« PreviousContinue »
II. Convictions of sin constitute, in the eye of God, an important change in the state of man.
"When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man." The change of which I have spoken, is so great, as to be justly represented by this imagery. Before the unclean spirit dwelt in the soul without disturbance. Now he finds himself so strenuously resisted, that, in despair of future success, he quits a habitation which has become so uncomfortable, because it promises so little opportunity of doing mischief. Of course he hastens to some other place, where the same dreadful employment may be more hopefully pursued. "The fiend," in the language of the great English poet, "The fiend murmuring "flies; and with him fly the shades of night:"-of that deep and dreadful night, which he himself shed over the world within. In a sense, the man has once more become his own, and is partially delivered from the deplorable thraldom under which he had so long laboured.
Certainly this is a great and desirable change. The subtlety, malice, and domination of a fiend, of passions and appetites strongly resembling the character of a fiend, have in some good measure been overcome. The captive is in a good degree at liberty to understand and pursue his own salvation. Many of his incumbrances are shaken off; many of his discouragements removed. The victory, indeed, is not of course final. Yet it is a victory of vast importance; and is often followed, if perseveringly pursued, perhaps always, by conse quences interesting beyond conception. How fervently, then, ought every person in this situation to labour, that he may secure all which he has gained, and take advantage of his present commanding ground to acquire all which remains! How diligently ought every such person to watch against every danger, the approach of every temptation, the assaults of every enemy, and especially the dreadful possession from which he has just escaped! How ardently ought he to strive against the returns of stupidity, backsliding, and corruption! How fervently to pray, that God would enable him to persevere, advance, overcome every obstacle, and finally win the prize of immortal life. If such persons forsake themselves, God will
forsake them. If they forget their souls, they ought to expect that they will be forgotten by their Maker. If they despise their own eternal well-being, they cannot hope to escape from the ruin which is before them.
III. We are here taught, that beings absolutely sinful find neither rest, nor enjoyment, but in doing evil.
He walketh through dry (i. e. desert) places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
While the unclean spirit resided in his former dwelling, he was in a sense settled in ease and quiet, because he was corrupting and destroying the man. The business of corrupting and destroying was all in which he found any ease. The moment his hopes of success in this diabolical business began to fail, he quitted his mansion, and wandered into a desert. Here he roamed alone, restless, and wretched; and peculiarly wretched, because he could no longer successfully pursue the work of destruction.
Wickedness is a spirit absolutely solitary. All its social character, all its sympathy, is nothing but the disposition which unites banditti in the fell purpose of plundering, pollution, and murder. With others it joins, solely because it cannot accomplish its foul ends alone. Even with these it has no union of heart, no fellow-feeling, no real sociality. It attracts nothing, and nobody. Every thing it repels. Hell with all its millions, is a perfect solitude to each of its inhabitants. They unite only to destroy each other, or to accomplish elsewhere the same work of ruin. Not one of them can find a single friend in all the vast multitude around him. Nay, this immense multitude serves only to make him feel, that he is more entirely alone, more perfectly friendless, more absolutely destitute of confidence, affection, and hope. Such is the true nature of sin, or selfishness, in every human breast: and although its tendencies are strongly resisted by natural affection in the present world, it bursts, in innumerable instances, this bond, and discovers its fiend-like character in the terrible crimes to which it goads our miserable race. Intense ambition, avarice, and voluptuousness rage, even here, with
out control; and diffuse around them misery, not a little resembling that of the damned. What an endless multitude have they sacrificed with the sword! What a multitude of victims have they brought to the cross and to the stake. What is this, but the temper and conduct of hell?
Even when this spirit appears in a milder form, and assumes no violence, nor any apparent malice, still both its character, and its employments, are substantially the same. To corrupt is to destroy. The process is indeed slower; but it is equally sure. The aspect exhibited by the spirit of corruption is indeed less forbidding; but the mischiefs which it does, are not in the end less dreadful. Every seducer, every tempter is at the bottom an enemy, and a villain; and nothing can be more false than the professions made by men of this character.
IV. Persons under conviction are always in danger of falling anew into hardness of heart.
He saith, "I will return into my house, from whence I "came out."
At first, and for a time he despaired of gaining a final victory over the man whose soul he inhabited; and in this despair, leaving him to himself, wandered into the desert. But, after looking in vain for a new victim, he began to indulge fresh hopes of reoccupying his former residence. Accordingly, he determined to return and make it his permanent abode.
The first victory which is gained when the soul becomes convinced of its sins, is far from being final. It is a happy beginning, and, if followed by vigorous and unremitted efforts, is a propitious prelude to future success. But he who rests here, and feels as if he had already attained, or were already safe, is ruined of course. He is become convinced of his guilt, and has thus advanced a necessary step towards eternal life. But he has not turned to God, and without this conversion all which is done will be nothing.
Probably every person who is under a strong conviction of his guilt is assailed by many temptations. Either he will distrust, and despair of the divine mercy, or he will be induced
to trust presumptuously his own righteousness, or to feel satisfied of his ability to save himself; or he will settle down in a state of sloth; or he will be persuaded to procrastinate the work of repentance; or he will yield himself up to the guidance of erroneous teachers, or search out for himself erroneous doctrines; or he will depend on impulses and other vain dictates of a wild imagination. In these circumstances, some individuals strenuously resist both the allurements and the terrors. Others become victims to them. The former overcome, the latter fall, and often irrevocably.
Of the truth of the observations which I have here made, the conversation of persons in a state of conviction furnishes evidence but too decisive. A minister of the Gospel is by his office made a witness, to a great extent, of the secret feelings of the heart in persons thus situated. The very things which have been here mentioned I have myself heard in such conversation, and have seen the subsequent conduct. Without hesitation, therefore, I pronounce the observations to be true.
How important, then, is it, that every individual in such a state should be aware of his danger, watch incessantly against his enemies, and resist them without intermission. How indispensable is it, that he should pray always with all prayer for the grace of God to save him from temptation, and to rescue him from utter ruin. Let every such person present be awake, alive, and alarmed by a sense of his exposure, and tremble at the thought of being overcome by his destroyers.
V. The soul, from which convictions of sin have been finally banished, is more perfectly prepared to become the seat of absolute wickedness than before these convictions began.
"And, when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished."
An empty house is vacant for the reception of a new inhabitant. A house swept, is rendered clean to make his residence agreeable. A house garnished, is with pleasure prepared to welcome such an inhabitant, and designed to exhibit the respect with which the original tenant regards his new guest, and the
open testimonies of honour which he is disposed to render to him. It will be remembered, that all this preparation is voluntary on the part of the owner, and is all designed for the convenience and pleasure of the new occupant. It proves, therefore, that such an occupant was expected and intended to reside where all these preparations had been made.
Thus, after the conflict with sin, and the fears of danger are over, the soul becomes quieted of all its former apprehensions, and inactive as to all future resistance. The work, though not done, is ended; and the struggles, though they had failed of their purpose, are given over. The soul has ceased from its opposition; and, considering the effort as too laborious, and the self-denial as too great, relinquishes the conflict with scarcely a hope of resuming it at any future period. Satisfied that with ten thousand it is unable to meet him who cometh against it with twenty thousand, it languishes away its energy, and settles down into a state of hopeless torpidity. It began to build, but it was not able to finish.
From this time it recedes visibly from the solemnity and concern which it before manifested about its sins and its salvation, and becomes gradually hardened in iniquity, and alienated from God. Ordinarily, this progress is not without its interruptions, without checks of conscience, without restraints of the Spirit of grace. With some irregularities it is, however, continual. It is too constant, too rapid, and too hopeless; and but too often does the man conclude to make no further efforts, and to bid adieu to every prospect of eternal life.
VI. The soul, from which convictions are finally banished, becomes far more sinful than before its convictions began.
"Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits "more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there; "and the last state of that man is worse than the first."
Seven is here put for an indefinite number, and may be considered as standing for many. It was also regarded by the Jews as a perfect number, and may therefore denote, in the present case, the worst, or the number the most fitted to complete the wickedness and ruin of the man. At the least, it