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S E R M ON IV.
The deceitfulness of fin.
H E BRE w s iii. 13.
But exhort one another daily, while it is called, to
day; left any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
TE see many mysterious things in the frame of
nature, and the course of providence. But nothing can be more mysterious and wonderful than what we may often see in the state of our own hearts. When there is no present foliciting temptation, and when we consider, in a cool and deliberate manner, the consequences of vice and wickedness, even barely from the dictates of natural conscience, it seems surprizing, that, in any instance, we should yield to it; that we should be induced to break the peace of our own minds, and provoke the vengeance of an almighty Judge; nay, to do so for a trilling, mo. mentary, and uncertain fatisfaction. But if it be unreasonable to offend God at all, and to take but a -few steps in the paths of fin, how much more above measure astonishing is it, that men should adhere to their former mistakes, and should not open
eyes after repeated admonitions of their danger, and daily experience of their own folly!
I believe every body will be sensible, that many finners, even setting aside the confideration of some of the most important religious truths, act in a mander so directly opposite to their own present interest as is not to be accounted for, without fuppofing them under an amazing degree of blindness and infatuation. This is to be resolved into the deceitfulness of fin, a circumstance on this great subject well worthy of our most serious attention.
In entering on the deceitfulness of sin, let us reflect a little on the meaning of the expression. Who is it that is deceived ? It is the finner himself. Does he need to be deceived ? Is there not in us all a strong enough direct inclination to that which is evil, ready to burst afunder every restraining tye? There is fo; and yet there is more in our danger than merely a propensity to sin. There is also a deceit and imposition which over-reaches us, and enfnares us into the commission of what, but for that mistake, we would have avoided or abhorred. There is
frequent mention made of this in fcripture; many cautions against being deceived; and indeed all fin is represented as error and delusion, in which-a deceived heart hath turned us aside.
Again, If the finner is deceived, who is it, or what is it that deceives him? Here we must observe, that when we speak of fin's being deceitful, it is not so much any thing without us, taking the advantage
of our weakness, but it is the effect and evidence of the strength of corruption within us, which makes a's see things in a wrong light, and draw unjust and pernicious consequences from them. Let us always remember, that the whole frame of nature, although it be the scene of temptation, and even the fuel of concupiscence, is faultless in itself; nay, it presents ús every where with lessons of piety and obedience to its Author. The mistake here arises wholly from ourselves. There is a remarkable difference between the deceitfulness of fin and deceit of any other kind; in worldly transactions, the perfon deceived is never supposed unfaithful to himself, but is imposed on by the superior art and cunning of the deceiver. But. it is otherwise in spiritual matters, where the deceita fulness of sin is but another form of speech for the corruption and treachery of our own hearts. It is true, in fomc instances of delusion, there is an activity of outward agents, if I may speak fo, the devil and wicked men, who use no little industry to feduce others, and ly in wait to deceive; but this, if I mistake not, does not belong properly to the deceitfulness of fin, which lies in the disposition of our own hearts, and is what lays us open to their snares.
I shall only further observe, by way of introduction, that this subject is equally applicable to good men and bad. Both ought to dread, and both ought to be warned of the deceitfulness of fin; it betrays good men into distress, as well as bad men into ruin. In further discourting on this fubject, I shall,
I. Endeavour to open a little the chief branches of the deceitfulness of fin.
II. Consider the duty founded upon it, of exhorting one another daily,
III. Make some practical improvement of the subject.
First then, I shall endeavour to open a little the chief branches of the deceitfulness of fin: And I think the deceitfulness of sin may be divided into these three general branches. 1. Its disguising itself, and wholly concealing its naturę. 2. Its forming excufes for itself, and thereby extenuating its guilt, 3. Its infinuating itself by degrees, and leading men on from the voluntary commission of some fios to the neceflity of committing more.
1A then, The deceitfulness of fin appears from its disguising itself, and wholly concealing its nature. Though the great lines of the law of God are writ, ten upon the conscience in so strong and legible characters, that it is difficult wholly to efface them; yet it is plain that men have often brought this about to a surprising degree. The psalmist David, fepsible how often fin is concealed from our own view, exclaims, Psal. xix. 12. ' Who can understand ' his errors! cleanse thou me from fecret faults.' What ingenious reasonings do men often use with their own minds to prove the lawfulness of what in. clination leads them to, either with respect to profit or pleasure? When the heart pleads the cause, the understanding is a very favourable judge. Every one may find a great number of examples of this in his own experience, and may daily fee the unhap. py effects of it in others.
For the better illustrating of this truth, that fia is often wholly concealed even from the man in whom it dwells, be pleased to attend to the following observations: (1.) Sometimes it shows itself in the prevalence of loose principles. I am sorry to say, that we live in an age in which infidelity, of the groffest kind, is spreading its poifon among all ranks and degrees of men. But why is it fo readily entertained ? Bes cause it either fets men at liberty from the ties of conscience, and a future reckoning altogether; or greatly narrows the extent, and weakens the obligations of the law of God. How sweet and palatable to the corrupt mind is every thing that removes restraints, and suffers the sinner to walk in the ways of his own heart, and the fight of his own eyes? It is not reafon, but inclination, that makes profelytes to these destructive doctrines. The truth is, would you reafon impartially, you would conclude, that the principles muft be false, which tend to fer men at ease in their crimes. When therefore the arguments in their favour are so easily admitted, we have just ground to affirm that it is owing to the deceitfulness of fin.
(2.) If we proceed from principles to practice, and from generals to particulars, we shall find how fin disguises itself, and hides its deformity from our view. It never appears in its own proper and genuine dress, por loves to be called by its proper name. Thus ex. cess and intemperance is called, and uphappily thought by many, a social disposition and good fellowship. Pride and upchristian resentment, is called honour,