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to any sinner to delay his repentance, till he sees death approach
But still perhaps you choose to think that his first serious thoughts were on the cross. We will admit the supposition. But then we must also admit another supposition, not much in your favour; that this was the first opportunity he had to become acquainted with Christ, and with the way of salvation through him. Hence, then, it will follow, that he had not sinned against such light, abused such grace, rejected such calls, and broken such vows, as you have done, who have enjoyed the gospel from your youth. You are not, like him, a thief or a robber; but, in the sight of heaven, you may be more deeply guilty than he was, because you have abused those advantages and opportunities, which he never enjoyed. If a sinner, who obeyed the first call of the Saviour, obtained mercy at a late hour of life; will you hence conclude, that you can obtain mercy at as late an hour, although you have not only rejected the calls of the gospel in time past, but continue to reject them still? By your impenitence under all the means of grace, you make your case so vastly different from his, that this example, I am afraid, will soon be little to your purpose. It affords you encouragement to repent now; but this is all : It gives you none to delay.
Consider again ; You cannot be sure, that you shall have as much warning of death, and as much time after warning, as it is probable this criminal had. Being apprehended, condemned and sentenced to die, he well knew he had not many weeks to live. He therefore had no temptation to delay his repentance in prospect of a long life, or a more convenient season. Who knows but you may be destroyed suddenly and without remedy? Who knows but you may be driven away in your wickedness and have no hope in your death? While life and health remain, you flatter yourself with a future opportunity of repentance. But if your death should be the instant effect of some violent and unforeseen accident or disease, where is your intended repentance ? Or if your last sickness should be attended with a delirium, a stupor, or agonizing pain, which is no uncommon case, your condition would be little more hopeful.
But admitting, that you should be capable of consideration; can you say, what a turn your thoughts may take, and what effect they will produce in the state of your mind ? When you behold your sins standing in order before you—when you reflect on your long and continued abuse of divine grace—when you contemplate your violated promises and broken vows; your conscience may be affrighted at the prodigious magnitude of your guilt, and your soul amazed at the dismal prospect before you. Apd how do you know, but your past presumption may now terminate in the horrors of despair.
There is also an opposite state of mind equally inconsistent with repentance: I mean hardness of heart, which may be the effect of your continuance in sin. The scripture speaks of those “ who despise the riches of God's goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, and, after their hard and impenitent heart, treasure up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath”-of those, “who, being often reproved, harden their necks, till they are suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy”-of those “who, in the greatness of their folly, go astray, till they are holden in the cords of their sins, and die at last without instruction."
There is another remarkable difference between the thief's case and yours. There is no intimation, that he delayed his repentance on presumption of a future opportunity. He was probably bred up in ignorance of religion, seduced into a course of wickedness, and beguiled along, till God mercifully interposed to awaken and reclaim him. At least, it does not appear, but that this was the case.
From the lateness of his repentance, then, what encouragement can you draw to delay yours; or to presume that you shall obtain mercy at last as he did; when this very presumption is an aggravation of guilt, which entirely distinguishes your case from his?
It appears then, that, from the example before us, sinners under the gospel can derive no encouragement to delay their repentance; though, indeed, they may hence collect strong hopes of mercy, when they frame their ways to turn to the Lord.
To enforce the cautions and warnings that have been suggested, we will contemplate the impenitence and obstinacy of the other malefactor on the cross.
These two criminals had both lived in the same wicked course were both condemned to the same death—and were both to die in the company of the only Saviour. The story points out no difference in their crimes, or in their advantages and opportunities for repentance: and yet we see, that one of them died a real and remarkable penitent; the other died in all the stupidity of vice, and in all the insolence of impiety. With his latest breath he upbraided and insulted the Saviour; “If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us.”
You would think it a mighty privilege, if, when you lay on your
imagine, that if you could enjoy such a privilege as this, you would improve it to good effect. You think, you would humbly confess to him all the sins you could recollect-would employ every moment in conversing with him, seeking his direction and supplicating his grace-would pour out your whole soul into his bosom, and intreat his mercy with an importunity too strong to be denied. You would hold him by the hand, and not let him go until he blessed you. But here you see one who enjoyed this very privilege; and what was he the better for it?—what use did he make of it?-Why, only to rail on that wonderful Saviour, from whose bleeding wounds salvation was then flowing for a guilty world. Not one penitent expression—not one petition for pardoning mercy was heard from him. He joined, not in the confession and supplication of his fellow criminal; but in the scoffs and jeers of the unbelieving multitude. He saw the blood which was shed for the redemption of sinners, and yet he perished without faith to
You see by this example, that a wicked life may issue in an
salvation, you cannot be sure, that you shall find a heart to apply to him in your latest hours.
Can you have fairer opportunities, or higher advantages hereafter, than you have now? Christ is not personally with you: but you have his gospel in your hands, which contains all that he saw necessary to be taught, when he was on earth. If you will not eonsult his gospel to learn the way of salvation, you would not apply to his person for instruction, though he were with you in the flesh. He is in heaven; but he can hear you as easily, and will answer you as readily, as he did those who made their addresses to him, while he dwelt below. If you will not cry to him there, you would neglect him here. What stronger motives to repentance can be imagined, than those which the gospel proposes? If you will not regard them now, neither would you regard them, though you heard them from your Saviour's mouth. He has withdrawn his bodily, but not his spiritual presence. He has sent forth his Holy Spirit to strive with sinners, as well as to help the infirmities of the saints. If you resist his Spirit, what reason have you to suppose you should obey the living voice of his lips? And take heed lest you fall under that threatning, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.”
If you sin now in hopes of repentance, you may run to such a length, as to become incapable of repentance; and when you lie on your death-bed, you may be as far from all relentings, and from any disposition to apply to the Saviour, as was this unhappy malefactor. If you once give yourself up to a course of sin, you cannot set bounds to your progress. Habits gain strength insensibly. He who sets out with some caution and reserve, may, before he is aware, be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
When, from the example of the thief who cried to Jesus on the cross, and was remembered, you are tempted to delay your repentance, and to hope for mercy on a death-bed; look, I beseech you, on the other side of the cross, and behold the awful example there. You hope to imitate the former example: But beware, lest it be the latter.
Thus saith the Lord, Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye
shall be redeemed without money.
This chapter relates to the captivity and restoration of the Jews. They had sold themselves into the hands of the Chaldeans by their iniquities, and had suffered under the oppressions of their enemies, without any compensation. But the time would come when they should be delivered, and their redemption should be free.-A king should arise in Babylon who would release them from their captivity without money. This king was Cyrus. In his reign the prophecy was fulfilled.
The words in the mystical sense, may be applied to the miserable captivity to which sinners enslave themselves, and the freedom of that redemption which Christ has wrought out for them. In this application we will consider and improve them.
Sinners have sold themselves for nought. And their redemption is without money.
1. Sinners have sold themselves for nought.
It is said of Ahab, that he sold himself to work wickedness. He gave himself up without restraint to the service of sin. They who are carnal are said to be sold under sin. St. Paul seems to use this phrase in relation to himself. But it could not be applied to him in his regenerate state. He must be understood as personating an unregenerate man. And it is applicable in a greater or less degree, to all in whom the power of sin reigns.