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be wasted in gratifying passions which warp, and in pursuing pleasures which steal, your affections from God. How melancholy is the thought, that the last of these sabbaths may find you in the grave; the house of God see your seat empty, to be filled by you no more; and those, whom you leave behind, follow your departed spirits with fears, and sighs, and sorrows, and mourn over your unhappy end without consolation and without hope. Oh that ye were wise! that ye understood these things! that ye would consider your latter end !
THE DANGER OF LOSING CONVICTIONS OF CONSCIENCE.
MATTHEW xii. 43-45.
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
Then he saith, “ I will return into my house, from whence I came out,” and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits, more wicked than himself; and they enter in and dwell there : and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be, also, unto this wicked generation.
These words are a part of a discourse, addressed by Christ to certain of the Scribes and Pharisees. In consequence of the pungent sermon which he had uttered, after they had charged him with casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons, they demanded of him a sign from heaven : i. e. a proof of his Messiahship. Their application for this sign seems to have been made, partly with a design of putting a stop to the distressing reproofs of Christ, and partly with the hope of confounding him by disproving his pretensions. In his reply, Christ refuses them any other sign, beside that of Jonas, the prophet; whose temporary burial in the fish strongly typified that of Christ in the earth. Then, resuming the same forcible strain of rebuke, he uttered several very solemn and awful threatenings, and concluded his remarks with the text. A more dreadful picture of the guilt and danger of these men, and of all who are like them, was never drawn.
This passage of Scripture is apparently a parable. It may be a literal representation of facts. But there is nothing in the phraseology, which requires us to understand it in this sense. Whether considered as a simple, or symbolical, representation, it conveys to us, in substance, the same truths. Our sole concern lies with the things, which the Saviour designed to communicate, whether the facts or the persons were real or parabolical, is to us of no importance.
There is scarcely a more extraordinary paragraph in the Scriptures than this. Interpreters have extensively, and as I believe justly, considered it as a representation of the state of a sinner, in some degree affected with a sense of his guilt, forming resolutions of amendment, and making some attempts towards Evangelical reformation ; but finally relinquishing them all, and returning again, like the dog to his vomit, and like the sow, that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire. Our Saviour subjoins, “So shall it be, also, unto this wicked generation.”
Plainly, therefore, this parable is a description of the moral state of the Jews, to a considerable extent, at the time when it was spoken. In every age, and every country, where the Scriptures are known, there are persons, whose moral condition is the same with that of these Jews; persons of a hard heart, and a guilty life ; who yet feel at times, and in some degree, their guilt and their danger. These persons usually form some designs, and even some resolutions, to repent. In many instances, however, they return to their former, sinful life with new, more guilty, and more hopeless dispositions. Of all such persons this parable is no less a just description, than of those Jews, whom they so strongly resemble. To these (for it is believed, that some of them may be found in this assembly) it is now solemnly addressed.
It is hardly necessary to say, that the representation is forcible and affecting, beyond example; and demands, not merely the solemn and profound, but the alarmed and eager attention of all men ; especially of those, who either are, or are in danger of being in the situation, here described. I think of no method, in which I may unfold, or impress, the things, contained in it, more
clearly and more effectually, than by following the order of the parable itself, and marking, as I pass, such particulars, as are of peculiar importance to the general design. This course I shall therefore pursue. I shall consider then,
1. The miserable condition of an impenitent sinner, before he is awakened to a serious conviction of his guilt.
" When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man”—From this clause we learn, that, to the eye of God, the soul of such a man is the habitation of a foul and wicked spirit, who there fixes his abode. Nay he appropriates this abode to himself as his own property. Then he saith “ I will return to my house from whence I came out ;" “my house ;" language, plainly adopted because he regards it as his settled proper residence; the dwelling, where he steadily lives, and is literally at home.
Think, I beseech you, of the import of these extraordinary words. What would be the condition of the poor wretch, of whom a fiend from the bottomless pit should take entire possession; so as to render the soul of the man his property, his house, the place where he always dwelt, and where he had an undisputed control. Think what an inhabitant is here pourtrayed. Of what an inmate has such a soul become the tenement? What employments must such a being pursue in its secret chambers ? How plainly must it be his prime business to seduce, to corrupt, and to destroy; to rouse its evil passions and evil appetites, and to goad it into opposition to truth and righteousness. Against man it must be his delight to inspire it with injustice, fraud, and revenge ; against God to arm it with impiety, unbelief, ingrat. itude and rebellion; and against itself to direct its hostility in all the snaky paths of pollution. These must be the peculiar and incessant employments of such an impure and malignant being. Of these employments what is the end. It is no other than to withdraw it from truth, duty, religion, hope and heaven; and to hurry it onward to perdition.
What in this case must be the character of the soul itself? The whole influence of such a spirit must arise from the fact, that the soul, which he inhabits, voluntarily yields to his suggestions. He
resides there, only because he is a welcome guest. He works there, only because the man loves to have it so. He prevails, because the man chooses to submit. He rules, because the man is pleased to be under his dominion. He corrupts and destroys, because the man loves to be corrupted and destroyed. “Whoso sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul; all they, that hate me, love death."
But such, in substance, is the real state of the man in question. There may, indeed, be no such spirit, no impure, foreign being, residing, controlling, and triumphing. Still the affections, the purposes and the character, are such, as to be justly described by this strong symbolical language. The soul is such, as if inhabited and corrupted by this destroyer. How dangerous, how miserable, a condition is that of a stupid, hardened sinner, sold to sin, and devoted by himself to destruction ?
It is not improbable, that there are many persons present, who will hardly be induced to believe this representation. Let me request every one of them to remember, that these things are all said by the Saviour of men, the final Judge of the quick and the dead; that it is declared of him by the voice of inspiration, that he knows what is in man; that he declares of himself, that he searches the hearts, and the reins; and that on this knowledge will be founded his final sentence concerning every child of Adam at the great day. Let it also be remembered, that he can no more deceive, than be deceived ; and that these are his words. Must not every sinner in this house, who has sufficient sobriety to make an application of them to his own case, and to learn his real situation, tremble at these awful declarations of Christ, and shudder to think what he himself is.
2. Convictions of sin constitute in the eye of God an important change in the state of man.
“ When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man”
The change, of which I have spoken, is so great, as to be justly represented by this imagery. Before, the unclean spirit dwelt in the soul without disturbance. Now, he finds himself so strenuously resisted, that, in despair of future success, he quits a habita