CHAP.  9.

The Remedy in this Fifth Case. 
1. Admonition to the Ministers, to be careful in comforting at that time. 
2. To the People, not to defer Repentance till that time.

Now since upon this perusal of the different deaths incident to the godly and the wicked, it appears that some men never soundly converted, may in respect of all outward representations die as confidently and comfortably in the [[166]] judgment of the most as God's dearest children; and that Christ's best servants sometimes may depart this life uncomfortably to the eye and in the opinion of the greater part; and we heard before that our last and everlasting doom must pass upon us, according to the sincerity or sensuality, the zealous forwardness or formality of our former courses, and nor according to the seeming of our last carriage upon the bed of death, and enforced behaviour in that time of extremity: I say, these things being so, I hold my conclusion still, and resolution not much to alter my estimation of a man's spiritual state for the manner of his death (I except the thieves upon the Cross): my meaning is, that there may be some (I know not how few,, but I am sure there is none, except he have in him the perfection of the madness of all the maniacs that ever breathed, would run that hazard), who formerly out of the way and unreformed, may now at last, being very extraordinarily and mightily humbled under God's mighty hand, and cleaving to the Lord Jesus with truly broken hearts indeed, follow by a miracle, as it were, the thief upon the cross to an everlasting crown. And here now I require the care, conscience, heavenly wisdom, experimental skill, and all his ministerial dexterity in the physician of the soul, to discern aright between these and seeming penitents; and then to apply himself proportionably with all holy discretion and seasonableness to their several different estates.

But to fright and turn every one for ever from that extremest folly of hoping to follow that miraculous penitent thief, and from going on in sin and deferring repentance upon such a deceiving and desperate ground; let us consider,—

(1.) What a holy and learned man of God (Greenham) saith to this point. “In great wisdom, that men at the last gasp should not utterly despair, the Lord bath left us but one example of exceeding and extraordinary mercy, by saving the thief on the cross. Yet the perverseness of all our nature may be seen by this, in that this one serveth us to looseness of life, in hope of the like; whereas we might better reason, that it is but one, and that extraordinary; and that besides this one, there is not one more in all the Bible; and that for this one that sped, a thousand thousands have missed: and what folly is it to put ourselves in a way where so many have miscarried! To put ourselves into the hand of that physician that bath murdered so many; going clean against our sense and reason: whereas in other we always lean to that which is most ordinary, and conclude not the spring to be come because of one swallow? It is as if a man should spur his ass till he spoke, because Balaam's [[167]] ass did once speak. So grossly hath the devil bewitched us.”

(2. ) The singularities about the good thief. First, his heart was broken with one short sermon as it were; but thou hast or mightest have heard many, and art yet hardhearted. Secondly, the other thief saw also that sovereign soul-healing blood gush freshly and abundantly out of his blessed side, and yet was not struck or stirred at all. Thirdly, his example is only for true penitents; but thou, upon this presumption despising in the meantime the riches of God's goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, leading thee to repentance, hardenest thy heart that thou canst not repent. Fourthly, his case was singular, and such that the like is not to be found in the whole scripture. A king sometimes pardons a malefactor at the place of execution; wilt thou therefore run desperately into some horrible villany deserving death, hoping to be that one among many thousands!;Fifthly, “It was a miracle,” saith an excellent divine[1], “with the glory whereof our Saviour would honour the ignominy of the cross. We may almost as well expect a second crucifying of Christ, as such a second thief. Christ then triumphing on the cross, did as princes do in the triumph of entering into their kingdoms, they pardon gross offences before committed, such as they pardon not afterwards.” Sixthly, having an eye upon this thief, that thou mayest more fully and freely follow thy pleasures, thou makest “a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell, and puttest the evil day far from thee;” but the Lord bath professed, “that thy covenant with death shall be disannulled, and thy agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then shalt thou be trodden down by it.

(3.) The ordinary impossibilities of following the blessed thief in his miraculous repentance. First, thou art cried unto continually by God's messengers to come in now, while it is called to-day; yet thou standest out still, out of this thought only, or rather want of thought, to take thy fill of pleasure in the meantime, and to seek God sufficiently upon thy bed of death, by repenting with the thief at last. But know, for thy terror and timely turning, that the longer thou puttest off and deferrest, the more unfit thou shalt he to repent. Thy custom in sinning will exercise more tyranny over thee: the curse of God for thy going on still in thy trespasses will be more heavy upon thee: the corruptions that lurk in thine own bosom will be more strengthened [[168]] against thee; and this threefold cord is hardly broken; these three giants will be mastered with very much ado. The farther thou walkest in the ways of death, the more unwilling and more unable wilt thou be to return and be reformed. Thine understanding will be more darkened with hellish mists; thy judgment more perverted; thy will more stubborn; thy memory more stuffed with sensual notions; thine affections will become more rebellious;  thy thoughts more earthly; thine heart more hardened •, thy conscience more seared; thyself more sold to sin; and every day that comes over thine head in this state of darkness, much more the child of the devil than thou wast before. To refuse Christ upon this point so freely and fairly offered, is to receive God's curse under seal, and to make sure thy covenant with hell and league with death, until thou be slain by the one and swallowed up of the other, without all mercy or recovery. For in this time of delay God grows more angry, Satan more strong, thyself more unable to repent, sin more unconquerable, thy conversion more hard, thy salvation more impossible. A ruinous house, the longer thou lettest it run, the more labour and charge will it require in repairing. If thou drive a nail with a hammer, the more blows thou givest to it, the more hard will it be to draw it out again. It is just so in the case of continuing in sin; and every new sin is a new stroke with a hammer that drives the nail in farther. Secondly, with what possibility art thou likely to pass through the great work of saving repentance? or with what heart canst thou address thyself unto it? when upon thy sick bed thou art set upon at once, if thy conscience be waking, with the ugly sight of all thy sins charging upon thee with insupportable horror, with the pangs of death, with Satan's utmost malice and his very powder-plot, and with the terror of that approaching strict tribunal which dreadful encounter is able to put to it the spiritual strength of many years gathering. Thirdly, resolution to defer repentance, when grace is offered, doth justly merit to be deprived for ever after of all opportunity and ability to repent. Fourthly; it is just with God, that that man who doth purposely put off repentance and provision for his soul until his last sickness, should for that sin alone be snatched out of the world in great anger, even suddenly, so that there be scarce a moment betwixt the height of his temporal happiness and the depth of his spiritual misery. That his foolish hope may be frustrated and his vain purpose come to nothing; he may be cut off as the top of an ear of corn, and put out like a candle, when he least thinks of death, and dreams of nothing less than departure from his earthly [[169]] paradise. “They are exalted for a little while,” saith Job, “but are gone and brought low they are taken out of the way as all other, and cut off as the tops of the ears of corn”  (Job xxiv, 24). Fifthly, a long continued custom is not wont to be shaken off in an instant. Is it likely that a black-moor should change his skin and a leopard his spots in three or four days, which they have contracted in forty or threescore years? Therefore I marvel that any should be so blindfolded and baffled by the devil as to embolden himself to drive off until the last, by that passage of scripture — “At what time soever a sinner doth repent him of his sin from the bottom of his heart, I will put all his wickedness out of my remembrance, saith the Lord;” especially if he look upon the text from whence it is taken, which methinks being rightly understood, and the conditions well considered, is most punctual and precise to fright any from that desperate folly. The words run thus: “But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions,” &c. (Ezek. xviii, 21, 22). Hence it appears, that if any man expect upon good ground any portion in this precious promise of mercy and grace, he must “leave all his sins, and keep all God's statutes.” Now, how performest thou the condition of leaving all thy sins, when, as in this last extremity, having received the sentence of death against thyself, thy sins leave thee, and not thou thy sins, that I may speak in the phrase of an ancient father? And what space is left to come to comfort by keeping all God's statutes, when thou art presently to pass to that highest and dreadful tribunal, to give an exact and strict account for the continual breach of all God's laws all thy life long? Sixthly, many seem to be very penitent and promise exceeding fair in the evil day and upon their sick beds, who being recovered and restored to their former state are the very same they were before, if not worse. I never knew, nor heard of any unwrought upon under conscionable means, who after recovery performed the vows and promises of a new life, which lie made in his sickness and times of extremity. For if he will not be moved with the ministry, God will never give that honour unto the cross to do the deed. “Nay, Father Abraham,” saith the rich glutton, “but if one went unto them from the dead they will repent. And lie said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead” (Luke xvi, 31,, 31). It would amaze thee much if one of thy good-fellow companions should now [[170]] rise from the dead and tell thee, that he who was thy brother in iniquity is now in hell, and if thou follow the same sensual courses still, thou must shortly most certainly follow him to the place of torment. And yet even this would not work at all if thou he a despiser of the word. It may be while the dead man stood by thee thou wouldest be extraordinarily moved and promise much; but no sooner should he be in his grave, but thou wouldst be as graceless as thou wast before. Seventhly, what wise man. seeing a fellow who never gave his name to religion in his life-time, now only troubled about sin, when he is sure he must die, will not suspect it to be wholly slavish and extorted for fear of hell? “My sentence is,” saith Greenham, “that a man lying now at the point of death, having the snares of death upon him, in that strait of fear and pain, may have a sorrow for his life past; but because the weakness of flesh, and the bitterness of death doth most commonly procure 'it, we ought to suspect,” &c. Eighthly, painful distempers of body are wont to weaken much and hinder the activeness and freedom of the soul's operations; nay, sometimes to distract and utterly overthrow them. Many, even of much knowledge, grace, and good life, by reason of the damp and deadness which at that time the extremity and anguish of their disease brings upon their spirits, are able to do no great matter, if anything at all, either in meditation or expression. How then lost thou think to pass through the incomparably greatest work that ever the soul of man was acquainted with in this life (1 mean the new-birth) at the point of death? It is a woeful thing to have much work to do, when the power of working is almost done. When we are come to the very last cast, our strength is gone, our spirits clean spent, our senses appalled, and the power of our souls as numb as our senses; when there is a general prostration of all our powers, and the shadow of death upon our eyes, then something we would say or do, which should do our souls good. But, alas! how should it then be?

[1] Dyke on Repentance, chap. xvii.