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perverse a notion, they have represented the people who insist on trifles as righteous overmuch, and have commended freedom in doubtful matters as mental independence.
It is a fearful characteristic of religious declension, if not of utter hypocrisy, to act a double part ;—to bear one character at home and another abroad, to play the saint in the church and the sinner in the world. Such instances, unhappily, are not unknown. Christians, who live at watering-places and towns of fashionable resort, can tell sad tales, as to the conduct there, of some who elsewhere
for religious people. And, if residents in the country have had reason to suspect the piety of certain citizens who have sojourned among them, they in turn have threatened reprisals, as to country friends and metropolitan amusements.
These cases, I would fain believe, are comparatively rare. But, if one in a hundred, or one in a thousand, of those who bear the name of Christ, can so far compromise religious integrity, it is matter of bitter lamentation. The excuse, that it is only for once, is utterly inadmissible. Once, and only once, is it appointed to man to die ; but, after death comes the judgment, Heb. ix. 27; and, never should the Christian place himself where he would blush to receive the message -“The Master is come, and calleth for thee.”
A disposition to find excuses for little sins, is utterly incompatible with true sanctity, and naturally leads to circumstances and associations from which a more sensitive piety would shrink. In this case, there will no longer be that care to avoid the very appearance of evil, by which enlightened devotedness is necessarily distinguished. On the contrary, the aim will be, rather to attenuate than to widen, the line of distinction between the righteous and the wicked, the man that serveth God and the man that serveth him not.
When once the religious renegade begins to think lightly of sin, the next stage, of his downward course, will be to cherish the suggestions of Satan, as to the threatened consequences of transgression. “Ye shall not surely die”—the primal falsehood which deceived and ruined the progenitors of our race, Gen. iii. 4, will then be welcomed as a consola
Unbelief will be hailed with complacency, and “the terrors of the Lord” be accounted of none effect,
The mind that has reached this pass, is prepared for another. The man, who can think lightly of the threatenings of God, will presently trifle with his promises as well. The sceptic of hell will become the sceptic of heaven, and settle down into utter disbelief. That disbelief may be concealed ; it may even comport with an appearance of religion. And the miserable victim of latent infidelity may, in the meanwhile, endeavour to persuade himself that he is guiltless of hypocrisy, because, notwithstanding his scepticism, he still retains the conviction that the religion of the Bible is the nearest approach to truth in the universe ;-a persuasion, however, which multitudes have cherished, who, nevertheless, have lived and died faithless and unbelieving.
Let but such views become habitual, and the way is open for anything and everything bad to follow. All salutary restraint is so far neutralized, that expediency will become the highest consideration. And expediency, as thus understood, will be selfishness in any form the individual
Covetousness and intemperance, pride and sensuality, superstition and unbelief, whether found in connexion with apostasy or reprobation, are
but the varying symptoms of that spiritual malady which, unless speedily cured, must issue in the second death ;—or, to change the figure, but so many phases of that eclipse of the soul which denotes its progress to “the blackness of darkness for ever."
It is worthy of special notice here, that indications of religious declension are not only variable but opposite; as deviation from a path may be to the right or left. Thus, habitual levity and perpetual gloom may betoken a similar condition of soul; since either may result from unmindfulness of God.
The same remark will apply to doctrinal departures from the faith, which are likewise found in directions the most opposite that can be imagined. For instance--a fickleness which veers with every wind of doctrine, and an obstinacy which sets at nought both fact and argument ;- ;-a pietism which never moves one step beyond its own little cloister, and an incredulity which (like some unquiet spirit) walks through dry places, seeking rest and finding none ;-a superstition which relies on rites and forms, and a disregard of religious ordinances, such as bespeaks a mind, in its own esteem, wise, and pious, and heavenly enough
to dispense with them altogether ;-these, and a thousand other modifications of error, may alike result simply from the lack of that docility without which even the personal instructions of our blessed Lord himself would be thrown away, Mark x. 15; 1 Cor. iii. 18.
It is obvious to remark, that bitter complaints, of the lack of spirituality in others, may accord with a very low condition of piety in our own souls. Habitual grumblers are rarely eminent Christians. Oftentimes, they are the very nuisance of religion in the circle where they
Never an ill report can reach them, be it true or false, but it obtains a currency which nothing but malignity could give. “Complainers, walking after their own lusts,” Jude 16, they find relief and consolation in exposing the faults of others; and, like some reckless convict who delights to see that he is not alone in ruin, they are strangers to the charity which “rejoiceth not in iniquity." And, even in more favourable cases, where no such motive can be imputed or entertained, there may be the selfsatisfaction which suggests the caution—“Stand by thyself, for I am holier than thou ;"-and, since pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall, this saying, or this