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In the text the danger of this conduct is exhibited in the most terrible manner. Let me beseech you solemnly to ponder this awful representation. Ponder it deeply. Ponder it often. Let it lie near your hearts. Let it awaken all your fears.
You may possibly reply, that this is a figurative representation; a parable; an allegory. Be it so. Construe it as favourably for yourselves, as you can. Soften its terrible declarations as much as you can. There will still remain in it sufficient alarms to make the ears of every one of you, who is not deaf, to tingle; and the heart of every one of you, who is not torpid, to shrink with dismay.
From a state of conviction, however distressing it may seem, there are but two ways of escape. One of them leads to endless life; the other, to endless death. The former is the way of repentance, faith and holiness; the latter, that of stupidity, hardness of heart, the resumption of sin, and the abandonment of Religion. Of those, who terminate their convictions, how dif ferent is the disposition, the progress, and the end. Who would not chuse the former? Who would not tremble to assume the latter?
Cherish, then, if you possess them, these convictions, however painful they may seem, however long they may continue. Keep your eyes open upon your guilt, upon your danger, and upon the only way of escape from both. Search the Scriptures diligently for those instructions and warnings, which on the one hand will teach you your duty and your danger, and on the other will keep your minds vigorously alive to the importance of both. The threatenings, found in that sacred book, meet with awe and apprehension: the invitations, and the promises, welcome with gratitude, wonder, and delight. Mark the gracious terms, in which they are given; and adore the divine Spirit of condescension and mercy, by which they are dictated. Regard the distresses, which you feel at this period, as a wise man regards the probe, by which his wounds are searched and healed. To yourselves you may seem as losing a right hand, or a right eye: but remember that it is better to enter into life, maimed, than with two eyes, and
two hands, to be cast into the fire of hell. Bow your knees daily to the Father of all mercies, with the language and spirit of the publican; and cry, each of you, to him in anguish of heart, "GOD be merciful unto me, a sinner." Seize every opportunity to converse with that frankness, which opens all the heart, with good men; whose affectionate instructions may enlighten, quicken, and strengthen you; may give you consolation and hope; and persuade you to endure to the end.
2. We learn from these observations the high interest, which persons in this situation have in being directed in their duty by sound wisdom.
Such persons betake themselves, of course, to some or other of those around them for instruction and comfort, especially, when, as is often the case, they themselves are imperfectly acquainted with subjects of this nature. Multitudes in such cases are, usually, willing enough to take into their hands the business of instructing them; and not unfrequently volunteer their services. Let me exhort you to remember, that many of these are totally unfit for the office which they assume. If you commit yourselves to the guidance of ignorant persons; they will be unable to point out to you your duty, or your safety: if to that of philosophical Christians; they will perplex you with distinctions, and refinements in speculation, by which you will be only bewildered. If you fall into the hands of bigotry; you will be told, that your safety is found alone in the adoption of those opinions, and those practices, about which this spirit is so unreasonably employed: opinions and practices, usually wrong in their nature, and always in the degree of importance attached to them. If you go to enthusiasts; they will teach you, that Religion consists in fervours, in impulses, in immediate revelations from Heaven: things unknown to the Scriptures, and estranged from piety. They will also tell you, that its existence is evidenced by the sudden arrival of Scriptural texts to your minds, of which you had no expectation, and for the coming of which you were absolutely unprepared; by the violence of your zeal; by the abundance of your conversation about religious subjects; by high pretensions; and by that spirit
of censoriousness, which denies the character of piety to sober Christians. The superstitious man will inform you, that you must tithe mint, anise, and cummin; and will be perfectly satisfied, that you should neglect the weightier matters of the law: judg ment, mercy, and faith. The frozen-hearted moralist will persuade you, that, if you speak truth, pay your debts, and occasionally administer to the necessities of the poor, you will find yourselves in the path to heaven; and have nothing to fear from the anger of God, although your hearts will still remain deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. All these are blind guides and if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch.
In every case of this nature apply yourselves directly, and only, to sober, enlightened, and pious men, whose lives prove their piety, whose conversation carries irresistible evidence of their wisdom. Especially betake yourselves to Ministers of the Gospel, who clearly, and evangelically, sustain this character. you walk with these men, you will become wise. They will shew you the path of life: they will persuade you to enter it. Pour forth to them all your hearts, your sins, your temptations, your difficulties, your fears, and your hopes. The instructions, which they will be able to give you will be safe, comforting, full of hope, and full of peace. Their counsels will be a light to your feet, and a balm to your wounds. They will take you by the hand, lead you in the path of righteousness, and guide you towards Heaven.
3. We also learn from this parable the miserable situation of Vuawakened sinners.
These persons have not, indeed, incurred all the guilt, and all the danger, of those, who have been the principal subjects of this discourse. Still, their condition is, and is here exhibited as being, deplorable. "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man," says our Saviour. The departure of the unclean spirit, if the commentators, to whom I have referred, have construed the passage aright, is the era, at which convictions begin in the soul. Of course, till this time he resided there in quiet. Think what
it is for the soul to be possessed by this foul and dreadful inhabitant; and remember, that the representation is that of Christ himself. It is therefore just. Sin is an unclean spirit, of sufficient subtilty, foulness, power and malignity, to corrupt any mind beyond the hope of restoration. In the case supposed; the case, as there is but too much reason to fear, of not a small number in this house; the excessive danger lies in this: every such person is at ease concerning his moral condition.
This unclean spirit has acquired an entire ascendency over him; and dwells, and reigns, in his heart without a rival, and without an attempt to resist his influence or to escape from his dominion. All is quiet, and silent, within but it is the stillness of death, and the repose of the grave.
Be roused then, to a sense of your condition.
Open your eyes to your sins, your guilt, your approaching ruin.
Feel, that you are in greater danger, because you suppose yourselves safe. Your insensibility is the torpor of the apoplexy. You sleep on the top of a mast; and the waves of perdition roll beneath you. How can you hope to escape, if you will not so much as open your eyes to see your danger? Remember how often the alarm has been rung in your ears, and has left you as it found you, crying in half-articulated sounds "A little more sleep; a little more slumber; a little more folding of the hands to sleep." You have been tenants of the tomb; and have slumbered over the pit of destruction. If you are not lifeless; if you are not hopeless; listen. The voice of Inspiration calls to you; "Awake, or sleep, to wake no more."
THE FOLLY OF TRUSTING OUR OWN HEARTS.
PROVERBS Xxviii. 26.
He, that trusteth in his own heart, is a fool.
In the examination, which I propose to make of this passage of Scripture, I shall consider,
I. What is meant by trusting in our own hearts.
II. The folly of this conduct.
1. What is meant by trusting in our own hearts.
The heart is phraseology, often used in the Scriptures to denote all the powers of the soul; the imagination, the understanding, and the affections. The propriety of using the word in this manner is sufficiently evident from the consideration, that in most exercises of the soul all these powers are unitedly employed. If cases exist, in which one of these powers is exercised without the others; they are certainly solitary cases. Usually, at least, they are exerted together; and we imagine, reason, and feel, at the same time. In this extensive sense the word appears to be used in the text.
To trust in our hearts is obviously to be assured, or at least to be confident, of the wisdom and rectitude, of the various plans which we devise for our conduct; and to feel that their dictates may be safely followed. Whatever may be the object in view; the man in the case supposed, commits himself and his interests to the direction of his heart; and is satisfied, that it will conduct him safely and successfully to that which is good. In the same manner a dutiful child confidently commits himself and all his concerns, to the parent whom he loves. The parent is to plan,