THE WAYS OF SIN HARD AND DIFFICULT.
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Acts iv. 6. It is bard for thee to kick againji the pricks.
YOU often hear of the narrow and rugged road of religion, which leadeth unto life; and some of you, I am afraid, have not courage enough to venture upon it. You rather choose the smooth, broad, down-hill road of vice and pleasure, though it leads down to the chambers of death. It must be owned, that a religious life is a course of difficulties, a hard struggle, a constant conflict; and it is sit you should be honestly informed of it: but then it is sit you should also know, that the difficulties arise not from the nature of religion, but from the corruption and depravity of the nature of man in its present degenerate state. A course of religion is disagreeable, is hard, is difficult to mankind; just as a course of action is difficult to the sick, though it is easy, and affords pleasure to those that are well. There are difficulties in the way of sin as well as in that of holiness, though the depravity of mankind renders them insensible of it. This is the view of the case I would now lay before you. There is a fense, in which it is true, that it is a hard thing to be a sinner, as well as to be a faint: there are huge difficulties in the way, to hell, as well as in the way to heaven. And if you are insensible of them, it is owing, as I just observed, to the corruption of your nature, and not to the real easiness of the thing in itself. It may be easy and pleasing to you to sin, just as it is easy to a dead body to rot, or pleasing to a leper to rub his fores. But to a reasonable creature, in a state of purity, with all his powers uncorrupted, it Vol. HI. Y would -would indeed be an unpleasing, a hard, a difficult thing to take that course which is so easy and so delightful to you; as it is hard and painful for a living man to suffer the mortisication of his limbs, or for a healthy man to make himself sore. If it be hard, in one sense, to live a life of holiness, it is certainly hard, in another fense, to live a life of sin; namely, to run against conscience, against reason, against honour, against interest, against all the strong and endearing obligations you are under to God, to mankind, and to yourselves: or, in the words of my text, it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.
This is a proverb in use among various nations, which has received a sanction from heaven in this text. It is used by Pindar, Euripides, and Æschylus, among the Greeks; and by Terence, among the Latins : and from the fense in which they use it, we are helped to understand it. To kick against the pricks, is an allusion to a lazy or unruly plough-horse or ox, that when pricked with a goad (an instrument used in ploughing, in sundry places, instead of a whip) refuses to go on, and spurns and kicks against the goad, and so wounds himself, and not the driver. In such circumstances, it is much harder to kick against the goads, and resist, than to go on: if he goes on, he need not fear the goad; but his resistance only hurts himself. It is to this that the phrase alludes; and it signisies a resistance injurious to the person that makes it, when it would be both easy and advantageous to obey.
Hence we may learn the precise sense in which it is used by the mouth of Christ, in this pungent address to Saul the persecutor, whom we now know under the higher name of Paul the apostle.
Saul, animated with a furious, misguided, though honest zeal, against the disciples of Jesus, was now on his way to Damascus in pursuit of them; and had a commission from the highest court of the Jews to apprehend them: a commisiion which he was impatient to execute. This, in human view, was a very unpromifing promifing tour for his conversion; now it appears more likely that vengeance will arrest him as a criminal, than that grace will prevent him as a vessel of mercy. But O! what agreeable exploits of grace has Jesus performed! At the sirst introduction of his religion, it was sit he should single out some great sinner, and make him a monument of his mercy, for the encouragement of future ages. Therefore he surprizes this sierce persecutor in his daring career, darts the splendors of his glory around him, and pierces him to the heart with this irresistible expostulation, Saul, Saul, why perseeutejl thou me? Saul, in a trembling consternation, replies, Who art thou Lord? He thought he was only bringing to justice a parcel of contemptible, blasphemous sectaries, unworthy of toleration; and little did he think that his persecuting zeal reached so high: little did he expect to hear one crying from the throne of heaven, Why persecute/I thou me? But Jesus feels and resents the injuries done to his people, as done to himself. The head sympathizes with its members; therefore he answers, / am Jesus, whom thou persecutes. And then follows my text, It is hard for thee to kick again/I the pricks, q. d. "Since it is Jesus, whom thou perfecutest, the injury done to me will only rebound upon thyself: I am insinitely advanced beyond the reach of thy rage; and even my people, who now seem in thy power, can suffer no real or lasting injury from it in the issue; for under my management, all things shall work for their good, but thy persecuting fury shall prove ruinous to thyself; as the wild ox that spurns and kicks against the goad hurts himself, and not the driver." Thus, as I told you, this proverb signisies a resistance injurious to the person resisting, and harmless to him against whom it is made. And is not this hard? Is it not an arduous, preposterous exploit to break through the strong restraints of the innate principle of self-preservation, and ruin one's self by a blow intended against another, beyond the reach of injury? This, one would think, is
a piece a piece of folly and cruelty, of which a being that has the least remains of reason or self-love, would be incapable.
This proverb may signify more: q. d. I am Je/us, whom thou persecuteji; Jesus, the Lord of glory: Jesus, the Saviour of sinners; Jesus, who had died for such sinners as thee; Jesus, who is all love and mercy, excellency, and glory; Jesus, who has given thee such sufficient evidence of his divine mission, and the truth of his religion; and canst thou persecute Jesus? O! is this an easy thing to one that has the least reason or gratitude ? Art thou able to break through such strong and endearing obligations? Is it not hard for thee to spurn against one so great, so glorious, so gracious and condescending? Must not this be a horrid exploit of wickedness beyond thy power?"
That I may the more fully illustrate the striking thought suggested by my text, I shall point out to you some seemingly insuperable obstacles in the way to hell, or some dire exploits, which, one would think, would be too hard for you to perform, which yet you must perform, if you persist in a course of sin.
1. Is it not a hard thing to be an unbeliever, or a Deist, in our age and country, while the light of the gospel mines around us with full blaze of evidence!
Before a man can work up himself to the disbelief of a religion attended with such undeniable evidence, and inspiring such divine dispositions and exalted hopes, what absurdities must he embrace! what strong convictions must he resist! what dark suspicions, what boding fears and misgivings, what mocking peradventures and tremendous doubts must he struggle with! what glorious hopes must he resign! what gloomy and shocking prospects must he reconcile himself to.! what violence must be offered to conscience! what care must be used to shut up all the avenues of serious thought, and harden the heart against the terrors of death, and the supreme tribunal! How painful a piece of preposterous self-denial to reject the balm the gospel pel provides to heal a broken heart and a bleeding conscience, and the various helps and advantages it furnishes us with to obtain divine favour and everlasting happiness! How hard to work up the mind to believe that Jesus, who spoke and acted, and suffered, and did every thing, like an incarnate God, was an impostor, or at best a moral philosopher! or that the religion of the Bible, that contains the most sublime and God-like truths, and the most pure and perfect precepts of piety and morality, is the contrivance of artful and wicked men, or evil spirits! These, brethren, are no easy things. There are many sceptics and sinatterers in insidelity, but few, very few are able to make thorough work of it, or commence staunch unbelievers. The attempt itself is a desperate shift. A man must have reduced himself to a very sad case indeed, before he can have any temptation to set about it. He has by his wilful wickedness, set christianity against him, before he can have any temptation to set himself against christianity: and when he proclaims war against it, he sinds it hard, yea, impossible to make good his cause. He may indeed put on the airs of desiance and triumph, and affect to laugh at his enemy, and at times may be half-persuaded he has really got the victory. But such men sind the arms of their own reason often against them, and their own conscience forms violent insurrections in favour of religion, which they cannot entirely suppress; so that they are like? their father, whatever they pretend, they believe and tremble too. Alas! that there should be so many unhappy companions in this infernal cause, in our country and nation. They sind it hard, even now, to kick against the goads: and «0! how much harder will they sind it in the issue! Their resistance will prove ruinous to themselves: but neither they nor the gates of hell shall prevail against the cause they oppose. Christianity will live when they are dead and damned, according to its sentence. It is a long-tried bulwark, that has withstood all the assaults of earth aud hell, for
near near 6000 years, and has still proved impregnable. Insidels may hurt themselves by opposing it; as an unruly, stupid ox, their proper emblem, may hurt himself, but not the goads, by kicking against them.
2. Is it not hard for men to profess themselves beIivers, and assent to the truths of christianity, and yet live as if they were insidels!
A professed speculative atheist, or insidel, is a monster that we do not often meet with: but the more absurd and unaccountable phenomenon of a practical atheist; one who is orthodox in principle, but an insidel in practice, we may sind wherever we turn: and it would be strange if none such have mingled in this assembly to-day. To such I would particularly addressmyself.
If you believe christianity, or even the religion of Nature, you believe that there is a God of insinite excellency; the Maker, Preserver, Benefactor and Ruler of the world, and of you in particular; and consequently, that you are under the strongest and most endearing obligations to love him, and make it your great study and endeavour to obey his will in all instances. Now is it not strange, that while you believe this, you are able to live as you do! How can you live so thoughtless of this great and glorious God, who bears such august and endearing relations to you? How can you withhold your love from him, and ungratefully refuse obedience? Is not this a hard thing to you? Does it not cost you some labour to reconcile your consciences to it? If this be easy to you, what champions in wickedness are you! how mighty to do evil! This would not be easy to the mightiest archangel: no, it i i a dire atchievement he would tremble to think of. And if it be easy to you, it is, as I observed before, in the same sense that it is easy to a dead body to rot. Your strength to do evil is your real weakness, or, which is the fame, the strength of your disease.
Again, If you believe the christian religion, you believe the glorious doctrine of redemption through Jesus Christ; you believe that he, the Father's great co-equal Son, assumed our nature, pasted through the various hardships of life, and died upon a cross for you; and all this out of pure unmerited love. And is it no difficulty to neglect him, to dishonour him, to flight his love, and disobey his commands? Does this monstrous wickedness never put you to a stand? Degenerate and corrupt as you are, have you not such remains of generous principles within you, as that you cannot, without great violence to your own hearts, reject such a Saviour? Does not at least a spark of gratitude sometimes kindle in your hearts, which you sind it hard to quench entirely? Does not conscience often take up arms in the cause of its Lord, and do you not sind it hard to quell the insurrection? Alas! if you sind little or no difficulty in treating the blessed Jesus with neglect, it shews that you are mighty giants in iniquity, and sin with the strength of a devil.
Again; If you believe the christian religion, you must believe that regeneration, or a thorough change of heart and life, and uersal holiness, are essentially necessary to constitute you a real christian, and prepare you for everlasting happiness. And while you have this conviction, is it not a hard thing for you to be only christians in name, or self-condemned hypocrites, or to rest contented in any attainments short of real religion? Is it an easy thing to you to keep your eyes always shut against the light, which would stiew you to yourselves in your true colours? to keep such a close guard, as never to let the mortifying secret pass, that you are indeed but a hypocrite, and to harden yourselves against the portion of hypocrites, which will ere long be distributed to you?
Finally, If you believe christianity, or even natural religion, you believe a future state of rewards and punishments; rewards and punishments the highest that human nature is capable of. And is it net a hard thing to make light of immortal happiness, or everlasting misery? Since you love yourselves, and have a strong innate defire of pleasure and horror of pain, how can you reconcile yourselves to the thoughts of giving up your portion in heaven, and being ingulphed for ever in the infernal pit? Or how can you support your hope of enjoying the one, and escaping the other, while you have no sufficient evidence? Can you venture so important an interest upon an uncertainty, or dare to take your chance, without caring what might be the issue? Are you capable of such dreadful fool-hardiness? Do you not often shrink back aghast from the prospect? Does not the happiness of heaven sometimes so strongly attract you, that you sind it hard to resist? And do not the terrors of hell start up before you in the way of sin, and are you not brought to a stand, and ready to turn back? The pit of hell, like a raging volcano, thunders at a distance, that you may not fall thereinto by surprize. You may perceive its flames, and smoke, and roarings in the threatenings of God's law, while you are yet at a distance from it. And is it easy for you to push on your way, when thus warned? O! one would think, it would be much more easy and delightful to a creature endowed with reason and self-love, to abandon this dangerous road, and choose the safe and pleasant way of life.
I might multiply instances under this head: but these must suffice at present. And I proceed to ask,
3. Is it not hard for a man to live in a constant conflict with himself? I mean with his conscience.
This obstacle in the way to hell has appeared in all the former particulars : but it is so great, and seemingly insuperable, that it deserves to be pointed out by itself. When the sinner would continue his career to hell, conscience, like the cherubim at the gates of paradise, or the angel in Balaam's road, meets him with its flaming sword, and turns every way, to guard the dreadful entrance into the chambers of death.
When a man goes on in the thoughtless neglect of God, and the concerns of eternity, or indulges himself in vice and irreligion, conscience whispers, " What will be the end of this course? thou shalt yet susfer for this. Is it sit thou shouldest thus treat the blessed God, and the Saviour Jesus Christ? Is it wise to neglect the great work of salvation, and run the risque of eternal ruin?" I may appeal to sinners themselves, whether they do not often hear such remonstrances as these from within? Indeed, in the hurry and bustle of business and company, and the headlong career of pleasure and amusement, the voice of conscience is not heard. But you cannot always avoid retirement: sometimes you must be by yourselves, and then you sind it hard to close up and guard all the avenues of serious thought. Then conscience insists upon a fair hearing, and enters many a solemn protestation against your conduct, warns you of the consequence, and urges you to take another course. Whatever airs of impious bravery you put on in public, and however boldly you bid desiance to these things, yet, in such pensive hours, do you not sind that you are cowards at heart? Is not conscience like to get the victory? Are you not obliged to break out into the world, and rally all its forces to your assistance, that you may suppress your conscience? Now, how hard a life is this! The life of the sinner is a warfare, as well as that of the christian. Conscience is his enemy, always disturbing him; that is, he himself is an enemy to himself while he continues an enemy to God. Some, indeed, by repeated violences, stun their conscience, and it seems to lie still, like a conquered enemy. But this is a conquest fatal to the conquerors. O ! would it not be much easier to let conscience have fair play, to pursue your own happiness, as it urges you, and leave the smooth, down-hill road to ruin, from which it would restrain you? Conscience urges you to your duty and interest with many sharp goads, and will you still kick against them? O! do you not sind this Vol. III. Z hard?
hard? I am sure it 'would be very hard, it would be impossible to a creature under the right conduct of reason and self-love. And before you can be capable of performing this dire exploit with ease, you must have acquired a prodigious, gigantic strength in sinning. This is what the mightiest faint upon earth could not dare to do. No; he owns conscience is his master : long did he resist, but now he must submit; and he would not incur the displeasure of his conscience for all the world. , O! that we were all weak in this respect! My time will allow me only to add,
4. Is it not a hard piece of self-denial for you to deprive yourselves of the exalted pleasures of religion?
You love yourselves, and you love happiness, and therefore one would reasonably expect you would choose that which will afford you the most solid, resined and lasting happiness, and abandon whatever is inconsistent with it. Now religion is a source of happiness. Yes; that dull, melancholy thing, religion, which you think, perhaps, would put an end to all your pleasures, and which, for that reason, you have kept at a distance from; religion, which, its enemies will tell you, has made some intolerably precise, and dead to all the joys of life, and turned others mad and melancholy; religion, I fay, will afford you a happiness more pure, more noble, and more durable than all the world can give. Religion not only proposes future happiness, beyond the comprehension of thought, but will afford you present happiness beyond whatever you have known while strangers to it. The pleasures of a peaceful, approving conscience, of communion with God, the supreme good, of the most noble dispositions and most delightful contemplations; these are the pleasures of religion. And ask those 'who have enjoyed them, those whom experience has qualisied to be judges, and they will tell you with one voice, "There are no pleasures comparable to these." Besides, religion has insinitely the advantage of other
things as to futurity. Those pleasures which are inconsistent with it end in shocking prospects, as well as pale reviews. But religion opens the brightest prospects; prospects of everlasting salvation and happiness; prospects that brighten the gloomy shades of death, and the awful world beyond, and run out insinitely beyond our ken through a vast eternal duration. My heart is so full of my subject, that I must borrow the more expressive words of another, to give it vent.* «
"Let the proud Witling argue all he can, "It is Religion still that makes the man: "'Tis this, my friends, that streaks our morning bright: "'Tis this that gilds the horrors of our night. "When wealth forsakes us, and when friends are sew; "When friends are faithless, or when foes pursue; "'Tis this that wards the blow, or stills the smart; "D'sarms affliction, or repels its dart; ". Within the breast bids purest pleasures rise j "Bids smiling conscience spread her cloudless skies.
*' When the storm thickens, and the thunder roll?; "When the earth trembles to th' affrighted poles; "The pious mind nor doubts nor sears assail, *' For storms are zephyrs, or a gentler gale.
"And when disease obstructs the labouring breath, "When the heart sickens, and each pulse is death, "Even then Religion shall sustain the just, "Grace their last moments, nor desert their dust."
Such, my brethren, is religion; the highest, the most substantial, and most lasting happiness of man. And is it not a painsul piece of lelf-denial to you, to., give up all this happiness, when nothing is required to purchase it but only your choice of it! Is not this doing violence to the innate principle of self-love and desire of happiness? Can you be so stupid, as to imagine that the world, or sin, or any thing that can come in competition with religion, can be of equal or comparable advantage to you? Sure your own reason must give in its verdict in favour of religion. And is it
* See a Letter to Mr. Hervey by a physician, presixed to his Meditations. Vol. I.
not a hard thing for you to act against your own reason, against your own interest, your highest, your immortal interest, and against your own innate defire of happiness? Do you never sind it any difficulty to live for years in the world, without once tasting the sweets of the love of God, or the pleasures of an applauding conscience? Is it not hard, that while others around you, in the use of the very means which you enjoy, are made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light, and are animated to endure the calamities of life, and encounter the terrors of death, by the prospect of everlasting glory, while they are now often lost in extatic wonder, while surveying the things that God hath laid up for them that love him; I fay, is it not hard, that you should be destitute of all these transporting prospects, and have nothing but a fearful expectation of wrath and siery indignation, or at best a vain, selfflattering hope, which will issue in the more confounding disappointment? Is not this really hard? Must it not be a difficulty to you to live at this rate?
And now, sinners, will you with infernal bravery break through all these obstacles, and force a passage into the flames below? Or will you not give over the preposterous struggle to ruin yourselves, and suffer yourselves to be saved? O let me arrest you in your dangerous career, as the voice which pronounced my text did St. Paul; and let me prevail upon you for the future to choose the highway to life, and take that course to which God, conscience, duty, and interest urge you. In that indeed you will meet with difficulties; it is a narrow and rugged road; and it will require hard striving to make a progress in it. But then the difficulties you have here to surmount are in the road to happiness, with which therefore it is worth your while to struggle: but those in the other are in the road to destruction; and your striving to surmount them, is but striving to destroy yourselves for ever. It may be worth your while to labour and conflict hard to be saved, but is it worth while to take so
much pains, and strive so hard to be damned? Besides, the difficulties in the heavenly road result from the weak, disordered, and wicked state of human nature, as the difficulty of animal action and enjoyment proceeds from sickness of body; and consequently, every endeavour to surmount these difficulties tends to heal, to rectify, to strengthen, and ennoble our nature, and advance it to perfection. But the difficulties in the way to hell proceed from the contrariety of that course to the best principles of human nature, and to the most strong and rational obligations ; and consequently, the more we struggle with these difficulties, the more we labour to suppress and root out the remains of all good principles, and break the most inviolable obligations to God and ourselves. The eafier it is for us to sin, the more base and corrupt we are: just as the more rotten a limb is, the eafier for it to drop off; the more disordered and stupisied the body is, the more easy to die. To meet with no obstacle in the way to hell, but to run on without restraint, is terrible indeed; it shews a man abandoned of God, and ripe for destruction. Such an ease in sinning is the quality of a devil. Upon the whole, you see, that though there be difsiculties on both sides, yet the way to heaven has insinitely the advantage; and therefore, let me again urge you to choose it. You have walked long enough at variance with God, with your own conscience, with your own interest, and duty: come now, be reconciled: make these your antagonists no longer. While you persist in this opposition, you do but kick against the pricks; that is, you make a resistance injurious to yourselves. For the future, declare war against sin, Satan, and all their confederates, and ere long ye shall be made more than conquerors; and for your encouragement remember, He that overcometh fall inherit all things; and I will bte his God, and he snail be my son, faith the Lord God Almighty.