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and desires within us, are not at all in our power, unless when we wilfully put ourselves in the way of such objects as may excite them. Nor, when this is not the case, are we blameable for them. We are then only faulty, when, such desires being wrong, we give way to, dwell upon, and cherish them, and do not instantly reject or control them, so as to prevent their being approved by us, or leading us into the commission of any thing that is sinful.
Very few of those who have been led into great vice and wickedness, and have been afterwards by the divine goodness to them brought to see the horror and misery of their state, and to be delivered from it; but who will readily recollect, that here was the fatal step that misled them; that they too easily fancied and imposed upon themselves, that their first deviation from known duty was but a slight matter, that would have no consequences but what they should soon be able to cure. But alas! their first seemingly small breach of fidelity, honesty, chastity, or whatever it was, smoothed the way for others more daring and enormous, till insensibly the moral charac
character became wholly depraved and corrupted.
It is well said, and deserves to be remembered by all," that there is no small sin." It is easy at first to check the beginnings of evil: but by indulgence the habit grows in time so strong as hardly to be resisted. This is true in all instances of immorality; but it is particularly observable, because it cannot be hid, in habits of drunkenness and lewdness, and the almost unsurmountable propensities to their several objects which they create; and to which many devote themselves till they become those wretched spectacles of debility and disease, which we sometimes behold, if the thread of life be not cut short, as it commonly is, by their intemperance.
An ancient heathen moralist (Seneca), speaking of the inward mind and thought, as being the source and seat of wickedness, and the necessity of keeping a constant guard there, well observes :
"He that designs to do an injury to another, is as if he had already done it. A man who is plotting to rob and kill another, is a murderer before he has imbrued his hands in blood.
blood. Wickedness is manifested and exemplified by the outward act, but does not begin there."
The same sentiment and exemplification of it appears a little lower in this discourse of our divine Master, where, correcting the loose morality of the Jews in these matters, he teaches us, that impure and unlawful desires encouraged, render us guilty before God as well as the outward act: "I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a married woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery already with her in his heart."
It is in this self-discipline and secret watchfulness and attention to our inward thoughts and desires, that our great work of virtue and holiness consists. Here are those conflicts and victories over ourselves hidden from others, but known and most pleasing to God; which will last so long as we are in this world of temptation and trial, but will grow more easy as we become habituated to resist them, and more confirmed in piety and goodness. It is not difficult to make a fair show to the world, when the heart is sadly corrupted and given to wickedness; but the chief thing
to be sought for and pursued by us is to be able, with humility and in a just sense of our dependence on the divine assistance, to appeal to the great searcher of hearts, that we do not indulge any vicious affection or wrong disposition, but from our hearts detest every evil way, and make it our constant business "to purify ourselves (as the apostle speaks 2 Cor. vii. 1.) from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord."
Such is the guard that we are to keep up over our own hearts at home, if we may so speak, within our own breasts, to preserve them clean and free from evil.
Our next care must be bestowed to see that they are not hurt abroad, in the world, in the midst of those difficulties in the way of our duty, and the various solicitations and allurements to the violation of it and to our ruin, with which we are beset.
And for this end we are, in the first place, studiously to avoid all occasions of evil.
When our Saviour gave his apostles their commission and directions for preaching the gospel,
gospel, he was far from bidding them to expose themselves to a needless danger and the enraged passions of men, in the discharge of their important office, but the rule was, (Matt. x. 23.) "When they persecute you in one city, fee ye into another."
And he has made it part of our daily supplication to God: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil :" i. e. Suffer us not to fall into such temptation as may be too powerful for us; and, therefore, assuredly we are not to lead ourselves
None can prescribe particular rules to others, what they are to shun in this respect, because there is such a variety of dispositions; and what may not be at all prejudicial to one, may be very dangerous and ensnaring to another.
But this may be laid down in general, that all are to avoid those things and scenes which are directly sinful and evil, so as not to mix with them nor give countenance to them: and in other things of a more indifferent nature, each person is to consider his own spirit, and strength, and weakness, and let that be his guide,