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to accomplish; nothing is doubtful to us, but what is placed out of the reach of our will, or depends upon causes which we cannot influence; and this is not the case with reformation from sin. On the other hand, if we look to experience, we are compelled, though with grief of heart, to confess that the danger is very great of a man, who is engaged in a course of sin, never reforming from his sin at all. Oh! let this danger be known. Let it stand, like a flaming sword, to turn us aside from the road to vice. Let it offer itself in its full magnitude. Let it strike, as it ought, the souls of those who are upon the brink, perhaps, of their whole future fate: who are tempted; and who are deliberating upon entering upon some course of sin.
Let also the perception and convincement of this danger sink deep into the hearts of all who are in such a situation as that they must either reform or perish. They have it in their power, and it must now be their only hope, by strong and firm exertion, to make themselves an exception to the general lot of habitual sinners. It must be an exception. If they leave things to their course, they wills hare the fate in which they see others, involved in guilt like themselves, end their lives. It is only by a most strenuous effort they can rescue themselves from it. We apprise them that their best hope is in a sudden and complete change, sincerely begun, faithfully persisted in; broken, it is possible, by human frailty, but never changed into a different plan, never declining into a compromised, partial, gradual reform; on the contrary, resumed with the same sincerity as that with which it set out, and with a force of resolution, and an earnestness of prayer, increased in proportion to the clearer view they have acquired of their danger and of their want.
THIS LIFE A STATE OF PROBATION.
Psalm cix. 71.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might
learn thy statutes. Of the various views under which human life has been considered, no one seems so reasonable as that which regards it as a state of probation ; meaning, by a state of probation, a state calculated for trying us, and calculated for improving us.
A state of complete enjoyment and happiness it certainly is not. The hopes, the spirits, and the inexperience of young men and young women are apt and very willing to see it in this light. To them life is full of entertainment: their relish is high, their expectations unbounded; for a very few years it is possible, and I think barely possible, that they may go on without check or interruption; but they will be cured of this delusion. Pain and sorrow, disease and infirmity, accident and disappointment, losses and distress, will soon meet them in their acquaintance, their families, or their persons.
The hard-hearted for their own, the tender for others' woe will always find and feel enough at least to convince them that this world was not made for a scene of perpetual gaiety or uninterrupted enjoyment.
Still less can we believe that it was made for a place of misery: so much otherwise, that misery is in no instance the end or object of contrivance. We
are surrounded by contrivance and design. A human body is a cluster of contrivances. So is the body of every animal: so is the structure of every plant : so is even the vilest weed that grows upon the road side. Contrivances, therefore, infinite in number, infinite also in variety, are all directed to beneficial purposes, and in a vast plurality of instances execute their purpose. In our own bodies, only reflect, how many thousand things must go right, for us to be an hour at ease.
Yet at all times multitudes are so; and are so without being sensible how great a thing it is. Too much or too little of sensibility or of action, in any one of the almost numberless organs, or
any part of the numberless organs, by which life is sustained, may be productive of extreme anguish or of lasting infirmity. A particle, smaller than an atom in a sunbeam, may, in a wrong place, be the occasion of the loss of limbs, of senses, or of life. Yet, under all this continual jeopardy, this momentary liability to danger and disorder, we are preserved. It is not possible therefore that this state could be designed as a state of misery, because the great tendency of the designs, which we see in the universe, is to counteract, to prevent, to guard against it. We know enough of nature to be assured that misery, universal, irremediable, inexhaustible misery, was in the Creator's power, if he had willed it.
Forasmuch therefore as the result is so much otherwise, we are certain that no such purpose dwelt in the Divine mind.
But since, amidst much happiness, and amidst contrivances for happiness, so far as we can judge (and of many we can judge), misery and very considerable portions of it do exist; it becomes a natural inquiry, to what end this mixture of good and evil is properly adapted. And I think the Scriptures place before us, not only the true (for, if we believe the Scriptures, we must believe it to be that), but the most rational and satisfactory answer, which can be given to the inquiry; namely, that it is intended for a state of trial and probation. For it appears to me capable of proof, both that no state but one which contained in it an admixture of good and evil would be suited to this purpose; and also that our present state, as well in its general plan, as in its particular properties, serves this purpose with peculiar propriety.
A state totally incapable of misery could not be a state of probation. It would not be a state in which virtue or vice could even be exercised at all; I mean that large class of virtues and vices which we comprehend under the name of social duties. The existence of these depends upon the existence of misery as well as of happiness in the world, and of different degrees of both : because their very nature and difference consists in promoting or preventing, in augmenting or diminishing, in causing, aggravating, or relieving, the wants, sufferings, and distresses of our fellow-creatures. Compassion, charity, humanity, benevolence, nor even justice, could have any place in the world, if there were not human conditions to excite them : objects and sufferings upon which they might operate : misery, as well as happiness, which might be affected by them.
Nor would, in my opinion, the purposes of trial be sufficiently provided for by a state in which happiness and misery regularly followed virtue and vice : I mean, in which there was no happiness but what was merited by virtue ; no misery but what was brought on by vice. Such a state would be a state of retribution, not a state of probation. It may be our state hereafter ; it may be a better state, but it is not a state of probation ; it is not the state through which it is fitting we should pass before we enter into
the other : for when we speak of a state of probation, we speak of a state in which the character may both be put to the proof, and also its good qualities be confirmed and strengthened, if not formed and produced, by having occasions presented in which they may be called forth and required. Now, beside that the social qualities, which have been mentioned, would be very limited in their exercise, if there was no evil in the world but what was plainly a punishment (for, though we might pity, and even that would be greatly checked, we could not actually succour or relieve without disturbing the execution, or arresting as it were the hand of justice): beside this difficulty, there is another class of most important duties which would be in a great measure excluded. They are the severest, the sublimest, perhaps the most meritorious, of which we are capable; I mean patience and composure under distress, pain, and affliction : a steadfast keeping up of our confidence in God, and our depend. ance upon his final goodness, even at the time that everything present is discouraging and adverse ; and, what is no less difficult to retain, a cordial desire for the happiness and comfort of others, even then when we are deprived of our own. I say that the possession of this temper is almost the perfection of our nature. But it is then only possessed, when it is put to the trial; tried at all it could not have been in a life made up only of pleasure and gratification. Few things are easier than to perceive, to feel, to acknowledge, to extol, the goodness of God, the bounty of Providence, the beauties of nature, when all things go well; when our health, our spirits, our circumstances, conspire to fill our hearts with gladness, and our tongues with praise. This is easy; this is delightful. None but they who are sunk in sensuality, sottishness, and stupefaction, or whose understandings are dissi