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heaven, from whence also we look for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working of that mighty power whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself.
OF THE DECEITFULNESS AND DANGER OF SIN.
Heb. iii. 13. Exhort one another daily, while it is called to-duy,
lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. FROM these words I shall,
1. Endeavour to represent the growing danger of sin, and by what steps and degrees bad habits insensibly gain upon men, and harden them in an evil course.
II. Take occasion to exhort you with all earnestness to resist the beginnings of sin; or, if already entered upon a wicked course, to make haste out of this dangerous state, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
I. To represent the growing danger of sin, and by what steps and degrees bad habits insensibly gain upon men, and harden them in
· an evil course. All our actions, which are not natural, but proceed from deliberation and choice, have something of difficulty in them, when we begin them ; but after awhile they become more easy ; when they are easy we begin to take pleasure in them; when they please us we do them frequently; by frequency of acts a thing grows into a habit; a confirmed habit is a second kind of nature ; and so far as any thing is natural, so far it is necessary, and we can hardly do otherwise ; nay, we do it many times when we do not think of it. And this is the natural progress of all habits.
But as the corrupt nature of man is a rank soil, the habits of vice are of a quicker growth. Our minds have need to be prepared for piety and virtue; they must be cultivated to that end, and ordered with great care and pains ; but vices are weeds that grow wild, and spring up of themselves. So that vice having this advantage from our nature, it is no wonder if occasion and temptation easily draw it forth.
But that we may take a more distinct view of the progress of sin, and see by what steps vice gains upon men, I shall mark out some of the chief and more observable.
1. Men begin with lesser sins. None are perfectly wicked on the sudden. By degrees we proceed to greater and fouler crimes. For vice hath its infancy and tender age, and several states of growth. Men are not so totally
degenerate, but at first they are ashamed when they venture upon a known sin, though it be but small in comparison ; hence it is that at first they are very solicitous to palliate and hide their faults by excuses ; but after they have frequently committed them, and they grow too visible to be concealed, then they will attempt to defend and maintain them ; and from thence they come to take pleasure in them, and in those that do the same things.
2. By the frequent commission of these lesser sins, men are prepared and disposed for greater; such as lay waste the conscience, and offer more violence to the light and reason of their minds. By degrees a sinner may grow so hardy as to attempt those crimes which he once could not have thought of committing without horror. Like Hazael, who when he was told by the prophet Elisha what barbarous cruelties he should be guilty of towards the people of Israel, when king of Syria, he abominated the very thought of them; Is thy servant, says he, a dog, that he should do this great thing? And yet, for all this, we know he afterwards did it. It is true, indeed, when a sinner is first tempted to the commission of a more gross and notorious sin, his conscience is apt to start at it, and he does it with regret; the terrors of his own mind, and the fears of damnation, are very troublesome to him; but this trouble wears off by degrees, and that wbich was at first difficult, by
frequent practice, and long custom, becomes tolerable.
3. When a man has proceeded thus far, he begins to put off shame, one of the greatest restraints from sin that God hath laid upon buman nature. And when this curb once falls off, there is then but little left to restrain and hold us in.
4. After this, it is possible, men may come to approve their vices. For if our judgments do not command our wills, and restrain our lusts, it is great odds but in process of time our vicious inclinations will put a false bias upon our judgments; and then it is no wonder if men come to boast of their sins, and to glory in their vices, when they are half persuaded that they are generous and commendable qualities. Thus much is certain in experience, that some men have got so perfect a habit of some sins, as not to know and take notice
many times when they commit them. As in the case of swearing, to which many have so accustomed themselves, that, without any consideration, they of course put an oath or two into every sentence that comes from them. And it has been observed of some, that they have told an untruth so often, till at last, forgetting that it was a lie at first, they themselves have believed it to be true.
5. From this pitch of wickedness men commonly proceed to draw in others, and to make
proselytes to their vices. Now this signifiés not only a great approbation of sin, but even a fondness for it; when men are not content to sin upon their own single accounts, but they must turn zealous agents and factors for the devil; become teachers of sin, and ministers of unrighteousness.
And when they are arrived to this height, it is natural for them to hate reproof, and to resist the means of their recovery; to quarrel against all the remedies that shall be offered them, and to count those their greatest enemies who have so much courage and kindness as to deal plainly with them, and to tell them the truth. And then all the wise counsels of God's word, and the most gentle and prudent admonitions tendered to such persons, serve only to provoke their scorn or their passion. And surely that man is in a sad case who is so disposed that in all probability he will turn the most effectual means of his amendment into the occasion of new and greater sins.
But what renders the condition of such persons much more deplorable is, that all this while God is withdrawing his grace from them: and not only so, but that evil spirit, which the Scripture tells us works effectually in the children of disobedience, does, according as men improve in wickedness, get a greater and more established dominion over them. For as they who are reclaimed from an evil course are said