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their offspring. It discovers itself early in the human character: and it is truly affecting to see how much adroitness is manifested by very young children in excusing their faults; and this disposition grows with their growth, and strengthens with their strength. Some excuse their sins on the ground of custom : others plead the smallness of their sins : others endeavour to persuade themselves that the suddenness, and strength of temptation, will be admitted as a justification of their conduct; while some plead the power of example: it is the first offence, say some; it is the force of habit, exclaim others : some attempt to find excuse for their actual sins in the inherent depravity of their nature; others in the peculiarity of their temper and constitution; a few go so far as to lay all their sins upon the Author of their nature. These are but some amongst the many excuses, by which men are first led on to sin ; by which they afterwards defend themselves against the accusations of conscience; and which most convincingly demonstrate the deep deceitfulness of the human heart.
4. It is proved also by the gradual and almost insensible manner in which it leads men on to the commission of sin.
No man becomes wicked all at once. The way of a sinner in his career has been compared to the course of a stone down a steep hill, the velocity of which is accelerated by every revolution. The heart does not offend, and shock the judgement, by asking for too much at first; it conceals the end of the career, and lets
only so much be seen as is required for the immediate occasion. When the prophet of the Lord disclosed to Hazael his future enormities, he exclaimed, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this ?” The exclamation was perfectly honest. At that time, po doubt he was incapable of such wickedness, and it was a sincere revulsion of nature which prompted the expression of his abhorrence. But he knew not his heart. Little by little he was led forward in the course of iniquity, and at length exceeded, by his wickedness, the prophet's prediction. Habit renders all things easy, not excepting the most atrocious crimes. Men have often done that without reluctance or remorse, which, at one period of their lives, they would have shuddered to contemplate. Many have committed forgery, who, at one time, could have been persuaded by no arguments, nor induced by any motives, to wrong an individual of a farthing; and the murderer, whose hands are stained with blood, would probably, a few years or months before, have trembled at the idea of destroying an animal. “When the heart of man is bound by the grace of God, and tied in the golden bands of religion, and watched by angels, and tended by ministers, those nursekeepers of the soul, it is not easy for a man to wander and the evil of his heart is like the fierceness of lions' whelps; but when he has once broken the hedge, and got into the strength of youth, and the licentiousness of ungoverned age, it is wonderful to observe what a great inundation of mischief, in a very short time, will overflow all the banks of reason and religi on. Vice is first pleasing—then it grows
easy--then it is delightful—then it is frequent then habitual—then confirmed-then the man is independent—then he is obstinate—then he resolves never to repent—then he dies—then he is damned."*
When a young man that has received a pious education, begins to be solicited to break through the restraints imposed upon him by conscience, he can venture only on lesser sins: he perhaps only takes a walk on the Sabbath with a friend, or goes to see a play, or joins in one midnight revel : but even this is not done with ease; he hears the voice of an internal monitor, starts and hesitates, but complies. A little remorse follows, but it is soon worn off.' The next time the temptation presents itself, his reluctance is diminished, and he repeats the offence with less previous hesitation, and less subsequent compunction. What he did once, he now without scruple does frequently. His courage is so far increased, and his fear of sin is so far abated, that he is soon emboldened to commit a greater sin, and the tavern, and the horse-race are frequented with as little reluctance as the theatre. Conscience now and then remonstrates, but he has acquired the ability to disregard its warnings, if not to silence them. In
process of time the society of all who make the least pretensions to piety is avoided as troublesome and distressing, and the heedless youth joins himself with companions better suited to his taste. Now his sins grow with vigour under the fostering influence of evil company, just as trees which are set in a plantation.
* Jeremy Taylor's Sermons.
By this time the Bible is put out of sight, all prayer neglected, and the Sabbath constantly profaned. At length he feels the force of custom, and becomes enslaved by inveterate habit. The admonitions of a father, and the tears of a pious mother, produce no impressions, but such as are like the “ morning cloud, or early dew, which soon passeth away."
He returns to the society of his evil associates, where parental admonitions are converted into matter of wicked sport. The sinner is settled now in an evil way; and the sapling of iniquity has struck his roots deep into the soul of depravity. The voice of conscience is now but rarely heard, and even then only in the feeble whisper of a dying friend. His next stage is to lose the sense of shame. He no longer wears a mask, or seeks the shade, but sins openly and without disguise. Conscience now is quiet ; and without spectre to warn, or angel to deliver, he pursues without a check the career of sin. He can meet a saint without a blush, and hear the voice of warning with a. sneer. believe it? he glories in his shame, and attempts to justify his conduct. Not content with being wicked, he attempts to make others as bad as himself, puts on the character of an apostle of Satan, and, like his master, goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. As he is condemned in all his ways by the Bible, he endeavours to get rid of this troublesome judge, and persuades himself that religion is a cheat. With infidel principles, and immoral practices, he now hurries to destruction, polluted and polluting. His parents, whose grey hairs he brought in sorrow to the grave,
entered on their rest, and in mercy are not permitted to live to witness his shame. His vices leads him to extravagance; his extravagance is beyond his resources, and in an evil hour, under the pressure of claims which he is unable to meet, he commits an act which forfeits his life. He is arrested, tried, convicted, condenned, executed.
This is no fancy picture; it has often occurred. My dear children, see the deceitfulness of sin. Meditate, and tremble, and pray. Be alarmed at little sins, for they lead on to great ones; at acts of sin, for they tend to habits; at common ones, for they issue in those that are uncommon. I have read of a servant who went into a closet, with an intention only to gratify his palate with some sweetmeats, but perceiving some silver articles, he relinquished the meaner prey for these, purloined them, became a confirmed thief, and died at the gallows. Many a prostitute, who has perished in a garret upon straw, commenced her miserable and loathsome course with mere love of dress. Sin is like a fire, which should be extinguished in the first spark, for if it be left to itself, it will soon rage like a conflagration.
5. The last proof of the deceitfulness of the heart which I shall advance is, the delusive prospects which it presents to the judgement.
Sometimes it pleads for the commission of sin on the ground of the pleasure which it affords. But while it speaks of the honey of gratification, does it also tell of the venom of reflection and punishment ?