« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
men in their life time, take present pay, immediate revenge; there being not one injury done them, that they have not fully returned. Lastly, the utmost that a sick or dying sinner can do, is to make strong and sincere resolutions against his former evil courses, and to walk in all virtue and godliness, should God continue his life. This is what men usually trust to in this extremity: they hope God will accept of such unfeigned resolutions, for repentance. But let us consider, that there is nothing more easy than to resolve well, especially when we are under fear; that there is nothing so difficult, which men will not readily promise to perform, if thereby they may but deliver themselves from a pressing and imminent danger. But yet how hard do we find it, by daily experience, to keep constant to those religious resolutions, which we make even in the time of our health and vigour, and that upon the most serious deliberation! How many have we known, who, in sickness and under the fears and apprehensions of death, have, by most solemn and, no doubt, sincere vows, obliged themselves to walk in better ways; and yet, as soon as restored to health, have presently returned like the dog to the vomit, or the sow to her wallowing in the mire!' The only time, then, of making good and lasting resolutions of living well, is, when we can examine indifferently, and determine impartially, when our judgements are good, and our passions quick. But all the purposes of sick men are most commonly like the vows of a mariner in a great tempest, which vanish away and are forgotten upon the altering of the weather. Thus the ungodly man's resolutions are just according to the degree of danger he is in: so long as there are hopes of recovery, his intentions of amendment are weak and slender; but as death comes near, his resolutions increase, and get strength; and when he finds little hopes of living any longer, then he strenuously resolves to live better; that is, he promises and vows to do, what, according to his own fears and opinion, is impossible to be done. And can we think God will accept of such a purpose of living well, founded on no other consideration or motive, than that a person believes his life is just gone?
But suppose the dying man resolves to leave all his sins; yet, alas! he hath entertained them so long, that they are not so easily parted with. Even good men spend a great part of their time in most hearty and frequent begging the divine assistance,
in using their utmost endeavours to conquer and subdue their unruly passions; and even wicked men complain enough of the difficulty of this. What more common with them than to say, "It is impossible to resist the allurements of good company, the charms of beauty, or the temptations of gain and honour !' Nay, do they not often try to excuse themselves in many sins, by pleading that they are so used to them, that they cannot possibly leave them? For instance, that they swear before they think of it; that they cannot restrain their passion, when provoked; that they have tried to break off some lewd customs, and have prevailed for a while, but that then they have returned upon them with greater violence, and can they then think this so easy when they come to die, that a good resolu tion and a few prayers shall, in an hour, or a day, so vanquish sin in general, as to qualify them to appear before God?
When, therefore, men make such resolutions of amendment, they resolve they know not what: for it is a work of great time and patience. It requires long consideration, assiduous watchfulness, and unwearied diligence, to extirpate those inveterate habits, which, by a long wicked life, we have contracted. To mortify those lusts that have so long tyrannised and domineered over us, is a work that must be done by degrees. There is very little regard, therefore, to be given to such hasty resolutions, as are violently extorted from us by great and present fear; and be they never so strong and sincere, yet still there is a great difference between resolving and performing. Besides, why should that be thought sufficient to save us at the last gasp, which all agree is not sufficient to put us in a state of salvation, whilst we continue in health? Wishes and purposes, made in the time of our strength, do not alone make a bad man good: why, then, should they alone be sufficient on our death-bed?
I proceed to consider, how far short all this comes of what the holy scriptures require as the indispensable conditions of salvation. For should all which a wicked man may do upon his death-bed, amount to repentance, yet where is obedience to the laws of the gospel? As for those, indeed, who, in the sincerity of their hearts, have done God's will, their repentance shall be accepted for what they have fallen short in, and which the best of us all have need to lament. But, certainly, a short repentance at last was never intended to answer for a universal
disobedience, and a whole life of wickedness. Repentance from dead works, and resolutions of a godly life, are required as a preparative for Christianity; and are, therefore, necessary in adult persons even before their baptism; but then by our Christian profession, which we take upon us in baptism, we are obliged to a new life, to all manner of purity and righteousness
wherein we expressly promise to walk in God's holy commandments all our days; the keeping whereof is absolutely necessary for the obtaining our future reward. This I shall illustrate briefly thus: The ways of virtue and righteousness, and of sin and wickedness, are two roads that are directly contrary to each other. Suppose, then, a man, for a great reward, is obliged, in one day, to travel so many miles northward; but presuming he hath time enough to do this in, he travels the quite contrary way, and goes southward; at last, all on a sudden, when the sun is just ready to set, and night comes on apace, then he begins to consider how much he is out of his way and finding himself weary and unfit for travel, and lamenting his own folly in losing his reward, promiseth, if he were to begin again, he would go directly to the place commanded. But ought this man to have the promised reward? since, before he can challenge that, he must first return back to the point from whence he set out; and even then he has his whole journey still to go. This is just the case of a wicked man upon his death-bed: he is not only to unravel all his former works, to break off all his lewd customs, to mortify all his foolish passions, and unruly lusts, to forsake all his deadly sins, and to repent of his past ill-spent life; but he is then to live a new life, to accustom himself to the practice of goodness, and to make it habitual to him. His mind is then to be furnished with all Christian virtues and graces; he hath his whole race still to run, and his salvation to work out; and is the least part of this possible to be done on a languishing bed of sickness?
If we make religion the business of our whole lives, and, in every thing, exercise ourselves to keep a conscience unblamable; yet, when we come to die, we shall find work enough to employ us. To behave as becomes Christians in such a condition, patiently to bear our affliction, cheerfully to submit to God's will, to beg pardon for our manifold failings and miscarriages, readily to leave the world, and all that is dear to us in it; thesc, and many more, are the exercises of a Christian
on a bed of sickness.
And how few are there, that are then We do not count able to bear up with any tolerable courage! him a wise man, that will leave so much as his worldly affairs at that time unsettled. And when our very natural powers and faculties are disabled, when our bodies are full of pain, and our minds of distractions and perplexities, how shall we be able to do all that work, for which our whole life is little enough, and for which alone we were born into this world? This the Evil Spirit subtlely foresees; and if he can but prevail with men to put off the care of religion till a sick-bed, he will then find other employment for them. And as before in their life-time, he told them it was too soon, so then he will suggest that it is too late to repent and turn to God. Let those who think of deferring their repentance till a death-bed, sometimes visit sick persons; let them look on their condition, when they lie a dying; and then judge, whether that be a fit time to do so great a work in. They may then see, how troubled and disturbed their thoughts and minds as well as bodies are; how fast their reason and understanding decay; how their memories are lost, their senses fail them, and how unable to help themselves. And is this a time to prepare for eternity; to vanquish all sins, and to obtain all grace? Is this the fittest opportunity we can choose to make our peace with God, to sue out our pardon, and to perform all those duties of piety, mercy, justice, and charity, in which we have been hitherto defective? Or rather, are not they then happy, who, at such a time, have nothing else to do but to die? Would we but take the opinion of those who are themselves in this condition, and be moved by their judgements, they will give testimony to the truth of what has been said. Do not they, when surprised by death, offer all their goods and substance, for which they have so long and vainly laboured, to procure, if possible, some longer time, though it was but a short truce, and little respite? What are they not willing to give, on condition that God would spare them yet a little while before they go hence, and be no more seen?' Did you ever hear of any dying penitent, that did not a thousand times wish he had begun sooner? And how earnestly do such warn every one by their example, to take heed of trusting to a death-bed repentance! But
The last thing, proper to be considered, is, what encourage
ment God hath given us, to believe, that he will abate of those conditions, which are required in the gospel. Now, though the conditions of salvation are the same to persons sick and dying as to men in health, and that both are under the same covenant, and the same actual obedience is required of all under equal penalties, yet there are two instances commonly mentioned in favour of a death-bed repentance: the one is that of the labourers, who came into the vineyard at the eleventh hour, and yet received equal wages with those that came in at the first, and had borne the heat of the day.' But it is to be observed that these labourers came in, as soon as they were called and invited: had they been offered work, and all the day refused, and only at last, just in the close of the evening, been willing to have worked, this had been something like the case of Christians delaying repentance till they are just summoned to give an account. But this parable rather represents the case of a heathen, that never heard of Christ or his religion, till just before his death; whose coming into the church so late shall not, therefore, hinder his receiving a full reward. But this is by no means the condition of those, who, having made a covenant with Christ in baptism, and afterwards most notoriously failed in performing what they promised, do then only return to their service, when the night is come, in which no man can work.' He that came in at the eleventh hour, was under no engagement to work any sooner; he had no where promised it, nor had the master commanded it: and therefore he was without fault. And he who came in at the eleventh hour, did yet work one hour, which, though but a short time, yet is very different from that man's, who comes in but at the twelfth; which is the case of all death-bed penitents.
The other instance, often named in favour of a death-bed repentance, is that of the thief on the cross; a case so very miraculous and extraordinary, that the like never can be expected again, unless our blessed Lord should once more descend from heaven, and suffer in company with some condemned sinner, who had such a wonderful repentance and faith as his
But this example affords but little comfort to those, who have for many years professed the religion of Jesus, and yet deferred the practice of it till their death.
To conclude: let us resolve not to defer the care of our own souls to a sick or death-bed, but to-day, even whilst it is called