1. Warnings

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"Seek ye the LORD while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near."—Isa. 55:66Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: (Isaiah 55:6)
Little sins (suppose them so) yet multiplied become great. What is less than a grain of sand? yet when multiplied, what is heavier than the sand of the sea? A little sum multiplied is great; a little sin, unrepented of, will damn; as one leak in the ship, if it be not looked to, will sink it. You would think it is no great matter to forget God, yet it hath a heavy doom (Psa. 50:2222Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver. (Psalm 50:22)).
It is sad to have old age and old sins. It is hard to pull up an old tree that is rooted, it is easier to cut it down for the fire.
When the lamp is almost out, the strength exhausted, and old age comes on, then mourning for sin will be in season. Men do not argue thus in other cases; they do not say, it is too soon to be rich; they will not put off the getting of riches to old age; no, here they take the first opportunity. When God calls for mourning and thou art deaf, when thou callest for mercy God may be dumb (Prov. 1:24, 2824Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; (Proverbs 1:24)
28Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: (Proverbs 1:28)
). God may take the latter time to judge thee in because thou didst not take the former time to repent in. Though true mourning for sin be never too late, yet late mourning is seldom true. That repentance is seldom true-hearted which is gray-headed. The mariner in a storm throws his goods overboard, not but that he loves them, but he is afraid they will sink the ship; when men fall to weeping, work late, and would cast their sins overboard, it is for the most part only for fear lest they should sink the ship and drown in hell.
Old age is no good age to repent in. A tender plant is easily removed, but it is hard to pluck up an old tree that is rooted. It were a very unwise course for a mariner, while the ship is sound, the tackling strong, the wind favorable, the sea calm, to lie idle at anchor; and when the ship begins to leak, and the tempest to rise, now to launch forth and hoist up sails for a voyage; so is he who neglects the time of health and strength, and when old age comes, and his tackling is even broken, now begins his voyage towards heaven. How unworthy is this, for men to give the devil their strength and marrow, and then come and lay their old bones upon God's altar? A sinner in the time of his old age, sleeps between death and the devil. It is just, that he who forgets God in the time of health, God should forget him in the time of sickness.
"When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace" (Luke 11:2121When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: (Luke 11:21)). This is the devil's peace; he rocks men in the cradle of security; he cries Peace, peace, when men are on the precipice of hell. The seeming peace a sinner has, is not from the knowledge of his happiness, but from the ignorance of his danger.... True peace is after trouble. God convinces and humbles the soul; then He speaks peace. Many say they have peace, but is this peace before a storm, or after it? True peace is after trouble. First there was the earthquake, and then the fire, and then the still small voice (1 Kings 19:1212And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:12)). God pours the golden oil of peace into broken hearts.
Many think they repent when it is not the offense, but the penalty troubles them; not the treason but the blood-ax. Some think they repent when they shed a few tears, as Saul did for his unkindness to David, "And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. And he said to David... thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil" (1 Sam. 24:16-1716And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept. 17And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil. (1 Samuel 24:16‑17)). But for all this he follows David again. So men can lift up their voice and weep for sins, yet follow their sins again. Others forsake their sin, but still retain their love for it in their hearts, like the snake that casts the coat but keeps the sting.
"Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" (Matt. 5:44Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)). We must go through the valley of tears to Paradise. Mourning were a sad subject to treat on, were it not that it hath blessedness going before, and comfort coming after.
There is a mourning that is far from making one blessed. Many can weep over a dead child that cannot mourn over a crucified Savior. Worldly sorrows hasten our funerals. "The sorrow of the world worketh death" (2 Cor. 7:1010For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)).
There is a despairing kind of mourning; such was Judas' mourning: he saw his sin, he was sorry, he justified Christ, he made restitution. Judas, who is in hell, did more than many nowadays; well, wherein was Judas' sorrow blame-worthy? It was a mourning joined with despair; he thought his wound broader than the plaster; his was not "repentance unto life" (Acts 11:1818When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. (Acts 11:18)), but rather unto death.
There is a hypocritical mourning: the heart is very deceitful, it can betray as well as by a tear as by a kiss: Saul looks like a mourner, and as he was sometimes among the prophets (1 Sam. 10:1212And one of the same place answered and said, But who is their father? Therefore it became a proverb, Is Saul also among the prophets? (1 Samuel 10:12)), so he seemed to be among the penitents, "And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD" (1 Sam. 15:2424And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. (1 Samuel 15:24)). Saul did play the hypocrite in his mourning; for he did not take shame to himself, but he did rather take honor to himself. "Honor me before the elders of the people." How easy it is for a man to put a cheat upon his soul, and by hypocrisy to weep himself into hell.
There is a forced mourning when tears are pumped out by God's judgments. Such was Cain's mourning: "My punishment is greater than I can bear" (Gen. 4:1313And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. (Genesis 4:13)). His punishment troubled him more than his sin; to mourn only for the fear of hell, is like a thief who weeps for the penalty, rather than the offense. A sinner mourns because judgment follows at the heel of sin; but David cries out, "My sin is ever before me" (Psa. 51:33For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. (Psalm 51:3)). The prodigal saith, "I have sinned against heaven, and before thee." He doth not say, "I am almost starved among the husks", but "I have offended my Father."
It is an excellent saying of St. Austin, "He doth truly bewail the sins he hath committed, who never commits the sins he hath bewailed."
A child of God will confess sin in particular; an unsound Christian will confess sin by wholesale, he will acknowledge that he is a sinner in general; whereas David doth, as it were, point with his finger to the sore (Psa. 51:44Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. (Psalm 51:4)): "I have done this evil"; he doth not say, I have done evil, but this evil.
To die is to be but once done, and after death there is nothing to be done. If thou diest in thine impenitency there is no repenting in the grave. If thou leavest thy work at death half done, there is no finishing it in the grave (Eccl. 9:1010Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. (Ecclesiastes 9:10)): "There is no work, nor device, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest."
God hath given thee two eyes, if thou losest one, thou hast another; but thou hast but one soul, and if thou art robbed of that, thou art undone forever.
The grave buries all a sinner's joy. They have a short feast, but a long reckoning. The time being short, the sinning time cannot be long.
Sinners, the time is shortly coming when the drawbridge of mercy will be quite pulled up. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Eccl. 8:1111Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. (Ecclesiastes 8:11)). God forbears punishing, therefore men forbear repenting. God is not only gracious, but He waits to be gracious (Isa. 30:1818And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him. (Isaiah 30:18)). But though men will not set bounds to their sin, yet God sets bounds to His patience. God saith, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." The angel cried, "the hour of His judgment is come" (Rev. 14:77Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. (Revelation 14:7)).
If God lets men prosper awhile in their sin, His vial of wrath is all this while filling; His sword is all this time whetting: and though God may forbear men a while, yet long forbearance is no forgiveness. The longer God is in taking His blow, the heavier it will be at last. As long as there is eternity, God has time enough to reckon with His enemies.
Men have notions of Christ, but are not warmed with love to Christ. Their knowledge is like the moon, it hath light in it, but no heat. The knowledge that hypocrites have of Christ, hath no saving influence upon them, it doth not make them more holy: it is one thing to have a notion of Christ, another thing to fetch virtue from Christ. The knowledge of hypocrites is a dead, barren knowledge: it is informing, but not transforming; it doth not make them a jot the better.... "Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee" (Isa. 47:1010For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me. (Isaiah 47:10)); the knowledge of most makes them more cunning in sin; these have little cause to glory in their knowledge. Absalom might boast of the hair of his head, but that hanged him; so these may boast of the knowledge of their head, but it will destroy them. Many of the old world knew there was an ark, but were drowned, because they did not get into the ark; knowledge which is not applying, will but light a man to hell.
All our pompous show of holiness without sincerity, is but folly set forth in its embroidery; it is but going to hell in a more devout way than others.... The upright man hath no subterfuges, his tongue and his heart go together, he is downright upright.... Men are ambitious of credit, and would gain repute in the world, therefore they will dress themselves in the garb and mode of religion, that others may write them down for saints. But alas, what is one the better to have others to commend him, and his conscience condemn him? What good will it do a man when he is in hell, that others think he is gone to heaven? Counterfeit piety is double iniquity. The hypocrite deceives others while he lives, but deceives himself when he dies. The hypocrite is abhorred of all. Wicked men hate him because he makes a show, and God hates him because he doth but make a show: the wicked hate him because he hath so much a show of godliness, and God hates him because he hath no more (Acts 26:2828Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. (Acts 26:28)).
What is a man the better to have Christ's name upon him, if he still retain Satan's image? What is he advantaged to have the oracles of God, and want the Spirit of God? Think not that an empty profession will save; millions will be sent to hell in Christ's livery (Matt. 7:22; 8:1222Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? (Matthew 7:22)
12But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:12)
Sometimes covetousness pretends conscience; Judas fisheth for money under a pretense of religion: "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" (John 12:55Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? (John 12:5)). How charitable Judas was! but his charity began at home, for he carried the bag. Many make religion a cloak for their ambition. "Come... see my zeal", saith Jehu, "for the LORD" (2 Kings 10:1616And he said, Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord. So they made him ride in his chariot. (2 Kings 10:16)). No, Jehu, thy zeal was for the kingdom. It was not zeal, but state-policy Jehu made religion hold the stirrup till he got possession of the crown.
Counterfeit piety is double iniquity. A little rusty gold is far better than a great deal of bright brass. A little true grace, though rusted over with many infirmities, is better than all the glistering shows of hypocrites.... The hypocrite is fair to look on, he hath a devout eye but a hollow heart; but he who is sincere, his inside is his best side.
Hypocrites will obey God in some things which are consistent either with their credit or profit, but in other things they desire to be excused: like Esau who obeyed his father in bringing him venison, because probably he liked the sport of hunting, but refused to obey him in a business of greater importance, namely, in the choice of his wife.
Hypocrites will not sail in a storm; true grace holds out in the winter season. That is a precious faith, which, like the star, shines brightest in the darkest night.
If once the sentence of judgment is passed, what wilt thou do? Whither wilt thou go? Wilt thou seek help from God? He is "a consuming fire". Wilt thou seek help from the world? It will be all on fire about thee. From the saints? These thou didst deride upon earth! From thy conscience? There is the worm that gnaws. From Mercy? The lease is run out.
Whatever God can require for satisfaction, or we can need for salvation, is to be found in Christ. His name is the sweetest music to a Christian's ear, and His blood the most precious balm to a Christian's heart.
It is not money in a rich man's hand, though offered to us, that will enrich us, unless we receive it. So Christ's virtues or benefits will do us no good unless we receive them by the hand of faith.
Faith lives in a broken heart. "He cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe" (Mark 9:2424And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. (Mark 9:24)). True faith is always in a heart bruised for sin.
Justifying faith lies in recumbence; we rest on Christ alone for salvation. As a man that is ready to drown catches hold on the bough of a tree, so a poor trembling sinner, seeing himself ready to perish, catches hold by faith on Christ, the tree of life, and is saved.
Of all sins, beware of the rock of unbelief. "Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief" (Heb. 3:1212Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. (Hebrews 3:12)). Men think, as long as they are not drunkards or swearers, it is no great matter to be unbelievers. This is the gospel sin. It disparages Christ's infinite merit as if it would not save; it makes the wound of sin to be broader than the plaster of Christ's blood. This is high contempt offered to Christ, and is a deeper spear than that which the Jews thrust into His side.
God has depth of mercy, it reaches as low as sinners; and height of mercy, it reaches above the clouds.... Take heed of abusing the mercy of God. Suck not poison out of the sweet flower of God's mercy. Think not that because God is merciful, you may go on in sin; this is to make mercy your enemy. To sin because mercy abounds is the devil's logic. He that sins because of mercy, is like one that wounds his head because he has a plaster. He that sins because of God's mercy, shall have judgment without mercy. Mercy abused turns to fury. If "he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst; the LORD will not spare him, but then the anger of the LORD, and His jealousy, shall smoke against that man" (Deut. 29:19-2019And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: 20The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. (Deuteronomy 29:19‑20)).
God has treasures of mercy; prayer is the key that opens these treasures; and in prayer be sure to carry Christ in your arms, for all the mercy comes through Christ. "Samuel took a sucking lamb" (1 Sam. 7:99And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord: and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel; and the Lord heard him. (1 Samuel 7:9)).