« PoprzedniaDalej »
to his laws, they had their fruit unto holiness, and the happy end would be everlasting life. He incites them to perseverance in the good way which they had chosen, by leaving this momentous truth impressed upon their minds; "The wages of sin is death: but the gift of "God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
From the representation which St. Paul has given in the preceding parts of this Epistle, of the vices that were prevalent in the world at the time of the publication of the Gospel, it would seem that human nature was sunk to the lowest depth of depravity. He speaks in general terms; but, it is probable, he had the Roman people particularly in view. The descriptions of their own historians and poets correspond with those of the apostle. They had proceeded in the common course of debasement-their extensive conquests had procured wealth; this had introduced all the luxuries of the earth; and the effect of these, was an universal depravity of manners. Here was an ample field for the great apostle of the Gentiles, in which to display his holy zeal and commanding eloquence. Accordingly, we find, that he employed every instrument which human learning, or the doctrines of Christianity could supply, to beat down these strong holds of iniquity. His attacks are conducted with all the force of argument, and all the insinuating arts of persuasion. He sometimes alarms their fears, and sometimes applies to their hopes. Now he plainly tells them, "That the
wages of sin is death;" and now comforts and encourages them with the assurance, "That as sin "reigned unto death, even so does grace reign through " righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our "Lord."
In every age of the world, among the degenerate sons of Adam, iniquity has so far prevailed, as to render it necessary for the messengers of the Lord of hosts, to cry aloud and spare not, to show the people their transgressions, and exhort them to repentance. It will not be denied, my brethren, that we live in an age when the most open and daring attempts are made to weaken the restraints which religion imposes upon vice: when infidelity and impiety not only prevail, but in too many instances, even appear to glory in their achievements: the monsters no longer lurking in their den, and coming out only to make occasional depredations; but appearing with an undaunted countenance in the open light of day; extending their ravages through the streets of the city, and the fields of the husbandman; climbing up into the chambers of the great, or creeping into the cells of the cottage. At such a season, every Christian, every lover of human nature, must be well-pleased to hear the pernicious effects of unbelief and sin represented in the plainest terms. Hence it will be apparent, that they are our best friends who endeavour to strengthen the obligations of virtue and religion; they are our most cruel enemies who attempt to break down the barriers which separate us from vice.
The truly compassionate man sympathizes in all the distresses of his neighbour. He wishes to relieve = his overty, and to mitigate his sickness; but is much more solicitous to convert him from error to truth, and from vice to holiness. He feels for calamities which distress the body, but is much more affected at the prospect of those which will destroy the soul. He dreads the evils which are of short continuance, but is
more alarmed at the apprehension of those, the fatal effects of which will endure for ever. Let me, then, entreat you to hear me patiently, while I am calling your attention to the former part of the text, "The wages of sin is death." We listen with alacrity to the grateful declaration, that "eternal life is the gift of "God." But such is the predominance of sinful appetite and passion; so stubborn are our vicious habits, that we love not to contemplate the sad effects of sin: we wilfully turn away the eye of the mind from the dreary prospect: much persuasion, and reproof, and threatening, is necessary to make us relinquish a present gratification, from the apprehension of its distant consequences.
It is, nevertheless, a solemn and important truth, which we are highly concerned to bring frequently and closely to the view of the mind, that sin is the source of ali evil to mankind; the cause of present and future misery; the parent of temporal and eternal death.
In discoursing on this subject, here I might describe, in pathetic terms, the mischiefs which immediately spring from vice, among the inconsiderate children of men-how intemperance soon produces the pangs of an acute, or the wasting poison of a more lingering disease: how idleness and debauchery necessarily lead to all the miseries of want: how ignominy and scorn commonly pursue the footsteps of flagrant dishonesty: these subjects would afford abundant matter of serious consideration. But, I shall confine myself, at present, to its pernicious influence upon our intellectual and moral faculties-its wages is death to the best powers of our rational nature, and consequently to our true felicity through eternal ages.
1st. Habitual commission of sin has a direct tendency to darken the understanding of man. It may, indeed, with propriety be asserted, that all vice originates in folly; for that person is unquestionably foolish, who forsakes happiness, and pursues misery; and, that this is the sottish course of the wicked, no one can deny, who believes that God is just, and that man is immortal. But vice has a re-action upon the mind of the sinner: it tends to aggravate the weakness by which it was occasioned, and to add a deeper gloom to the mists of error from which it originally sprang. Be assured, by the indulgence of vicious passions, clouds and thick darkness rise to obscure the light of truth that was beaming upon the mind; the powers of the understanding are enfeebled; her fondness for error increases, as her love of truth is diminished; till, at length, the Holy Spirit of God, the source of illumination, as well as warmth to the soul of man, is provoked to abandon the transgressor to his unhappy fate.
2dly. By contracting habits of vice, that sympathetic tenderness of soul is destroyed, which was planted in our bosoms by our wise Creator for very benevolent purposes. We were designed for social creatures; hence it is, that we find in the human heart a native propensity to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep. But, let a man indulge himself in frequent violations of his duty; in acts of impiety to heaven, injustice to men, and intemperance with respect to the regulation of his own appetites; and we shall find, that he will soon become hard and insensible. As he fears not the wrath of God, so he will regard not the sufferings of men. He will prosecute his own selfish designs; he will gratify his own
inordinate wishes, at the expense of every gentle and generous sentiment of the human heart. The pains of his neighbour will become familiar to him. He will obey the call of sensual delight; he will follow the suggestions of his avarice or his ambition, regardless of the consequences: he will view without pity, the oppression of the poor; and hear with stubborn indifference, the lamentations of the widow and fatherless. That vice proves thus destructive to all the tender sensibilities, the compassionate emotions of the human heart, too many shocking instances attest in modern, as well as in ancient history.
3dly. Repeated transgression will destroy the activity and life of that heavenly monitor, fixed in our bosoms to be the director of our conduct; to administer reproof, or to bestow applause, as our actions happen to be wicked or virtuous. And this is a sad part of the wages of sin. When heedless mortals first enter into the path of vice, conscience, vigilant and active, is continually apprizing them of their danger; reproving them for every wrong step which is taken; and admonishing them to walk with more circumspection. But, if her friendly admonitions be, from time to time, disregarded, she will, at length, become listless and silent, and the unhappy wanderer will be left without interruption to the error of his ways, to rush upon his own destruction. And truly deplorable is the condition of that sinner, who is thus given up to a reprobate mind; to work all manner of wickedness with greediness; to be encompassed with the most horrible mischiefs, and yet to go on insensible of his danger. And that this is too often the wretched fate of wilful transgressors, our own observation of the daily occurrences