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young, the strong, the careless : all
who are saying, a little more indulgence, and I will then repent. I can not do it now: but I shall be able a few years hence. Know that, if
would do it at all, ye should do it now. It never will be so easy: it never will be so little painful again. Every day will multiply the obstacles. Every fresh sin will increase the pain. If ye are to be accepted at all, “ now is the accepted time.” If ye are to be saved at all, “ now is the day of salvation o.”
Obvious as this truth may seem on the plainest principles of reason, and established as it is by daily experience, it is nevertheless one, to which the greatest part of sinners successfully blind themselves. Blindness, indeed, on this point, seems almost a necessary condition for the careless continuance in sin. Where sin is persisted in with a full knowledge of this truth before the eyes, it is not done in carelessness, but in pertinacity, if not in desperation : and the number of those, with whom this is the case, is, I trust, comparatively small. Most men delude themselves with the notion, that, in delaying their entrance upon a course of religious obedience, they are not increasing the difficulty of the task. This is the fatal deception, under which thousands go on in sin, from which they do not awake till it is too late for ought but
despair: and the error of which thousands again will readily acknowledge when they are painfully striving to master the evil habits, which have grown with their growth, and strengthened with their strength. They then see that the labours of penitence are in proportion to the time it has been delayed : that no indulged sin can be mastered without many a struggle; and that they, who walk long in wickedness, if they enter at all into the kingdom of God, must indeed do so “through much tribulation.”
But even to those, who do thus experience the chastisements of the Lord, and are saved, as it were, by the fiery trial of repentance, the effort for amendment not only leads to pleasure at last, if it be successful; but is also accompanied by it in
; each stage of the progress. Each separate step is difficult to make, but is immediately satisfactory when made. There is much, which encourages them in the homeward journey, and affords a still growing pleasure as they approach the end. No man ever successfully resisted the temptation to sin in a single instance, without feeling a present satisfaction resulting from his endeavour—a satisfaction, not necessarily connected with religious hope, but interwoven in the very fabric of our moral nature, as a help and encouragement to godliness. Thus each act of virtue, however difficult to do, is agreeable when done. As each act of vice
be pleasant in commission, but is attended by compunction, and followed by remorse.
It may be objected, indeed, to this view of the laborious progress
of penitence, that we see some, who appear to spring at once from the deep gloom of sin to religious joy; and to pass in a moment over all those stages, where others find their advance variously impeded, and persevering efforts necessary for success. Without being uncharitable, we may pronounce, as a general rule, that this cannot rightly be. We cannot properly pass from the pleasures of sin to the pleasures of obedience. The trials of the wilderness must be experienced in the passage from the bondage of Egypt to the enjoyments of the land of promise. The soul must be fitted for the perception of religious feelings, before it can cherish them with delight : and this it can only be, under ordinary circumstances, by the gradual change of tastes and habits, which are not in a moment to be brought under subjection to that law, over which for years they have exercised dominion. Sin must leave its sting, and the wounds it imprints upon the heart are not to be healed without some painful processes of cure. The return of spiritual life to the soul, dead in trespasses and sins, as the return of natural life, where animation is suspended, is accompanied with many a struggle and convul
It is not my intention, by thus representing the course of repentance as a work of time and difficulty, to presume to put limits to the efficacy of divine grace, or to assert that the operations of God upon the heart of man must be according to any rules which we can comprehend much less which we can define. God works, as he pleases, both in the natural, and the moral world : and our business is to admire his works with humble awe and delight; not to scan and criticise them with presumptuous conceit. The divine life, both in its first commencement in regeneration, or in subsequent renewal, where it has been impaired, is by his power, and not by that of man, and doubtless
, he may
effect these workings of his Spirit as he will. But, as it has seemed good to the Almighty to regulate his operations in the natural world by general laws, so too, as far as we can judge, it is according to general laws that He ordinarily acts in the moral world. And one of these laws is, that the transition from a state of sin to a state of holiness should be the result of earnest effort, of gradual change, and generally of time—that, as the, “ Nemo repente fuit turpissimus,” is true, so for the most part the converse should hold, and the work of spiritual edification, as the term itself implies, be a gradual building up with pain and labour.
It may be objected to this view, that our Lord
was speaking to sinners, and respecting sinners, when he used the expression of my text. It was those, who were labouring and heavy laden with their iniquities, that he told to come to him, and they should find rest. Undoubtedly this was the case; and undoubtedly it is by coming to Christ alone that the soul of the transgressor shall attain unto peace. But we must remark, that the persons in question, sinners as they were, had not been habitually slighting the offers of mercy, and abusing the means of grace; as is but too generally the condition of sinners among ourselves. And, doubtless, the restoration of the Christian fallen from grace, is a different question, from that of the first acceptance of the terms of salvation by the heathen or the Jew. It is different, as regards himself, on mere natural reasoning, because the proffer of pardon no longer comes in its freshness to his soul. It is different, as regards the grace of God, of which the one has not yet been made partaker, and which the other has abused. Still, doubtless, the free offer of pardon on repentance extends to the fallen Christian. The good Shepherd calls the wandering sheep of his fold to return. The Father rejoices with joy over his son, who “was dead, and is alive again: was lost, and is found.” Let the sinner, be he who he may, come to Christ, and Christ will give him rest.
But then it is in order to this very coming to