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But surely we have no encouragement to neglect the present season of mercy, because God may show mercy hereafter. Many, I know, have hardened themselves in ways of sin, by this example of mercy. But what God did at this time for this man, cannot be expected to be done ordinarily: for,
1. God hath vouchsafed us the ordinary and stated means of grace, which this sinner had not; and therefore we cannot expect such extraordinary and unusual conversion as he had. This poor creature probably never heard one sermon preached by Christ, or any of his apostles: he lived the life of a highwayman, and concerned not himself about religion. But we have Christ preached freely and constantly in our assemblies: we have line upon line, precept upon precept: and when God affords the ordinary preaching of the Gospel, he doth not use to work wonders. When Israel was in the wilderness, then God gave them bread from heaven, and clave the rocks to give them drink; but when they came to Canaan, where they had the ordinary means of subsistence, the manna ceased.
2. Such a conversion as this may not be ordinarily expected by any man, because such circumstances will never occur again. It is possible, if Christ were to die again, and thou to be crucified with him, thou mightest receive thy conversion in such a miraculous and extraordinary way; but Christ dies no more; such a day as that will never come again. Mr. Fenner, in his excellent discourse upon this point, tells us, that as this was an extraordinary time, Christ being now to be installed in his kingdom, and crowned with glory and honor; so extraordinary things were now done; as when kings are crowned, the streets are richly adorned, the conduits run with wine, and great malefactors are pardoned, for then they show their royal munificence and bounty; it is the day of the gladness of their
hearts. But let a man come at another time to the conduits, he shall find no wine, but ordinary water. Let a man be in the jail at another time, and he may be hanged; yea, and have no reason but to expect and prepare for it. What Christ did now for this man, was at an extraordinary time.
3. Such a conversion as this may not ordinarily be expected, for as such circumstances will never occur again, so there will never more be the same reason for such a conversion. Christ converted him upon the cross, to give an instance of his Divine power at that time, when it was almost wholly clouded; as in that day the Divinity of Christ broke forth in other miracles; the preternatural eclipse of the sun, the great earthquake, the rending of the rocks and vail of the temple; all, to give evidence of the Divinity of Christ, and prove him to be the Son of God whom they crucified; but that is now sufficiently confirmed, and there will be no more occasion for miracles to prove it.
4. No one has reason to expect such a conversion that enjoys the ordinary means; because, though in this convert we have a pattern of what free grace can do, yet, as divines pertinently observe, it is a pattern without a promise; God has not added any promise to it, that ever he will do it for any other; and where we have not a promise to encourage our hope, our hope can avail but little.
INFERENCE 1. Let those that have found mercy in the evening of their life, admire the extraordinary grace that therein hath appeared to them. Oh that ever God should accept the bran, when Satan hath had the flour of thy days! The above named reverend author tells us of one Marcus Caius Victorius, a very aged man in the primitive times, who was converted from heathenism. to christianity in his old age. He came to a minister, and told him he heartily owned and embraced the
christian faith. But neither the minister nor the church for a long time would trust him, from the unusualness of conversion at such an age. But after he had given them good evidence of its reality, there were acclamations and singing of psalms, the people every where crying, Marcus Caius Victorius is become a christian. This was written for a wonder! Oh! if God have wrought such wondrous salvation for you, what cause have you to do more for him than others! To appear to you at last, when so hardened by long custom in sin, that one might say, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" Oh! what riches of mercy have appeared to you!
2. Let this convince and startle such, as even to their grey hairs remain in an unconverted state. Bethink yourselves, ye that are full of days, and full of sin, whose time is almost ended, and your great work not begun; who have but a few sands more in the glass to run, and then your conversion will be impossible: your sun is setting; your night is coming; the shadows of the evening are stretched out upon you; you have one foot in the grave. Oh think how sad a case you are in God may do wonders, but they are not seen every day, for then they would cease to be wonders. O strive, strive, while you have a little time, and a few more helps and means; strive to get that work accomplished now that was never yet done; defer it no longer, you have delayed too long already. It may be you have been these sixty, seventy; or eighty years, beginning to live, about to change your practice; but hitherto you still continue the same. Do not you see how Satan has deceived and cheated you with vain purposes, till he has brought you to the very brink of the grave and hell? Oh it is time now to make a stand, pause a little where you are, and see to what he hath brought you. The Lord now at last give you an eye to see, and a heart to consider.
3. Let this be a call and caution to all the young to begin with God betimes, and take heed of delaying till the last, as many thousands have done, to their eternal ruin. Now is your time, if you desire to be in Christ; if you have any sense of the weight and worth of eternal things upon your hearts. I know your age is one that delights not in the serious thoughts of death and eternity: you are more inclined to enjoy your pleasures and leave these serious matters to old age; but let me persuade you against that, by these considerations.
Oh seek religion now, because this is the moulding age. Now your hearts are tender, and your affections flowing now is the time when you are most likely to be' wrought upon.
Now, because this is the freest part of your time. It is with the morning of life, as with the morning of the day: if a man have business to be done, let him take the morning for it; for in the after-part of the day a hurry of business comes on, so that you either forget it, or want opportunity for it.
Now, because your life is immediately uncertain; you are not certain that ever you shall attain the years of your fathers: there are graves in the church-yard just of your length, and skulls of all sorts and sizes in Gol gotha, as the Jews' proverb is.
Now, because God will not spare you on account of your youth, if you die without an interest in Christ.
Now, because your life will be the more eminently useful, and serviceable to God, when you know him betimes, and early begin his service. Augustin repented, and so have many thousands since, that he began so late, and knew God no sooner.
Now, because your whole life will be happier, if the morning of it is dedicated to the Lord. The first fruits sanctify the whole harvest: this will have a sweet influence upon all your days, whatever changes, straits, or troubles you may meet.
FOURTH SAYING OF CHRIST ON THE CROSS
"MY GOD, MY GOD," &c.
"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabuchthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Matt. 27 : 46.
These are words that might rend the hardest heart: it is the voice of the Son of God in an agony: his sufferings were great, very great before, but never in such extremity as now; when this heaven-rending and heartmelting outcry broke from him upon the cross, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!" In which observe,
1. The time when it was uttered was "about the ninth hour," or about three in the afternoon. For as the Jews reckoned the hours of the day from six in the morning, their ninth hour answered to our third in the afternoon. And this is particularly marked by the evangelists, to show us how long Christ hung in distress upon the cross, both in soul and body, which at least was full three hours: towards the end whereof his soul was so distressed and overwhelmed, that he uttered this doleful cry in his bitter anguish.
2. The manner of the complaint. It is not of the cruel tortures he felt in his body, nor of the scoffs and reproaches of his name; they were all swallowed up in the sufferings within, as the river is swallowed up in the sea, or the lesser flame in the greater. He seems to neglect all these, and only complains of what was more burdensome than ten thousand crosses; even his Father's deserting him, " My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It is a more inward trouble that burdens him, and darkens his spirit: the hidings of God's face,