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therefore that yields to temptation has the greater part in his own destruction; he has been warned of his danger, he has been taught his duty; and if these warnings and instructions have had no effect, he may be said voluntarily to desert the right way, and not so much to be deceived by another, as to deceive himself.
Of self-deceit, in the great business of our lives, there are various modes. The far greater part of mankind de- sluit ceive themselves, by willing negligence, by refusing to think on their real state, lest such thoughts should trouble their quiet, or interrupt their pursuits. To live religiously, is to walk, not by sight, but by faith; to act in confidence of things unseen, in hope of future recompense, and in fear of future punishment. To abstract the thoughts from things spiritual is not difficult: things future do not obtrude themselves upon the senses, and therefore easily give way to external objects. He that is willing to forget religion may quickly lose it; and that most men are willingto forget it, experience informs us. If we look into the gay or the busy world, we see every eye directed towards pleasure or advantage, and every hour filled with expectation, or occupied by employment, and day passed after day in the enjoyment of success, or the vexation of disappointment.
Nor is it true only of men who are engaged in enterprises of hazard, which restrain the faculties to the utmost, and keep attention always upon the stretch. Religion is not only neglected by the projector and adventurer, by men who suspend their happiness on the slender thread of artifice, or stand tottering upon the point of chance. For, if we visit the most cool regular parts of the community, if we turn our eye to the farm, or to the shop, where one year glides uniformly after another, and nothing new or important is either expected or dreaded; yet still the same indifference about eternity will be found. There is no interest so small, nor engagement so slight, but that, if it be followed and expanded, it may be sufficient to keep reli
gion out of the thoughts. Many men may be observed, not agitated by very violent passions, not overborne by any powerful habits, nor depraved by any great degrees of wickedness; men who are honest dealers, faithful friends, and inoffensive neighbours; who yet have no principle of religion ; who live wholly without self examination; and indulge any desire that happens to arise, with very little resistance or compunction; who hardly know what it is to combat a temptation, or to repent of a fault; but go on, neither self-approved, nor self-condemned; not endeavouring after any excellence, nor reforming any vicious practice or irregular desire. They have no care of futurity; neither is God in all their thoughts; they direct none of their actions to his glory, they do nothing with the hope of pleasing, they avoid nothing for the fear of offending him. Those men want not much of being religious ; they have nothing more than casual views to reform, and from being peaceable and temperate heathens, might, if they would once awaken to their eternal interest, become pious and exemplary Christians. But let them not be deceived; they cannot suppose that God will accept him who never wished to be accepted by him, or made his will the rule of action.
Others there are, who, without attending to the written revelation of God's will, form to themselves a scheme of conduct in which vice is mingled with virtue, and who cover from themselves, and hope to cover from God, the indulgence of some criminal desire, or the continuance of some vicious habit, by a few splendid instances of public spirit, or some few effusions of occasional bounty. But to these men it may, with emphatical propriety, be urged, that God is not mocked; he will not be worshipped nor obeyed, but according to his own laws.
The mode of self-deception which prevails most in the world, and by which the greatest number of souls is at last betrayed to destruction, is the art which we are all too apt to practise, of putting far from us the evil day, of set
ting the hour of death, and the day of account, at a great distance.
That death is certain, every one knows; nor is it less known, that life is destroyed, at all ages, by a thousand causes ; that the strong and the vigorous are liable to diseases, and that caution and temperance afford no security against the final stroke. Yet, as the thought of dissolution is dreadful, we do not willingly admit it; the desire of life is connected with animation; every living being shrinks from his destruction; to wish, and to hope, are never far asunder; as we wish for long life, we hope that our wishes will be granted; and what we hope, we either believe, or do not examine. So tenaciously does our credulity lay hold of life, that it is rare to find any man so old as not to expect an addition to his years, or so far wasted and enfeebled with disease, as not to flatter himself with hopes of recovery.
To those who procrastinate amendment in hopes of better opportunities in future time, it is too often vainly urged by the preacher, and vainly suggested by a thousand examples, that the hour of death is uncertain. This, which ought to be the cause of their terrour, is the ground of their hope; that, as death is uncertain, it may be distant. This uncertainty is, in effect, the great support of the whole system of life. The man who died yesterday had purchased an estate, to which he intended some time to retire; or built a house, which he was hereafter to inhabit; and planted gardens and groves, that, in a certain number of years, were to supply delicacies to his feasts, and shades to his meditations. He is snatched away, and has left his designs and his labours to others.
As men please themselves with felicities to be enjoyed in the days of leisure and retreat; so among these felicities, it is not uncommon to design a reformation of life, and a course of piety. Among the more enlightened and judicious part of mankind, there are many who live in a continual disapprobation of their own conduct, who know, that they do every day what they ought to leave undone,
and every day leave undone what they ought to do; and who therefore consider themselves as living under the divine displeasure, in a state in which it would be very dangerous to die. Such men answer the reproaches of conscience with sincerity and intention of performance, but which they consider as debts to be discharged at some remote time. They neither sin with stupid negligence, nor with impious defiance of the divine laws; they fear the punishments denounced against sin, but pacify their anxiety with possibilities of repentance, and with a plan of life to be led according to the strict precepts of religion, and to be closed at last by a death softened by holy consolations. Projects of future piety are perhaps not less common than those of future pleasure, and are, as there is reason to fear, not less commonly interrupted; with this dreadful difference, that he who misses his intended pleasure, escapes a disappointment; but he who is cut off before the season of repentance, is exposed to the vengeance of an angry God.
Whoever has been deluded by this infatuation, and has hitherto neglected those duties which he intends some time to perform, is admonished, by all the principles of prudence, and all the course of nature, to consider, how much he ventures, and with how little probability in his favour. The continuance of life, though, like all other things, adjusted by Providence, may be properly considered by us casual ; and wisdom always directs us, not to leave that to chance which may be made certain, and not to venture any thing upon chance which it will much hurt us to lose.
He who, accused by his conscience of habitual disobedience, defers his reformation, apparently leaves his soul in the power of chance.
of chance. We are in full possession of the present moment; let the present moment be improved ; let that which must necessarily be done some time, be no longer neglected. Let us remember, that if our lot should fall otherwise than we suppose; if we are of the number of them to whom length of life is not granted; we lose
what can never be recovered, and what will never be recompensed, the mercy of God, and the joys of futurity.
That long life is not commonly granted, is sufficiently apparent; for life is called long, not as being, at its greatest length, of much duration, but as being longer than common. Since therefore the common condition of man is not to live long, we have no reason to conclude that what happens to few will happen to us.
But, to abate our confidence in our own resolutions, it is to be remembered, that though we should arrive at the great year, destined for the change of life, it is by no means certain that we shall effect what we have purposed. Age is shackled with infirmity and diseases. Immediate pain and present vexation will then do what amusement and gaiety did before, will enchain the attention, and occupy the thoughts, and leave little vacancy for the past or future. Whoever suffers great pain, has no other care than to obtain ease; and if ease is for a time obtained, he values it too much, to lessen it by painful reflection.
Neither is an efficacious repentance so easy a work, as that we may be sure of performing it, at the time appointed by ourselves. The longer habits have been indulged, the more imperious they become; it is not by bidding them to be gone, that we can at once dismiss them; they may be suppressed and lie dormant for a time, and resume their force, at an unexpected moment, by some sudden temptation; they can be subdued only by continued caution and repeated conflicts.
The longer sin has been indulged, the more irksome will be the retrospect of life. So much uneasiness will be suffered, at the review of years spent in vicious enjoyment, that there is reason to fear, lest that delay, which began in the love of pleasure, will be continued for fear of pain.
Neither is it certain, that the grace, without which no man can correct his own corruption, when it has been offered and refused, will be offered again ; or that he who stopped his ears against the first call, will be vouchsafed a second. He cannot expect to be received among the ser