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bad society. It is of these instances we were speaking, when we said that there are many unhappy persons in the world, who never remember the time when they were sensible of any feeling or compunction of conscience within them—of any distinction indeed between right and wrong.
But, secondly, I will now suppose a more general, and a more natural state, that of a conscience really formed in the breast, and, in some degree at least, performing its office. This once living conscience may, by various means, be reduced back to a state of death and insensibility; nay, it often is so. course of sin will do it, as to that sin.
Men always enter upon sinful courses under strong temptation : they may go on in them afterwards under less; but the temptation which first seduces them into vice is usually strong. There is a conscience at first repelling, remonstrating, rebuking ; but then there is a violent temptation to be opposed. Conscience is overcome : it resists afterwards with less force, and is again overcome: its remonstrances are now weaker-they are not heard ; being heard, they are set aside. This takes place repeatedly and frequently, with a constant abatement and diminution of strength and force on the part of conscience. The sin, after this, is committed, and conscience is silent. This is the regular effect of any course of sin, as to that sin. Let any habitual sinner compare
himself at one time with himself at another time; his former sensations, his remorse, his uncasiness, his scruples, his fears, when he first entered upon a course of sin, with his sensations, or rather, with his want of sensations, now that he has for some time been confirmed in it-let him make this comparison, and
say whether the case be not with him as we have described it.
But the misfortune goes farther : any course of sin whatever weakens the power of conscience not only as to that sin, but as to all. Either the person reflects that it is to no purpose to guard against other sins, whilst he knowingly, constantly, and wilfully goes on in this; or else the principle itself of conscience, by being so often overpowered and beaten back in this instance, has lost its spring and energy in all instances. Almost all, even the greatest sinners, have begun with some particular vice. The first encroachment upon innocence and upon conscience was made by some single species of offence to which they were tempted; but the rottenness spread. A general and complete depravity of character may grow, and often does grow, out of one species of transgression ; because conscience, which has been put to silence, not by one or two oppositions, but by a course of opposition to its remonstrances, ceases to execute its office within that man's breast; so that a conscience which was once alive may be reduced to a state of death and insensibility.
There are passages of Scripture which expressly relate to this state, and to a recovery and restoration from it, and which ought therefore to be remembered ; and in the first place comes our text, and what follows it. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience : among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ.” Eph. ii. 1. And the same idea is repeated, Col. ii. 3.
There is also another remarkable text in the same epistle, v. 14. which has relation to the same subject, “ wherefore he saith, awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. The place in which this text is found, and the subject concerning which St. Paul is in that place discoursing, show sufficiently that the sleep here meant was the sleep of the conscience. “ Awake thou that sleepest ;" rouse thyself from that state of moral and religious insensibility in which thou liest, “ arise from the dead,” from being dead in sin and trespasses ; so deeply sunk in evil courses as to have become altogether without perception or consciousness of their guilt or danger, which is being dead in this respect.
Speaking of a particular case in his epistle to Timothy, St. Paul saith, “ she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth ;" that is to say, is going on without taking heed to that living principle of conscience which forms our spiritual life. This is very true; and it is more general than St. Paul here has occasion to state it. He that liveth in pleasure, engrossed and taken up with the thoughts and pursuits of pleasure, is dead whilst he liveth; has no time, no inclination, no disposition for listening to any dictates of religion or of conscience. With respect to these, therefore, he is dead; his conscience is dead within him; his neglected, opposed, unavailing, rejected conscience, speaks no more, no more renews efforts which have now been long and totally disregarded. It is silent, and it is the silence of death.
low this is a state of the soul, which of all others, perhape, most requires the assistance of God's Holy Spirit. This, in some measure, is intimated by the very term, and metaphor, and comparison which are made use of, that of death. A dead man cannot raise himself to life again ; it must be by an energy from without; by the help and power of some other than himself that life is recovered, it it be recovered at all. In like manner, the voluntary powers, without being aided and strengtheneil hy the infuence of God's Holy Spirit, may he entirely unable to restore a dead conscience to its office in the human breast.
What is intimated by the language and manner of speaking, on the subject in Scripture, is confirmed by our own consciousness, and by our experience. Vothing is so hard to be accomplished as reformation; nothing so difficult as to change the heart: nothing in this world so arduous as to rouse a dead and sleeping conscience, to hring back lost principles, to rectify depraved affections, to break vicious habits; more especially, vicious habits of mind and thought. Vicious habits of action, though dificult, are more easy to be managed than vicious bahits of mind and thought. In proportion to the difficulty is the necessity for help. In proportion to the difficulty, must we have recourse to his all powerful help, with whom all things are possible, all things are easy.
" Who then shall be saved ?" was the Apostle's question. “ With God all things are possible,” was our Lord's answer.
What then is the practical use of these reflections? What are the fit sentiments to entertain, the fit conduct to pursue ?
We know that conscience may be silent and dead : is it silent and dead in us? We know that it may be
so weak and feeble, that in point of fact, it does not govern our lives at all. Is this our case? If it be, we have a great work to go through before we can be in a state to form any reasonable hopes of salvation ; namely, the restoring conscience to its office and its energy. The first thing to be done towards it is to sue earnestly for the help of God Almighty's spirit: that is the first thing. Our prayers obtaining, and our endeavours sincerely co-operating with that help, will carry us through the work; nothing else will.
Secondly, when we find the whisperings of conscience renewed; when we find sensations of religion, after a long absence and forgetfulness, returning; when we find spiritual emotions, unfound and unfelt before, or, if formerly felt, long disused; when we find the quickening and stirring of good principles and good thoughts within us, then may we be assured that the work is begun. We may then take comfort : we have much cause for rejoicing: we are in the hands of God: we experience the first sign at least of a renewed, regenerated soul. It is our business to rejoice in it, to cherish it most carefully.
The first sign, I said—but it must still depend upon ourselves. From what we perceive, we have good reason to hope that power is given us from above, if we will use it. Whilst we were without all thought, all concern, all fear, all anxiety about our religious state, we were in the worst of all possible conditions, we were in the condition which the Scripture calls being dead in sin. That is not our condition now. We trust that we are quickened—that we are raised again to a spiritual life by the operation of God's spirit.
But what is the duty belonging to this situation, supposing us to be right in our judgement?, “Work