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the world with his sins about his ears; and so to be brought, as it were, in the very heat and steam of his offence, to render up an account for it at God's tribunal, before he had scarce finished the commission.
The events of to-morrow are neither within the compass of our understanding to know, or of our power to dispose of: wherefore the advice of the Spirit, concerning the time of our repentance, is the same with that of St. Austin, who counselled his friend to repent a day before he died; which, proceeding upon terms of rational certainty, is to repent to-day.
2dly, The second argument shall be taken from this consideration, that supposing the allowance of time, yet we cannot be sure of power to repent. It is very possible, that by the insensible encroaches of sin a man's heart may be so hardened, as to have neither power nor will to repent, though he has time and opportunity. He that is unwilling to-day, will undoubtedly be more unwilling tomorrow. And the reason is evident, because his present unwillingness proceeds from that hold that sin has got upon his will already : but this every hour increases, and gets further ground upon it; so that sin being increased, unwillingness to repent, the proper effect and consequent of sin, must needs be increased in an equal proportion.
The longer the heart and sin converse together, the more familiar they will grow; and then, the stronger the familiarity, the harder the separation. Does any one think he has his heart so in his hand as to say, Thus far will I sin, and there will I leave
off? Such an one shews indeed that he neither understands the nature of sin nor of his heart.
How that that which now creeps and begs for entrance, having once got admission, will command and domineer; and like that emperor, though it gets into power like a fox, yet it will manage it, and reign like a lion. Neither does he know those many windings and turnings, the sly excuses and glossing apologies, that the heart will suggest to rescue its sin from the summons of repentance, being once endeared and bound fast to it by inveterate continuance.
The commission of sin is like the effusion of water, easily contained in its bounds, but uncontrollable in its course.
We indeed may give it vent, but God alone knows where it will stop. Is not that man therefore stupidly ignorant, who chooses to encounter his sin by a future repentance ? Reason would argue and discourse thus: If I find that I have scarce power enough to resist my sin at present, shall I not have much less when time shall give it growth and strength, and as it were knit its joints, and render it unconquerable ?
It is here as with a man in a combat; every blow his adversary gives him, disables him for the very next resistance. A man at first finds the beginnings and little inconveniences of a disease, but physic is unpleasant ; and withal he finds himself in a good competence of strength at present, and therefore he resolves to wear it out; but in the mean time his distemper eats on its way, and grows upon him, till at length he has not so much as strength to bear physic, but his disease quickly runs him down, and becomes incurable.
A man at first is strong, and his sin is weak, and he may easily break the neck of it by a mature repentance; but his own deluding heart tells him, that he had better repent hereafter; that is, when, on the contrary, he himself is deplorably weak, and his sin invincibly strong.
Commission of sin may indeed wound, but it is continuance of sin that kills. A man by falling to the ground may perhaps get a bruise or a knock; but by lying upon the ground after he is fallen, he may chance to catch his death.
And now does not that man's heart give him wise and wholesome counsel, that bids him balk the present, and fix upon the future? But still, as the desires of sin are impious, so its discourses are irrational. And what a dreadful thing is it for a man, in the grand concernment of his repentance, in the great deciding cast for eternity, to relinquish the word, and to consult his heart? whereas the word cannot, and his heart cannot but deceive him.
The prophet Elisha, 2 Kings viii. 12, told Hazael, knowing his design to murder his prince, that his villainy would not stop there, but that he would proceed so far as to wreak his fury upon sucking infants, and to rip up women with child. But his heart in the mean while, which possibly at that very time, together with the sin, had designed its repentance, that persuaded him another thing, and makes him reply with resent and wonder, What! am I a dog, that I should do these things ? And questionless, at that time, he little believed that he could be so wicked; but we know that the event shews whether Elisha or his heart were the truer prophet. For as soon as he had committed his first great lead
ing sin, and his hand was well in, and hot in the work, his corruption rages and swells higher and higher, and his heart serves him for the utmost execution of all those villainies that at a distance he himself abhorred, and judged incredible.
And how does that man know, that has built all upon his resolves of repentance hereafter, but that he, who now trembles at the first approach of a temptation, and can discern the insensible progress of his corruption, so that, upon the very first rising and moving of the heart to sin, his conscience smites him, remorse pursues, troubles, and disquiets him; the same, within a while after his conscience has worn off those restrictions, and becomes hardened and steeled with custom in sinning, may lash on furiously and audaciously, with an high hand and bare face, against the grudges of conscience, the terrors of God, and the shame of the world ; till at length he ends a wretched course in irrecoverable perdition; unless God in mercy steps in, and by a potent overruling hand of conviction rebukes the rage of his corruption, and says, thus far it shall come, and no further.
as in the very course of a natural cause, continuance in sin hardens against repentance; as a man that is out of his way, if he be far gone, will be hardly brought to return, but will venture over hedge and ditch, and wade through any difficulty rather than endure the irksome, ingrateful trouble of a retreat; so we must further know,
That repentance is entirely in God's disposal. This grace is in the soul from God, as light is in the air from the sun, by continual emanation; so that God may shut or open his hand, contract or diffuse,
set forth or suspend the influence of it as he pleases. And if God gives not repenting grace, there will be an hard heart and a dry eye, maugre all the poor frustraneous endeavours of nature. A piece of brass may as easily melt, or a flint bewater itself, as the heart of man, by any innate power of its own, resolve itself into a penitential humiliation. If God does not, by an immediate blow of his omnipotence, strike the rock, these waters will never gush out. The Spirit blows where it listeth, and if that blows not, these showers can never fall.
And now, if the matter stands so, how does the impenitent sinner know but that God, being provoked by his present impenitence, may irreversibly propose within himself to seal up these fountains, and shut him up under hardness of heart and reprobation of sense? And then farewell all thoughts of repentance for ever.
See this sadly exemplified in Pharaoh. He had time enough to repent, day after day; but yet he never did repent: for it is expressly said, that God hardened his heart; that is, he withheld his grace. See the children of Israel in the same case, in Psalm lxxxi. 11, My people would not hearken to my voice ; and Israel would none of me; that is, they peremptorily refused God's present call to repentance. What follows? Why in the next verse, So I gave them up to their own hearts lusts; and they walked in their own hearts : that is, they would not repent, and therefore God in effect tells them, that they should not repent; but leaves them to the delusions of a besotted mind, and the desperate, incorrigible estate of a final impenitence.
3dly, In the third and last place, the duty of im