The eleventh hour." — Matt. xx. 6.

ThESE words occur in a memorable parable, pronounced by Him who spake as " never man spake." It is to the following effect. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market-place, and said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard ; and whatsoever is right, I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them. Why stand ye here all the day

idle? They say unto him. Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard ; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive." The subsequent part of the narrative states, that at the conclusion of the day, the labourers who had begun their work the last, received their reward the first ; that their recompense was equal to the amount with which those were remunerated who had " borne the burden and heat of the day ;" that against the discontent of the latter, the " goodman of the house" asserted his right to make his own distribution ; and that the arrangement acted upon was unaltered and was final.

You will perceive, from the remark at

* Addressed to the aged. Vol. II 33


the close of the relation, that this parable was intended to illustrate the significant maxim which preceded it, — " Many that are first shall be last ; and the last shall be first." The specific principle to which both the maxim and the parable applied, was, that the Jews were not to be sole possessors of the promise of honour and everlasting life previously announced, — but that the Gentiles, who had longbeen alienated from God, were about to be visited by the tidings, and introduced to the blessingrs of mercy, — and that while the Jews, by their obdurate unbelief, were about to lose their national pre-eminence, and to be visited by desolating judgments, the Gentiles were to occupy their place in the aboundings of privilege, and to be admitted in innumerable multitudes to the felicities of the future world.

While stating this to be the primary ob3

ject of the Saviour's narrative, we cannot but observe, that circumstances connected with the lives and spiritual position of individuals, may be in some respects analogous to what it records, with this public and general view, respecting the labourers. To say that it applies directly and originally to individuals, and on that principle uniformly, and in every part, to expound it, would be a mistake by no means trivial ; but still there seems no possible impropriety in founding upon it those remarks which are suggested by resemblances, and which, in themselves true and important, cannot be stated and urged without promoting the best interests of immortal souls. I now venture, y2 257




from the motto selected and read, to advance and enforce some remarks of this nature, tlie particular application of which will be to a class you will at once identify, when we name the following topics of our discourse : — That the time mentioned may represent an advanced period in human life, — that men are to be found in this period inattentive to the concerns of true religion, — that they who are found inattentive in this period are involved in peculiar perils, — and thatdivine grace sometimes displays itself, by making this period to be one of true and saving conversion. Let those on whom years have multiplied render to these remarks their most devout and serious regard ; but let none be unconcerned or careless, — let all seek to deduce the im5

provement which may prepare them for their own eternity.

First, The time mentioned may represent AN ADVANCED PERIOD IN HUMAN LIFE.

Amidst the numerous figurative representations of human life, it is frequently and appropriately compared to a day. When we single out one of those specific periods which are marked by the rising and setting of the sun, we find that there is presented to us a miniature resemblance of an entire existence. We are accustomed to speak of the morning of life, the meridian of life, the evening of life ; the morning signifying the season of youth, when much of existence appears still unoccupied, and when there seems a constant unfolding and advance of the intellectual and corporeal powers ; the meridian signifying the season of manhood, when nature is judged to have

attained its perfection, and to be clothed in its highest glory ; the evening signifying the season of age, when there is a regularly progressing decline, and when it is necessarily calculated that probation will soon terminate in the destiny of the grave. By this emblem, the general fact of the brevity of life is impressively illustrated. In application to that fact, David employed it, connected with another figure, in one of the most emphatic of the scriptural representations as to the state of man. "In the morning, they

are like grass which groweth up; in the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth." Sometimes life may appear to occupy extended dimensions, — yet the period will arrive when, by all, it will be considered hut like a day, — so swift its flight, so ephemeral its duration, so in7

tangible its events; when it will seem to shrink into a mere point; and when all its transactions shall be as if crowded into one of the very least measurements ( f chronology, — a whole existence being " but as yesterday when it is past." O, it is of vast importance to admit and to improve the estimate !

In our arranged application of the phrase of the text, it will point us to the time when life is about to terminate. " The eleventh hour" is near the close of the day ; the sun has far descended ; the shadows of evening are rapidly diffusing and deepening, and prognosticate that shortly the season to which that hour belongs will be finished. Hence we are led to contemplate the case of persons, who are soon to be removed from the scenes of earth, and to go down to the abodes where " the light is as darkness." Especially we have to consider, as being in this period, the aged, — those who have

long passed the more active seasons of existence, who are fast f Ifilling their " threescore years and ten," or it may be are beyond them ; and who now totter in the feebleness and decay which prove exhausted powers, and are a public proclamation of approaching death. They also are in this period, who, although perhaps the number of their years is comparatively few, have been paralyzed in tho sinews of strengh, and stripped of the resources of constitution, by the spoiling hand of early infirmity, and of whom it is plain that their " sun will go down while it is yet day." And many may be in " the eleventh hour" who know it not ; — they may be securelycounf ing up, and reposing on, their reasons for expecting a long future continuance in this world, while death is standing by, and laughing at their arithmetic ; and amidst their dreams of health and numerous enjoyments, the arm of the king of terrors





may be lifted, to strike and prostrate ihem as his victims.

" The eleventh hour," the period in this manner illustrated, should never be viewed without heart-stirring emotion. Its position and connexion require that it should be seriously pondered by all men, whether far advanced in ag[e, whether the subjects of premature decline, or whether

rejoicing in imaginations of vigour and unshaken health. Not only does it portend a speedy separation from the associations and scenes of this visible world ; — it is on the verge of another state ; it is on the borders of the line which separates probation from doom ; and adjoins the regions where .Spirits dwell in retribu

who have wellnigh passed the course of their earthly existence without having admitted the influences of religion, and who, in the solemn circumstances to which we have adverted, are still inconsiderate, unprepared, and endangered, can scarcely be contemplated without a fearful surprise. It might he expected, that with the progress of life there would be an augmenting anxiety respecting the method of its close; it might be expected, that with the increasingly distinct appearance of the final change, there would be

more urgent and diligent preparation to meet it ; it might be expected, that the members of a generation wellnigh passed away, would present a uniform and an

tion. Momentous is the change, when instructive example of holy readiness for the little space beyond it is past. There | the moment of their departure, and that

then comes a summons from beyond the grave, which none can disobey. We go, —and at once there flashes npon us the light of judgment : we go, — and we gaze upon the peopled habitations of everlasting fate : we go, — and our hearts ^ive up their secrets to the scrutiny of Jehovah : we go, — and the voice from the throne pronounces, in thrilling accents, the sentence of vengeance or reward : we go, —


and we dwell where songs of happiness ring in their melody through the temple of the skies, or where the weeping and bowlings of despair proclaim the terrors and torments of the damned ! — How is it possible to view the approach and arrival of " the eleventh hour" with indifference 1 Ought not the thoughts of it to be frequent, and ought not every thought of it to be carefully improved 1 Will ymi not endeavour to apply it to the high emotions it requires ? I now press the contemplation of it upon you, especially on those who have been heedless of its advance, . — and cannot but express the wish of intense earnestness — " O that ye were wise, that ye understood this, that ye would consider your latter end 1"

Secondly, Men are to be fouxd i\ this

PERIOD inattentive TO THE CONCERNS OF TRt'E religion.


The fact of insensibility to religion, on the part of persons who have arrived at " the eleventh hour," appears, at the first sight, singular and strange. Men

"The eleventh hour" would be one of devout waiting, the aflTections being disengaged from this world, and the whole soul absorbed in the anticipations of another. Such a state of mind would always obtain and govern, were the passions of men to be regulated by the prospect of their eternal award ; the character would thus be adapted to the season, and the season would prelude the rising of immortal g'ory.

Yet how far different is the truth ! How many have been found near the termination of the day, who have not entered, and who have not desired to enter, into the vineyard ! There are multitudes who

have traversed the career of time, and have come to the verge of eternity, in whose bosoms has arisen no serious concern for the well-being of that soul which so soon must be the inhabitant of heaven or of hell. You have yourselves seen persons perishing in premature disease, totally unimbued with the principles of piety, and averse to their proclamation, when the sentence of death was visibly stamped upon their brow. You have yourselves seen the infirm and aged, to whom the lease allowed for the tenure of existence has gone, of whom you could not believe that they had ever been animated to work for God, and seek for their own salvation. Painful and affecting is it to look upon the numerous remnants of a former time we see around us




tottering under the weight of accumulated years, and yet unborn to God. Long instruction has imparted no knowledge, and gray hairs have brought no wisdom. Opportunities have passed away, and appeals have died into the silence of forgetfulness, — all opportunities afforded, and all appeals uttered in vain. They stand, bleaching for the harvest of eternity, and already trembling for the sickle, barren and unfruitful ; they stand, idle for the whole day of life, and already surrounded by the shadows, which deepen and blacken until they reach the palpable darkness of an everlasting midnight in hell.

In what manner is this mournful fact of inconsideration, at such a period, to be

accounted for 1 The ultimate and complete explanation can alone be found, in referring to that depraved disinclination to attend to spiritual things, which forms a part in the present moral constitution of human nature, and which characterizes without exception every human being. From the earliest years we all dislike to recognise the claims of God, and the importance of eternity ; and find our pleasure in indulging the passions, and resorting to the courses, inflexibly denounced by the divine law. We " love darkness rather than light." " The carnal mind is enmity against God." Now, all whom we observe closing their probationary state without religion, are persons in whom this sad hostility has been left to its unfettered course, and by long indulgence has fastened its unwavering hold. In their past experience, varieties not inconsiderable may be discovered : their education, and their connexions in life, may have been more or less favourable to spi17

ritual knowledge and impression ; their talents and privileges may have been unequally distributed : — but at the root, this grand evil is to be found, — as the poisoning principle, the source of all their fearful indiiference ; and we have to regard them in one appalling light — the examples of continued and confirmed depravity.

There are persons within the hearing of this address, far advanced in life, to whom applies the distressing charge, that they are now inattentive to the all-import-

ant realities of religion. Some of you " have not the knowledge of God ; I speak this to your shame." Your hearts have never yet been softened into contrition : you are yet going about to establish a righteousness of your own : you yet feel no need of Christ, and stand far

apart from an interest in his atonement : 3'ou yet love the world and worldly things, and have no treasure but on earth : and were this moment to be your last, you would appear without a plea before the judgment-seat. And why is it? Tell us not of excuses and apologies for your long delay; think not to exonerate yourselves from guilt, and to prove that your course till now, may be accounted for by adequate and unexceptionable reasons, — I repeat it, — to nothing, after all, is your conduct to be traced, but to the wicked alienation of your minds from God. Whatever you may be able to state as disadvantages and obstacles which have attended your earlier career, you cannot avert or evade this affecting fact; and you must possess a thorough conviction of its truth, and become the subjects of all the feelings it can inspire, if you would escape the destroying wrath of the avenger. Can you say that you have not possessed abundant means of knowledge, and that

you have not possessed many opportunities of turning to God, if you would T Can you say that this is the first time you have had any suggestions, as to the importance of sah'ation and the solemnities of eternity ? Have conscience, providence, and religion been silent until now? O no — and you know it ! Then let the delusion which attempts to conceal from you youi real case be shaken off, and go, in profound self-abasement, to the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, as alone imparting security from the wrath to come. And let us all, whatever position we occupy in the term of life, seek for the blessing of grace, which shall conquer our natural corruption — that tremendous foe, and implant the principle of regenerated holiness ; let us all piously breathe, and henceforth live in the practical spirit of the desire to Him from whom i we derived our being, and who will ere , long bring us to death, — " So teach us to





numher our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom .'"

To enforce further the important application in view, remark —

Thirdly, They who are found inattentive IN THIS PERIOD, ARE INVOLVED IN PECULIAR PERILS.


To exist without bsing influenced by personal religion, not exercising repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, is, in every case, to be in a state of alarming danger. Impenitence, at all periods of life, is under the direct condemnation of God; and, remembering the inflexibility of the divine justice, and those uncertainties attached to human existence which may so rapidly bring into contact with it, no transgressor of any age can be looked upon, but with anxiety, and fear, and trembling. Yet when we contemplate a sinner whose day is evidently waning towards its last moments, and who is yet in the gall of bitterness, and in the bonds of iniquity, we find circumstances connected with his condition, which justly excite a far greater intensity of solicitude. To those circumstances let us more distinctly advert.

The principal evil connected with

transgressors of " the eleventh hour" is the hardness of heart which prolonged inattention to religion has necessarily produced. The continued indulgence of depravity always renders that depravity more decided and more inveterate. It is like the operation of the fluid, by which the softest substances become hardened into petrifaction. Every human being must, with the course of time, be the subject of a constant moral progression, advancing either in holiness or in sin. The indisposition to religion, and the unfitness for it, regularly augment with the lapse of opportunities and years. " A body dead some few hours," observes an eminent divine,* " is a subject more capable of having life breathed into it, than when it is putrefied, and partly mouldered to dust. A young tree may more easily bo taken up and transplanted, than a strong old oak, which hath spread

* Chamock.

its roots deep into the earth. The more rooted the habit of sin, the harder the alteration of the soul. Every sin in an unregenerate man is an adding a new stone to the former heap upon the grave, to hinder his resurrection. It is a fetter and a bond of iniquity ; and the more new chains are put upon thee, the more unable wilt thou be to stir. Satan will be diligent to keep up his own work ; the longer his possession, the more difficult his departure."

Ministers of the gospel, and other pious men, have had constant occasion to observe the unquestionable truth of these solemn principles. They have been led to remark in coincidence with them, that much less impression is made upon the aged than upon the young; that the number of conversions in advanced life is com24

paratively few ; that the v/armest and most melting appeals are heard with imperturbable indifference ; that while younger sinners have quailed and trembled, the gray in age and wickedness have been unmoved as the adamant ; and that on every hand, the testimony of fact painfully corroborates the word of inspiration — " Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." Is it strange, then, that they should regard you, ye ancient transgressors, with fearful and unequalled apprehension 1 Is it strange that, towards you, their exhortations should be more importunate, and their agency more impassioned ¦? Well indeed may they labour with the most vehement energy of soul, to arouse you, and cause you to flee from the dangers of inattention in " the eleventh hour!"

Further, we have to remember the

hinderances arising from the pressure of bodily pain, or from the decay of the intellectual faculties. Religious consideration is much and necessarily retarded by the inconveniences resulting from corporeal disease : — and how often is the closing period of existence a season of sore disease and anguish, when the mind can scarcely raise a tl\ought away from the convulsions which are to accomplish the fall of the earthly tabernacle ! — The diffi-



culties often resulting from the intellectual state of advanced age, are even

more portentous. The powers of the mind, except in some singular and extraordinary cases, naturally lose a portion of their acuteness and activity, and have a greater reluctance to receive new ideas, and attempt arduous efforts. For this reason, as well as from the force of moral perversion, the great business of salvation is viewed with repugnance, and its very grandeur silently argues for its continued neglect and delay. There are many instances of rapid decline, when the grasp of the understanding not only slackens, but fails, — and the humbling and mournful imbecility of a second childhood suspends the exercise of memory and thought, and leaves man but a helple&s and a desolate wreck. If tliese be tiie concomitants of age and sickness — can we estimate their palpable influence of spiritual opportunities, without perceiving their appalling dangers, — and must we not reiterate the fervent prayer, that God would save you at once from inattention

in " the eleventh hour ]"

In expounding this perilous state, we must also notice, ils inevilable and vbservable nearness to the miseries of the eternal world. We have already mentioned the period with the interests of which we are now specially concerned, as being on the verge of another, and a retributive state ; and because they who have reached it, are not prepared to enter that state for the enjoyment of acceptance and happiness, they have only the prospect of being overwhelmed in its unspeakable and irremediable sorrows. Behold, then, how fearful the spot of ground on which now they stand ! The last promise of mercy is about to be hushed into silence. A brief space will put them for ever beyond the reach of grace and hope. The voice of the Judge is about to pronounce the sentence of his indignation. The flame of Tophet is already flashing upon tliem, and will soon enwrap them in the

torment of its everlasting fire. Does no thrill of horror pass through your bosoms.

as you gaze upon them ] Do you not

feel as if you wished to rush forward and j shed a changeless radiance

snatch them away 1 Would you not cry [ scenes of immortality.

a loud alarm, and entreat them now to escape for their lives, lest they be consumed ? — Endangered immortals ! As in the sight of your retribution, we invoke you, without one moment's delay, to awake, and arise, and turn, lest the wrath should be upon you ! Is it possible that any will yet remain unconcerned, when they look upon this climax of the peril of " the eleventh hour ]"


Let us now in some degree relieve the awfulness with which our subject is invested, by remarking —

Fourthly, Divine grace sometimes


" The eleventh hour" may be the first of entering the vineyard. It is not for a moment to be imagined, tliat any circumstances of rational existence are beyond the reach of mercy, and are to be viewed with emotions of despair. We can resign the hope of salvation with respect to none : never can it be pronounced too late. All warnings of danger, and all expressions of fear, must be qualified by the delightful reflection, that God is able to render the very season of extreme peril, that in which may be seen the most illustrious operation of his arm in achieving

the work of eternal redemption. Suppose not that there is no energy suflicient to produce, in practised and inveterate sinners, godly sorrow and repentance ; and suppose not that when they do repent, their acceptance is doubtful, and their salvation may not be accomplished. Yea, we assure you, that if there be within your bosoms the stirrings of contrition, — no matter how heinous may have been your guilt, and no matter how protracted your inattention and delay, — you will find the grace of God to be abundant and ample : your long-continued iniquities will be forgiven; you will be fully introduced to the privileges of the glorious gospel, and be made heirs of eternal life; and when you shall have passed the darkness of the grave, there will arise upon you a sun whose light shall never go down, and which shall

over the




An example is sometimes the most forcible method of impressing a general truth ; and a well-known and beautiful example is at once suggested here. The communication of mercy to the thief who was crucified with the Redeemer, well illustrates the principles just stated, and presents to you an encouragement most animating and delightful. His transgressions in former life had doubtless been numerous and atrocious, and even when suspended on the instrument of ignominious death, he had joined in reviling the Redeemer of the world. It was

amid the very pangs of the expiring agony, and when his spirit was trembling on the verge of eternity, that he melted into the tenderness of penitence, and exercised the confidence of faith, and wrestled in the fervency of prayer; and then, when a few moments would have launched him into the realms of hopeless condemnation, he received the pledge of forgiveness, and the promise of being, ere that day had gone, in paradise with his Lord ! It was a ransom in " the eleventh hour," — it was a rescue from the borders of the pit. It is a pattern of the might of mercy, — a witness against the guilt of despair. Should despondency rest her heavy hand upon you, when the plague of the heart has been revealed, — think of the expiring malefactor ; and learn, that no circumstances can be desperate, — and learn, that the bruised reed never shall be broken, and that the smoking flax never shall be quenched, — and learn, that the cry for pardon shall always enter into the holy

place, and secure a triumphant entrance into heaven.

All saving conversions accomplished near the termination of life, are remarkable exhibitions of divine grace, which ought in no case to be overlooked. Such conversions manifest the sovereignty of grace. They show that spiritual blessings are communicated in a perfect independence of human merit, and are to be traced to no source but to the mere good pleasure of God. The long continued estrangement of the heart from them, and the consequent accumulation of iniquity, which impenitence till "the eleventh hour" implies, place the grand evangeli-

cal truth in the strongest possible point of view — " I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and have mercy on whom I will have mercy." Again, such

conversions manifest the riches of grace. They show the exceeding greatness of the power which dwells in pardoning kindness. What limitless efficacy must there be in that which in a moment can change the current of the affections, and effect the absolute moral transformation of the nature, — which can blot out the guilt of numberless transgressions, remit the condemnation of the law, and grant to the soul the favour of the living God, and the title to a glorious eternity ! Every act of renovation like these, is a special display of the boundlessness of redeeming love, and magnifies, and confers fresh honour on Him who is " able to save to the uttermost."

Around persons converted in this period, there gathers a transcendent interest; we cannot look upon them without a high excitement of feeling. Each age of life possesses an interest peculiar to itself. There is an interest attached to the con35

version of early youth, which belongs not to meridian manhood, or to old age; there is an interest attached to the conversion of meridian manhood, which belongs not to old age, or to early youth ; and there is an interest attached to the conversion of old age, which belongs not to early youth, or to meridian manhood. Circumstances will doubtless suggest themselves rapidly to the contemplative mind, inducing to regard the converts of " the eleventh hour" with emotions beyond what can be inspired by the view of those who are sooner born of God. The mariner saved from the wreck as the vessel is dashing upon the rock, is surely the subject of a deliverance more affecting, than he who escapes ere it enters amidst the foam of the breakers. And can there be, in the universe, any case approaching to theirs, whose souls are saved when on the very point of sinking to perdition, and who become illumined with the glories of heaven, while there

was rapidly gathering around them the outer darkness of the abyss"? In their age they shine forth as the morning ! At



eventide it is light ! Their light rises in obscurity, and their darkness is as the noonday I Is not the event of incomparable sublimity, and must it not absorb the soul of the observer in admiration and in praise ¦?

And how greatly ought they, for whom, in the circumstances of peril, this wondrous deliverance has been effected,

themselves to rejoice in it I and what fervent gratitude ought they to render to Him who wrought it! Let them, ere they depart from the abodes of living men, be diligent in redeeming the lime, — let them cultivate, during the little remnant of their probation, the very highest devotedness of piety, — let them live only, that they may show forth the praises of Him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light. Earnest indeed should tliey be, in rendering honour to their God, ere another world receives them to its glories !

In concluding the statements and exhortations arising from the view of " the eleventh hour," little now needs to be added. The discourse has already applied itself. I have but to ask — Can the aged, who have been till now unconverted, consider the momentous truths which have been pressed upon their attention, — and yet depart from the sanctuary unmoved 1

Is it possible they can be told of the appalling dangers that surround them, and of the only refuge that can save them, in vain] Ye hoary sinners! remember, I repeat, that if the word bring you not to repentance, all its urgency will but increase the obduracy of your hearts, and be emphatically " the savour of death unto death." The next appeal will find you still further from Cod, and still nearer to damnation. The i^ext appeal ! O this may be the last that shall ever reach your ears ! The decisive change may be close at hand. Even now the grasp of death may be upon you. Even now, mercy may be uttering her farewell, — when gone, to return no more for ever. And shall she go, — and shall the doom be sealed ? God, avert it! May the arm of thine omnipotence now be stretched forth, and pluck them as brands out of the fire !


" Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God," alike for the aged and the young, is, that at once they may repent and turn to Him, so that the possibility of their final condemnation may exist no more. Whether you be obscured amidst the shadows of "the eleventh hour," or whether there be upon you the bloom and growing splendours of the morning, now "yield yourselves unto God." Thus, to live will be Christ, and to die will be gain ; and when the judgment of the great day shall have accomplished its transactions, we shall unite, clothed with immortal vigour, in celebrating the praises of grace, — happy for ever and ever.



Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful