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because real Christians have exhibited occasional declensions, their own habitual worldliness is consistent with vital religion. Thus their false hope, "like the pointed rod that turns away the lightning," wards off from them, in every direction, the bolt of truth. Cased in complete mail, and intrenched on every side by "a refuge of lies," they are inaccessible to attack, and invulnerable to conviction. What, then, is the prospect that they will discover their mistake, before "their feet stumble upon the dark mountains," and they sink into hell? The Almighty, it is true, may yet undeceive and save them; but there is little reason to expect that he will. He has no where promised to do it; and both the Bible and observation prove, that the instances in which he has done it, are exceedingly rare. To no class of sinners does he afford less encouragement, and on none has he pronounced a more awful doom. He has declared that "their last state is worse than the first," and that their trust shall be " as the giving up of the ghost." The probability is, therefore, that they will continue to cherish their treacherous delusion, till the light of eternity shall dispel it, and the storm of divine wrath shall come to sweep away their sandy foundation, and overflow, as with a flood, their hiding place. Well, then, may it be said, that a fallacious persuasion of piety is, to those who indulge it, "an evident token of perdition."
II. Another token, equally fearful, is a premature depravity.—By this expression it is not my design to imply that all men are not naturally corrupt, but simply to indicate the development of that corruption. Though the principle of sin is inherent in every human bosom, it attains a more early and rank luxuriance in some cases than in others. Usually, its progress to flagrant wickedness is gradual. It is seldom, for example, that we see a youth of confirmed and incorrigi ble profligacy. Years of conflict with moral influences commonly pass away, and middle life or hoary age arrives, before such a character is formed. Instances of this kind, however, do sometimes occur; and it is to them that I now allude.
Methinks I see before me such a youth. He is the son of pious parents. Often, while an infant, they shed over him the tear of solicitude, and breathed an anxious prayer for his eternal happiness. As he grew up, they instilled into his opening mind the precepts of religion,-taught him to read the Scriptures, to bow at the family altar, and to pronounce, with his yet stammering lips, the name of Jesus. During the season of childhood, his sobriety of disposition, tenderness of conscience, and susceptibility of serious feeling, gave cheering promise that he would one day be made an heir of heaven. But the period arrived when he was removed from their watchful care. With their fervent supplications for his welfare, and many an earnest injunction not to forget their counsels, he went forth to tread alone the perilous mazes of the world, and to encounter its temptations. For a time he remained unscathed amid the polluting
atmosphere which encircled him. The force of parental instruction, and the endearing reminiscences of home, preserved him from the contagion of vice. But soon, by the continual friction of evil example, these salutary restraints were weakened. By insensible degrees he began to neglect his Bible, to remit his devotions, to turn away from the sanctuary, to shrink from the ridicule of his gay associates, and to listen, with less abhorrence, to their licentious language. The barriers of a virtuous education being thus overcome, he yielded to their solicitations, participated in their criminal indulgences, made merry over the sparkling wine, frequented the theatre, and revelled in the house of "her whose feet go down to death, and whose steps take hold on hell." Advanced to this point in his headlong career, in order effectually to stifle the voice of admonition, and efface at once the lingering vestiges of former impressions, he next resorted to the haunts of infidelity, sat in the seat of the scoffer, and drank the deadly cup which grey-haired atheists mingle for their unwary victims. Having, by such a process, completed his degeneracy, and broken asunder all the bonds of conscience and religion, he now presents a melancholy example of precocious impiety. Though scarcely arrived at manhood, he is a veteran in guilt. With remorseless audacity, he tramples on every thing sacred and holy; makes a jest of his early convictions; sneers at moral principle; derides the solemn sanctions of inspiration; and defies the vengeance of the Eternal. And can we, while contemplating the immortal destiny of such an individual, perceive in it a single ray of hope? Must not the fact, that one so young in years is so old in sin, be deemed a mournful presage of reprobation? Do we not see the mark of “the pit " in every feature of his condition and character? Who can predict of him aught but an abandoned life, a miserable death, and an undone eternity? His deliverance from such a doom would be a miracle of mercy,-a departure from the ordinary course of converting grace, as astonishing as it is unfrequent. He has placed himself within the verge of a whirlpool that rarely gives back its prey; and though it is still in the compass of Omnipotence to draw him from its fatal power, there is far more cause to fear that, after a few rapid and giddy circles, he will go down the yawning vortex into the abyss of despair.
III. Another token, of similar import, is an inveteracy in transgression. The almost invincible force of habit is a subject of universal remark. Small must be his acquaintance with men, who does not know that to relinquish what has become familiar to them by custom or association, is an effort of the highest difficulty. To change even a bodily attitude to which they are used, or to renounce a wonted corporeal gratification, is as arduous as it is painful. Their whole frame feels the alteration, and cries out against it. The same fact is still more apparent in their moral nature. When they have long followed a given course of conduct, the adoption of a contrary one is well nigh impossible. Hence it is obvious that a protracted persever
ance in iniquity must render the repentance, and, consequently, the salvation of those who are guilty of it, fearfully dubious. In order to attain that vital union with Christ which is indispensable to forgiveness, there must be an entire abandonment of every unholy practice which a life of irreligion has generated and matured; for "they that are Christ's put off the old man and his deeds, and crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts." But to do this requires a seriousness of purpose, and a firmness of self-denial, which few will exercise. Even in cases where the sinful habit to be subdued is not of a flagitious kind, but consists merely in a uniform neglect of Christian duty, and a supreme attachment to the world; yet, when deep-rooted by time, its correction is nearly impracticable. It has grown with the growth of the unconverted man, strengthened with his strength, extended to all his plans of action and modes of thought, imbued all his feelings, interwoven itself with all his faculties, become the pervading element of his inward being; and thus has produced a fixedness of character, a hardness of heart, and an obstinacy of impenitence, which spread over his eternal prospects the gloom of night. Alas! how improbable it is that he will ever burst the fast-riveted bondage of such a state, and stand forth a disenthralled and regenerated child of God "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may he, who is accustomed to do evil, learn to do well."
But if this be true in the instance just supposed, incomparably more hopeless must be his condition, who has not only lived all his days in religious indifference, but has long travelled the broad highway of open immorality. What rational ground is there to expect the reformation of one who has, for years, been addicted to licentiousness or intemperance? At intervals, when the light of truth penetrates the thick darkness of his besotted mind, and conscience, startled by the intrusion, wakes her sleeping thunders, he may feel his captivity, and clank his chains, and struggle for release. But it comes not. Or if, for a time, it seem to be achieved, its continuance is momentary. The tyrant, to whom he has sold himself, remits his sway only to resume it with more terrific energy and a sterner despotism, when the season of alarm has passed. Like the "unclean spirit," so awfully described by our Savior, he returns from his temporary repulse with seven-fold strength, claims his victim with a decision inexorable as death, and binds him more firmly than ever in the iron fetters of his power. Who, without anguish, can contemplate the circumstances of such an individual? To see an immortal creature thus situated,— to behold him, by an infatuated persistence in sin, at length irreclaimably enslaved by it,-is a spectacle over which an angel might weep
"nay, it is one over which the Lord of angels has wept with unavailing compassion." Miserable man! by his own suicidal presumption he has flung himself into a torrent, whose black and swollen waters are rapidly hurrying him to destruction. He may resolve, and strive, and shriek for help, and make convulsive efforts to escape; but the impetuous stream still bears him onward. And now, as the
roar of the cataract strikes louder on his ear, and the wild waves foam and toss around him, he buffets the current with feebler stroke, and waning resolution, till despair flashes on his soul, and with a cry of horror that pierces the heavens, he is swept over the dizzy brink, and disappears.
IV. Another token of perdition is a confirmed belief of destructive error. The confidence which the votaries of error repose in its delusions, is widely different in different persons. With some, it is little more than a cherished wish that their system were true, and an anxious endeavor to make it appear so, combined with many secret fears that it will prove to be false. Such usually exhibit a sensitiveness to attack, and a violence in repelling it, which indicate a lurking consciousness of the insecurity of their position, and show that they are not yet immovably fixed in it. Others manifest a more settled credence. By the constant repetition of sophistical arguments, they have so perverted their moral sense, as to "call evil good, and good evil," to "put darkness for light, and light for darkness," to confound the distinctions between sin and holiness, and to pursue the downward road to the pit, with an unfaltering trust that it will end amid the glories of the upper world. It is to this class that we refer, when we affirm that an establishment in fundamental error is the precursor of ruin. Take the case of the man, whose obliquity of heart has led him to impugn the justice of God, and to question the verity of future punishment, until he has, at last, fully embraced the monstrous doctrine, that all men, whatever their conduct here, will be alike happy hereafter, and you will find, that to disabuse him of it, palpably baseless though it be, is extremely difficult, if not impossible. It is a quality of the human mind, that what it long desires and strives to believe, it often, through a species of self-imposture, does believe, with a tenacity which no opposing evidence can overcome. It is thus with the individual we are describing. At first he only wished there were no retribution beyond the grave. He did not dare to presume there was none. But finding such a persuasion necessary to his repose in sin, he set himself, with untiring diligence, to acquire it. By silencing the voice of God within him ;-by insulating the statements of the Bible, and wresting them from their connections ;-by turning away from the teachers of truth to the guidance of those who cry "peace, when there is no peace,"-he, at length, attained the end so earnestly sought, and settled down on the fatal heresy that the final condemnation of the wicked is a fiction. To the conclusion thus formed he adheres with inflexible obstinacy. The love of ease, the pride of opinion, and, above all, the enmity of the carnal heart to the requirements of the Gospel, render him unwilling to perceive, that the structure, which he has erected with so much labor, and fortified with so much care, is "built on the sand." Conscious that if he discards the hypothesis on which he has adventured his immortal interests, he must either submit to the terms of sovereign mercy, or
remain without hope, he clings to it, as the drowning mariner clings to the sinking wreck, and resists, with the energy of desperation, every attempt to tear him from it. Place before him the unequivocal declarations of Scripture respecting the endless misery of those who die impenitent, and the fearful coincidence of these declarations with the decisions of reason, the history of the divine government, and the unutterable anxiety which the Son of God and all inspired men have felt in view of the doom of sinners. It affects him not. He evades the force of all these proofs by distorting their import, or denying their application. What, then, but the disclosures of eternity, can convince him that without repentance and faith in Christ, he must inevitably perish? If such a conviction ever is produced, while his day of probation continues, it must be effected through the instrumentality of divine truth, applied by the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit. But he has already repudiated the truth, and spurned, it is to be feared, beyond recall, the heavenly influence which alone can give it efficacy. And if this be so, where, I again ask, is the probability that he will be brought to see his peril, before his "redemption has ceased forever?" Jehovah has, we admit, sometimes arrested persons of this description, torn off the veil of falsehood from their eyes, broken up their league with death, and their covenant with hell, and made them the trophies of his victorious grace. But such conversions are exceptions to his general mode of procedure, and, therefore, can afford no assurance that a similar display of distinguishing mercy will be put forth in favor of the man whose case we are considering. On the contrary, every aspect of his condition and of his conduct presents appalling indications, that he is among the number of those on whom "God has sent a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, and be damned, because they believe not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness." How dreadful, then, is a fixed reliance on the doctrine, that there is nothing for the ungodly to fear in a coming world! It is a placid but treacherous river, down which the credulous voyager glides serenely, lulled by the music of its waters, charmed by the beauty of its shores, and praising the smoothness of the current, which he fondly imagines is wafting him to the port of heaven, till death dispels the hallucination, and he awakes in " the lake of fire."
V. Another token of perdition is an unsanctified worldly prosperity.-Irreligious men, in their blindness and infatuation, eagerly covet such prosperity, and deem it a signal proof of the divine regard. But no mistake can be greater. A fulness of sublunary good, when unaccompanied by piety, is to be considered a curse rather than a blessing, inasmuch as it presents an almost insuperable obstacle to the spiritual welfare of those who possess it. Instead of leading them, by the sweet impulse of gratitude, to adore and serve their munificent Benefactor, and, in this manner, preparing them for the enjoyment of his presence in heaven, it more generally stupefies their