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relating to this affair, which may very probably be asked by some persons, and they are these:
First, Some may say,
Is there no hopes then for those that shall repent on a death-bed, that they may obtain mercy from GoD at last, and be saved?'
Secondly, Suppose any one has been so unwise as to put off his repentance to a death-bed; what is he then to do? Is he then to despair of the mercy of GOD, and to do nothing towards reconciling himself to him?'
The first question considered.
To the first of them I answer, that I dare not positively affirm, that GOD will absolutely reject a deathbed repentance; or that it is impossible for a man to be saved upon it. And the reason is this, because it is not absolutely impossible but that it may be sincere and if it be sincere, it will certainly be accepted. I say it is not absolutely impossible: "The wind bloweth where it listeth;" the grace of God may work where and when it pleaseth. Repentance, whenever it is sincere, is the gift of GOD, and all his actions are free. And if he, for wise reasons known only to himself, be pleased to give the grace of a sincere repentance to a sinner at that time, no doubt he will accept of it. Though he has given us rules to guide ourselves by, which we are not to alter; yet he has no where so strictly tied himself down to them, that he may not act otherwise himself when he pleases. He will always undoubtedly act in a manner consistent with his own holiness, justice, and goodness; and he" will be gracious to whom he will be gracious; and he will shew mercy on whom he will shew mercy." Exod. xxxiii. 19.
He has no where given us authority to declare,
that a death-bed repentance shall be accepted by him; but yet, considering the infinite mercy of GOD, and the infinite merits of our Saviour, I dare not positively say that it will not. But this I am sure I may say, that it is the wrongest thing in the world to put it off till then; when, whether it will be accepted or no, GOD has no where declared in his holy word; and there is only a bare possibility to hope. that it may be so, but abundance of reasons to fear that it will not. We may hope well in charity; but then that hope can be but very small, which is so far from being grounded on any plain text of Scripture, that there are many expressions in it, which incline us to apprehend the contrary. And for this reason many excellent persons have spoken very doubtfully of it. I shall give you the opinion of some of them in their own words.
Thus says St. Austin: The man who practises repentance in his health, and afterwards lives well, may be secure; but he that repents only at last, at the point of death, whether he be secure or not, I am not sure.'
Another says thus:
If a man spends his whole life in wickedness, and then comes to repent at the point of death; as his damnation is uncertain, so is his pardon doubtful also.'
Thus another: What to say in this case I know not. To discourage and withhold a man from seeking and using this last remedy, were hard and impious; but to promise and assure him of any thing in so late a repentance, were also rash.'
Thus also the famous Bishop Andrews: This fashion of repenting on a death-bed I can say little to, but I pray GoD it deceive us not. It is not good trying conclusions about our souls.'
I will add but this one testimony more of a late very great and pious divine. It is a miracle of God's grace and mercy, if any repentance, that men can exercise upon a death-bed, will be accepted; if any im
portunity that men can then use will be available. Enough one would think to discourage any one, that has not lost his wits, from venturing the salvation of his soul upon so doubtful an uncertainty.'
The second Question considered.
THE second question, What has that person then to do, that has been so unwise as to put off his repentance to his death-bed? Is he then to despair of the mercy of GOD, and do nothing towards reconciling himself to him?" I answer, God forbid. He has indeed run so prodigious a hazard, that I cannot help calling him most unwise and foolish for so doing. But yet let him not add this sin to his former folly; to despair of the mercy of GOD. While he is yet alive, who knows but there may be hopes? Let him therefore exercise as deep a sorrow and repentance of his sins, as he possibly can, and cry mightily to GOD for mercy, in and through the merits of our blessed Saviour. Let him endeavour to make himself as sensible as he can of the evil of his past doings, and move himself, upon the best considerations, to abhor and detest them. Let him solemnly warn all about him from the paths in which he himself has walked. For the warnings of persons in that condition are used to carry great force with them, and to dissuade others from the like follies. Let as much of his time as is possible be spent in prayers, and in godly conversation with good people: and let him earnestly entreat others to pray for him. Let him be sure to exercise acts of the most hearty forgiveness to all that have injured him, and give the best directions, as far as is in his power, for the reparation of the wrongs which he himself may have done to others or in case that be not in his power, let him pray to GOD to make them amends some way or
other. Let him be as large in his charity to the poor as in reason he ought to be; but be sure that it be with justice to others, for "GOD hateth robbery for burnt-offerings," Isa. lxi. 8. But true " charity," we are told, "will cover a multitude of sins," 1 Peter iv. 8. After all that can be said, we must leave him to God, who is a most merciful, as well as a most just judge; who, if there be any thing found favourable in his case, will, out of his infinite compassion, for CHRIST's sake, extend mercy to him. But I dare not say he will be accepted, nor dare I deny it; but as I greatly fear it, so I fervently pray for it.'
And O! that I could now prevail with such as may have been too apt to be carried away with the common delusion of thinking it time enough then to repent, and ask pardon of GOD for all their sins, when they shall be cast upon a sick or death-bed, from the example perhaps of the penitent thief in the Gospel, upon the cross: I say, O that I could prevail with them to consider seriously, what they are doing! they are putting off the most important concern of their whole lives, their making their peace with GoD, and preparing for eternity, to the most unfit time in the world for it.
They reckon that their last sickness will come on and increase upon them by degrees, and so give them due warning and opportunity to make up all accounts between GOD and their own souls; and hope then that they may die in peace.
But who can secure them that it shall be thus with them? Do not we know that it may be otherwise, and have we not many times seen it to be so? That the death-wound has been given in a moment, without any warning beforehand: or has been attended with such circumstances, that if a bare saying, O LORD have mercy upon him, would have saved the poor creature's soul, he could not have done it? Is not this the case of those that have been struck sud
denly with apoplexies, lethargies, dead palsies, and the like.
And is it not also sometimes so bad with men on their sick-beds, that though there is time, yet there is no opportunity of doing any thing well, as it should be; the dozingness of their distemper, or their violent distracting pains, or their frequent faintings, or their dreadful fears of what is coming upon them, (which their guilty consciences do at that time especially present them withal), do so take away the heart, and confound all the senses, that there can be little or no consideration at all of what they are to say or do, in order to reconcile themselves to GOD; and to exercise a just and proper repentance for all the former miscarriages of their whole lives."
Ör still further, Granting their case should be more favourable; that the distemper should be lingering and gradual, and their senses perfectly secured to them; yet then they are apt to think more of recovering than dying, of sending for this or the other physician, of taking this or the other medicine; and their relations and friends are to use the best methods they can to support their spirits, with giving them hopes of a longer life, that the medicines may take the better effect; so that they are in a manner surprised with Death at the last; and the great work has all this while been neglected, even when they had time and opportunity for doing something in it.'
Or lastly, if they should then be very serious, and should be heartily willing to endeavour to do their best, to make their repentance sincere: Yet they can hardly expect that God should then accept of the dregs of their lives, when their best and brightest years have been spent altogether in the devil's service:' I say, they can hardly expect it, and at the best, must be in dreadful fears that he will not do it, and so must go out of the world in this dismal uncertainty; which makes their case so very bad, in a matter of such infi