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thou wilt return at all, do it immediately. Take not one step more in that fatal path, to which thou hast turned aside. Think not to add one sin more to the account, and then to repent; as if it would be but the same thing on the whole. The second error may be worse than the first; it may make way for another and another, and draw on a terrible train of consequences, beyond all you can now imagine. Make haste, therefore, and do not delay. Escape, and fly, as for thy life*, before the dart strike through thy livert. Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids: lie not down upon thy bed under unpardoned guilt, lest evil overtake thee, lest the sword of divine justice should smite thee; and whilst thou purposest to return to-morrow, thou shouldst this night go and take possession of hell.
§. 4. Return immediately; and permit me to add, return solemnly. Some very pious and excellent divines have expressed themselves upon this head, in a manner which seems liable to dangerous abuse; when they urge men after a fall, "not to stay to survey the ground, nor consider how they came to be thrown down, but immediately to get up and renew the race." In slighter cases the advice is good: but when conscience has suffered such violent outrage, by the commission of known, wilful, and deliberate sin, (a case, which one would hope, should but seldom happen to those who have once sincerely entered on a religious course,) I can by no means think, that either reason or scripture encourage such a method. Especially would it be improper, if the action itself has been of so heinous a nature, that even to have fallen into it on the most sudden surprise of temptation must have greatly shamed,and terrified, and distressed the soul. Such an affair is dreadfully solemn, and should be treated accordingly. If this has been the sad case with you, my then unhappy reader, I would pity you, and mourn over you; and would beseech you, as you tender your peace, your recovery, the health, and the very life of your soul, that you would not loiter away an hour. Retire immediately for serious reflection. Break through other engagements and employments, unless they be such as you cannot in conscience delay for a few hours, which can seldom happen in the circumstance I now suppose. This is the one thing needful. Set yourself to it therefore, in the presence of God, and hear at large patiently and humbly what conscience has to say, though it chide and reproach severely. Yea, earnestly pray, that God would speak
+ Prov. vi. 4.
* Gen. xix. 17.
+ Prov. vii. 23.
to you by conscience, and make you more thoroughly to know and feel, what an evil and bitter thing it is, that you have thus forsaken him*. Think of all the aggravating circumstances attending your offence; and especially think of those, which arise from abused mercy and goodness; which arise, not only from your solemn vows and engagements to God, but from the views you have had of a Redeemer's love, scaled even in blood. And are these the returns? Was it not enough that Christ should have been thus injured by his enemies? Must he be wounded in the house of his friends toot? Were you delivered to work such abominations as these? Did the blessed Jesus groan and die for you, that you might sin with boldness and freedom, that you might extract, as it were, the very spirit and essence of sin, and offend God to a height of ingratitude and baseness, which would otherwise have been in the nature of things impossible? Oh think, how justly God might cast you out from his presence! How justly he might number you among the most signal instances of his vengeance! And think, how your heart would endure, or your hands be strong, if he should deal thus with youş? Alas! all your former experiences would enhance your sense of the ruin and misery, that must be felt in an eternal banishment from the divine presence and favour.
§. 5. Indulge such reflections as these. Stand the humbling sight of your sins in such a view as this. The more odious and the more painful it appears, the greater prospect there will be of your benefit by attending to it. But the matter is not to rest here. All these reflections are intended, not to grieve, but to cure; and to grieve no more than may promote the cure. You are indeed to look upon sin; but you are also, in such a circumstance, if ever, to look upon Christ; to look upon him, whom you have now pierced deeper than before, and to mourn for him with sincerity and tenderness. The God whom you have injured and affronted, whose laws you have broken, and whose justice you have (as it were) challenged by this foolish wretched apostacy, is nevertheless a most merciful God¶. You cannot be so ready to return to him, as he is to receive you. Even now does he, as it were, solicit a reconciliation, by those tender impressions, which he is making upon your heart. But remember, how he will be reconciled. It is in the very same way, in which you made your first approach to him; in the name and for the sake of his dear Son. Come therefore in an humble
* Jer. ii. 19.
+ Zech. xiii. 6.
Jer. vii. 10.
Deut. iv. 31.
dependance upon him. Renew your application to Jesus, that his blood may (as it were) be sprinkled upon your soul, that your soul may thereby be purified, and your guilt removed. This very sin of yours, which the blessed God foresaw, increased the weight of your Redeemer's sufferings: it was concerned in shedding his blood. Humbly go, and place your wounds, as it were, under the droppings of that precious balm, by which alone they can be healed. That compassionate Saviour will delight to restore you, when you lie as an humble suppliant at his feet, and will graciously take part with you in that peace and pleasure which he gives. Through him renew your covenant with God, that broken covenant, the breach of which divine justice might teach you to know by terrible things in righteousness*: But mercy allows of an accommodation. Let the consciousness and remembrance of that breach engage you to enter into covenant anew, under a deeper sense than ever, of your own weakness, and a more cordial dependance on divine grace for your security, than you have ever yet entertained. I know you will be ashamed to present yourself among the children of God in his sanctuary, and especially at his table, under a consciousness of so much guilt: but break through that shame, if providence open you the way. You would be humbled before your offended Father: but surely there is no place where you are more like to be humbled, than when you see yourself in his house, and no ordinance administered there, can lay you lower than that in which Christ is evidently set forth as crucified before your eyes. Sinners are the only persons who have business there. The best men come to that sacred table, as sinners. As such make your approach to it: yea, as the greatest of sinners; as one who needs the blood of Jesus, as much as any creature upon earth.
§. 6. And let me remind you of one thing more. If your fall has been of such a nature as to give any scandal to others, be not at all concerned to save appearances, and to moderate those mortifications which deep humiliation before them would occasion. The depth and pain of that mortification is indeed an excellent medicine, which God has in his wise goodness appointed for you in such circumstances as these. In such a case, confess your fault with the greatest frankness: aggravate it to the utmost intreat pardon, and prayer, from those whom you have offended. Then, and never till then, will you be in the way to peace: Not by palliating a fault, not by making ex
cuses, not by objecting to the manner in which others may have treated you; as if the least excess of rigour in a faithful admonition were a crime equal to some great immorality that occasioned it. This can only proceed from the madness of pride and self-love: it is the sensibility of a wound, which is hardened, swelled, and inflamed; and it must be reduced, and cooled and suppled, before it can possibly be cured. To be censured, and condemned by men, will be but a little grievance, to a soul thoroughly humbled and broken under a sense of having incurred the condemning sentence of God. Such a one will rather desire to glorify God, by submitting to deserved blame; and will fear deceiving others into a more favourable opinion of him, than he inwardly knows himself to deserve. These are the sentiments which God gives to the sincere penitent in such a case; and by this means he restores him to that credit and regard among others, which he does not know how to seek, but which nevertheless, for the sake both of his comfort and usefulness, God wills that he should have; and which it is, humanly speaking, impossible for him to recover any other way. But there is something so honourable in the frank acknowledgment of a fault, and in deep humiliation for it, that all who see it must needs approve it. They pity an offender, who is brought to such a disposition; and endeavour to comfort him with returning expressions; not only of their love, but of their esteem too.
§. 7. Excuse this digression, which may suit some cases; and which would suit many more, if a regular discipline were to be exercised in churches: for on such a supposition, the Lord's supper could not be approached after visible and scandalous falls, without solemn confession of the offence, and declarations of repentance. On the other hand, there may be instances of sad apostacy, where the crime, though highly aggravated before God, may not fall under human notice. In this case, remember, that your business is with him, to whose piercing eye every thing appears in its just light: before him therefore prostrate your soul, and seek a solemn reconciliation with him, confirmed by the memorials of his dying Son. And when this is done, imagine not, that because you have received the tokens of pardon, the guilt of your apostacy is to be forgot at once. Bear it still in your memory for future caution: lament it before God, in the frequent returns of secret devotion especially and view with humiliation the scars of those wounds which your own folly occasioned, even when by divine grace they are thoroughly healed. For God establishes his covenant, not to remove the sense of every past abomination, but that thou mayest remember
thy ways, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, even when I am pacified towards thee For all that thou hast done, saith the Lord.*
§. 8. And now, upon the whole, if you desire to attain such a temper, and to return by such steps as these, then immediately fall down before God, and pour out your heart in his presence, in language like this.
A Prayer for one who has fallen into gross Sin, after Religious
"O MOST Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God! When I seriously reflect on thy spotless purity, and on the strict and impartial methods of thy steady administration, together with that almighty power of thine, which is able to carry every thought of thine heart into immediate and full execution, I may justly appear before thee this day with shame and terror, in confusion and consternation of spirit. This day, O my God, this dark mournful day, would I take occasion to look back to that sad source of our guilt, and our misery, the apostacy of our common parents, and say with thine offending servant David, Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive met. This day would I lament all the fatal consequences of such a descent, with regard to myself. And Oh how many have they been!— The remembrance of the sins of my unconverted state, and the failings and infirmities of my after life, may justly confound me! How much more such a scene, as now lies before my conscience, and before thine all-seeing eye! For thou, O Lord, knowest my foolishness, and all my sins are not hid from thee. Thou tellest all my wanderings from thy statutes §: thou seest, and thou recordest, every instance of my disobedience to thee, and of my rebellion against thee: thou seest it in every aggravated circumstance which I can discern, and in many more which I have never observed or reflected upon. How then shall I appear in thy presence, or lift up my face to thee ! I am full of confusion, and feel a secret regret in the thought of applying to thee: But, O Lord, to whom should I go, but unto thee**? Unto thee, on whom depends my life or my death; unto thee, who alone canst take away the burden of guilt, which now presses me down to the dust; who alone canst restore to my
* Ezek. xvi. 63.
|| Ezra. ix. 6.
+ Psal. li. 5.
Psal. Ixix. 5. **John vi. 68.
§ Psal. lvi. 8.