« AnteriorContinuar »
these villainous actions, would have been apt to have encouraged the wicked hearts of men much more boldly to have ventured upon the commission of them.
But now, should any one chance to be plunged into such enormous sins as these, that he might not here, subsequently to the act, which cannot be recalled, utterly cast off all thoughts of mercy, and consequently of returning to God for the obtaining of mercy, God has discovered so much compassion in the pardon of David, guilty of the same sins, upon his sincere repentance, as to keep such an one from despair, and to warrant him his pardon, if, upon the same sins, he acts the same repentance.
The same very possibly might be the design of the Spirit here, not to make any such declaration of pardon openly and expressly to death-bed penitents, lest by accident it might open a door of licence to sin; but rather to preach it more tacitly to our reasons, in the example of the thief upon the cross ; that in case a sinner be overtook, and brought upon his death-bed, he might not yet despair, seeing one before him obtaining pardon in the same condition.
2dly, The second argument is taken from the truth and certainty of that saying, owned and attested by God himself, in 2 Cor. viii. 12, That if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted, according to that a man hath, and not according to that a man hath not. That is, it is accepted instead of the deed, when the deed, through some outward impediment, not within the power of man to remove or remedy, becomes impracticable.
Now, when a penitent upon his death-bed has
wrought his repentance to the highest resolutions and most sincere purposes of future obedience, if God immediately put a period to his life, is it any fault of his, if he is took off from so full an execution of those purposes as he intended ?
Certainly God, who can pierce into his soul, and view the sincerity of those resolutions, seeing that, in case he should live many years, they would be all performed, and actually drawn forth into so many years obedience, he cannot but rate those intentions according to the utmost effect and issue that they would have had under such opportunities.
And as for the time, so also for the quality of duty: where God has visited a man with such bodily weakness, that he cannot move or stir from his bed, do we not think that God accepts his desire to attend the church, to kneel in prayer, with other acts of devotion to which the body must concur, as truly and really, as if he had strength of body actually to perform all these ?
Truly, if we deny that he does, we have strange thoughts of the equity and goodness of his nature; and degrade his mercy to a pitch below the mercies of an earthly father, and the dispensations of a prudent governor.
Indeed, when God is said in such a case to accept of the will, and to dispense with the deed, it is only a further explication of that known, unalterable rule of justice, that God cannot command or require the performance of a thing impossible.
But should he exact the deed, when the weakness of a man's condition utterly disables him to perform it; should he command a bedrid person to stand or kneel, or require ten years' practice of holi
ness from him that is to live but an hour, what could this be but to rank his commands amongst those unreasonable, tyrannical injunctions that will and require impossibilities?
3dly, The third argument why a death-bed repentance may prove effectual is, because repentance saves not, as it is a work, or such a number of works; but as it is the effect of a renewed nature and a sanctified heart, from which it flows. But now, the renovation of our nature being the sole immediate work of God's Spirit, it may be wrought (if it so please him) in the last moment of our lives, as well as in twenty years : for, being a new creation, and the production of a quality in the soul that was not there before, there is nothing hinders, but that by an infinite power it may be transacted in an instant.
Upon which I argue thus: If God can sanctify and renew a man's nature in the last instant of his life, then a person thus sanctified is either in a state of salvation, or he is not : if not, then a man truly sanctified may be in a damnable condition, which is false and absurd: but if he is, then, inasmuch as a death-bed penitent may be thus sanctified and renewed, he may be also in a state of salvation, which is inseparably annexed to a true sanctification.
But now, on the other hand, if we say that a man cannot be a true penitent, and in a state of salvation, unless he has spent such a considerable number of years or months in the continual exercise of holy duties; what is this, but to ascribe his salvation to such a measure of works? This is evident: for a death-bed penitent may have all other qualifica
tions, as a sanctified heart, a sincere resolution, and a direction of it to the glory of God; so that there is nothing wanting but such a number of holy actions. Now if, notwithstanding the former qualities, salvation must be yet denied to such a penitent, is it not most clear that salvation is stated upon the opus operatum of such a parcel of holy performances ? So that it is not the sincerity, but the multitude; not the kind, but the number of our actions that must save us.
Which assertion if we admit, and improve into its due consequences, I cannot see but that it must needs bring us back to our beads.
4thly, A fourth argument is this: If to repent sincerely be a thing at the last moment of our lives impossible to be done, then, for that instant, impenitence is not a sin. For it cannot be a sin not to do that which in its nature cannot be done. The reason is, because where there is no obligation, there can be no sin, inasmuch as sin is either the transgression or omission of something that we stand obliged to do: but I have shewn before, that no man can be obliged to impossibilities. It follows therefore from hence, that not to repent upon one's death-bed is no sin, because, according to the opinion hitherto maintained, to repent there is impossible. Which argument is of so much quickness and force, that were there no other, this alone were enough both to establish ours, and to overthrow the contrary assertion.
5thly, The fifth argument that I shall produce is this: That to deny that a death-bed repentance can be effectual to salvation, is a clear restraint and
limitation of the compass and prerogative of God's mercy.
For since it is a thing that neither involves any contradiction in itself, nor yet to any one of God's attributes, it is both an impudent and an insolent thing, for any man to deny the possibility of it. For shall we prescribe to omnipotence, or set bounds to an infinite mercy, and say, that this and this it can do; but this it cannot ? What, if God, willing to shew the riches of his mercy, calls and accepts of some at the very last hour of the day, and rewards them equally with those that came in at the first ; have we any thing to reply against such a proceeding, or to carp at his justice, or to murmur at our brother's felicity ? God expressly says, that his thoughts are not as our thoughts; nor his mercies as our mercies. And indeed, sad and lamentable were the condition of most sinners, if they were. The number of those that should be saved would be much less, and the volume of the book of life contracted to a very small epitome.
I should think it therefore much more agreeable to a pious sobriety, to acquiesce in the method of God's dealing ; and, according to rule of the civil law, rather to amplify, than to limit acts of favour.
If God brings a sinner to himself at the last, and so makes his death-bed a portal and entrance to heaven; if he accepts of the purposes, and crowns the short endeavours of a late repentance with life and glory ; I, for my part, have nothing to do here, but to congratulate the person that obtains, and to adore the mercy that gives it.
6thly, The sixth and last argument for the con