PUTTI G THE HA D TO THE PLOW. BY ATHA IEL W. TAYLOR, D. D.

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LUKE ix. 62. " And Jesus said unto him, Ko man haying put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'* There are few persons to whom the solemn alternative of the gospel is presented, who do not feel the importance of deciding the simple yet momentous question, What toili I do f Its overtures must either be accepted or rejected, and that under the pressure of the most weighty obligations, and with the prospect of the most tremendous consequences. ow it is, we believe, impossible that these things should be clearly brought before the mind, without producing a state of anxious hesitation between opposite determinations, which leads the mind to incline first to the one, then toward the other. It was to a person in such a state of mind that our Lord addressed the declaration in the text. On hearing the call of the Saviour, he said: "Lord, I will follow thee ;" but, at the same time, proposed first to go and bid them farewell that were at home at his father's house. Thus, in the very act as it were of forming the resolution, he betrayed its weakness. He discovered a purpose far below that strength of decision, and that unqualified devotedness which the case demanded, and thus virtually surrendered the enterprise in which he professed to engage. By a proverbial mode of speaking, our Lord then most pointedly reproves this indecision of purpose in religion. To put the hand to the plow^ is to enter ostensibly upon some undertaking, to embark in some pursuit with an apparent purpose of securing its object; and to look hack, implies that

414 PUTTI G THE HA D TO THE PLOW. divided state of mind, and that irresolateness of purpofie wbick are a virtaal abandonment of the end propoeed, and are, therefore, fatal to success. We are thus taught that a wayering and undetermined state of mind in religion is as fatal as it is in any other pursuit, that it can never form that character which qualifies for the kingdom of Ood* My design is to consider — First, Some instances of this indecision of purpose in religion; and Second, Its utter insufficiency to form the Christian character. L Among those who, in the language of the text, put the hand to the plow and look back, may be mentioned the following classes. 1. those who would become religious were it not that they wish first to secure some worldly good. The reality, the excellence, and the necessity of religion, Buch persons readily acknowledge. Often they feel a painful internal conflict, a self-dissatisfaction and yexation of mind that they cannot obtain some new thought, or feeling, or motive, that they have not more sense, more resolution, more any thing, which shall secure them from such disgraceful indecision, and constrain them to a course so obviously rational and so vastly important. Every such person, at times, thinks that ho will begin to make religion his grand object The end is too glorious, the interests at stake too momentous to be longer neglected. The feeling seems to be, " Lord, I will follow thee." But just when the first decisive step toward executing the purpose by a full surrendering of the whole man to God, just when the turning-point comes, new thoughts occur.

Religion is, indeed, a good thing; it is too important to be finally abandoned. But, then, how can all the happy prospects which the world spreads before its votaries — ^how can all these promising schemes of wealth, or honor, or pleasure be abandoned, be sacrificed, by an immediate surrendry of the whole heart to Christ f Let these be first secured, and

PUTTI G THE HA D TO THB PLOW. 415 Aen religion shall have an nnreeenred attention — an unhesitating porpose. Thns religion is not ultimately abandoned, God's dominion and favor are not finally abjured, Jesns and his salvation are not forever renounced ; but all their claims most be deferred till a portion on earth is first secured. Thus the weakness of the resolution is betrayed; the object on which the purpose seems to fix as one of unrivaled importance, and of indispensable accomplishment, is abandoned. Every such person has put his hand to the plow, and looked back. 2. The same thing is true of those who are prevented from coming to a decided purpose in religion by certain embarrassments and difficulties. Often under the clear exhibition of its divine excellence, its high obligations and supreme importance, they resolve to make it the grand concern, and to begin immediately, or at least to resolve that nothing shall long detain them from so doing. Thus they are often brought to the very point of making firm resolve in this highest, noblest enterprise of man. But then there are many things to be considered. Is the present the best time ; will not circumstances become more favorable by delay ; will not more leisure, less care and bustle in business, or fewer worldly engagements, be found to prevent or hinder the effectual accomplishment of the purpose hereafter} At present friends are not pious, and how difficult to separate from them ; perhaps the time may come, and oh that it might, when they shall be willing to enter on a religious course. What awkwardness and difficulties will be felt in

effecting the necessary changes in the family, and in other departments of social intercourse ! How can the society and friendship of such and such persons be forfeited, as it must be, by the proposed change in the manner of life? If friends and acquaintances were different from what they are — if others around were making religion the grand concern — ^how easy it would be to act more decisively. But as it is, what will people say — how many remarks, how many questions, how much ridicule and contempt, and alienation ? How singular

416 PUTTI G THE HAKD TO VHB ^PIiOW. it will appear. Thus, if the pnrpofie is not fonnally renonsced, there is a secret wish to renounce it Again^ howeva-, the conviction of the wisdom and necessity of the case retnms with greater force — for what are all these things compared with the loss of the sonlt And now, is it practicable f — shall I become a Christian if I undertake! Perhaps if I form a d^ termination it will be onlj to abandon it and to incar the shame and obloquy of beginning to build and not being able to finish. Thus, in the minds of such persons the embarrassments and di£Sculties seem to be peculiar and insurmountable. There are ten thousand insuperable tfs that rise like mountains to prevent the salvation of their souls. Thus, the strength of their purpose abates and its ardor expires. Soon the wisdom, or tlxe necessity, or even the possibili^ of conversion, is made a question, and the purpose is surrendered, if not finally, only to be resumed with less hope and relinquished with less regret and concern, till it is terminated by death and damnation. Every such person puts his hand to the plow and lo(^ back. S. The same thing is true of those who, in times of deep affliction, sudden danger, or alarming sickness, have formed resolntions to become religions, and who abandon them on a change of circumstances. Such cases have fallen imder the observation of almost every one, if they have not been matters of fact in his own experience.

Under affliction tlie sensibilities of the soul are softened, the influence of the world to seduce and blind and harden is diminished, the need of a more enduring substance is seen, and the powers of the world to come are felt. At such a season, it is as easy as it is common to form resolutions and purposes to renounce the world and sin, and to make religion and the concerns of the soul the grand object. The coimteuance, the conversation, the abated ardor of worldly pursuits, the suspension of worldly pleasures, all seem to say, "Lord, I will follow thee." But scarcely, in many cases, is the rod of chastisement withdrawn — scarcely has

PUTTI G THE HA D TO THB PLOW. 417 the wound time to heal, or its first anguish to abate — scarcely does health again smile in the family, business assume itft successful course, and the world invite to its accustomed pleasures, before the first rising tide of prosperity rolls back with it the same indifference to the soul, and buries it in the same sottish devotion to the things of time and sense. In seasons of danger, how many have resolved on amend-* ment, should deliverance be granted. Then no more is expected from the world ; then no space for delay remains, the world vanishes, and but a moment, perhaps, remains for preparation for eternity ; or, if life should be preserved, then it is seen how frail it is, how near death always is, and how presumptuous have been the confident expectations cherished in the day of healtH and apparent security, and how wise, when so liable to be met by death at every step, to be always readyWho in the hour of peril has not felt all this, and, under its influence, resolved to devote his life if prolonged, to diligent preparation for meeting his final Judge? But oh, how frail the purpose ! In the moment of danger there are resolutions, vows, prayers, tears, solemn protestations, deep relentings, promises, every thing to secure a life of future piety. But the danger past, how soon is all forgotten ! How easy and com-

mon to tremble amid the terrors of the tempest, and yet when it is over, to blaspheme the Creator of the storm ! Under the alarms of dangerous disease, when death is seen in the mourning countenances of friends, in the desponding efforts of physicians, and in every symptom of the disease — what tears of sorrow, what self-condemnation, what strong resolutions, what fair promises, what solemn vows have been witnessed. But when health returns, what then, in most cases, becomes of these hopeful plans of salvation ? The condition of such persons changed, and how is every thing changed with it; prayer into presumption, and terror into security! All this piety has subsided with their fever, all this devotion vanished with their disease, and all these promises, and vows, and resolutions have lasted only with their inability to break 18* 27

418 PUTTI G THB HA D TO TILK TJ^Vm them. This man of prayer, this soul of sanc^tj, what is he I A bolder rebel against Ood than ever— a faithless, may 1 not say, a hopeless apostate. He also has pnt his hand to the plow, and looked back. 4. The same charge lies against those who have been the subjects of special religious awakening, and who afterward return to stupidity in sin.

Instances of tliis kind, in places blessed with the revival of religion, are commonly not rare. Few can stand by the dis-* plays of mercy made during such a period, without some secret wish that they may be included in the number, or at least without occasional fear and trembling that, while others are taken, they shall be left. Conscience now pleads with irresistible power in behalf of religion and the soul, the world sinks to sometliing like its true insignificance, eternal realities weigh on the spirit. Every thing, to the eye of external observation, looks fair and promising. The purpose to make religion the grand concern, and that at every sacrifice, and in defiance of every obstacle, seems to have taken possession of the soul. Means arc used with apparent diligence. Christians pray, conscience urges, the Spirit of God strives, and in anticipation we seem to see the humble, happy, devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus. But, alas, the change I He has been, perhaps, relying on the eflicacy of his impenitent, heartless doings, and flattering himself that, though unsuccessful, he has done all he can do ; the failure disappoints and discourages, and the pui^pose is abandoned. Or, perhaps, he persuades himself, and on the authority, as he thinks, of his own experience, that religious awakening is not a diflScult attainment, and that he can discard his present anxiety, and recall it at a more convenient season. Or, perhaps, reluctant to encounter the shame and mortification of making known his religious fears and disquietude, he has in fact remained willfully ignorant of the instruction and direction which would have issued in his convereion. Or, perhaps, wearied with his unsuccessful efforts, and with a heart still longing for the world, and yet unable

PfJTTI O THB HA D TO THB PLOW, 41* to resist the power of truth 6n the conscience^ he listens tti false instruction that quiets his alarm, or even becomes the victim of some strong delusion, and is left to believe a lie that he may be damned. Or, perhaps, he changes liis associates-— > one laughs, another frowns, another assures him that all this

anxiety is useless enthusiasm and gloom, far beneath a man of sense, kindly regrets that he should have been thus deluded, and persuasively invites and artfully charms his unwary steps to scenes of amusement and pleasure, where his feet take hold on helL Every such person has put his hand to the plow, and looked back. Having thus attempted to trace some of the operations of an undecided purpose in religion, I proceed, as I proposed, to consider — n. Its utter insufficiency to form the Christian character. 1. An undecided purpose in religion is sure, sooner or later, to abandon its object. Strength of resolution is requisite for every purpose of human life. Show me a man destitute of it, and I will show you one who never did well in any thing. A divided purpose never secured wealth to the mercliant, nor victory to the conqueror — least of all, can success be expected to crown such a purpose in religion. This path is beset with difficulties, with temptations, with dangers, with terrors, and with death ; and he only can hope to enter upon it with success, who has that determined, self-decided spirit which is ]>reparcd to act, to suffer, or to die as duty may require. The ])ath is so obstructed that no other spirit can pass. With any other purpose tlie man yields to whatever may assail him ; and amid the innumerable things that will occur to arrest his progress, as he tries to go onward, with a heart easily seduced in its affections, and yet, in fact, supremely devoted to the world, what chance is there that he will not, like the floating leaf, yield to every current, , and be whirled on every eddy ? If one is to become a Christian only when difficulties, and temptations, and obstacles of every kind shall be cleared from his path, when the world, in all

420 PUTTI G THE HA D TO THB PLOW!

its endlessly diversified forms, shall acquiesce and bid him CJod speed, in kind accommodation to his wishes — ^what is to be hoped for? othing at all. o. He most set up a firm resolve, taking things just as they are. He must look well to the emergency, he must count the cost before he lays down the resolution ; but when he has resolved, he must be immutable. He must become the master of his own mind, and thus rise above the world, and through prosperity and adversity, fame or persecution, life or death, go from conquering to conquer. Instead of being governed by events, he must govern them, and like the providence of God take a steady direction, and make the course of things bend to his purposes, and terminate in his glory. Do you say such a purpose is from the grace of God? Be it so, as it undoubtedly is. But come whence it may, you must have it, and you must form it too, or you never will have it. othing else constitutes discipleship to the Lord Jesus, nothing short of it qualifies for the kingdom of God. Without it, whatever other resolutions you may form — if you do not settle it as a question of life and death, if you do not resolve on heaven as your object in God's appointed way — you will never see it ; the world will tempt, and seduce, and ultimately draw you down to peixlition. 2. An undecided, fluctuating purpose in religion greatly impairs the energies of the mind, and thus defeats its object. This principle of the mind is seen in every thing. Whoever knew a man that was always forming and revoking his resolutions, I do not say that ever accomplished any thing, but who had the requisite mental energy to accomplish any thing? Tlie veiy feelings are expended, and the sensibilities impaired, which are necessary to firmness of purpose and vigor of execution. These principles not only hold in the concerns of the soul, but have here their most alarming application. Tlie whole measure of sensibility which pertains to the soul, is here required to give energy to the purpose. All its practical sensibilities are on the side of the world and of sin, heightened by habit, and made as it were omnipotent by indulgence. The

PUTTI G THE HA D TO THB PLOW. 42} first feelings of the soul toward religion are always the mo^t powerful. Every exhibition of motives which is coanteracted, renders the same exhibition more and more hopeless as to all effect. Familiarity only produces stupidity; resistance, obduracy. At the same time, all the opposite tendencies of the soul are strengthened. Thus every broken resolution gives the world new strength of dominion, invites and welcomes temptation, impairs all the susceptibilities of the mind toward spiritual realities, and binds the soul in the iron chains of exhausted energy, deep discouragement, and determined sin. Do you doubt it ? Many a gray-headed sinner, who, in youth or even in advanced age, formed again and again resolutions to begin a holy life, scarcely thinks of such a purpose, but abandons the concern in sullen inactivity, as if he had read the counsels of heaven, and found his perdition sealed. What, then, is to be hoped for from such a process ? What to be expected, when the judgment is put in requisition to produce excitement which only exhausts and wastes all the energies of the inner man, and thus reacts only with augmented obduracy in sin? What is to be expected, when conscience is summoned to act, and roused to feel and resolve, only to blunt and benumb its sensibilities as if seared with a hot iron? othing but death. o — when the judgment decides with a strong preference toward religion, then must be roused along with it all the moral sensibilities of the soul. The intellect, or the power to see, must carry with it the conscience and the heart — the power to feel. When the judgment is convinced, then the conscience must be yielded to the power of obligation as to the pressure of great mountains, and the heart applied to objects of holy affection as if heaven with its glories beamed on the sight. o part of the energy must be lost till the purpose is formed. And it must be formed not for an experiment, to see what results may follow; but it must be formed for eternity, and thus insure its results by the promises of God. Without some such intenseness of mind, and decision of purpose, there can be no discipleship to Jesus. Thousands,

tfS PUTTI G THE HA D TO THB PLOW. in a serioB of ansncccssful resolyes, havo wasted feeling uid energy enough to have secured their salration had it been concentrated on a single purpose. They resolve and re-resolve, but, never bidding the world farewell, never going so far away from it that they cannot go back, every purpose fails, and the end of it is, they go down to hell amid the fragments of broken vows and broken resolutions, to bewail their folly in the horrors of despair. 3. That an undecided purpose in religion cannot form the Christian character, is evident from the fact that it still leaves the soul as completely under the dominion of sin as if it had no existence. It is nothing in any case but a convinced judgment, and a troubled conscience struggling with the heart. The former summons to the service of God ; the latter refuses submission, and still maintains its devotion to the world, and its opposition to God. And what fitness is there for the kingdom of God in all this — what of the spirit of loyalty to the Eternal in a convinced judgment and an opposing heart — ^what qualification for the service required of his subjects here, or for the joys to be awarded to them hereafter? Was it a mere struggle between an enlightened conscience and a rebel heart that led propliets, and apostles, and martyrs to resist unto blood, to take joyfully tlie spoiling of their goods, and to rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ ? Is it a mere fluctuation of purpose, wliich results from a conviction of duty on the one hand, and opposition to it on the other, which serves and enjoys God m the lieavens? Will such a purpose prompt the disembodied spirit to fly on errands of mercy from heaven to earth, or to fuliill the holy services of that temple, whose song is, " Holy, holy, holy. Lord Go<l Almighty ?" Could such a spirit associate with beings whose love is as a flame of fire 'i Could it strike the harps of angels,

or shout the hosannahs of the redeemed ? And what would such a spirit of hesitation do in heaven? It would still hesitate, and still revolt, and oppose and hate, and sink and die

PtTTTIira THB HA D TO THS PLOW. 4S8 nnder a sense of perpetual dissolution and angui^. To qualify, then, for the kingdom of God, as it exists on earth or in heaven, there must be a faU parpose of soxd. Without it, nothing is done — nothing can be done. There is nothing but absolute, perfect fitness for heaven, or fitness, absolute, perfect fitness for hell. 4. An undecided purpose in religion grieves the Holy Ghost and fearfully exposes to judicial abandonment of God. The very object for which the Holy Spirit strives with the sinner, is to bring him to a full and decided purpose of soul in the service of God. To form, therefore, these half-way resolutions, and still to maintain a hesitating purpose, to refuse and hold back the surrendry of the whole man to God, is a direct resistance and counteraction of the work of the Holy Ghost. And how long can this be safely done ? How long can the Holy Ghost, whose principle of dispensation is not to strive always, be safely resisted? How long can the sinner, thus constrained by conscience, make resolutions, and through the influence of an opposing heart revoke them, and yet expect the Spirit of grace to visit that heart with his influence? Who are the sinners whom he abandons but those on whom the experiment of his grace has proved thus ineffectual ? Who, if not those whom his influence has brought again and again, as it were, to the very point of submission, and who have there, again and again, with the spirit of unconquerable rebellion, withstood the efforts of his grace? If there be any sinner whom God abandons to hardness of heart — if there be any who is left to treasure up wrath against the day of wrath in hopeless impenitence, and that there is the Bible clearly asserts — then of that sinner, who forms and revokes resolutions,

who resolves to make religion his grand concern to-day, abandons the purpose to-morrow, who has been often brought to feel that he must begin, and will begin, and yet has really never begun the work of turning to God — I say, if there be any sinner whom God abandons to inevitable perdition, of this sinner it may be said, "Thou art the man."

424 PUTTI G THE HA D TO THE PLOW. And now, my dear hearers, in conclusion, let me send the question to all of you who are yet out of the kingdom of CSirist, have yon not often put your hand to the plow and looked back ? llave you not, in some one or more of the ways which have now been pointed out, formed and revoked purposes of repentance and salvation? Have you not, by the power of truth, been 1>rought to a stand, and, as it were, forced to resolve to take care of your never-dying soul — ^and has not the world still seduced and drawn you back into former forgetfulness and neglect ? And tell me, what has all this availed; are you not yet in the gall of bitterness? Does not your own experience tell you that every new resolution is weaker than the former, and does not reason, does not the Bible tell you that continuing in this course there is for you absolutely no hope? Come, then, fellow-sinners, to a full decided purpose. TLe Saviour calls, ^' Come and follow me ; take up your cross and come after me." Deny thyself, give up the world as an object of supreme aflfection, and with a purpose that will lift you out of this materialism around you, and place you high above every temptation and every obstacle the world can interpose, with a purpose that shall hold out through time and through eternitv, now resolve to be the Lord's. Do you say it will do no good to resolve ; that it is better not to resolve tlian to break resolutions, and therefore you will make no resolution? Tlien you are undone. ever to resolve is death. ever resolve, and all the mercy of the Saviour and love of God are in vain, and as sure as there is a hell you are the victim of tribulation and wrath and

anguish without end. Do you, then, say you will resolve ? When ? Do you say to-day — even now ? But how will you resolve? Will you resolve to abandon some vice, resolve to become more thoughtful, resolve to enter the service of Christ with your heart glued to the world ? Better not resolve at all. Will you resolve to consider, and read, and pray, and thus to wait and see if God will not convert you? Still you have not come to the point. All this you may do and still

PUTTI G THE HA D TO THE PLOW. 425 determine to withhold your heart, and thus grieve the Holy Ghost in your very prayers. Your resolution, if this be all, will come to naught in this world but confirmation in sin, and perdition in hell in the next. Do you now ask what you shall do? Resolve on an interest in Christ and devotion to bis service at every sacrifice ; come to the point of giving up the world once for all ; come to the resolution that, whether saved or damned, the world shall be no longer tlie object of your affection. Turn your back upon it and bid it farewell forever. Your soul and all its eternal interests are at stake, and something must be done, and done soon. ow is the time, the best time, perhaps the only time, to provide for those interests. ow, then, begin ; begin with a purpose whicli neither earth nor hell can shake or cause you to abandon. Resolve, and resolve for eternity, to be the Lord's. See to it that your decision is final and unchangeable. K the first attempt fail repeat it. Repeat it now — ^repeat it in your closet. Repeat it again and again. Go where yon shall be alone with God, and there repeat it. Here is the pivot on which your eternal destiny turns. If you make no resolution you are damned ; if you form none but undecided, wavering purposes, you are damned. Form, then, the resolution that shall endure throughout your immortality — that this shall be ever the great concern — that, saved or lost, you will ever be the Lord's.

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