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lion is in the streets, yet his feet are swift to evil,” Isa. lix. 7. This band is so heavy on his head, that he cannot lift up his eyes; and on his hands, that he cannot lift them to his mouth for his soul's behoof; Prov. xxvi. 15, “The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth." This is a hellish gulph on earth, that swallows up convictions, resolutions, motions of good, and the like. They could be content to be better, if God would work with them as with stocks and stones, which are at no pains for their own polishing. They can spend whole days, and even nights, for the world and for their lusts; but to spend a day, or a considerable part of a day, in clearing their accounts, and laying down their measures for eternity, this is what they cannot be troubled with. There is,
6. The band of delays. This held Felix fast, when the rest of the bands on him were like to give way, Acts xxiv. 25. When trembling under Paul's preaching, he said, “ Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will call for thee.” The prisoners, many of them, are not resolved not to come out, only they put it off, resolving to do it afterwards. The young put it off till they be old, the old till death come to their bed-side. Some make one resolution, and some another, to turn to the Lord; and though the time comes which they had set, yet they still put it off again to another time; and so on, till death comes at length, and sweeps them off, ere they have power to execute their good purposes. There is,
7. The band of delusion; Isa. xliv. 20, “ He feedeth on ashes; a deceived lieart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his. soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand ?” They are under a fearful delusion as to their state, like Laodicea, Rev. iii. 17," Because thon sayest, I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” As one is refused admission by mistake, so Christ is often kept at the door; for the poor deluded sinner thinks he is in already. They abide fast in the gall of bitterness, because they imagine themselves to be got out of it already. They remain unconverted, because they reckon themselves already converted. This is a most dangerous case, which should stir us all up to an impartial examination of our state; Isa. 1. 11, “ Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks : walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks which you have kindled. This ye shall have of mine hand, ye shall lie down in sorrow." There is,
Lastly, The band of divers lusts; 2 Tim. iii. 6, “ Laden with sins, led away with divers lusts.” They are laden with them, as ever a prisoner was with irons, so that by them Satan holds them fast. Unmortified lusts crawl up and down, preying on their souls, and keeping them in a state of death. They hang about them, crying, Give, give, so that they can get nothing done to purpose for eternity. And so many unmortified lusts as there are about a man, Satan has so many handles to hold him by. A lust of covetousness, of pride, sensuality, and the like, will hold a man fast.
This part of the subject may be improved in a use of lamentation.
This is a lamentation, and may be for a lamentation over all the unconverted, as bound men in the prison of a natural state. Thou art little concerned with it, but the misery of the case deserves tears of blood. For thou art laid up in custody at the instance of God's law and justice, as a debtor and criminal. As a debtor, thou shalt not be let out till thou hast paid the utmost farthing. But, alas ! thou hast nothing wherewith to pay; men and angels cannot help thee; their united stock is not sufficient to pay off the debt of sin. As a criminal, thou canst not be let ont, till thou abide thy trial; and terrible will it be whenever God calls thee to it; when thy indictment is read, and thou art tried for thy life according to law, what canst thou say? thy crimes are undeniable. Thou canst not get out by force or fraud, slight or might. Thou art God's prisoner, as the offended party. What canst thou do or say that is not known to him who sees all things? Whither canst thou flee, where his hand will not find thee out. Thou art Satan's prisoner as thy jailor. He has malice enough to prompt him to watch and keep thee, power enough to hold thee still. His iron-bands and chains are upon thee in the prison-house, how canst thou escape ? Look to the bands on thee in the prison ; look on them and mourn, and lament thy case. There are bands on thee of God's laying on, and who but he then can take them off? for he shutteth, and no man can open, Rev. iii. 7. Thou art bound under the curse of the law, and God has bound thee; to whom canst thou apply to loose thee? If men lay on bands, God can loose the prisoner, whether they will or not; “The Lord looseth the prisoners," Psalm cxlvi. 7. But if God lay on the bands, the whole creation may stand and commiserate the prisoner. They may drop a tear, but neither angels nor men can loose him. There are bands on thee of Satan's laying on; and these must bo sad ones which are led on by that hand. He is the strong man; it must be a stronger than he who can loose them; this is beyond thy reach. Thou didst not feel God's bands, but walkest lightly under them. Thou entertainest and takest a pleasure in Satan's chains, in your company, sinful pleasures, and the like. This makes
thy escape the more hopeless; while thou rejoicest in thine iron fetters, as if they were chains of gold, it is an evidence that thou art beside thyself. Finally, These bands will infallibly secure thy ruin, if thou be not loosed in time; thou wilt die in the prison, if thou be not timeously brought out. There is but one step betwixt thee and death, eternal death. If thou die in the prison of an unconverted state, thou wilt go to the prison of hell, where the prisoners are kept without hope of any release,
This being the case, see to yourselves in time, 0 prisoners of hope ! Labour to be loosed from your bands, that you die not in the pit. To such I would offer the following ADVICES :
1. Awake, and feel the weight of the bands on thee; there is no hope of thy deliverance while thou walkest lightly under them. Mourn over your guilt, your unbelief, and long for deliverance.
2. Put your case in the hand of the great Cautioner, who is willing and able to relieve you. Employ the Advocate, who will certainly carry the plea in your favour. He will not do as the butler who forgot Joseph, though employed to use his interest to bring him out of prison; but by the blood of his covenant Jesus will de
3. Give in your petition to your Judge: Job ix. 15, “I would,” says Job," make my supplication to my Judge." Pray, pray, ye prayerless persons; pray every day, pray always, ye who pray only now and then; a sign that ye have to begin this exercise, to pray to purpose. Pray seriously, fervently, importunately, ye that are formal in prayer. Your life lies at stake : there is no time to trifle.
4. Hasten your trial, that your plea may be heard before a throne of grace; for if you miss that tribunal, it will come before another at death and judgment, when it will be impossible for you to stand. There are two tribunals for such prisoners, the tribunal of mercy and grace, and the tribunal of justice. There is, the tribunal of mercy and grace, to which the sinner is brought in the work of conversion, in time, in this world. Hither the elect prisoner is brought, and stands trembling, while other prisoners lie still in the prison, jovial and easy. Here he is accused, convicted and condemned; he subscribes to the equity of the sentence; but, by the provision made in this court for criminals, he comes off acquitted from the sentence of death, to return to the prison no more. There is the tribunal of justice, to which the sinner is brought at deatb and the last day. Here the prisoner, in his natural state, is sisted, accused, convicted, and condemned without remedy; Matth. xxii. 13, “ Then said the king to the servants, Bind him (that wants the wedding-garment) hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And from hence he is sent into the prison of hell.. At the one or the other of these tribunals, all the prisoners must appear for their trial. To the first, I would have you to hasten your cause ; for it has advantages which the other has not. In the first, the law is subservient to the gospel, and condemns, to make the sinner flee to the Mediator; Gal. iii. 24," Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” In the second, the law condemns, to make the sinner's case absolutely hopeless. The one makes the sinner sick unto life and everlasting health, the other to death. At the one, a person may have the advantage of a Surety to undertake for his debt, of an Advocate to plead for him, 1 John ii. 1, “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins." He never fails to bring his client's cause to a comfortable issue. But at the other, there is no Cautioner, no Advocate ; the prisoner must act all for himself; yea, the Cautioner and Advocate is judge to condemn him. Finally, at the one, there is a covert of blood for the condemned man to flee under, where the sentence of death cannot take effect. There are horns of an altar, from which justice cannot take him, and a city of refuge, where he shall be safe. But none of these are to be had at the other : therefore haste the trial. We now proceed,
III. To consider the darkness and blindness of the prisoners in a. natural state. Here it will be necessary to attend to three things. First, The nature of this blindness. Secondly, The kinds of it incidenů to these prisoners. And, Thirdly, The effects of it upon them. Let us attend,
First, To the nature of this blindness. And here we may observe, that it is a spiritual, and not a bodily defect. Though they havo their eyes in their heads, their poor souls are full of darkness ; Eph. y. 8, “ Ye were sometimes darkness.” Though they may have a natural and literal knowledge of spiritual things, yet they want the spiritual and saving light of life; 1 Cor. ii. 14, " The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” How manifestly are these distinguished ! Though they have the knowledge of the history of these things, yet they are strangers to the mystery of them. Thus it is said, Deut. xxix. 4,“ Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day." Again, it is total blindness. They are not only dark, but darkness itself, Eph. v. 8. There is not the least gleam of saving light in their souls; they are absolute strangers to, and unacquainted with God in Christ. Their
service in religion is to an unknown God. They know not Christ; there is a transcendent glory in him, but they cannot perceive it. They are strangers to themselves; they are wretched and miserable, but know it not, Rev. iii. 17. They see not their sins in their own ugly colours, in their natural deformity. Let us, Secondly, Attend to the kinds of blindness incident to these pri
There is a natural blindness common to all of them. All 'Adam's children are born blind; Rom. iii. 11, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” Our minds naturally are void of saving light, we have lost saving knowledge, with other parts of God's image. Hence, whenever grace opens the eyes, people are as it were brought into a new world, seeing things they never saw before, and seeing them in that manner in which they never saw them before. Again, There is an acquired blindness, which they procure to themselves; Eph. iv. 18, “ Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." The power and prevalence of lusts blind them more and more to the true interest of their souls. The light shines about them, but they hate it; it glances in their faces from the word and providence, but they shut their eyes and will not let it in; Isa. xxvi. 11, “ Lord, when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see.” They by this means strengthen their diseases; and the longer they continue in it, there is the less hope. Finally, There is a judicial blindness; Isa. vi. 9, 10, “ And he said, Go and tell this people, hear yo indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes.” They rebel against the light, they abuse that light which they have, they will not open their eyes to clear light, and God judicially shuts them. He withdraws the common influence of his Spirit from them, and they are infatuated, so that they cannot see their own true interest, but act as fools and madmen in matters of the greatest importance. They are “ delivered over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient,” Rom. i. 28. They are also delivered to Satan, who, as the executioner of justice, binds them more and more ; 2 Cor. iv. 4, “He blinds the minds of them that believe not.” We are to attend,
Thirdly, To the effects of this blindness on the prisoners. These are many; I mention the following :-There is,
1. A situation truly uncomfortable and piteous. They are sitting in darkness, and in the region and shadow of death, Matth. iv. 16. What a melancholy case were the Egyptians in during the