CONCERNING HABITUAL SINNERS.
IF a person of this character be visited with sickness, a prudent pastor will not presently apply comfort, or give him assurances of pardon; he will rather strive to increase his sorrow to such a height, as if God should spare him might produce a repentance not to be repented of.
It was thus (as Dr. Hammond observes) that God himself dealt with such kind of sinners.
The children of Israel did evil again; that is, they went on in their wickedness, upon which God sorely distresses them. They cried unto God, but He answers them, I will deliver you no more. However this did not make them utterly to despair, for they knew that His mercy had no bounds; they therefore still went on to apply to Him for pardon and help, and resolved to do what was at present in their power towards a reformation; at last God was prevailed on to accept and deliver them.
And thus should we deal with habitual sinners: we should not break the bruised reed; we should indeed give them assurances of pardon, upon their sincere repentance: but forasmuch as it is very hard even for themselves to know whether their sorrow and resolutions are such as would bring forth fruit answerable to amendment of life, all that a confessor can do is to exhort such person to do all that is in their present power:--To take shame to themselves; to give glory to God in a free confession of their crimes (which St. James saith is of great use towards obtaining their pardon)--to pray without ceasing;--to warn others to beware of falling into the same sad condition;--and to consider that a wicked life, to which God has threatened eternal fire, cannot be supposed to be forgiven by an easy repentance.
And though the Church has no rules in this case to go by but such as are very afflicting, yet God is not tied to rules; He sees what is in man, and may finally absolve one whom His ministers dare not do, until after a long probation they have reason in the judgment of charity to believe that his repentance is sincere.
And this a prudent pastor will be careful to observe, both to prevent the scandal of an hasty absolution, and because he knows such ministrations do no good to those that receive them.