« PreviousContinue »
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 it is no other than the just consequences 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 it calls him" 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 hindrance to an effectual reformation.
SERIOUSNESS OF HEART AS TO RELIGION.
LUKE 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 prin
ciple 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 connection, of all with whom we associate or converse.
There is also a concern for the virtue of those, over whom, or with whom, we can have any sort of influence, which is a natural concomitant of a radical concern for virtue in ourselves.