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denotes a greater number than one, and, in proportion, a greater series of temptations and dangers. These seven are also universally more wicked than the original tenant of this impure habitation, more absolutely possessed of the fiend-like character than himself. From each, his danger is of course greater; from all, how great, how dreadful! What a house has this become! With what inhabitants is it filled! To what purposes is it destined ! In what uses is it employed ! Such, however, is the real state of the man in question.
The soul, in this case, has overcome with many struggles, and against many motives, its strong sense of guilt, and its distressing apprehensions of danger. In this conflict, the man has hardened his heart, and blinded his eyes. He has been exposed perhaps to the ridicule of his companions, to the deceitfulness of their sophistry, and to the baleful influence of their example. The calm, contemplative, safe fire-side he has left for the haunts of sense and sin ; his sober, virtuous friends for the company of seducers, and the instructions of piety for the snares of pleasure. From the remonstrances of conscience he has retreated to the noise and gaiety of licentious sport; from the house of God to the theatre and the gaming table, and from the path of life to the broad and crooked road which leads him to destruction. The fears and distresses which a little while since compelled him to solemn thought and temporary and external reformation, he forces away by joining with others in their contempt and derision.
Of the praise or approbation of God he now becomes regardless; but of that of his companions in iniquity he is more and more ambitious. A little while since, their commendation would have awakened in his mind nothing but alarm. Now he dreads nothing so much as their censure. They are at once his instructors, his rulers, and his example. Once he hoped that he should resemble the Redeemer, have the same mind which was in him, and walk as he walked. Now his sole wish is to be like them. Henceforth his progress is only downward. From the commission of one sin he is of course led to another; and from those which are less to those which are greater. If life lasts, he becomes in the end a profligate
here, and an heir of distinguished wretchedness beyond the grave. If he does not go to the most horrid and abandoned lengths, it is because God exercises more kindness to him than he to himself.
Often a person of this description becomes ambitious to be, and to show himself the first in every proposal, device, and career of sin, and in every band of sinners. In the indulgence of this spirit, he usually makes it his prime business to appear as an open opposer of religion, a despiser of good men, a reviler of the Scriptures, a contemner of the Sabbath, and ridiculer of the sanctuary. Not unfrequently might he with justice be addressed, as Elymas, the sorcerer, was by St. Paul, “ O full “ of all subtlety and malice, thou child of the devil, thou
enemy of all righteousness! wilt thou not cease to pervert “ the right ways of the Lord ?" His station he voluntarily takes in the front of the host, and ventures into the thickest of the battle. Too far, therefore, does he advance to think of retreating. His pride, his self-consistency makes him regard this subject only with disdain, and push him on to every hostile effort against his Maker. After some time spent in this manner, he learns habitually to feel, as if embarked in a continual warfare, and as if always in arms.
Thus, instead of being influenced, deceived, and controlled by one friend, he is spurned and goaded on by a band of friends ; is kept always vigorously active in iniquity, violently at war with God, and in a steady direction of all his energy against truth and salvation.
Last, and most dreadful of all, as he has finally resisted with gross insult the most benevolent efforts of the Holy Spirit to win him from guilt, to restore him to holiness, and to entitle him to endless life ; as he has crucified afresh the Son of God, accounted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and put him to open shame ; as he has despised the riches of the goodness, forbearance, and long suffering of God, and after his hardness and impenitent heart has treasured up wrath against the day of wrath, he is forsaken by that Spirit to whom he has done this despite, forgotten by that Redeemer whom he has thus requited, and given up
by that Father of all mercies, against whom he has thus finally rebelled, to a reprobate mind. Henceforth he is only endured as a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction. At first a partial, then an open infidel, exiled from the sanctuary, scorning the Scriptures, and making a mock of sin and holiness alike, it becomes impossible that he should be renewed to repentance. No more sacrifice for sin remaineth for him, but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. Accordingly, God sends upon him strong delusion, that he should believe a lie and be damned, because he believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. The Saviour only weeps over him as over Jerusalem, crying with a tenderness inexpressible, “ How often would I have gathered thee, as a hen gathereth “ her chickens ; but thou wouldst not. Oh that thou hadst “ known, even thou, in this thy day, the things which belong “ to thy peace! but now are they hidden from thine eyes." Woe unto thee, miserable apostate; it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for thee.
From this passage of Scripture thus explained we learn, ,
I. The immeasurable importance of cherishing in the heart convictions of sin.
The state of mind denoted by this phraseology is, I acknowledge, often wearisome and distressing. To have a realizing consciousness of our guilt; to have vivid apprehensions of the danger which it involves ; to look back on a life spent only in rebellion against God, and forward with a fearful expectation of suffering the effects of his anger against impenitence, is unquestionably terrifying to an awakened mind; and but for the aid given us by the tender mercy of our Creator, would easily overwhelm us with agony and despair. That we should earnestly wish for deliverance from such a condition is inwoven in our nature; and that we should feel desirous of a deliver
ance from it by almost any means, especially when labouring under peculiar anguish, and still more especially when that anguish has been long continued, may not unnaturally be expected from the frailty and feebleness of our character. Hence multitudes have in all ages of Christianity been found, who, under the pressure of painful truths and distressing apprehensions, have, like some of our Saviour's hearers, turned back, and refused any more to walk with Christ.
In the text, the danger of this conduct is exhibited in the most terrible manner. Let me beseech you solemnly to ponder this awful representation. Poader it deeply. Ponder it often. Let it lie near your hearts. Let it awaken all your fears.
You may possibly reply, that this is a figurative representation, a parable, an allegory. Be it so. Construe it as favourably for yourselves as you can! soften its terrible declarations as much as you can. There will still remain in it sufficient alarms to make the ears of every one of you who is not deaf to tingle, and the heart of every one of you who is not torpid to shrink with dismay.
From a state of conviction, however distressing it may seem, there are but two ways of escape. One of them leads to endless life, the other to endless death. The former is the way of repentance, faith, and holiness, the latter that of stupidity, hardness of heart, the resumption of sin, and the abandonment of religion. Of those who terminate their convictions, how different is the disposition, the progress, and the end. Who would not choose the former? Who would not tremble to assume the latter ?
Cherish, then, if you possess them, these convictions, however painful they may seem, however long they may continue. Keep your eyes open upon your guilt, upon your danger, and upon the only way of escape from both. Search the Scriptures diligently for these instructions and warnings, which on the one hand will teach you your duty and your danger, and on the other will keep your minds vigorously alive to the importance of both. The threatenings found in that sacred book, meet, with awe and apprehension. The invitations and the
promises, welcome, with gratitude, wonder, and delight. Mark the gracious terms in which they are given, and adore the divine Spirit of condescension and mercy by which they are dictated. Regard the distresses which you feel at this period as a wise man regards the probe by which his wounds are searched and healed. To yourselves you may seem as losing a right hand or a right eye, but remember it is better to enter into life maimed, than with two eyes and two hands to be cast into the fire of hell. Bow your knees daily to the Father of all mercies, with the language and spirit of the publican, and cry each of you to him in anguish of heart, “ God be merciful “ unto me a sinner.” Seize every opportunity to converse with that frankness which opens all the heart with good men, whose affectionate instructions may enlighten, quicken, and strengthen you ; may give you consolation and hope, and persuade you to endure to the end.
II. We learn from these observations the high interest which persons in this situation have in being directed in their duty by sound wisdom.
Such persons betake themselves, of course, to some or other of those around them for instruction and comfort, especially when, as is often the case, they themselves are imperfectly acquainted with subjects of this nature. Multitudes in such cases are usually willing enough to take into their hands the business of instructing them, and not unfrequently volunteer their services. Let me exhort you to remember that many
of these are totally unfit for the office which they assume. If you commit yourselves to the guidance of ignorant persons, they will be unable to point out to you your duty or your safety; if to that of philosophical Christians, they will perplex you with distinctions and refinements in speculation, by which you will be only bewildered. If you fall into the hands of bigotry, you will be told that your safety is found alone in the adoption of those opinions and those practices about which this spirit is so unreasonably employed; opinions and practices usually wrong in their nature, and always in the degree of importance attached to them. If you go to enthusiasts they will