Page images

sions of indignation : for hypocrisy is not always to be charged on men whose conduct is inconsistent. Hazael was in earnest, when he resented with such ardour the imputation of cruelty. The Apostle Peter was sincere, when he made the zealous profession, that though he should go to prison and to death with his Master, he would never deny him. They were sincere; that is, they spoke from the fulness of their hearts, and from the warmth of the present moment; but they did not know themselves, as the events which followed plainly shewed. So false to its principles, too frequently is the heart of man ; so weak is the foundation of human virtue; so much reason there is for what the Gospel perpetually inculcates concerning the necessity of distrusting ourselves, and depending on Divine aid. Mortifying, I confess, is this view of human nature; yet proper to be attended to by all, in order to escape the most fatal dangers. For, merely through unguarded conduct, and from the want of this pruldent suspicion of their own weakness, how many, after the most promising beginnings, have gradually apostatized from every principle of virtue; until, at last, it has become as difficult for one to believe, that they ever had any love of goodness, as it would have been once to have persuaded themselves that the were to advance to such a height in wickedness !

In such cases as I have described, what has become, it may be enquired, of those sentiments of abhorrence at guilt which were once felt so strongly? Are they totally erased ? or, if in any degree they remain, how do such persons contrive to satisfy themselves in acting a part which their minds condemn? - Here, there is a mystery of iniquity which requires to be unfolded. Latent and secret is the progress of corruption within the soul, and the more latent, the more dangerous is its growth. No man becomes of a sudden completely wicked. Guilt never shows its whole deformity at once; but by gradual acquaintance reconciles us to its appearance, and imperceptibly diffuses its poisons through all the powers of the mind. Every man has some darling passion, which generally affords the first introduction to vice. The irregular gratifications into which it occasionally seduces him, appear under the form of venial weaknesses; and are indulged, in the beginning, with scrupulousness and reserve.

But by longer practice, these restraints weaken, and the power of habit grows. One vice brings in another to its aid. By a sort of natural affinity they connect and entwine themselves together; till their roots come to be spread wide and deep over all the soul. When guilt rises to be glaring, conscience endeavours to remonstrate. But conscience is a calm principle. Passion is loud and impetuous; and creates a tumult which drowns the voice of reason. It joins, besides, artifice to violence; and seduces at the same time that it impels. For it employs the understanding to impose upon the conscience. It devises reasons and arguments to justify the corruptions of the heart. The common practice of the world is appealed to. Nice distinctions are made. Men are found to be circumstanced in so peculiar a manner, as to render certain actions excusable, if not blameless, which, in another situation it is confessed, would have been criminal. By such a process as this, there is reason to believe, that a great

part of mankind advance from step to step in sin, partly hurried by passion, and partly blinded by selfdeceit, without any just sense of the degree of guilt which they contract. By inveterate habits their judgment is at length perverted, and their moral feelings are deadened. They see now with other eyes; and can look without pain on evil actions which they formerly abhorred.

It is proper, however, to observe, that though our native sentiments of abhorrence at guilt may be so borne down, or so eluded, as to lose their influence or conduct, yet those sentiments belonging originally to our frame, and being never totally eradicated from the soul, will still retain so much authority, as if not to reform, at least, on some occasions, to chasten the sinner. It is only during a course of prosperity, that vice is able to carry on its delusions without disturbance. But, amidst the dark and thoughtful situations of life, conscience regains its rights; and pours the whole bitterness of remorse on his heart, who has apostatized from his original principles. We may well believe that, before the end of his days, Hazael's first impressions would be made to return. In the hour of adversity, the remembrance of his conference with the venerable Prophet would sting his heart. Comparing the sentiment which, in those his better days, he felt, with the atrocious cruelties which he had afterwards committed, all the honours of royalty would be unable to save him from the inward sense of baseness and infamy.

FROM this view which has been exhibited of the progress of corruption, and of the danger to which

we are exposed, of falling from principles which once appeared firmly established, let us receive useful admonition for our own conduct. Let not him that girdeth on his harness, boast like him that putteth it off. Let no man place a rash and dangerous confidence in his virtue. But let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall. Never adventure on too near an approach to what is evil. Familiarize not yourselves with it, in the slightest instances, without fear. Listen with reverence to every reprehension of conscience; and preserve the most quick and accurate sensibility to right and wrong. If ever your moral impressions begin to decay, and your natural abhorrence of guilt to lessen, you have ground to dread that the ruin of virtue is fast approaching. While you employ all the circumspection and vigilance which reason can suggest, let your prayers, at the same time, continually ascend to God for support and aid. Remember that from him descendeth every good and perfect gift; and that to him only it belongs to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. I proceed now to the

IIID OBSERVATION from the Text, That the power which corruption acquires to pervert the original principles of man, is frequently owing to a change of their circumstances and condition in the world. How different was Hazael, the messenger of Benhadad, from Hazael the king; he who started at the mention of cruelty, from him who waded in blood! Of this sad and surprising revolution, the Prophet emphatically assigns the cause in these few words: The Lord hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria. That crown, that fatal crown which is to be set upon thy head, shall shed a malignant influence over thy nature; and shall produce that change in thy character, which now thou canst not believe.

Whose experience of the world is so narrow, as not to furnish him with instances similar to this, in much humbler conditions of life? So great is the influence of a new situation of external fortune; such a different turn it gives to our temper and affections, to our views and desires, that no man can foretell what his character would prove, should Providence either raise or depress his circumstances in a remarkable degree, or throw him into some sphere of action widely different from that to which he has been accustomed in former life.

The seeds of various qualities, good and bad, lie in all our hearts. But until proper occasions ripen and bring them forward, they lie there inactive and dead. They are covered up and concealed within the recesses of our nature; or, if they spring up at all, it is under such an appearance as is frequently mistaken even by ourselves. Pride, for instance, in certain situations, has no opportunity of displaying itself, but as magnanimity, or sense of honour. Avarice appears as necessary and laudable economy. What in one station of life would discover itself to be cowardice and baseness of mind, passes in another for prudent circumspection. What in the fulness of power would prove to be cruelty and oppression, is reputed, in a subordinate rank, no more than the exercise of proper discipline. For a while, the man is known neither by the world, nor by himself, to be what he truly is. But bring him into a new situation of life, which accords with his predominant disposi

« PreviousContinue »