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principles of it, must be continually reformed; all our bad inclinations first be detected, which is no easy task, then gradually subdued, which is a very hard one especially when we have suffered them by indulgence to strengthen their original hold on our hearts. They cannot be extirpated in this life: they will frequently rebel; and yet must be always overcome. But this is not the whole. Further still, every Christian virtue, every qualification prescribed in the word of God, must be planted in our souls, tenderly cherished, and incessantly carried on towards maturity. For it is only if these things be in us and abound, that an entrance shall be ministered unto us abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour *. How little we have of some of them, how much too little of all, we cannot be totally ignorant. But we shall never know, as we ought, and yet less be able to supply, our defects, unless we are both enlightened and strengthened by the grace of God. Have we then prayed and laboured for this, and have we obtained it, and are we making a proper use of it? Without it our hope of amendment is vain: and even with it, so much is wanting to be done, that we have by no means any time to throw away.
For, alas! what is the time of man upon earth? The whole of it is short: a great part of it necessarily filled up with things not related, or very remotely, to our main business: perhaps, if not certainly, much the greatest part already past, and irrecoverably gone: so past, it may be, as to increase both our work, and the difficulties of it in the remainder. That remainder also will fly as speedily, and, unless we take care, as unprofitably too, as what preceded. And
2 Pet. i. 8. 11.
how small a remnant it may prove to those who have seemingly the best reasons for making themselves large promises, we can never know amidst the perpetual accidents, that cut off such great numbers in the prime of their days; and are many of them too sudden to leave room, even for that miserable comfort, a death-bed repentance.
It appears very harsh, and is extremely painful, to give people, in a dangerous sickness, the slightest intimation how little this remedy is likely to avail them. And therefore they ought to be the more frequently and strongly reminded of it, whilst they may hear it with less terror, and greater benefit. A presumptuous or thoughtless mortal lives negligently and sinfully year after year, in hopes of repenting of his sins, when he comes to the end of his days: that is doth a multitude of ill actions, in hopes that hereafter he shall heartily wish he had never done them. Can this be? Are such persons in earnest? No; but they are trying, if possible, to cheat God and themselves at the same time; to disobey his will so artfully as to avoid punishment, and obtain reward. Now what imaginable prospect is there, that, from a heart so deliberately false, any true repentance will ever come? Besides, what certainty is there, that any one will have time allowed him, or that his understanding will not fail, or that he will not grow hardened instead of penitent; or indeed, that he shall have spirits and attention sufficient in the midst of pain and sickness and languor, to recollect his numerous transgressions, and to apply earnestly for pardon? If he hath, undoubtedly it is the best and only thing that he can do for himself: and omitting it is making a very bad case greatly worse. But still, to be grieved for our sins only when we can live no
longer in them, and are afraid of being immediately condemned for them, is a very suspicious kind of sorrow and moreover, it is not to mere sorrow, that God hath promised forgiveness, nor to mere faith; but to such only, as will produce amendment, for which, in these circumstances, there is little or no room. Nor can either bye-standers, or the dying man himself, know in the least, whether it would produce any, were a longer life to be granted: or whether he would not relapse as thousands of others, notwithstanding the most promising appearances, have done, into his former wickedness. And therefore no one can, on sure grounds, either administer comfort to others, or take it to himself, in such a case how dreadful soever it will be to have none in that hour, when we shall want it most.
Since therefore our preparation must be made before our end comes; which will come soon, and may come when we think of it least; how vigilant should we be not to spend any of our time in sin; and how unwilling to spend more than is necessary in trifles! how studious to make our common employments in life consistent with and subservient to our heavenly calling*! how careful to be always in readiness, to have our loins girded and our lights burning, like men that wait for their Lord; lest, coming suddenly, he find us sleeping! How frequently should we imagine ourselves in the condition, in which we must be shortly; when the pleasures, the profits, the preeminences, that we have pursued so eagerly, will vanish into nothing; when the duties that we have slighted so boldly, will appear the most important of all things; and the only firm support will be, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, by the grace of God, we
* Heb. iii. 1.
+ Luke xii. 35, 36.
Mark xiii. 36.
had our conversation in the world*! Why should we not think now as we certainly shall then? Why should we not act now, as we shall wish from the bottom of our hearts we had done; and wish in vain hereafter for what at present is undoubtedly feasible, and but moderately difficult?
Such reflections as these, may be disagreeable to us but they will become very supportable. God, in great mercy, hath framed us so, that the consideration of mortality, however awful, is not too strong for us. We can look upon it without overpowering our faculties; and turn our thoughts from it with ease to the daily business and even amusements of life. But it would be a most unworthy and pernicious return, because he doth not force it upon our minds constantly, which would unfit us for this world, therefore to lay it out of them entirely; or so near it as to neglect providing for the next. And the more averse any one is from meditating on these things, the more needful it is for him. Not thinking of death, will ward it off never the longer; but only make it infinitely terrible, when it comes: and thinking of it effectually will bring it never the sooner; but only dispose us to wait for it in peace, and receive it with calm resignation, if not with joy. O that men were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end †!
2. The shortness of this life, when we view it as an introduction to another, besides proving in the strongest manner the necessity of diligence in our duty, gives also the greatest encouragement to persevere in it, against all difficulties and temptations.
Indeed the pains that we take, to lay aside our faults and cultivate our virtues, will seldom fail to † Deut. xxxii. 29.
* 2 Cor. i. 12.
reward themselves plentifully even here, by the peaceable fruits of righteousness *. But were it commonly otherwise, were the yoke of our Master heavy and his burthen grievous; it is not long that we have to bear it. The warfare against our spiritual enemies, the sorrow of being too often unsuccessful in it, the watchfulness over our bad inclinations, the painfulness of self-denial, the ridicule and censure of a world that lieth in wickedness †, all this will soon be past, and we shall receive the end of our faith and obedience, the salvation of our souls ‡. If the other life were very distant, and the crown of glory § not to be given us, till we had been some hundreds of years, like the ancient patriarchs, fighting the good fight, and enduring hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, it were less wonder, if any should grow weary, and faint in their minds **. But since the days of our trial are thus few, and eternal felicity is annexed to so short a struggle; we may cheerfully hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, and provoke one another to love and good works; and so much the more continually, as we see the day approaching tt. Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient, stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh ‡‡.
And as the nearness of another state lessens very considerably the difficulties of virtue; so doth it also the advantages of sin: which indeed are seldom real, even here, but much the contrary, were all duly considered, whatever bad men imagine, whom their
*Heb. xii. 11.
§ 1 Pet. v. 4. **Heb. xii. 3.
+ 1 John v. 19.
|| 2 Tim. iv. 7.
↑ 1 Pet. i. 9.
2 Tim. ii. 3.