OF DEALING WITH HABITUAL EVIL LIVERS.
To visit people of this character when they come to die is so frightful and so difficult a part of a clergyman's duty, that one would be at any pains to prevent so afflicting and so uneasy a task; and which can only be prevented by dealing with such people very often and plainly while they are in health.
By representing to them the danger they are in while they live in open rebellion against God; that, as sure as God is just, He will call them to a severe account for the abuse of His good creatures, for defiling their own bodies, for tempting others to sin, for misspending that very time which God has given them to work out their salvation, for the evil example they give, for leading an idle and unprofitable life, and for dishonouring God, His laws, His Name, His Word, and His day. Upon all which accounts they are under the displeasure of Almighty God; His judgments are hanging over their heads continually; nor have they any hopes of mercy but by a speedy repentance.
For (as it is plain from God's word) the sentence of eternal death is already pronounced against them, and God only knows how soon it may be executed. Whoremongers, drunkards, profane, and even the unprofitable, shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven, but shall be cast into outer darkness, where the worm dieth not, and where the fire is not quenched.
By doing this faithfully, a pastor will keep the conscience and the fears of the sinner awake; he will sin at least with uneasiness; and finding that sin is a real slavery, he may perhaps at last resolve to seek for ease in the ways of God's commandments.
That he may do so, we ought to set before him the happiness which he is yet capable, by God's grace, of obtaining; for the very design of the Gospel (as Jesus Christ Himself tells St. Paul) is, to turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance amongst them that are sanctified by faith in Christ Jesus.
After this a pastor must endeavour to drive him from all his holds of false hopes and vain purposes. For instance, of repenting time enough hereafter; as if sinners could repent when they please, or as if it were enough to be sorry for one's sins, which a man may be when it is too late to amend and to bring forth fruits meet for repentance.
Let him therefore see that by deferring his repentance he makes it still more difficult to repent; and that when once he has filled up the measure of his sins, he must after that expect neither grace nor pardon.
Lest he should depend upon the goodness and long-suffering of God, let him know that this ought to lead him to repentance.
That it is a great mercy that God, notwithstanding all a sinner has done to provoke Him, will yet restore him to favour, and be a father to him.
Let him know that there is certainly evil towards that man who sins and prospers in his sin, it being a sign of God's greatest displeasure, and that he leaves such a man to himself; a condition the most to be dreaded.
Let him be assured that, if once the sentence of the unfruitful tree is passed, Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? the prayers and tears of the whole world cannot save it.
And lastly, endeavour to convince him that God is just as well as good, and that He has already shewn that His mercy and goodness can be provoked, since He has condemned creatures of a much higher and better order than we are, even the very angels themselves, when they rebelled, which He hath reserved in everlasting chains unto the judgment of the great day.
After this, represent to him the mercy of God, in sparing him so long and in not cutting him off in the midst of his sins; His readiness to forgive such as truly turn unto Him; and that there is joy in heaven over a sinner that repenteth.
And that he may not think his case desperate (as great sinners are apt to do when their consciences are awake) or that it is a thing impossible to overcome the evil habits he has contracted: let him understand that, as the goodness, so the power of God is infinite; that the same Spirit, which raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, can raise a sinner from the death of sin unto a life of righteousness.
This let him steadfastly believe and use his endeavours, and such a faith will work wonders.
Now, if a sinner is once brought to a sense of his evil condition and has thoughts of becoming a new man, he will still want his pastor's assistance and advice, what methods to take in order to his sincere conversion.
And first, he must be told plainly that he has a work of labour and difficulty to go through, such as will require thoughts of heart, great patience, earnest prayers and earnest endeavours, self-denial and perseverance; but then he must consider that it is for his life, and that Jesus Christ has told us that strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life.
He must then be made sensible that as of himself he can do nothing, so by the grace of God he can do every thing that God requires of him, which he must pray for with the concern of one that is in earnest.
To his prayers he must add his best endeavours; that is, he must avoid the occasions of sin, keep out of the way of temptations, avoid all company that may any way divert his thoughts from his holy purposes;--he must fast, and deny himself a great many things which his corrupt heart hankers after.
And if these things appear difficult unto him, let him ask himself, whether it is better to do so now than to dwell with everlasting burnings hereafter?
A sick man for his health will do all this: he will avoid company; he will observe rules; he will take very bitter potions, he will endure very many things to make the remainder of a short life comfortable. A sinner that considers that his soul lies at stake and that eternal happiness or misery will be the event, will not think any thing too much which God prescribes.
Lastly, if to these pious endeavours a pastor adds his own prayers for the sinner that God would touch his heart, take from him all obstinacy and blindness; that He would awaken him, give him a lively sense of his sad condition; call him to repentance, enable him to break all his bonds, graciously forgive him, and give him all those helps that are necessary to become a new creature: a pastor (whatever is the consequence) will have the comfort of having done a good work and his duty.