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acting, than they had themselves imagined. Their feeling was, therefore, not unlike that of persons awakened from a kind of dream; they were startled at finding how near they had gone to the very edge of extreme wickedness, and there was perhaps danger of their giving way to the other temptation, which the Devil commonly employs when people begin to be ashamed of their presumptuous sins; there was danger lest the Jews should imagine that all was lost, and it was no use their endeavouring to serve God any longer ; therefore the Prophet follows up his severe reproof with the gracious assurance, that they were not yet cast off : “the LORD would not forsake His people, for His great Name's sake; because it had pleased the Lord to make them His people :” as they had not been chosen at the beginning for any righteousness of their own, so neither would God reject them for all they had as yet done, provided only that in time to come they would fear Him and obey His voice, considering how great things He had done for them.
In all this, may not we as Christians distinctly hear God's voice speaking to us? since we, too, from our Baptism are God's peculiar people, Members of His Son, His Children, Inheritors of His Kingdom : and we too, alas ! too often have taken a perverse pleasure in slighting and undervaluing our own privileges, turning contemptuously away from those instructions which represent God as so very near us ; refusing to believe that we are His people in a particular sense, such as to make our sins far more inexcusable than those of Heathens or even of Jews could ever be; nay, too frequently priding ourselves on our being as though we had never been christened, as the Jews prided themselves on having a King like the Heathen: just so, must we not own that it has not seldom seemed to us a fine thing to know a great deal of the world, to enter into the notions of worldly men, to feel as they feel, and be praised by them as knowing persons ? Surely in this way we have most of us too much to answer for, and our LORD might most justly and reasonably cast us off, if he would, for ever, as people who have broken His baptismal covenant, and have no longer any claim to be reckoned among His But He has not done so; therefore in any case we must not cast ourselves away. We may not, we must not, go on in any kind of
sin, under pretence of its being too late to cure ourselves of that ill habit at least.
To be a little more particular. The cases in which people are most apt to give themselves up are generally such as these following. First, when after having gone on religiously and blamelessly for many years, perhaps through the whole of youth and early manhood, the Devil prevails against any man, and he gives way to temptation, slight or strong, and knowingly commits any kind of deadly sin. The same Evil Spirit, who has so far had his own way with him, will presently try to make him think the case desperate. He will suggest to his mind such thoughts as these, “ You have broken your baptismal vows, you are fallen from grace : your innocence is gone, and never can be recovered : you may as well enjoy yourself whilst you can.” By such whispers the Deceiving Spirit will lead fallen sinners on from bad to
But if he cannot succeed in thus making the first fall seem quite irrecoverable,—if people have once taken heart to repent, and struggle out of his snare,--then, as I said, bis next artifice is, to persuade them that they may do the same again as often as they please : until, by a round, continued perhaps many years, of real sinning and seeming repentance, he has brought them into such a state, that they feel as if the sin were a part of their nature, and that they can no more do without it than they can without eating, drinking, or sleeping. Thus at first, through a feeling of despair, and afterwards through a sense of thorough incurable bad habit, men knowingly throw away their only remaining chance of repentance, and with it, of course, their only remaining chance of salvation.
One of the sins, in which this sad and fatal process may be seen most distinctly, is the inordinate love of strong drink. When a person first begins to transgress in that way, after many years of sobriety, it is no hard matter for the enemy of souls to persuade him, that now he is a fallen being, both in God's sight and in man's, and it matters not much how he goes on : and again, after he has gone on many years in habits of drunkenness, we know too well how impossible it is to reclaim him.
And if it is so in drunkenness, much more in those sins, which in man's sentence as well as God's bring an irrecoverable stain
on those who are guilty of them : such as unchastity, falsehood, dishonesty. These are crimes on which, for one reason or another, the world has seen fit, in some cases at least, to pass a very severe judgment; the world, I say, which thinks little or nothing of
many other sins, just as bad as these : and thus, when any one has forfeited his character and innocency in these respects, he is apt to become reckless, as if he had no chance; reckless, not only in respect of men, but also in respect of God and another life.
One might well imagine that the Prophet Jeremiah was thinking on these two sorts of deadly sin,—the unchaste and the deceitful - when he wrote that most fearful of all sentences, “ Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? Then may ye do good who are accustomed to do evil ;" as much as to say, "With men this is impossible, but not with God : for with God all things are possible.”
How careful ought we to be of the beginnings, when the too certain end is such as this! with what resolute and watchful severity ought a Christian youth to put down the first impure thought, to silence the first untrue word, to withdraw from the first tempting touch of that which belongs to his neighbour! since in giving way he is entering on a path, along which, by-and-by, he will find or fancy it impossible to return; nay, and it will be impossible, without God's special grace.
On the other hand, it is well for all, even the worst, to be sure there is hope so far, as that no one holy desire or good purpose, no one prayer or sigh of sincere repentance through Faith in Christ Jesus our Lord, can ever fall to the ground useless and vain. We have reason to believe, from the words of our LORD Himself, and from the course of God's Providence with Ahab, with Manasseh, and with other great sinners of the Old Testament, that any degree of sincere repentance, though it fail to obtain pardon, will at least make the difference of more stripes or fewer, a heavier or a lighter punishment. And this, and the remembrance of God's infinite mercy as shown on the blessed and saving Cross, and the thought, “Who knows but I too, unworthy as I am, may find pardon and forgiveness, and a place somewhere beneath the footstool of the lowest of God's Saints ?" -such thoughts, I say, as these, ought to be sufficient, and doubtless before now have often proved sufficient, by God's grace, to support even an habitual sinner, in his hard and heavy task of learning to do good, when he had been all his life accustoming himself to do evil. People may, if they please, call it a poor miserable unsatisfactory state of mind; but surely it is heaven itself, compared with absolute reckless despair : and practically, perhaps, will be found nearer holiness, and therefore in the end nearer Heaven, than is the bold undoubting assurance, which some men rejoice in, and others so eagerly seek for.
Hitherto I have spoken of great and notorious sins; practices which naturally startle the consciences of all men, such as un. chastity, drunkenness, dishonesty : and I have shown what danger we are in of becoming hardened in these by a kind of despair, as if, having been long bad, we must of course go on and be worse. A word must now be added on another way of going wrong, somewhat in the same kind, that is, by mere lightness of temper and shallowness of principle : when men, for instance, continue in the custom of profane swearing, or of dissolute wanton talk, or of backbiting and slandering, or of lying in common conversation. These sins of the tongue are apt to appear in our eyes as mere trifles in each particular instance that we commit them ; but put together, they amount to a dreadful sum: and men know it : they have been taught over and over, that "for every idle word they speak, they shall give account at the day of judgment," and that “by their words they shall be justified, and by their words condemned :" and yet, with a sort of incurable lightness, they put away from themselves all serious thought, all earnest endeavours to amend in these respects, saying, “they are too old to learn;" or, “they must have their saying out;" or, “it were well if we that blame them had no worse to charge ourselves with :" and many other ways they have of trifling with their own hearts and souls, and encouraging that, of which God's SPIRIT has told us, that “it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison."
These persons are in one thing unlike the sinful Jewish people as described in Samuel; they are far from acknowledging that in their way of going on they are adding a great evil to their former sins : they look upon their ill words, as I just now said, one by one, not as making up a sum of mischief; they do not consider that such sinful habits are, as it were, a smothered, inward fire, gradually consuming the whole body: they want to be roused by the threatenings of our LORD and His Apostles, and to be fixed seriously on this thought, What a thing it must be to go on, day by day, and hour by hour, nay, often minute by minute, offending our great God and Father by ill words spoken in His hearing, in spite of His direct warnings.
There is another class, who are especially apt to encourage themselves in sinning again by the very remembrance which ought most to daunt and humble them ;-the remembrance that they have sinned much and often before :-I mean those who sin mostly in the way of omission ; the habitual scorner of the Church and Sacraments of God; the neglecter of Prayer by himself or with his family; the Parent who takes no thought for breeding up his child in God's Faith and Fear; the Son who can find it in his heart to slight his Father or his Mother : all these are persons who, after a time, make their bad habit itself in some sort an excuse to their own hearts : they say to themselves and sometimes to others, It is so very hard to recollect what for so many years we have allowed to slip out of our minds;" and they fancy to themselves in some indistinct way, that a little act of kindness or of devotion will go farther, and tell for more, in their case, than in the case of one to whom such acts are familiar; making the great unpleasantness of the duty, which is an effect of their own sinful neglect, an excuse for their imperfect performance of it.
Also in respect of public duties, such changes of conduct as the world can take notice of, such as going to Church or the Communion when they have been long used to neglect it, or governing their temper, or ordering their household religiously, when for all their lives hitherto they have done no such thing ; in respect,
of such duties as these, there comes in another great difficulty: a feeling of shame at the thought, how men looking on will deride this their late and feeble goodness, which feeling ought to be patiently borne, as a part of the penance due to such a long course of irreligion ; but too often people make the most of it as an excuse for counting it impossible to amend in earnest.
Now the example of the Israelites and the Prophet in the text shows how all these and other like cases are to be treated ;