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doing, and therefore the inability here spoken SERM. of is not natural but moral only. If we VIII. consider the reason of the case, it will appear at first fight very strange to assert, that men should, by a repetition of criminal acts, difcharge themselves from the obligation of their duty, and the more frequently they transgress thereby become the more faultless. But there is nothing else in a custom of doing evil than a frequent repetition of finful acts. Let us attend seriously to what passeth in our own minds upon a review of our offences, and the state into which they bring us with respect to the judgment of God, for that is the surest way we have to judge concerning the quality of our actions, and according to the sentence pronounced by conscience, so may we expect the decisive judgment of the supreme tribunal will be. If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our bearts, and knoweth all things; if our hearts condemn us not, then bave we confidence towards God. Now, it is certain no man ever did, or poffibly could, think himself the less guilty for an ill habit, but the more. It may indeed render him more disinclined to reflect, and more unattentive and averse to the light which maketh manifest his evil deeds; but if he doth reflect at all, and he may sometime find
Serm. it inevitable, and if that light breaketh in ' VIII. upon him whether he will or not, the custo
mary commission of fins and the frequent repetition will make them appear the highest aggravation of his guilt, because he cannot help being conscious that they were always his own voluntary acts. If it be so, the consequence is, that the impotence to good, contracted by vicious habits, is not equal to a natural impotence, nor is to be so understood by us. Let us never entertain a thought so injurious to the honour of Almighty God, the supreme ruler and judge of the whole earth, as that he requireth of his creatures, what it is absolutely impossible for them to perform, or that he will punish them for what they were utterly unable to do. This unjust imputation is represented by our Saviour in his parable of the talents, as cast upon his proceedings in judgment by the Bothful and wicked servant, that he is aufiere, reaping where he did not fow, and gathering where he did not firaw. But the wicked, who maketh such an impious pretence, shall be condemned out of his own mouth, his plea shall be turned upon him, and he shall be forced to witnefs against himself: particularly, men must be self-condemned in alledging that they are excusable from the impotence contracted by bad habits,
because they know in their hearts, that every SERM. step of their progress to the most consummate VIII. stupidity, is voluntary; and that all the instances of their hardened wickedness are the effects of their own choice. Secondly, That the disability of habitual finners to do good, to alter their course, to forsake their wicked practices, and do that which is lawful and right, is total and absolute, equal to the incapacity of creatures to change their very nature and constitution, such as the Ethiopian changing his skin; this is contrary to fact and experience. It is very well known in a multitude of instances, that men by strong resolutions, and a vigorous exertion of the natural force of their minds, have actually conquered very inveterate habits, and turned to a quite different way of living. Some reduced to extreme poverty by their idleness. and vices, and finding themselves upon the point of starving, have formed in their distress strong purposes of future honest and sober industry, which they executed with so much vigor, as to find the effects in their happy recovery to an easy and reputable condition in life, and to a virtuous state of mind. Others, brought to the very gates of death by intemperance, and exceffes, have been restored to health by a resolved abstinence. Now, d . 3
Serm. these habits of idleness and debauchery are VIII. as difficultly reformed as any other, and mul.
titudes have perished by them. There are violent temptations to them ; custom hath as great a force as in any other case, and nature joineth with it, which it doth not in many; these vices darken the understanding and enervate the mind, yet even they have been actually overcome. No reason therefore can be given why the mind may not, by a peremptory resolution, break through the opposition of any evil habit.
The instances I have mentioned are of reformation effected by the strength of temporal motives, by the feelings of pinching poverty, languishing bodily distempers, and by the fear of death; and one would think the motives of religion as strong. However that be, what I aim at at present, is only to shew the innate force of the mind itself, to conquer bad habits, whatever the considerations are which determine it to exert that force. But that the event doth not altogether depend upon the strength of the motives which are opposite to evil customs, is evident from the cases already referred to, Suppose two men placed in exactly parallel circumstances, both, for example, in extreme want, as the consequence of Noth or of riotous 4 ,
living, confirmed by a long habit ; one of SERM.