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SERMON LX.

On the SLAVERY of VICE.

2 PETER, ii. 19.

While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.

BON

ONDAGE and subjection are disagreeable sounds to the ear, disagreeable ideas to the mind. The advocates of vice, taking advantage of those natural impressions, have in every age employed them for discrediting religion. They represent it as the bondage and confinement of the free-born soul of man; as a state of perpetual constraint, formed by a system of severe rules, which designing men have contrived to impose as fetters on the multitude. On the other hand, they paint a licentious course to themselves, and hold it out to the world, as the gay and pleasurable enjoyment of life; where, having surmounted the prejudices of education, and the timorous scruples of conscience, men can think and act at pleasure, and give full scope to every wish of the heart. But what if those pretended sons of freedom be themselves held in miserable subjection, and their boasts of liberty be no more than the swelling words of vanity? The Apostle asserts in the text, that, while they promise liberty to others, they are the servants, or slaves of corruption, overcome and

This assertion of the

brought into bondage by it. Apostle I propose to illustrate. I shall endeavour to make it appear, that no true liberty can arise from vice; that bad men undergo the worst servitude; and that no one is free, but he who is virtuous and good.

Ir is necessary to begin with removing false ideas of liberty, and shewing in what it truly consists. We are not to imagine that to be free, imports our being set loose from restraint or rule of every kind. No man, in any condition of life, is at liberty to act always as he pleases, and to gratify every wish he forms. The nature of the human state necessarily imposes on all men various restraints. The laws of society allow no one to indulge himself in pursuits or pleasures that are injurious to his neighbour. Even our own nature limits our pleasures within certain bounds. All our desires cannot be gratified together. They frequently interfere, and require him who would indulge one favourite passion, to deny himself in another. Distinctions, therefore, must be made, preferences be given, and some general regulations of conduct be observed, by every one who consults his own welfare. If there be any regulation which ensures us of safety and happiness, to be disengaged from the observance of that regulation is no article of liberty; at least of such liberty as a wise man would wish to enjoy. It is in effect to be turned loose to our own ruin. It is such liberty as a blind man enjoys, of wandering at random, and striking into every devious path, without a guide to direct his steps, and save him from destruction.

That unbounded licentiousness, therefore, which

sinners prefer to every regulation of conduct, is altogether different from true freedom. It is in moral behaviour the same as anarchy is in a state, where law and order are extinct. Anarchy, surely, is no less incompatible with true liberty than absolute despotism; and of the two it is hard to say which is the least eligible, or the most miserable state. Liberty by no means supposes the absence of all government. It only supposes that the government under which we are placed is wise; and that the restraints to which we voluntarily submit ourselves have been contrived for the general interest.

To be free, therefore, imports, in general, our being placed in such circumstances, that, within the bounds of justice and good order, we can act according to our own deliberate choice, and take such measures for our conduct as we have reason to believe are conducive to our welfare; without being obstructed either by external force, or by violent internal impulse. This is that happy and dignified state which every wise Man earnestly wishes to enjoy. The advantages which result from it are chiefly these three: freedom of choice; independence of mind; boldness and security. In opposition to these distinguishing characters of liberty, I now proceed to shew that, in the first place, vice deprives bad men of free choice in their actions; that, in the second place, it brings them under a slavish dependence on external circumstances; and that, in the third place, it reduces them to that abject, cowardly, and disquieted state which is essentially characteristic of bondage.

I. VICE is inconsistent with liberty, as it deprives sinners of the power of free choice, by bringing them

under the dominion of passions and habits. Religion and virtue address themselves to reason. They call us to look round on every side; to think well of the consequences of our actions; and, before we take any step of importance, to compare the good with the evil that may ensue from it. He, therefore, who follows their dictates, acts the part of a man who freely consults, and chooses, for his own interest. But vice can make no pretensions of this kind. It awaits not the test of deliberate comparison and choice; but overpowers us at once by some striking impression of present advantage or enjoyment. It hurries us with the violence of passion; captivates us by the allurements of pleasure; or dazzles us by the glare of riches. The sinner yields to the impulse, merely because he cannot resist it. Reason remonstrates; conscience endeavours to check him; but all in vain. Having once allowed some strong passion to gain the ascendant, he has thrown himself into the middle of a torrent, against which he may sometimes faintly struggle, but the impetuosity of the stream bears him along. In this situation he is so far from being free, that he is not master of himself. does not go, but is driven; tossed, agitated, and impelled; passive, like a ship to the violence of the

waves.

He

After passion has for a while exercised its tyrannical sway, its vehemence may by degrees subside. But when, by long indulgence, it has established habits of gratification, the sinner's bondage becomes then more confirmed, and more miserable. For during the heat of pursuit, he is little capable of reflection. But when his ardour is abated, and, nevertheless, a vicious habit rooted, he has full

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leisure to perceive the heavy yoke he has brought upon himself. How many slaves do we see in the world to intemperance, and all kinds of criminal pleasure, merely through the influence of customs, which they had allowed to become so inveterate that it was not in their power to alter them? Are they not often reduced to a condition so wretched, that when their licentious pleasures have become utterly insipid, they are still forced to continue them, solely because they cannot refrain; not because the indulgence gives them pleasure, but because abstinence would give them pain; and this too, even when they are obliged at last to condemn their habits of life, as injuring their fortune, impairing their constitution, or disgracing their character? Vice is not of such a nature that we can say to it, Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther. Having once entered into its territories, it is not in our power to make a retreat when we please. He that committeth sin is the servant of sin. No man who has once yielded up the government of his mind, and given loose rein to his desires and passions, can tell how far these may carry him. He may be brought into such a desperate state, that nothing shall remain for him but to look back with regret upon the forsaken path of innocence and liberty; and severely conscious of the thraldom he suffers, to groan under fetters which he despairs of throwing off. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, who are accustomed to do evil?

Vice confirms its dominion, and extends it still farther over the soul, by compelling the sinner to * Jeremiah, xiii, 23.

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