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conclusion is renewed and repeated as often as occasions of sin offer. The effect, at length, is a settled persuasion against religion ; for what is it, in persons who proceed in this manner, which rests and dwells upon their memories? What is it which gives to their judgment its turn and bias? It is these occasional decisions often repeated ; which decisions have the same power and influence over the man's after-opinion, as if they had been made ever so impartially, or ever so correctly; whereas, in fact, they are made under circumstances which exclude almost the possibility of their being made with fairness, and with sufficient inquiry. Men decide under the power and influence of sinful temptation ; but, having decided, the decision is afterward remembered by them, and grows into a settled and habitual opinion, as much as if they had proceeded in it without any bias or prejudice whatever.
The extent to which this cause acts, that is, the numbers who are included in its influence, will be farther known by the following observation : I have said that sinners oftentimes expressly state to themselves the question, whether religion be true or not; and that they state to themselves this question at the time when they are about to enter upon some act of sin wbich religion condemns; and I believe the case so to be. I believe that this statement is often expressly made, and in the manner which I have represented. But there is also a tacit rejection of religion, which has nearly the same effect. Whenever a man deliberately ventures upon an action which he knows that religion prohibits, he tacitly rejects religion. There
pass in his thoughts every step which we have described, nor may he come expressly to the conclusion, but he acts upon the conclusion, he practically adopts it. And the doing so will alienate his
mind from religion as surely almost as if he had formally argued himself into an opinion of its untruth. The effect of sin is necessarily, and highly, and in all cases, adverse to the production and existence of religious faith. Real difficulties are doubled and trebled when they fall in with vicious propensities ; imaginary difficulties are readily started. Vice is wonderfully acute in discovering reasons on its own side. This may be said of all kinds of vice; but, I think, it more particularly holds good of what are called licentious vices, that is, of vices of debauchery; for sins of debauchery have a tendency, which other species of sin have not so directly, to unsettle and weaken the powers of the understanding, as well as, in a greater degree, I think, than other vices, to render the heart thoroughly corrupt. In a mind so wholly depraved the impression of any argument, relating to a moral or religious subject, is faint and slight and transitory. To a vitiated palate no meat has its right taste; with a debauched mind no reasoning has its proper influence.
But secondly; have we not also, from Scripture, reason to believe that God's Holy Spirit will be assisting to those who earnestly pray for it, and who sincerely prepare themselves for its reception ; and that it will be assisting to them in this matter of faith in religion ?-The language of Scripture is, that God gives his Holy Spirit to them that ask it; and, moreover, that to them who use and improve it, as they ought, it is given in more and more abundance. “He that hath, to him shall be given more. He that hath not, from him shall be taken away, even that which he hath.” (Matt. xiii. 12.) He who is studious to improve his measure of grace shall find that measure increased
him. He who neglects or stifles, neg. lects through irreligion, carelessness, and heedlessness,
buries in sensuality, or stifles by the opposition of sin, the portion of grace and assistance which is vouchsafed to him, he, the Scripture says, will find that portion withdrawn from him. Now, this being the general nature and economy of God's assisting grace, there is no reason why it should not extend to our faith as well as to our practice; our perceiving the truth, as well as our obeying the truth, may be helped and succoured by it. God's Spirit can have access to our understandings as well as our affections. He can render the mind sensible to the impressions of evidence, and the power of truth. If creatures, like us, might take upon themselves to judge what is a proper object of Divine help, it should seem to be a serious, devout, humble, apprehensive mind, anxiously desiring to learn and know the truth; and, in order to know it, keeping the heart and understanding pure and prepared for that purpose; that is to say, carefully abstaining from the indulgence of passions, and from practices, which harden and indispose the mind against religion. I say, a mind so guarding and qualifying itself, and imploring with devout earnestness and solicitude the aid of God's Holy Spirit in its meditations and inquiries, seems, so far as we can presume to judge, as meet an object of Divine help and favour as any of which we can form an idea : and it is not for us to narrow the promises of God concerning his assisting grace, so as, without authority, to exclude such an object from it.
From the doctrine which has been thus concisely proposed various important rules and reflections arise.
First, Let not men, involved in sinful courses, wonder at the difficulties which they meet with in religion. It is an effect of sin which is almost sure to follow. Sin never fails both to magnify real difficulties and to suggest imaginary ones. It rests and dwells upon objections, because they help the sinner, in some measure, to excuse his conduct to himself. They cause him to come to a conclusion which permits the gratification of his passions, or the compassing of his purpose. Deep and various is the deceitfulness of sin, of licentious sins most particularly; for they cloud the understanding; they disqualify. men for serious meditation of any kind ; above all for the meditation of religion.
Secondly, Let them who ask for more light, first take care to act up to the light which they have. Scripture and experience join their testimony to this point, namely, that they who faithfully practise what they do know, and live agreeably to the belief wbich they have, and to the just and rational consequences of that belief, seldom fail to proceed farther, and to acquire more and more confidence in the truth of religion ; whereas, if they live in opposition to the degree of belief which they have, be it what it may, even it will gradually grow weaker and weaker, and, at length, die away in the soul.
Thirdly, Let them who are anxious to arrive at just sentiments of religion keep their minds in a capable state, that is, free from the bias of former decisions made, or of former doubts conceived, at a time when the power and influence of sinful temptation was upon them, suggested in fact lest they should find themselves obliged to give up some gratifications upon which they had set their hearts; and which decisions, nevertheless, and doubts have the same operation upon their judgments as if they had been the result of the most pure and impartial reasoning. It is not peculiar to religion : it is true of all subjects
, that the mind is sure almost to be misled, which lies under a load of prejudice contracted from circumstances, in
which it is next to impossible to weigh arguments justly, or to see clearly.
Fourthly, Let them; let all,—especially those who find themselves in a dissatisfied state of mind,—fly to prayer. Let them pray earnestly and incessantly for God's assisting grace and influence; assisting, if it be his good pleasure, as well our minds and understandings in searching after truth, as our hearts and affections in obeying it. I say, again, let us pray unceasingly for grace and help from the Spirit of God. When we pray for any worldly object we may pray mistakenly. We
may be ignorant of our own good ; we may err egregiously concerning it. But when we pray for spiritual aid and grace we are sure that we pray for what we want; for what, if granted, will be the greatest of all blessings. And we pray with hope, because we have this gracious assurance given us by the Lord himself of grace and
ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” Matt. vii. 11.