Page images

is fullen from our head, for we have sinned. We are born in sin, and shapen in iniquity. The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually.

The power of habit, like every other faculty and power of man, is, now, in almost every instance, the instrument of unrighteousness. We are prone to commit sin, and every act of it only disposes us to renewed' transgression. Thus all flesh has corrupted its way upon the earth. Men begin with a single crime; it is repeated ; it becomes, first easy, then natural, then necessary. Thus they go on still in their wickedness. Step by step, they descend the fatal declivity, and with increasing speed. Till at length, the Ethiopian, to speak with the text, might as easily chang'e his skin or the leopard his spots, as they do good, without the operation of divine grace, who are accustomed to do evil.

The force of these evil habits lies much in the gradual and almost imperceptible manner in which they are acquired. No man becomes reprobate at once. The sinner at first has difficulties. Shame, conscience, education, motives of religion, example, the unreasonableness of vice, the immediate evil consequences of it in various ways, God's judgments on sinners, alarming events in his providence, the admonitions of friends and the warnings of ministers, are all

barriers to the inundation. But habits, insensibly formed, sap the embankment. The powerful current works its way, and all opposing hinderances are carried before it.

It is, indeed, true, that habit, in many cases, diminishes the enjoyment derived from sin. The sense of vicious pleasure is palled by indulgence. But unhappily the same indulgence which lessens the pleasure, increases the vicious propensity. Philosophers have remarked it as a curious circumstance in the economy of our nature, that the continued practice of any virtue or vice, while it weakens what they call the passive principle of that virtue or vice, strengthens its active principle in the same de gree. Thus, the practice of visiting and relieving the sick or the distressed, greatly impairs the feeling of pain with which we at first contemplate sights of wretchedness ; but, at the same time, the practice itself becomes more and more habitual; and, though our sympathy may be less acute, it is more active. The case is exactly the same with the practice of vice, A course of debauchery, for example, deadens the sense of pleasure, but increases the desire of gratification. The passive principle is in some degree worn away, but the active priaciple is invigorated. Drunkenness, again, destroys the sensibility of the palate, but strengthens the habit of intemperance. A con

[ocr errors]

tinued course of impiety and profaneness lessens the lamentable pleasure which the 'scoffer originally felt in insulting religion, but confirms him in the practical rebellion against its laws. A continued course of worldliness aụd irreligion, takes off from the zest and relish of worldly pursuits, but augments the difficulty of renouncing them. They are become joyless; but are still followed from a sort of sad necessity. Thus, is it that this singular principle in the constitution of man, originally intended for his confirm ation in virtue and all godliness, now only serves to fix and root him in his disobedience. The things which should have been for his peace, are become unto him an occasion of falling. The wonderful contrivance of the beneficent Creator in the fabric of the rational mind, is now, through its apostacy, become the source of a fearful, a seductive, and a degrading captivity*.

Let us, then, attempt to traće out these

general remarks in their application to a few particular instances, wbilst we consider,


* See Bishop Butler's Analogy, Archbishop Tillotson on Jer. xiii. 23; Bishop Horsley on Phil. iii. 15; Stewart on the Mind; Dr. Paley on I Cor. ix. 27; and Dr. Johnson's Vision of Theodore, Works, vol. ij. p. 408, edition 1816, 12mo.

** The consequences, in one word, are, that we become hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Any one transgression, if habitual, excludes from the kingdom of heaven, and every transgression is in the way of speedily becoming so: here lies the danger. Like Sampson in the lap of Dalilah, we first fall asleep, and then are fast bound, as it were, in the cords of our iniquities.

- To elucidate this observation, let us consider, first, AN EXTREME CASE. Look at yonder criminal, whose hands have violated the property, and perhaps been imbrued in the life, of his fellow-creature.' His conscience is seared as with a hot iron. Is he ashamed when he commits abomination?


he is not at all ashamed, neither can he blush. What has brought him. bither? What has transformed the meek and decent and reputable youth into the fierce and vindictive ruffian? Evil habits. He began with breaking the Sabbath ;: this led to wicked company; drunkenness followed, and brought every other sin in its train---lust, passion, malice, desperation, cruelty, bloodshed. The road, dreadful as it seems to us, was easy to him. One bad habit prepared for the following. Satan was active with his temptations. The victim yielded by degrees; till all the means of moral culture were trampled under foot, and all the incentives to vice and profligacy greedily and


habítually sought for and admitted. A more . frightful spectacle of what a sinner may become, when the capacity of improvement in virtue has been thoroughly perverted to a progress in vice, and when the entire process is completed by the influence of wicked example and the force of temptation, cannot, I think, be contemplated. I mention such an instance first, because it is a startling one, and calculated to rouse the attention to the general force of habit in fallenc man. But my design is, not to dwell on a picture too shocking for a calm consideration ; but to point out the danger of the same principle in cases by far more common and less suspected ; and where the fatal effects of sinful customs in hardening the heart against the calls of grace and duty, are less conspicuous perhaps at first sight, but not less fatal to : the conversion and salvation of the soul...

For what can account for that sobER AND

[ocr errors]

which the great mass of mankind live, but habit working on the fallen state of man? How is it that an immortal creature, gifted with reason and destined for heaven; can go on seeure in gratifying all those earthly passions, wbich he once well knew to be inconsistent with a state of grace; but whieh he now pursues, forgetful of God and religion? He eats and drinks, he obeys appetite, he pursues vanity, he lives to

« EelmineJätka »