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of God seems to rest upon it, and man relinquishes it to perpetual sterility. Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.
Another effect of habitual transgression is, to banish the sentiment of shame. Do not accuse me of repetition ; for the sense of shame is not the same with the sense of right and wrong. The first refers to the opinion of man; the other, to that of God. These principles are often found in very unequal proportions in men of real estimation. In some men, à regard to the world's opinion is ever alive, while. conscience is uninformed, or unexercised; in others, a sense of the guilt of an action, and of the abhorrence of heaven, seems to absorb the shame of it. Now it is the tendency of habit, to make a man regardless of observation, and, at length, of censure. He soon imagines, that others see nothing offensive in what no longer offends himself. After the commission of a sin, justly concluding, that repentance will not restore him to the same station in the world's esteem, which he held before his lapse, he draws another consequence, that, by a repetition of his offence, he has less of credit to lose than at first. Besides, a vicious man easily gathers round him a circle of his own. Though iniquity may not be unpunished, when hand joins in hand, yet is it often unabashed. It is not solitary crimes, which deceive the moral discernment, and obscure the perception of disgrace. It is the society of numbers, which gives hardihood to iniquity, when the sophistry of the united ingenuity of others comes in aid of our own, and when, in the presence of the shameless and unblushing, the young offender is ashamed to blush. It is painful, ah cruelly painful, to see the colour, which used to rush into the cheek of ingenuous youth at the suspicion of fraud, at the mention of indecency, or the sight of corruption, gradually retiring, and giving place to the bold stare of riotous vice, or to the oppressive stupidity of habitual drunkenness.
The last effect of vicious habits, by which the reformation of the sinner is rendered almost desperate, is, to separate him from the means of grace. He, who indulges himself in any passion, lust, or eustom, which openly or secretly offends against the laws of God or man, will find an insuperable reluctance to those places, persons, or principles, by which he is necessarily condemned. Can he, whose life is a perpetual insult to the authority of God, a well known scandal to the name of christian, enter, with any pleasure, a temple, consecrated to devotion, sanctified by prayer, hallowed by pure affections, where the oracles of God are announced, where you seeń to approach nearer to the seat of Deity, and where the whole process of instruction and of worship crosses his propensities, and alarms his conscience ? Will he dare, without doubting, to lift up his hands in
prayer, who must exhibit them to the view of his fellow-worshippers, soiled with corruption and fraudulent gains, or, perhaps, stained with blood ? Will he, who is burning with lust, or indulging in habitual excesses of refined voluptuousness, open at home that holy volume, where the utmost purity and chastity of affection is inculcated, if he can turn easily to pages written on purpose to debauch the imagination and sophisticate the judgment? Can it be expected, too, that he, who daily and nightly rushes into dissipation, to relieve a tedium, which uniformly recurs, whenever he is alone for a few hours, should voluntarily indulge in serious meditation, or dare to commune with his own heart? One means of recovery yet remains, the reproof and example of the good. But who will long bear the presence of another, whose very looks reprove him, whose words harrow up his conscience, and whose whole life is a severe, though silent admonition ?
We cannot dwell long on the consideration of that dreadful condition of the habitual sinner, when, in the language of scripture, he is given up to hopelessness, hardness of heart, blindness of eyes, deafness of ears, or, in other words, to absolute moral insensibility. The thought is too painful. This is sometimes considered in the light of a punishment; and to vindicate the justice of such a dereliction by heaven, would neither be difficult, nor without its use. It is often said, that, as long as life lasts, hope remains. We are encouraged to believe, that the grave is the only place, where
But every man's observation will furnish him with instances of characters, whose reformation from long habits of iniquity seeins as morally impossible, whose consciences appear to be as impenetrable to the common methods of grace, as if they were really sunk in the sleep of death, and the clods had hardened and the weeds matted over their graves. Nothing in the general nature of God's moral government would lead us to conclude, that he is obliged to continue his methods of discipline beyond a certain limit; and who shall say, that this limit must coincide with the termination of life? The day of grace may
be shorter than the day of nature. Why should they be stricken any more, for they will only revolt more and more.”
Thus have we attempted to explain the nature and effects of vicious habits. We have seen, that, by repetition, whatever of reluctance existed at first, iş gradually removed, and whatever of desire existed, is increased, though the degree of pleasure, in each particular gratification, diminishes. These laws are common to all habits, as well as to those of vice. But, in addition to this, all sin is peculiarly deceit
ful and insinuating, prolific and progressive. One vice associates multitudes with itself. The peculiar inveteracy of sinful habits, and the difficulty of reformation are increased, as we have also seen by the following attendant effects, the corruption of moral discernment, the dulness of moral feeling, the loss of the sense of shame, and an exclusion from the customary means of religious improvement. When the Ethiopian, then, shall whiten his skin, or the leopard wash out his spots, then may they also do good, who are accustomed to do evil.
3. There is nothing in the moral constitution of man, from which such interesting consequences follow, as from the nature of vicious habits, if it be such as we have represented it. If, also, it should be found, that there is no period in the life of man so early, that these babits may not be generated or confirmed, into what consequence does childhood, nay infancy, rise ? Here, in the babes at the breast, may we see the generation, which shall succeed us. Here is the embryo character of the next age. The first reflection, then, which we shall at present deduce from this subject, is, that if the child is trained up in the way he should go, when he is old, he will not depart from it.
0, that I could open to you the little breasts of your offspring, and show you the gradual and certain process, which is carried on from the moment of birth! There might you see dispositions forming, passions generating, prejudices starting into life, and all the future character bound up in the narrow compass
of an infant's mind. Do you ask, when education should commence ? Believe me, it has begun. It began with the first idea they received the insensible education of circumstances and example. While you are waiting for their understandings to gain strength, vice, folly, and pleasure have not waited your dilatory motions. While you are looking out for masters and mistresses, the young immortals are under the tuition of innumerable instructers. Passion has been exciting, and idleness relaxing them, appetite tempting, and pleasure rewarding them, and example, example has long since entered them into her motley school. Already have they learned much, which will never be forgotten: the alphabet of vice is easily remembered. Wait, then, no longer, ere your instructions commence. The ground is already softened, the season has already far advanced, and, while you are either sleeping, or making arrangements, or waiting for greater maturity, thistles are sown in secret, tares re springing up in the night.
It is impossible to assign a time in the infant's life, in which something may not be done for its future disposition. If it have any original perversities of temper, do not wait till this perversity is made inflexible by habit. You would not delay to straiten a crooked limb, to correct an awkward position, to counteract a stuttering articulation, till the limbs were full grown, the gait fixed, and the organs conformed to an indistinct mode of utterance. If, however, the greater part of what are called original propensities be, in fact, acquired; if envy, malice, irritability, selfishness, and pride be, for the most part, mental babits, which, like opinions and practices, are rooted by repetition; if the colour of the soul be not original and engrained, but, like the varieties of complexion, dependent on the operation of external circumstances, how inexcusable is the delay of instruc. tion, of persuasion, of impression, and of direction, of which the youngest hearts are most tenderly susceptible ? Especially, remember, that their habits are soonest caught by example. These little vines, which wind round your trunk, and depend upon you for support, will extend themselves upon your branches, following out the direction, and conforming to the irregularities of the limbs, which they entwine.