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on this head ; but these must serve as specimens at present ; and I shall only add this general rule for your farther conviction, that whatever sin you indulge yourselves in, whatever duty you omit, whatever grace or virtue you live destitute of, in opposition to the conviction of your own minds within, and of the reproofs and admonitions of God and man from without, you are then guilty of hardening your neck.
And if this be the case, how many of you are involved in this guilt ? Lay your hand now upon your heart, and say, does not conscience whisper, or perhaps clamour,“ Guilty ! guilty !" It is strange, it is unaccountable, it is horrible, that there should be such a monster upon earth, on whom the repeated reproofs and warnings of God and his fellow creatures have been thrown away ; and who dares singly to stand it out against the whole universe ! But, alas ! are there not many such monsters among us? To reprove them again is a very unpromising and almost desperate attempt ; for they have been so inured to it, that they are hardened against it, and set it at defiance. Yet duty and compassion constrain us to make the attempt once more : for 0 ! we cannot yet give them up as altogether desperate, nor resign them with willing hands as a tame prey to ruin. I know no other way to bring them out of danger but to make them sensible of it. And this I shall attempt, in illustrating the remaining part of the text, which informs you of the plain truth, that he that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, or broken, and that without remedy ; or," and there is no cure."
The stiff neck .that will not bend to the yoke of obedience, must be broken ; and its own stiffness renders it the more easily broken : for it is not easy to break what is yielding and pliable ; but even the resistance of the stiff neck occasions its own ruin. It may harden itself into insensibility under reproof : but O! it cannot harden itself into insensibility under divine judgments. It may refuse the easy and gentle yoke of the divine law ; but divine justice will forcibly impose its iron yoke upon it, and constrain it to bow till it be broken. This is the doom of the obstinate incorrigible sinner : thus shall he be destroyed and broken to pieces.
But this is not all : he shall suddenly be destroyed, suddenly broken. Sudden ruin is aggravated, because it strikes a man into a consternation, overtakes him unawares, surprises him at a disadvantage, when unprovided with any methods to escape ; and VOL. II.
also tears all his pleasing hopes from him : and by how much the higher the hopes from whence he falls, by so much the deeper be is ingulfed in misery.
Sudden rụin is the certain and natural consequence of a man's incorrigible obstinacy, in spite of admonition. He must be ruined because he will not be warned, nor forsake the path that leads to destruction. He will even take his own way at all adventures, and no man can help it : and therefore he must be destroyed. He must also be suddenly destroyed, because he would hope for safety in spite of warning ; suddenly broken because he would not foresee the blow. Till he feels the stroke, he would not believe it was coming ; and therefore his destruction is sudden, surprising, and confounding. This is the natural end of fool-hardiness and obstinacy, in spite of all restraints and admonitions : and there is no help for it : such obstinacy and presumption is an incurable disease, that excludes all remedy. This is implied in the last part of the text :
He shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy; or, as it might be more literally rendered, “ and there is no cure, or medicine, or healing." There can be no preventive medicine to such a self-willed, head-strong creature ; because he will not apply it ; and pushes off every friendly hand that would apply it. And there can be no healing or restorative medicine applied; for the breach, when made, is desperate, and admits no cure. The stiff neck is broken in pieces, so that it never can be healed. Then the patient, so obstinate before, would most willingly apply a remcdy : but O ! it is too late.
Reproofs and admonitions from God and men, and our own consciences, are the great means to recover sinners : and while these are ineffectual, no other can possibly have any effect. How can he be reclaimed from sin, who will sin in opposition to all restraints ! In opposition to the checks of conscience, and the striv. ings of the holy Spirit within, and the united dissuasives and rebukes of Providence, of the word of God, and of all his friends from without ! Neither God nor all his creatures can reform and save such a wretch, while he continues proof against all the means of reformation and salvation. It is unavoidable, that he should suddenly be destroyed ; and there is no help for it; he must be given up as an incurable. The whole universe may look on, and pity him ; but, alas ! they cannot help him ; he has the instrument of self-murder in his own hand; and he will not part with it, but uses it against his own life, without con. trol ; and none can take it out of his hand : that is, none can give his free will a new turn, but that God whom he is daily offending, and who is therefore not obliged to obtrude such a favour upon him.
This is the unavoidable doom of the man that being often reproved hardeneth his neck. And since this is the character of some of you, have you not reason to fear and forebode this tremendous doom? Let me reason a little with you for your farther conviction.
Your danger will appear from these two considerations, that if you always continue in your present condition, proof against all admonition, you must be destroyed without remedy : and that there is dreadful reason to fear, you always will continue in your present condition.
That if you live and die in your present condition, you must be destroyed without remedy, is lamentably evident from what has been said. It is the declaration of the wisest of men, inspir. ed from heaven; he that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be broken, and there is no remedy. It is one of the proverbs of this wisest of men. Now a proverb is a wise remark, made after long observation, and frequently exemplified in the world. Therefore when we consider Solomon here not only as speaking an inspired truth, but pronouncing a proverb, it is as if he had said, “ This I have collected from long experience, and careful observation of mankind, and the course of Providence ; this is daily exemplified in the world without exception ; this all ages may regard as a sure and important truth, and I record it among my immortal proverbs for their warning, that he that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroy. ed, and there is no remedy." A proverb being a familiar observation upon the common occurrences of the world, it follows far. ther, that the accomplishment of it is a common thing, that falls under every man's notice, to his full conviction ; and therefore Solomon, by inserting this remark among his Proverbs, intimates, that the sudden and remediless destruction of an incorrigible sin. ner, is a familiar event that falls under every man's notice, and which no man can dispute, without disputing the common sense and experience of mankind. Thus certain, irreprovable sinners! thus common is your doom, if you continue in your present condition : it is certain, it is common, even to a proverb. And if you still go on in your present course, you will at last become a hissing, a by-word, and a proverb to all the world. Your destruction, as I observed, is unavoidable and remediless, according to the nature of things : it is the natural, spontaneous, and inseparable result and effect of incorrigible obstinacy. You resolutely set your free wills, which are not under the control of any creature but yourselves, upon your own ruin : and what then remains but that you must be ruined ! To ruin you must go, though attended with the prayers and tears of the saints, and checked by their friendly admonitions, enforced with those of God himself. They cannot help you against your wills. What can keep you from ingulfing yourselves in destruction, when you break through all restraints from God and the whole creation? You reject the only means of cure : and must you not die as incurables! If the Spirit of God strives with you in vain ; if conscience check and admonish you in vain ; if Providence uses its chastising rod in vain ; if sickness, and death, and graves preach in vain ; if Bibles and good books are put into your hands in vain ; if ministers, and friends, and neighbours, and the dearest relatives, advise, and persuade, and warn, and reprove in vain ; if heaven, and earth, and hell, if God and all his creatures admonish in vain ; what hopes can yourselves entertain of your salvation ! what better means can you desire! what other means can you expect ! can you hope to be reformed and prepared for heaven, when these means, the best, the only means that ever were used with sinful creatures, and which have proved effectual in the most discouraging cases, have no effect upon you ! Judge yourselves, whether your destruction is not cnavoidable in your present condition.
And that you will always continue in your present condition, is, alas ! but too probable. You have continued in it all your life past : and is not this a dreadful presumption that you will continue in it all your life to come! Can you expect better means than you have had ? Or are your hearts become more soft and pliable now, when hardened by an obstinate course of incorrigible impenitence, that you should hope the same means will have greater efficacy upon them in time to come than formerly? Are you as sure of twenty or thirty years before you, as that you have enjoyed twenty or thirty years in time past! Is God the less provoked, by how much the longer you have offended him, so that
you have more encouragement to expect the assistance of his grace hereafter than formerly ? Are you now any more out of danger of being judicially hardened and given up of God, than ten years ago ? And are you the more sure of his favour, by how much the more you deserve his wrath ? Are the habits of sin grown weaker through inveteracy and long indulgence ? Does the work of your salvation grow easier by delays, and by your having fewer days for work! Does conscience gain strength upon you, by your repeated violences; or the spirit of God work the more powerfully, the more you resist and grieve him ! Does your being inured to the gospel, give it greater force upon you! If the happy change of your present condition be probable, the probability must depend, in human view, upon such absurdities as these. But can these be the foundation of probability ? No; but of the greatest improbability. The truth of the case is, your condition is growing more and more discouraging every day; and you are approaching fast towards a fixed, unchangeable state of incorrigible obstinacy in wickedness. Ten years ago, it was much more likely, in human view, that you would have been converted ere now, than it now is, that you will be converted in ten years to come. In short, the only ground of hope concerning you, is not at all from the appearance of things in human view, but merely from the free and sovereign grace of God. I may say of your salvation, what Christ said of the salvation of the rich, with men that is impossible : that is, according to the ordinary way of judging among men, who can judge only by appearances, and who count those things likely or unlikely, pos. sible or impossible, which seem to be so in their own nature : according to this rule of judging, there is no reason at all to hope for it: it is quite desperate. But with God all things are possible : he can and sometimes does act contrary to appearances and the natural tendency of things ; and astonishes his creatures with unexpected and surprising wonders. Thus, veteran, obstinate sinners ! he may yet deal with some of you. Omnipotence may yet take you in hand, disarm all your resistance, and cause you to feel those admonitions you have made light of. This, perhaps, God may do. But O! it is an anxious, dreadful peradventure ; for you must know, though he sometimes singles out an hardened sinner of your class here and there, to make him the illustrious trophy of the power of his grace, yet this is not his usual way : he does not commonly work upon such rough, unsuitable materials. He generally pitches upon the young and pliable, upon those that have not been long inured to the gospel, nor