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then," as the prophet says, " should they be stricken any more, when they will only revolt more and more 1"
A day of trial and probation, or what is frequently called a day of grace, must necessarily have some period. Else when would the time of retribution, when would the time of rewards and punishments, take place 1 A state of trial necessarily respects some future state, in which men must receive according to their deeds. But this state of trial it has pleased God to make of uncertain duration; no doubt, to keep us always watchful, having our accounts always in readiness, because in such an hour as we think not, our Lord may come and require them. The state of trial, therefore, is with some, of much longer duration than it is with others; and God is the sovereign arbiter of every thing relating to it. He makes our lives longer or shorter, as seems good in his sight, and at death, a state of trial ends of course. We may, therefore, as well pretend to question the justice anc equity of God's cutting us off by death when and in what manner he pleases, as arraign his justice in sealing up our doom, though while we live, whenever he pleases.
No doubt God gives to every person a sufficient trial; for, "he is not willing that any should perish, but had rather that all should come to repentance." We may, therefore, assure ourselves, that he will not cease to endeavour to promote the reformation of a sinner by all proper means, till he shall become absolutely incorrigible, and the methods taken to reclaim him would be abused and lost. And if we consider that every means of improvement neglected, adds to a man'; wuiit and aggravates his condemnation; it may even appear to be mercy in the Divine Being to grant a person no farther means of improvement, after it has been found, by actual trial that they would only have been abused, and therefore have proved highly injurious to him. Not but that it might have been sufficient to silence every cavil of this kind, to say, as Paul does on a similar occasion, " Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God;" or with Abraham, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do that which is right?" But it is proper to show, that, in the midst of judgment, God remembers mercy.
There is a very pathetic description of the case of a sinner who, after a relapse into vicious courses, is justly abandoned of God to seek his own destruction, in a parable of our Saviour's, formed upon the popular opinion of the Jews of his age concerning demons, or evil spirits: "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in, and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first." The application of this parable either to the case of the Jews (for whom it seems to have been originally intended) or to particular persons, who, after a seeming reformation, have relapsed into vicious courses, is too obvious to be particularly dwelt upon.
To come, therefore, to a general application of this doetrine: Let all persons who are sensible of the folly and evil of sinful courses, and of the danger of persisting in them, make a speedy and effectual retreat. Let us do nothing by halves. To be lukewarm in religion, is, in effect, to have no religion at all. We must give God our hearts; we must give him an undivided affection; for we cannot truly love God and Mammon, or the world, at the same time. In this unsettled and fluctuating disposition, temptations will have a great advantage over us. We shall ever be in danger of throwing off all restraint, and of running into every kind of riot and excess, till nothing on the part of Divine Providence shall occur to reclaim us.
In reality, my brethren, and to every valuable end and purpose, the term of our trial and probation does generally expire long before the term of our natural lives. For how few are there whose characters, whose dispositions, or habits of mind, undergo any considerable change after they are grown to man's estate! Our tempers and general characters are usually fixed as soon as we have fixed ourselves in a regular employment and mode of life; for, after this, we see almost every person continue the very same to the end of his life. Some remarkable providential occurrence, some fit of sickness, or some unforeseen misfortune of any kind, may alarm those who have been addicted to vicious courses, and for a time bring them to serious thought and reflection; but if they be turned thirty or forty years of age, how soon do the serious purposes, which they then form, go off, and their former modes of thinking and living return! Not only with respect to temper and disposition of mind, as it relates to virtue or vice, but with respect to those habits which are indifferent to morals, we see that, excepting one case perhaps in a thousand, they are not subject to change after the period that I have mentioned. Any habits that we contract early in life, any particular bias or inclination, any particular cast of thought, or mode of conversation, even any particular gesture of body, as in walking, sitting, &c. we are universally known by among our acquaintance, from the time that we properly enter life, to the time that we have done with it; as much as we are by the tone of our voice, or our handwriting, which, likewise, are of the nature of habits or customs.
These observations may be applied in a great measure even to matters of opinion, (though, naturally, nothing seems to be more variable,) as well as to mental and corporeal habits. A man who has studied, or who fancies he has studied, any particular subject, sooner or later makes up his mind, as we say, with respect to it; and after this, all arguments, intended to convince him of his mistake, only serve to confirm him in his chosen way of thinking. An argument, or evidence of any kind, that is entirely new to a man, may make a proper impression upon him; but if it has >een often proposed to him, and he has had time to view and consider it, so as to have hit upon any method of evading the force of it, he is afterwards quite callous to it, and can very seldom be prevailed upon to give it any proper attention. This consideration accounts, in some measure, both for the great influence of Christianity on its first publication, when the doctrines were new and striking, and also for the absolute indifference with which the same great truths are now heard in all Christian countries.
It accounts also for the more striking effect of the preaching of the Methodists, than ours. They find people utterly ignorant, to whom the truths, the promises, and the threatenings of the gospel are really new; whereas we have to do with persons who have heard them from their infancy, and have, alas! acquired a habit of disregarding them. But then our people having, in general, been brought up in habits of virtue, such great changes of character and conduct are less necessary in their case. It is to be regretted, however, that they too seldom exceed that mediocrity of character which they acquire in early life. I speak of the generality among us; for others are remarkable exceptions, persons of disinterested and heroic virtue, in full proportion to the superior advantages which they enjoy.
The resistance which the mind makes to the admission of truth, when it has been strongly prejudiced against it, is evident both with respect to the Delief of Christianity in general, and of particular opinions relating to it. There are many persons by no means defective with respect to judgment in other things, of whose conversion to Christianity we can have no more reasonable expectation, than of the sun rising in the west, even though they should consent to hear or read every thing that we could propose to them for that purpose. There are also many conscientious and intelligent Roman Catholics, absurd as we justly think their principles to be, who would deliberately read the best defences of Protestantism without any other effect than that of being more confirmed in their prejudices against it. The same may be said of persons professing other modes of faith, so that their persuasions are not to be changed, except by such a method as that which was applied for the conversion of the apostle Paul. The same observation may also be applied to many opinions, and especially to a general bias or turn of thinking in matters of a political nature, and even in subjects of philosophy or criticism.
Facts of this kind, of which we are all witnesses, and which come within the observation of every day in our lives, show, in a very striking light, what care we ought to take in forming our first judgments of things, and in contracting our first habits, and therefore deserve the more especial attention of young persons; for we see that when these principles and habits are once properly formed, they are generally fixed for life. Whatever is fact with respect to mankind in general, we ought to conclude to be the case with respect to ourselves; that the cause is in the constitution of our common nature, and dependent upon the fundamental laws of it, and, no doubt, a wise and useful part of it; and we must not expect that miracles will be wrought in our favor.
To show that there is the greatest advantage, as well as some inconvenience, resulting from this disposition to fixity, as we call it, in our own nature, let it be observed, that if there was nothing fixed or permanent in the human character, we should find the same inconvenience as if any other law of nature was unsettled. We should be perpetually at a loss how to conduct ourselves, how to behave to mankind in general, and even to our own particular friends and acquaintance, especially after having been for any space of time absent from them. We do not expect to find persons the very same in all changes of condition or circumstances, as in sickness and health, prosperity and adversity, &c.; but then we generally know what kind of change to expect in them in those circumstances, and we regulate our con