The Nature and Practice of Repentance
Works IX, pp. 160-161
The time of repentance is the time present, without any delay at all, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if ye will hear his voice” (Heb. 3:7), and, “Exhort one another daily, while it is called today: lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). The reasons hereof are these:
First, life is uncertain, for no man knows at what hour or moment and after what manner he shall go forth of this world. “Be ye also prepared therefore, for the day will come at an hour when ye think not” (Luke 12:40). This one thing should make a man to hasten his repentance, and the rather because many are dead who purposed within themselves to repent in time to come, but were prevented by death, and shall never repent.
Second, the longer a man lives in any sin, the greater the danger, because by practice sin gets heart and strength. Custom is of such force that that which men usually do in their lifetime, the same they do and speak when they are dying. One had three pounds owing to him to be paid three several years; when he was dying, nothing could be got of him but “three years, three pounds.” Again, by deferring repentance, men treasure up wrath against the day of wrath (Rom. 2:5). If a malefactor for his punishment should be appointed to carry every day a stick of wood to a heap to burn him twenty years later, it must needs be an exceeding great punishment and misery. And this is the case of every sinner who, neglecting repentance from day to day, does thereby employ himself in heaping up the coals of God’s wrath to burn his soul in hell when the day of death comes.
Third, the more the time is prolonged, the harder it is to repent. The longer a man goes in his sickness without physic, the harder is the recovery. And where the devil dwells long, he will hardly be removed. The best way to kill a serpent is to crush it in the head when it is young.
Fourth, it is as meat and drink to the devil to see men live in their sins, deferring repentance. As on the contrary, there is great joy among the angels of God in heaven when a sinner does repent.
Fifth, late repentance is seldom (or never) true repentance. For if a man repents when he cannot sin as in former time (as namely in death), then he leaves not sin but sin leaves him. Wherefore, the repentance which men frame to themselves when they are dying is to be feared lest it dies with them. And it is very just that he should be condemned by God in his death, who condemned God in his life. Chrysostom says that the wicked man has this punishment on him, that in dying he should forget himself, who, when he was living, did forget God.
Sixth, we are with Abel to give unto God in sacrifice even the fat of our stock. Now they who defer repentance to the end do the contrary. Late repenters offer the flower of their youth to the devil, and they bring the lame and broken sacrifice of their old age to God.