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advice contained in so many parts of Scripture, as in the text, “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not into the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away."
Let us then now for a few moments give our minds to the consideration of this plain truth, which we have heard so often that for that very reason we are not unlikely to forget it; that the great thing in religion is to set off well; to resist the beginnings of sin, to flee temptation, to avoid the company of the wicked.
Enter not into the path of the wicked. . . .avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, pass away.”
1. And for this reason, first of all, because it is hardly possible to delay our flight, without rendering flight impossible. When I say, resist the beginnings of evil, I do not mean the first act merely, but the rising thought of evil. Whatever the temptation may be, there may be no time to wait and gaze, without being caught. Woe to us if Satan (so to say) sees us first; for, as in the case of some beast of prey, for him to see us is to master us. Directly we are made aware of the temptation, we shall, if we are wise, turn our backs upon it, without waiting to think and reason about it; we shall engage our mind in other thoughts. There are temptations when this advice is especially necessary; but under all it is highly seasonable.
2. For consider, in the next place, what must in all cases be the consequence of allowing evil thoughts to be present to us, though we do not actually admit them into our hearts. This namely ; we shall make ourselves familiar with them. Now our great security against sin lies in being shocked at it. Eve gazed and reflected, when she should have fled. It is sometimes said, “ Second thoughts are best :” this is true in many cases; but there are times when it is very false, and when, on the contrary, first thoughts are best. For sin is like the serpent, which seduced our first parents. We know that some serpents have the power of what is called fascinating. Their eye has the power of subduing, nay, in a strange way, of alluring their victim; who is reduced to utter helplessness, cannot fee away, nay, rather is obliged to approach, and (as it were) deliver himself up to them; till in their own time they seize and devour him. What a dread
ful figure this is of the power of sin and the devil over our hearts ! At first our conscience tells us, in a plain straightforward way, what is right and what is wrong; but when we trifle with this warning, our reason becomes perverted, and comes in aid of our wishes, and deceives us to our ruin. Then we begin to find, that there are arguments available in behalf of bad deeds, and we listen to these till we come to think them true ; and then, if
perchance better thoughts return, and we make some feeble effort to get at the truth really and sincerely, we find our minds by that time so bewildered, that we do not know right from wrong.
Thus, for instance, every one is shocked at cursing and swearing when he first hears it; and at first he cannot help even showing that he is shocked ; that is, he looks grave and downcast, and feels uncomfortable. But when he has once got accustomed to such profane talking, and been laughed out of his strictness, and has begun to think it inanly, and has been persuaded to join in it, then he soon learns to defend it. He says he means no harm by it; that it does no one any harm; that it is only so many words, and that every body uses them. Here is an instance in which disobedience to what we know to be right makes us blind.
Again, this same confusion frequently happens in the case of temptations from the world. We fear worldly loss or discredit; or we hope some advantage; and we feel tempted to act so as to secure, at any rate, the worldly good, or avoid the evil. Now in all such cases of conduct there is no end of arguing about right or wrong, if we once begin ; there are numberless ways of acting, each of which may be speciously defended by argument, but plain, pure-hearted common sense, generally speaking, at the very first sight decides the question for us without argument; but if we do not listen promptly to this secret monitor, its light goes out at once, and we are left to the mercy of mere conjecture, and grope about with but second-best guides. Then seeming arguments in favour of deceit and evil compliance with the world's wishes, or of disgraceful indolence, urge us, and either prevail, or at least so confuse us, that we do not know how to act. Alas ! in ancient days it happened in this way, that Christians who were brought before their heathen persecutors for punishment, because they were Christians, sometimes came short of the crown of martyrdom, " having loved this present world",” and so lost their way in the mazes of Satan's crafty arguments.
Temptations to unbelief may also be mentioned here. Speculating wantonly on sacred subjects, and jesting about them, offend us at first; and we turn away : but if in an evil hour we are seduced by the cleverness or wit of a writer or speaker, to listen to his impieties, who can say where we shall stop? Can we save ourselves from the infection of his profaneness ? we cannot hope to do so. And when we come to a better mind, (if by God's
grace this be afterwards granted to us,) what will be our state ? like the state of men who have undergone some dreadful illness, which changes the constitution of the body. That ready and clear perception of right and wrong, which before directed us, will have disappeared, as beauty of person, or keenness of eye-sight in bodily disorders; and when we begin to try to make up our minds which way lies the course of duty on particular trials, we shall bring enfeebled, unsteady powers to the examination; and when we move to act, our limbs (as it were) will move the contrary way, and we shall do wrong when we wish to do right.
3. But there is another wretched effect of sinning once, which sometimes takes place ;--not only the sinning that once itself, but being so seduced by it, as forthwith to continue in the commission of it ever afterwards, without seeking for arguments to meet our conscience withal ; from a mere brutish, headstrong, infatuate greediness after its bad pleasures. There are beasts of prey which are said to abstain from blood till they taste it, but once tasting it, ever seek it : and, in like manner, there is a sort of thirst for sin which is born with us, but which grace quenches, and whịch is thus kept under till we, by our own act, rouse it again ; and which, when once aroused, never can be allayed. We sin while we confess the wages of sin to be death.
4. Sometimes, I say, this is the immediate effect of a first transgression; and if not the first, yet it is always the tendency and the end of sinning at length, viz. to enslave us to it. Temptation is very powerful, it is true, when it comes first; but, then, its power lies in its own novelty; and, on the other hand, there
4 2 Tim. iv, 10.
is power in the heart itself, divinely given, to resist it; but when we have long indulged sin, the mind has become sinful in its habit and character, and the Spirit of God having departed, it has no principle within it of strength sufficient to save it from spiritual death, What being can change its own nature ? that would be almost ceasing to be itself ; fire cannot cease to burn; the leopard changes not its spots, and ceases not to rend and devour; and the soul which has often sinned, cannot help sinning; but in this respect awfully differing from the condition of the senseless elements or brute animals, that its present state is all its own fault; that it might have hindered it, and will have one day to answer for not having hindered it.
Thus, easy as it is to avoid sin first of all, at length it is (humanly speaking) impossible. * Enter not into its path," saith the wise man ; the two paths of right and wrong start from the same point, and at first are separated by a very small difference, so easy (comparatively) is it to choose the right instead of the wrong way: but wait awhile, and pursue the road leading to destruction, and you will find the distance between them has widened beyond measurement, and that between the two a great gulf has been sunk, so that you cannot pass from the one to the other, though you desire it ever so earnestly s.
Now to what do considerations such as these lead us, but to our Lord's simple and comprehensive precept, which is the same as Solomon's, but more impressively and solemnly urged on us, by the manner and time of His giving it?
“ Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” To enter not the path of the wicked, to avoid it, and pass by it, what is this but the exercise of watching? Therefore He insists upon it so much, knowing that in it our safety lies. But now on the other hand consider, how many are there among us who can be said to watch and pray? Is not the utmost we do to offer on Sunday some kind of prayer in Church to God; or sometimes some short prayer morning and evening in the week; and then go into the world with the same incaution and forgetfulness as if we had never entertained a serious thought ? We go through the business of the day, quite forgetting, to any practical purpose, that all business has snares in it, and therefore needs caution. Let us ask ourselves this question, “ How often do we think of Satan in the course of the day as our great tempter ?" Yet surely he does not cease to be active because we do not think of him; and surely, too, his
5 Luke xvi. 26.
powers and devices were revealed to us by Almighty God, for the very purpose, that being not ignorant of them, we might watch against them. Who among us will not confess, that many is the time that he has mixed with the world, forgetting who the god of this world is ? or rather, are not a great many of us living in habitual forgetfulness that this world is a scene of trial; that is, that this is its chief character, that all its employments, its pleasures, its occurrences, even the most innocent, the most acceptable to God, and the most truly profitable in themselves, are all the while so handled by Satan as may be the most conducive to our ruin, if he can possibly contrive it? There is nothing gloomy cr superstitious in this, as the plain words of Scripture will abundantly prove to every enquirer. We are told “ that the devil, our adversary, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour ® ;” and therefore are warned to “be sober, be vigilant.” And assuredly our true comfort lies, not in disguising the truth from ourselves, but in knowing something more than this; that though Satan is against us, God is for us; that greater is HE that is in us, than he that is in the world?; and that HE in every temptation will make a way for us to escape, that we may be able to bear its.
God does His part most surely; and Satan too does his part : we alone are unconcerned. Heaven and hell are at war for us and against us, yet we trifle, and let life go on at random. Heaven and hell are before us as our own future abode, one or other of them ; yet our own interest moves us no more than God's mercy. We treat sin, not as an enemy to be feared, abhorred, and shunned, but as a misfortune and a weakness; we do not pity and shun sinful men, but we enter into their path so far as to keep company with them; and next being tempted to copy them, we fall almost without an effort.
Be not you thus deceived and overcome, my brethren, by an evil heart of unbelief. Make up your minds to take God for your
6 1 Pet. v. 8.
7 1 John iv. 4.
8 1 Cor. x. 13.