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all changes which can befall a human soul, should have undergone consciously some of the pains of that great inward struggle which works death to our sins, and to ourselves life and glory.
Now if I could relate to you step by step the progress of natural death; if I could lay in a manner before your eyes the decay of the body, such as it will happen one day to us all ; if I could
! describe the oppression, the gasping for breath, the restlessness, sometimes the great pain, of the breaking down of the health and life of our frames; if I could trace the changes to you which appear in the countenance of a dying person, and if it were permitted us to unveil the very mystery of death itself, and to know what is working in the mind when it is nigh, even at the doors ; I am well aware that such a description would be listened to by all with eager interest, because it would convey that sense of exciting terror which when inconnected with present danger is so delightful to the imaginations of us all. But the process of the death of sin has in it nothing horrible, nothing exciting ; the imagination may not be struck by it, and yet it is of an interest really far deeper than the death of the body, and an interest which we may all presently realize. It works quietly and invisibly to the eyes of others, but most perceptibly and most truly to him who is undergoing it.
I believe that every one knows upon a very little reflection what are his own most besetting faults. Now let him consider that if he is to come to God these must, in the first place, be renounced and forsaken. I call those our most besetting faults to which we are either most inclined by natural constitution, or are most tempted by circumstances, because the fashion of the society around us is in their favour. What these are, I say, we can each tell readily. Let us suppose that we fix upon them, and name them to God in our prayers this night, asking Him to enable us for Christ's sake to overcome them. The prayer is remembered and repeated in the morning, and the resolution is formed in Christ's strength to watch for and to resist His enemy. Now this
Now this very watchfulness is in itself a great effort, an effort greater than can be well conceived by those who have never tried it.
It is hard to be ready at every moment to check ourselves, when we have been used to let our lives run on freely. Then the temptation comes, and we have to make the actual struggle against it. Suppose that the temptation has been to neglect a duty rather than to commit a sin; suppose it to be that common temptation of wasting time or money, of employing neither to the uses for which God entrusted them to us. Will it be a light thing to employ our time carefully; to do what we have to do
in earnest ; to consider what else we can do besides our immediate and necessary business; to hallow that by devoting it consciously to God's service, which before was never hallowed at all, even when the work in which it was spent was in itself good? One day of such Christian watchfulness, even with respect to one single known fault, whether of omission or commission, will undoubtedly bring with it enough of effort, and enough of pain, to show us that the death of sin is no easy and unconscious process, no mere walking on the way which we are in, as if it would of itself lead us right at the last.
But now suppose farther, that any one while so watching against one particular fault, and so praying, were to have his eyes opened more generally; were to see his faults, not in one point or points only, but as running through his whole nature ; were to look at the commands of God's law, which bid us to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul, and our neighbour as ourselves. This is very often the crisis of a man's whole state; the view thus opened may be too much for him, the contest which he sees before him may be too great; he may shrink from it, and resolutely shut his eyes upon it, and comfort himself with the old charm of unbelief, whispering to the sinner that he shall not surely die. Many, I believe, struggle successfully against one marked fault, but fly back from the prospect of having to overcome a whole sinful nature, and having to become made anew after God's image. The evil spirit which was cast out returns with seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and the man is lost for ever. So it is but too often, but so it is not always. Let us suppose, then, that we bear this sight of our general sinfulness, not with a cowardly despair, but with a Christian resolution; that feeling as St. Paul did, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death,” we may add his other words no less, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Then indeed there begins that struggle which may be truly called the death of sin. Then sin is looked for and hunted out, as it were, of every thought, and word, and deed, and then it appears, to our amazement, how deeply it bad possessed us. Then our old nature begins to die sensibly, in no part without pain. What a multitude of evil thoughts possess us, what a multitude of evil words we utter, what a multitude of evil deeds we do, when they are all seen by the light of God's grace, kindling in our own hearts an answering fire of holy resolution, which leaves no part within us unenlightened! Do I say that such a work could be accomplished in a fortnight? Nay, rather it will be the work of our lives; it will not be finished, we may be well assured, till Christ calls us to Himself.
But it may be begun in a fortnight, or in less time; it may be begun truly and consciously. We may feel, not that we have conquered sin within us, but that we have discovered it and are struggling against it; we may feel that it has begun to die; we may feel, at least, that it has died in our purposes, that we are set against it utterly, that we have learnt to know it, to watch for it, to renounce it. This may be done by any of us, before the next fourteen days be over. whomsoever it shall be done, whoever he is who, resolving first to watch for and to resist some one or more known faults, has thus learnt to see into himself far more deeply, has seen the sin which has dominion over his whole nature, and has cried out for Christ's help to conquer it, he, when he comes to the confirmation or to the communion, will come as one needing and seeking strength in those ordinances, and therefore sure to find it; he will derive from them a greater grace for the time to come, and will go on dying to sin more and more, and living more and more to God.
May 16, 1841.