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of acts suitable or opposite thereto; and that such acts cannot be exercised without voiding all impediments, and framing all principles of action, (such as temper of body, judgment of mind, influence of custom,) to a compliance; that who by temper is peevish or choleric, cannot, without mastering that temper, become patient or meek; that who from vain opinions is proud, cannot, without considering away those opinions, prove humble; that who by custom is grown intemperate, cannot, without weaning himself from that custom, come to be sober; that who, from the concurrence of a sorry nature, fond conceits, mean breeding, and scurvy usage, is covetous, cannot, without draining all those sources of his fault, be turned into liberal. The change of our mind is one of the greatest alterations in nature, which cannot be compassed in any way, or within any time we please; but it must proceed on leisurely and regularly, in such order, by such steps, as the nature of things doth permit; it must be wrought by a resolute and laborious perseverance; by a watchful application of mind, in voiding prejudices, in waiting for advantages, in attending to all we do; by forcible wresting our nature from its bent, and swimming against the current of impetuous desires; by a patient disentangling ourselves from practices most agreeable and familiar to us; by a wary fencing with temptations, by long struggling with manifold oppositions and difficulties; whence the holy Scripture termeth our practice a warfare, wherein we are to fight many a bloody battle with most redoubtable foes; a combat which must be managed with our best skill and utmost might; a race which we must pass through with incessant activity and swift
If therefore we mean to be good or to be happy, it behoveth us to lose no time; to be presently up at our great task; to snatch all occasions, to embrace all means incident of reforming our hearts and lives. As those, who have a long journey to go, do take care to set out early, and in their way make good speed, lest the night overtake them before they reach their home; so it being a great way from hence to heaven, seeing we must pass over so many obstacles, through so many paths of duty, before we arrive thither, it is expedient to set forward as soon as can be, and to proceed with all expedition; the longer
we stay, the more time we shall need, and the less we shall have.
3. We may consider that no future time which we can fix on will be more convenient than the present is for our reformation. Let us pitch on what time we please, we shall be as unwilling and unfit to begin as we are now; we shall find in ourselves the same indispositions, the same averseness, or the same listlessness toward it, as now: there will occur the like hardships to deter us, and the like pleasures to allure us from our duty; objects will then be as present, and will strike as smartly on our senses; the case will appear just the same, and the same pretences for delay will obtrude themselves; so that we shall be as apt then as now to prorogue the business. We shall say then, to-morrow I will mend; and when that morrow cometh, it will be still to-morrow, and so the morrow will prove endless. If, like the simple rustic, (who staid by the river-side waiting till it had done running, so that he might pass dry-foot over the channel,) we do conceit that the sources of sin (bad inclinations within, and strong temptations abroad) will of themselves be spent, or fail, we shall find ourselves deluded. If ever we come to take up, we must have a beginning with some difficulty and trouble; we must courageously break through the present will all its enchantments; we must undauntedly plunge into the cold stream; we must rouse ourselves from our bed of sloth; we must shake off that brutish improvidence, which detaineth us; and why should we not assay it now? There is the same reason now that ever we can have; yea, far more reason now; for if that we now begin, hereafter at any determinate time, some of the work will be done, what remaineth will be shorter and easier to us. Nay, farther,
4. We may consider that the more we defer, the more difficult and painful our work must needs prove; every day will both enlarge our task and diminish our ability to perform it. Sin is never at a stay; if we do not retreat from it, we shall advance in it; and the farther on we go, the more we have to come back; every step we take forward (even before we can return hither, into the state wherein we are at present) must be repeated; all the web we spin must be unravelled; we must
vomit all we take in: which to do we shall find up
Vice, as it groweth in age, so it improveth in stature and strength; from a puny child it soon waxeth a lusty stripling, then riseth to be a sturdy man, and after a while becometh a massy giant, whom we shall scarce dare to encounter, whom we shall be very hardly able to vanquish; especially seeing that as it groweth taller and stouter, so we shall dwindle and prove more impotent; for it feedeth on our vitals, and thriveth by our decay; it waxeth mighty by stripping us of our best forces, by enfeebling our reason, by perverting our will, by corrupting our temper, by debasing our courage, by seducing all our appetites and passions to a treacherous compliance with itself: every day our mind groweth more blind, our will more resty, our spirit more faint, our appetites more fierce, our passions more headstrong and untameable; the power and empire of sin do strangely by degrees encroach, and continually get ground on us, till it hath quite subdued and enthralled us. First, we learn to bear it; then we come to like it; by and bye we contract a friendship with it; then we dote on it; at last we become enslaved to it in a bondage, which we shall hardly be able, or willing to shake off; when not only our necks are fitted to the yoke, our hands are manacled, and our feet shackled thereby; but our heads and hearts do conspire in a base submission thereto; when vice hath made such impression on us, when this pernicious weed hath taken so deep root in our mind, will, and affections, it will demand an extremely toilsome labor to extirpate it.
Indeed, by continuance in sin, the chief means (afforded by nature, or by grace) of restraining or reducing us from it, are either cut off, or enervated and rendered ineffectual.
Natural modesty, while it lasteth, is a curb from doing ill; men in their first deflexions from virtue are bashful and shy; out of regard to other men's opinion, and tenderness of their own honor, they are afraid or ashamed to transgress plain rules of duty but in process, this disposition weareth out; by little and little they arrive to that character of the degenerate Jews, whom the prophets call impudent children,' having a brow of brass,' and 'faces harder than a rock;' so that they commit
sin with open face, and in broad day, without any mask, without a blush; they despise their own reputation, and defy all censure of others; they outface and outbrave the world, till at length, with prodigious insolence, they come to boast of wickedness, and 'glory in their shame,' as an instance of high courage and special gallantry.
Conscience is a check to beginners in sin, reclaiming them from it, and rating them for it: but this in long standers becometh useless, either failing to discharge its office, or assaying it to no purpose; having often been slighted, it will be weary of chiding; or, if it be not wholly dumb, we shall be deaf to its reproof: as those, who live by cataracts or downfalls of water, are, by continual noise, so deafened, as not to hear or mind it; so shall we in time grow senseless, not regarding the loudest peals and rattlings of our conscience.
The heart of a raw novice in impiety is somewhat tender and soft, so that remorse can pierce and sting it; his neck is yielding and sensible, so that the yoke of sin doth gall it but in stout proficients the heart becometh hard and stony, the neck stiff and brawny; ('an iron sinew,' as the prophet termeth it ;) so that they do not feel or resent any thing; but are like those, of whom St. Paul speaketh, oïrives årnλynkótes, who 'being past feeling' all sorrow or smart, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.'
When first we nibble at the bait, or enter into bad courses, our reason doth contest and remonstrate against it, faithfully representing to us the folly, the ugliness, the baseness, the manifold ill consequences of sinning; but that, by continuance, is muffled, so as not to discern, or muzzled, so as not to declare; yea, often is so debauched as to excuse, to avow, and maintain, yea, to applaud and extol our miscarriages.
For a time a man retaineth some courage, and a hope that he may repent; but progress in sin dispiriteth and casteth into despair, whether God be placable, whether himself be corrigible an apprehension concerning the length of the way, or the difficulty of the work, discourageth; and despondency rendereth him heartless and careless to attempt it. There is no man that hath heard of God, who hath not at first some dread
of offending him, and some dissatisfaction in transgressing his will; it appearing to his mind, not yet utterly blinded and depraved, a desperate thing to brave his irresistible power, an absurd thing to thwart his infallible wisdom, a detestable thing to abuse his immense goodness: but obstinacy in sin doth quash this conscientious awe; so that at length God is not in all his thoughts,' the fear of God is not before his eyes;' the wrath of the Almighty seemeth a bugbear, the fiercest menaces of religion sound but as rattles to him.
As for the gentle whispers and touches of divine grace, the monitory dispensations of Providence, the good advices and wholesome reproofs of friends, with the like means of reclaiming sinners; these to persons 'settled on their lees,' or fixed in bad custom, are but as gusts of wind brushing an old oak, or as waves dashing on a rock, without at all shaking or stirring it.
Now when any person is come to this pass, it must be hugely difficult to reduce him; to retrieve a deflowered modesty, to quicken a jaded conscience, to supple a callous heart, to resettle a baffled reason, to rear a dejected courage, to recover a soul miserably benumbed and broken, to its former vigor and integrity, can be no easy matter.
The diseases of our soul, no less than those of our body, when once they are inveterate, they are become near incurable; the longer we forbear to apply due remedy, the more hard their cure will prove if we let them proceed far, we must, ere we can be rid of them, undergo a course of physic very tedious and offensive to us; many a rough purge, many a sore phlebotomy, many an irksome sweat we must endure. Yea, farther,
5. We may consider that by delaying to amend, to do it may become quite impossible; it may be so in the nature of the thing, it may be so by the will of God: the thing may become naturally impossible; for vice by custom may pass into nature, and prove so congenial, as if it were born with us; so that we shall propend to it, as a stone falleth down, or as a spark flieth upward: by soaking in voluptuousness we may be so transformed into brutes, by steeping in malice so converted into fiends, that we necessarily shall act like creatures of that