or that you cannot give your mind to it, or you have not sufficient time for it, or you know not how to begin. Now, all these will operate with equal force another day. You will then feel just as unable, or, to speak more properly, just as unwilling to become religious as you do now. When to-morrow arrives, you will, therefore, probably defer repentance to some future time; when that arrives, you will again defer it ; and will continue to pursue this course till life is spent.
Could the work be rendered more easy by delay, there might be some appearance of a reason for deferring it.
But it will not. On the contrary, every day's delay will render it more difficult. Your heart, as you have already been reminded, will to-morrow be more hard and insensible than it is now ; your sinful habits will also be more confirmed; your conscience will be less tender; you will be less susceptible of religious impressions ; in a word, you will have greater difficulties to overcome, and less disposition to contend with them,
to-day. It is, therefore, exceedingly improbable, that those who neglect religion today, will attend to it to-morrow.
There is another circumstance which renders this improbability still greater. The inspired writers teach us, very explicitly, that, after a time, God ceases to strive with sinners, and to afford them the assistance of his grace. He gives them up to a blinded mind, a seared conscience, and a hard heart. Thus he dealt with the inhabitants of the old world. Thus he dealt with the wicked sons of Eli. They hearkened not
to the voice of their father, says the inspired historian, because the Lord would slay them. That is, God had determined, in consequence of their wickedness, to destroy them, and, therefore, he did not accompany the warnings of their father with his blessing. Thus he dealt with the Jews time of the prophet Isaiah, Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes ; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and be healed. The same terrible punishment was' inflicted on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, in our Saviour's time. He beheld the city, we are told, and wept over it, saying, O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes : this passage very clearly intimates that there is a time when sinners may know the things of their peace; but that, if they suffer that time to pass without improving it, the things of their peace will then be hidden from them, and their destruction will be sure. Hence the apostle exhorts us to take warning from the fate of the Jews, who hardened their hearts against God's voice, and thus provoked him to swear in his wrath, that they should not enter his rest. Hence, also, he informs us, that now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation; thus plainly intimating that to-morrow the day of salvation may be past. If then, my delaying reader, you harden your heart to-day, God may seal it up in impenetrable hardness to-morrow.
If you say, I will not embrace the offers of salvation to-day, God may say, No offers of salvation shall be made you to-morrow. Nor is there small reason to fear this ; of all the sins which men can commit, perhaps no one is more provoking to God than that of refusing immediately to hear his voice. It is a direct and wilful act of rebellion against his authority; it is a sin committed against light and conviction ; it is resisting and grieving the Holy Spirit; it is crucifying Jesus Christ afresh ; it is practically saying, I know that I must, at some period of life, become religious. It is true death may surprise me, or God may deny his grace, and leave me to perish if I delay; but I choose to encounter this danger, to incur the risk of losing everlasting happiness and of suffering eternal misery, rather than hear God's voice to-day. I will, therefore, once more, harden myself against it; I will again trifle with his commands, again make light of my Saviour's invitations, walk a little longer in the broad road, and sit a while longer on the crumbling brink of perdition. This, 0 delaying sinner, is the plain language of thy conduct. Thus strong is the aversion which it expresses to religion, to the service of God. That he must be exceedingly displeased with such a course, must be obvious to your own mind. You have then great reason to fear, that your day of grace has almost expired, that God, will soon swear in his wrath, you shall never enter his rest. How groundless must be your hope of a future conversion; how small the probability, that, if you refuse to hear God's voice to-day, you will ever become religious! You ought to feel as if this were the only accepted time, as if your day of grace would end with the setting sun, as if all eternity depended on the present hour, on your immediate obedience to the voice of God.
Thus have I stated some of the reasons which should induce you to commence, immediately, a religious life. To crown all, permit me to remind you, that it is the express command of God. God now commandeth all men, every where, to repent, Acts xvii. 30 ; and the Holy Ghost saith, Obey God's command, hear his voice to-day, and do not harden your heart against it. Heb. iii. 7, 8. This command, O sinner, I lay as a terror across thy path. You cannot proceed one step farther in an irreligious course, without trampling it under foot ; without practically saying, God now commands me to repent, but I will not repent; the Holy Ghost saith, Hear his voice to-day, but to-day I will not hear it. If tomorrow's rising sun find you out of the narrow way of life, it will find you where God expressly forbids you to be, on pain of incurring his severest displeasure. He has said, rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry; and if you disobey his voice to-day, you will be guilty both of rebellion and of stubbornness. We might almost venture to say, it would scarcely be more sinful to commit murder, than to defer repentance; for why is murder a sin ? Because, you will reply, God has said, Thou shalt not kill. And has not the same God said, with equal clearness, Repent now, and believe the gospel ? To violate this command then, is no less a direct act of rebellion against God, than it would be to take the life of a fellow-creature And will you, can you, dare you, then, be guilty of it? Has any reader already reached such a pitch of impiety and wickedness, as to dare trample on a known command of God, to commit known, wilful, deliberate sin, when he has assured us, that if we sin wilfully, after we have received a knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin ; but a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery