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endeavor to prevent your abuse of the patience of God in the dispositions of men) why should we go out of this assembly, to search after proofs of divine mercy in a delay of punishment? What would have become of you, my dear hearers, if vengeance had immediately followed sin; if God had not prolonged the days of sinners; if sentence against evil works had been executed speedily?
What would have become of some of you, if God had required of you an account of your conduct, while you were sacrificing the rights of widows and orphans to the honor of the persons of the mighty, Lev. xix. 15. while you were practising perjury and accepting bribes? It is the long-suffering of God that prolongs your days, that you may make a restitution of your unrighteous gain, plead for the orphan and the widow, and attend in future decisions only to the nature of the cause before you.
What would have become of some of you, if God had called you to give an account of your conduct, while the fear of persecution, or, what is infinitely more criminal still, while the love of ease, prevailed over you to renounce a religion which you respected in your hearts while you denied it with your mouths? It is the patience of God, which hath afforded you time to learn the greatness of a sin, the guilt of which a whole life of repentance is not sufficient to expiate: it is the patience of God, which hath prolonged your days, that you might confess that Jesus whom you have betrayed, and profess that gospel which you have denied.
Let us not multiply particular examples, let us comprise this whole assembly in one class. There is not one of our hearers, no, not one, who is in this church to-day, there is not one who hath been engaged in the devotional exercises of this day,
who would not have been in hell with the devil and his angels, if vengeance had immediately followed sin; if God had exercised no patience toward sinners; if sentence against evil works had been executed speedily. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed! Lam. iii. 22. The delay of punishment is a demonstration of his mercy; it doth not prove that he is not just, but it doth prove that he is good.
I could wish, my brethren, that all those, who ought to interest themselves in this article, would render it needless for me to enter into particulars, by recollecting the history of their own lives, and by remembering the circumstances to which I refer. One man ought to say to himself; In my childhood, an upright father, a pious mother, and several worthy tutors did all that lay in their power to form me virtuous. In my youth, a tender and generous friend, who was more concerned for my happiness, and more ambitious of my excelling, than I myself, availed himself of all the power of insinuation that nature had given to incline my heart to piety and to the fear of God, and to attach me to religion by bands of love. On a certain occasion, Providence put into my hands a religious book, the reading of which discovered to me the turpitude of my conduct. At another time, one of those clear, affecting, thundering sermons, that alarm sleepy souls, forced from me a promise of repentance and reformation. One day, I saw the administration of the Lord's supper, which, awaking my attention to the grand sacrifice that divine justice required for the sins of mankind, affected me in a manner so powerful and moving, that I thought myself obliged in gratitude to dedicate my whole life to him, who in the tenderest compassion had given himself for me. Another time, an extreme
ly painful illness shewed me the absurdity of my course of life; filled me with a keenness of remorse, that seemed an anticipation of hell; put me on beseeching God to grant me a few years more of his patience; and brought me to a solemn adjuration that I would employ the remaining part of my life in repairing the past. All these have been fruitless; all these means have been useless; all these promises have been false; and yet I may have access to a throne of grace. What love! What mercy!
This long-suffering of God with impenitent sinners will be one of the most terrible subjects they can think of when the avenging moment comes; when the fatal hour arrives in which the voice of divine justice shall summon a miserable wretch to appear, when it shall bind him to a death-bed, and suspend him over the abyss of hell.
But to a poor sinner, who is awaking from his sin, who, having consumed the greatest part of his life in sin, would repair it by sacrificing the world and all its glory, were such a sacrifice in his power: to a poor sinner, who, having been for some time afraid of an exclusion from the mercy of God, revolves these distressing thoughts in his mind, Perhaps the days of my visitation may be at an end; henceforth perhaps my sorrows may be superfluous, and my tears inadmissible: to such a sinner, what an object, what a comfortable object, is the treasure of the forbearance and long-suffering of God that leadeth to repentance. My God, saith such a sinner, I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies! Gen. xxxii. 10. My God, I am tempted to think that to doubt of my interest in thy favor is the rendering of a proper homage to thy mercy, and my unbelief would arise from my veneration for thy majesty! But let me not think so; I will not doubt of thy mercy, my God, since thou hast
condescended to assure me of it in such a tender manner! I will lose myself in that ocean of love, which thou, O God infinitely good! still discoverest to me, I will persuade myself thou dost not despise the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart, and this persuasion I will oppose to an alarmed conscience, to a fear of hell that anticipates the misery of the state, and to all those formidable executioners of condemned men, whom I behold ready to seize their prey!
My brethren, the riches of the goodness and forbearance, and long-suffering of God, are yet open to you: they are open, my dear brethren, to this church, how ungrateful soever we have been to the goodness of God; how much insensibility soever we have shewn to the invitations of grace; they are open to the greatest sinners, nor is there one of my hearers who may not be admitted to these inexhaustible treasures of goodness and mercy.
But do you still despise the riches of the longsuffering of God? What! because a space to repent is given, Rev. ii. 21. will you continue in impenitence? Ah! were Jesus Christ in the flesh, were he walking in your streets, were he now in this pulpit preaching to you, would he not preach to you all bathed in sorrows and tears? He would weep over you as he once wept over Jerusalem, and he would say to this province, to this town, to this church, to each person in this assembly, yea, to that wicked hearer, who affects not to be concerned in this sermon, O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! Luke xix. 42. What am I saying! he would say thus! He doth say thus, my dear brethren, and still interests himself in your salvation in the tenderest and most vehement manner. Sitting at the right hand of his Father, he holds
back his avenging arm which is ready to fell us to the earth at a stroke; in our behalf he interposeth his sufferings and his death, his intercession and his cross; and from the top of that glory to which he is elevated, he looks down and saith to this republic, to this church, to all this assembly, and to every sinner in it: O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!
My brethren, the patience of God, which yet endures, will not always endure. The year, which the master of the vineyard grants, at the intercession of the dresser, to try whether a barren figtree can be made fruitful, will expire, and then it must be cut down, Luke xiii. 6. Do not deceive yourselves, my brethren, the long-suffering of God must produce in the end either your conversion or your destruction. O may it prevent your destruction by producing your conversion! The Lord grant you this favor! To him, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory for ever. Amen.