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LECTURES ON THE RUIN OF SOULS,
THE DANGERS OF PROCRASTINATION TO THE SOUL.
REV. W. A. SALTER.
CROWN STREET CHAPEL, sono; WEDNESDAY EVENING, FEB. 24, 1841.
Yet a little while is the light with you; walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you ; for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.”—John xii. 35.
In explanation of the text we shall need only to remark, that our Lord had announced, a few verses before, to the multituiles who were hearing Him, Ilis speedy death; and that this announcement had somewhat astonished those of them, who expected that He was the Messiah, because they had understood from the law that the Christ continued ever. They ask Him to solve the difficulty; which, however, it does not suit His purpose at the time to do. But He, according to His usual plan, gives a practical bearing to the conversation; and assuming that to be fact which He had said, namely, that in a little while He should be “lifted up," " signifying what death He should die," He says—" Yet a little while is the light with you; walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you; for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.”
Here, then, is a statement of the shortness of their present opportunity, and of the danger of neglecting that opportunity. The text, therefore, seems to me to be appropriate for the subject, which is to come before us this evening.
It is procrastination, on which we are to speak. Now procrastination supposes, that the truth of the matter, about which there is hesitation, is admitted ; it supposes too, that its claims upon our personal attention are admitted. The procrastinator is not an infidel or a sceptic. He allows that the Bible is true; he allows that God's claims upon him are well-founded; he perhaps intends or wishes, at some time or other, to comply with these claims, to receive the things which are now offered to him from God's mercy, and to submit to those commands which God has set before him in His Word. He purposes to do this at some time; only that time is not the present. He puts it off." He says with Felix when Paul "reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come,” “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee.”
We may take it for granted therefore this evening, if we are to speak ou the danger of procrastination and to address ourselves to the procrastinator, that such a person admits the truth of the Word of God: and we may reason with him upon the Bible. Our business is not so much, either to prove to him that procrastination is dangerous -because I conceive that there is no person, who admits the truth of the Bible and who reasons at all upon the subject, who does not suppose that it has danger attending it; but our business will be rather to remind him of the danger of procrastination to impress them (if possible) upon his mind. For the state of procrastination is a state of inconsistency-a state in which truth is admitted (as we shall afterwards notice), but not acted upon; and therefore what we have to do with that man is not to bring him to the adınission of truth, it is not to prove the truth or to prove the importance of these things to him, but it is to bring him to act ac. cording to his own admissions—to feel as he himself would probably allow that he ought to feel.
We shall therefore endeavoar to put our remarks this evening into such a form, as rather to awaken in the mind of the procrastinator a sense of his danger-to remind him of that which he perhaps would allow. And we shall do it in four considerations.
I. In the first place, we may see the danger of procrastination to the soul, if we consider what is its cause.
When we admit the truth of anything and its claims upon our attention, but do not attend to it, it may be perhaps that we like the thing, but yet that we feel either that it is impossible to attend to it now, or else that there will be some ad. VOL. XIII.
vantage gained by putting off attention to it to a future day. Neither of these things can be said by the procrastinator, with regard to the concerns of his soul. None of you can say, that this is not the best time and the fittest opportunity that you could have—that you ever will have-for attending to the things of your soul. Here you are in God's house; you have put away for a time the engagements of the world, that you might hear His Word; here you are, sitting calmly to listen to the truth. This is the very opportunity for using the language in the spirit of the publican, “ God be merciful to me a sinner.” This is the very best possible opportunity for “ taking with you words and turning to the Lord, and saying unto Him, Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously.” This is the best opportunity, that any sinner in this house can have for "believing on the Lord Jesus Christ that he might be saved.”
Then, again, there will be no advantage gained by putting it off. Supposing you put off attention to the concerns of your soul to a future day, shall you find it more easy at another time to do it? No. Every time that such attention is neglected, it becomes more difficult to give attention to it; and in proportion as you put off attention to the concerns of your soul to a future day, to the remoter periods of your life, when perhaps the mind and body are both worn out in the service of the world, you will find, that not only do the difficulties of attending to it increase, but that there is less (at least in this world and probably less hereafter) realised of the fulness of the blessings of salvation.
It cannot be, then, that a liking to the things of God can at all consist with procrastination about them
But let us consider again : if I am compelled to admit the claims of a person upon my obedience, but I dislike that person and dislike his claims—and if, again, I feel that the neglecting of those claims will involve me in very terrible consequences--if I feel that by neglecting those claims I shall bring down upon myself heavy and severe punishment then what shall I do with them? Why, I shall not intend to neglect them altogether; but because I dislike them and yet regard them as necessary, I shall, as the less alternative of two great evils, put them as far off as I can. I shall have as much as I possibly can of my present comfort without either of these evils; and when the time comes that I must either submit to the punishment or to the command, then (I shall say) I will submit to the command rather than to the punishment. Now what state of mind is this? It is a state of enmity to that commandment; it is a state of neglect of Him, who issues that commandment. And is not this, I ask you, precisely the state of that man who is procrastinating in matters of religion ?-- to whom the Gospel message is sent, requiring repentance and faith, but who instead of submitting to it at once, says— At a future day I will rather do that than be sent into the abyss of perdition, I will rather believe and rather obey God than endure the fierceness of His eternal wrath, but still I would rather not obey God, I would rather pursue my pleasures, I would rather pursue the service of sin a little longer, and having pursued these till death is about to summon me into His presence or when I have exhausted all my powers of enjoying them, then-then (but I do not wish it till then)--then I will submit and gain heaven by an unwilling and ungracious compliance.'
Now if this be so, my friends--if it is impossible in your circumstances that procrastination can consist with a liking to the truth, and if it is evident from your circumstances that procrastination arises from a dislike to the truth-then what is your position ? Enemies of God; enemies of God! Perhaps you do not think of this; possibly some of you scarcely ever think of it. You say—God's enemies are the profane, God's enemies are the men who refuse to receive His Word, God's enemies are the men who break His laws so openly and daringly: God's enemies are not the men, who come into His house and hear His Word. Be it so, that those are God's enemies ; but God has more enemies—God may have an enemy in that man, who, though the enlightenment of his judgment compels him to assent to the truth, and though his knowledge of the awful consequences of neglecting it is such as to compel him to intend to give obedience to it hereafter, yet puts off that obedience as far as possibly can consist with (as he thinks) the preservation of his immortal soul from destruction.
My dear friends, is there no danger in being the enemies of God? “Yes,' I presume the procrastinator will say; 'yes, they lie beneath His curse, they are exposed to His wrath. Then so is the procrastinator. He too, in addition to the
BY THE REV. W. A. SALTER.
mmoral and the profane, to the blasphemer and the impious-he too is indulging and cherishing enmity against God.' And thus you may see the danger of procrastination, if you consider its cause : that cause places him who indulges it amongst the enemies of God.
Il. In the second place, the danger of procrastination will be further seen, if you consider also the effect which it has upon the mind itself.
All Scripture truth is experimental and practical. God does not reveal any thing in His Word as mere matter of speculation. There may be a system-what in human science we should call a theory; but that is not all. If this Word be true, it is not true as a system of science merely; it has an application to every man's heart and to every man's conduct, to every man's personal character and to every man's eternal destiny. If God reveals Himself inflexibly holy and yet unspeakably kind, it is not merely that we may gaze upon Him, and forget that this has any bearing upon ourselves ; it is that we may feel how opposed His holiness is to our sinfulness, and yet at the same time what a benignant aspect His kindness causes Him to wear even to the guilty. If He reveals to us a magnificent and well ordered plan of salvation in the death of His own dear Son—if He shows Him to us, first obeying the law in His life, then dying to make atonement, then rising again and exalted to His own right hand to make intercession, where also He sits to be now the Governor and one day the Judge of all-it is not simply that we should gaze and admire, as if the matter were not at all a matter of concern to ourselves ; it is that we should believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. If He opens to us the glories of heaven, or unveils the miseries of the pit of destruction, it is that we should “ flee from the wrath to come” and “lay hold on eternal life." All the truth in the Bible bas not only its theory, but its practice. It is not like some systems of science, which, though here and there in one point and another they may affect in a small measure our well-being on earth, yet in a great measure have no connection with us, save to gratify the intellect and call forth the energies of the mind in their contemplation ; every part of it has a direct bearing upon ourselves—upon the formation of our own character and upon our own destiny. And, my dear friends, it is just this character of the truth, that makes the Word of God fit to be “the sword of the Spirit.” This is the edge of that heavenly weapon, by which the Holy Spirit is pleased to achieve His triumphs of mercy. It is this too, that makes the preaching of the Word a fit means for the conversion of sinners; because that Word is a practical and experimental Word-something which comes home to the hearts and to the feelings of men.
But whilst this is the character of the Truth, and in this character of God's Truth lies all its efficacy and all its power to be in the hands of the Holy Spirit the means of the soul's everlasting good, the man who has formed the habit of procrastination just blunts the edge of this Divine weapon-just takes away from the preached Gospel all its power over the soul. And why? He assents to the Truth, he admits it as matter of theory; but he has formed a habit of separating between the assent of the understanding and the cordial reception into the heart. He has formed the habit of saying— Yes, all this is very true, all this is very proper, and one day or other I hope to attend to it--and yet at the same time sitting quiet and unmoved, because just at present he does not wish to attend to it. He has thus cut away the link, whereby God has bound together Truth and duty, the reception of the one and the discharge of the other. And so, in proportion as the habit of procrastination settles upon the mind, he comes gradually into that state, in which the conscience seems " seared as with a hot iron.” Then he will sit and listen to all that is awful and all that is winning; he will hear one tell of the blessedness of the righteous and of the misery of the wicked ; he will suffer us to depict before him all the glories of eternal bliss and all the darkness of eternal woe; he will permit us to put in strong contrast the life-giving smile and the withering frown of his Crea. tor, the companionship of angels and the society of devils, the miseries of lost souls and the happiness of redeemed spirits, and to throw into the picture all the vivid colourings of eternity; he will allow us to beseech him by the long-suffering and kindness and compassion of God, to command him by the authority of God, to plead with him as his fellow-men and his fellow-sinners :—but yet he will sit unconcerned. All these things he quite knows; he has assented to them all ; they have entered into his creed: they form a part of his belief; but he has gained the
fatal habit of hearing them as if they were a beautiful tale, as if they were a lovely song—something to please him, but not to affect him, not for him to act upon, not for him to embrace.
There is, then, a danger in this state. Procrastination, in thus severing the two parts of Truth, and taking away from it its vitality and its force upon his own heart and conscience, places him in a state of danger, because the means which God has established for his conversion have lost in a great measure their influence over him.
III. In the third place, procrastination is dangerous to the soul, because of the little opportunity which man has for attending to the concerns of his soul. “Yet a little while is the light with you."
The longest limit of opportunity is life. " If the tree fall toward the south or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.” Man “giveth up the ghost,” and “the spirit returns to God who gave it," and it is judged; as man dies, so is his eternal state. Life, then, is the longest limit of your opportunity; and when your life is closed, your opportunity is over ; when your life is closed, offers of pardon, invitations of mercy, are all gone by. Then, there will be no speaking to you of a Saviour, no telling you of a free and finished work of forgiveness ; there will be nothing of this kind; it will be simply the taking you to the judgment-seat, the issuing the sentence upon you, and then its eternal execution. And how long is this longest limit of opportunity ? " Your life is but as a vapour, which appeareth for a little while and then vanisheth away." There are some procrastinators here perhaps, who have been hesitating for years, and balf their life must have passed away-musthave passed away, unless they are to outlive all their contemporaries, and to stretch their span beyond that of all other men. And, my dear friends, when we remember that life at its longest is but uncertain, when we see that in the grave-yards the young are as numerous as the old, when we see that there are so many there who had not attained to the middle of life, when we hear the reports of deaths around us sudden and unexpected, we cannot but feel that the word of Divine admonition comes to us—“Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Yes, my dear friends, your longest time of opportunity is life, but what is it—how long is it? Can you tell, can I tell? Will it be longer than this evening? Will to-morrow's sun find you in this world or the next ? You cannot tell.
We said, that life, short and uncertain, is the longest limit of opportunity ; but opportunity has often shorter limits than that. Sometimes God in His providence is pleased to take a man away from the hearing of the Gospel. He had heard it perhaps in his childhood and in his youth, and in his maturer years, but he had neglected it; and then he is removed from it. He is removed perhaps to one of our Colonies, where the Word of God is scarce-to a country but thinly peopled, and where possibly a sermon is heard but once or twice in two or three months. Some of you may be found Colonists there ; and thus your opportunity may be gone by. You must not therefore measure your opportunity by your life ; it has a shorter limit than that.
And we may say, further, that opportunity has another Jimit; and that is formed by the state of the heart. Gradually, you know, as the Truth is neglected, and a habit of procrastination is formed, that habit grows upon the soul and binds it down with its chains, and so (as we said) the conscience is “ seared as with a hot iron.” Truth admitted but not loved, truth admitted but trifled with because it was not loved, truth admitted but not acted upon because it was not loved this acts most banefully upon the conscience. The Gospel, as you know, is not only " the savour of life unto life,” but also “ the savour of death unto death.” It is the property of truth, where it does not save, to destroy. It is the property of truth, where it does not bless, to curse. It is the property of truth, where the mind is not opened to its reception, to harden that heart still more. Your opportunity, then, must not be limited either by life alone or by the time that you may hear the Gospel, Ah! how many have there been in our congregations, who have sat from childhood, through their earlier years, and then through their maturer life, and down to the very time that they were taken from us into eternity—they have sat and they have become Gospel-hardened sinners. “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you.” You know that a time may come, when the light shall "s shine in darkness,” but the malignant darkness 6 comprehend it not."
BY THE REV. W. A. SALTER.
IV. We will add but one more consideration, to remind you of the danger of procrastination; and that is, that it is opposed to the commands, the entreaties, the warnings of God.
God has been pleased to condescend to urge this point upon you. It is urged here by the lips of our Lord Himself: “Yet a little while is the light with you; walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you; for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not wbither he goeth.” It is urged again in the ninety-fifth Psalm, which is quoted in the fourth of the Hebrews : “ Again he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To-day, after so long a time; as it is said, “ To-day” (there is an emphasis on that “ To day”—“ To-day” now that you “ hear His voice")" harden not your hearts.” Then again, to the young, God says, “ Remember now thy Creator, in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them." Again, it is said, “ Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” God's promises are made to the present time. He warns you of neglecting the present time, and putting off to the “evil days,” when you will have no capacity for serving God.
These are His commandments, His warnings, His entreaties; we might multiply them, but these will suffice. Now is there not danger, when God has been pleased to meet your case, when God has been pleased to step forth as it were, and say, 'Procrastinator! beware; I command thee not to procrastinate, I entreat thee not to put off attention to these things'—when He has done this, is there no danger in neglecting express commands ? is there no danger in neglecting the express entreaty of mercy ? is there no danger in trifling with one of God's peculiar warnings, provided for and adapted to yourself?
Yes, there is danger. It is dangerous, you know, to act in opposition to the principles of God's Word; but it is peculiarly dangerous, when God has been pleased to apply those principles in the form of specific commands, to set yourself in opposition to them.
Thus then, my dear friends, we would impress upon your minds by God's blessing the danger of procrastination. It is dangerous, if you consider that its cause is enmity against God; it is dangerous, if you consider that the habit of procrastinanation destroys the power of the Truth ; it is dangerous, if you consider that the opportunity for decision is short and uncertain; it is dangerous, if you consider that procrastination is indulged in direct opposition to special commands, entreaties and warnings of God.
And now, are there any who have been hesitating—who perhaps have heard previous lectures of this course, and have begun to think, but then have put it off? Who will hesitate any longer? If religion be true, if its claims be reasonable, if the commands of God be proper, and if the invitations of His mercy be indeed kind and gracious, then will you incur this danger ? Now that we bave spoken of it, you will not run upon it blindfold. Your eyes are opened; you know it now; you see it now; and if you incur it still if you still put aside for pleasure or business, for one pursuit or another, the things of eternity till a future day-remember, you will not do it without greater guilt, and you will not do it without greater danger, than that in which you were before. You will not do it without greater provocation to the God of grace ; and if (wbich God forbid!) it should end in your eternal ruin, you will not do it without greater misery in the world to come.
Oh! then, whilst yet the Gospel sounds in your ears--whilst God in His mercy invites you—whilst still we may point you to the Saviour, whose precious blood "cleanseth from all sin"--whilst we may tell you yet (and you yet may listen to us) of that free grace, which casts out not one that comes, which gives the blessing unpurchased “ without money and without price,” which receives the prodigal, though he may have spent His Father's bestowments in “riotous living”'--receives Him with open arms, and clothes Him with the best robe, and gives Him a seat as a child, and restores him to his Father's house—while we may still speak to you of that mercy, which being received will guide you, protect you, watch over you in your course of discipline on earth, and by the grace of God bring you finally to a crown and a throne in glory---oh! I beseech you, whilst these things sound in your ears and since you hear God's voice, “harden not your hearts.”