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life, his best and brightest days, to this sad, dark, and dismal moment; when his fears are dreadful beyond expression, and his hopes are little or none at all? I say, how can this be a fit time for repentance, when the case is thus with him? His sorrow indeed may be very great, nay, how can it be otherwise ? but sorrow alone is not repentance; it must be accompanied with a sincere change of life, where there is time for it. If a man were well and in health, sorrow for sin (and the more so if it were an act of free choice) would be a good beginning and a promising sign of true repentance; because he might have reason to hope for time to experience the sincerity of it, by the good effects it would have upon his life afterwards ; but there is no possibility of knowing that now.
Secondly, Such a death-bed repentance is very dangerous, because it is very uncertain whether it will be available or no to the pardon of our sins. It being exceeding unlikely that a death-bed repentance should be true and sincere : and unless it be so, it will not be available to pardon.
Now there are two or three things which render it greatly doubtful whether it will be sincere or no.
First, A true and sincere repentance is the gift of God, and not at our command, to be had just when we please. 'God is indeed always ready to give the grace of repentance to those, who in the time of health devoutly and heartily ask it of him, and shew a good disposition of soul to embrace and close in with the tender of it. But when men have spent their whole lives in sin and rebellion against God, to whose glory they ought to have lived; when they have through a long course of many years resisted all the means of grace, and stifled all the holy motions which the Spirit of God did put into their minds, to invite and urge them to break off their sins; and have stopped their ears to all his calls, and refused to repent and turn unto him; how can
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they expect that God should give them grace sincerely to repent at last, which they have so long and so obstinately despised ; and which they now desire, not so much out of hatred of their sins, but because they think they can live no longer in them? It is much rather to be feared, that God should give up such obstinate sinners to a judicial hardness at the last, and suffer them to be forgetful of themselves at the point of Death, who have been all their lives long forgetful of God, and their duty to him; who, because they would not hearken to the many calls to repentance, and endeavour to obtain his pardon before, shall now have no thought or concern about it.'
Agreeably to what we are told by God himself, in the first chapter of Proverbs, ver. 24, and so on; “Because I have called, and ye refused: I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded ; but ye have set 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. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer : they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD. They would none of my counsel, they despised all my reproof. Therefore they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.”
Of this we have a sad instance in the impenitent thief, who was crucified with our Saviour; for while the penitent thief, it is true, found mercy and pardon at his last hour; the other affords us an example of a wicked man given up to a reprobate mind, and forsaken of grace, and so dying hard and impenitent. Which one would think should be as strong an argument to warn wicked men of their danger, in relying upon a death-bed repentance, as the penitent thief's obtaining mercy at last is pretended to be, for their flattering themselves in their security. Especially when they consider too what St. Paul has plainly told them, Rom. ii. 4, 5. “That they who despise the riches of God's goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, and do not consider that the goodness of God is designed to lead them to repentance, do treasure up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath." • All which shews what little encouragement there is for men to presume, that God will enable them to do that when they come to die, which they would never be persuaded to do while they lived.'
Secondly, Another thing which renders the sincerity of a death-bed repentance greatly doubtful is, the exceeding difficulty there is of performing it in such a manner as ought to be done. 'A true and sincere repentance must be attended with an entire change of a man's mind from what it was before; with the most steady resolution of abhorring all sin, and with a hearty promise of the utmost endeavours to avoid it for the time to come: and how unlikely is this, that the sinner, who has been habitually wicked, and lived many years in a course of sin (all his thoughts and inclinations being entirely bent on the commission of it) should in a moment, as it were, so fall out with it, as utterly to hate it, and throw it off for ever? Or that he should now, all at once, in an instant, quite change his affections, and hate the sin, which but a very little before he loved above all things ; and on the contrary, should just then be seized with a hearty love of God and goodness, which he hated before, and could hardly ever endure in his thoughts?
• Do we not see continually how hard a thing it is, for a man that is in health, and perfect soundness of mind, to get the better of one evil habit, which he has been long accustomed to, and would now reform himself from ; as suppose, swearing, or lying, or drunkenness, or lewdness, and the like; how gradually he is forced to proceed in the conquering of it: how he sometimes falls back again into it, notwithstanding his best resolutions against it; and then perhaps goes forward again ; and after abundance of pains and endeavours, does hardly at last get the entire mastery and dominion over it? And can it then be imagined, that a man can easily do all that at once, or in a very little time, on a death-bed, as truly to repent of, and change a whole body of sin; when the conquering and reforming one single sin has so much pains and difficulty in it, that it seems like plucking out a right eye, and cutting off a right hand ? It is very unlikely it should be so.
And agreeably to this, we often see persons upon their death-bed, still having the same evil inclinations as they had when they were well. As they have lived, so they have died. There was no real and sincere change in the state and disposition of their minds. At least it is greatly to be feared that there was not, because they did by several ways discover, that their old accustomed sins had still possession of their souls, even when the abilities and opportunities of committing them were taken from them. “So vain therefore and delusive are the hopes of men's repenting and growing good in their confinement to a sick-bed in their last moments, when they have lived in a continual habit and course of sin all their lives long.'
Thirdly, there is still one thing more which gives us the greatest reason to doubt the sincerity of a death-bed repentance; and that is, the frequent experience of such who have been in the like circumstances before, whose repentance has by no proved sincere. In their sickness and danger, a thousand good vows and promises have been made by them, what holy and righteous persons they will be, if God would but be pleased to spare their lives,
and grant them a longer continuance in this world ; but how few of them have ever fulfilled their good promises, when God has been merciful to them, and restored them to their health again? No: when the present fear of Death, and the near prospect of a future punishment, has been removed by their recoyery, their penitent resolutions have all vanished into air, and left no good influence upon their lives. Which shews, that all their vows and promises then were but false and deceitful: and so would never have been accepted of by God, to their pardon and salvation.
To which we may add this further ; that suppose the repentance of any sinners upon their death-bed should be sincere, yet neither they themselves, nor any one about them, can assure them that it is so ; because so many have been deceived in expressions of this kind; and so none but God, who knows the heart of man, can tell whether this would not be of the same sort. So that at the best they must depart either with uncertain hopes of mercy, which in a case of that moment is a very sad thing: or with dreadful fears of God's vengeance in the next world; which is so uncomfortable and dismal a state, that one would think he must be a wretched fool or a madman, and lost to all sense of his own good and happiness, that can put off the securing what is the greatest business of his life to such an uncertainty, that though he might (through the infinite mercy of GoD) be saved at the last; yet it is more than he can assure himself of: or any one else give him any good grounds to hope for while he is in this world.
Two important questions considered, relating to this
Now here, before I do fully conclude this discourse, I shall say something of two very important questions