Of the time of turning unto God (viz.) pre∣sently.
JER. 18. 11.
THe Prophets Commission consisted of two parts, The first Instruction. The second Exhortation. We are upon this latter, and in it are ob∣served 1. The duty, Return; the nature of which hath been already discussed. 2. The time now, Return now. 3. The term from which, with the appropri∣tion of it, Every man from his evill way. 4. The extent also of it, From your evil doings. The next thing in our method to be handled is, the time when this duty must be set upon, and that is now Turn ye now.
From whence Observe, That Conversion or turning unto God, is a duty required at the present time. Thus in other places parallel in the margent, where this duty is often commanded; still the time is prefixed now, Return ye now.
For opening of this necessary practical point, Consider *
First, That it is a very prone inbred thing in a man to procrastinate, and still to put off the day of repentance, and conversion to God. He resolveth, and he purpo∣seth, and he hopes in God to do it, and God gives him grace to do it, but he never sets upon the work. Do but commune with your own hearts, and see if there be not something or other ready alwaies to stisle and kill those purposes to return and so thou art alwaies delaying, and delaying, hoping for a time at last, till it may be thou fallest into the grave, and so all thy hopes cut off. Now the causes of this de∣lay to turn to God, may be several: Sometimes it may come from sluggishnesse and*idlnesse: Even as the sluggard hath a desire to eat, but he tolleth himself on the bed, and saith, Yet a little sleep, and a little slumber, and so he refuseth to set his hand to work. Thus it is here, he desireth to part with his corruptions, to sin no more, but then he cryeth a little more ease; so much praying, so much hearing, so much humi∣liation, so much fervencie and violence is very tedious to him: The kingdome of heaven is to be got by violence, Mat. 11. 12. and the way to heaven, is striving, runinng in a race, wrestling and combating, all which the idle man will never doe.
A second cause is, Dear, and excessive love to the lusts we live in, when we have at*the same time some conviction, and yet strong corruptions. Conviction that it is high time for us to break off our sins by repentance, and yet strong corruptions do so en∣tice us, and perswade us, that we are not able to break these bonds, and cast them asunder, then conversion is delayed. Thus Agrippa was almost perswaded to be a Christian, Act. 26. 28. but yet his present lusts with-held him.
Page 454 The third Cause of delay to turn unto God may be, the immoderate and excessive love, and cares of the things of this world. Those are apt to surfet, and over-charge the * heart: this dust got into the eye, is apt to blinde them. Thus the young man that seemed so forward, when he was bid to sell all, could not bear that Doctrine, but went away very sorrowful, Mat. 19. 22.
A fourth Cause, may be recovery out of some dangers, diseases, or calamities that we were in. The Israelites often turned unto God, but they proved deceitful, they went * backward, as well as forward, and what was the matter? They would turn to God from violent fears that were upon them; they then cryed, and mourned, and prayed unto the Lord; but this fountain presently dryed up when a sun-shine day came. So that prosperity and freedom from trouble, makes a man pur off his re∣solutions, as much as ever he put them on in times of adversitie. Thus you see what are the causes that may make men use that Corvinumcras, as Austin calls it, The Crows note, Cras, to morrow, to morrow.
2. Consider, that it is an high, and a very grievous sin, for a man obstinately and*formally to have this expression, I will turn to God, but not yet. I say to have this for∣mally, and not with attention to it, it argueth very great rebellion, for it supposeth light in thee; thou seest thy self out of the way, thou seest thy self undone, and wandring in waies to hell, yet thy rebellion against this light is so great and mani∣fest, that thou wilt oppose it: besides it argueth much contempt; for if thou didst highly prize God, and his favours, thou wouldst immediately forsake all other things, and cleave to him.
These things premised, now let us consider why we ought to take the present Now, not to put off, no not a day, an hour, not this moment; and there was never * any duty had such reasons for it. As
First, The vanity and uncertainty of a mans life is so obvious a reason, That it is strange every one doth not resolve, Now will I forsake my accustomed sins, I will do it now. The shortnesse of our daies is frequently agrravated by the Scripture, there∣fore we should apply our hearts to wisedom, we should not look so much to this moment, as provide for eternity: Who art thou then, O mortal man that doth yet put off thy repentance? who hath given thee security for to morrow? why dost thou not take the Holy Ghosts councel? To day, and while it is called to day, hear his voice, Psalm 95. 7. Oh dust and ashes, Why art thou not afraid of being blown a∣way with every breath of Gods displeasure? In wordly matters you are careful to make every thing sure; you know not what will fall out, it is good to be certain; and in heavenly things, there you content your selves with any probabilities. The Psalmist gives a convincing Epithet, Psal. 4. O ye mortal men, how long will you love vanity. Let us then beseech thee who art entangled in thy lusts by that body of death thou bearest about with thee, by the consideration of that sentence of death past upon every one, the execution whereof may be this night, so that thou never maist hear this Exhortation more, by the consideration of the grave into which thou art falling, that thou wouldst no longer put off, but turn from thy sins. Oh say, contrary to those Epicures, Let us eat and drink, for to morrow we shall dye: Let us pray, and return unto the Lord, for to morrow we shall dye.
Secondly, Turn now, because the day of Grace and salvation offered unto thee, is as un∣certain in continuance as thy life. Thus the Apostle, Behold, now is the time acceptable,*now is the day of Salvation, 2. Cor. 6. 2. therefore receive not the grace of God in vain: and our Saviour, Work while ye have day, for the night is coming, and no man can then work, John 9. 4. If a black night for Ordinances and the Ministry should be coming upon you, the sun and the stars be turned into bloud: Oh then, whi∣ther wilt thou run? and what wilt thou do? gather the Manna therefore while it falls; come in while the door of Grace stands open: take heed of being like Esau, coming too late for a blessing, like Saul, that cannot have God answer him any way, by Urim, or Thummim, or any other manner: The Prophet Jeremiah might Page 455 well say, Return ye now; for shortly captivity, or the sword will deprive you of all means of grace: How diligent is the husbandman to take the season for sowing, the tradesman his season for buying and selling! but for our souls we are not wise: We say not, Oh my soul, now if ever let this sermon pierce thee, now if ever let this exhortation prevail with thee. Oh unwise men, go and learn of the bruitish Crea∣tures, they are so wise as to lay up their store in summer against winter: and thus it ought to be with thee; if there may come a sad time of famine for the Ordinances, and the means of Grace, do thou as Joseph, who laid up provision for that time of scarcitie. Now while God calls, do thou say, here, Lord, I am.
Thirdly, Therefore turn now from your evill waies, because the longer you put off, the more you hinder your peace and happinesse. All the time spent in sin is lost time, it must be all redeemed again as the Apostle exhorts, Thou art an hinderer of thy peace and comfort all the while thou art labouring in the way of sin, thou art with the Pro∣digal feeding on husks, when thou mighst have a fatted calf; thou art eating onions when Manna may be gathered: What are the pleasures of sin, to the enjoyment of God, the peace of a good Conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost? How wilt thou try out when once set at liberty from this prison, Now I begin to live, Now I begin to have happinesse, now I begin to have pleasure, but never till now? Thou wilt finde a damage, and a losse which cannot be repaired, but by that happinesse in Jesus Christ: So then bethink thy self, What a loser am I, exchanging dirt for gold? It is my own advantage and happinesse, if I betake my self to God im∣mediately.
Fourthly Therefore turn to God, because the longer thou putst off, the greater diffi∣culty it will be to leave thy sins. At last Conversion will be every day more remote then at first; for the difficulty will arise several waies, here will more then a three-fold cord be to be broken.
For 1. It will be more hard, because sin is every day hardening of a mans heart * more: Now all hardnesse of heart makes turning to God more difficult: wax is sooner melted then cold Iron: Therefore saith the Apostle, To day if you will hear, harden not your hearts, Psal. 95. implying that every delay doth freez the soul, and make it more benummed: if thou art not fit to day, thou wilt be lesse fit then to morrow: and hence it is why men rooted in sin, and inveterate in old customary iniquities, do seldom change their black skins: the beginnings of a wound are to be healed; if you let it rankle and canker, then that groweth incurable at last. Oh then take up betimes; while there are any relentings, any meltings, go presently to God: If thou gettest cold after this heat, then thy disease will be more mor∣tall.
2. Therefore it is more difficult if thou delay, because to thy naturall hardnesse * thou wilt add adventitious, and acquisite, Every man naturally hath a stone upon his heart, and grace must remove that in conversion; but when thou hast refused often to come at Gods call, then there is a second, and a third, yea many stones laid upon thee while thou art buried in the grave of thy sins; Oh then, wo be unto thee who dost make thy condition worse at last, then at first. Who knoweth if thou hadst regarded the first impressions, and motions of Gods spirit, but that thy condition had been more hopeful? Oh take heed of proving bankrupt in the way of sin; then the more thou spendest, the likelier to be cast into that dungeon out of which there can be no redemption. Take heed then of adding hardnesse to that which is inbred in thee: Thou hast enough to presse thee into the lowest sea; thou needest not have more milstones hung about thy neck.
3. It is therefore more difficult, because the judgement of God is more terrible to such in a spiritual manner. The Lord hath spirituall judgements, as well as * temporall; and although we grone and complain more under bodily miseries, yet these spiritual have the greatest danger; and of all spiritual ones, this of hardnesse of heart is the most grievous, as by the Prophet appeareth, Esai. 6. Go and make their hearts fat, their eyes blinde. Oh then fear the longer thou putst off, lest God will Page 456 smite thee with more stupidity, more senslesnesse, and so at last thou f•ll into an hopelesse condition, that all means used for recovery, do make thy sicknesse more desperate.
4. Therefore it is more difficult if thou delayest, because the divel hath thereby * got the stronger possession on thee; for every man hath either God and his spirit dwelling in him, whereby he becomes a lively Temple, and his house, and so all things are according to his government, or else the Divel he hath a full possession of him; but now his hold in thee is stronger and stonger, as thou delayst, and there∣fore it will be the more hard to cast him out, when he hath had so many years pos∣session. The divels that possessed the man from the womb up, could not be cast out but by some extraordinary way. The divel was in Judas his heart long before, yet saith the Scripture, The Divel entered into his heart, John 13. 27. How is that? was he not before there? Yes, but now more then ever; he had sinned more, and resisted the grace of Christ more, and therefore God gave him up to the greater power of the Divel: And thus it will be with thee; the more thou putst off, the more thou delayest, the greater Tyranny and raign will Satan have over thee.
Fifthly, Therefore turn now to God, because the sooner thou goest to him, the more service and honour thou wilt bring to him. Suppose a man be called at the twelfth * hour, yet how little can he do for God before night? Alas thou hast lived a long while in the service of sin and satan, and thou needest even Methusalems age to do God service, for all the dislervice and dishonour thou hast done him. Paul because he had been very active for the Divel, and so laboured more then many of his equals in pulling down the Church; therefore when once converted, see how he rejoyceth as a gyant to run his race, and he laboureth afterward more then all to build the Church. Oh then think the greatest honour thou art capable of, is to do the Lords work: Angels rejoyce in this; and all the while thou art in the course of sin, then thou art doing the Divels service: Although now there be no greater delight to thee, then fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, yet when thou art once turned to God, thou wilt labour abundantly in the work of God, and it will be an heavy trouble to thee that thou hast been an enemy so long to God, and promoted the work of his adversary. Therefore get betime into the vine-yard of the Lord, and so thou wilt have time to do him the more service.
Sixthly, The sooner thou turnest to God, thou wilt prevent the more sin, and so the*more shame and trouble of heart. Those that have gone far in the waies of wicked∣nesse, they have the greater falls, and so their broken bones put them into the more pains e're they can be healed. Oh what a deal of peace would Manasses, and Ma∣ry Magdalen have enjoyed, if they had been converted in their younger years! So if Paul had been betimes drawen home unto God, he had not had all that trouble and grief of spirit for persecuting the Church of God. Those that are aged women, they say, have the sorer and more dangerous travails, if they had never any Children before: and thus they have the more difficult conversions, the greater anguish and pain of Conscience, who have lived long in sin, and committed great ones. Hence is that, Remember thy Creator in the daies of thy youth: and it is good to bear the yoke in the youth; so it is here, it is good to feel the bitternesse of sin betimes; it is good in our younger years to feel how sad a thing it is to displease God; this advan∣tage hath early conversion. So then, let young ones hearken to sermons, let them attend to what the Ministers of God exhort; for conversion doth not onely belong to the old, but to the young; yea commonly conversion is sooner wrought upon the younger sort of people, for they have not resisted the grace of God so much, they have not provoked God to give them up to their own hearts lusts and desires, as many aged persons have.
Seventhly, Suppose thy conversion and turning to God for the future, were not onely possible, but sure; if it were infallibly revealed to thee, that God would be∣fore * thy death make himself known in a gracious manner to thee, yet how unfit is old age, or a diseased sick body to turn to God? When thou hast given the Divel Page 457 all thy service, and power, and strength, then to give a Carkasse to God it is un∣seemly; like those Heathens that keep the honey to themselves, and offer the wax to their Gods: say then to thy self, as the Prophet in another case concerning those that offered blinde, and same Sacrifices to God: Offer it now to thy rulers, and governours, see if they will accept of it: And thus it is here, thy lame, diseased, in∣firm service, How fit is it for God, when it is not fit for any man? The command is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy minde, and with all thy strength: if this be required of thee, then it is most unworthy and dishonourable dealing, to put off God to thy feeble age.
Eighthly, Consider the nature of sin, what it is, and thou must needs say, There is no way, but presently to go out of it. It is the poyson of the soul, and that is not to be * kept long in the body: It is the bloody wounding of it, and thou must not let it lye long in this bleeding: it is the meer mercy of God that sin doth not give a dam∣ning stab and blow to thee, to undo thee to all eternity. Why then wilt thou stay for an hour, for a moment in this estate? Who would abide long in a place, where fire is ready to burn and consume all before it? Yet this is thy condition; it was Lots great stupiditie, that when fire and brimstone was ready to rain from heaven upon him, he would not go out till the Angel came and pulled him out, The Lord being mercifull to him, saith the Text, Genes, 19. 16. And thus it is here, our sottishness, and stupidity is so great, that although heaven above be against us, and hell beneath ready to devour us, yet we think not of conversion to Him.
Ninthly, If so be thou wouldst ever turn to God at all, then why not now? Do not de∣ceive, and delude thy own soul; if ever thou wilt part from thy lusts, begin presently, * for what can be more necessary? Commonly this is our method, that we will do the necessary things in the first place; we wil first provide for our lives, before we do for ornaments; Nature teacheth us to do that which hath the greatest necessity: now then what is more necessary then to turn to God? if this be not done, thy sins are upon thee, thy lusts will overwhelm thee, thy damnation is sure and unavoidable. Turn now unto God, because it is most necessary: one thing is needful: neither ri∣ches, honour, or any advantages are like to this. Besides, if ever thou wilt turn to God, do it now, for there can be no reason hereafter, which will not be much more now. Is sin of a terrible damning nature, then it is so now? Doth Gods anger be∣long to sin, so it doth now? Is God also to be loved, and chosen before all things? then now as well as at any time hereafter. Thy comforts will be greater, thy ho∣nour more, thy service to God more; therefore return now unto God.
Use of Exhortation, to be perswaded to this duty, Return now, set immediately upon the work, Why should Gods work be done last of all? Oh think rather I will turn unto God, and that presently, because I may dye before I think of it. If I dye before I have setled such and such worldly businesses, there is nothing but a tempo∣ral losse; but if I dye before I have setled the peace of my soul, then I am eternally undone. Oh how many have been surprized by Gods stroke, before ever they thought of it: then they cry out, Lord, spare me one year longer, Lord, give me space once more; I am not ready to dye, I have not quitted my sins; Oh if I dye now, I shall dye and be damned in them. Come then and take the good counsel of the Prophet, Do it now; are your hearts yielding and consenting? you will have the comfort of sincerity, if you turn to God while in your health and strength; whereas when fear and danger works upon thee, then still thou wilt doubt of thy integrity in what thou dost.