« AnteriorContinuar »
not being able to bring the just half of his life under this reckoning.
But this is evidently false and absurd ; we must therefore seek for this stinted time in some set number of years or days; and here let any one shew me, whether it be twelve, ten, six, or four, or one year; or, to descend to days, whether it be an hundred, sixty, thirty, ten, or seven days, that a man must have completely spent in the practice of holy duties, before he can be said to have lived an holy life; but I believe it would puzzle any one to make such an assignation, or to find warrant for it, either in scripture or
Wherefore we must reckon that time indeterminately which a man spends in this world after he has sincerely repented, be it long or be it short, for an holy life; and consequently I see not why, in those few days, hours, nay minutes, that a sincere death-bed penitent lives, he may not be as truly said to live holily, as he that dates his holy living from twenty years' continuance; and why the widow's two mites were not as true, though not as great an offering, as his that consisted perhaps of an hundred or two hundred shekels.
2dly, To the second argument: That the death-bed penitent can only resolve upon leading an holy life ; and that if the actual leading of such a life be necessary, then barely to resolve it cannot be sufficient; as, on the contrary, if to effect it be not necessary, then neither can it be necessary to resolve it.
To this I answer, by an absolute denial of that assertion, that the death-bed penitent can only resolve upon living an holy life. And to make out the reason of this denial, I shall here first lay down what is properly an holy life. In short, it is the doing of all those actions that a man is obliged to do in the condition in which he is; to which I add, that a man is obliged to do no more than he is capable of doing in such a condition.
Now a person upon his death-bed is only capable of doing such duties as are wholly transacted in the mind and in the will; as, loving of God, hating of sin, sorrowing for it, forgiving enemies, and the like; and these he is not only able to resolve, but also to perform.
But to go to church, to fast and pray, kneeling, with other such actions of duty, these are naturally not within his power in that state of weakness, and therefore he is not obliged to them. Yet, however, though he cannot perform these, he must not therefore be said not to live holily; forasmuch as he does perform other holy duties, which his condition is capable of doing, and in the doing of which an holy life equally consists.
I answer therefore to the second part of the argument, that an holy life is both necessary to be resolved on, and also to be performed, but both still in the same manner.
That is, a penitent, upon his repentance, is to resolve to live holily for that whole course of time that he is to spend in the world, and this resolution he is faithfully to perform. But he is not to resolve upon living an holy life, for such or such a determinate number of years, inasmuch as it is not in his power to dispose of the time of his life so long.
But both resolution and performance as to this particular, is to respect a man's whole life for the future, whether that life fall out to be long or short. And if it chance, by God's providence, to last but one hour, yet still it is his whole life from that time, as much as if it were spun out to many years.
From which it follows, that a death-bed penitent may both resolve and perform as much as is required to complete the nature of an effectual repentance.
Having thus answered the arguments brought to disprove the efficacy of a death-bed repentance, it will not be amiss to consider what kind of persons they are that are the authors of such a grim assertion.
Are they of such an unstained, unblamable life? such an angelical piety and perfection ? Certainly it were but reason to expect that those that throw such great stones, that give such remorseless stabs to poor dying sinners, should be able to enter heaven themselves, though it were through the eye of a needle; and should be of such a sublime sanctity as to supererogate at the least, and not to need mercy themselves, who so severely deny it to others.
But I am afraid that, upon inquiry, it will appear, that they are nothing less. I should not willingly libel or defame any, especially from the pulpit : but, from the best information I can give myself, either by reading, observation, or report, those that make the way to heaven so narrow, walk in the broad themselves; take a scope and liberty in their lives, and content themselves to be only strict in their doctrine, denying to others a possibility to repent effectually on their death-bed, while they live in that manner themselves, that it seems to be for their interest to hold even a possibility of repenting after death.
In short, they are usually such as prescribe rules and directions for other men to follow ; such as, after the practices of uncleanness, tell others that they must become vestals; such as are famous for covetousness, and for preaching against it.
These are those inexorable spiritual Cato's, those parsimonious dispensers of mercy; perhaps out of a mistaken fear, upon the knowledge of their own wickedness, lest there should not be mercy enough for themselves.
Thus the late casuists of the church of Rome, what great things do they speak of man's power to merit, to fulfil, and overdo the law, to an higher, uncommanded stain of perfection; and yet what puddles, what sinks of impurity are their books of casuistical divinity; what horrid, loose maxims have they, that not only undermine Christianity, but even extinguish and cut the bands of all morality! Which licentious doctrines have already kindled such a flame in that church, as, for aught I know, may burn to its confusion.
But to return to our subject : We shall still find, that such as are most merciless to dying sinners, in stopping up the passages of repentance and salvation against them, do yet relax this rigour, and walk by another rule themselves; unless perhaps it may more properly be said, that they walk by no rule at all.
And experience has shewn, that those spiritual guides, who are the most austere in their own lives, the greatest and most rigid exactors of duty from themselves, and of the most improved acquaintance and converse with God; yet when such come to deal with dying sinners, they handle their wounds more gently, treat them with more relentings and compassion, open the treasures of pardoning mercy to them more freely, and are glad to see any glimmerings of sincerity and contrition, that may warrant them to send the repenting sinner out of the world with a full and a free absolution.
And the reason of this is, because such, by a continual strict living up to the precepts of Christ, come at length to partake of the spirit and temper of Christ; who of all men that ever lived, or shall live the world, was the freest even from the least stain of sin, and yet was the most boundless and enlarged in his compassion to sinners. And certainly, should he now live and converse with us,
he that raised sinners from their
graves, would not now condemn them upon their death-beds.
And thus, I think, that I have not only answered, but also cleared off all objections against this doctrine, so that it may henceforward pass for a gospel truth ; which, that I may yet further confirm, I shall produce positive arguments to prove and assert it.
1st, The first shall be taken from this consideration; that such a repentance commenced at the last hour of a man's life, has de facto proved effectual to salvation; and therefore there is no repugnancy in the nature of the thing itself, but that it may do so again. The consequence is clear ; for that which is impossible in itself, can never be verified so much as in any one single instance ; and that if it were impossible for any repentance beginning at the latter end of a man's life, that is, just before his death, to prove saving, no one man whatsoever so repenting could be saved.
But the falsity of this evidently appears from that eminent and known instance of the thief upon
whose repentance began no sooner than his crucifixion, and yet it ended with the rewards of paradise. And who knows, but that God intended this signal instance to remain as a perpetual remedy against despair, to sinners repenting in any part of
SOUTH, VOL. IV.
their lives ? And there are some doctrines, that God does not think fit to set down and express in open terms, lest the corruption of our nature might abuse them to presumption ; but rather to hint them to us in an example, and to represent them in the person of another : leaving us, by rational discourse, to apply the same to ourselves when we are in the like condition.
As for instance : should God have said in express terms, that though a man murders his neighbour, and commits adultery with his wife, yet, if he repents, such sins should not hinder his salvation : such a declaration as this, given antecedently to these villainous actions, would have been apt to have encouraged the wicked heart 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 pardop 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 license 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.
Adly, 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, accordiny 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.