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begins to form his character ; and the character that is then formed generally lasts through life. Mankind for the most part continue in the same path in which they set out. The passions of youth may resign to the passions of age, and one set of vices or of virtues give place to those of a similar kind; but seldom does the formed character undergo an essential change. Our first steps ought therefore to be ordered with the greatest care and deliberation, as upon them, in a great measure, depends not only our present, but also our eternal happiness.
It was with a design to direct us in this important period, that the Psalm before us was written; in which the practice of righteousness is recommended, not only from the advantages attending it in this life, and in that which is to come, but likewise from the pernicious tendency of fin to embitter our earthly en. joyments, and to render us unqualified for inheriting the joys of heaven. The gradual deviation of a finner from the onward path of virtue, till he is inextricably bewildered in the insidious mazes and winding ways of iniquity, are here most beautifully described.
The first step in reality, though it be the second in the description, is, He standeth in the way of sinners. Frequenting the company of the wicked is a certain introduction to a life of wickedness. Mankind are oftener led astray by the company of the profligate than by their own depraved inclinations. This unhappy bias to associate with the profane arises from two causes, which operate powerfully on the minds of inexperienced youth. The first is that rigorousness and austerity which some gloomy-minded Chrif
tians attach to their religion. There are many persons of such an unhappy constitution, as to indulge themselves in perpetual moroseness and melancholy. Those sons of forrow turn every house into a house of mourning, and behave in life as if it were one of their principles, that mirth was made for reprobates, and cheerfulness of heart denied to all those who have the best title to be cheerful. My brethren, there is no connection ; God and nature have established no connection, between fan&ity of character and severity of manners. To rejoice evermore, is not only the privilege, but is also the duty of a Christian. A cheerful temper is a perpetual hymn to the Divinity. A gloomy cast of mind is not only a certain source of misery and discontent, but is really in itself finful, by deterring others from a holy life, by representing religion in an unfavourable and forbidding light, as if it conjured up a spirit to dark. en the face of the heavens and the earth, to trouble the peace and the harmony of nature, and to banish gladness from the circle of human society. Very opposite is the conduct of the votaries of vice. To betray unwary innocence into their snares, they put on the mask of mirth; they counterfeit gladness amidst the horrors of guilt, and borrow the accents of pleasure, and the air of joy. “Let us crown our. “ felves with rosebuds,” say they, “ let us crown " ourselves with rosebuds before they be withered, " let no flower of the spring pass away, let us devote “ the present moments to joy, and give thought and “ care to the winds.” By their flattery and fair speeches, too often are the innocent ensnared. They mark the fair attire, and the smiles upon the cheek
of the deceiver, Sensual pleasure; but they discern not, till too late, the pains, the diseases, and the de. struction that follow in her train. They discern not that her steps lead down to the grave, and that her bower is an antichamber to hell.
There is a second cause which has often been known to make men associate with the profane, and that is, an opinion that wickedness, particularly some kinds of it, are manly and becoming ; that diffoluteness, infidelity, and blasphemy, are indications of a sprightly and a strong mind. By the most unhappy of all associations, they join together the ideas of religion and dulness; and if they have a good opinion of a man's faith and his morals, they are led to have a very bad one of his understanding. This opinion, although it has gained ground where it might not have been expected, is without foundation in nature or in fact. Some instances there may have been of great men who have been irregular; but the experience of ages is on the other side.
Those who have shone in all ages as the lights of the world; the most celebrated names that are recorded in the annals of fame; legilators, the founders of states, and the fathers of their country, on whom succeeding ages have looked back with filial reverence; patriots, the guardians of the laws, who have stemmed the torrent of corruption in every age; heroes, the saviours of their country, who have returned vi&orious from the field of battle, or more than victorious, who have died for their country ; philosophers, who have opened the book of nature, and explained the wonders of almighty power ; bards, who have sung the praises of virtue and of virtuous men, whose strains carry them down to immortality ; with a few exceptions, have been uni. formly on the side of goodness, and have been as distinguished in the temple of virtue as they were il. lustrious in the temple of fame. It was one of the maxims which governed their lives, that there is nothing in nature which can compensate wickedness; that although the rewards and punishments, which influence illiberal and ungenerous minds, were set afide; that although the thunders of the Almighty were hushed, and the gates of paradise were open no more, they would follow religion and virtue for their own sake, and co-operate with eternal Provi. dence in perpetual endeavours to favour the good, to depress the bad, and to promote the happiness of the whole creation.
The second stage in the perversion of a sinner, is walking after the counsel of the ungodly. It is a maxim established by the fad experience of ages, that evil communication corrupts good manners. The power of nature and of conscience, and the influence of a religious education, may, for a while, withstand the shock, but these gradually will be overpowered, and yield to the impetuosity of the torrent. Hence follow the painful struggles between reason and the senses, between conscience and inclination, which constitute a state of the utmost misery and torment. Such persons, when they are carousing in the gay circle of their acquaintance, when the blood is warm, and the spirits high, will then go all lengths with their fellow-debauchees, and give a loose to every wanton and every wicked desire. But when the fumes of intoxication have forsaken the aching head ;
when the calm forenoon hour of reflection comes, then conscience, faithful to its truft, summons them to her awful bar, fills them with confusion and re. morse, and condemns them to the severest of all tortures, to be extended on the rack of reflection, to lie upon the torture of the mind. This is a state in which great part of mankind live and die. They have as much corruption as to lead them to the com. mission of new fins, and as much religion as to awaken in them remorse for these fins. They repent of their old vicious pleasures, and at the same time are laying plans for new ones, and make their lives one continued course of finning and repenting, of transgression and remorse.
The third and last stage of impiety is fitting in the chair of the scorner, or laughing at all religion and vir. tue. This is a pitch of diabolical attainment, to which few arrive. It requires a double portion of the infernal spirit, and a long experience in the mystery of iniquity, to become callous to every sense of religion, of virtue, and of honor ; to throw off the authority of nature, of conscience, and of God; to overleap the barrier of laws divine and human; and to endeavour to wrest the bolt from the red righthand of the Omnipotent. Difficult as the achieve. ment is, we see it sometimes effected. We have seen persons who have gloried in their shame, and boast. ed of being vicious for the sake of vice. Such char. acters are monsters in the moral world. Figure to yourselves, my brethren, the anguish, the horror, the misery, the damnation, such a person must endure, who must consider himself in a state of enmity with heaven and with earth ; who has no pleasant reflec