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CHAP. XXIII.

The sad Case of a Relapse into known and deliberate Sin, after solemn Acts of Dedication to God, and some Progress made in Religion.

Unthought-of Relapses may happen, §. 1. and bring the Soul into a miserable Case, §. 2. Yet the Case is not desperate, §. 3. The Backslider urged immediately to return: (1.) By deep Humiliation before God for so aggravated an Offence, §. 4. (2.) By renewed Regards to the divine Mercy in Christ, §. 5. (3.) By an open Profession of Repentance, where the Crime hath given public Offence, §. 6. (4.) Falls to be reviewed for future Caution, §. 7. The Chapter concludes, §. 8. with a Prayer for the Use of one who hath fallen into gross Sins, after religious Resolutions and Engagements.

§. 1. JL HE declensions which I have described in the foregoing chapter, must be acknowledged worthy of deep lamentation: but happy will you be, my dear reader, if you never know, by experience, a circumstance yet more melancholy than this. Perhaps when you consider the view of things which you now have, you imagine that no considerations can ever bribe you, in any single instance, to act contrary to the present dictates or suggestions of your conscience, and of the spirit of God as setting it on work. No: you think it would be better for you to die. And you think rightly, but Peter thought, and said so too: Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee*: and yet, after all, he fell, and therefore be not highminded but fearf. It is not impossible, but you may fall into that very sin, of which you imagine you are least in danger, or into that against which you have most solemnly resolved, and of which you have already most bitterly repented. You may relapse into it again and again. But, Oh, if you do, nay, if you should deliberately and presumptuously fall but once, how deep will it pierce your heart! How dear will you pay for all the pleasure, with which the temptation has been baited! How will this separate between God and you! What a desolation, what a dreadful desolation will it spread over your soul! It is grievous to think of it. Perhaps in such a state you may feel more agony and distress in your own conscience, when you come seriously to reflect, than you ever felt when you were first awakened and reclaimed; because the sin will be attended with some very

* Mat. xxvi. 35. f Ilom' «"• 20.

high aggravations, beyond those of your unregenerate state. I well knew the person that said, "The agonies of a sinner, in the first pangs of his repentance, were not to be mentioned on the same day, with those of a backslider in heart, when he comes to be filled with his own way*."

§. 2. Indeed it is enough to wound one's heart to think how yours will be wounded: how all your comforts, all your evidences, all your hopes will be clouded: what thick darkness will spread itself on every side, so that neither sun, nor moon, nor stars, will appear in your heaven. Your spiritual consolations will be gone; and your temporal enjoyments will also be rendered tasteless and insipid. And if afflictions be sent, as they probably may, in order to reclaim you, a consciousness of guilt will sharpen and envenom the dart. Then will the enemy of your soul with all his art and power rise up against you, encouraged by your fall, and labouring to trample you down in utter hopeless ruin. He will persuade you, that you are already undone beyond recovery. He will suggest, that it signifies nothing to attempt it anv more; for that every effort, every amendment, every act of repentance, will but make your case so much the worse, and plunge you lower and lower into hell.

§. 3. Thus will he endeavour by terrors to keep you from that sure remedy, which yet remains. But yield not to him. Your case will indeed be sad; and if it be now your case, it is deplorably so; and to rest in it, would be still much worse. Your heart would be hardened yet more and more; and nothing could be expected, but sudden and aggravated destruction. Yet blessed be God, it is not quite hopeless. Your wounds are corrupted, because of your foolishnessf; but the gangrene is not incurable. There is balm in Gilcad, there is a physician there%. Do not therefore render your condition indeed hopeless, by now saying, There is no hope§, and drawing a fatal argument from that false supposition for going after the idols you have loved. Let me address you, in the language of God to his backsliding people, when they were ready to apprehend that to be their case, and to draw such a conclusion from it: Only return unto me, saith the Lord\\. Cry for renewed grace; and in the strength of it labour to return. Cry with David, under the like guilt, / have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant, Jor I do not forget thy commandments^; and that remembrance of them is, I hope, a token for good. But if

• Prov. xiv. H. f Psal. xxxviii. 5. J Jer. viii. 22.

§ Jer. ii. 25. || Jer. iii. 13. ^ Psal. cxix. 176.

thou wilt return at all, do it immediately. Take not one step more in that fatal path, to which thou hast turned aside. Think not to add one sin more to the account, and then to repent ; as if it would be but the same thing on the whole. The second error may be worse than the first; it may make way for another and another, and draw on a terrible train of consequences, beyond all you can now imagine. Make haste, therefore, and do not delay. Escape, and fly, as for thy life”, before the dart strike through thy livert. Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids! : lie not down upon thy bed under unpardoned guilt, lest evil overtake thee, lest the sword of divine justice should smite thee; and whilst thou purposest to return to-morrow, thou shouldst this night go and take possession of hell. §. 4. Return immediately; and permit me to add, return solemnly. Some very pious and excellent divines have expressed themselves upon this head, in a manner which seems liable to dangerous abuse; when they urge men after a fall, “not to stay to survey the ground, nor consider how they came to be thrown down, but immediately to get up and renew the race.” In slighter cases the advice is good : but when conscience has suffered such violent outrage, by the commission of known, wilful, and deliberate sin, (a case, which one would hope, should but seldom happen to those who have once sincerely entered on a religious course,) I can by no means think, that either reason or scripture encourage such a method. Especially would it be improper, if the action itself has been of so heinous a nature, that even to have fallen into it on the most sudden surprise of temptation must have greatly shamed,and terrified, and distressed the soul. Such an affair is dreadfully solemn, and should be treated accordingly. If this has been the sad case with you, my then unhappy reader, I would pity you, and mourn over you; and would beseech you, as you tender your peace, your recovery, the health, and the very life of your soul, that you would not loiter away an hour. Retire immediately for serious reflection. Break through other engagements and employments, unless they be such as you cannot in conscience delay for a few hours, which can seldom happen in the circumstance I now suppose. This is the one thing needful. Set yourself to it therefore, in the presence of God, and hear at large patiently and humbly what conscience has to say, though it chide and reproach severely. Yea, earnestly pray, that God would speak to you by conscience, and make you more thoroughly to know and feel, what an evil and bitter thing it is, that you have thus forsaken him”. Think of all the aggravating circumstances attending your offence; and especially think of those, which arise from abused mercy and goodness; which arise, not only from your solemn vows and engagements to God, but from the views you have had of a Redeemer's love, sealed even in blood. And are these the returns Was it not enough that Christ should have been thus injured by his enemies Must he be wounded in the house of his friends toot ? Were you delivered to work such abominations as these! ? Did the blessed Jesus groan and die for you, that you might sin with boldness and freedom, that you might extract, as it were, the very spirit and essence of sin, and offend God to a height of ingratitude and baseness, which would otherwise have been in the nature of things impossible Oh think, how justly God might cast you out from his presence How justly he might number vou among the most signal instances of his vengeance' And think, how your heart would endure, or your hands be strong, if he should deal thus with youş 2 Alas! all your former experiences would enhance your sense of the ruin and misery, that must be felt in an eternal banishment from the divine presence and favour. §. 5. Indulge such reflections as these. Stand the humbling sight of your sins in such a view as this. The more odious and the more painful it appears, the greater prospect there will be of your benefit by attending to it. But the matter is not to rest here. All these reflections are intended, not to grieve, but to cure ; and to grieve no more than may promote the cure. You are indeed to look upon sin; but you are also, in such a circumstance, if ever, to look upon Christ; to look upon him, whom you have now pierced deeper than before, and to mourn for him with sincerity and tenderness||. The God whom you have injured and affronted, whose laws you have broken, and whose justice you have (as it were) challenged by this foolish wretched apostacy, is nevertheless a most merciful God's. You cannot be so ready to return to him, as he is to receive you. Even now does he, as it were, solicit a reconciliation, by those tender impressions, which he is making upon your heart. But remember, how he will be reconciled. It is in the very same way, in which you made your first approach to him; in the name and for the sake of his dear Son. Come therefore in an humble dependance upon him. Renew your application to Jesus, that his blood may (as it were) be sprinkled upon your soul, that your soul may thereby be purified, and your guilt removed. This very sin of yours, which the blessed God foresaw, increased the weight of your Redeemer's sufferings: it was concerned in shedding his blood. Humbly go, and place your wounds, as it were, under the droppings of that precious balm, by which alone they can be healed. That compassionate Saviour will delight to restore you, when you lie as an humble suppliant at his feet, and will graciously take part with you in that peace and pleasure which he gives. Through him renew your covenant with God, that broken covenant, the breach of which divine justice might teach you to know by terrible things in righteousness * : But mercy allows of an accommodation. Let the consciousness and remembrance of that breach engage you to enter into covenant anew, under a deeper sense than ever, of your own weakness, and a more cordial dependance on divine grace for your security, than you have ever yet entertained. I know you will be ashamed to present yourself among the children of God in his sanctuary, and especially at his table, under a consciousness of so much guilt: but break through that shame, if providence open you the way. You would be humbled before your offended Father: but surely there is no place where you are more like to be humbled, than when you see yourself in his house, and no ordinance administered there, can lay you lower than that in which Christ is evidently set forth as crucified bejore your eyest. Sinners are the only persons who have business there. The best men come to that sacred table, as sinners. As such make your approach to it: yea, as the greatest of sinners; as one who needs the blood of Jesus, as much as any creature upon earth. - §. 6. And let me remind you of one thing more. If your fall has been of such a nature as to give any scandal to others, be not at all concerned to save appearances, and to moderate those mortifications which deep humiliation before them would occasion. The depth and pain of that mortification is indeed an excellent medicine, which God has in his wise goodness appointed for you in such circumstances as these. In such a case, confess your fault with the greatest frankness: aggravate it to the utmost : intreat pardon, and prayer, from those whom you have offended. Then, and never till then, will you be in the way to peace: Not by palliating a fault, not by making ex

* Gen. xix. 17. + Prov, vii. 23. † Prov. vi. 4.

* Jer. ii. 19. +Zech. xiii. 6. f Jer. vii. 10. § Ezek. xxii. 14. | Zech. xii. 10. * Deut. iv. 31.

* Psal. lxv. 5. + Gal. iii. 1.

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