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true in itself, that the guilt of any one sin is equal to the guilt of ever so great a multitude of sins: there can be no encouragement in the world for the wicked to run on into still more wickedness; but, on the contrary, next to becoming uniformly good, their most serious interest lies in lessening the number and measure of the things, in which they are bad. Too commonly, when once men are fallen into the practice of a sin, either it requires another to conceal or support it, or a second wrong inclination claims the same right to indulgence as the first, or uneasy reflections drive them to seek for consolation from irreligious principles, or loss of reputation amongst the virtuous reduces them to court acceptance at any rate they can have it, among the vicious. And though they are sensible, that all this plunges them deeper, yet their reasoning is, that any one sin, if the Scripture be true, makes their case desperate, and ever so many can do no more: that, if they are to be miserable hereafter, whoever ventures upon the thing, it is errant absurdity in him to be solicitous about the degree of it, and live in a state of perpetual inconsistency, neither hoping at all for the rewards of virtue, nor enjoying freely the pleasures of vice. Now undeniably this sort of conduct is a folly, and there is only one sort greater: but that is the very one, of which you make choice: resolving to do amiss in more points, because you do amiss in some; and to make your condition as much worse as you can, because it is a very bad one already. If the misery, which God will inflict hereafter, is to be feared, surely an increase of it is, exactly in proportion, so much more to be feared and in such a case. as this, a large increase must be expected. There may be excuses pleaded for falling into some faults:
but there can be no excuse for adding others to them wilfully. There There may be hope of amendment, while you are gone but a little wrong: and perhaps you please yourself with the thought that you shall amend at least the time may come, when that prospect, if you could entertain it, would be a pleasing one indeed. Why then, in the meanwhile, will you be needlessly deviating farther and farther; and laying daily new obstacles (some of which may prove insuperable) in the way of your own return? Possibly indeed you may utterly despise such considerations as these, and think it great bravery to do so. But it is an unwise bravery. You are not certain, you cannot be certain, that either immorality or contempt of religion are safe things. And if they are unsafe, the less you are guilty of either, the better. Were a future account only possible, it ought to put you under no small restraints: but how much greater, if it be probable, if it be certain? It is very true, the only behaviour that will secure you thoroughly, is keeping clear of every thing bad. But at least do not go lengths, to which you are not tempted: do not go every length, to which you are tempted. If you will be debauched, why will you be injurious too? If you will be both dissolute and dishonest, why need you be profane also, and scorn and ridicule virtue and piety, as well as neglect them? Or, on the other hand, however you act in relation to things of the next world, why should you abandon yourself to profligateness and folly in respect of this, and be wretched before your time? Fear not in the least, but there will be guilt and mischief full enough in those kinds and degrees of sin, from which you imagine you cannot abstain: so that you will have no occasion to increase the list of them wantonly.
And be assured, that however painful it may be to retreat, or stop short where you are, going farther on will be much more so, probably in this life, but assuredly hereafter. For if God will at all distinguish then between good and bad (as he must and will, if he be just, or wise, or true), he will as certainly distinguish, and to purpose too, between bad and worse.
But absurd as it would be to reckon one sin as dangerous as many (against which, notwithstanding, it was needful to give a strong caution, because the text, at first sight, may appear to favour it), still the opposite error is equally absurd, which yet, in spite of the text, the whole Scripture, and the plainest dictates of common reason, great multitudes will persist in; that, I mean, of thinking, or acting as if they thought, that since every one is peculiarly inclined to some fault or other, he will be dispensed with in that, provided he performs but the rest of his duty tolerably well. And therefore,
2. The principal inference, to be drawn from St. James's words, is, that no one sin whatever can be wilfully indulged, without forfeiting our salvation. Indeed if it could; if our obedience may safely fail just where alone it is, properly speaking, tried; that is, where we find ourselves peculiarly tempted to disobey; what proof do we give of any regard to virtue, or what must become of the interests of it in the world? Few people have above one or two faults, to which they are much addicted: so that allowing them these, is allowing them all; and giving them leave to be as wicked, as they want to be. Or supposing they have several bad inclinations; yet, if one of them is to be forgiven, because it is a favour
ite; why not the rest, if they can make the same. plea? And further, if your faults are to be overlooked in the day of judgment, why not the different faults of every one else? One person is prone to intemperance, another to lewdness, a third to falsehood and dishonesty, a fourth to malice and revenge. If inclination, and constitution, and what we are pleased to call nature, is to be a warrant for any of these, why not for all? But you will plead it perhaps only for small sins. And so one is indulged first, because it is but a little one: then another, because it is not much bigger: and where shall we stop, or in what will this end? Every one's sin is small in his own opinion, and none is so in reality. For, be it in what instance it will, disobeying our Maker, violating our consciences, and breaking through the sacred bonds of truth and duty, can never be deemed a slight matter, nor will it hereafter be found so.
But is there no allowance then to be made for human weakness, and the strength of temptation? Undoubtedly great allowance in all such failings as we watch and strive and pray against, and persevere in opposing. But then, whoever doth this in earnest, will certainly gain ground of his failings; and therefore whoever gains little or no ground, doth not do it in earnest. Wishing now and then that we were better, being grieved a little when we think how bad we are, and, in a sudden fit of goodness, making a faint essay towards reformation, and laying it aside again: this is far from performing, what, by the assistance of Heaven, we might, if we would. And whoever can think that no more is expected of him, must think at the same time, that God hath very
little attention to the observance of his laws, and that his laws are of very little use towards the government of the world.
All persons therefore, who have a proper regard to some branches of their duty, but not to others, ought seriously to consider, that they are doing a great deal, without doing any thing to effect, for want of doing the whole that it must be peculiarly grievous to them in the next life, to come so near the kingdom of heaven, and yet to fall short of it ; to be almost, but not altogether, Christians*. Since they take pains to correct part of their bad inclinations, it cannot but be worth their while to correct the rest. Either it will not be very difficult, or the difficulty will not continue very long, or the reward will be very ample. And whichsoever is the case, it must evidently be their interest to make their lives consistent, their characters clear, and their hearts easy, by walking in every ordinance of the Lord blameless: for so shall we not be confounded, if we have respect unto all his commandments +
But then we must ever understand this, not only of moral duties, not only of the duties of natural religion, but of revealed also: and particularly of that great and leading commandment, that we believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ §: believe in him practically, as well as speculatively; believe in him as our Redeemer and Mediator, no less than our instructor: trusting in his merits for pardon and ac
ceptance; in his grace for strength and comfort; and seeking to be found in him, not having our own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is of God,
Acts xxvi. 28, 29.
† Luke i. 6.