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Directions to Sinners that are purposed to Turn, and are under the Work of Conversion: that it Miscarry not.
THE first and greatest matter in the seeking after the salvation of our souls, is, to be sure that we lay the foundation well, and that the work of conversion be thoroughly wrought. To this end I have already used many persuasions with the unconverted to return, as thinking all further directions vain, till we have persuaded men to a consent and willingness to practise them. And in the end of that discourse I added a few directions for the use of such as are willing to be converted. But because I know that this is a matter of exceeding consequence, I dare not thus leave it, before I have added some further directions, to prevent the miscarrying of this work where it is begun. And lest I should lose my labour, through the unpreparedness of the reader; I shall first give you some preparing considerations, which may awaken you to the practice of the directions which I shall give you,
1. Consider first, that half-conversions are the undoing of many thousand souls. If you are but like Agrippa, (Acts xxvi. 28.) "almost persuaded to be Christians," you will be but almost saved. Many a thousand that are now past help, have had the word come near them, and cast them into
a fear, and made some stir and trouble in their souls, awakening their consciences, and forcing them to some good purposes and promises, yea, and bringing them to the performance of a half-reformation; but this is not it that will serve your turn. Many have been so much changed, as not to be far from the kingdom of God, that yet came short of it; Mark xii. 34. There is no promise in Scripture that you shall be pardoned if you almost repent and believe; or be saved, if you be almost sanctified and obedient; but on the contrary, the Lord hath plainly resolved, that you must turn or die, though you almost turn; and repent, or perish, though you almost repent; and that you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven, without conversion and a new birth, though you came never so near it. God hath resolved upon the terms of your salvation; and it is in vain to hope for salvaten upon any other terms. God will not change nor come down to your terms: it is you that must change and come quite over to his terms, or you are lost for ever. If you come never so near them, you are but lost men if you come not up to them. The Lord well knew what he did, when he made his covenant and law, and he imposed nothing on the sons of men but what his infinite wisdom told him it was fit for him to impose; and he will not now compound with sinners, and take less than he requireth; that is, less than the preeminency in their hearts; nor will he ever come down to any lower terms with you, than those which he propoundeth to you in his Gospel. And therefore, poor sinners, as you love your souls, do not stand dodging and halving with God; but give up yourselves entirely to him; and do not stop at the beginnings of a conversion, but go through with it, till you are become new creatures indeed, or you are undone when you have done all. A half, unsound convert will as certainly perish as a drunkard or a whoremonger, though his torment may not be so great.
2. Consider also, that if you do not go through with the work when you are upon it, you may perhaps make it more difficult than it was before ever you meddled with it, and make it a very doubtful case whether ever it will be done. As it is with a wound or other sore; if you tamper with it with salves that are not agreeable to it, or are disorderly applied; or if you skin it over before it be searched to the bottom, it must be opened again, and will cost you double
pain before it be cured. Or as I have seen it with some that have had a bone broken, or out of joint, and it hath been set amiss at first: O what torments were the poor creatures fain to undergo, in having it broken, or stretched and set again! which might have been spared, if it had been thoroughly done at first. So, if you will be shrinking and drawing back, and favouring your flesh, and will not go to the quick, you will make your conversion much more difficult; you must be brought to it again, and fetch your groans yet deeper than before; and weep over all your former tears; your doubts will be multiplied; your fears and sorrows will be increased; and all will go sorer with you than at first. O what a case will you be in, when your sores must be lanced a second time, and your bones, as it were, broken again! Then you will wish you had gone through with it at the first.
Yea, perhaps you may put God to it to fetch you in by some sharp affliction, and send out so boisterous and churlish a messenger to call you home as may make you wish you had hearkened to a more gentle call: when the sheep will straggle, the dog must be sent to affright them home. Many a foolish sinner makes light of the gentle invitations of grace, and they stand hovering between their sins and Christ; and sometimes they have a mind to turn, and the next temptation they are off again, and then they come on again coldly and with half a heart; and thus they stand trifling with the God of heaven till he is fain to take another course with them, and resolves to use some sharper means: and when he layeth them under his rod, and they can neither fly from, nor resist him, but see that their lives and souls are at his mercy, then they begin to look about them, and see their folly, and change their minds. You can tarry, and delay, and dally with the dreadful God, in the time of your pros perity, and we may ask you over and over whether you will turn before we can have a hearty answer; but what will you do when God shall begin to frown, and when he takes you in hand by his irresistible power, and lets loose upon you the terrors of his wrath? Will you then make as light of his mercy as you do now? Have you not read, Dan. v. 6. how small an apparition of his anger did make a carousing king look pale, and his joints to tremble in the midst of his joviality? A Manasseh will bethink himself and come in when
he is laid in irons, though he could set light by God before;
Well sirs, the case is plain before you. Turn you must at one time or other, or be the firebrands of hell. And seeing it is a thing that must be done, were it not best for you to take the easiest and the surest way to do it? Why, this is the easiest and the surest way; even to strike while the iron
is hot, before it cool again; and to go through with it when God doth move you and persuade you; if you love your flesh itself, do not put him to take up the rod, and fetch you home by stripes and terrors.
But that is not the worst; for it will sorely hazard the work itself, and consequently your salvation, if you do not go through with it at the first attempt. I know there is many an one that hath been converted and saved, after many purposes, and promises, and half-conversions. But yet I must tell you, that this is a very dangerous course: for you do not know when you grieve the Spirit of grace, and set so light by mercy when it is offered you, whether that Spirit may not utterly forsake you, and leave you to your own ungodly wills, and let you take your lusts, and pleasures, and say, Let this wretch be filthy still; let him keep his drunkenness, his companions, his worldliness, and the curse of God with them, till he have tried what it is that they will do for him let him, follow his own conceits, and the pride and obstinacy of his own heart, till he find whither they will bring him: let him serve the flesh and the world, till he understand whether God or they be the better master. Seeing he will not be wise on earth, let him learn in hell, and let torments teach him, seeing mercy might not teach him.' O poor soul! what a case art thou in, if this should once be the resolution of God!
Moreover, you may easily know that the longer you stay, the more leisure you give the devil to assault you, and to try one way when he cannot prevail by another, and to strengthen his temptations: like a foolish soldier, that will stand still to be shot at, rather than assault the enemy.
And the longer you delay, the more your sin gets strength and rooting. If you cannot bend a twig, how will you be able to bend it when it is a tree? If you cannot pluck up a tender plant, are you likely to pluck up a sturdy oak? Custom gives strength and root to vices. A blackamoor may as well change his skin, or a leopard his spots, as those that are accustomed to do evil, can learn to do well. Jer. xiii. 23.
If you stick at conversion as a difficult matter to-day, it will be more difficult to-morrow, or the next month, and the next year, than it is now.
Yea, the very resistance of the Spirit doth harden the heart, and the delays and triflings of the soul do bring it to