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A FUNERAL DISCOURSE.
Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him: lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
IN these words Christ endeavours to enforce that high and noble duty of an amicable concord and agreement betwixt brethren; the greatest bond of society, and the most becoming ornament of religion: and since it is to be supposed that men’s frailty and passion will sometimes carry them out to a violation and breach of it, and, if not prevented, settle in a fixed and lasting rancour; he prescribes the antidote of a speedy reconcilement, as the only sovereign and certain remedy against the poisonous ferment of so working a distemper. If an injury be once done, Christ will have the repentance almost as early as the provocation; the rupture drawn up as soon as made; the angry word eaten as soon as uttered, and in a manner disowned before it is quite spoke; that so men’s quickness in the one may in some measure answer and compound for their hastiness in the other.251
And since those are always the strongest and most effectual addresses to the mind of man, that press a duty not only by the proposal of rewards to such as perform, but also of punishments to such as neglect it, Christ therefore shews us the necessity of immediately making peace with our injured brother, from the unavoidable misery of those obstinate wretches that persist in and (as much as in them lies) perpetuate an injury; and being mortal them selves, yet affect a kind of immortality in their mutual hatreds and animosities.
As for the words, some understand them in a literal, and some in a figurative sense.
Those who take them literally affirm, that Christ intended no parable in them at all, but by adversary meant any man whom we had injured, any one that has an action against us; and by way, a way, properly so taken; and by a judge, officer, and prison, an earthly judge, officer, and prison. And thus Chrysostom understands them, according to the strict acceptation of the letter, affirming that Christ’s whole scope and intent was to terrify men from being injurious to their brethren, by shewing what severe, inexorable usage would attend such as should offend in this kind.
Others will have the whole scheme of the text figurative, and to be understood only in a spiritual sense: according to which opinion, it will be requisite to give some short account of the several terms contained therein, and to shew briefly and distinctly what may spiritually be meant by each of them.
1. And first for the word adversary. Not to traverse the various and differing opinions of commentators; if the form of the words should be only tropical 252 and figurative, I conceive it most rational to understand here by adversary, either the divine law, or a man’s own conscience as commissionated by that law to accuse, charge, and arraign him before the great and dreadful tribunal of God. For to make either God himself the adversary, who in this case must of necessity be supposed to be the judge; or Satan the adversary, who upon the same account must needs be the officer or executioner; or lastly, to make a man’s own sin the adversary, which, how soever it may cry out for justice against him, yet can with no tolerable sense be said to be that which he is here commanded to agree with; these, I say, all and every one of them, are such unnatural assertions, and the grounds of them so weak, and the consequences of them so absurd, that any ordinary reason may soon discern the falseness and unfitness of such an exposition of the word, which, how tropical so ever the scheme of the text may be, still ought to maintain that due analogy and relation, that the things signified by those words naturally bear to one another.
2. By the way is meant the time of this life; or rather the present opportunities of repentance, which last not always as long as life lasts. These are the happy seasons of making up all differences with a threatening law and an accusing conscience; the great pathway of peace, in which we may meet and join hands with our angry adversary, and so close up all those fatal breaches through which the wrath of an ireful judge may hereafter break in upon us.
3. By judge is meant, as we have intimated al ready, the great God of heaven, who at the last and great day shall judge the world. We may behold 253him, in Psalm 50, as it were advanced upon his throne of justice, and from thence summoning all flesh before him to receive sentence according to the merit of their ways; and it is emphatically added, in the sixth verse of that Psalm, for God is judge himself.
4. By officer, as we also hinted before, is to be meant the Devil, the great gaoler of souls, the cruel and remorseless executioner of that last and terrible sentence, which the righteous Judge of heaven and earth shall award to all impenitent sinners.
5. By prison, no doubt, is meant hell, that vast, wide, comprehensive receptacle of damned spirits, from whence there is no redemption or return. As for that larger signification that some would fasten upon the word here, there is no solid ground for it, either in the context or the reason of the thing itself. Hell is a prison large enough already, and we need not enlarge it by our expositions.
6. And lastly, by paying the uttermost farthing must be signified the guilty person’s being dealt with according to the utmost rigour and extremity of justice. For when the sinner is once lodged in that sad place, his punishment can have neither remission nor extenuation: but there must be an exact commensuration between the guilt and the penalty; which must be adjusted according to the strictest measures of the law. For mercy has no more to do, when justice is once commanded to do its office.
All these things are very easy and obvious, and I cannot but think it needless to insist any longer upon them.
And thus I have given you both the literal and the figurative sense of the words; and if it be now asked, which of them is to take place, I answer, that 254 the words are parabolical, and include them both. For the better understanding of which, we are to observe these two things concerning parables.
First, that every parable is made up of two parts.
1. The material, literal part, which is contained in those bare words and expressions in which it is set down.
2. The formal, spiritual part, or application of the parable; which consists of those things that are further signified to us under those literal expressions.
The other thing to be observed is, that this spiritual part, or application of the parable, is some times expressed and positively set down in terminis: as in St. Matth. xiii. where Christ speaks of the seed and of the ground. He afterwards explains himself, and says, that by the seed is meant the word, and by the ground, the hearers. And sometimes again this spiritual part is not expressed, but only implied or understood, as in Matth. xxv. where Christ sets down the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, yet does not in express words set down the spiritual meaning and design of it, but leaves us to comment upon that in our own meditations. And so he does here; we have the literal part or outside of the parable expressed, but the spiritual sense of it under stood.
Now these two rules thus premised, we are to observe further, that in the application of the parable, and bringing the two parts of it together, the literal and the spiritual, we are not to search after a nice and exact agreement between them in every particular; but to attend only to their correspondence in the design, drift, and purpose of the parable. Which design doubtless in these words is no other than to 255set forth the severity of God’s proceedings against all impenitent, unreconciled sinners, by shewing that strict and unrelenting severity that a man not reconciled to his adversary meets with even before the tribunals of men; so that we are not now anxiously to strain the parable, and to fit every member of the literal expression to the spiritual meaning; as that, because in judicial processes amongst men there is an adversary, a judge, and an officer, and all these three distinct persons, there must therefore be such an economy in the tribunal of Heaven. No; all these things belong only to the material part, the dress and ornament of the parable; but the sense and purpose that Christ drives at, is that only which we are here to insist upon. As if Christ should say,
You know that in matters between man and man, when one has trespassed against another, if the party offending, while he has opportunity to make his peace with the party offended, shall neglect it, so that the matter comes at length to be brought before the judge, he is then to look for nothing but the most rigorous penalty of the law without mitigation. Just so it is between God and man: if any one sins against God, whether by offending his brother, or by any other kind of sin whatsoever, if he does not speedily and prudently lay hold on the opportunity of reconciling himself to God in this life, when God shall enter into judgment with him in the next, there will then be no mercy for him, but, according to the exact tenor of a righteous, indispensable law, he must abide the woful, irreversible sentence of eternal death. This is a compendious paraphrase upon the text, setting forth the full meaning of our Saviour in it. So that from what has been laid down, I shall 256 now present you with the sense of the words, under these three conclusions.
1. That the time of this life is the only time for a sinner to make his peace with, and to reconcile himself to God.
2. That the consideration, that the time of this life is the only time for a sinner to reconcile himself to God in, ought to be a prevailing, unanswerable argument to engage and quicken his repentance.
3. That if a sinner lets pass this season of making his peace with God, he irrecoverably falls into an estate of utter perdition.
I shall single out the second for the subject of the present discourse, and take in the rest under the arguments by which I shall prove it.
The proposition therefore to be handled is this, That the consideration, &c. Now this shall be made appear these three ways.
I. By comparing the shortness of life with the difficulty of this work.
II. By comparing the uncertainty of life with the necessity of it. And,
III. and lastly, by considering the sad and fatal doom that will infallibly attend the neglect of it.
I. And for the first of these. Let us compare the shortness of life with the greatness and difficulty of the work here set before us. What is a man’s whole life, but the inconsiderable measure of a span? and yet the vast business of eternity is crowded into this poor compass. It is a transitory puff of wind; while it breathes, it expires. The years of our life are but too fitly styled in holy writ the days of our life. Man takes his breath but short, and that is an argument that it is always departing. 257Our days (says the royal prophet) are but as a shadow. Every day added to our life sets us so much nearer to death; as the longer the shadow grows, the day is so much the nearer spent. Few and evil have the days of my life been, says Jacob in Genesis xlvii. 9. The number of our calamities far exceeds the number of our days. It is a pilgrimage, (as it is expressed in the same verse;) it is a going through the world, not a dwelling in it. We do not use to make any long stay in the journey, nor to take up our habitation at an inn. As Lot said of Zoar, the city of life, so we may say of the time and space of life, Is it not a little one? How is it passing away continually! how is it stealing from us, while we are eating, sleeping, talking! how is it shortened even while we are complaining of its shortness! There is nothing that we can either think, speak, or do, but it takes up some time. We cannot purchase so much as a thought or a word, without the expense of some of our precious moments. God has shut us up within the boundaries of a contracted age, so that we cannot attempt, much less achieve, any thing great or considerable. Our time is too scant and narrow for our designs. Our thoughts perish before they can ripen into action; the space of life being like the bed mentioned in Isaiah xxviii. 20, it is shorter than a man can well stretch himself upon it. For how do we hear the saints complaining of this in scripture! Sometimes it is termed a vapour, James iv. 14, a thing that appears and disappears almost in the same instant. Sometimes it is likened to a tale that is told, Psalm xc. 9. a frivolous thing, and after a few words speaking, quickly at an end. And sometimes, again, it is resembled 258 to a watch in the night. We are presently called off our station, and another generation comes in our room. This is the best that can be said of life; and what shall we do to make it other wise? Stretch or draw it out we cannot beyond the fatal line; it is not in our power to add one cubit to the measure of our days. We cannot slacken the pace of one of our posting minutes. But time will have its uncontrolled course and career, bringing age and death along with it, and, like the Parthian, shooting its killing arrows, while it flies from us. This is our condition here, this the lot of nature and mortality.
And now, if upon this transient survey of the shortness of life we could find that our business were as small as our age is short, it would be some relief to us however. But on the contrary, the work of our lives is long, difficult, tedious, and comprehensive, such as could easily exhaust and take up the utmost period of the most extended age, and still cry out for more. And if so, then certainly, to have a large task enjoined, and but a poor pittance of time to discharge it in, to have a large tale of brick required, and a small allowance of straw to prepare it with, cannot but be a great and heart-discouraging disadvantage. Yet this is our case; our sin has cut short our time, and enlarged our work: as it is with a man going up an hill, and falling backwards; his journey is thereby made longer, and his strength weaker. Seneca, speaking of the shortness of life, says, that we did not first receive it short, but have made it so. But by his favour, nature gave it but short; and we, by ill husbanding it, have made it much shorter; spending vainly and 259lavishly upon a small stock, so many of our precious hours being cast away upon idle discourse, intemperate sleep, unnecessary recreations, if not also heinous sins; all which have set us backward in the accounts of eternity, and are now to be reckoned amongst the things that are not: while in the mean time the business incumbent on us, is to recover our lost souls, to return and reconcile ourselves to a provoked God, to get our natures renewed, and reinformed with an holy and divine principle; and in a word, to regain our title to heaven. All these are great, high, and amazing works, beyond our strength, nay our very apprehensions, if an overpowering grace from heaven does not assist and carry us above ourselves. It is a miracle to consider, that such a pitiful thing as this life is, even upon the longest extent and the best improvement of it, should afford time enough to compass so vast a business, as the working out of a man’s salvation.
Now the difficulty of this business will appear from these considerations.
1st, Because in this business thou art to clear thy self of an injury done to an infinite, offended justice, to appease an infinite wrath, and an infinite, provoked majesty. And this must needs be no small or ordinary work; for who can stand before them! Wherefore it is the highest prudence to engage in it betimes, and to take up injuries between God and thy soul as speedily as may be. For if God should go to law with thee, or thou with him, thou wert undone for ever. He who goes to law with this king, is like to have but bad success. No flesh living (says the Psalmist) shall in thy sight be justified. Certainly the consideration of thy debts should 260 take up thy thoughts, even by night as well as day, hold thy eyes waking, and make thee take every step with terror, lest divine justice should arrest thee of a sudden. For, O man! whosoever thou art, according as the party is whom thou hast offended, the difficulty of the reconcilement will be proportionable. If thou hast offended a friend, the Spirit of God says, that it is easier to win a castle, than to regain such an one. If thou hast offended thy sovereign, the anger of a king is as the roaring of a lion. Now thy business is to make thy peace, both with an offended friend, and with an affronted sovereign. Thy debts are many thousand talents; and as for thee to pay them is impossible, so to get a surety for so much will be very difficult. When a creditor is urgent for his money, or for thy body, there is no demur, no delay then to be made. God has a writ out against thee, and is ready to arrest thee either for the debt, or for thy soul. And it will cost thee many prayers, many an hard fight and combat with thy sin, many mortifying duties and bitter pangs of repentance, before Christ will come in and pay the debt, and set thee free: and when this is done, how difficult will it be to get the Spirit to set his seal to thy pardon, and to keep the evidences of it for thee clear and entire. For without thy justification thou canst have no security, and without thy evidences thou canst have no comfort. It requires the most strict and accurate walking before God that can be, with a frequent and thorough examination of all thy experiences; and yet perhaps when all this is done, thou mayest fall short of it at last. For sometimes one great sin, one dangerous false step in the ways of God, may so blot 261thy evidences, that thou shalt even think the love of God is gone from thee; that he has shut up his tender bowels in anger, and that he has forgotten to be gracious: so that thou mayest go mourning all thy days, and die doubtful whether thou hast made a thorough peace with God or no. And is not the overcoming of this difficulty worth the spending of thy best time and thy choicest endeavours? Can it be done in a moment? Is it, think you, the easy performance of a few hours? No; God has rated these acquirements at the price of our greatest, severest, and longest labours. And to shew yet further, how difficult it is to make thy peace with the great God, consider how hard it is to make thy peace with thy own conscience. And shall a bare witness (for conscience is no more) prosecute the suit so hard against thee, and shall not the adversary himself be much more violent and hard to be taken off? When thy own heart shall so bitterly charge thee with thy guilt, and the black roll of thy most provoking sins shall be read against thee by an angry conscience, will a small matter, think you, give it satisfaction? Will a few broken sighs, and tears, and mournful words, make it compound the matter with thee, and let the suit fall? No certainly, the time of thy whole life, upon the best and strictest improvement of it, is but little enough to clear up and settle all differences between thee and thy conscience; and how much less then can it be to pacify, and make all even with thy offended God!
2dly, The other cause of the difficulty of making thy peace with God appears from this, that thou art utterly unable of thyself to give him any thing by 262 way of just compensation or satisfaction. We have a large instance of something offered that way in Micah vi. 7, Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Alas! all this is but an impossible supposition; but yet shews, that all and the very utmost that the creature does, or can do, or give, is but debt and duty, and that surely is not meritorious.
Can a man pay his old debts by discharging his present? Can the creature oblige God by any good duty, when it is God himself that enables him to perform that duty? It may be said, that Christ has engaged to make the soul’s peace, to clear off his debts to God. True: but then the soul engages in a new debt of faith and obedience to Christ. And here all the stress of the business lies, how the soul will be able to pay off this, and to secure itself a well-grounded interest and confidence in Christ; to take him in respect of all his offices; not only to be saved, but also to be ruled by him; not only as a priest, but also as a king. This will drink up and engross all that the soul can do and endeavour: all the strength and time allotted in this world is little enough to do such works as may prove the sincerity of its faith. For whatsoever relation faith may have to works, whether as to a part, or to a consequent to it; it is certainly such a thing as indispensably obliges the whole of a man’s following life to a strict, constant, and universal obedience to the laws of Christ. But that which ought chiefly to quicken the soul to a sudden improvement of the perishing time of this life, in making its peace with God, is 263this, that as Christ will not undertake for it without faith and repentance, so the offer of these does not last always. The consideration of this made the apostle quicken the Hebrews to present duty: To-day if you will hear his voice, Heb. iii. 15. There may be those offers of mercy made to thee to-day, that thou mayest not enjoy again for ever. The things of thy peace may be freely held forth to thee now, which for the future may be set out of thy reach. Consider therefore upon what terms thou standest with God, and lose no time: the work is difficult, and the delay dangerous, and the time short. The Spirit, that to-day stands at thy door and knocks, may be gone before to-morrow; and when it is once sent away, no man can assure himself that it will ever return.
And thus much concerning the first argument to prove the doctrine, drawn from our comparing the shortness of life with the greatness and difficulty of the work.
II. The second argument is taken from our comparing the uncertainty of life with the necessity of the work. Life, as it is short, so it is dubious; like a problematical question, concise, but doubtful. None can promise beyond the present. Who can secure to himself the enjoyment of a year, nay of one day, one hour? Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be taken from thee, Luke xii. 20. A man is in this contracted life as in a narrow sea, ever and anon ready to be cast away. Strength and health of body can make thee no absolute promise of life, although the surest grounds we can build upon. For may we not take up the complaint of David, and mourn over the immature death of the strong; How are the 264 mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished! How are the strong and healthful become a prey to an untimely death! Count not, therefore, how many hours thou hast to live in the world; look not upon thy hour-glass; do not build upon the sand. Death may snatch thee away of a sudden. As it is always terrible, so it is often unexpected. Thou flourishest at present like a flower, but the wind bloweth where and when it listeth. It passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more, Psalm ciii. 16.
Now this being considered and duly pondered in one scale of the balance, and the necessity of making our peace in the other, how should it incite us to a serious, present endeavour for the accomplishment of this work! Can two walk together, unless they be agreed? says the prophet Amos, iii. 3. Canst thou walk quietly with God, while he is thy adversary? Will not the consideration of this, that thou art going to the judge, and the way is short, and thy adversary ready to give in an accusation against thee, whet thy importunity to make an agreement with him? Thy endeavours are not serious and rational, unless they are present and immediate. That endeavour is only rational, which is according to the exigency of the thing. Now the business of thy soul is the matter thou art to engage in, and thou art only sure of the present time to manage it in. Unless this be laid hold of, thou dost really trifle in the business of eternity, and dost only embrace a pretence, instead of a serious intention. Things that are earnestly desired, and withal not to be delayed, are effected with an immediate expedition. If I am uncertain when my enemy will invade me, I will 265imagine that he will do it suddenly, and therefore my preparations shall be sudden. In things that concern our temporal interest, we are so wise as to make present provision, and not to suspend all upon contingent futurities. He that is sick to-day, will not defer sending for a physician till to-morrow. He that waits for the fall of some preferment puts himself in a present preparedness. But, alas! upon all these things the most we can write, it is convenience, not necessity. There is one thing, and but one that is necessary. It is not necessary that thou shouldest be healthful, nor that thou shouldest be honourable: but it is necessary for thee to be saved; to be at peace with God; to have the hand-writing that is against thee, by reason of the law, blotted out; to be friends with an almighty adversary. It was the note of a merry epicure, but may be refined into a voice becoming a Christian, Τὸ σήμερον μέλει μοι, τὸ δ᾽ αὐρίον τίς οἶδε; I will take care for to-day, who knows to-morrow? Let the Christian lay hold of the present occasion; and if he would live for ever, let him look upon himself as living but to-day: let this be secured, and whatsoever comes afterwards, let him reckon it as an overplus, and an unexpected gain. If to-day it be thy business to gain a peace, all the rest of thy days it is thy only business to enjoy it. Reason is impatient of delay in things necessary, and Christianity elevates reason, and makes it more impatient. Are we not bid to watch, to be ready, to have our loins girt and our lamps prepared? Now the persuasive force of this is grounded upon the uncertainty of Christ’s coming: although his coming be but once, yet if it is uncertain, the expectation of it must be continual. As indefinite commands do 266 universally engage, so indefinite, uncertain dangers are the just arguments of perpetual caution. O that men would be but wise, and consider, and lay aside their sins, and stand upon their guard! Wouldest thou be willing that a sudden judgment should stop thy breath while thou art a swearing or a lying? Wouldest thou have God break in upon thee, while thou art in the loathsome embraces of a filthy whore? Wouldest thou have death come and arrest thee in the name of God, while thou art in thy cups and in thy drunkenness? Now since these sudden soul-disasters may fall out, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness? Who knows but within a few days a noisome disease may stop thy breath? It did so to Herod. Or perhaps an unfortunate stab send thee packing? It did so to Abner. Or perhaps a stone from the house dash out thy brains, and prove both thy death and thy sepulchre? It did so to Abimelech. These small, inconsiderable things, commissioned by a Deity, are able to snap asunder the rotten thread of a weak life, and waft thee into eternity. And if thou hast not prepared a way beforehand, by concluding a solid peace with God, thou wilt find but sad welcome in the other world. Thou art indeed taken from the prison of thy body; but it is because thou art led to thy eternal execution.
And thus much concerning the second argument drawn from the uncertainty of life, compared with he necessity of the work.
III. The third argument to prove that the consideration, that the time of life is the only time of making peace with God, ought to quicken us to a speedy repentance, may be taken from considering 267the dismal doom that does attend those who go out of the world before their peace is made.
Now the misery and terror of this doom consists in two things.
1. That it is inevitable, it cannot be avoided.
2. That it is irreversible, it cannot be revoked. And this takes in the substance of the third doctrine, viz. That if a soul let pass this season of making its peace with God, it immediately falls into a state of irrecoverable perdition.
1. This doom is inevitable, it cannot be avoided. When we have to do with a strong enemy, if we cannot fly from him, we must of necessity fall by him. If we cannot outrun vengeance, we must endure it. The poor soul is now fallen into an ocean of endless misery, and if it cannot swim, or bear up itself, must sink. The place of torment is before thee, and an infinite power behind thee, to drive thee into it; therefore in thou must, there is no remedy; no ways to escape, unless thou canst either outwit God or overpower him. All possibility of escaping an evil must be either by hiding one’s self from it, and so keeping ourselves from that; or by repulsing it, and so keeping that from us. But either of these are impossible for thee to do, when thou art environed on this side by an omniscience, on the other by an omnipotence. We read of those that shall cry unto the mountains to fall upon them, and to the rocks to cover them from the face of the Lamb, and of him that sitteth upon the throne, Revel. vi. 16. But, alas! what poor asylums are these, when God, by his all-seeing eye, can look through the mountains, and by his hand can remove them! A condemned malefactor may break the prison, 268 and fly, and escape the punishment. But canst thou break the gates of hell? Canst thou, like a stronger Samson, carry away the door of the infernal pit? Oh! who can be strong in the day that the Lord shall thus deal with him! Admit thou couldest unfetter thyself, and break thy prison, yet thou wert not able to run from God: God has his arrows of vengeance, and canst thou outfly an arrow? To speak after the manner of men, thou hast a severe judge, and a watchful gaoler. As he that keeps Israel, so he that imprisons thee, does neither slumber nor sleep. He has an eagle’s eye to observe, and an eagle’s wing to overtake thee: there is no way to avoid him. If thou canst find the way out of the midst of utter darkness, break asunder the everlasting chains, break through the Devil and his angels, and those armies of eternal woes, then mayest thou wring thyself out of God’s hands.
2. This doom is irreversible, it cannot be revoked. It is proper to any word, when once spoken, to fly away beyond all possibility of a recall; but much more to every decretory word of God, which the deliberate resolutions of an infinitely wise judge have made unchangeable. The word is gone out of God’s mouth in righteousness; it shall not return: God’s condemning sentence admits of no repeal. The Strength of Israel is not a man, or the son of man, that he should repent, 1 Sam. xv. 29. The outcries of a miserable, perishing man may often prevail with a man like himself, who is of the same mould, the same affections, so far as to cause an act of passion and commiseration to revoke an act of justice. But, alas! all the cravings and the wailings of a justly condemned sinner shall be answered of God with, 269I know you not. All such lamentations cannot at all move a resolved Deity; they are like a vanishing voice echoing back from a marble pillar, without making the least impression. As the tree falls, so it lies.
If the sinner falls into destruction, there he must lie for ever without recovery. I sink, says David, in the mire, where there is no standing, Psal. lxix. 2. What he says of his affliction, a lost soul may say of its perdition; that it sinks deeper and deeper, it cannot so much as arrive to a stand, much less to a return. A man, while he is yet falling from some high place, is not able to stop or to recover himself, much less can he be able, when he is actually fallen. Even the heathen poet, from those imperfect notions that the heathens had of the future misery of lost sinners, could acknowledge the descent to hell easy, but the return impossible: Facilis descensus Averni: sed revocare gradum, &c. It is a rule in philosophy, that from a total privation to the habit, there can be no regress. So after a total loss of God’s love and presence, there is no possibility of reobtaining it. For put the case that it were possible, yet who should solicit and seek out thy pardon, and get thy sentence reversed? It must be either God, or angels, or men. First, it cannot be God the Father; for he is thy angry judge, and therefore cannot be thy advocate. Nor God the Son, for him thou hast crucified afresh, and his offers of redemption are only upon the scene of this life. He prays not for the world, John xvii. 9, that is, for the wicked world; then much less for the condemned world. The Spirit will not intercede for thee; for him thou hast often grieved, and frustrated all the 270 methods of his workings. Now good angels cannot present a petition for thee; for it is as much their work and business to glorify God in the destruction of the wicked, as in the salvation of the righteous. The devils are the instruments of thy misery, and thy tormentors will never prove thy intercessors. As for men, those that are saved are the approvers, and those that are condemned are the companions of thy misery; but neither can be thy helpers. Perpetual therefore must thy perdition needs be, when both the Creator and all his creatures are concerned either to advance, or at least to rejoice over thy destruction. O let every sinner, that is yet on this side the pit, carry this in his more serious thoughts, Psalm xlix. 8, The redemption of the soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever. The loss of time, and the loss of a soul, is irrecoverable.
All the application I shall make shall be to urge over the same duty enjoined in the text upon the score of another argument, and that also couched in the words, Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way; yea, for this very reason, because thou art in the way. As long as there is life, there is hope, we say; and so, as long as there is the enjoyment of a temporal life, there may be just hope of an eternal. These days of thy respite, they are golden days: every hour presents thee with salvation; every day lays heaven and happiness at thy door. Wherefore go forth, and meet thy adversary; do not fly off and say, There is a lion in the way; that he is austere, and hard to be appeased. No, he does not come clothed with thunder and terror, but with all the sweetness and inviting tenderness that mercy itself can put on. Thou hast 271a friendly enemy, one whose bowels yearn over thee; for although, of all others, he is, if unreconciled, the most terrible; so to be reconciled, he is the most willing. While with one hand he shakes his rod at thee for departing from him, with the other he graciously beckons to thee to return. And if thou canst so far relent as to endeavour it, believe it, he is ready to meet thee half way: he did so to the prodigal.
O consider then this thy inestimable advantage, that thou art yet in the way, yet in a possibility, nay in a probability of reconcilement. Thou art not put to sue for terms of peace, but only to accept of those that are freely offered and prepared to thy hand. Close in with such a potent adversary; it is thy wisdom, thy eternal interest, thy life; thou mayest so carry the business, as to turn thy enemy into thy Saviour. Wherefore take that excellent advice of the Spirit, with which I shall conclude, Psalm ii. ult. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and so ye perish from the way.272
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