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2 Cor. vi. 2.
- Behold, now is the accepted time ; behold, now is the
day of salvation. .
THERE is not a man upon the earth but who has some sense of religion upon his mind, and intends one day or another to work out his salvation. When we look into the world, we find that all men are just about to reform. However loose in their principles, however profligate in their lives, they seriously purpose to amend their conduct, and the fin. ner of today resolves to be a saint tomorrow. See. ing then that all men are so favourably disposed to. wards religion ; seeing that all men are in earnest one day to repent ; how does it come to pass that so many men never repent ; that such multitudes live and die in their fins ? It is because they delay their repentance ; it is because they put off the day of salvation ; because they begin not a course of refor. mation, but are only about to reform. This infatua. tion is not confined to the inexperience of our early years, it extends through every period of life. In this the hoary head is no wiser than the youth of yesterday; and the same lying spirit that deceived us at twenty, is believed at threescore and ten. In this, experience does not make us wise, and when we buy instruction it avails us not. The fool, who, wanting to cross the river, lay down on its bank till the waters all ran by, is but a just emblem of that man who delays his repentance from time to time, who is always purposing but never performing, and who, neither warned by the past, nor alarmed for the future, purposes on to the last, and dies the same. Such is the life which numbers of men lead in the world, spending the prime and vigour of their life in vain pursuits ; letting all their religion evaporate in empty resolutions, till, in an hour in which they are not aware, the warning is given. At midnight is the cry made, and when they seek to enter in with the bridegroom, the door is fhut !
That you may understand the expreffions made use of in the text, I must recall to your remembrance, that in the language of Scripture, the period of our probation is called a time, a feafon, or a day. There is an accepted time, there is a feason of merciful visitation, there is a day of grace, which, if we let flip, the night cometh, in which no man can work, in which we shall grope for the wall like the blind, in which we shall stumble at noon-day as in the night, and be in desolate places as dead men. This does not arise from a defect of mercy in God, from a defect of merit in Chritt, or from a defect of grace in the Holy Spirit ; it arises from ourselves and from the nature of things. Almighty God hath appointed this life to be our state of probation. He hath fet apart a time to fix the character for eternity. When, therefore, by repeated acts and by long habits, this everlasting character is fixed, no alteration can suc. ceed. To give an instance that may have occurred to the observation of you all ; you have seen, or you
have heard of, criminals who have been trained up from their youth in the practice of vice, who have advanced from less to greater crimes, who have been punished according to law, who have been imprisoned, who have been banished, who have returned from banishment, and for greater crimes have been condemned to die, who from some artifice or incident have escaped in the critical moment, and who, instead of being reformed by all these punish. Inents, have fallen into the same crimes again, and even grown bolder in wickedness. There have indeed been instances of great sinners who have turned penitents, and been good Christians ; but it is much to be questioned if there be any such instance among those who have been long finners, who have committed iniquity, not by fits and starts, but upon a fixed and determined plan, who have spent in the service of fin all the fire of youth and coolness of age.
Having explained to you the meaning of the phrase used in the text, before proceeding further, take next a view of life, and you will see, that a great part of men let slip the accepted time and day of salvation, till it be too late. It is the happiness of most men in countries where the Christian religion is professed, to receive a good education, and to be trained up from their youth in the principles of religion, and in the practice of virtue. But when this period of difcipline is over, when a man sets out in life, and becomes his own master, he frequently becomes a different person in that different state, and looks upon the good habits of his youth as some of those childish things which he ought now to put away. If his edu-' cation has been severe and rigorous; if his parents restrained in him that gaity of heart and flow of the spirits which is the portion of youth; if he pined in his closet, whilst his equals in age frequented those entertainments which can be enjoyed with innocence, he then generally goes to the other extreme, and plunges-with a precipitant step into all the follies and vices of the age. The prisoner having got loose, grows wild and extravagant. Being formerly shut up, he now wants to know the world; and, in or, der to this, ventures on forbidden paths, resigns the reins of conduct to inclination, and gives a loofe to all his desires. Having found his former principles to be inconsistent with the enjoyment of life, he confounds his early prejudices with true piety; for which cause he throws off religion altogether; he becomes a patron and defender of vice; he laughs at every thing that is serious; and perhaps out of contempt to this day, in which we assemble together to worship the God of our fathers; out of contempt to
the sacred rites of his country, which all wise hea. · thens have revered ; out of contempt to the venerable
institutions of our holy religion, spends this day in dissipation and profaneness, and open impiety.
But, not to draw the character with such black stains, let us suppose men at that period passing their days in folly rather than in vice, at the head of every idle scheme, first in every fashionable amusement, and as the Scripture happily exprefseth it, “ walking " in a vain show." Behold them making amusement one of the cares of life; spending those precious hours, which no power can ever recall, which no future labour can ever compensate, spending those
precious hours in vanity and folly, whilst all along they forget the business of their salvation, and are no more affected with the prospect of a world to come, than with a tale that is told. But whilst thus they dance round in a circle of folly; whilst they solace themselves with the prospect of pleasures rising upon pleasures, never to have an end, and say in secret to their souls, ķs Tomorrow shall be as this day, and “ much more abundant;" whilft, like the foolish virgins, they slumber and sleep in the arms of this Delilah, at midnight is the cry made, Oman, thy hour is come! And the trembling soul takes its departure unawares and unprepared to God the Judge of all!
To guard you against the fatal error which has undone its thousands, allow me to recommend to your practice the necessity of instant repentance and reformation. In the first place, No time is so proper as the present ; fecondly, If you delay, your reformation will be difficult ; thirdly, If you delay long, it may become altogether impossible.
In the first place then, There is no time so proper as the present.
The prodigal son exhibits to us a scene which we often see realized in life. A young man, who had been educated in the paths of virtue, declining from these paths, and going astray into forbidden ground, from the fond expectation of meeting with some strange, vast, unknown happiness in the gratification of sensual desire. In the course of this unhallowed pilgrimage, he gives loose reins to his mind, he indulges every wandering inclination, he denies himself nothing that his heart wilhes for. At last he comes