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SERMON LXVII.

I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.—Ver. 60.

IN the verse immediately preceding the man of God speaks of repentance as the fruit of consideration and self-examining: ‘I considered my ways, and then turned my feet to thy testimonies.’ But when did he turn? For though we see the evil of our ways, we are naturally slow to get it redressed. Therefore David did not only turn to God, but he did it speedily. We have an account of that in this verse, ‘I made haste,’ &c. This readiness in the work of obedience is doubly expressed—affirmatively and negatively. Affirmatively, ‘I made haste:’ negatively, ‘I delayed not.’ This double expression increaseth the sense, according to the manner of the Hebrews; as Ps. cxviii. 17, ‘I shall not die, but live,’ that is, surely live; so here, ‘I made haste, and delayed not,’ that is, I verily delayed not a moment; as soon as he had thought of his ways, and taken up resolutions of walking closely with God, he did put it into practice. The Septuagint reads the words thus: I was ready, and was not troubled or diverted by fear of danger. Indeed, besides our natural slowness to good, this is one usual ground of delays, we distract ourselves with fears, and when God hath made known his will to us in many duties, we think of tarrying till the times are more quiet and favour our practice, and our affairs are in a better posture. A good improvement may be made of that translation; but the words run better, as they run more generally, with us, ‘I made haste, and delayed not,’ &c.; and from thence observe—

Doct. That the call of God, whether to amendment and newness of life, or to any particular duty, must be without delay obeyed.

To illustrate the point by these reasons:—

Reas. 1. Ready obedience is a good evidence of a sound impression of grace left upon our hearts. There is a slighter conviction which breedeth a sense of duty, but doth not urge us thoroughly to the performance of it; and so men stand reasoning instead of running, debating the case with God: and there is a more sound conviction which is accompanied with a prevailing efficacy, and when we have 136this upon our spirits, then all excuses and delays are laid aside, and we come off readily and kindly in the way of compliance with God’s call. This is doctrinally spoken of, Cant. i. 4, ‘Draw me, and we will run after thee.’ Running is an earnest and speedy motion. From whence comes it? From drawing; it is a fruit of drawing, or the sweet and powerful attraction which the Spirit of God useth in the hearts of the elect. Instances I might give you in several calls and conversions spoken of in scripture. When Christ called Andrew and Peter,22   Read ‘James and John.’—ED. ‘They left their father and followed after him,’ Mark i. 20. So when Christ called Zaccheus, ‘he made haste, and came down from the tree, and received him joyfully,” Luke xix. 6. So Christ to Matthew, ‘Follow me, and straightway he followed him,’ Mat. ix. 9. Julian the apostate scoffs at these passages, as if it were irrational to conceive such a thing could be, that men should so soon leave their course of gain and calling; or else that Christ’s followers were a kind of sots and fools, weak, and poor-spirited creatures, that upon a word speaking they would come off presently all of a sudden: but impulsions of the Spirit carry their own reason with them, and draw the heart without any more ado. But such as he were not acquainted with the workings of the Holy Ghost in conversion, therefore scoff at these things. So Gal. i. 16, ‘Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.’ When our call is clear, there needs no debate. When men stand reasoning instead of running, there is not a thorough work upon them.

Reas. 2. The sooner we turn to the ways of God the better we speed. How so?

1. Partly in this, that the work goes on the more kindly, as being carried forth in the strength of the present influence and impulsion of grace; whereas, if the heart grow cold again, it will be the more difficult. A blow while the iron is hot doth more than ten at another time when it grows cold again. So when thy heart grows cold, thou wilt not have that advantage as when thou art under a warm conviction. And indeed that is the devil’s cheat, to speak of hereafter, to elude the importunity of the present conviction that is upon you. John v. 4, You know when the waters were stirred, then was the time to put in, he that stepped in first had experience of the sanative virtue of the waters; so when the heart is stirred, we should not lose this advantage, but come on upon that call. There are several metaphors in scripture that do express this; sometimes, we must open when God knocks, Cant. v.; we must enter when God opens, lest the door be shut against us, Mat. xxv.; we must come forth when he bids us, as Lot out of Sodom, lest we perish: when a thing is done speedily and in season it is a great advantage.

2. The more welcome to God the sooner we turn to him. We value a gift not only by its own worth, but by the readiness of him that gives; if we have it at first asking, we count it a greater kindness, and give the more thanks; so the less we stand bucking with God, and demurring upon his call, the more acceptable is our obedience. Pharaoh did at length let Israel go, but was forced to it, and with much ado, no thanks to him. It is true indeed, if we turn at length 137seriously, heartily, we are accepted with God, but not so accepted as when we come in at first. Surely the fewer calls we withstand, the less we provoke God, and the more ready entertainment do we find. The spouse, that would not open at the first knock, but only at length, when her bowels were troubled, when she thought of her unkindness, then she went out to open to her beloved, but then her beloved was gone. You will not find God at your beck when you dally with him. Your comforts will cost you longer waiting for, when you make God wait for entrance, and would not give way to the work of his grace.

3. You speed better, because your personal benefit is the greater, the sooner you turn to the Lord. You have more knowledge, more experience, you get more comfort, you would be more profitable to’ others, more useful to God. If ever God touch your hearts, and once you come to experiment what an excellent thing it is to live in communion with God, you will be sorry you began no sooner. Paul complains that he was as a man ‘born out of due time,’ 1 Cor. xv. 8, and so had not the advantage of seeing Christ in the flesh, until he showed him self to him from heaven in the vision upon his conversion. You lose many a comfortable sight of Christ because you were so late acquainted with him. And it is said of Andronicus and Junius, Rom. xvi. 7, ‘they were in Christ before me.’ Certainly he that is first in Christ, and sooner called to grace, hath the advantage of us. An early acquaintance with God gives us advantages both in point of enjoyment and service. In point of enjoyment; peace, comfort, joy in the Holy Ghost. A man would not want these things, they are so valuable in themselves; the want of them is an incomparable loss to us. Certainly they would have been much better than all those flesh-pleasing vanities that you dote upon, and keep you from Christ. A man that hath for a long while wasted his time and strength in driving on a peddling trade, when he is acquainted with a more gainful course, Oh, saith he, that I had known this sooner! so, none have any taste of the ways of God, but they will wish so; Oh, that I had sooner renounced my carnal delights, and betaken myself to the service of God!

Then advantages in point of service. What honour might we have brought to God, what good done to others, if we had begun sooner! Oh, saith one, had I but the time to spend again which I trifled away in the devil’s service! What use might I have made of the vigour and freshness of my youth, and quickness of my parts for God, and the large tract of time which I spent in sin and vanity! Every day in a carnal state was a loss of opportunity of service, the glorifying of God, the great end for which you were made.

Reas. 3. There is danger and hazard in delay and putting off a business of such concernment, as conversion to God and his ways is, upon such uncertainties. For the understanding of the force of this reason—

1. Let us determine that this is a business of the greatest concernment, and that will show us the folly of our delays, for certainly the greatest work should first be thought of. Now if you will believe the word of God, that will tell you the salvation of your souls should be your main care: Mat. vi. 33, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,’ &c.; Ps. xxvii. 4, ‘One thing have I desired of the 138Lord, and that will I seek after,’ &c. Whatever is neglected, this is a business that must he looked after. And Luke x. 42, ‘One thing is needful.’ Let us argue from these places. Certainly that which is necessary should be preferred before that which is superfluous. A man would take care to get meat rather than sauce, and would prefer his business before his recreation, that which is eternal before that which is temporal. It is not necessary we should be great and rich in the world. Within a little while it will not be a pin to choose what part we have acted here. But it is necessary we should be gracious, holy, and acquainted with God in Christ; that is our business. Again, that which is eternal should be preferred before that which is temporal. You count him a fool that is very exact and careful to get his room in an inn furnished, when he neglects his house where his constant abode is. In the other world there is our long home; and if all our care should be here for the present estate, where we tarry but for a night, but a little while, and neglect eternity, our everlasting happiness, that were a very great folly. That which is spiritual, which concerns our soul, should be preferred before that which is carnal and corporal, and only concerns the body, for the better part should have the most care. As for instance, a man that is wounded and cut through his clothes and skin and all, will sooner look to have the wound closed up in his body than the rent made up in his garment. So the distempers of the inward man should be first cured before we look after the outward man, which is as it were the garment and clothing, for these outward things shall be added. Here is your work, to please God, not satisfy the flesh. This is that which concerns us not only for a while but for ever, and concerns the inward man. This is the grand business of concernment; therefore we should delay other things rather than delay the work of our salvation; yet usually all other things have a quick despatch, and this only is neglected and lies by the wall.

2. That this business of concernment is left upon great hazard and uncertainty.

[1.] Life is uncertain. He that does seriously consider the uncertain shortness of the present life, how can he delay a moment, lest he be called home to God before his great errand for which he was sent into the world be done? Many of you, when you seriously think of it, would not for a thousand worlds die the next day so unprovided, unfurnished with promises, evidences, experiences; and yet it may be so that that may be the time when they shall be called home to God. This life is but ‘a vapour,’ James iv. 4, a little warm breath turned in and out by the nostrils, that is soon choked and stopped; and ‘thou knowest not what will be on the morrow,’ Prov. xxvii. 1. As that devout person said when he was invited to a meal the next day, to come to-morrow to a feast, I have not had a morrow for these many years. We have no security for the next day but our own word, and he that hath nothing but his own word to secure him is very weakly secured. Life is short, and we make it shorter by continuing in sin. It is uncertain: if there were a fixed time and period wherein we knew our continuance should be in the world, then we should be tempted to wallow freely in our carnal lusts, and entertain sin a little longer, and put off repentance till hereafter. But God hath left life upon 139great uncertainties; the hand of providence may soon crop you off, long before you come to your flower. None are nearer to destruction than those that promise themselves a longer time in sin: Luke xii. 19, ‘Thou hast goods laid up for many years,’ but ‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.’ God loves to disappoint secure careless souls that promise themselves a longer life without his leave; he will break in upon a sudden. A poor careless sinner would fain keep his soul a little longer. No, it is demanded now: he doth not give it up, but it is taken away from him. Reason with thyself as Isaac, Gen. xxvii. 2 (I allude to it), ‘Behold now I am old, I know not the day of my death; make me savoury meats that my soul may bless thee before I die.’ So reason, I have spent so much time in the world, and I know not the day of my dissolution, when God will call me home; oh, let me go to God that he may bless me before I die!

[2.] You know not whether the means of grace shall be continued to you or no, and such affectionate offers and melting entreaties: Acts xiii. 46, ‘Since you put away the word of God from you, you judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life.’ God will not always wait upon a lingering sinner, but will take the denial and be gone. They judge themselves unworthy of that grace, they pass sentence upon themselves: 2 Cor. vi. 1, 2,’ Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation: we beseech you receive not the grace of God in vain.’ God hath his seasons, and when these are past, will not treat with us in such a mild affectionate manner. The means of grace are removed from a people by strange providences, when they have slighted the offers of grace: Luke xiii. 7, ‘These three years I came seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?’ In that text there is—(1.) God’s righteous expectation, ‘These three years I came seeking fruit.’ He was the dresser of the vineyard; they were the three years of his ministry, as by a serious harmonising the evangelists will appear that he was just now entering upon his last half year they had his ministry among them. (2.) Their unthankful frustration, ‘I find none,’ nothing answerable to what means they enjoyed. (3.) God’s terrible denunciation, ‘Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?’ God will root up a people, or remove the means; and therefore will ye leave it upon such uncertainties?

[3.] There is an uncertainty of grace: 2 Tim. ii. 25, ‘If God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.’ It is a mere hazard, it may be he will, it may be not. It is uncertain whether the Spirit of God will ever put in your heart a thought of turning to God again: Gen. vi. 3, ‘My Spirit shall not always strive with man.’ The Spirit of God strives for a long while, follows a sinner, casts in many an anxious thought, troubles and shakes him out of his carnal quiet and security, but this will not always last. Ah, Christians! there are certain seasons, if we had the skill to take hold of them; there is an appointed fixed time when God is nearer to us than at another time, and we shall never have our hearts at such an advantage: Isa. lv. 6, ‘Call upon him while he is near, and while he may be found.’ There are certain seasons which are times of finding. Some are of opinion that there are certain seasons when a man may be rich if he will, when God offereth him an opportunity for an estate in 140the world, if he knew the time and how to take hold of it. Certainly to those that live under the means of grace there is a time of finding, when God is nearer to them than at another time, and therefore will you slip that, and leave it upon such great uncertainties?

[4.] There is an uncertainty in this; we are not certain of having the use of our natural faculties; we may lose our understandings by a stupid disease, and God may bring a judgment upon those that dally with him in the work of repentance. It is a usual judgment upon them that while they were alive did forget God, when they come to die, to forget themselves, and have not the free use of their reason, but, invaded with some stupid disease, die in their sins, and so pass into another world.

Reas. 4. The fourth reason is the great mischief of delay.

1. The longer we delay the greater indisposition is there upon us to embrace the ways of God. O Christians! when we press you to holy things, to turn yourselves to the Lord, you begin to make some essay, and then are discouraged, and find it is hard and tedious to flesh and blood, and so you give over. Now mark, if it be hard to-day, it will be harder the next, so the third onward, for it is hardness of heart that makes the work of God hard. Now the more we provoke God, the more we resist his call, the more hard the heart is; the impulsions of his grace are not so strong as before, and the heart every day is more hardened. As a path weareth the harder by frequent treading, so the heart is more hard, the mind more blind, the will more obstinate, the affections more engaged and rooted in a course of sin: Jer. xiii. 23, ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.’ Oh, to break off an inveterate custom is hard! A plant newly set is more easily taken up than a plant that hath taken root. When we grow old and rotten in the way of sin, it will be much harder for us than now it is: the longer we lie soaking here in sin, the farther off from God.

2. We provide the more discomfort for ourselves. Always the proportion of our sorrow is according to the measure of our sins. Whether it be godly sorrow, the sorrow of repentance, or despairing sorrow, those horrors which are impressed upon us as a punishment of our rebellion and impenitency, in both senses you still increase your sorrow the more you sin. For the sorrow of repentance, it is clear that sorrow must carry proportion with our offences. She that had much for given wept much. Certainly it will cost you the more tears, a greater humbling before God, the longer you continue in a course of sin against him. And for the sorrow of punishment, you are ‘treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath,’ Rom. ii. 5. Your burden will be greater and more increased upon you. It is too heavy for your shoulders already to bear; why should we add to the weight of it? Either our sorrow of repentance will be greater, or the anxious sense of our punishment; for in both God observes, and God requires a proportion.

3. Consider how unfit we shall be for God’s service if we delay a little longer, when our strength is spent, and vigour of youth exhausted; when our ears grow deaf, eyes dim, understanding dull, affections spent, memory lost. Is this a time to begin with God, and to look 141after the business of our souls? Certainly he that made all, that was our Creator, deserves the flower of our strength, Eccles. xii. 1. When the tackling is spoiled and ship rotten, is that a time to put to sea? or rather when the ship is new built? Shall the devil feast upon the flower and freshness of your youth, and God only have the scraps and fragments of the devil’s table? When we are good for nothing else, then to think we are good enough for God and the business of religion, which requires all our might and all our strength, when we are spent, is it a time to begin our warfare, or in our youth?

4. There is this, the just suspicion which is upon a late repentance; it is seldom sound; it is no true repentance which ariseth merely from horror and fear of hell. It may be but the beginnings of everlasting despair, and their desires may be but offers of self-love after their own ease. All men seek the Lord at length, but wise men seek him betimes. The difference is made on some in time, on others out of time, upon their death-beds. The most profane would have God for their portion when they can sin no more, and enjoy the world no longer. >How can we tell this is a sound work? It seems to be a very questionable thing, merely proceeding from self-love and natural desires of happiness in all men. When we begin with God, we begin out of self-love, we come for our ease and interest, that we may be safe and happy; afterwards we come to a delight of spirit in his service, and having opportunity, show in our works the power of our affection to God, and manifest the soundness of our conversion. It is possible a death-bed repentance may be true, but it is very doubtful. There is but one instance, which is that of the thief upon the cross. The scriptures are a history of five thousand years; yet all that while we have but one instance of a man that repented when he came to die; and in that one instance there is an extraordinary conjunction of circumstances, such as will never fall out again. Christ was at the thief’s right hand, in the height of his love, drawing sinners to salvation; and probably this man had never any such call till then. Some may at the eleventh hour be converted, because they were not called till then. Every one came when they were called. Therefore, there being so great and just a suspicion that lies against a late repentance, certainly we should not delay.

Reas. 5. The reasons for delay are very inconsiderable. Solomon saith, Prov. xxvi. 16, that ‘the sluggard thinks himself wiser than seven men that can render a reason.’ Mark, as Solomon’s fool is not to be taken literally, but spiritually, so Solomon’s sluggard is not to be taken morally, but spiritually. They that are sluggish and slow of heart in the things of God, they think they have a great deal of reason on their side, and will not be persuaded on the contrary but they shall do well enough for all that; and they can argue against the calls and injunctions of God. Yet how little can they say for themselves! See what reasons may be said for delay; I mean not that they plead and argue, but it is -that which sways them, that which lies next the heart is this; why they keep off from God, and are satisfied with their present estate.

1. The pleasures of sin are sweet, and they are loath to forego them, and to engage their souls in the severities of a strict obedience. Here 142is the bottom reason, this is, that which sways them. I will not speak to this plea as it lies against conversion itself, but only as it makes men to delay. If I were to plead for conversion itself, I would tell these carnalists of higher pleasure; that their delights shall not be abrogated, but preserved; their delight shall be transplanted from Egypt to Canaan, that it may thrive and prosper in a happier soil; that they may have purer contentments, and those chaste and happy satisfactions of enjoying communion with God. But I shall only deal with them as it relates to the delay of conversion. Therefore I thus argue: These pleasures of sin must one day be renounced, or you are for ever miserable; and if you must one day, why not now? For mark, sin will be as sweet hereafter as it now is, and salvation is always dispensed upon the same terms; you cannot be saved hereafter with less ado, or bring down Christ and heaven to a lower rate; and, therefore, if this be a reason now, it will ever lie as a reason against Christ and religion, then you will never tend to look after the ways of life; if you are loath to part with sin now, you will never part with it. The laws of Christianity are always the same. God will not bate you anything of repentance, and your heart is not like to be better, but worse, that is the sum of it; and therefore this reason signifies nothing when it conies to be tried in the balance of the sanctuary, and yet this is the main reason.

2. They can plead other things; hope God will be merciful to them hereafter; though they indulge themselves a little longer in sin, he will at length save them. I answer—You cannot bend his mercy and make it save; it is a mere uncertainty, peradventure he will, peradventure not. Would you take poison, out of hope that afterward you may meet with an antidote? And this is the very case between God and us. I answer further—There are shrewd suspicions that God will not be merciful to those that run such a desperate adventure; for whoever delays his repentance doth in effect pawn his soul with the devil, and leaves it in his hands, and says, Here, Satan, keep my soul; if I fetch it not again by such a day, it is thine for ever: and can you think mercy will bring it out? Again, there are great causes of fear, because there is such a thing as judicial hardness of heart, by a sentence of obduration. There are some that God gives up to their own ways and counsels, and God inflicts this sentence upon those that continue in sin, notwithstanding conviction of their hearts to the contrary: Prov. i. 25, 26, ‘Ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I will also laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh.’ There are thousands in hell merely upon this account, that have forfeited the benefit of God’s mercy, and tenders of his grace, and have been shut up by hardness of heart, by God’s sentence of obduration; the most dreadful punishment that can light upon a creature on this side hell.

3. Ay! but we are willing, and would turn to the Lord now, but we have no leisure, and have not those conveniences that we shall have here after, for then we shall get things into a better frame and posture. Oh, no; it is mere hypocrisy to think you are willing when you delay, for there is nothing hinders but a want of will, and a loathness to comply with the commands of God. When we dare not flatly deny, then we delay. Non vacat, that is the sinner’s plea, I am not at leisure; but non placet, 143there is the reality. Mat. xxii. 7, they which were invited to the wed ding varnished their denial over with an excuse. Delay is a denial, for if they were willing there would be no excuse. To be rid of importunate and troublesome creditors, we promise them payment another time, and we know our estate will be more wasted by that time; it is but to put them off: so this delay and putting off God is but a shift. Here is the misery, God always comes unseasonably to a carnal heart. It was the devils that said, Mat. viii. 29, ‘Art thou come to torment us before our time?’ Good things are a torment to a carnal heart, and they always come out of time. Certainly that is the best time when the word is pressed upon the heart with evidence, light, and power, and when God treats with thee about thine eternal peace.

Reas. 6. There are very urgent reasons to quicken us to make haste.

1. The state wherein we are at present is so bad and dangerous that we can never soon enough come out of it. The state of a man in his carnal condition is compared in scripture to a prison: Rom. xi. 32, ‘God hath concluded or shut them all up in unbelief.’ And mark, it is a prison that is all on fire. Oh, when poor captives are bolted and shut up in a flaming prison, how will they run hither and thither to get out! So should we run and strive to get out of this flaming prison. You cannot be too soon out of the power of the devil, or from under the curse of the law, the danger of hell-fire, and the dominion of sin: Mat. iii. 7, ‘Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’ He doth not say, to go, nor to run, but to flee. Fleeing from wrath to come, that is the truest motion. And so Heb. vi. 18; they which had the avenger of blood at their heels fled for refuge to take hold of the hope set before them. If there be poison in our bowels we think we can never soon enough cast it out. If fire hath taken hold of a building, we do not say we will quench it hereafter, the next week, or next month, but think we can never soon enough quench it. Or if there be a wound in the body, we do not let it alone till it fester and rankle. Christians, you may apply all this to the present case; here the danger is greater. There is no poison so deadly as sin, which hath infected all mankind: no wound so dangerous, for that will be the death of body and soul: no fire so dreadful as the wrath of God; therefore we cannot soon enough come out of this condition.

2. We cannot be happy soon enough, for the state we make after is the arms of God, the bosom of Jesus, the hope of eternal life; we cannot soon enough get within the compass of such privileges. Oh! shall Christ lie by as a dead commodity or breaded33   Qu. ‘braided,’ that is, scorned, reproached; whence, upbraid?—ED. ware? It shows we know not the gift of God, John iv. If we had a due sense and value of his excellency, we would take the morning market, and let not Christ Jesus, with all his benefits, lie by as a commodity that may be had at the last, at any time of the day; we would look upon him as the quickest ware in the market, and flock to him ‘as doves to the windows,’ Isa. lx. 8. You would force your way that you might get into his heart; you would count all things but dross and dung that you might gain him. It will be sweet to be encircled in the embraces of Jesus Christ, to have ‘his left hand under your head, and his right hand to embrace you,” Cant ii. 6; and will you delay when he stands offering himself, and stretching out his hand all the day long to receive you?

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