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another; their former selves, when they first entered upon sinful allowances, and their present selves, since they have been confirmed in them. With what fear, and scruple, and reluctance, what sense and acknowledgment of wrong, what apprehension of danger, against what remonstrance of reason, and with what opposition and violence to their religious principle, they first gave way to temptation! With what ease, if ease it may be called, at least, with what hardness and unconcern, they now continue in practices, which they once dreaded! in a word, what a change, as to the particular article in question at least, has taken place in their moral sentiments! Yet, notwithstanding this change in them, the reason, which made what they are doing a sin, remains the same that it was at first: at first they saw great force and strength in that reason; at present they see none; but, in truth, it is all the while the same. Unless, therefore, we will choose to say, that a man has only to harden himself in his sins, (which thing perseverance will always do. for him,) and that with the sense he takes away the guilt of them, and that the only sinner is the conscious, trembling, affrightened, reluctant sinner; that the confirmed sinner is not a sinner at all; unless we will advance this, which affronts all principles of justice and sense, we must confess, that secret sins are both possible and frequent things; that with the habitual sinner, and with every man, in so far as he is, and in that article in which he is, an habitual sinner, this is almost sure to be the case.
What then are the reflections suitable to such a case? First, to join most sincerely with the Psalmist in his prayer to God.“ O cleanse thou me from my secret faults.” Secondly, to see, in this consideration, the exceedingly great danger of evil habits of all kinds. It is a dreadful thing to commit sins without knowing it, and yet to have those sins to answer for; that is dreadful; and yet is no other than the just consequence and effect of sinful habits. They destroy in us the perception of guilt; that experience proves. They do not destroy the guilt itself: that no man can argue, because it leads to injustice and absurdity.
How well does the scripture express the state of an habitual sinner, when he calls hiin, “ dead in trespasses and sins!” His conscience is dead: that, which ought to be the living, actuating, governing principle of the whole man, is dead within him: is extinguished by the power of sin reigning in his heart. He is incapable of perceiving his sins, whilst he commits them with greediness. It is evident, that a vast alteration must take place in such a man, before he be brought into the way of salvation. It is a great change from innocence to guilt, when a man falls from a life of virtue to a life of sin; but the recovery from it is much greater; because the very secrecy of our sins to ourselves, the unconsciousness of them, which practice and custom, and repetition and habit have produced in us, is an almost unsurmountable hinderance to an effectual reformation.
SERIOUSNESS OF DISPOSITION NECESSARY.
LUKĖ, viii. 15.
“But that on the good ground are they, who in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
It may be true, that a right religious principle produces corresponding external actions, and yet it may not be true, that external actions are what we should always, or entirely, or principally look to for the purpose of estimating our religious character; or from whence alone we should draw our assurance and evidence of being in the right way.
External actions must depend upon ability, and must wait for opportunity. From a change in the heart, a visible outward change will ensue: from an amendment of disposition an amended conduct will follow; but it may neither be so soon, nor so evident, nor to such a degree, as we may at first sight expect, inasmuch as it will be regulated by occasions and by ability. I do not mean to say, (for I do not believe it to be so,) that there is any person so forlorn and
destitute, as to have no good in his power: expensive kindnesses may not; but there is much kindness, which is not expensive; a kindness of temper: a readiness to oblige: a willingness to assist: a constant inclination to promote the comfort and satisfaction of all who are about us, of all with whom we have concern or connexion, of all with whom we associate or converse.
There is also a concern for the virtue of those over whom, or with whoin, we can have any sort of influence, which is a natural concomitant of a radical concern for virtue in ourselves.
But above all, it is undoubtedly in every person's power, whether poor or rich, weak or strong, ill or well endowed by nature or education, it is, I say, in every person's power to avoid sin: if he can do little good, to take care that he do no ill.
Although, therefore, there be no person in the world so circumstanced, but who both can, and will testify his inward principle by his outward behaviour, in oneshape, or other: yet, on account of the very great difference of those circumstances, in which men are placed, and to which their outward exertions are subjected, outward behaviour is not always a just measure of inward principle.
But there is a second case, and that but too common, in which outward behaviour is no measure of religious
principle at all: and that is, when it springs from other and different motives and reasons, from those which religion presents. A very bad man may be externally good: a man completely irreligious at the heart may, for the sake of character, for the advantage of having a good character, for the sake of decency, for the sake of being trusted and respected, and well spoken of, from a love of praise and commendation, from a view of carrying his schemes and designs in the world, or of raising himself by strength of character, or at least from a fear, lest a tainted character should be an obstacle to his advancement. From these, and a thousand such sort of considerations, which might be reckoned up; and with which, it is evident that religion hath no concern or connexion whatever, men may be both active and forward, and liberal, in doing good; and exceedingly cautious of giving offence by doing evil; and this may be either wholly, or in part, the case with ourselves.
In judging, therefore, and examining ourselves, with a view of knowing the real condition of our souls,'. the real state and the truth of our spiritual situation in respect to God, and in respect to salvation, it is neither enough, nor is it safe, to look only to our external conduct.
I do not speak in any manner of judging of other men; if that were necessary at all, which, with a view to religion, it never is, different rules must be laid down for it. I now only speak of that which is neces