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him cast himself into the mouth of such horrid and amazing danger, without warning him of it, and endeavouring, by the best instructions you can give him, to lead him off, and direct him to eternal happiness? Surely, did we but duly understand the worth and the danger of souls, such a woful spectacle could not but affect our bowels, and excite us to employ all our power to convince him of the danger he is running into, and instruct him how to avoid it. For this is the proper act of mercy which this miserable case calls for, viz. to endeavour to dispel that fatal ignorance which surrounds men's minds, and to enlighten them with all those principles of religion which are necessary to conduct them to eternal happiness. For it is not so great a piece of mercy to give a starving man bread, as it is to inform an ignorant sinner, and feed his famished mind with the bread of life; because without the former it is only his body will die, whereas without the latter his body and soul will die for ever.
When therefore we know any persons to be grossly ignorant of God and religion, the laws of mercy require us to use all prudent means to instruct and inform them; and if they are in our power, as our children and servants are, to take care to train them up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, to catechise and instruct them in the doctrines of faith, and season their minds with the principles of pure religion; that so, understanding their duty, and the vast and indispensable obligations of it, they may not leap blindfold into eternal perdition. For whilst we train them up in blindness and ignorance, we do in effect predestinate them to eternal ruin, and, like those barbarous parents that offered up their children to Moloch, devote them as so many sacrifices to the Devil. Wherefore we stand obliged, not only in fidelity to God, who hath committed their souls to our charge, and will one day require an account of them at our hands, but also in mercy to them, that they may not perish eternally for lack of knowledge, to take all possible care to instruct their minds in the duties and obligations of religion. And as mercy obliges us to instruct our children and servants, who are in our power and disposal, so it also obliges us to instruct others whom we know to be ignorant of God and their duty; to take all fair opportunities to insinuate the knowledge of divine things to them, and to cultivate their rude and barbarous minds with the principles of virtue and religion; or at least, where we cannot be admitted to do them this good office ourselves, or our endeavouring it may be looked upon as a piece of sauciness and pedantry, to recommend their miserable case to others, who have more authority with them, or from whose hands it may be better taken.
For sure if we have any mercy or compassion in us, we cannot sit still, and see a miserable wretch wandering in the dark upon the confines of eternal ruin, without endeavouring by some way or other to reduce and light him back to heaven. Hence, 2 Tim. ii. 25, 26. it is made a necessary act of mercy meekly to instruct those that oppose themselves, that is, out of ignorance of the gospel, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the Devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
4. Another of the miseries which affect men's souls is malice and obstinacy of will in mischievous and destructive courses; which is doubtless one of
the greatest infelicities that can happen to a man on this side hell. For to be obstinate in mischievous courses is but one remove from the forlorn condition of a damned soul, which being fixed and determined to evil by the invincible obstinacy of its own will, lies under a fatal necessity of being its own eternal hell and devil: so that every degree of obstinacy in wickedness is a nearer approach to eternal damnation, and will at last inevitably centre in it, if it be not stopped in its course and progress, and cured by a timely application. Now what a deplorable sight is this, to see a wretched soul obstinately pursuing his own destruction, and even forcing his way to hell through all the resistances of his religion, and reason, and conscience together! Should you see a madman break loose from his chain, and run his head against a wall, or catch up a knife or dagger, and thrust it into his own breast, and repeat stab after stab, in despite of all your counsels and dissuasives, would you not pity and lament his case, and heartily wish him deprived of all that liberty which he employs only to his own destruction ? And is it not a much more lamentable spectacle, to see a wild and desperate soul break loose from those ties of religion and conscience which bind it to its duty and happiness; and in a deaf and obstinate rage seize on the weapons of perdition, and plunge them into its own bowels, and by repeated acts of wickedness imbrue its hands in its own blood; whilst the blessed Spirit, with its own natural sense of God, are struggling with it in vain, and fruitlessly endeavouring to disarm its desperate fury, that it may not wound itself to eternal death? What merciful heart can forbear wishing, O would to God this miserable soul had no will, that it had not the liberty to choose or act! Would to God it were a stone, or a tree, that have no power to dispose of or determine their own motions, rather than be thus left at liberty as it is, only to murder and destroy itself! But since to wish thus would be in vain, who that hath any pity can sit still, and see a miserable wretch thus outrage himself, without endeavouring to hold his hands, and bind him down with reason and good counsel? And this is the proper act of mercy
which the miserable case in hand requires, viz. when we see an obstinate sinner resolutely pursuing his own destruction, to endeavour, by prudent and seasonable reproofs, by pious and compassionate counsels and admonitions, to reclaim him from the error of his way. For thus our holy religion directs us to exhort one another daily, while it is called Today, lest any of us should be hardened, i. e. irrecoverably hardened, through the deceitfulness of sin, Heb. iii. 13. And how acceptable a work this is to God, St. James informs us, chap. v. 19, 20. Brethren, if any of you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. Whereas by permitting men to run on in their sins without any check or disturbance, under a pretence of complaisance and civility, is as much as to say, “Sir, you are going headlong to destruc“ tion, and go you are like for me: for my part, “ whether you are damned or saved, is much at one “ to me: if you are minded to make an experiment “ of damnation, much good may it do you: I know, “ should I attempt to hinder or disturb you, you “ will think me rude and troublesome; and therefore, “ rather than I will run the hazard, e'en let the “ Devil take you.” And would it not be a high compliment, if you saw a man plunging a sword into his bowels, to cry, “Sir, I would hold your
arm, but that I am afraid you will be angry with “ me?” It is true, this merciful work of reproof and admonition ought to be managed with a great deal of caution. If the person we reprove be out of our power, we ought to observe the mollia tempora fandi ; to forbear him till his passion is down, or his intemperate draught digested; till his mind is sedate and calm, and best disposed to attend to and receive a pious admonition: for he who reproves a man when his mind is disordered by passion or intemperance, doth but preach patience to a northern wind, which the more he endeavours to resist, the louder it will storm and bluster. But then when he is fit to receive a reprehension, we ought to give it with the greatest privacy. If he offend in public conversation, where there are other witnesses of it besides ourselves, unless the matter be highly scandalous, it is sufficient for the present that we express our dislike of it by the severity of our looks and the seriousness of our behaviour; and afterwards, between him and ourselves, to remonstrate to him the folly and danger of his sin. For to reprove men publicly looks more like malice than mercy; especially till we have first made trial of private reprehensions, and found them ineffectual. But then with our reproofs we ought to take care that we do not intermingle lightness or drollery on the one hand, nor passion or sharp invectives on the other; but that we perform this merciful office with the greatest