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above all, to infpire them with an abhorrence of confine. ment and rule. From thefe unhappy attachments, these moft pernicious friendships it is, that inftruction, however excellent, is unwillingly liftened to; and the most wife and gentle government is efteemed harfh and fevere. It has been fometimes obferved, that perfons frictly and piously educated, when they have come into the world, have run headlong into the moft vicious and abandoned courfe of life. This has been commonly afcribed to the rigor of their former confinement, and an advice grafted upon it, that parents fhould be lefs fevere to their children, left they should more than compenfate this early reftraint, by the liberties which they afterwards affume. But though I willingly admit, that every parent should temper his authority with gentlenefs and love; yet I am far from thinking the effect, juft now mentioned, is afcribed to its proper caufe; it is not owing so much to the rigor of parental authority, as to young perfons getting into the fociety of men without principle, and there fecretly imbibing thefe vicious defires, which afterwards they rejoice in an opportunity of gratifying to the full. However ftrict and fevere any perfon's education may be, if he comes to maturity of age, before he contracts an intimacy with thofe who juftify the commiffion of fin, confcience will have acquired fo great authority, that all folicitation to grofs wickednefs will be received with abhorrence. This opinion is fupported by a fact, which I imagine I have obferved, that the children of pious parents, who are betrayed into vicious courses, are almost always fuch as have been moft early removed from their immediate inspection.
4. The danger of corrupt fociety to young perfons appears, from their being expofed to ridicule and scorn, which is of all other trials hardeft for them to bear. I fhall have occafion, on the third general head, to fpeak more fully on this fubject; but in the mean time, it is certain, that a fenfe of fhame is ftrong in young perfons in general, and that ridicule is the ufual weapon by which adepts in vice affault the cause of truth and piety; by which indeed they commonly endeavor to deftroy all regard to decency and order. It is lamentable to think how often
perfons of excellent capacity and admirable difpofitions, have been led aftray by the abuse of this most amiable quality, a fenfe of fhame.
From all these confiderations, we need not be furprised at the frequent and strong cautions given in the word of God, upon this fubject: Prov. xiii. 20. "He that walketh with wife men fhall be wife: but a companion of fools "fhall be deftroyed."-Chap. xxviii. 7. "Whoso keep"eth the law, is a wife fon; but he that is a companion "of riotous men, fhameth his father." But there is nothing more moving than that earnest and pathetic exhortation; Chap. iv. 14, 15. "Enter not into the path of "the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men; avoid "it pafs not by it: turn from it and pass away." The wife man's infifting upon his important counsel, and the reiteration of the expreffions, ferve to convey in the strongest manner, a fenfe of the certain ruin of those who neglect to obferve it.
II. Let us now proceed to confider the hardening nature of fin, which leads from "walking in the counsel of "the ungodly, to standing in the way of finners." Upon this, as on the former particular, I may observe, it is a known and beaten subject, on which it is easy to say things ftrong, but difficult to fay any thing new. There are several just remarks upon it, or striking fimilitudes, which have been handed down from the earliest ages; and were probably the first fruits of human experience. The little that I am at prefent to repeat or add, fhall be divided into two parts: 1. The gradual and infenfible progress of fin, which leads the finner on from one step to another, till he is irrecoverably lost. 2. The strength and power of inveterate habit.
1. The infenfible progress of fin. It is wonderful by what artful methods, what plaufible pretences, and what flow degrees, fin makes its first approaches. Let fome of those perfons who are now loft to all fenfe of duty, or of fhame, reflect, if poffible, with what horror they would once have thought of the practices, which at present they are not able to forfake. Every fin, how fmall foever, opens a paffage for the admiffion of multitudes of others;
breaks the restraint of confcience; habituates and embol. dens the finner. The ancients were wont to fay, That the way of fin is down-hill: every fiep a man takes on this declivity, accelerates his motion, fo that it becomes more and more difficult, and at laft impoffible, to flop his course. This is what the apostle Paul had in his view, when he gave this excellent precept to the Chriftian Hebrews; Heb. iii. 13. "But exhort one another daily, "while it is called to day, left any of you be hardened "through the deceitfulness of fin." We may fay of fin, in general, what Solomon fays of firife; "The beginning of it is like the letting out of water." If you watch against the beginning of fin, you may hope to prevail; but if you once grant it indulgence, it will eftablish and increase its own power. To attempt then to stop its progrels, is like endeavoring to gather together a flood of water, after you have, with your own hands, opened the fluices which have caused it to overflow.
2. To the infenfible progrefs of fin, add the ftrength and power of inveterate habit. This is reprefented to us in the ftrongest terms in fcripture, where the changing of an inveterate habit is compared to a natural impoffibility: Jer. xiii. 23. "Can the Ethiopian change his fkin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye alfo do good, that are "accuftomed to do evil."
As we may receive many useful moral leffons from the visible creation and the courfe of nature; fo this in particular, of the force of habit, is, if I may fpeak fo, written in the most legible characters, and repeated in every page of both. A ftone, which has long continued in one place, makes itself a bed, and is with great difficulty removed: a plant or tree that has long been confined to one pofition, or made to grow in a particular fhape, will feldom ever receive any other. This is alfo the cafe with our own bodily frame. Particular poftures or motions to which we have been early habituated, can scarcely be altered by the utmost attention, and the ftrongeft inclination of the will: the obftinacy is fill greater in all habits where defire and affection have place. It is eafy to fee every day, the violent attachment men have to employments and pleafures,
however trifling in themselves, to which they have been long accustomed. But it is greatest of all in finful habits, because in them the force of cuftom is added to the original ftrength of natural corruption.
Both the above particulars may be illuftrated, by obferving, how much habit and example together operate to the improvement and perfection of guilt, in large and populous cities. There we may often find fo aftonishing a degree of wickednefs of every fort, as it is mortifying to think that human nature should be capable of: there we may find perfons who will perpetrate calmly and fedately, what would furprize a lefs knowing finner fo much as to hear of. And what pity is it, that there fhould be found fome, who, during their occafional refidence in places of great refort, lay down their innocence, inftead of their rufticity? and bring home no other accomplishment but an infolence and boldnefs of countenance in the commiffion of fin? That inftructed in the principles, as well as habituated to the practice of impiety, they are not content with doing evil, but difcover an incredible industry and affiduity in deceiving and feducing others? And fhall I not add, what pity is it, that fome, inftead of improving and adorning their minds by application to ftudy, or ftoring them with useful knowledge, do more than lofe their time, by drinking in the poifon of infidel writings? Inftead of fitting themselves to discharge the duties of public or private life, with propriety and dignity, they only acquire the unhappy talent of fetting their minds at eafe in the commiflion of fin, and make large additions to their own natural depravity of heart.
III. Let us confider the finishing ftage of wickedness, the most criminal and the moft pernicious character, viz. that of the fcornful, who are bold enough to treat things ferious and facred, with derifion.
This part of the fubject, my brethren, merits your particular attention, and naturally divides itself into these two branches: First, The fin and danger of it to the perfons who are guilty of it. Secondly, The unhappy influence it hath in polluting others.
1. The fin and danger of it to the guilty perfons. Whoever will confider the ftate of mind from which fuch . derifion muft flow, will immediately perceive that it implies the highest degree of profaneness and impiety. It is fuch an audacious attack upon the majefty of the living God, as muft ftrike every thinking perfon with aftonishment and horror. One of the first principles of all religion is reverence for the Deity, and for every thing that hath a visible relation to him. This we find written upon the conscience, in general, even of the moft blinded heathens. The common and trivial ufe of the name of God is prohibited under the fevereft fanctions in the oracles of truth. We find alfo fome inftances there, of mere irre verence being punished in a very terrible manner. The angelic hofts, though perfectly pure and holy, are yet reprefented as deeply penetrated with a fenfe of the extreme difproportion between uncreated excellence, and created weakness, and filled with the highest veneration of him who only is HOLY: Ifaiah vi. 1, 2, 3. "In the year that “king Uzziah died, I faw alfo the Lord fitting upon a "throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. "Above it ftood the feraphims: each one had fix wings, "with twain he covered his face, and with twain be co"vered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one "cried unto another, and faid, Holy, holy, holy, is the "Lord of hofts, the whole earth is full of his glory." It may feem unneceffary or improper to add, and yet it gives me pleasure that I can do it with truth, the fame thing has evidently diftinguifhed fome of the beft and greatest men on earth. We are well informed, that fome of the greatest inquirers into nature, as they grew in years, and increased in the knowledge of the works of God, did alfo vifibly grow in an awe and reverence of their almighty Maker. Of one in particular, it is faid, that he never mentioned the name of God without a fenfible pause in his difcourfe. After this, what can we think of any poor creature, whofe breath is in his noftrils, being guilty of contempt and fcorn of the name, attributes, works of worship of God!