EXHORTATIONS TO SPEEDY REPENTANCE
The second branch of the exhortation is to press persons to speedy repentance: 'now God commandeth all men every where to repent' (Acts 17.30). The Lord would not have any of the late autumn fruits offered to him. God loves early penitents that consecrate the spring and flower of their age to him. Early tears, like pearls bred of the morning dew, are more orient and beautiful. O do not reserve the dregs of your age for God, lest he reserve the dregs of his cup for you! Be as speedy in your repentance as you would have God speedy in his mercies: 'the king's business required haste' (1 Sam. 21.8). Therefore repentance requires haste.
It is natural to us to procrastinate and put off repentance. We say, as Haggai did, 'The time is not come' (Hag. 1.2). No man is so bad but he purposes to amend, but he adjourns and prorogues so long, until at last all his purposes prove abortive. Many are now in hell that purposed to repent. Satan does what he can to keep men from repentance. When he sees that they begin to take up serious thoughts of reformation, he bids them wait a little longer. If this traitor, sin, must die (says Satan), let it not die yet. So the devil gets a reprieve for sin; it shall not die this sessions. At last men put off so long that death seizes on them, and their work is not done. Let me therefore lay down some cogent arguments to persuade to speedy repentance:
1. Now is the season of repentance, and everything is best done in its season
'Now is the accepted time' (2 Cor. 6.2); now God has a mind to show mercy to the penitent. He is on the giving hand. Kings set apart days for healing. Now is the healing day for our souls. Now God hangs forth the white flag and is willing to parley with sinners. A prince at his coronation, as an act of royalty, gives money, proclaims pardons, fills the conduits with wine. Now God promises pardons to penitent sinners. Now the conduit of the gospel runs wine. Now is the accepted time. Therefore come in now and make your peace with God. Break off your iniquities now by repentance. It is wisdom to take the season. The husbandman takes the season for sowing his seed. Now is the seedtime for our souls.
2. The sooner you repent the fewer sins you will have to answer for
At the deathbed of an old sinner, where conscience begins to be awakened, you will hear him crying out: here are all my old sins come about me, haunting my deathbed as so many evil spirits, and I have no discharge; here is Satan, who was once my tempter, now become an accuser, and I have no advocate; I am now going to be dragged before God's judgmentseat where I must receive my final doom! O how dismal is the case of this man. He is in hell before his time! But you who repent betimes of your sinful courses, this is your privilege: you will have the less to answer for. Indeed, let me tell you, you will have nothing to answer for. Christ will answer for you. Your judge will be your advocate (1 John 2.1). Father, Christ will say, here is one that has been a great sinner, yet a brokenhearted sinner; if he owes anything to your ustlce, set it on my score.
3. The sooner we repent, the more glory we may bring to God
It is the end of our living, to be useful in our generation. Better lose our lives than the end of our living. Late converts who have for many years taken pay on the devil's side are not in a capacity of doing so much work in the vineyard. The thief on the cross could not do that service for God as St. Paul did. But when we do betimes turn from sin, then we give God the firstfruits of our lives. We spend and are spent for Christ. The more work we do for God, the more willing we shall be to die, and the sweeter death will be. He that has wrought hard at his daylabour is willing to go to rest at night. Such as have been honouring God all their lives, how sweetly will they sleep in the grave! The more work we do for God, the greater will our reward be. He whose pound had gained ten pounds, Christ did not only commend him, but advance him: 'have thou authority over ten cities' (Luke 19.17). By late repentance, though we do not lose our crown, yet we make it lighter.
4. It is of dangerous consequence to put off repentance longer
Mora trahit periculum It is dangerous, if we consider what sin is: sin is a poison. It is dangerous to let poison lie long in the body. Sin is a bruise. If a bruise be not soon cured, it gangrenes and kills. If sin be not soon cured by repentance it festers the conscience and damns. Why should any love to dwell in the tents of wickedness? They are under the power of Satan (Acts 26.18), and it is dangerous to stay long in the enemy's quarters.
It is dangerous to procrastinate repentance because the longer any go on in sin the harder they will find the work of repentance. Delay strengthens sin and hardens the heart and gives the devil fuller possession. A plant at first may be easily plucked up, but when it has spread its roots deep in the earth, a whole team cannot remove it. It is hard to remove sin when once it comes to be rooted. The longer the ice freezes the harder it is to be broken. The longer a man freezes in security, the harder it will be to have his heart broken. The longer any travail with iniquity the sharper pangs they must expect in the new birth. When sin has got a haunt it is not easily shaken off. Sin comes to a sinner as the elder brother came to his father: 'Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment' (Luke 15.29), and wilt thou cast me off now? What, in my old age, after you have had so much pleasure by me? See how sin pleads custom, and that is a leopard's spot (Jer. 13.23 ).
It is dangerous to prorogue and delay repentance because there are three days that may soon expire:
(1) The day of the gospel may expire. This is a sunshiny day. It is sweet but swift. Jerusalem had a day but lost it: 'but now they are hid from shine eyes' (Luke 19.42). The Asian churches had a day, but at last the golden candlestick was removed. It would be a sad time in England to see the glory departed. With what hearts could we follow the gospel to the grave? To lose the gospel were far worse than to have our city charter taken from us. 'Gray hairs are here and there' (Hos. 7.9).1 will not say the sun of the gospel is set in England, but I am sure it is under a cloud. That was a sad speech, 'The kingdom of God shall be taken from you' (Matt. 21.43). Therefore it is dangerous to delay repentance, lest the market of the gospel should remove and the vision cease.
(2) A man's personal day of grace may expire. What if that time should come when God should say the means of grace shall do no good: ordinances shall have 'a miscarrying womb and dry breasts' (Hos. 9.14)? Were it not sad to adjourn repentance till such a decree came forth? It is true, no man can justly tell that his day of grace is past, but there are two shrewd signs by which he may fear it:
(a) When conscience has done preaching. Conscience is a bosompreacher. Sometimes it convinces, sometimes it reproves. It says, as Nathan to David, 'Thou art the man' (2 Sam. 12.7). But men imprison this preacher, and God says to conscience, Preach no more: 'he which is filthy, let him be filthy still!' (Rev. 22.11). This is a fatal sign that a man's day of grace is past.
(b) When a person is in such a spiritual lethargy that nothing will work upon him or make him sensible. There is 'the spirit of deep sleep poured out upon you' (Isa. 29.10). This is a sad presage that his day of grace is past. How dangerous then is it to delay repentance when the day of grace may so soon expire!
(3) The day of life may expire. What security have we that we shall live another day? We are marching apace out of the world. We are going off the stage. Our life is a taper soon blown out. Man's life is compared to the flower of the field which withers sooner than the grass (Ps. 103.15). Our age is as nothing (Ps. 39.5). Life is but a flying shadow. The body is like a vessel filled with a little breath. Sickness broaches this vessel; death draws it out. O how soon may the scene alter! Many a virgin has been dressed the same day in her brideapparel and her windingsheet! How dangerous then is it to adjourn repenting when death may so suddenly make a thrust at us. Say not that you will repent tomorrow. Remember that speech of Aquinas: God who pardons him that repents has not promised to give him tomorrow to repent in. I have read of Archias, a Lacedaemonian, who was among his cups, when one delivered him a letter and desired him to read the letter presently, which was of serious business. He replied, 'seria eras' ('I will mind serious things tomorrow'); and that day he was slain. Thus while men think to spin out their silver thread, death cuts it. Olaus Magnus observes of the birds of Norway that they fly faster than the birds of any other country. Not that their wings are swifter than others, but by an instinct of nature they, knowing the days in that climate to be very short, not above three hours long, do therefore make the more haste to their nests. So we, knowing the shortness of our lives and how quickly we may be called away by death, should fly so much the faster on the wing of repentance to heaven.
But some will say that they do not fear a sudden surprisal; they will repent upon their sickbed. I do not much like a sickbed repentance. He who will venture his salvation within the circle of a few short minutes runs a desperate hazard. You who put off repentance till sickness, answer me to these four queries:
(a) How do you know that you shall have a time of sickness? Death does not always shoot its warningpiece by a lingering consumption. Some it arrests suddenly. What if God should presently send you a summons to surrender your life?
(b) Suppose you should have a time of sickness, how do you know that you shall have the use of your senses? Many are distracted on their sickbed.
(c) Suppose you should have your senses, yet how do you know your mind will be in a frame for such a work as repentance? Sickness does so discompose body and mind that one is but in an ill posture at such a time to take care for his soul. In sickness a man is scarce fit to make his will, much less to make his peace. The apostle said, 'Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church' (James 5.14). He does not say, Is he sick? let him pray, but let him call for the elders that they may pray over him'. A sick man is very unfit to pray or repent; he is likely to make but sick work of it. When the body is out of tune, the soul must needs jar in its devotion. Upon a sick bed a person is more fit to exercise impatience than repentance. We read that at the pouring out of the fourth vial, when God did smite the inhabitants and scorched them with fire, that 'they blasphemed the name of God, and repented not' (Rev. 16.9). So when the Lord pours out his vial and scorches the body with a fever, the sinner is fitter to blaspheme than to repent.
(d) How do you who put off all to a sickbed know that God will give you in that very juncture of time grace to repent? The Lord usually punishes neglect of repentance in time of health with hardness of heart in time of sickness. You have in your lifetime repulsed the Spirit of God, and are you sure he will come at your call? You have not taken the first season, and perhaps you shall never see another springtide of the Spirit again. All this considered may hasten our repentance. Do not lay too much weight upon a sickbed. 'Do thy diligence to come before winter' (2 Tim. 4.21). There is a winter of sickness and death acoming. Therefore make haste to repent. Let your work be ready before winter. 'Today hear God's voice' (Heb. 3.7).