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proved, you should frankly acknowledge the folly of postponing so important a work for a single moment; that it is the extreme of madness to defer the task to a dying hour; and that the prophet cannot too highly exalt his voice in crying to all who regard their salvation, "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near."
see, after a short interval, each return to those vices he had regarded with horror, and neglect those virtues which had appeared to him so amiable? Whence proceeded so sudden a change? What occasioned a defection which apparently contradicts every notion we have formed of the human mind?" It is here. This piety, this devotion, those tears proceeded from a transient cause, and not from a habit formed by a course of actions, and a fund acquired by labour and diligence. The cause ceasing, the effects subside! the preacher is silent, and the devotion is closed. Whereas the actions of life, proceeding from a source of worldly affections, incessantly return, just as a torrent, obstructed by the raising of a bank, takes an irregular course, and rushes forth with impetuosity whenever the bank is removed.
Farther, we must not only engage in the of fices of piety to form the habits, but they must be frequent; just as we repeat acts of vice to form a vicious habit. Can you be ignorant, my brethren, of the reason? Who does not feel it in his own breast? I carry it in my own wicked heart; I know it by the sad tests of sentiment and experience. The reason is obvious; habits of vice are found conformable to our natural propensity; they are found already formed within, in the germ of corruption which we bring into the world. "We are shapen in iniquity, and conceived in sin," Ps. li. 7. We make a rapid progress in the career of vice. We arrive, without difficulty, at perfection in the works of darkness. A short course suffices to become a master in the school of the world and of the devil; and it is not at all surprising, that a man should at once become luxurious, covetous, and implacable, because he carries in his own breast the principles of all these vices.
But the habits of holiness are directly opposed to our constitution. They obstruct all its propensities, and offer, if I may so speak, violence to nature. When we wish to become converts, we enter on a double task: we must demolish, we must build; we must demolish corruption, before we can erect the edifice of grace. We must level mortal blows at the old man, before the new can be revived. We must, like those Jews who raised the walls of Jerusalem, work with "the sword in one hand, and the tool in the other," Neh. iv. 17, equally assiduous to produce that which is not, as to destroy that which already exists.
This being allowed, we proceed to establish on two principles, all that we have to advance upon this subject. First, we cannot acquire any habit without performing the correspondent actions. Language, for instance, is a thing extremely complex. To speak, requires a thousand playful motions of the body, a thousand movements to form the elements, and a thousand sounds to perfect the articulation. All these at first are extremely difficult; they appear quite impossible. There is but one way to succeed, that is, to persevere in touching the keys, articulating the sounds, and producing the movements; then what seemed at first impossible becomes surmountable, and what becomes surmountable is made easy, and what is once easy becomes natural: we speak with a fluency which would be incredible were it not confirmed by experience. The spirits flow to the parts destined for these operations, the channels open, the difficulties recede, the volitions are accomplished; just as a stream, whose waters are turned by the strength of hand and aid of engines, falls by its own weight to places where it could not have been carried but with vast fatigue.
Secondly, when a habit is once rooted, it be comes difficult or impossible to correct it, in proportion as it is confirmed. We see in the human body, that a man, by distraction or indolence, may suffer his person to degenerate to a wretched situation; if he continue, his wretchedness increases; the body takes its mould; what was a negligence, becomes a necessity; what was a want of attention, becomes a natural and an insurmountable imperfection. Let us apply these principles to our subject, and avail ourselves of their force to dissipate, if possible, the mistakes of mankind concerning their conversation and their virtues. Habits of the mind are formed as habits of the body; the mental habits become as incorrigible as those of the latter.
First, then, as in the acquisition of a corporeal habit, we must perform the correspondent actions, so in forming the habits of religion, of love, humility, patience, charity, we must habituate ourselves to the duties of patience, humility, and love. We never acquire these virtues but by devotion to their influence: it is not sufficient to be sincere in wishes to attain them; it is not sufficient to form a sudden resolution; we must return to the charge, and by the continued recurrence of actions pursued and repeated, acquire such a source of holiness as may justify us in saying, that such a man is humble, patient, charitable, and full of divine love. Have you never attended those powerful and pathetic sermons, which forced conviction on the most obdurate hearts? Have you never seen those pale, trembling, and weeping assemblies? Have you never seen the hearers affected, alarmed, and resolved to reform their lives? And have you never been surprised to
Such is the way, and the only way, by which we can expect the establishment of grace in the heart; it is by unremitting labour, by perseverance in duty, by perpetual vigilance. Now, who is it; who is there among you that can enter into this thought, and not perceive the folly of those who delay their conversion? We imagine that a word from a minister, a prospect of death, a sudden revolution, will instantaneously produce a perfection of virtue O wretched philosophy! extravagance of the sinner! idle reverie of self-love and imagination, that overturns the whole system of original corruption, and the mechanism of the human frame! I should as soon expect to find a man, who would play skilfully on an instrument without having acquired the art by practice and application; I should as soon expect to find a man who would speak a language without
having studied the words, and surmounted the quence from these reflections, which may apfatigue and difficulty of pronunciation. The pear unheard of to those who are unaccustomspeech of the one would be a barbarous subjected to examine the result of a principle; but of derision, and unintelligible; and the notes of which may perhaps convince those who know the other would be discords destitute of soft- how to use their reason, and have some knowness and harmony. Such is the folly of the ledge of human nature. It seems to me, that, man who would become pious, patient, hum- since habits are formed by actions, when those ble, and charitable, in one moment, by a sim- habits are continued to an age in which the ple wish of the soul, without acquiring those brain acquires a certain consistency, correction virtues by assiduity and care. All the acts of serves merely to interrupt the actions already piety you shall see him perform, are but emo- established. tions proceeding from a heart touched, indeed, but not converted. His devotion is a rash zeal, which would usurp the kingdom of heaven rather than take it by violence. His confession is an avowal extorted by anguish which the Almighty has suddenly inflicted, and by remorse of conscience, rather than sacred contrition of heart. His charity is extorted by the fears of death, and the horrors of hell. Dissipate these fears, calm that anguish, appease these terrors, and you will see no more zeal, no more charity, no more tears; his heart, habituated to vice, will resume its wonted course. This is the consequence of our first principle; we shall next examine the result of the second.
It would be sufficient in early life, while the brain is yet flexible, and induced by its own texture to lose impressions as readily as it acquired them; at this age, I say, to quit the action would be sufficient to reform the habit. But when the brain has acquired the degree of consistency already mentioned, the simple suspension of the act is not sufficient to eradicate the habit; because by its texture it is disposed to continue the same, and to retain the impressions already received.
Hence, when a man has grovelled a considerable time in vice, to quit it is not a sufficient reform; for him there is but one remedy, that is, to perform actions directly opposed to those We said, that when a habit is once rooted, which had formed the habit. Suppose, for init becomes difficult to surmount it, and alto- stance, that a man shall have lived in avarice gether insurmountable, when suffered to as- for twenty years, and been guilty of ten acts sume an absolute ascendancy. This principle of extortion every day. Suppose he shall afsuggests a new reflection on the sinner's con- terward have a desire to reform; that he shall duct who delays his conversion; a very impor- devote ten years to the work; that he shall tant reflection, which we would wish to impress every day do ten acts of charity opposite to on the mind of our audience. In the early those of his avarice; these ten years (considercourse of vice, we sin with a power by which ing the case here according to the course of we could abstain, were we to use violence; nature only, for we allow interior and superhence we flatter ourselves that we shall pre-natural aids in the conversion of a sinner, as serve that precious power, and be able to eradi- we shall prove in the subsequent discourses,) cate vice from the heart, whensoever we shall would those ten acts be sufficient perfectly to form the resolution. Wretched philosophy eradicate covetousness from this man? It seems still; another illusion of self-attachment, a new contrary to the most received maxims. You charm of which the devil avails himself for our have heard that habits confirmed to a certain destruction. Because, when we have long con- degree, and continued to a certain age, are tinued in sin, when we are advanced in age, never reformed but by a number of opposite when reformation has been delayed for a long actions proportioned to those which had formcourse of years, vice assumes the sovereignty, ed the habit. The character before us has lived and we are no longer our own masters. twenty years in the practice of avarice, and but ten in the exercise of charity, doing only ten acts of benevolence daily during that period; he has then arrived at an age in which he has lost the facility of receiving new impressions. We cannot, therefore, I think, affirm that those ten years are adequate perfectly to eradicate the vice from his heart. After all, sinners, you still continue in those habits, aged in crimes, heaping one bad deed upon another, and flattering yourselves to reform, by a wish, by a glance, by a tear, without difficulty or conflict, habits the most inveterate. Such are the reflections suggested by a knowledge of the human frame with regard to the delay of conversion. To this you will oppose various objections which it is of importance to resolve.
You will say, that our principles are contradicted by experience; that we daily see persons who have long indulged a vicious habit, and who have renounced it at once without repeating the opposite acts of virtue. The fact is possible, it is indeed undeniable. It may hap pen in five cases, which, when fully examined, will be found not at all to invalidate what has already been established.
You intimate to us a wish to be converted; but when do you mean to enter on the work? To-morrow, without farther delay.-And are you not very absurd in deferring till to-morrow? To-day, when you wished to undertake it, you shrunk on seeing what labour it would cost, what difficulties must be surmounted, what victories must be obtained over yourselves. From this change you divert your eyes: to-day you still wish to follow your course, to abandon your heart to sensible objects, to follow your passions, and gratify your concupiscence. But to-morrow you intimate a wish of recalling your thoughts, of citing your wicked propensities before the bar of God, and pronouncing their sentence. O sophism of selfesteem! carrying with it its own refutation. For if this wicked propensity, strengthened to a certain point, appears invincible to-day, how shall it be otherwise to-morrow, when to the actions of past days you shall have added those of this day! If this sole idea, if this mere thought of labour, induce you to defer to-day, what is to support you to-morrow under the real labour? Farther, there follows a conse
1. A man possessing the free use of his faculties, may by an effort of reflection extricate himself from a vicious habit, I allow; but we have superseded the objection, by a case apparently applicable. We have cautiously anticipated, and often assumed the solution. We speak of those only, who have attained an advanced age, and have lost the facility of acquiring new dispositions. Have you ever seen persons of sixty or seventy years of age renounce their avarice, their pride; some favourite passion, or a family prejudice?
2. A man placed in a hopeless situation, and under an extraordinary stroke of Providence, may instantly reform a habit, I grant; but that does not destroy our principles. We have not included in our reflections those extraordinary visitations which Providence may employ to subdue the sinner. When we said that the reformation of a vicious habit would require a number of acts which have some proportion to those which formed it, we supposed an equality of impressions in those actions, and that each action would be equal to that we wished to destroy.
3. A man may suddenly reform a habit on the reception of new ideas, and on hearing some truths of which he was ignorant before, I also acknowledge; but this proves nothing to the point. We spoke of a man born in the bosom of the church, educated in the principles of Christianity, and who has reflected a thousand and a thousand times on the truths of religion; and on whom we have pressed a thousand and a thousand times the motives of repentance and regeneration; but, being now hardened, he can hear nothing new on those subjects.
4. A man may, I allow, on the decay of his faculties, suddenly reform a bad habit; but what has this to do with the renovation which God requires? In this case, the effect of sin vanishes away, but the principle remains. A particular act of the bad habit yields to weakness and necessity, but the source still subsists, and wholly predominates in the man.
5. In fine, a man whose life has been a continued warfare between vice and virtue; but with whom vice for the most part has had the ascendancy over virtue, may obtain in his last sickness, the grace of real conversion. There is, however, something doubtful in the case; conversion on a death-bed being difficult or impossible; because between one unconverted man and another there is often a vast difference; the one, if I may so speak, is within a step of the grave, but the other has a vast course to run. The former has subdued his habits, has already made a progress, not indeed so far as to attain, but so far as to approach a state of regeneration: this man may, perhaps, be changed in a moment: but how can be, who has already wasted life in ignorance and vice, effectuate so great a change in a few days, or a few hours? We have therefore proved our point that the first objection is destitute of force.
not sufficient time to form a counterpoise to the force of their criminal habits.
This difficulty naturally presents itself to the mind; but the solution we give does not so properly accord with this discourse; it shall be better answered in the exercises which shall follow, when we shall draw our arguments from the Scriptures. We shall then affirm that when a sinner groans under the burden of his corruption, and sincerely desires conversion, God affords his aid, and gives him supernatural power to vanquish his sinful propensities. But we shall prove, at the same time, that those aids are so very far from countenancing the delay of conversion, that no consideration can be more intimidating to him who presumes on so awful a course. For, my brethren, our divinity and morality give each other the hand, the one being established upon the other. There is a wise medium between heresy, and I know not what absurd and extravagant orthodoxy; and as it is a bad maxim so to establish the precepts, as to renounce the doctrines of Jesus Christ, it is equally pernicious to make a breach in his precepts, to confirm the doctrines.
You will, however, propose a second: you will say, that this principle proves too much, that if we cannot be saved without a fund and habit of holiness, and if this habit cannot be acquired without perseverance in duty, we exclude from salvation those deeply contrite sinners who having wasted life in vice, have now
The aids of the Holy Spirit, and a consciousness of our own weakness, are the most powerful motives which can prompt us to labour for conversion without delay. If conversion, after a life of vice, depended on yourselves, if your heart were in your power, if you had sufficient command to sanctify yourselves at pleasure, then you would have some reason for flattery in this delay. But your conversion cannot be effectuated without an extraneous cause, without the aids of the Spirit of God; aids he will probably withhold, after you shall have despised his grace, and insulted it with obstinacy and malice. On this head therefore, you can form no reasonable hope.
You will draw a third objection from what we have already allowed, that a severe affliction may suddenly transform the heart. To this principle, we shall grant that the prospect of approaching death may make an impression to undeceive the sinner; that the veil of corruption raised at the close of life, may induce a man to yield at once to the dictates of conscience, as one walking hastily towards a precipice, would start back on removing the fatal bandage which concealed the danger into which he was about to fall.
On this ground, I would await you, brethren. Is it then on a death-bed, that you found your hopes? We will pledge ourselves to prove, that so far from this being the most happy season, it is exactly the reverse. The reflections we shall make on this subject, are much more calculated to strike the mind than those already advanced, which require some penetration, but it suffices to have eyes to perceive the force of those which now follow.
We will not absolutely deny the possibility of the fact on which the objection is founded. We allow that a man, who with composure of mind sees the decay of his earthly house, and regards death with attentive eyes, may enter into the requisite dispositions. Death being considered as near, enables him to know the world, to discover its vanity, emptiness, and total insufficiency. A man who has but a few moments to live, and who sees that his honour,
his riches, his titles, his grandeur, and the whole universe united for his aid, can afford him no consolation: a man so situated knows the vanity of the world better than the greatest philosophers, and the severest anchorets: hence he may detach his heart. We would even wish that the Deity should accept of such a conversion, should be satisfied with one who does not devote himself to virtue, till the occasions of vice are removed, and should receive the like sinner at the extremities of life; it is certain, however, that all these suppositions are so far from favouring the delay of conversion, as to demonstrate its absurdity.-How can we presume on what may happen in the hour of death? Of how many difficulties is this illusory scheme susceptible! Shall I die in a bed calm and composed? Shall I have presence and recollection of mind? Shall I avail myself of these circumstances to eradicate vice from the heart, and to establish there the kingdom of righteousness?
For, first, who is to guarantee that you shall die in this situation? To how many disastrous accidents, to how many tragic events are you not exposed? Does not every creature, every substance which surrounds you, menace both your health and your life? If your hopes of Fancy yourselves, in short, to die in the conversion are founded on a supposition of this most favourable situation, tranquil and comkind, you must fear the whole universe. Are posed, without delirium, without stupor, withyou in the house? you must fear its giving out lethargy. Fancy also, that stripped of way, and dissipating by the fall all your expec- prejudice, and the chimerical hope of recotations. Are you in the open field? you must very, you should know that your end is near. fear lest, the earth, opening its caverns, should I ask whether the single thought, the sole idea, swallow you up, and thus elude your hope. that you shall soon die, be not capable of deAre you on the waters? you must fear to see priving you of the composure essential to the in every wave a messenger of death, a mi- work of your salvation? Can a man habitunister of justice, and an avenger of your luke- ated to dissipation, accustomed to care, dewarmness and delay. Amidst so many well-voted to its maxims, see without confusion and founded fears, what repose can you enjoy? If regret, his designs averted, his hopes frustrated, any one of these accidents should overtake his schemes subverted, the fashion of the world you, say now, what would become of your vanishing before his eyes, the thrones erected, foolish prudence? Who is it that would then the books opened, and his soul cited before the study for you the religion you have neglected? tribunal of the Sovereign Judge? We have Who is it that would then shed for you tears frequent occasions to observe, when attending of repentance? Who is it that would then quench the sick, that those who suffer the greatest anfor you the devouring fire, kindled against guish, are not always the most distressed about your crimes, and ready to consume you? Is a their sins, however deplorable their state may tragic death a thing unknown? What year be, their pains so far engross the capacity of elapses undistinguished by visitations of this the soul, as to obstruct their paying attention kind? What campaign is closed without pro- to what is most awful, the image of approachducing myriads? ing death. But a man who sees himself approaching the grave, and looks on his exit undisturbed with pains; a man who considers death as it really is, suffers sometimes greater anguish than those which can arise from the acutest disease.
In the second place, we will suppose that you shall die a natural death. Have you ever seen the dying? Do you presume that one can be in a proper state for thought and reflection, when seized with those presages of death, which announce his approach? When one is seized with those insupportable and piercing pains which take every reflection from the soul? When exposed to those stupors which benumb the brightest wit, and the most piercing genius? To those profound lethargies which render unavailing, motives the most powerful, and exhortations the most pathetic? To those frequent reverses which present phantoms and chimeras, and fill the soul with a thousand alarms? My brethren, would we always wish to deceive ourselves? Look, foolish man; look on this pale extended corpse, look again on this now dying carcass: where is the mind which has fortitude to recollect itself in this
deplorable situation, and to execute the chimerical projects of conversion?
In the third place, we will suppose that you shall, by the peculiar favour of heaven, be visited with one of those mild complaints, which conduct imperceptibly to the grave, and unattended with pain; would you then be more happily disposed for conversion? Are we not daily witnesses of what passes on those occasions? Our friends, our family, our self-esteem, all unite to make us augur a favourable issue, whenever the affliction is not desperate: and not thinking this the time of death, we think also it ought not to be the time of conversion. After having disputed with God the fine days of health, we regret to give him the lucid intervals of our affliction. We would wish him to receive the soul at the precise moment when it hovers on our lips. We hope to live, and hope inflames desire; the wish to live more and more enroots the love we had for the world; and "the friendship of this world is enmity with God." Meanwhile the affliction extends itself, the disease takes its course, the body weakens, the spirits droop, and death arrives even before we had scarcely thought that we were mortal.
But what shall I say of the multitude of anxieties attendant on this fatal hour? Physicians must be called in, advice must be taken, and endeavours used to support this tottering tabernacle. He must appoint a successor, make a will, bid adieu to the world, weep over his family, embrace his friends, and detach his affections. Is there time then, is there time amid so many afflictive objects, amid the tumult of so many alarms; is there time to examine religion, to review the circumstances of a vanishing life, to restore the wealth illegally acquired, to repair the tarnished reputation of his neighbour, to repent of his sin, to examine his heart, and weigh those distinguished mo
tives which prompt us to holiness? My breth-ready, that the subject is too grave and serious ren, whenever we devote ourselves entirely to to admit of pleasantry. the great work; whenever we employ all our bodily powers, all our mental faculties; whenever we employ the whole of life it is scarcely sufficient, how then can it be done by a busy, wandering, troubled, and departing spirit? Hence the third difficulty vanishes of its own accord; hence we may maintain as permanent, the principles we have discussed, and the consequences we have deduced.
My brethren, "if any one preach to you another gospel than that which has been preached, let him be accursed." If any one will presume to attack those doctrines which the sacred authors have left in their writings, which your fathers have transmitted, which some of you have sealed with your blood, and nearly all of you with your riches and fortune; if any one presume to attack them, let the doctors refute, let the ecclesiastical sword cut, pierce, exscind, and excommunicate at a stroke the presumptuous man. But consider also that the end of all these truths is, to induce mankind to love their Maker. This is so essential, that we make no scruple to say, if there were one among the different Christian sects better calculated to make you holy than our communion, you ought to leave this in order to attach yourselves hereafter to the other. One of the first reasons which should induce us to respect the doctrine of the incarnate God, the inward, immediate, and supernatural aids of the Spirit is, that there is nothing in the world more happily calculated to enforce the obligation of loving God.
Return therefore, from your prejudices, irradiate your minds, and acquire more correct ideas of a holy life, and a happy death. On this subject, we flatter and confuse ourselves, and willingly exclude instruction. We imagine, that provided we have paid during the ordinary course of life, a modified regard to devotion, we have but to submit to the will of God, whenever he may call us to leave the world; we imagine that we have worthily fulfilled the duties of life, fought the good fight, and have nothing to do but to put forth the hand to the crown of righteousness. "There is no fear," say they, “of the death of such a Christian; he was an Israelite indeed, he was an honest man, he led à good life." But what is the import of the words, he led a moral life? a phrase as barbarous in the expression as erroneous in the sense; for if the phrase mean any thing, it is that he has fulfilled the duties of morality. But can you bear this testimony of the man we have just described; of a man who contents himself with avoiding the crimes accounted infamous in the world; but exclusively of that, he has neither.fervour, nor zeal. nor patience, nor charity? Is this the man, who, you say, has led a moral life? What then is the morality which prescribes so broad a path? Is it not the morality of Jesus Christ? The morality of Jesus Christ recommends silence, retirement, detachment from the world. The morality of Jesus Christ requires, that you "be merciful, as God is merciful; that you be perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The morality of Jesus Christ requires, that you "love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind:" and that if you cannot fully attain to this degree of perfection on earth, you should make continual efforts to approach it. Here you have the prescribed morality of Jesus Christ. But the morality of which you speak, is the morality of the world, the morality of the devil, the morality of hell. Will such a morality enable you to sustain the judgment
Now, we are fully convinced that those of you who know how to reason, will not dispute these principles; I say those who know how to reason; because it is impossible, but among two or three thousand persons, there must be found some eccentric minds, who deny the clearest and most evident truths. If there are among our hearers, persons who believe that a man can effectuate conversion by his own strength, it would not be proper for them to reject our principles, and they can have no right to complain. If you are orthodox, as we suppose, you cannot regard as false what we have now proved. Our maxims have been founded on the most rigid orthodoxy, on the inability of man, on the necessity of grace, on original corruption, and on the various objections which our most venerable divines have opposed to the system of degenerate casuists. Hence, as I have said, not one of you can claim the right of disputing the doctrine we have taught. Heretics, orthodox, and all the world are obliged to receive them, and you yourselves have nothing to object. But we, my brethren, we have many sad and terrific consequences to draw; but at the same time, consequences equally worthy of your regard.
First, you should reduce to practice the observations we have made on conversion, and particularly the reflections we have endeavoured to establish, that in order to be truly regenerate, it is not sufficient to do some partial services for God, love must be the reigning disposition of the heart. This idea ought to correct the erroneous notions you entertain of a good life, and a happy death, that you can neither know those things in this world, nor should you wish to know them. They are, indeed, visionaries who affect to be offended when we press those grand truths of religion, who would disseminate their ridiculous errors in the church, and incessantly cry in our ears, "Christians, take heed to yourselves; they shake the foundation of faith; the doctrine of assurance is a doctrine of fanaticism."
My brethren, were this a subject less serious and grave, nothing would hinder us from ridiculing all scruples of this nature. "Take heed to yourselves, for there is fanaticism in the doctrine:" we would press you to love God with all your heart; we would press you to consecrate to him your whole life; we would induce you not to defer conversion, but prepare for a happy death by the continual exercise of repentance and piety. Is it not obvious that we ought to be cautious of admitting such a doctrine, and that the church would be in a deplorable condition were all her members adorned with those dispositions? But we have said al