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Should we doubt the truth of this, let us make a few experiments in the way of reformation :-attempt to take away the relish of forbidden pleasures from the man who has eat, drunk, and lived in frolic and thoughtless dissipation for the greater part of his life: attempt to check the sensual thirst of the confirmed drunkard, and turn it to those fountains of living waters, which, instead of destroying his constitution, would nourish him up to eternal life: attempt to divert the man of the world from his eager pursuit of riches, or his schemes of destructive ambition, and to raise his affections from earth to heaven; from perishable treasures to God, the supreme and unchangeable good :make these experiments, and you will soon be satisfied that the restoration of an habitual sinner to God and his duty, is no easy matter ; nay, falls but little short of changing the Ethiopian's skin, or the leopard's spots.
From what then does this extreme difficulty arise? We know that every advantage, both as to the present life and another, demonstrably lies on the side of virtue and religion ; what therefore can induce the sinner to prefer error to truth, misery to happiness, and to rush, as it were, with his eyes open, into the wide-yawning gulph of perdition?
To solve this apparent mystery, we must look back a little to the effects which habits of sin produce in the human mind.
The first of these is, that they enlarge and strengthen our affection to it.
When we have long dwelt in the tents of iniquity, and have been helpers and fellow-workers with the powers of darkness, the bent of our minds is so strongly impelled that way, that we need not much solicitation, if any, to commit iniquity. Our natural appetites hankering after sin, and dwelling with pleasure upon the remembrance of sinful enjoyments, we do not stay for temptations and incentives to the practice of it, but rush
upon it with a thoughtless violence and țemerity, as a horse rusheth into the battle; and instead of repelling the attacks of our deadly enemy, throw ourselves into his destructive embraces.
And in this state, lest any thing should disturb our fallacious reposė, we studiously shun whatever might tend to awake our sensibility, or excite the alarming convictions of conscience. The church of God is unfrequented, the ordinances of religion are despised, the ministers of Christ and their holy office are ridiculed, and OT
the society of good and virtuous men is avoided. Our pleasure is only to associate with those, who, like ourselves, are joined to an idolatrous worship, and serve the same master; till at length, partly by our own corrupt passions, and partly by the influence of evil and contagious example, we are brought to so great a degree of stupefaction, that we not only commit all uncleanness, but commit it with greediness; we not only work iniquity ourselves, but have pleasure in them that do the same, and esteem it our meat and drink to promote the interests of sin, Satan, and the world.
2. Another necessary effect of habitual sin is, that it is prejudicial to the reason and understanding
And this is an effect of sinning, which makes it truly difficult to bring about the reformation of the sinner. For when the mind through sin has received a wrong direction; when the understanding is darkened, and reason given up as a prey to the devil; when there is neither ear to hear, eye to see, nor any power remaining by which we can discern the truth and reality of things; where shall the wisdom of God make its entrance, to instruct us in the things which belong to our peace? By living in the willing
practice of sin, we become strangers to that which is the best and most distinguishing part of us; we lose the faculty of judging betwixt what is good and what is evil; we confound the natures and qualities of things; we unite what are essentially different, and separate what ought to be joined together in firmest union. And when this is the case, it must be a labour of much difficulty to make him quit his old path, and to lead him into the ways of everlasting happiness. It will be difficult to change his apprehension and judgment of things, and make him incline to that holy word, which would be a light to his feet and a lamp to his path, and direct him to that Being, who is the everlasting fountain of light.
A third effect of habitual sin is, that it tends to harden the heart, and thereby fortifies it against every thing which might convince the sinner of his folly.
At our first entrance into a sinful life, we commit iniquity with some fear and shame. Our hearts and consciences condemn us, and sometimes lay us under awful apprehensions of a judgment to come. But, by long practice of sin, these two natural restraints fall off: and neither the fear of God, nor the shame of being
seen by men, are able to divert us from our wicked courses. At first, we only were guilty of less sins, and perpetrated them, perhaps, in secret, and with a reluctant mind, and were tormented with fearful presages of a future reckoning in our midnight and serious hours of reflection. But, by a frequent repetition of them, we learn to discard the sensations of modesty, and those things, which we were once ashamed even to speak of, we can now transact with unfeeling audacity, and defend with unblushing
It is a just as well as ancient remark, that no man becomes extremely wicked on a sudden. Before a man comes to a state of Ethiopian blackness, he must undergo a great deal of toil and labour, must be industrious for some time, and use many painful exertions to silence the checks and admonitions of conscience. For, though he be fallen from his original glory, by the commission of some sins, yet he is not deficient in all good and virtuous inclinations : he has yet some remains of what is praise-worthy, the boundaries of which he cannot pass without charging himself with manifest folly. It is no easy matter to conquer those frightful apprehensions which naturally beset a guilty mind, and which cannot be appeased by the darkest retire