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altered; we have not, as in times past by, a long life before us; schemes of futurity in prospect; and death and judgment, sure indeed, but lying at the end of a long train of worldly hopes. Let our souls experience the benefit of this change! Why should we suffer depressions of mind, body, or estate, waste of years, lapse of life, without drawing from them religious advantages, which they are capable of yielding ; some amendment, some improvement at least in the condition of our souls? Repentance, be it how or when it may, will, if sincere, be accepted in Jesus Christ. If it would produce reformation, supposing life and opportunity to be allowed, it may be, in the sight of God, the same as if it did. This is true, and therefore it is not impossible that even the repentance of a death bed may be effectual. But it is only not impossible ; to say that it is an uncertain dependence, is to say too little for it. It is only not impossible, because it is only not impossible to give to it that sincerity which is required in repentance; and it is absolutely impossible for the person himself to be assured of that sincerity, or to distinguish it from those fits of remorse and penitence which he and every sinner has a thousand times felt
, and felt in vain, because they passed away with the alarm and danger which produced them. And this is still more true, when it is the beginning of religion in the heart, when there has been no religion in that place before. We must not therefore speak of the extremity of a death bed; but of some serious case short of that, which is, when men are reminded by their bodily constitution that their time is drawing towards its conclusion, yet have enough both of strength and life left to carry, if they will, their good resolves into execution; not only to repent, but to reform; to put their repentance, by their future conduct, to the proof, whether it be sincere or not. If it be sincere, it will be accepted ; if it be not, which in this case the effect upon our lives will show, let not the grace or mercies of God be accused; because no acceptance is promised to such repentance. This, therefore, is a case, in all respects, capable of generating religion in the soul, and of giving proofs of it; and therefore it is thought to be highly probable, that saving religion frequently begins in the soul from this cause, and under those circumstances.
Fourthly: Pain itself, abstractedly considered, has a close connexion with religious sentiment, inasmuch as it induces us to reflect what creatures we are, and what we are liable to ; particularly, what inexhaustible stores of punishment and misery are in the hands of our Creator, when he pleases to use them; that is, when insulted or despised mercy is turned into correction and exemplary justice, which is the case when the denounced and forewarned judgment of God upon sinners comes to be executed. What torment can even the touch of his hand inflict! Let a person under the agonies of pain reflect, what it must be to exist for ages in that condition ; and yet that his sins may bring him to this, and worse. The risk, the danger, the very chance, the very possibility of such a thing coming to pass, must rouse, one would suppose, every fear in his nature ; must put him upon considering betimes, how he may secure himself against it; and when he finds, which he soon will do, that his only security is repentance and change, he betakes himself in earnest to those resources.
It may now be remarked very obviously, that though what has been stated may be allowed to be a true representation, yet it may be deemed a base and unworthy beginning of religion in the heart; it may be said, that if the principles of men are no better than those, they are principles lodged in the very lowest part of our nature, and have nothing in them of dignity or virtue. Religious obedience, provided it be sincere, from whatever cause it proceeds, will at last, will after a little time, produce unbounded love and gratitude to our God of so great mercies; will finally avail us, and work our eternal salvation.
THE STIRRING OF CONSCIENCE.
EPHESIANS II. 1.
And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.
The quickening and stirring of conscience within us, are sometimes the first signs of a renewed and regenerated soul. There have been disputes concerning this principle of conscience, its origin, nature, extent; but all sides agree in one thing; namely, that it may be dead for a time in the human breast; without any energy or activity whatsoever.
The causes of this torpor and deadness, or rather the circumstances under which it is found, have been often assigned.
In many cases, I am afraid, it takes place so early in life, that the person can hardly be said to have ever known what the remonstrances and admonitions of conscience were. science may be said to be dead born. He remembers not the time when he found any check concerning any action which he set himself to do. If there was any pleasure or gratification in view; if there was any thing to be got by the action; that was all he considered about it; its being right and its being wrong formed no part of his deliberation, nor was he put upon asking this question by any thing which he felt within him. This state of complete depravity is the effect of a totally neglected education, and of being at the same time thrown, when very young, amongst profligate examples.
Neither of these causes is sufficient to produce the effect by itself; but both causes, acting in conjunction, may produce it. If good principles have been early instilled by means of a virtuous, or any thing like a virtuous education, there will be some conscience left; there will be a conscience perceived, let the person so brought up fall into what society or amongst what examples he may. His conscience may not carry him safe through these dangers, may not have preserved him from vice and wickedness; that is a different question ; but a conscience will be there, will be felt.
Again : Let the education, that is, any precise and particular instruction, have been ever so much or so culpably neglected, yet let even that rude uninstructed mind come amongst examples of goodness, or even keep clear of dissolute and profligate examples, and conscience will be heard. Examples themselves are education ; good and virtuous examples the best of all education ; even innocent and harmless society will produce, or, however, suffer, the natural growth and production of conscience in minds the most ignorant. But when a mind, perfectly ignorant, uninstructed, and uneducated, falls at first nto debauched and profligate society, then it is possible that conscience may never spring up; its influence over the heart may never have a commencement. This cruel case can never happen but in the instance of parents who are wicked themselves, and undesignedly perhaps, but very effectually, communicate their wickedness betimes to their children, or in the instance of children deprived from the beginning of a parent's care, and not only so, but from the beginning also thrown into bad hands, and into bad society. It is of these instances we were speaking, when we said that there are many unhappy persons in the world, who never remember the time when they were
sensible of any feeling or compunction of conscience within them, of any distinction, indeed, between right and wrong.
But, secondly, I will now suppose a more general, and a more natural state ; that of a conscience really formed in the breast, and in some degree at least, performing its office. This once living conscience may, by various means, be reduced back to a state of death and insensibility ; nay, it often is so. Almost any course of sin will do it, as to that sin. Men always enter upon sinful courses under strong temptation ; they may go on in them afterwards under less; but the temptation which first seduces them into vice is usually strong. There is a conscience at first repelling, remonstrating, rebuking ; but then there is a violent temptation to be opposed. Conscience is overcome. It resists afterwards with less force, and is again overcome. Its remonstrances are now weaker ; they are not heard; being heard, they are set aside. This takes place repeatedly and frequently, with a constant abatement and diminution of strength and force on the part of conscience. The sin, after this, is committed, and conscience is silent. This is the regular effect of any course of sin, as to that sin. Let any habitual sinner compare himself at one time with himself at another time; his former sensations, his remorse, his uneasiness, his scruples, his fears, when he first entered upon a course of sin, with his sensations, or rather, with his want of sensations, now that he has for some time been confirmed in it ; let him make this comparison, and say whether the case be not with him as we have described it.
But the misfortune goes farther. Any course of sin whatever weakens the power of conscience, not only as to that sin, but as to all.
Either the person reflects that it is to no purpose to guard against other sins, whilst he knowingly, constantly, and wilfully goes on in this; or else the principle itself of conscience, by being so often overpowered and beaten back in this instance, has lost its spring and energy in all instances. Almost all, even the greatest sinners, have begun with some particular vice. The first encroachment upon innocence and upon conscience, was made by some single species of offence to which they were tempted; but the rottenness spread. A general and complete depravity of character may grow, and often does grow, out of one species of transgression ; because conscience, which has been put to silence, not by one or two oppositions, but by a course of opposition to its remonstrances, ceases to execute its office within that man's breast; so that a conscience which was once alive may be reduced to a state of death and insensibility.
There are passages of scripture which expressly relate to this state, and to a recovery and restoration from it, and which ought therefore to be remembered; and in the first place our text, and what follows it; "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience; among whom also we all had our conversation in times past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ.' Eph. ii. 1. And the same idea is repeated, Col. jii. 3.
There is also another remarkable text in the same epistle, v. 14, which has relation to the same subject; • Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. The place in which this text is found, and the subject concerning which St Paul is in that place discoursing, show sufficiently that the sleep here meant was the sleep of the conscience. Awake thou that sleepest; rouse thyself from that state of moral and religious insensibility in which thou liest; arise from the dead, from being dead in sin and trespasses; so deeply sunk in evil courses as to have become altogether without perception or consciousness of their guilt or danger, which is being dead in this respect.
Speaking of a particular case in his epistle to Timothy, St Paul saith, Sbe that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth;' that is to say, is going on without taking heed to that living principle of conscience which forms our spiritual life. This is very true; and it is more general than St Paul here has occasion to state it. He that liveth in pleasure, engrossed and taken up with the thoughts and pursuits of pleasure, is dead whilst he liveth; has no time, no inclination, no disposition for listening to any dictates of religion or of conscience. With respect to these, therefore, he is dead; his conscience is dead within him ; his neglected, opposed, unavailing, rejected conscience, speaks no more; no more renews efforts which have now been long and totally disregarded. It is silent, and it is the silence of death.
Now this is a state of the soul, which of all others, perhaps, most requires the assistance of God's holy spirit. This, in some measure, is intimated by the very term, and metaphor, and comparison which are made use of; that of death. A dead man