« PreviousContinue »
laying conversion. I know that the human heart has its evasions, and that the conscience has its depths. But, after all, you are not infatuated to this excess: some of you are carried away with avarice, others with ambition; some with voluptuousness, others with slander; and some with a haughtiness which nothing can bend: living, as most of you do, resident in a city where you find all the temptations of vice in high life, and all the facility in the haunts of infamy, you are not so far blinded as to think that you are in a state of regeneration, wbile you persist in this course. And, as I supposed before, that no one of you is so far infatuated as to say, I have made my clioice, I am resolved to cast myself headlong into the pit of destruction, and to be a victim of eternal vengeance; as no one of you has carried infatuation to this extreme, I am right in concluding, that nearly all of you rely on a future conversion. Begin here, begin by doing justice to yourselves on this point. This is the first thing we require you to do.
The second is, to recollect the arguments we have urged in our preceding discourses, against the delay of conversion, and confess their force. In the first we addressed you as well-informed and rational beings; we proved from the human constitution, that conversion becomes either difficult or impracticable in proportion as it is deferred. In the second, we addressed you as Christians, who acknowledge a revelation received from heaven; and we endeavoured to prove these truths by that revelation; by the character of the economy of the Holy Spirit; by the nature and conditions of the new covenant :-capital points
of faith, fundamental articles of religion, which you cannot evade, if you have the smallest shadow of Christianity. To-day we have directed all our efforts to enable you to comprehend the same things by clear, certain, and indisputable experience. Overlooking, therefore, every thing which concerns us in particular, and our weakness, which we acknowledge and feel, do justice to our proofs; acknowledge their force; and inquire, whether you have yet any thing further to object. Seek, examine, investigate. Is it not true, that bad habits become confirmed with age ? Predominate in the heart? Take possession of all the intellectual powers, and transforın themselves, so to speak, into our nature? Is it not true, that habits of piety are not acquired instantaneously, in a moment, by a sudden wish, and a simple emotion of the soul? Is it not true, that this detachment from sensible objects, this giving up the world, this self-denial, this zeal, this fervor, the indispensable duties of religion, the essential characters of a Christian, is it not true, that they are not the acquisitions of a moinent, of an hour, of a day? Is it not true, that to attain this happy state, there must be time, labour, and repeated endeavours; consequently, that a transient thought on a death-bed, and in the last periods of lise, is totally inadequate to so great a work? Is it not true, that the Holy Spirit, in extending his assistance, requires us to ask his aids, yield to his entreaties, and
pay deference to bis word ? Is it not true, that he abandons to themselves those who resist his work; that it is thence concluded in the scripture that we need his grace for our sanctification, and that we ought to work
out our salvation with so much the more diligence? Is it not true, that mercy has restrictions and bounds, that it is promised to those only who conform to the covenant of grace, that those conditions are not a momentary repentance, a slight recourse to mercy, a superficial desire to participate in the merits of Christ's death? they imply such a total change, renovation of heart, and transformation of the soul, that when infirmities render us incapable of fulfilling those obligations, we may find ourselves within the sphere of evangelical promises. Is it not true, in short, that those truths are not founded merely on arguments, on a chain of consequences, and remote principles ? But they are demonstrated by sound and incontestable experience. Hence we ask you once more to admit the force of our arguments, and to do justice to the evidence we have adduced.
Thirdly, we also require you to acknowledge the inefficacy of sermons with regard to you, the little effect they commonly have, and consequently the little influence which ours (and especially those last delivered) have produced on your conduct. There is not a week, but some vice is attacked ;-not a week, but some one ought to be converted ;-not a week, but some evident change ought to be produced in civil and religious society. And what do we see? I appeal to your consciences; you regard us as declaimers, called to entertain you for an hour, to diversify your pleasure, or to pass away the first day of the week; diverting your attention from secular concerns. It seems that we ascend our pulpits to afford you amusement, to delineate characters, implicitly
submitting to your judgment academic compositions ; to say “Come, come and see whether we have a fertile imagination, a fine voice, a graceful gesture, an action agreeable to your taste.” With these detestable notions most of you establish your tribunal, judging of the object of our sermons: which you sometimes find too long, sometimes too short, sometimes too cold, and sometimes too pathetic. Scarcely one among you turns them to their true design, purity of heart, and amendment of life. This is the success of the sermons you have heard. Are our discourses more happy? We should be too credulous did we expect it. It must be acknowledged, my brethren, that all we have said on the delay of conversion has been unavailing with regard to most
Philosophy, religion, experience,-all leave
you much the same as you were before. This is the third thing you ought to confess.
When you have made these reflections, we will ask, what are your thoughts? What part will you take? What will you do? What will become of all the persons who compose this congregation? You know, on the one band, that you are among the neglecters of salvation; you see, on the other, by evidence deduced from reason, Scripture and experience, that those who thus delay, run the risk of never being converted. You are obliged to allow, that the most pathetic exhortations are addressed, in general without effect; and, meanwhile, time is urgent, life vanishes away; and the moment in which you yourselves must furnish a test of these sad truths, is just at hand.-Do these things make any impression
on your mind ? Do they attach any odium on the unhappy security in which you live? Do they trouble the false repose in which you rest? Have they any influence on your lives?
I know the part you are going to take, and we cannot think of it without horror; you are going to banish them from your mind, and efface them from your memory. You are going, on leaving this place, to fortify yourselves against this holy alarm, which has now, perhaps, been excited; you are going to talk of any subject but those important truths which have been preached, and to repose in indolence; to cause fear and trembling to subside, by banishing every idea which has excited them; like a man in a fatal sleep, while his house is on fire; we alarm bim, we cry, “Rouse from your stupor, your house is on fire.” He opens his eyes, he wishes to fly for safety ; but falling again into his former lethargy, he becomes fuel to the flames.
My brethren, my very dear brethren, think, O think that the situation of your minds does not alter these grand truths. You may forget them, but you cannot change them. Whether you may think or not, they still exist in all their force. You
You may shut your eyes against hell, which is under your feet; but you cannot remove it, you cannot avoid it, so long as you disregard our warnings, and resist our entreaties.
If your salvation is dear to you, if you have yet the least sensibility, the smallest spark of love to God-if you have not resolved on your own ruin, , and sworn to your own destruction, enter into your