THE DOOM OF THE INCORRIGIBLE SINNER.
" He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."—Proverbs, xxix. 1.
A PROVERB is a system of wisdom in miniature; it is a pertinent, striking observation, expressed in a few words, that may be the more easily remembered; and often in metaphorical language, that it may be the more entertaining. A collection of proverbs has no connection, but consists of short, independent sentences, each of which makes full sense in itself; and therefore, in explaining them, there is no need of explaining the context; but we may select any particular sentence, and consider it separably. Such a collection of wise sayings is that book of the sacred Scriptures which we call The Proverbs of Solomon.
Among the many significant and weighty sayings of this wisest of men, the solemn monitory proverb in my text deserves peculiar regard : He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
The request of a friend, and my fears that this proverb may have a dreadful accomplishment upon some of my hearers, have induced me -to make it the subject of my meditations for the present hour. And O ! that the event may show that I was divinely directed in the choice! This proverb may be accommodated to all the affairs of life. In whatever course a man blunders on, headstrong, and regardless of advice and admonition, whether in domestic affairs, in trade, in politics, in war, or whatever it be he pursues by wrong measures with incorrigible obstinacy, it will ruin him at last, as far as the matter is capable of working his ruin. To follow the conduct of our own folly, and refuse the advantage we might receive from the wisdom of others, discovers pride and self-sufficiency; and the career of such a pursuit, whatever be the object, will always end in disappointment and confusion. In this extent perhaps, this adage was intended by Solomon, who was a good economist and politician, and well skilled iti the affairs of common life, as well as those of religion. But he undoubtedly intended it should be principally referred to matters of religion. It is especially in these matters it holds true in the highest sense; that he that being often reproved, hardeneth himself, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
lie that being often reproved.—This is undoubtedly our character. We in this congregation have been often reproved, and that in various forms, and by various monitors. We have been reproved from heaven and earth, by God, men, and our own consciences; and, I might add, by the irrational creation, and even by infernal spirits.
It is the happiness of several of us to live in families where we are often reproved and admonished with the tender affecting address of a father and a master, who are deeply concerned that their children and domestics should be their companions in the heavenly road, and be effectually warned from the alluring paths of sin and ruin. And have not our affectionate mothers often become our monitors, and gently, yet powerfully reproved us with that forcible eloquence which could only proceed from the heart of a woman and a mother;—or if our parents have been cruelly deficient in this noblest office of love, has not God raised up unexpected reprovers for us, in a brother, a" sister, or perhaps a poor despised slave? And who can resist the force of an admonition from such an unexpected quarter? And have not some of us found an affectionate faithful monitor in the conjugal state ; a husband or a wife, that has reproved the vices or the negligence and carelessness of the other party; and, by a striking example at the least, if not in more explicit language, given the alarm to greater diligence and concern in the affairs of religion and eternity ? Such are powerful, though modest and private assistants to the ministers of the gospel, and O! that they had but more assistance from this quarter! But to return —If we are not so happy as to be agreeably surrounded with such honest reprovers in our own houses, yet, blessed be God, we live in a neighborhood where we may meet with one of them here and there. Has not a pious friend or neighbor dropt a word now and then in conversation which might have served, and perhaps was intended as
serious admonition to you ? Alas! have you never had a friend in .the world, who has sometimes taken occasion to talk solemnly and puugently with you about the neglected concerns of your souls? But though all around you, both saints and sinners, should refuse to be your monitors, how many solemn warnings and reproofs have you had from the pulpit! You have heard many ministers of Christ, who have been your solemn admonishers in the dread name of their Master. And it is now eleven or twelve years since I have begun to discharge the painful and unacceptable office of a reprover of sin and sinners among you. And what kind and liberal assistance have I received in my office, from the other side of the vast ocean, in the many excellent books which British piety and charity have furnished us with.
Thus have you been reproved by men from all quarters. And certainly so loud, so general, so repeated an admonition even from men must have great weight, but who can resist an admonition from heaven! Surely, if Jehovah the great Sovereign of the universe, condescends to be your reprover, you must immediately take the reproof, and set about a reformation. Well, this office he has condescended to sustain. He has himself become your monitor; and that in various ways, both mediately and immediately : mediately by his word and providence; and immediately by his blessed Spirit, whose office it is to reprove the world of sin.
The Word of God has reproved you; has honestly laid before you the destructive consequences of sin, and denounced the divine displeasure against you on its account. All its commands, prohibitions, and dissuasives of various forms, are so many friendly warnings and admonitions to you. In short, you must own yourselves, that if any of you go on obstinately in sin and perish, it will not bo because the Word of God did not act a faithful part towards you, but because you presumptuously disregard its most solemn and affectionate warnings.
Again : God has often reproved you by his providence. His providence has kindly chastised you with personal and relative afflictions, with sickness and pains, bereavements, losses, and disappointments. Providence has admonished you with the striking voice of sick beds, dying groans, ghastly corpses, and gaping graves in your families or neighborhoods, or perhaps in both. How many among us in a few years have been brought down to the gates of the grave, that they might enter into serious conference with death and eternity, which they were so averse to in the giddy, unthinking hours of health and hurry of business! And what signal, unexpected deliverance has Providence wrought for you in those seasons of danger and distress, that you might enjoy a longer space for repentance! How many of our friends and neighbors have sickened and died, for the admonition of sinners! They are gone before, to show us the way, and put us in mind that our time will soon come.
But has he not often laid aside all instruments, and reproved you more immediately by his Spirit ? Has not his Spirit been long and frequently striving with you; reproving you of sin; alarming you with apprehensions of your danger; exciting in you good resolutions, and serious thoughts of reformation ? Has not the blessed Spirit at times borne home the word upon your hearts with unusual power, and roused your conscience to fall upon you with terrible, though friendly violence ? Which leads me to add, You have been your own monitors; I mean your consciences have often admonished and warned you; have whispered in your breasts, that " this course of vice and irreligion will not do; this carelessness and indifference in the concerns of your souls, this stupid neglect of God and eternal things, will not end well." Conscience has often honestly pronounced your doom: "Thou art a guilty, wicked creature, under the displeasure of God. Thou art destitute of true vital religion, and hast no title to the divine favor. If thou die in this condition, thou wilt be undone for ever." Thus has conscience warned you; and you have, no doubt, sometimes agonized under its chastisements. Though you have preposterously labored to bribe it, or suppress it by violence; yet it has still borne at least a faint testimony for its Master, and against you.
Nay, even infernal spirits, those everlasting enemies of man and goodness, may serve as your reprovers. Can you think of their unwearied roaming over the earth, in quest of souls as their prey, and their industry to do mischief, without blaming your own negligence to save souls and do good ? And could you bear the lost ghosts of your own race, who are now shut up in the infernal prison, bursting out into despairing cries, and bitterly accusing themselves for their presumption and security, their lazy delays, misimprovement of time, and neglect of the means of grace, while upon earth ;• how ioud and striking a warning would this be to you, who are now walking in their steps!
Thus, my brethren, I have given you a brief list of your many monitors. And who can stand the united reproofs of such a multitude? Who dare set himself against the admonition of earth, heaven, and hell; of God and all his creatures ? Must you not all yield to the warning ?
Solomon supposes, in my text, that a man may be often reproved, and yet harden his neck; that is, obstinately refuse submission and reformation. A stiff neck is a metaphor often used in Scripture, to signify an unyielding, incorrigible spirit, resolute in disobedience, in spite of all restraints; in spite of advice, dissuasives, and reproofs. And to harden the neck, is to confirm one's self in disobedience, in spite of all the means of reformation. It is to cherish obstinacy, to despise reproof, and resolve to follow a headstrong, impetuous self-will at all adventures. The metaphor is taken from an unmanageable, sullen ox, that will not bend his neck to the yoke, nor kindly draw under it. Thus, nothing but a sullen and senseless beast can represent the stupid, unreasonable conduct of that man who hardens himself in sin, against the strongest dissuasives and reproofs from God and his creatures.
And is not this the character of some of you ? I am very unwilling to presume such bad things of any of you; but I must at least put it to your consciences to determine, whether it be so or not. This you may know by this single inquiry, whether you have reformed of those things for which you have been reproved ? or whether you still obstinately persist in them, in opposition to the most striking admonitions? The profane and profligate among you have often been reproved for your vices; your drunkenness, swearing, lying, contempt of sacred things, and other immoralities ; but do you not still obstinately persist in the practice of them ? You have often been reproved for the neglect of the worship of God in your families, and the souls of your domestics; what warm remonstrances have you had upon this head! And yet, have you not prayerless families, prayerless mornings and evenings still ? Have you not been solemnly warned of the danger of neglecting, or carelessly attending upon the means of grace ? And yet you are negligent and careless still! Have you not been earnestly admonished for your presumption and security, your entertaining high hopes of future happiness, and that you are genuine Christians, at random, without honest trial and repeated self-examination! And yet do not some of you still persist in this stupid, pernicious conduct ? Alas! how ignorant of your own true character! How unwillingly are you dragged to the bar of conscience, there to be tried, and hear your sentence! How ready are you to flatter yourselves with pleasing expectations, though in reality contrary to the declarations of eternal truth! And how secure and thoughtless are you about the great concerns of religion and eternity! How often and how solemnly have you been reproved for your excessive eagerness and avarice in the pursuit of this vain world, and your stupid neglect to lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, and to be rich towards God! And yet, is not this enchanting world your favorite, and the idol of your heart still ? That one expostulation from Christ himself might have been an irresistible rebuke to you, What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or "what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? But, alas ! have you stood out against this, and a thousand other pungent admonitions? Have you not often had the dreadful guilt and danger of making light of Christ and his precious gospel, of delaying your conversion to some uncertain hereafter, and of presuming upon the mercy and patience of God, exposed to your view in a striking light ? And yet you have still persisted in the practice, in spite of reproof and conviction. I might easily multiply instances on this head, but these must suffice as specimens for the present; and I shall only add this general rule for your further conviction, that whatever sin you indulge yourselves in, whatever duty you omit, whatever grace or virtue you live destitute of, in opposition to the convictions of your own minds within, and of the reproofs and admonitions of God and man from without, you are then guilty of hardening your neck.
And if this be the case, how many of you are involved in this guilt? Lay your hand upon your heart, and say, does not conscience whisper, or perhaps clamor, " Guilty! guilty !" It is strange, it is unaccountable, it is horrible, that there should be such a monster upon earth, on whom the repeated reproofs and warnings of God and his fellowcreatures have been thrown away; and who dares singly to stand it out against the whole universe! But, alas! are there not many such monsters among us? To reprove them again is a very unpromising and almost desperate attempt ; for they have been so inured to it, that they are hardened against it, and set it at defiance. Yet duty and compassion constrain us to make the attempt once more; for O! we cannot give them up as altogether desperate, nor resign them with willing hands as a tame prey to ruin. I know no other way to bring them out of danger but to make them sensible of it. And this I shall attempt, in illustrating the remaining part of the text, which informs us of the plain truth, that he that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, or broken, and that without remedy ; or, " and there is no cure." The stiff neck that will not bend to the yoke of obedience, must be broken: it may harden itself into insensibility under reproof; butO! it cannot harden itself into insensibility under divine judgments. It may refuse the easy and gentle yoke of the divine law, but divine justice will forcibly impose its iron yoke upon it, and constrain it to bow till it be broken. This is the doom of the obstinate, incorrigible sinner; thus shall he be destroyed or broken to pieces.
But this is not all : he shall suddenly be destroyed—suddenly broken. Sudden ruin is aggravated, because it strikes a man into a consternation, overtakes him unawares, surprises him at a disadvantage, when unprovided with any methods to escape; and also tears all his pleasing hopes from him. Till he feels the stroke, he would not believe it was coming; and therefore his destruction is sudden, surprising, and confounding.
Reproofs and admonitions from God and men, and our own consciences, are the great means to recover sinners: and while these are ineffectual, no other can possibly have any effect. How can he be reclaimed from sin, who will sin in opposition to the checks of conscience, and the strivings of the Holy Spirit within, and the united dissuasives and rebukes of Providence, of the Word of God, and of his friends from without! It is unavoidable, that he should suddenly be destroyed; and there is no help for it; he must be given up as an incurable. The whole universe may look on, and pity him; but, alas! they cannot help him; he has the instrument of self-murder in his own hand; and he will not part with it, but uses it against his own life, without control; and none can take it out of his hand ; that is, none can give his free-will a new turn, but that God whom he is daily offending, and who is therefore not obliged to obtrude such a favor upon him.
This is the unavoidable doom of the man that being often reproved hardeneth his neck. And since this is the character of some of you, have you not reason to fear and forebode this tremendous doom?
Your danger will appear from these two considerations, that if you always continue in your present condition, proof against all admonition, you must be destroyed without remedy;. and that there is dreadful reason to fear, you always will continue in your present condition.
That if you live and die in your present condition, you must be destroyed without remedy, is lamentably evident from what lias been said. It is the declaration of the wisest of men, inspired from heaven; he that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be broken, and there is no remedy. Your destruction is unavoidable and remediless, according to the nature of things; it is the natural, spontaneous, and inseparable result and effect of incorrigible obstinacy. You resolutely set your free wills,which are not under the control of any creature but yourselves, upon your own ruin; and what then remains but that you must be ruined! To ruin you must go, though attended with the prayers and tears of the saints, and checked by their friendly admonitions, enforced with those of God himself. They cannot help you against your wills. What can keep you from ingulfing yourselves in destruction, when you break through all restraints from God and the whole creation? You reject the only means of cure ; and must you not die as incurables! If the Spirit of God strives with you in vain; if conscience check and admonish you in vain; if Providence uses its chastising rod in vain; if sickness, and death, and graves preach in vain ; if Bibles and good books are put into your hands in vain; if ministers, and friends, and neighbors, and the nearest relatives, advise, and persuade, and warn, and reprove in vain; if heaven, and earth, and hell, if God and all his creatures admonish in vain, what hopes can yourselves entertain of your salvation ? what better means can you desire ? what other means can you expect ? can you hope to be reformed and prepared for heaven, when these means, the best, the only means that ever were used with sinful creatures, and which have proved effectual in the most discouraging cases, have no effect upon you ? Judge yourselves, whether your destruction is not unavoidable in your present condition.
And that you will always continue in your present condition, is, alas! but too probable. You have continued in it all your life past; and is not this a dreadful presumption that you will continue in it all your life to come! Can you expect better means than you have had ? Or are your hearts become more soft and pliable now, when hardened by an obstinate course of incorrigible impenitence, that you should hope the same means will have greater efficacy upon them in time to come than formerly ? Are you as sure of twenty or thirty years before you, as that you have enjoyed twenty or thirty years in time past ? Is God the less provoked by how much the longer you have offended him, so that you have more encouragement to expect the assistance of his grace hereafter than formerly ? Are you now any more out of danger of being judicially hardened and given up of God, than ten years ago ? And are you more sure of his favor, by how much the more you deserve his wrath? Are the habits of sin grown weaker through inveteracy and long indulgence ? Does the work of your salvation grow easier by delays, and by your having fewer days for work ? Does conscience gain strength upon you, by your repeated violences, or the Spirit of God work the more powerfully, the more you resist and grieve him ? Does your being inured to the gospel give it greater force upon you ? If the happy change of your present condition be probable, the probability must depend, in human view, upon such absurdities as these. But can these be the foundation of probability ? No; but of the greatest improbability. The truth of the case is, your condition is growing more and more discouraging every da}'; and you are approaching fast towards a fixed unchangeable state of incorrigible obstinacy in wickedness. Ten years ago it was much more likely, in human view, that you would have been converted ere now, than it now is that you will be converted in ten years to come. I may say of your salvation what Christ said of the salvation of the rich, with men that is impossible. But with God things are possible; he can and sometimes does act contrary to appearances and the natural tendency of things, and astonishes his creatures with unexpected and surprising wonders. Thus, veteran, obstinate sinners! he may yet deal with some of you. Omnipotence may yet take you in hand, disarm all your resistance, and cause you to feel those admonitions you have made light of. This, perhaps, God may do. But O! it is an anxious, dreadful peradventure; for you must know, though he sometimes singles out a hardened sinner of your class here and there, to make him the illustrious trophy of the power of his grace, yet this is not his usual way: he does not commonly work upon such rough, unsuitable materials. He generally pitches upon the young and pliable, upon those that have not been long inured to the gospel, nor hardened in sin. Therefore even this, which is your only ground of hope, can afford you but a trembling anxious hope. Notwithstanding this, you have reason to fear that you will die as you have hitherto lived, hardy, resolute, incorrigible sinners. And if so, you know your dreadful end; you shall suddenly be destroyed; your stiff neck shall be unexpectedly broken, and there shall be no help, no remedy.
And if you are indeed in so much danger, will you not now lay it to heart, and endeavor to escape while you may ? Alas! shall this admonition also, this admonition for your disregarding all past admonitions, be lost upon you like the rest ? O ! will you not at length take warning before it is too late ? Perhaps the voice that now warns you, may not long sound in your ears. But O! let me find this day, that those whom I have reproved in vain for so many years, regard me at last, and submit and yield. Then, and not till then, you will be safe from the vengeance denounced in this alarming proverb, He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.