Delay is the fatal rock on which thousands make shipwreck of their everlasting hopes. Infatuated man is active, diligent, anxious in every concern but the one which, from its infinite and everlasting; importance, should engross his most vigorous and supreme attention. Mark his conduct in the management of his worldly concerns, and in the pursuit of the objects of wealth, of honour, or of pleasure. You would suppose that these objects were most important and dignified in their nature; that they were unalloyed and exalted in the enjoyment which they afforded; and that, placed above the changes of time, they survived its exterminating ravages. Little would you think that these objects are often worthless and degrading in their nature, and that the highest gratification which they afford is transitory and unsatisfying. Mark, on the contrary, the reluctance which men discover seriously to attend to their spiritual interests, the difficulty with which they are awakened to a sense of the importance and value of religion and virtue, and the readiness with which they permit the most trifling objects to displace from their thoughts and [164/165] attention the concerns of their souls. You would suppose that these concerns were designed to occupy only a small share of their thoughts, and that they are to be secured by some slight and superficial exertions. Little would you think that they involve every thing dear to our present and our future and eternal peace, and require the vigorous exertion of all our powers, the devoted attention of our lives.
Sometimes, indeed, conscience, touched by the secret energies of divine grace, or awakened by some alarming or afflictive dispensation of divine Providence, will set before the careless and thoughtless sinner, in just and awful colours, his danger and his guilt, his obligations to the Almighty Author of his being and of all his mercies, and the infinite importance of securing the salvation of his souk Alas! enchained to sensual objects, and devoted to the gratification of his passions, he dismisses the holy considerations which conscience awakens in his soul, with the same pretext with which Felix, the Roman governor, trembling under the powerful reasoning of St. Paul, dismissed the unpleasant monitor--"Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will send for thee." Yes--men delay to a future, and as they fondly hope, more convenient season, an attention to their interests, to the salvation of their souls.
But consider the guilt in which, by this delay, they involve themselves, and the dangerous folly of their conduct.
Consider the guilt of this delay.
Conscience admonishes us, and reason confirms the alarming conviction, that we are exposed, by the violations of the laws of our Maker and our Judge, by our numerous and aggravated [165/166] transgressions, to his just and tremendous displeasure; and yet, sinners as we are, guilty and condemned, we are offered, by the very Maker and Judge against whom we have rebelled, a glorious and everlasting salvation. Ineffable and surpassing in his forbearance and mercy, he presses us to attend to our everlasting interests as a concern of supreme importance, and invites us to accept, through the merits of that eternal Son whom he gave, and who offered himself for our redemption, the full remission of the guilt which, by our transgressions against him, we had incurred. And he urges and enforces his invitations by the most exalted promises, and the most fearful denunciations. And under these astonishing displays of mercy on the part of our Almighty Sovereign, what is frequently, may I not say generally, our conduct? Urged by the solicitations of the world, yielding to the impulses of our sensual passions, we postpone our attention to the concerns of our souls, and neglect (strange and awful infatuation!) the overtures of mercy from our Redeemer and God. Oh! let us pause and reflect on the aggravated guilt which by this conduct we incur. Every day that we delay our return to God adds new sins to the former catalogue, and increases the guilt of our impenitence and rebellion. We delay our repentance, as if we could with impunity indulge in forgetfulness of God and neglect of the offers of salvation which he graciously extends to us. But the least consideration will convince us that, by thus despising his forbearance, we are increasing the load of our guilt, and treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of his righteous judgment. The mercy which, by thus postponing an attention [166/167] to the concerns of salvation, we contemn, is the mercy of that Saviour who willingly and cheerfully gave himself for us. Would not gratitude dictate an immediate, a cheerful, a complete devotion of ourselves to the benignant Redeemer who thus undertook the dismaying work of our redemption? What greater insensibility and ingratitude can be evinced, than when we delay our acceptance of the blessings which he urges upon us--the complete remission of our sins, the enlivening joys of his favour, and the everlasting bliss of his heavenly kingdom? Every noble, tender, and generous feeling dictates our immediate entrance on that course of holy obedience and devotion to our God, whereby only we can testify our sensibility to his exalted love, and secure our present and everlasting felicity.
We postpone our return to God until some more convenient season--that is, until we have accomplished every scheme of worldly emolument and ambition which we have formed, and until we have gratified to the full the sensual propensities which now solicit indulgence. Then, when we can no longer serve the world, we will serve our God: then, when our passions are cloyed, when our desires refuse any longer to be awakened at the call of ambition and pleasure, we will devote the languid and expiring emotions of our souls to him who most justly demands their most pure and noble fervours. What conduct more dishonourable as it regards ourselves--more insulting in respect to God! Will he not in just judgment execute upon us the fearful sentence of his wrath--"Because I have called and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set [167/168] at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity: I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you." [Prov. i. 24-27.]
Men delay to a future, find as they fondly hope, more convenient season an attention to their eternal concerns.
Consider the folly of this conduct.
We delay to some future season a concern which, as it is of infinite importance, should be immediately secured; and we delay, under the alarming uncertainty whether any time more favourable for an attention to it than the present will occur. These are the two considerations which establish the folly of our conduct.
We delay to some future season a concern which, as it is of infinite importance, ought to be immediately secured.
What will we put in comparison with that exalted salvation which God presses on our immediate acceptance? What will we put in the balance against those everlasting interests which we are called to secure? The salvation offered to us by an infinitely merciful and gracious God, contains blessings of transcendent value, calculated to purify and exalt our natures; commensurate with our most noble and lofty desires; pure and enduring as that infinite fountain of being from whom they proceed. A salvation which confers on men the enlivening favour of their reconciled God; which redeems the heart from all degrading and corrupting passions; which implants in the soul those divine and [168/169] celestial virtues that confer unfailing and everlasting peace--one would suppose, would awaken their most eager and solicitous desires, and engross their immediate exertions. And yet they postpone an attention to this divine and exalted salvation; they delay until some future season the pursuit of these inestimable blessings. And how are we to account for this criminal infatuation? What are the objects which, displacing these infinitely important concerns from our minds, engage our undivided pursuit? Are they objects of more value? Are they even of equal importance? Oh! let us not impiously insult the grace and mercy of God; let us not degrade the joys of his favour, the inestimable blessings of his salvation, by bringing them for a moment into comparison with those vain and perishing gratifications which, alas! we often place supreme in our affections and our pursuit.
Men delay the securing the interests of their immortal souls. Does some more important and valuable object engage their attention? Alas! "what will it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" [Mark viii. 36] Will that world, whose honours, emoluments, and pleasures men prefer before the peace, the celestial purity, the divine perfection of their souls, rescue them from those pangs of an agitated and guilty spirit, by which God in righteous judgments here vindicates his authority; or save them from those infinitely more intolerable and those endless torments to which, if the voice of conscience be not deceptive, and the word of God be not false, they will be consigned at the day of retribution? At that "day"--[169/170] the day characterized as the day of the fierce anger of Jehovah, when the heavens depart away as a scroll, when the elements melt with fervent heat, when the earth and all it contains shall be burnt up--will the recollection of those sensual pleasures and pursuits, from which they are for ever separated, sustain their trembling spirits in the midst of a departing world--in the throng of the assembled myriads of mankind--in the view of the book opened to proclaim all their iniquities--before the Judge, about to decide, with the voice of inexorable justice, their eternal doom? Alas! the objects of their sensual desire and pursuit, while they deluded them with the phantoms of enjoyment, and persuaded them to contemn substantial bliss, were nourishing the worm that never dies, and kindling the fire that never will be quenched: and, infatuated mortals! they find that they have bartered celestial joys for that worm that never dies--that they have exchanged celestial pleasures for that fire that never will be quenched.
But perhaps they who thus delay an attention to the things that belong to their eternal peace, would arrest the imputation of gross folly which this conduct fixes upon them, by the plea that they admit the immense importance of salvation, and the infinite value of the soul; and that they intend to devote to their spiritual and immortal interests all the attention which is necessary to secure them: they only delay this business to a more convenient season. And do they then hold in their hands the course of events, so that they can command a season more favourable than the present for the care of their souls and the securing of their immortal interests? Will the splendour of wealth at any [170/171] future period cease to dazzle? Will the charms of pleasure, to which they are now devoted, cease to entice? Will the heights of honour, at any future period, cease to inflame their imaginations and awaken their ambition? Alas! every day, by adding new force to their passions, places new obstacles in the path of piety and virtue: every indulgence of sinful passion rivets more closely its chains. Sensual desires and emotions, long indulged, become so deeply and intimately incorporated with the soul, that it is almost as difficult to renounce them, as for the Ethiopian to change his skin and the leopard his spots. With these considerations, then, forcing themselves upon us, will we cherish the absurd, may I not say, the insane hope, that at some future period the world will present to us fewer charms, and our passions diminished strength?
Admit for a moment the reasonableness of these expectations. What is the business before us? Is it one of easy, of mere human achievement? Look at the work to which we are called; no less than that of renovating corrupt nature, of crucifying the body of sin. How closely and firmly riveted to the heart are the passions and indulgences which must be renounced! How holy and exalted the virtues which must be acquired! How universal and strict the acts of obedience which must be performed! How many temptations will assail our hearts, weak, and disposed to yield to them! Let us bring home to our minds these considerations, and we shall be satisfied that, in the business of salvation, we shall need support and strength incalculably beyond those which our own powers will afford. And are we sure that, at any future period; the omnipotent [171/172] Being whose merciful forbearance we now disregard, and whose mercy and grace have been so long resisted, will afford us those divine succours, without which we can do nothing, without whose co-operating energy our own resolutions will be ineffectual 1 Hath not the sacred voice of his justice declared, that his Spirit shall not always strive with the disobedient and impenitent? that he who, being often reproved, hardeneth his heart, shall be utterly destroyed, and that without remedy? Salvation is promised to the present season; the mercy and grace of God are awarded to the faithful only in improvement of present privileges. "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." "To-day, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
Those who neglect the great business of salvation are indeed seldom totally indifferent to its infinite importance. They hope to enter upon it in earnest at some future season. At present it is postponed; because the pressure of business, and the prosecution of their favourite plans and pleasures, render it difficult to attend to it. And have they then ascertained the precise period to which the merciful forbearance of God will extend the term of their probation \ While they, are employing the time which he allots them for the momentous purpose of securing their eternal interests, in frivolous or criminal pursuits or pleasures, or in those which respect only the present short period of their existence, what presumption to cherish the hope that the great and Almighty Being whose grace and mercy they are thus neglecting and contemning, will extend the term of [172/173] their probation to the precise season (if that season is likely to come) when, having accomplished all their worldly plans, and gratified all their sensual "desires, they will begin to think in earnest of serving him to whom their best days, their whole life, should have been devoted! Wouldst thou, O man, thus sport with a fellow-mortal in whose power thou wast placed? and wilt thou thus mock the eternal God?
Even they who profess to be the servants of the Lord, and to make things eternal the supreme objects of their attention, often postpone to a more convenient season the necessary work of relinquishing some indulgence, of controlling or subduing some passions, of moderating some worldly desire or pursuit, which they are sensible alloy the purity of their virtue, and thus endanger their salvation. Alas! my brethren, in all spiritual matters--(different is our course in worldly concerns)--but in all spiritual matters, the future and not the present seems to be the convenient season. Thoughtless that we are! Have we then secured ourselves against those numerous casualties, those formidable foes, that so often defeat the projects of man, and bring down to the dust his towering strength? While every day witnesses some of our fellow-mortals suddenly cut off from the prosperous scenes of life; while the spoiler throws his deadly shafts among the companies of the young, coursing gayly in the circle of pleasure--among those who, in the fulness and the ardour of mature strength, are thronging the paths of worldly aggrandizement and ambition--as well as among the ranks of those who, tottering under the infirmities of age, must soon let go their feeble hold on life; while, perhaps, [173/174] from our very side, a friend, a relative is summoned to his dread account--sinks unwarned into the tomb; will we coolly calculate on length of days! will we postpone to some future period a preparation for that eternity on whose brink we are standing? How infatuated are we! to presume still longer on the forbearance of that God whose mercy we are contemning, and to delay securing the interests of that immortal soul which perhaps this night his indignant justice may require of us!
Yet a little while, heavenly Father, forbear to execute upon us the just sentence of thy wrath; and, in mercy, awaken us to an immediate and serious attention to the things that belong to our eternal peace, ere they be for ever hidden from our eyes--ere we sleep that last sleep, the sleep of death!