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Him, that the battle must be fought, and the victory won. It is not usually without much endeavour, and a prolonged strife, that sinners are able to come at all to their Lord. And it is a dangerous delusion to take advantage of these general expressions of scripture to smooth away all the difficulties of religious obedience to make men suppose that the mere first wishes and aspirations after holiness are holiness itself-that the first feeling of a desire to come to Christ is the having come indeed; and that that, which may turn out to be a mere momentary excitement, a transient impression on the feelings, is that change of heart, to which alone the peace of God is promised. The young ruler in the Gospel came to Christ in one sense: but not so as to find rest. He desired indeed to do so, but could not resolve to make the sacrifices required: so, when he had learnt what these were, "he went away sorrowful";" He was sorry to go: but nevertheless he went. So different a thing is the first wish to accept the invitations of our Lord, from the real practical acceptance of them.
Circumstances indeed may make a great difference in this respect. The difficulty consists in overcoming fixed habits, and mastering sins, which have been allowed to have the dominion over us. And for the most part this requires a long and continued effort. But, whatever moves the mind very
7 Mark 22.
strongly, may possibly at once sweep away such obstacles, and effect in a short time, what would otherwise require a longer period. Indeed, long and short are, in relation to ourselves, not to be measured merely by lapse of time. Whether it be
strictly true, or not, that we are conscious of the lapse of time only by the succession of our ideas; it is certainly true, that it is only by giving scope for the succession or intensity of ideas, that time can be an element in effecting any moral change in the mind. And, therefore, a greater vividness of impression may well compensate for a shorter duration. Some persons are sensible amidst striking events, that they have lived, as it were, years with reference to their feelings in the compass of a day. Even the body sometimes proves how true this is. Feelings strongly excited-violent emotions of fear or grief have crowded into a few hours the ordinary effects of years: and sprinkled the snows of age in a single night on the head of youth. And so too from analogy, it seems but reasonable to expect, that cases should occur, in which, in spiritual things, strong excitement should do the work of time; and the affections of the soul be purified in a period, which, generally speaking, we should consider inadequate to such an effect: and this even without supposing God to exert any directly miraculous power, or to operate otherwise than by his ordinary preventing and assisting grace.
Such cases, as respects the body, are rare. they should be more frequent, as regards the soul, is perhaps natural. But though this may be, it still is not the ordinary course of God's dispensation, or that which his word leads us to expect for ourselves, or to hold out to others. It has pleased him, as a general rule, to make our own efforts essential to the work of his grace-to cause the passage from the way of death to the gate of life to be laborious and slow, and to make the obstacles to be overcome proportionable to the extent, to which we have allowed sin to obtain the mastery over us.
And, this being the case, if the difficulty of repentance thus increases with the amount of transgression, or rather with the extent to which the inward principle is corrupted, which need not precisely coincide with the number or greatness of the acts of sin committed, it follows, that the obstacles, which may thus be placed in the road of amendment, may be so great, that return from condemnation may, without a miracle, be altogether desperate. A man in this state may be said to be abandoned to wickedness; or, in the language of St. Paul, "given over to a reprobate mind," as labouring under, not a decreed and absolute, but a moral impossibility of repentance. And I do not see, that the language of scripture necessarily carries the doctrine of reprobation, or judicial
8 Rom. i. 28.
blindness, or whatever term it pleases men to use, beyond this. The subject is, of course, involved in the general difficulty, which belongs to all the questions relating to the operations of grace, and the freedom of the will; but I do not see, that it is separated by any clear declarations of scripture from other branches of the same subject; and it becomes us therefore to leave it in the same undefined state, in which we are compelled to leave them.
That, if men allow themselves to pursue a course of deliberate sin, it will blind their consciences, harden their hearts, and quench the influence of divine grace, so as to place them in a state of wickedness, from which recovery is hopeless, is an undoubted truth; and one that should operate as a strong motive for resisting the first impulses of sin, and cherishing and obeying the first motions of the Holy Spirit. With such a one, repentance being hopeless, condemnation is sure. And this sentence of righteous retribution may well be referred to the just judgment and fixed decree of the Almighty; though the moral and spiritual condition of the individual, to which that decree attaches, should be attributed, not to God, but to himself. For, as St. Augustine says, "Nothing is ordained by God to make men worse?" and Me
9 August. de divers. quæst. ad Simplic. lib. i. Qu. 2. s. 15.
lancthon," It is not God, but the Devil, that is the cause of sin1. And to refer the abandoned state of the hardened sinner to the will or act of God, in any other sense, or any more immediate manner, than the acknowledgment of his almighty power compels us to refer to Him all that exists and occurs, is uncalled for by scripture, and not likely to tend to the promotion of piety and virtue among men-is, in short, a "curious and carnal," not a "godly consideration," of the purposes of the Almighty.
Let us, rather, look to the danger of falling into this state, as a motive for diligent exertion. Let us look to the need we have for the divine aid to preserve us from it, as a motive to humility and gratitude. If we have been enabled to make any steps in the way of life, let us thankfully refer our progress to God. That we may be enabled to make any in future, let us cultivate a more sincere feeling of dependence, and a closer union by the spirit of prayer with Him, from whom "all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed."
God indeed, as we have said before, has, by the constitution of our moral nature, attached a pleasure to every act of virtuous exertion, even though difficult to make; and this, doubtless, is a great
1 Melancth. Enarr. in Epist. ad Rom. i. 28.
2 Art. xvii.