Page images
PDF
EPUB

In the hiftory of Joab's life, there is nothing, which indicates a governing fense of moral obligation and a future retribution. We find him guilty of the most flagrant crimes; but we never hear from him any expreffions of remorfe; we never fee him at the tabernacle feeking the mercy of God by prayer, nor at the altar prefenting a facrifice for any of his fins. His life feems to have been spent in the purfuit of military glory. To this object he could facrifice the lives of better men than himself, when they stood in his way. And if he ever reforted to religion, it was in fome critical conjuncture, when danger nearly threatened him.

But now Joab has finished his military and po Hitical career. He is no longer to command an army, or direct a cabinet. He is grown old. He has filled up the measure of his crimes. Juftice has drawn the fword, and the day of execution is come. He fees no escape; he flees to the tabernacle and lays hold on the altar. Here he remains fixed, and here he refolves to die. He wishes to be protect ed, in his death, by that religion, which he had neglected in his life.

This is no fingular cafe. Similar examples are recorded in fcripture, and fimilar examples occur to common obfervation.

Pharaoh, that impious contemner of God, and hardened oppreffor of the people of God, could relent under a judgment, which threatened deftruction to himself and his realm. He could then acknowledge his dependence on a fuperior invifible power. He could call for the fervants of Jehovah in hafte, and urge their interceffion in his own and his country's behalf. He could fay, "I have finned against the Lord your God, and against you; now therefore forgive my fin, and intreat the Lord,

that he may take away from me this death only." But, "when he faw that there was refpite, he hardened his heart." Of Ahab king of Ifrael it is faid, "There was none like him, who fold him self to work wickedness in the fight of the Lord." But when he heard the awful fentence of deftruction, which God denounced against him and his house," "he rent his cloathes, put fackcloth on his flesh, fafted and went foftly." Yet after this he could threaten and imprison a prophet of God for honestly warning him of his danger, and could treat a premonition from God with infolent contempt. When God wrought wonders in the wilderness to fupply the wants of his people, "they finned yet more against him and tempted him in their hearts: but when he flew them, then they fought him; they turned and enquired early after him; and they remembered, that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer; yet they flattered him with their lips, and they lied to him with their tongues, for their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant." The Pfalmift fpeaks of it as a common cafe, that, "when fools," the defpifers of religion, "are by their fins brought near to the gates of death, then they cry to the Lord in their trouble, and he faveth them out of their diftreffes; he healeth them, and delivereth them from deftruction." Yet he intimates, that few" praise the Lord for his goodnefs, and for his wonderful works to the children of men." Solomon obferves, that they, who in their prosperity despise the reproofs and fet at nought the counfels of wifdom, will call on God and feek him earnestly in times, when diftrefs and anguish come upon them. He defcribes a profligate youth, as mourning at the laft, when hist lefh and body were confumed, and lamenting,

that in his better days he had been in almost all evil, and had hated inftruction and defpifed reproof. The infidels and idolaters, in the days of Jeremiah the prophet, turned their back unto the true God, and would not even acknowledge him as their creator and preferver. "They faid to a ftock, Thou art our father; and to a stone, Thou haft brought us forth :" but in the time of their trouble, when all fupport failed them, they would repair to God, and fay, "Arife and fave

us."

Cafes of the like nature are not unfrequent now. There are many under gospel light, who appear to live regardless of religion. If they believe its general truth, yet they feel not its particular and prefent importance. They devote themselves to the pleasures and interefts of the world, and give the momentous concerns of eternity no place in their hearts. They make no profeffion of religion; and the duties of it they practise no farther than their worldly defigns require. They feldom attend on the appointed worship of God's house, and perhaps as feldom addrefs their maker in a more private manner. They are pleased with the converfation of thofe, who talk lightly about religion; and they readily embrace the licentious opinions which they hear, because these pacify their troubled confciences, and quiet their guilty fears, in the course which they are purfuing. If they do not openly reject religion, yet they fondly admit doubts of its truth, or, at leaft, of the truth of its more important doctrines, and never take the trouble to enquire, what religion really is, on what ground it ftands, or what is their own character. Thus they pass carelessly along in the calm feafons of life. But if you were to vifit these perfons in a time of fickness, when they had the

fentence of death in them, and even defpaired of life, I am confident, you would find many of them in a different ftate of mind. You would not hear them talk fo doubtfully about the truth, or fo lightly about the importance of religion, as they used to do. You would not perceive them feeking comfort in annihilation, or in promifcuous falvation. Their final deftiny now appears too near, and too folemn to be trifled with. They wifh for a hope, which can reft on a folid and permanent foundation. How much foever they have despised prayer in time paft, they now direct their thoughts and defires to the mercy of God as their only hope. How indifferently foever they have spoken of the gofpel, they now fee no where else to go for the words of eternal life. How much foever they may have ridiculed the men of prayer, they now folicit a fhare in the interceffions of fuch men. How much foever they have neglect. ed the altar of God, they now with to lay hold. on the horns of it, and, if they muft die, to die there.

This, indeed, is not the cafe of all dying finners. Some die fuddenly, fome in the diftraction or ftu por of disease, and fome in habitual hardness of heart. But it is the cafe of many; and we rarely meet with a cafe which is the reverse of it; I mean the cafe of one, who, in the near expectation of death, will disavow all regard to religion, glory in his wickednefs, or place full confidence: in his licentious principles. The most daring infidels, and the most boafting univerfalifts have been known to fhudder at the gates of death, to diftruft their former opinions, and feek refuge in the grace of the gofpel, Even a Voltaire, who in the most audacious manner profaned God's altar in his life, fought to lay hold on the horns of

it at his death. Though he employed his keeneft wit to wound the gofpet of Chrift, yet he wifhed to die a Chriftian; and, it is faid, would have de clared himself fuch, had he not been diffuaded by the atheifts who attended him.

Whether Joab's flight to the altar was accompa nied with a repentance, which entitled him to mercy, we cannot fay; nor can we, in any cafe, determine the refult of death-bed fears, relentings, confeffions and prayers. The terrors of another world, opened to the near view of the guilty, may extort the language of repentance and faith, when there is no hatred of fin and love of truth in the heart. Balaam, who loved the wages of unrightcousnefs, yet defired to die the death of the rightcous. The fcripture often fpeaks of the convictions and fupplications of dying finners, as being of doubtful iffue. What is the hope of the hypocrite," fays Job, "when God taketh away his foul? Will God hear his cry, when trouble cometh upon him? Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call upon God?" " Becaufe I have called and ye refufed," fays wisdom, "I alfo will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh. They fhall call, but I will not anfwer, becaufe they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord." There is, however, more hope for fuch relenting finners, than for those who die in obftinate infidelity and unfeeling ftupidity. For though remorfe is not repentance, yet there is no repentance without it. If the finner repents at all, he muft firft be awakened to conviction of, and felf-condemnation for his fins.

The cafe, which we have been confidering, affords as fome useful instructions.

1. We have here the teftimony of finners and

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »