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PRESERVATION AND RECOVERY FROM SIN.
Titus, ii. 11, 12. For the grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath
appeared unto all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly,
righteously, and godly, in this present world. There are certain particular texts of Scripture which are of inestimable use; for that in a few short, clear words they show us the sum of our duty. Such texts ought to be deeply infixed and imprinted upon our memories; to be written indeed upon our hearts. The text which I have read to you is entitled to this distinction. No single sentence, that ever was written down for the direction of mankind, comprises more important truth in less room. The text gives us a rule of life and conduct: and tells us that to lay down for mankind this rule, and enforce it by the promise of salvation, was a great object of the Gospel being published in the world. The Gospel might include other objects, and answer other purposes ; but, as far as related to the regulation of life and conduct, this was its object and its purpose. The rule, you hear, is that, “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” We must begin by denying ungodliness and worldly lusts :” which means, that we must resist or break off all sins of licentiousness, debauchery, and intemperance; for these are what
are specifically meant by worldly lusts. And, these must be denied; that is, they must either be withstood in the first instance, or the evil courses into which they have drawn us must be broken off.
When a rule of morals is plain and positive, it is seldom that there is any advantage in enlarging upon the rule itself. We only weaken it
We only weaken it by dilating it. I shall employ, therefore, my present discourse in offering such heads of advice as may be likely, by God's blessing, to assist us in rendering obedience to the rule laid down for us ; an obedience, upon which salvation depends.
First, then, I observe, concerning licentious practices, that it is most practicable to be entirely innocent; that is a more easy thing to withstand them altogether than it is to set bounds to their indulgence. This is a point not sufficiently understood : though true, it is not believed. Men know not what they are doing when they enter upon vicious courses: what a struggle, what a contest, what misery, what torment, they are preparing for themselves. I trust that there is hardly a man or woman living who enters into a course of sin with the design of remaining in it to the end; who can brave the punishment of hell; who intends to die in that state of sure perdition, to which a course of unrepented sin must bring him or her. No: that is not the plan of the worst, much less of the generality, of mankind. Their plan is to allow themselves to a certain length, and there stop ; for a certain time, and then reform ; in such and such opportunities and temptations, but in no more. Now, to such persons and to such plans, I say this, that it would not have cost them one-tenth of the mortification, pain, and self-denial, to have kept themselves at a distance from sin, that it must and will cost them to break it off; adding the farther considera
tion, that, so long as men preserve their innocence, the consciousness of doing what is right is both the strongest possible support of their resolution, and the most constant source of satisfaction to their thoughts: but that when men once begin to give way to vicious indulgences, another state of things takes place in their breasts. Disturbance at the heart; struggles and defeats, resolutions and relapses, self-reproach and self-condemnation, drive out all quietness and tranquillity of conscience. Peace within is at an end. All is unsettled. Did the young and inexperienced know the truth of this matter; how much easier it is to keep innocence than to return to it ; how great and terrible is the danger that they do not return to it at all ; surely they would see, and see in a light strong enough to influence their determination, that to adhere inviolably to the rules of temperance, soberness, and chastity, was their safety, their wisdom, their happiness. How many bitter thoughts does the innocent man avoid I Serenity and cheerfulness are his portion. Hope is continually pouring its balm into his soul. His heart is at rest, whilst others are goaded and tortured by the stings of a wounded conscience, the remonstrances and risings up of principles which they cannot forget ; perpetually teased by re
ning temptations, perpetually lamenting defeated resolutions. “ There is no peace unto the wicked, saith my God." There is no comfort in such a life as this, let a man's outward circumstances be what they will. Genuine satisfaction of mind is not attainable under the recurring consciousness of being immersed in a course of sin, and the still remaining prevalence of religious principles. Yet either this must be the state of a sinner, till he recover again his virtuous courses, or it must be a state infinitely worse ; that is, it must be a state of entire surrender of himself to
a life of sin, which will be followed by a death of
a despair; by ruin, final and eternal ; by the wrath of God; by the pains of hell.
But, secondly, In what manner, and by what methods, are sins to be broken off? for although the maxim, which we have delivered, be perfectly and certainly true, viz. that it is ease and happiness to preserve innocence entirely, compared with what it is to recover our innocence, or even to set bounds to guilt, yet it is a truth which all cannot receive. I do not mean that all will not acknowledge it, for I believe that those will be most ready to give their assent to it who feel themselves bound and entangled by the chain of their sin. But it is not applicable to every man's case ; because many, having already fallen into vicious courses, have no longer to consider how much better, how much happier, it would have been for them to have adhered closely to the laws of virtue and religion at first, but how to extricate themselves from the bad condition in which they are placed at present. Now' to expect to break off sin, in any manner, without pain and difficulty, is a vain expectation. It is to expect a moral impossibility. Such expectations ought not to be held out, because they are sure to deceive; and because they who act under such encouragement, finding themselves deceived, will never persist in their endeavours to any purpose of actual reformation. All mankind feel a reluctance to part with their sins. It must be so. It arises from the very nature of temptation, by which they are drawn into sin. Feeling then this strong reluctance, it is very natural for men to do, what great numbers do, namely, propose to themselves to part with their sins by degrees; thinking that they can more easily do it in this way than in any other. It presents to their view a kind of compromise ; a temporary hope
of enjoying, for the present at least, the criminal pleasures to which they have addicted themselves, or the criminal advantages they are making, together with the expectation of a final reform. I believe, as I have already said, that this is a course into which great num- . bers fall; and therefore it becomes a question of very great importance whether it be a safe and successful course or not. What I am speaking of is the trying to break off our sins by degrees. Now, in the first place, it is contrary to principle. A man is supposed to feel the guilt and danger of the practices which he follows. He must be supposed to perceive this, because he is supposed to resolve to quit them. His resolution is founded upon, springs from, this perception. Wherefore, I say that it is in contradiction to principle to allow ourselves even once more in sin, after we have truly become sensible of the guilt, the danger, and the consequences of it. It is, from that time, known and wilful sin. I own I do not see how the plan of gradually diminishing a sinful habit can be consistent with, or can proceed from, sincere religious principles : for, as to what remains of the habit, it implies an express allowance of ourselves in sin, which is utterly inconsistent with sincerity. Whoever continues in the practice of any one known sin, in defiance of God's commands, cannot, so continuing, hope to find mercy : but, with respect to so much of the habit as is yet allowed by him to remain, he is so continuing, and his continuance is part of his plan. These attempts, therefore, at gradual reformation do not proceed from a true vital religious principle ; which principle, succoured by God's grace, is the only thing that can stand against sin, strengthened by habit. So I should reason upon the case, looking at it in its own nature. The next question is, How is it in fact ? Is it in fact better? Is it in experience more successful than from its nature we should expect it to be ? Now