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smoothness and seeming peace. But let the sober and serious hour come, which, sooner or later, must come to all; let the amusements of life be withdrawn, and the man be left alone to his own reflections; the power of truth will soon prove too strong for all that is opposed to it, and pierce into his heart. The voice of nature, of conscience, and of God, will make itself be heard within him. He will feel that he is a wretch. He will become despicable in his own sight. He will become sensible that all good men have reason to hate him, and that the just Governor of the world has reason to punish him. Conscience, bringing to remembrance all his secret crimes, will hold them up to his view with this fearful inscription written upon them, God will bring every work into judgment. - Hence the haggard look, and the restless couch, days never free from bitterness, and nights given up to remorse.
This remorse will prey the deeper on the bad man's heart, if it shall happen, as it sometimes does, that there was a period in his life when he was a different man; when, having been educated by virtuous parents in sober and religious principles, and being as yet uncorrupted by the world, he passed his days without reproach or blame. The recollection of what he then felt, compared with the state into which he has now brought himself by forfeited integrity and honour, will wring his heart with sad remembrance. “ Once I knew what it was to enjoy all the comforts “ of innocence, and to take pleasure in the thoughts " of heaven, when my hands were unstained and my “ mind was pure. Then I was ever cheerful, easy, “ and free. Heaven and earth seemed to smile upon “ me. My nights were peaceful, and my days were
pleasant. Innocent joys and comfortable hopes “ were ever at hand to entertain my solitary hours. “ – Where now are these gone? Why am I thus so “ altered and changed from what I was, and so
uneasy to myself? What, alas ! have I gained “ by those worldly pursuits and ambitious plans « which seduced me from the plain and safe paths of
integrity and virtue!”
Such are the wounds of the spirit, occasioned either by folly, by passion, or by guilt, and too often by a complication of all the three together. For though they be of separate consideration, and each of them may be felt in a different degree, yet they are seldom parted wholly asunder from one another. Folly gives rise to unrestrained and disorderly passions. These betray men into atrocious crimes; and the wretched sinner is stung as by a three-headed snake; at once, reproached by reason for his folly, agitated by some strong passion, and tortured with a conscious sense of guilt. - When these disorders of the mind arise to their height, they are, of all miseries, the most dreadful. The vulgar misfortunes of life, poverty, sickness, or the loss of friends, in comparison with them, are trivial evils. Under such misfor
, tunes, a man of tolerable spirit, or of a moderate share of virtue, will be able to find some consolation. But, under the other he can find none. What is but too decisive as to the degree in which they surpass all external evils, they are those wounds of the spirit, the shame of folly, the violence of passion, and the remorse for guilt, which have so frequently produced the fatal crime, so much the reproach of our age and our country; which have driven men to the most
abhorred of all evils, to death by their own hand, in order to seek relief from a life too embittered to be endured. - Far from each of us be such desperate calamities ! - But, if it be the certain tendency of those wounds of the heart, to introduce the greatest disquietude and misery into the life of man, then, from what has been said, let us be taught,
In the first place, to give the most serious and vigilant attention to the government of our hearts. It may be thought by some, that the formidable representation I have given of the miserable effects of a wounded spirit, attaches only to them who have gone to the utmost lengths in folly or passion ; but that by some more temperate regulation of conduct, indulgence may be given, without harm, to the free gratification of certain favourite desires. — Be assured, my brethren, that, under ideas of this kind, there lies much self-deception. Supposing it in your power to stop at some given point without rushing into the greatest disorders, still you would suffer from the licence you had taken to drop the government of your hearts. The lesser criminal never escapes without his share of punishment. In proportion to the quantity you have drunk out of the poisoned cup of pleasure, you will feel your inward health and soundness impaired; or, to follow the metaphor of the text, not by a deep wound only, but by every slighter hurt given to the heart, you will suffer in that peace and tranquillity which makes the comfort of life.
But besides this consideration, strict attention is the more requisite to the government of the heart, as the first introduction to those disorders which spread their consequences so deep and wide, is for the most
part gradual and insensible, and made by latent steps. Did all the evil clearly show itself at the beginning, the danger would be less. But we are imperceptibly betrayed, and from one incautious attachment drawn on to another, till the government of our hearts be at last utterly lost; and wounds inflicted there, which are not to be healed without much shame, penitence, and remorse. How much does this call for the attention of youth in particular; whose raw and unexperienced minds are so apt to be caught by every new and enticing object that is held forth to their passions ? How much does it concern them to beware of the commencements of evil, and to listen to the admonitions of the grave and the wise, who have gone through those dangerous paths on which they are beginning to enter ? Let them never give up their hearts profusely to any attachment, without the countenance of reason and religion. Let them shut their ears to the seductions of folly and vice, and look with wary eye to those rocks on which so many others have split.- Nor is it only to youth that this admonition belongs. To the levities and passions of youth succeed the more sober follies of advancing years; which, under a graver appearance, are no less liable to seize and wound the heart. From the first to the last of man's abode on earth, the discipline is perpetually requisite of keeping the heart with all diligence ; guarding it from whatever would annoy its healthy and sound estate; as out of the heart are the issues either of Life or Death.
In the second place, it clearly appears, from what has been said, how much reason we all have to join prayer to the Almighty God, in addition to our own endeavours of guarding and governing our spirits ; beseeching Him who made the heart, and who knows all its errors and wanderings, to aid and prosper us by his grace in this difficult undertaking. Well must he who knows any thing of himself at all, know how greatly divine assistance is needed here, and how little we can depend upon ourselves without it. For deceitful, as well as desperately wicked, are our hearts; and after all our pretences to ability and wisdom, how often, by the seductions of folly, and of passion, have the wise, the learned, and the admired, been shamefully carried away.--Most earnestly to be desired is that blessing promised in the Gospel, of a new heart and a new spirit, which shall render us superior to the attacks of vanity and vice. Who can understand his errors ? Cleanse me, O God, from secret faults : Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me. That which I see not, teach thou me; and lead me in the way everlasting.
In the last place all that has been said on the subject tends to impress us with a sense of this awful truth, that the Great God hath already begun to punish bad men for their sins and vices. You see his hand clearly marked in all that they are made to suffer by the Wounded Spirit. You see that he has not delayed all retribution to another world, but hath in this world begun to act as a Governor and a Judge; showing, by an established order of things, that while he loves the righteous, he hateth all the workers of iniquity. With a wisdom peculiar to himself, he hath made the punishments due to sinners to arise directly from their own behaviour, and to be inflicted by their own hands. He hath no occasion