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By a long custom of sinning, mens consciences grow brawny, and feared as it were with a hot iron ; and by being often trampled upon, they become hard as the beaten road. So that, unless it be upon some extraordinary occasion, they are seldom awakened to a sense of their guilt. And when mens hearts are thus hard, the best counfels make but little impression upon them. For they are iteeled against reproof, and impenetrable to good advice ; which is therefore seldom offered to them, even by those that wilh them well, because they know it to be both unacceptable, and unlikely to prevail. It requires a great deal of good nature in a very bad man, to be able patiently to bear to be told of his faults.
Besides that habitual wickedness is naturally apt to banish confideration, to weaken our resolution, and to discourage our hopes both of God's grace and assistance, and of his mercy and forgiveness, which are the belt means and encouragement to repentance.
Sin is a great enemy to consideration ;, and especially when men are deeply plunged into it, their condition is so very bad, that they are loth to think of it, and to search into it. A vitious man is a very deformed fight, and to none more than to himself; and therefore he loves to turn his
eyes another way, and to divert them as much as he can from looking upon himself. He is afraid to be alone, left his own mind should arrest him, and his conscience should take the opportunity to call him to an account. And if at any time his own thoughts meet with him, and he cannot avoid confideration, he is ready to say, as Ahab did to Elijah, Halt thou found me, O my enemy! and is as glad to shake it off, as a man is to get rid of a creditor, whom because he knows not how to satisfy, he cares not to speak with him. Consideration is the great troubler and disturber of men in an evil course; because it would represent to them the plain truth of their case: and therefore they do all they can to keep it off; as those who have improvidently managed their affairs, and been ill husbands of their estates, are loth to make up their accounts, lest by that means they fhould be forced to understand the worst of their condition.
Or if consideration happen to take them at an advantage, and they are so hard pressed by it, that they cannot escape the light of their own condition ; yet they find themselves fo miserably intangled and hampered in an evil course, and bound so fast in the chains of their own wickedness, that they know not how to get loose. Sin is the saddest slavery in the world : it breaks and sinks mens fpirits ; and makes them so base and servile, that they have not the courage to rescue themselves. No sort of Naves are so poor-spirited, as they that are in bondage to their lusts. Their power is gone ; or if they have any left, they have not the heart to make use of it. And though they fee and feel their misery, yet they chuse rather to sit down in it, and tamely to submit to it, than to make any resolute attempt for their liberty. What the Prophet says of whoredom and wine, is proportionably true of other vices, They take
away the heart. Every lust that we entertain, deals with us as Delilah did with Samson; not only robs us of our strength, but leaves us fast bound : so that, if at any time we be awakened to a sense of our condition, and try to rescue ourselves from it; we find that our strength is departed from us, and that we are not able to break loose.
And as long custom and continuance in fin deprives us of our strength, so it discourageth our hopes, both of God's grace and afiftarce, and of his mercy and forgiveness. For why should men expect the continuance of that grace which they have so often received in vain ? After so many provocations, how can we look the offended majesty of God in the face ? how can we lift up our eyes to heaven with any hopes of mercy and forgiveness there ? Despair doth almost naturally spring from an evil conscience : and when men are thoroughly awakened to a sense of fin, and of the infinite evil of it, as they cannot easily forgive themselves, so they can hardly believe, that there is goodness enough any where to forgive them.
But, besides these disadvantages, wbich are natural, and consequent upon a vitious course, by the just judgment of God his fpirit is withdrawn from them, and they are given up to their own hearts lults, to commit
all iniquity with greediness. And then there is hardly any thing left, either to restrain them in their evil course, or to recover them out of it.
And not only fo; but, by the just permision of God, as men grow worse and more wicked, the devil hath a nearer access to them, and more immediate power over them. So the scripture tells us, that wicked men are let captive by Satan at his pleasure, and that the evil one works and acts in the children of disobedience : they are as it were possessed and inspired by him. And what can be expected from this cruel and malicious enemy of mankind, but that he will continually be pushing them on from one wickedness to another, till he drive them first into despair, and then, if God permit him, into eternal perdition ?
And what a forlorn state is this; when men are thus forsaken of God, and left without check, blindly and headily to follow the sway of their own tempers, and the bent of their own corrupt hearts; when they are continually exposed to temptations, strongly invi. ting them to evil, and God lets the devil loose upon them, to manage those temptations with his utmost fkill, and to practise all his arts and wiles upon them? In these circumstances, men almost infallibly run into fin, as sure as men wander in the dark, and are in danger of falling in slippery places, and of being intangled, when they continually walk in the midst of Inares cunningly laid for them. It is not in men thus disabled and intangled, to order their own steps, and to restrain their inclinations and passions in the presence of a powerful temptation. At the best, we need God's dire&tion to guide us, his continual grace to uphold us,. and to guard and preserve us from evil: and much more: do we stand in need of it, when we have brought ourfelves into these wretched circumstances; but then, alas ! how little reason have we to hope for it?
Blind and miserable men ! that, in despite of all the merciful warnings of God's word and providence, will run themselves into this desperate state, and never think of returning to a better mind, till their retreat is difficult, alinost to an impossibility! I proceed to the II. Second head of my discourse; which was, to shew,
that the case of these persons, though it. be extremely difficult, is not quite desperate; but, after all, there is some ground of hope and encouragement left, that they may yet be reclaimed, and brought to goodness. Indeed, humanly speaking, and according to all appcarance and probability, the thing seems to be very hopeless, and next to an impossibility ; but yet what our Saviour says concerning the difficulty of a rich man's salvation, will reach also to this case, though much more difficult ; Those things which are impossible with men, are possible with God.
And this will appear, if we consider, that even in the worst of men there is something left which tends to reclaim them, to awaken them to consideration, and to urge and encourage them to a vigorous, resolution of a better course : and this, accompanied with a powerful assistance of God's grace, which, when sincerely sought, is never to be despaired of, may prove effectual to bring back even the greatest of linners.
1. There is left, even in the worst of men, a natural sense of the evil and unreasonabless of sin; which can hardly be ever totally extinguished in human nature. For though the habits of great vices are very apt to harden and stupify men, so that they have seldom a just sense of their evil ways ; yet these persons are sometimes under strong convictions, and their consciences do severely check and rebuke them for their faults. They are also, by fits, under great apprehension of the danger of their condition, and that the course which they are in, if they continue in it, will prove fatal to them, and ruin them at last; especially when their consciences are thoroughly awakened by lome great affliction, or the near approach of death, and a lively sense of another world. And the apprehension of a mighty danger will make men to look about them, and to use the best means to avoid it.
2. Very bad men, when they have any thoughts of becoming better, are apt to conceive some good hopes of God's
For though they find all the causes and reasons of despair in themselves, yet the confideration of the boundkis goodneís and compaslions of God (how undeferved foever on their part) is apt to kindle fome sparks of hope, even in the most desponding mịnd. His wonderful patience, in the midst of our manifold provocations, cannot bat be a good sign to us, that he hath no mind that we should perish, but rather that we should come to repentance; and, if we do repent, we are assured by his promise, that we shall be forgiven : He that confesseth and for faketh his sins, shall have mercy. If we confefs our fins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our fins, and to cleanse us from all unrigh teousness.
3. Who knows what men thoroughly roused and startled may resolve and do ? And a mighty resolution will break through difficulties which seem insuperable. Though we be weak and pitiful creatures, yet nature, when it is mightily irritated and stirred, will do strange things. The resolutions of men upon the brink of despair have been of an incredible force : and the soul of man in nothing more discovers its divine power and original, than in that spring which is in it, whereby it recovers itself when it is mightily urged and pressed. There is a fort of resolution which is in a manner invincible, and hardly any difficulty can resist it, or stand before it.
Of this there have been great instances in several kinds. Soine, by an obstinate resolution, and taking incredible pains with themselves, have mastered great natural vices and defects: as Socrates and Demosthenes; who almost exceeded all mankind in those two things for which by nature they seemed to be least made, and most unfit; one in governing of his passions, and the other in the mighty force and
of his eloquence. Some that, by intemperance, have brought themselves to a dropsy, which hath just set them upon the brink of the grave, by a bold and steady purpose, to abstain wholly from drink for a long time together, have rescued themselves from the jaws of death.
Some that had almost ruined themselves by a careless and dissolute life, and having run themselves out of their estates into debt, and being cast into prison, have there taken up a manly resolution, to retrieve and recover themselves; and, by the indefatigable labour and study of some years in that uncomfortable retreat, have ma