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The caution, “ Lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
The means prescribed to give it effect, “Exhort one another."
The time and manner in which this duty is urged, “ daily, while it is called to-day." I. THE CAUTION, “TAKE HEED LEST ANY OF YOU BE HARD
ENED THROUGH THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN." Sin is an evil of the greatest magnitude. It is the source of all the miseries that exist, either in this world, or in that which is to come; sin, says the poet, “ brought death into the world, and all our woe.” Do we enquire for an adequate cause of the unnumbered calamities, however complicated or intolerable,
hat agitate and oppress nations, societies, or individuals,-a cause sufficient to account for the convulsions of the natural, and for the grievous and distracting disorders of the moral world ? with this we are furnished in the word sin, whose evil does not consist merely in that hostility which it invariably maintains against the present and immortal interests of men, but likewise in its being the avowed enemy of God, and of whatever bears the sanction of His name and authority.
Without offering violence to the just laws of scripture explanation, the word in my text may, I conceive, be considered as signifying moral evil in general, or sin in all its forms. It may however be observed, that the apostle Paul uses the term (here translated sin) to express original sin, or the sin of our nature, that innate corrupt disposition, which universally discovers itself in all men throughout the innumerable nations and orders of the human race, by the pursuit of those carnal and forbidden pleasures which are congenial with its nature. This principle of depravity is predominant in the hearts of all the unregenerate. It is that “root of bitterness" which springeth up and bringeth forth those monstrous productions, evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies, enumerated by our Lord, Matt. xv. 19. Of the wicked, governed as they are by this principle, we are authorized to affirm that both the thoughts of their hearts and the uninterrupted tenour of their actions are, and can be, "only evil, and that continually.”
In the glorious change which sinners undergo in the act of regeneration, the original corruption of the human heart is not eradicated. The operation of grace does not extend to the pulling up of the root (though even that does wither and decay) but rather to the cutting off, as soon as they spring up, of those branches which would otherwise produce fruit. In conformity to this observation, the scriptures, with the concurrent testimony of experience, plainly assure us of the existence of two principles operating at once in a believer's soul, and sustaining against each other an irreconcilable hostility. Flesh and Spirit, the old and new man, &c., are the terms by which they are distinguished. The strength of the Christian, his vigour, his comfort in believing, and his general advancement in the divine life, depend, as to growth, on the success with which this spiritual warfare is conducted. “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”-Rom. viii. 13. The object of sin is the ruin of the soul; for the acquisition of which, this implacable enemy, aided by the poliey of hell, has recourse to a thousand stratagems. An engine which has been used in all ages with the most signal suecess, accomplishing the hopeless ruin of numberless victims, whilst it has contributed also not a little to the annoyance and frequent overthrow of God's people, is by the apostle pointed out to us in the text; I mean, “the deceitfulness of sin,” which I now proceed to consider.
Sin has various ways of deceiving both the ungodly, and the righteous.
Let us consider some of the means usually adopted by sin to deceive the ungodly—and I mention,
1. The assuming to itself soft and specious names.Sin, notwithstanding the exalted place which it holds in the affections of the majority of men, is, it must be confessed, a malignant and abominable thing. It may present itself to us in the most fascinating forms, and plead for a share in our embraces with arguments the most plausible. Its quality, too, may in
some instances appear less atrocious than in others, yet its nature, its tendency, its effects, remain unaltered. Still it deserves, though enrobed like an angel of light, every term with which language can supply us in order to render it the object of our unmingled abhorrence. Nay, it must be obvious to every eye not blinded by its influence, that no language can describe, no images paint, no imagination conceive the vile and pernicious nature of this evil, under whatever denomination it may pass. By its ascendancy, the human heart, once the glorious residence of the Holy Spirit, resembles now rather a haunt of infernal fiends-once celestial light irradiated the understanding, and the affections, in perfect harmony, were sweetly drawn to objects worthy of an immortal spirit; but now the soul, obscured with darkness, and unable to discern real good, is pecome the seat of furiously contending passions, each of which, insatiate in the pursuit of its own gratification, almost perpetually interferes with the other. Man, an intellectual, a noble being, is thus degraded, in some respects, below the rank of the brute creation. For the basest of purposes he is enslaved, and laden with chains. The profound artifice of sin here displays itself. Men are not aware of their state, otherwise their satisfaction would soon be at an end. Vice conceals its deformity under the thin veil of soft, conciliating names, and its slaves and advocates, enamoured of its gross, ignoble chains, love and cherish the deception. They suffer the terms human frailty, venial faults, harmless, inoffensive, fashionable pleasures, sanctioned by the example of the rational part of mankind” (and it were well if some religious professors did not encourage such practices !), kindly to contribute their assistance towards lulling them asleep in secure complacency, and thus their delusion receives additional strength.
Let such be aware of the deceitfulness of sin. fessors of religion should by these means palliate offences, and endeavour to extenuate the enormity of sin, is a crime of the deepest dye; professing friendship to religion, they stab to the utmost of their power the vitals of it; while their inconsistent conduct serves to vindicate its declared enemies in the unrestrained indulgence of every depraved inclination.
2. Sin deceives by misrepresenting the nature of things revealed to us.-Instructed by the word of God, we are led to consider Him as the subject of infinite perfection : although we cannot search out the Almighty, and comprehend his glorious attributes, yet we are confident that in the exercise of one of these, He will not injure or infringe upon the claims of another. The supposition of inconsistency or opposition here is blasphemous and absurd. The perfections of Deity are one and inseparable. His operations are all wise, and holy, and righteous, and good. In every act these principles are necessarily blended; one does not operate to the exclusion of the other.
The scriptures were given to men by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; their sacred contents are of such a nature, as to lie beyond the reach of human enquiries—unassisted by revelation, men could not have traced out the nature or extent even of these moral duties which subsist between themselves ; much less have discovered the sublime and glorious truths of grace and redemption. In the word of God, however, as in a glass which presents the most perfect and faithful resemblance, we may perceive our obligations to men and to the Creator; our depravity, together with our spiritual deadness and inability : there also we discover the only way of salvation, and those means which alone are effectual in securing our return to the favour and enjoyment of God.
Religion, which is the word of truth dwelling in the heart and governing our actions, is pure and holy, resembling its author. Its influence enlightens the mind, elevates the affections, and stamps a dignity and excellence on the whole man. Instead of lessening our comforts, or embittering our griefs, it furnishes the one, and frequently removes the other. In the present world, religion, where it reigns, sustains the weak, comforts the disconsolate, relieves the oppressed, whilst it inspires us with the sure and cheerful hope of the undisturbed possession of substantial and immortal pleasure in a life to
This representation of the nature and perfections of God, of the scriptures, and of their influence on men, which, on impar
tial enquiry, must be admitted to accord with truth, is grossly calumniated by the suggestions of sin, lest, from a proper sentiment of the justice and holiness of God, its subjects should be intimidated in their impious and sensual career, and thus be prevented from completing the measure of their iniquity. They are easily persuaded to believe, or at least to hope, that the mercy of God will preclude his cognizance of their abominations ; that these are inoffensive, or that they are unworthy the notice of that glorious Being, against whose sovereignty, in fact, they are directly levelled ; and, by a strange perversion of mind, they are further led to justify every description of sensuality by arguing, that it were inconsistent with the goodness of the Maker, first to create desires, and then to prohibit or punish the indulgence of them; as if, which they are not unwilling to suppose, God formed man what he now is, a corrupted and degenerate being. With the same view the scriptures are represented as either uninspired, or unsupported by sufficient evidence; as of human invention, calculated to promote superstition, to repress innocent pleasures, and to render life a burden. These being the sentiments which many are disposed to form of the inspired writings, we need not be surprised at their abhorrence of true religion. Accordingly, they load it with every species of abuse, and seem to flatter themselves that by stigmatizing it under the usual epithets, melancholy, fanaticism, madness, and the likse, they at once annul its obligations, and escape the horrors of that day in which, we are infallibly assured, God will be avenged against impious unbelievers.
3. Sin deceives by promising pleasures which it cannot give, and artfully concealing the train of painful consequences always attendant upon it.-When Absalom rebelled against his father, he was doubtless stimulated by the hope of raising himself to absolute power and the highest dignity, as sovereign in the room of David. Dreadful was his delusion, as the event proved. With equal address, in alluring to crimes of a nature less atrocious, does sin flatter the tempted. Full enjoyment, unmingled pleasures, a frequent and certain recurrence of what is presented in the most fascinating colours, are