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4. When these restraints are all removed, men are uniformly far more wicked than if they had not been imposed. All will admit this. It is therefore manifest, that these circumstances operate powerfully in restraining men from a career of sin and ruin. Even in the Church itself, there are vast multitudes who become apostates, because their apparent goodness was made up by such restraints they had really no concern for the glory of God, and were not religious because they loved religion. Beware, then, lest you be left to fall away from your supposed faith, and hurry on to destruction. Not only should professors fear, but the impenitent also should fear and tremble; because God holds them as accountable beings, completely in his power; and in kindness, for a time, lets down ten thousand restraints upon them. God now controls the madness of his enemies. He puts his hook in their nose, and his bridle in their lips; binds them with his restraints, and holds them, perhaps, in apparent subjection. In this the character of hypocrites and unbelievers is distinguished from the truly religious. Their wickedness is merely suppressed, not subdued: their amiable appearances are produced by restraining providence, not by converting grace. The heart of the real Christian is not suppressed, but radically changed. The grace of God has transformed the tiger into a lamb, and the wolf into a kid. The Christian abandons sin because he hates it, and follows after holiness because he loves it. This constitutes the beauty of the Christian character, and this the distinguishing glory of heaven. There will be there no restraint but love. The whole population will love to do right; and impelled by love alone, will employ, in doing right, their energies for ever. On the other hand, as the character of the wicked is here varied and modified by restraints, God will only need to take off those moral ligatures, and substitute the everlasting chains of darkness, to surround them with the horrors of hell. The exceeding baseness of the wicked appears in this— that all these powerful restraints are required to hold them fast in mercy, and prevent them from doing worse; and the horror of hell in this—that all its population will love to do wrong, and in wrath be let loose to do it, so far as they can amidst fetters which will hold fast only to gall, and chains which will confine only to burn. How amazing, in view of all these considerations, is the operation of these providential circumstances in restraining the career of the wicked! We are thus prepared to consider the remaining position, viz.:
III. That every sinner does make the attempt, and succeeds as far as God will let him, to sunder these ligatures that would hold him fast to reason, hope, and heaven.
One would think that a sinner would not wish to have these kindly ligatures sundered. Where may he wander, or rather where may he not wander, and against what rock may he not dash, and into what bottomless vortex may he not plunge with all his interests, and perish with his all, when he shall have thrown off the fastenings that hold him to the throne of the Eternal? While we go the ground over, and see how he raves, and rages, and flounces like a bull in the net, and would break loose from God, if he might, whatever be the probable result upon himself, and his hopes, and his family, and his character, and whatever the relationship he must sunder, we are amazed at every step of the experiment, and we are amazed at the result, and at the blindness of the immortal being that is in a measure let loose to try his skill in the awful experiment, till God gives him up to hardness of heart and blindness of mind, and leaves him a prey to himself, and he is destroyed in his own waywardness. Let us, then, trace his steps, and see his ravings:
1. See how he breaks over and breaks through the restraints of education. He tries to throw off what he knew of God, and all he had learned of the Savior, and of the operations of the Holy Spirit; all he had learned of the operations of the Godhead, in the history of the Church. And when he cannot forget, he raves at his own recollections, and madly reproaches the mind that cannot forget, and will not retrace and throw off what it is now to him a burden and curse to recollect. But the Bible rushes upon his unholy mind with the vividness of a new, and fresh, and hated story. O, that he had never read that book! he cries; that his mother had not furnished him a Bible when he left his home, or had not made him promise to read it every day! But if in his senses he may not forget, perhaps he may induce God to put out his mind, and destroy the powers of recollection. And this is now the only prayer he makes, and the only thing he cares for. In the mean time, he hates the very lessons that he learned in school, and would tread them all down as one does the worthless weeds that are overgrowing his path in a garden. But,
2. When he has tried for a time, but has tried in vain, to retrace the process of education, he finds himself reined in by human laws. If he cannot forget God, perhaps he can snap asunder the power of human control. Man cannot be omniscient. He can evade all
human ties. He can rise above the law, and tread it down like the mire of the street. Or he can violate its precepts and despise its regulations, and hold on and hold out in despite of all its sanctions, presuming in his heart that God will not know, neither will the Almighty consider it. If the law does say, "Thou shalt not violate the rest of the Sabbath," he can drink and carouse, or lounge and loiter, and the world will only esteem him the better, especially if he add generosity and liberality to his infidelity and to his deeds of daring and outrage. He may violate any law that lays its restraints on this side of the judgment. Perhaps there may come no day of hated and holy retribution, and then he can have the infernal satisfaction of laughing at the Christians. If the failure of the Divine promise of such a day should ruin the world, it will not, as he conceives, ruin him. He would be willing that no such appointment should be fulfilled, even though the failure should tarnish for ever the character of Jehovah. If the law does say, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," if he can violate it, and the crime be hid, and no human tribunal take cognizance of the deed, he cares not for the law. He cares not what misery his iniquities occasion, if his deeds do not break into open daylight. If it break the heart of a mother, and if a father writhe under the agony of a ruined son, he does not care for the tears of that mother, nor the agonies of that father. The deed he has done he does not intend shall come to light, in the present life, and he can easily bring himself to care for nothing beyond. Thus he throws off nearly all the restraints of human law, and contents himself with the purpose never to commit murder, or theft, or any crime that would draw him out to the light. Thus he blesses himself in his own delusion, and trusts for safety in his own righteousness. But he meets with more disturbance yet.
3. From the law of God. Impenitent and unbelieving, he has read in that law what, if he cannot put down, he is a ruined man: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Thus is dashed, at the first stroke, the whole fabric of a dark and fatal idolatry. If man worships his money, or his merchandize, or his farm, or his friend, or any thing but God, or gives any thing else his supreme affection, even if he does not professedly worship it, he is condemned of God. And he adds, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." But how unfashionable it would be to care about this commandment, and let the apprehension that God "will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain," produce a serious moment, or a pang of distress! It is so noble
not to care about God, or what God can say, or do, and it would be so cowardly, so ungentlemanly, to be afraid to sin, that the offender just breaks this grand and controlling ligature easier than many that would seem to have no such power to bind and to restrain. An effort not so mighty as that which sundered Samson's green withes, puts them all aside. But,
4. Not quite so easily does he dispose of the troublesome supervision of conscience. This vicegerent of Heaven stays often many a month after open war is declared. It sometimes will hold close conference with the heart, although the heart may wish to be alone. It is that power that will not die, nor see corruption. It will not go to sleep in the grave: it will watch, even while the wretch is dying, to secure the honor of God, and gather courage for a fresh attack just by the dying pillow. And the agony of its first onset in the unseen world, hard by the place of dying, devils cannot know. For they have never spurned a dying Savior, and they have never died.
But all the embrasures that can be opened upon the soul by this moral avenger must be closed, or its eternal thunders will be heard and felt. Yes, even here the heart sometimes says to conscience, as Satan to the Savior, "Art thou come to torment me before the time?" But it is the conflict of desperation, and, like the murderer who came into close and terrible embrace with the man whose blood he would spill, and was heard to say, "You must die,” and with that saying put forth a thrust that forced the dagger to his heart; so in assailing conscience, to put down its spirit of admonition, it must be assailed desperately, and if the victory cannot be otherwise secured, it must be drawn to the crater, where the wretch stands to torment himself, and to be hardened by a view of its fires; and here may perhaps end the conflict, till it is renewed again on the other side of time. Now there is but little left for the sinner to do. Conscience has ceased its admonitions. still he has a slight conflict.
5. With the institutions of the Gospel. We noticed in his conflict with the law, which spreads abroad its troublesome interference with his lusts and his pleasures, how readily he could contrive to evade its claims. But the Gospel, like some faithful party in the field of blood, still keeps up the chase, and deeply wounds at every shot. It proves not so easy as was apprehended to still this avenger of justice. It pursues the sinner close through all the narrow lane of life, and even down to the gate of hell, unless sovereign grace effectually internose, or long injured mercy say, "Let
him alone." But see the ungrateful struggle of the sinner to cast off this fastness of heaven-this Gospel of salvation. Every church-going bell fils his conscience with guilt, and each return of the day of rest reminds him of the quiet of his paternal roof, where a mother's prayers used to be joined with the Sabbath day, in rendering the time of rest too holy to be endured. He must pervert its holy design, or writhe and bleed under the lashes of a guilty conscience. If he can get some scene of iniquity open, to prevent his soul from thinking; if the theatre may be opened, or any other house of death, or he may sport himself with the pleasures of the turf, and thus kill time, and throw off this one additional fastness of heaven, and put himself afloat upon the sea of life, then he can be comparatively happy, boasting like the school boy's kite,—
See how yon crowd of gazing people
It tugged and pulled, while thus it spoke,
It fluttered downward through the air;
Thus it will not fail to happen to the immortal being who shall try to do without the Gospel. He may go off from God, and despise the power that would pull him back, but he will go to wander amid the blackness of darkness for ever!
Had I time, I would go on through the whole catalogue of restraints, and show how, one by one, the sinner wantonly throws them off. But I can notice only one or two more particulars.
6. The hardened sinner would dislodge himself from all thought of heaven or fear of hell. And yet these are very powerful ligatures, and often the last to be sundered. When men think of relinquishing heaven, they sometimes forget that awakening previous question, "If I abandon the thought of heaven, where shall I then be? What means that worm which never dies? What mean those chains of darkness-and that gnashing of teeth-and that quenchless fire ?" Ah! when the sinner is arrested by such questions, and must answer them, and answer them, too, under the operations of the Holy Spirit, he will find it hard work to answer