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I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.—Ver. 60.
I COME now to the application.
Use 1. To reprove the dallying with God which we are conscious to in the work of conversion, which is so common and natural to us. We are apt to put off God from time to time, from childhood to youth, from youth to man’s age, from man’s age to old age, and from old age to death-bed; and so the devil steals away one hour after another till all time be past.
I shall—(1.) Speak of the causes of this delay; (2.) Represent the heinousness of it, that you may not stroke this sin with a gentle censure, and think lightly of the matter.
First, Of the causes of this delay.
1. Unbelief, or want of a due sense or sight of things to come. If men were persuaded of eternal life and eternal death, they would not stand hovering so long between heaven and hell, but presently engage their hearts to draw nigh to God. But we ‘cannot see afar off,’ 2 Peter i. 9. Nature is purblind: to carnal hearts there is a mist upon eternity, they have no prospective whereby to look into another world, therefore it hath no influence upon them to quicken them to more speed and earnestness. If we had a due sense of eternal death, surely we would be fleeing from wrath to come; no motion should be earnest and swift enough to get from such a danger. If we had a due sense of eternal life, we would be ‘running to take hold of the hope that is before us,’ Heb. vi. 18.
2. Security. If men have a cold belief of heaven and hell, if they take up the current opinions of the country, yet do not take it into their serious thoughts, they ‘put far away the evil day,’ Amos vi. 3. Things at a distance do not startle us, as a clap of thunder afar off doth not fright us so much as when it is just over our heads in our own zenith. We look upon these things as to come, so put off the thought of them. Next to a want of sound belief, the want of a serious consideration is the cause why men dally with God. If we had the same thoughts living and dying, our motions would be more earnest and ready. When death and eternity is near, we are otherwise affected than when we look upon it as afar off. One said of a zealous preacher, He preacheth as if death were at my back. Oh, could we look upon death as at our back or heels! If men did but consider that within a few days they must go to heaven or hell, that there is but the slender thread of a frail life upon which they depend, that is soon fretted asunder, they would not venture any longer to be out of a state of grace, nor dally with God. But we think we may live long, and time enough to repent by leisure; we put far off the day of our change, and so are undone by our own security.
3. Averseness of heart from God. That which makes us desirous to stay longer in a way of sin, doth indeed make us loath to turn at all; and what is that? Obstinacy and unsubjection of heart to God: ‘The carnal mind is enmity to the law of God,’ Rom. viii. 7. We 145manifest our enmity to the law of God by delays as well as by a down right opposition. Neh. iv. 6, it is said the work went on speedily. Why? ‘For the people had a mind to the work.’ Where there is an earnest bent of heart, there we cannot linger and dally any longer. But men have no love nor affection to God, therefore do they delay und keep off from him.
4. The love of the world rooted in us, the love of present delights and present contentments. This is so deeply rooted in our nature, that here we stick, and are loath to come off kindly to the work of God. In Mat. xxii., when they were invited to the marriage-feast of the king’s son, that is, to the privileges of the gospel, what did they plead? The farm, oxen, merchandise, and one had married a wife; they were loath to be divorced from their dearest lusts, and to renounce the satisfaction which they had in carnal things, that so they might walk with God in a way of strict obedience.
Secondly, Let me represent the heinousness of it. Because we are apt to stroke it with a gentle censure, and to speak of this with soft words, let us see what this delay and putting off God is, when he comes with a great deal of importunity and affectionate earnestness, inviting us to partake of his grace.
1. It is flat disobedience to God. You think it is but putting it off for a while; no, it is flat disobedience. Why? God is as peremptory for the time and season as he is for the duty itself. God doth not only say, Turn to me, but, To-day, ‘even while it is called to-day, harden not your hearts,’ Heb. iii. 7, 8. The Lord deals with us as the Roman ambassador dealt with Antiochus, when he was shifting and putting off the matter, that he might not give a direct answer to the Romans. The ambassador draws a circle round about him, saith he, Intra hunc, Let me have an answer before thou passest from hence. So God will not only have an answer, but a present answer. If he saith, To-day, it is flat disobedience for you to say, To-morrow. He saith, Now is the time of salvation. We are charged in his name and by his authority to do it now, in this instant.
2. It is ingratitude and unthankfulness for God’s eternal love: Ps. ciii. 17, ‘From everlasting to everlasting thy loving-kindness is great to them that fear thee.’ From all eternity God was mindful of us, and before the world was. With reverence we may speak it: ever since he was God he was our God: from eternity to eternity his lovingkindness is great; and shall we adjourn and put him off to an odd corner of our lives, when he thought he could never soon enough think of us? Shall the whole duration of God be taken up by his love to us, and shall we be content to grieve the Spirit of God, and trample his laws under our feet for all this? Can you have hearts to abuse such a God, and to deal so unkindly with him?
3. It is base disingenuity: we do not deal with God as we would have God to deal with us. If we have any business or errand at the throne of grace, we would be heard presently, and are ready to complain if we have not a quick despatch: Ps. cii. 2, ‘Lord, hear me speedily.’ Here is our language when praying for any relief we stand in need of. To-day is a season for mercy, but to-morrow we make always to be the season for duty. We would have God to tarry our 146sinful leisure, till the heat of our lusts be spent, and fervours of youth be abated; yet we will not tarry his holy leisure. We are bound, but the Lord is free whether he will answer us or no; yet we murmur if God come not in at our beck. We are always in haste if in any danger and want any relief; we cry, How long? And shall God stand waiting till we turn from our evil ways? If any cry, How long? God may, as he doth Jer. xiii. 27, ‘When shall it once be?’
4. It is base self-love when we can be content to dishonour God longer, provided that at length we may be saved. Shall I say that this is to prefer our salvation before God? No, but it is to prefer our sins before God. And it shows that we are not willing to part with sin upon reasons of duty, or any real inclination of heart towards God, but only upon reasons of interest, that we maybe saved; yea, never to part with it at all if you might have your wills. Not but that a man may and ought to eye rewards and punishments. It is part of the exercise of our faith to eye the reward, and also to eye the punishment; but this manifests an inordinate respect to the reward when we would enjoy our personal happiness, and so that be obtained at length, we care not how God be disobeyed and dishonoured. You do but in effect say to God thus, Let me despise thy commands, and abuse thy mercies a little longer; then I will look after my salvation, when my lusts are satisfied. This is base self-love. Christ did not redeem us only that we might die well, but that we might live well; not only that we might be safe at last, but glorify God here upon earth; not only that we might enter into heaven, but do him service, and that all our days: Luke i. 74, ‘Being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life.’
5. It is great injustice and injury to God, who hath been too long kept out of his right already. Oh, look back! How ungratefully have you spent all your former time! Too much time hath been spent already, and you would delay longer: 1 Peter iv. 3, ‘The time past may more than suffice to have wrought the will of the Gentiles,’ &c. It is enough, and should be more than enough, and now you should not stay a moment. As those that have delayed their journey, when they begin and set out, mend their pace that they may redeem their time and accomplish their journey; so should we, for the time past is more than enough to be spent in worldly vanity and carnal excess: Rom. xiii. 11-14, ‘It is high time to awake out of sin.’ God hath been encroached upon for a long time, and that should and will be a grief of heart to you, that you have not all this while acknowledged or paid your debt to your lord. The thought of this should prevail with us the more, because the payment of a debt to a man should not be delayed, to put off a poor man till to-morrow ‘when thou hast it by thee,’ Prov. iii. 28; and the wages of a servant should not abide with us, Lev. xix. 13. We are not to defraud a poor servant, nor to delay him, but to make him quick payment; and shall we defraud our great Creator of the debt we owe to him, and put him off from day to day?
Use 2. To exhort us with speed to turn to the Lord, and to comply with his motions. Let us not put off God from day to day. I shall 147urge it—(1.) As to the general case; (2.) As to particular duties which are pressed upon you.
First, As to the general case. Oh! go and bethink yourselves, how do matters stand between God and thy soul? Debate it seriously, that if you have neglected God and his salvation already, you may now turn to him without delay. Let me press you further.
1. You can never part with sin soon enough; it is a cursed inmate, that will surely bring mischief upon the soul that harbours it. It will set its own dwelling on fire. If there be a mote in the eye, a thorn in the foot, we take them out without delay; and is not sin a greater mischief, and sooner to be looked into and parted with? Certainly the evil of sin is greater than all evil, and hereafter the trouble will be greater; therefore we can never soon enough part with it.
2. Let this move you: sin must have a quick despatch, and shall not God? It would defeat temptations if we would but delay them, it would stop the furies of anger, and suppress the motions of lust. Augustus the emperor advised those who were angry to repeat the Greek alphabet, meaning that they might take time to consider. So for uncleanness and other sins; if the practice and execution of many lusts were but delayed, we would not be so frequent in them as we are, to the dishonour of God and scandal of religion. Prov. vii. 22, it is said of the young man enticed by the harlot, that ‘forthwith he went after her.’ When our lusts are agog, all the checks of conscience and persuasions of the word will not prevail for a little respite. Now, shall sin have a more ready entertainment than God? Will you rush upon the practice of sin like a horse into the battle, and come on in the service of God like a snail? Will you be so eager and passionate upon the impulsion of every lust, and so hardly be entreated by the Spirit of God and by the word of God?
3. If you be not ready, God is ready. How ready is he, on the one hand, to receive you, and, on the other hand, to punish you! The one quickens us by hope, and the other by fear. For the consideration which works upon hope, God is ready: Mat. xxii. 4, 5, ‘Come to the wedding, all things are ready.’ He hath a Christ ready to receive you, a Spirit ready to sanctify and cure all your soul distempers; he hath pardoning mercy to forgive all your sins, he hath power of grace to remedy all your distempers; and will not you be ready? Luke xv. 20, the prodigal said, ‘I will go to my father.’ Mark his language, ‘I will go;’ the father ran. When we do but relent, and with brokenness of heart come and lie at the feet of God, love’s pace is very swift, and runs to snatch us out of the fire; therefore will you not be ready to cast yourselves into the arms of his compassion? Cant. ii. 8, Christ is represented as ‘leaping upon the mountains, and skipping upon the hills.’ Christ thinks he can never be soon and early enough with a returning sinner, to revive a poor broken-hearted sinner; therefore, if God be so ready, so should you. On the other side, to work upon your fear, if you delay, God is ready to punish you. The wrath of God hangs over your heads like a sharp sword by a slender thread, and will you sit still and keep your place? ‘The judge is at the door;’ he is ready to judge, James v. 9. Are you ready to be judged? God is ready to condemn, to execute, and are not you ready to implore mercy, to 148seek the Lord’s favour? ready to fall flat, and beg terms of grace in and through Christ Jesus? Rahab, when the Lord had by his messengers threatened destruction to Jericho, only Rahab’s house was to be safe. She hanged out a scarlet thread ere the spies were departed, Josh. ii.; she did not delay till the army came and the city was surprised. When the Lord is marching against sinners with vengeance and fury, you cannot come soon enough to God to prevent it, Luke xiv. 32. That king that had twenty thousand marching against him, doth not stay till they were in his quarters, but while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an embassage, and desireth conditions of peace. God is ready to execute all his vengeance and curses of the law; therefore, while you may, seek conditions of peace. You have been spared long; it may be for the next sin you may pay for all. A thief that hath long escaped, when he is taken at length, all his villany is recompensed into his bosom; if he had not stolen the last time, he had escaped. God hath spared you hitherto; it may be upon the next sin he will strike you, and hold his hands no longer. If God now strike, in what a woful case would you be?
4. There was never any that came to God too soon; many have come too late, the foolish virgins are an instance. When they brought little children to Christ, Christ received them. There are none so little but the great God can form and fashion them into a temple for himself. Usually God chooseth his people from among the youth. There may be some converted in old age, but few; usually it is in our youth, or as soon as we come to our maturity. Reason thus: I may be too late, I cannot be too early; let me no longer dally with God.
Secondly, As to the particular duties which are pressed upon you, let me caution you and direct you.
1. By way of caution.
[1.] When you have any stirrings of heart, any anxious thoughts about your eternal condition, beware you do not believe the devil, that hereafter will be a more convenient season. I shall give directions suitable to the grand enemies of our salvation, the devil, the world, and the flesh, Now, do not believe the devil. This was Felix’s case. Paul was reasoning of justice and temperance, graces that he was little acquainted withal, and Paul quickens all by a remembrance of judgment to come, and then Felix trembled. But how doth he put off this heart-work? Hereafter we shall have ‘a more convenient season,’ Acts xxiv. 25. Oh! never will it be better with you than now when the waters are stirred. Still there is something in the sinner’s way when God hath any business for him. When young, we want wisdom; when old, we want strength; in the middle of business, we want leisure; in the midst of leisure, we are corrupted and want a heart. We are lazy, and then every molehill seems a mountain. Remember, if the devil can but get us to delay, he hath us fast enough. If he can but get us to put it off to-day, then to-morrow, then the next day, shall be as that. Austin, when he had conviction upon him, he prays from his conscience, Lord, mortify my lusts, but not yet. Satan’s morrow will never come. There is no end of delays. He tells you of to-morrow and another season, but that season will never come.
[2.] Let not the world choke the word. It is notable the choking 149the good seed which was scattered among thorns. Christ expounds it of the world. Now what of the world choketh it? Mat. xiii. 22, he instanceth in ‘the cares of the world:’ and Luke instanceth in ‘the pleasures of this life:’ he adds ‘voluptuous living,’ Luke viii. 14; and Mark hath it more generally, ‘the cares of this life,’ Mark iv. 19; ‘and the lusts of other things choke the word.’ The meaning of all those places is this: Many a man hath some beams of light darted into his bosom, and he begins to have serious and anxious thoughts of his eternal condition. Ay! but then the pleasures and cares of the world interpose, and they must be first served, and so the conviction is lost. Sometimes a man is full of business, and cannot attend to carrying on this work; at other times he is loath to forego his voluptuous course; there is some sport he must attend upon, and so the word is lost When you have conviction upon you, you are under God’s arrest; when you go and get out of the chains of conscience without God’s leave, you break prison. All business must give way to your great business, and follow that close till you come to some issue: Mat. viii. 21, ‘Follow me,’ saith Christ. ‘Suffer me first to go bury my father.’ ‘Nay,’ saith Christ, ‘let the dead bury the dead, but do thou follow me.’ How specious soever the work be, we must call off our souls. Let not these beams of conviction which are darted into your bosom be quenched.
[3.] Consult not with the flesh, as a friend in the case, when your heart begins to work towards God: Gal. i. 16, ‘Immediately I consulted not with flesh and blood.’ It is notable the word signifies to lay down a burden, to lay down our cares and difficulties in a friend’s bosom. When a man hath any trouble upon him he communicates it to his friend. Now, you have a burden upon you, you begin to be sensible you are in a wrong course, and must turn to God. Do not lay down your burdens in the flesh’s bosom; they will tell you this is but a pang and melancholy qualm, and would furnish you with a great many seeming reasons to put it off, frivolous excuses, slothful pretences, carnal fears, and idle allegations; therefore consult not with the flesh as with a friend in the case.
[4.] Be not discouraged with tediousness and difficulty, which, upon a trial, you will find in the ways of God. Many that carry on their convictions to a resolution, and their good resolutions to some performance, when they find it to be a difficult and tedious business, a thing that is irksome to the flesh, they throw up all, and there is an end of the conviction that was upon them. A bullock at first yoking is most unruly until he be accustomed to it; so afterwards duty will be more sweet and easy: if you will but take Christ’s yoke upon trial, you shall find it is a sweet yoke, Mat. xi. 29. And remember, difficulties in the service of God should rather excite than discourage. Will you serve God with that which cost you nothing? Will you think to go to heaven, and not enter in at the strait gate? Remember, this is one of our waymarks. Counterbalance difficulty with reward, and punishment and pains of duty with the pains of hell, the pleasure of sin with the reward of eternal life: urge your souls with the equity in Christ’s ways, and the filthiness and turpitude in those sinful courses.150
[5.] If you have discouragements from God, and he seems to with draw or withhold his grace, remember he is not at your beck: if he gives nothing he oweth nothing. If he should not give present comfort, strength, and help, usually it may be so for your trial. We are never brought to a thorough obedience until we come to this resolution: Let God do what he will, I will do what he hath commanded; till we yield to God’s sovereignty, and venture through his denials and the suspensions of his grace. As the woman of Canaan, he first answereth her not a word; when he answers, his speech is more discouraging than his silence, ‘It is not meet to take the children’s bread and give it to dogs.’ She ventures through all these discouragements. Christ yields at length: ‘O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee as thou wilt.’ God will bring his creatures to such a thorough obedience. You may have no visits of his love, no beam of his grace; though you meet with a dumb oracle, and he seems to cast you off, and you have many fears, yet venture through with a holy obstinacy that you will not give over; as Job xiii. 15, ‘Though he kill me, yet will I put my trust in him.’ When you follow God with such an obstinacy of obedience, though he should appear never so contrary, yet we will encourage ourselves in waiting upon him. Thus be severe to your purpose.
2. For positive directions.
[1.] Observe the call of God. There are certain seasons when God more especially doth approach the heart of a sinner, when Christ knocks: Rev. iii. 20, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.’ How doth Christ knock? By the motions of his grace, when the word sets conscience awork. One time or other God meets with the heart of every man that lives under the gospel, so that his conscience tells him, I must be another man, or I am an undone man for ever. Then Christ knocks when conscience is thus set awork; when the waters are stirred, then is the time to put in for cure. Now observe this, that you may welcome the authority of his truth. To resist Christ in this work is a dangerous thing. For a woman to destroy the child in the womb is murder; so to resist Christ in this work that is going on towards the new birth is spiritual murder.
[2.] Be sure this work come to some effect. To stifle convictions, that is very dangerous. There is no iron so hard as that which hath been often heated and often quenched; so no hearts so hard as those that have had many convictions and have quenched them: 1 Thes. v. 19, ‘Quench not the Spirit.’ You have great qualms of conscience. Felix he trembles; ay! but it came to nothing. Many men’s hearts are roused, but it does no good. A man that sleeps upon a bridge may dream that he is falling into the water, and so dream that he may shake every limb of him, and so shake and tremble that he may cry out in his sleep. Ay! but the man doth not awake, and rouse up that he may avoid the danger. So the word of God may work so far that they begin to fear they are even dropping into the pit; they have anxious thoughts about their eternal condition, but still they sleep till their security overcome their fear, and so this work comes to nothing. And therefore, be not contented to have some motions upon thy soul now and then, some involuntary impressions, but see what they come 151to: Eph. v. 14, ‘Awake, thou that sleepest,’ &c. When Christ hath awakened thee, and thou beginnest to be startled in the sleep of thy security, rouse up thyself and be serious.
[3.] Actuate thy thoughts by a sound belief and application of eternity, that you may not lose your convictions. First by a belief, and then by an application. This is that which doth actuate and enliven all those truths that set on the work of God. First, by a belief of eternity. Surely there is good and evil, there is hope and fear, therefore there is heaven and hell. Say, there are two states, a state of nature and a state of grace; and these two states have respect to two covenants—a covenant of works, that worketh bondage, and binds me over to punishment, and a covenant of grace; and both these do issue themselves at length into heaven and hell. This is the great sum of our religion. And conscience and reason will tell me there is a world to come; there must be a time when God will deal more severely with sinners than he doth in the present life. Enliven your thoughts by strengthening your belief of eternity, for this is that which doth set home all the exhortations of his word, and which makes our thoughts serious. And then, secondly, by a serious application of these things to yourselves. If you would have these hopes, apply the offer of heaven to work upon your hope, and the commination of hell to work upon your fear. The offer of heaven: If I would be blessed in Christ, surely I must mend my course. Now, Acts iii. 26, ‘He hath sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.’ When there is an offer that comes in with power upon the heart, then Christ is sent to turn me from my sins, that I may be the inheritor of an everlasting blessing; and shall I not let go my sins? I have often flattered myself with this, Sure I am willing to be saved; but I cannot be saved if I live in my sins, otherwise I am no more willing to be saved than the devils, for they are willing to be saved from the wrath of God for ever. A creature is willing to be eased of his torment, and every one would have eternal life: Evermore give me this life. Now, let Christ do his work to turn you from your sins. So by working upon your fear: Here God hath threatened me with eternal damnation if I do not hearken. Now scourge thy soul with that smart question, Heb. ii. 3, ‘How shall I escape if I neglect so great salvation?’ How shall I escape the damnation of hell if I turn back upon his offer, if I deal slightly with God in a business which so nearly concerns my soul?
[4.] Issue forth a practical decree for God in the soul. When the heart is backward, we have no remedy left but to decree for God. David makes a decree in the court of conscience: Ps. xxxii. 5, ‘I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord.’ I said, I determined, I would go and lie at God’s foot, and humble myself; so I said—set down a resolution which shall be like the laws of the Medes and Persians, never to be reversed—that thou wilt for this present and ever hereafter wait upon the means, and give way to the work of God upon thy soul; resolve that you will go and lie at God’s feet, and say, ‘Lord, turn me: I am as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke,’ Jer. xxxi. 18. thou hast forbidden me to despair, and commanded thy creature to come to thee for grace—here I cast myself at the footstool of thy mercy; and 152resolve you will keep up your endeavours in all the means of grace in hearing the word, prayer, &c. Though no sensible comfort comes, yet in obedience perform holy duties: ‘At thy command,’ says Peter, ‘I will cast out the net,’ Luke v. 5. Be diligent and frequent in waiting upon God, and look with more seriousness and earnestness of soul after the business of eternal life.
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