A TIME OF UNUSUAL SICKNESS AND MORTALITY IMPROVED.
" O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth ? Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction. They have made their faces harder than a rock ; they have refused to return."—Jeremiah, v. 3.
My Fellow-Mortals ! So I call you, because mortality is the certain doom of us all. This is a truth at all times evident; but now, methinks, it is more striking than usual when death has made such ravages among us; when it has made breaches upon sundry of our families, and swept off some of them almost entirely ; and when we who survive are in daily expectation of a visit from this tremendous conqueror. Therefore, my dear fellow-mortals ! under this character would I address you this day—as a mortal whose breath may be stopped the next day, or the next hour; I would speak with more seriousness than, alas! is usual to me, to you, mortals, about the concerns of immortality !* If I should do any thing to save myself and them that hear me, I see I must do it quickly. I have for some time been Here is a goodly number who can still hear the gospel of peace, and who are still interested to hear it, and who, unless they hear it in time, must soon be miserable for ever! And why, then, should you not all hear it with the most solemn attention and seriousness ? Why, brethren, should you not hear it so that your souls may live ?
* Mr. Baxter was wont to say:
" I preach as if I ne'er should preach again,
And as a dying man to dying men."
And oh, that I may imbibe the same spirit, and enter the pulpit always under its influence!
I shall endeavor to show you what good effects afflictions should have upon us, especially upon impenitent sinners. This my text naturally leads me to; for though, in express terms, it only contains a complaint of the misimprovement of afflictions, or incorrigibleness under them, yet this very plainly points out the right improvement of them. When it is said, " Lord, thou hast stricken them, but they were not grieved," this implies that they should have been grieved—grieved for their undutiful conduct towards God, which has exposed them to the scourges of his rod—grieved with a godly sorrow, with kindly, generous relentiugs for sin, as against God, and not merely as tending to ruin themselves. Ingenuous sorrow, shame, and repentance; a submissive temper, and a sincere conversion to God, are the effects which afflictions should have upon us, according to my text. Indeed, I know no more convictive method of showing what it is to misimprove afflictions, and to be incorrigible under them, than to show positively what it is to make a right use of them, or what are their proper effects when sanctified; for if you find they have not had such effects upon you, you may be sure you have refused to receive correction.
I shall include all I have to say concerning the right improvement of afflictions under this simple inquiry—-What is it to turn to the Lord ? to which the other expressions contained in my text may be reduced.
First, turning to God presupposes a deep conviction that you have gone astray, both from the way of duty and the way of safety. You never will leave your present course till you plainly see that it leads down to the chambers of death. You never will turn to the Lord till you are sensible you are under the most pressing, absolute necessity to do so, both from duty and interest. O! sirs, if it should please God to open the eyes of unconverted sinners among you this day, what strange, unsuspected, and astonishing views would open to you concerning your past and present course and condition! Then, to your surprise, you would see that you have lived so many years in the world without so much as earnestly attempting that work, which is the great business of your life. You would see that your hopes of heaven in your present condition are but a delusive dream, and that you are every moment in the utmost danger of sinking into the depth of misery, under the heavy wrath of Almighty God. You would see that you have not such hearts as you once nattered yourselves you had, but that they are deceitful and desperately wicked. You would see that they are, and always have been, destitute of the reality of all the Christian graces, and have imposed upon you hitherto with counterfeits and deceitful appearances; destitute of true repentance, faith, and love towards God and Jesus Christ; and full of pride, hypocrisy, ignorance, hardness of heart, disaffection to God and his government, unbelief, earthlymindedness, sensuality, sordid and wicked lusts and passions, and an endless variety of evils. This would, no doubt, be a surprising, unexpected discovery to some of you; you have no such thoughts of yourselves, but quite the contrary. But the reason why you do not see this to be your case, in fact, is because the god of this world has blinded your minds, and because your treacherous hearts natter you. This is, indeed, the truth of your case, while unconverted, if you believe the plainest declarations of the word of God. But, O! the astonishing ignorance and self-flattery of the heart of man! Here, alas! lies the difficulty in dealing with unconverted sinners! We cannot open their eyes to see their guilt and danger. Could we do this, a grand point would be gained, and the work would be well begun. But, alas! they will not believe they are so guilty, so vile and corrupt; and hence the gospel, which is a religion for self-condemned, broken-hearted sinners, is but an idle tale or a vain speculation to them; and to invite them to come to Christ, is but to invite the whole to a physician.
Further, if.it should please God to bring you out of darkness this day into his marvelous light, then you would also see the exceeding sinfulness of sin. You would see it is not that harmless, innocent thing, or that slight excusable foible, you once took it to be ; but that it is indeed the most abominable thing, the most terrible, base, and malignant evil upon earth or in hell. Then, instead of wondering that such a thing should be punished with everlasting destruction by a gracious God, the parent of mankind ; and instead of disputing yourselves into doubt3 about it, or caviling at it as cruel and unjust—instead of this, 1 say, you would rather wonder that so dreadful an evil could be pardoned at all, upon any consideration whatsoever ; and you would be more apt to question ike possibility of forgiveness, than the justice of punishment. I really want words to express the views and apprehensions you would then have of things. O that experience may be your teacher! Blessed be God, I have seen and conversed with many a sinner formerly, upon their first receiving this conviction; formerly, I say, for alas! now-a-days, I hardly meet with one to converse with me upon this subject. No; the generality have no such alarming views of themselves; like the Laodiceans, they are "rich in their own conceit; and know not that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." But formerly, it has been my happy employ to instruct such convinced sinners; and I can still remember, it was a very affecting conversation. Their language still seems to sound in my ears; and methinks I hear them complaining in a flood of tears, " Oh! what shall I do to be saved ? I see I am upon the brink of destruction; I see I have been all my life a poor deceived, self-flattering sinner. Oh! I never thought I was such a monster of wickedness, and upon the slippery brink of eternal ruin; but now I see it; now it is so evident to me, that I am amazed I never discovered it before. Oh! is there any possibility of escape for such a condemned wretch as I? Let me know what is necessary and I will attempt any thing, if I may but get my perishing soul for a prey." These are the affecting strains of awakened sinners. This must be your language, sinners, or at least the thoughts of your hearts, before vou can turn unto the Lord. But, oh! when shall we hear it from you ? To teach you this lesson, your neighbors, or perhaps your parent, your child, or some of your relatives have died; and shall they die in vain ? Oh! hear them as it were crying to you from the dust. Some of you have lost pious friends, who during their life labored to awaken you out of your security. And when you view their grave, methinks you may recollect the epitaph which a minister wrote for his own tombstone:
" If all my life I tried in vain to save,
Hear me, oh! hear me, crying from the grave."
But, alas! I know that even this alarming voice will not awaken impenitent sinners, unless God bear it home to their hearts by his almighty power. And O! that that divine agent would begin to work among us! Then, sinners, you would soon see that the account I have been giving you of your guilt and danger is not at all exaggerated.
Secondly, turning to God supposes a full conviction of the necessity of turning to him immediately, without delay. Brethren, if God should begin this work upon your hearts this day, you would no longer stand hesitating and loitering, we should no more hear from you that there is no need of so much ado, or that it is time enough as yet. You would have such clear views of your own vileness, and the disaffection of your souls to God and holiness, that nothing could be more evident to you than that you are utterly unfit for heaven, in your present condition, and that you are fitted for destruction and nothing else. You would not stand disputing, and hoping, and flattering yourselves in the matter, but you would come to this peremptory conclusion, " If I continue in my present condition, I am as certainly lost for ever, as ever as I was born; I shall as surely be in hell in a little time, as I am now upon earth. The matter will admit of no doubt." This, sirs, is a very alarming conclusion; and you may be very unwilling to admit it; but terrible as it is, you will be forced to believe it, if ever you be converted. It is, indeed, one of the first steps towards your conversion.
But this is not all: you will be not only convinced of the absolute necessity of turning to God in general, but of turning to him immediately without delay. You will see that you are so far from having time to delay, that it will wound your heart to think this work was not done many years ago. You will see that having delayed it so long already was the most desperate madness in the world, and that if you put it off any longer you may be lost beyond recovery; for, O! you will see you stand in slippery places, ready to be cast down into destruction every moment. You will apprehend yourselves held over the pit of hell, in the hand of an angry God, by the slender thread of life, just as we hold a spider, or some poisonous insect over a fire, ready to throw it in immediately. Now while I am speaking to you, you would immediately set about this great work: you would pray and hear at once. And upon your returning home, instead of trifling, and chattering about the world, you would retire to cry for mercy, and meditate upon your miserable condition—you would fly to your bibles, and other good books for direction; and I should expect the pleasure once more of seeing you come to your poor minister, anxiously inquiring what you shall do to be saved. O! when will the crowds of unconverted sinners among us be brought to this? When will they give over their delays, and see they must engage in this great business immediately ? I am sure the sickness and mortality among us have a tendency to bring them to this. Can you imagine that conversion may be put off to some future time, when you see so many in health and youth around you seized with sickness, and hurried into the grave in a few days ? This has been the doom of sundry vigorous youth, and even of little children among us; and my dear surviving youth and children, shall this be no warning to you ? Alas! will you dare to sin on still as thoughtless as ever? Will you any more pretend that you may safely delay your conversion to a sick-bed or a dying hour ? But ask those that have made the trial, and what do they say ? Do any of them tell you that this is the proper time for this work ? What do sinners say when the time comes ? " Oh!" they cry out, " what a fool was I to put it off till now! oh, how bitterly do I now repent that I did not attempt it sooner!" What do those say who made it their business in health and prosperity ? Do they repent of it as premature? No; they all cry out, "I should be in a sad case, indeed, if it were left undone till now; now I have enough to do to struggle with my pains. But, blessed be God, that work is not now to be done!" If the declaration of dying men have any weight or credibility, the present time is the most fit season; therefore, oh! improve it while you have it. But,
Thirdly, if afflictions should prove the happy means of turning you to God, they will rouse you to the most earnest, persevering endeavors. You would immediately set about the work, and use all the means God has instituted for that purpose. You would pray without ceasing; you would pray in secret places; and if you hitherto had prayerless families, they should be so no more; you would consecrate them to God with prayer this evening. You will also accustom yourselves to deep and solemn meditation. You will seriously attend to the gospel and its ordinances. Your bibles will no longer gather dust by you; but you will find use for them—there you will eagerly search for the words of eternal life. You will also love and frequent the society of those who, you hope, have experienced that happy change you are seeking after; and you will catch all the instruction you can from their conversation. Oh! sirs, if such a concern to turn to the Lord should spread among us, how would it change the aspect of things? How different would be the desires, the labors, the pursuits, and conversation of mankind! Believe me, sirs, there is need of such an alteration among us; and woe, woe to many of us, if things run on as they have done— if the world continue to usurp the pre-eminence of God and eternal things—if you are still more solicitous to lay up earthly treasure than to lay up treasure in heaven. Need I tell you that you shall not live here always, to enjoy the things of this world ? Go, and learn this truth at the graves of your friends and neighbors. Need you be told that the enjoyments of this life are no suitable happiness of your immortal souls? Do you not learn it from the uncertain, transitory nature of these enjoyments ? You can carry none of them with you to the eternal home; and what then will you have to make you happy there?
Further; as you will zealously use all endeavors to promote your conversion, as you will carefully guard against every thing that tends to hinder it, you will immediately drop your wicked courses—you will have done for ever with drinking, swearing, and all the vices you were wont to practice—you will moderate your pursuit of the world, and endeavor to disengage yourselves from successive hurries, which allow you neither leisure nor composure to mind the great business of your salvation—that business, which, whether you regard it or not, is of infinitely greater importance than all the affairs of life, and for which alone it is worth your while to live—you will shun the company of the wicked, the vain, and secure, as much as possible; yes, you will shun them as much as you now do the families that are infected with the epidemical disorder, and with much better reason; for they are infected with a much more fatal disease—the disease of sin, which is so deadly, and which your souls are apt to catch. In short, you will avoid every obstacle to your conversion, as far as you can; and till you are brought to this, it is in vain to pretend that you have any real inclination to turn to God; and such of you as have never been brought to it, may be sure you have never been converted. O! when shall we see such earnest endeavors among us! When shall we see sinners thus vigorously striving to enter in at the strait gate ? When will their dead sleep be over? When will the delusive dream of their false hopes vanish ? When will they begin to conclude that they have sinned long enough—that they have delayed turning to God long enough ? When will they begin to think it high time to work out their salvation with fear and trembling? My dear people, I long to see such a time among you once more! And, unless such a time come, I expect sundry of you, even as many as are unconverted, will perish for ever! Oh ! the shocking thought! What shall be done to avoid so dreadful a doom ? Come, Holy Spirit—come and work upon the hearts of these impenitent sinners; for thou only canst perform the work. O ! come speedily, or they will be removed out of the sphere of thy sanctifying influences into the territories of eternal death! Brethren, till the Spirit be poured out upon us from on high, the work of conversion will never go on prosperously among us! We have had sufficient trial to convince us of this. We have had preaching, and all the means of grace, long enough to make us sensible that all will not do, without the Holy Spirit—therefore let us earnestly pray for his blessing. For,
Fourthly, if afflictions are followed with so blessed an effect upon you as to turn you to God, you will be made deeply sensible of your inability to turn to him by the best endeavors you can use, and of the absolute necessity of the influence of the Holy Spirit, or the power of divine grace. While you are ignorant of yourselves, and have not put the matter to a trial, you may flatter yourselves that you are able to turn to God when you please; but when you make the experiment in earnest, you will soon be undeceived. You can indeed abstain from outward acts of gros3 sin—you can attend upon the means of grace, and perform the outward duties of religion; and this is your duty; but, alas! this is far short of true conversion. All this
yourself such, you will never comply with the gospel, which is a method of salvation through a mediator. 0 that many sinners among us might thus be mortified, humbled, and brought down to the foot of their injured Sovereign this day! O that they may be sensible that they lie at mercy, and that they have not the least possible ground of hope, but only through the righteousness of Cnrist! But,
Sixthly, if ever you are turned to God, you will experience a great change in your temper and conduct. Your hearts and lives will take a new bias—your thoughts and affections will be directed towards God and holiness—your hearts will be turned to the holy law of God, like wax to the seal, and receive the stamp of his image. Your thoughts will run in a new channel—your will and affections will fix upon new objects, and you will become new creatures, —old things will pass away, and all things will become new. You will become fit for heaven, by having heavenly dispositions wrought in you; and thence you may infer you shall be admitted there. Believe me, sirs, when you are turned to God, heaven and hell will not be such dreams and trifles; but you will be habitually affected with these things, as the most important realities.
As you will be turned to God and holiness, so you will be turned from sin and all its pleasures. Yes, brethren, that pride, hypocrisy, sensuality, worldly-mindedness, and all the various forms of sin which you now indulge, will become for ever hateful to you—you will abhor them, resist them, make war against them, and never allow them a peaceful harbor in your hearts more. How bitter will your present pleasures and pursuits then be to you; and how will you bless God, that he opened your eyes and gave your minds a new turn before it was too late!
Seventhly, if ever you are turned to the Lord, your minds will habitually retain that turn. I mean, your religion will not be a transient fit, a fleeting thing; but it will be permanent and persevering. Never more will you be able to offend your God and neglect your Saviour and your souls as you now do—never more will you be able to rest secure and thoughtless, while your eternal state is awfully uncertain and your hearts are out of tem>er for devotion. The bent of your minds towards God
y be weakened; but you can never lose it entirelv. Your aversion to sin may be lessened; but you will never give up yourselves to the love and practice of it. There is a secret bias upon your souls that inclines them heavenward; even while they are carried downward to the earth, by the remaining tendencies of your innate corruption.
• And now, my dear hearers, I have endeavored, with the utmost plainness, to describe to you that turning to God which should be the result of your afflictions as well as of the means of grace, and which you must experience before you can enter into the kingdom of heaven. I have had something more important at heart than to embellish my style, and set myself off as a fine speaker. I have endeavored to speak, not to an itching ear or a curious fancy, but to your understanding and your heart, that you may both know and feel what I say; and, indeed, if I should aim at any thing else, I should be at once an egregious trifler and a profane mocker of God.
Now I have one serious question to put to you, upon a careful review of what I have said, and that is, Do you really hope in your consciences, after you have impartially tried yourselves as in the sight of God, that you have been converted or turned to God ? Here is the work; I have plainly described it. But where is the heart in which it has been wrought ? Can you put your hand upon your breast and say, " Oh ! if I know myself, here is the heart that has been the subject of it!" Pause and think upon this inquiry, and never be easy till you can give at least a probable answer.
But my main business to-day lies with the unconverted; and have not some of you discovered yourselves this day to be such ? Well, what is to be done now ? Can you go on careless and secure still under this tremendous conviction ? If you are determined on this course, then you may despair indeed—-there is not the least ground of hope for you. But should you now rouse out of your security, and seek the Lord in earnest, you have the same encouragement to hope which any one of the many millions of converts in heaven or upon earth had, while in your condition. Therefore let me persuade you to take this course immediately.
But when I begin to persuade, I am in Jeremiah's perplexity : " To whom shall I speak and give warning that they may hear ?" Shall I speak to you, men of business and hurry ? Alas! you have no leisure to mind such a trifle as your soul. Shall I speak to you, men of wealth and character ? Alas! this is a business beneath your notice. What! a gentleman cry for converting grace ! That would be a strange sight indeed. Shall I speak to you,' old men—my venerable fathers in age ? Alas! you are so hardened by a long course of sinning, that you are not likely to hear. Shall I speak to you, ye relics of those families where death has lately made such havoc ? Sure you must be disposed to hear me—sure you cannot put me off so soon. I hope sickness and death have been sent among you as my assistants; that is, to enforce what I say, and be the means of your conversion. Shall I speak to you, young people ? Alas! you are too merry and gay to listen to such things; and you, perhaps, think it is time enough as yet. Thus, I am afraid, you will put me off: and if you put me off, I shall hardly know where to turn, for of all the unconverted among us, I have most hopes of you. Old sinners are so confirmed in their estrangement from God, that there is but little hope of such veterans; but the habits of sin are not so strong in you, and God is wont to work upon persons of your age. If you, then, put me off, where shall I turn ? Behold, I turn to the Gentiles. Poor negroes ! Shall I find one among you that is willing to turn to God ? Many of you are willing to be baptized; but that is not the thing. Are you willing to turn to God with all your hearts, in the manner I have explained to you ? This is the grand question; and what do your hearts answer to it ? If you also refuse—if you all refuse, then what remains for your poor minister to do, but to return home and make this complaint to him that sent him: " Lord, there were unconverted sinners among my hearers, and in my poor manner I made an honest trial to turn them to thee; but, Lord, it was in vain—they refused to return; and therefore I must leave them to thee to do what thou pleasest with them !" Oh! will you constrain me to make this complaint upon any of you to my divine Master? Oh! free me from the disagreeable necessity. Come, come all, rich and poor, young and old, bond and free ; come, and let us return unto the Lord; for " he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will ind us up, and we shall live in his sight." Amen.