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duct towards them by our experience of the usual effect of similar changes.
These observations, when applied to opinions, may serve to amuse us, but when they are applied to practice, they ought seriously to alarm us. Let all those, therefore, who being at all advanced in life, see reason to be dissatisfied with themselves, with their disposition of mind, and their general conduct, be alarmed; for there is certainly the greatest reason for it, probably much more than they are themselves aware of. Persons in this state of mind always flatter themselves with a time when they shall have more leisure for repentance and reformation; but, judging from observation on others, which is the surest guide that they can follow (infinitely better than their own imaginations,) they may conclude that it is almost a certainty that such a time will never come.
If they should have the leisure for repentance and reformation which they promised themselves, it is not probable that sufficient strength of resolution will come along with it. Indeed, all resolutions to repent at a future time are necessarily insincere, and must be a mere deception, because they imply a preference of a man's present habits and conduct, that he is really unwilling to change them, and that nothing but necessity would lead him to make any attempt of the kind. In fact, he can only mean that he will discontinue particular actions, his habits or temper of mind remaining the same.
Besides, a real, effectual repentance or reformation is such a total change in a man as cannot, in the nature of things, take place in a short space of time. A man's habits are formed by the scenes he has gone through, and the impressions which they have made upon him; and when death approaches, a man has not another life, like this, to live over again. He may, even on a death-bed, most sincerely wish that he had a pious and benevolent disposition, with the love of virtue in all its branches: but that wish, though it be ever so sincere and earnest, can no more produce a proper change in his mind, than it can restore him to health, or make him taller or stronger than he is.
The precise time when this confirmed state of mind takes place, or, in the language of Scripture, the time when any person is thus left of God, or left to himself, cannot be determined. It is necessarily various and uncertain. But in general we may say, that when any person has been long abandoned to vicious courses, when vice is grown into a habit with him, and especially when his vices are more properly of a mental nature, such as a disposition to envy, malice, or selfishness (which are the most inveterate, the most difficult to be eradicated of all vices,) when neither health nor sickness, prosperity nor adversity; when neither a man's own reflections, the remonstrances of his friends, nor admonitions from the pulpit, have any visible effect upon him; when, after this, we see no great change in his worldly affairs or connexions, but he goes on from day to day, from month to month, and from year to year, without any sensible alteration; there is reason to fear that he is fallen into this fatal security, that he is, as it were, fallen asleep, and that this sleep will be the sleep of death.
However, a shadow of hope is not to be despised. One chance in a thousand is still a chance; and there are persons whose vigor of mind is such, that, when sufficiently roused, they are equal to almost any thing. Let those, therefore, who see their danger at any time of life, be up and doing, working out their salvation with fear and trembling, that, if possible, they may flee from the wrath to come.
God, my Christian brethren, is a being with whom we all of us have to do, and the relation we stand in to him is the most important of all our relations. Our connexions with other beings and other things are slight and transient, in comparison with this. God is our maker, our constant preserver and benefactor, our moral governor, and our final judge. He is present with us wherever we are; the secrets of all hearts are constantly known to him, and he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Here, then, is a situation, in which we find ourselves, that demands our closest attention. The consideration is, in the highest degree, interesting and alarming; knowing how absolutely dependent we are upon God, that "in him we live, and move, and have our being," and knowing also, that by vice and folly we have rendered ourselves justly obnoxious to his displeasure.
Now, to think, and to act, in a manner corresponding to this our necessary intercourse with God, certainly requires that we keep up an habitual regard to it; and a total, or very great degree of inattention to it, must be highly criminal and dangerous. Accordingly, we find in the Scriptures, that it is characteristic of a good man, that "he sets the Lord always before him," and that "he acknowledges God in all his ways." Whereas, it is said of the wicked, that "God is not in all their thoughts ;" and elsewhere, that "there is no fear of God before their eyes;" that "they put the thoughts of God far from them, and will not the knowledge of the Most High."
This circumstance seems to furnish a pretty good test of the state of a man's mind with respect to virtue and vice. The most abandoned and profligate of mankind are those who live without God in the world, entirely thoughtless of his being, perfections and providence; having their hearts wholly engrossed with this world and the things of it; by which means those passions which terminate in the enjoyment of them, are inflamed to such a degree, that no other principle can restrain their indulgence. These persons may be called practical atheists; and the temper of mind they have acquired, often leads them to deny both natural and revealed religion. They secretly wish, indeed they cannot but wish, there may be no truth in those principles, the apprehension of which is apt to give them disturbance; and hence they give little attention to the evidence that is produced for them, and magnify all the objections they hear made to them. And it is well known, that, in a mind so strongly biassed, the most cogent reasons often amount to nothing, while the most trifling cavils pass for demonstration. It is the same with respect to any other speculation, when the mind has got a bias in favor of any particular conclusion.
On the other hand, a truly and perfectly good man loves, and therefore cherishes, the thought of God, his father and his friend; till every production of divine power and skill, every instance of divine bounty, and every event of divine providence, never fails to suggest to his mind the idea of the great Author of all things, the Giver of every good and every perfect gift, and the sovereign Disposer of all affairs and of all events. Thus he lives, as it were, constantly seeing Him who is invisible. He sees God in every thing, and he sees every thing in God. He dwells in love, and thereby dwells in God, and God in him. And so long as he considers himself as living in the world which God has made, and partaking of the bounty with which his providence supplies him; so long as he is intent upon discharging his duty, in the situation in which he believes the Divine Being has placed him, and meets with no greater trials and difficulties than, he is persuaded, his God and Father has appointed for his good; it is almost impossible that the thought of God should ever be long absent from his mind. Every thing he sees or feels will make it recur again and again perpetually. His whole life will be, as it were, one act of devotion; and this state of mind, being highly pleasurable, and his satisfaction having infinite sources, will be daily increasing, so as to grow more equable, and more intense, to all eternity; when it will be joy unspeakable, and full of glory. * * *
I. An habitual regard to God in our actions tends greatly to keep us firm in our adherence to our duty. It has pleased Divine Providence to place man in a state of trial and probation. This world is strictly such. We are surrounded with a great variety of objects, adapted to gratify a variety of senses, with which we are furnished. The pleasures they give us are all innocent in moderation, and they engage us in a variety of agreeable and proper pursuits. But our natures are such, as that the frequent indulgence of any of our appetites tends to make its demands inordinate, and to beget an habitual propensity to indulge it; and this proneness to the excessive indulgence of any of our passions enslaves our minds, and is highly dangerous and criminal. By this means we too often come to forget God our maker, to injure our fellow-creatures of mankind, and to do a still greater and more irreparable injury to ourselves, both in mind and body.
It has pleased Almighty God, therefore, from the concern he had for our good, to forbid these immoderate indulgences of the love of pleasure, riches, and honor, by express laws, guarded with the most awful sanctions. Now we are certainly less liable to forget these laws, and our obligation to observe them, when we keep up an habitual regard to our great Lawgiver and Judge; when we consider him as