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shortly be no more, but be swallowed up in eternity
And though the reproaches of foolish men, or the evils we endure, may afflict our souls, yet let us not be cast down. Their malice cannot go beyond the grave: there the wicked must cease from troubling; for the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. And at that awful moment, when they shall stand together before the judgment-seat of Christ, how different the fate of the righteous and the wicked will be, let the voice of inspiration tell you.
" Then shall " the righteous man stand in great boldness be“ fore the face of such as have afflicted him, " and made no account of his labours. When
they see it, they shall be troubled with ter“ rible fear, and shall be amazed at the strange“ ness of his salvation, so far beyond all they “ looked for. And they repenting and groan
ing for 'anguish of spirit, shall say within “ themselves; This was he, whom we had some“ times in derision and a proverb of reproach. 66 We fools accounted his life madness, and his 16 end to be without honour : But how is he “ numbered among the children of God, and “ his lot is among the saints !”
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard
his spots ? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
AS a long and frequent practice can take off 12 the difficulty of doing some things, so it equally strengthens and confirms the difficulty of leaving others. By a long and laborious train of thinking, we familiarise to ourselves many philosophical truths; by an industrious application to practical sciences, we overcome things seemingly insuperable, and do them with a natural readiness and facility. Every repetition of thought, and every returning season of action, strengthens the former, till use is gradually turned, as it were, into the genuine operation of original nature. Thus, in the natural World, mountains and hills by perseverance are F3,
brought low, and rocky places made smooth ; and as in the natural, so in the moral world, there are few things which will not yield and become easy to the labours of firm resolution and unremitting assiduity.
And, on the other hand, a long and habitual practice of things makes it as difficult to leave them, especially where there is a strong and fixed inclination, co-operating with the power of custom. What we love, we are unwilling long to lose by absence or forgetfulness; and the more pains we have taken, the longer we have gone on in any indulgence, the more repugnance we feel to quit and forsake it.
In nothing does this appear more, than in the case of habitual sinners : in nothing can we find a greater difficulty, than in the transition from a wicked and perverse life to a life of yirtue and religion : It is an Herculean labour indeed to reclaim those, who, by a settled course of iniquity, haye confirmed themselves in their wickedness; to destroy those sinful impressions which are engraved upon the stony heart of the sinner, as with the point of a diamond. For though sin may not have so far darkened his un, derstanding that he cannot see his true interest, yet habit has $9 far enslaved him that he is un
able to pursue it. He has drunk in such full draughts of ungodly counsel, he has stood so long in the way of sinners, and delighted himself in the seat of the scornful, that, in the language of scripture, “ his neck is become an iron 66 sinew, and his brow brass.” And when this is the case, what power on earth can bend or mollify him ? what charm can bring him back to God and his duty ? - Can the Ethiopian “ change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? “ Then may ye also do good, that are accus66 tomed to do evil."
I need not perhaps inform you, that these words are a proverbial speech, expressing the extreme difficulty of reforming a man who has been long given up to vicious habits of mind, of erasing those blots which have long stained the soul and deformed the reason of man. No art or contrivance can give whiteness to the Ethiopian, or destroy the natural spots of the leopard. Whatever is natural and essential to a subject, cannot be entirely taken away without the destruction of the subject itself. Wherever, therefore, there is an Ethiopian there will be black-, ness, and where there is a leopard there will be spots. These are their distinguishing characters, which can only cease with their existence. And though the case is not strictly the same F 4
with regard to the sinner, because sin is not of the essence of his nature, yet the comparison very aptly represents to us the great difficulty, nay, I had almost said, the impossibility, of cleansing a sinner from his habitual pollutions.
The first appearances of evil in tender minds are often easily corrected and subdued. It does not require much strength to turn the bias of their inclination, and give them a direction towards heaven and heavenly things. But it is much otherwise with a long experienced sinner, who has neglected God and all the concerns of religion, perhaps from the first dawnings of reason, and has cultivated nothing but error, folly, and rebellion; indevotion towards his Maker, an injurious conduct towards his fellow-creature, and all debasement and abomination towards hiinself. When this is the state of a sinner, and unhappily it is the state of thousands and ten thousands, it is surely no common or easy task to recal his wandering steps, and to correct the confirmed depravity of his mental constitution : it will require no ordinary strength to disarm the strong man, who has so long and so successfully had the dominion over conscience, and to whom the sinner has on all occasions paid a blind, im. plicit, and slavish obedience.