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to talk about their own virtues, and solace themselves with the soothing reflection that they do ill to nobody but themselves; and that God is merciful, and it would be harsh once to think he would condemn all, except such as are awakened by a lawwork, and fears of hell, and pray without ceasing. Thus, happy in one another, they sleep on, and take their rest.
5. The longer the sluggard is habituated to sloth, he is the more in love with it, and the more averse to alter his course. Natural sleep, the longer it is enjoyed, like a powerful opiate, more and more benumbs the senses, is sweeter in the enjoyment, and increases the difficulty of shaking it off. Every habit, however innocent, gathers force by continuance; and is strengthened by every act. This holds true in an eminent degree of such habits as are sinful. The powerful principle of sin within is ever operative, and strengthens the habit. Many to whom this character fully belongs at last, began in very small degrees, and sloth crept on imperceptibly.
In a religious sense, many were slothful all their lives. Activity and concern about religion they never had, nor desired. Others seemed to run well, but began to slacken. One duty turned tasteless and insipid, and then another. As their love and relish to duties declined, their performance was less accurate and frequent. Excuses, which formerly were of no avail, are now valid; and duty is frequently omitted. Sin is down-hill road. From partial they proceed to total neglect; and from that to contempt. Instead of being at pains to shake off security, they
use every mean to increase it. Often a sluggard is at more trouble finding excuses to shift the work, than the work itself would cost him. It is impossible to name all their empty pleas. The least difficulty furnishes an excuse: "the sluggard will not plough by reason of the cold." Nay, rather than want an excuse, he forms imaginary difficulties to himself, and says, "there is a lion without: I shall be slain in the streets." - Now he excuses himself from religious duties by the cares of this world: then by a kind of promise that he will perform them at a convenient season. At any rate, instead of being affected with his present omission, he pleads earnestly for farther indulgence, and says, Let me alone to-day-tomorrow, or some day, I shall think of religion; at present I cannot do it; "yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep." Thus "he hideth his hand in his bosom, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again."
6. He sleeps away his time, amuses himself with unavailing resolutions of doing better in a little, and thinks that if the strait come, he will make some shift or other. If any expostulate with him, and say, "How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard; when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?" instead of being affected with the just reproach, he still claims indulgence, and if he has any faint resolutions, they respect only some future period. That time comes, and finds him more in love with his situation than he was before; and still more unwilling to give up with it. So it is likely to be at any future period. Sinners, if they resolve to be religious at all, they cannot think of it
at present, but resolve to be in earnest against such a time. Such a resolution, instead of having any good effect, lulls them asleep, is considered as an extenuation of every crime, and a toleration for the neglect of every duty. They promise on life, till the time appointed arrive, which they ought by no means to do. Life is uncertain; but though they should reach the period fixed upon for the commencement of religion, every intervening hour has rendered their hearts more unfit to make their purpose effective; or rather, it has wonderfully fitted them for a new lease of sin; and is likely to issue in fixing their resolution at another period equally distant. Sinful appetites and inclinations, so long indulged, become clamorous, insist upon being gratified, and reject every excuse.
The slothful man always indulges a secret thought that if a real strait comes, he will some way or other get over it. He fondly hopes that some friend or neighbour will supply him, and neither expose him to beggary or death. The sinner pleases himself with a secret thought that, before he die, matters will be some way or other settled between God and him, though he knows not how. He speaks peace to his soul, and thinks that God is like himself. Though little acquainted with the Divine Being, he hopes he will be merciful. Sin bulks little in his eye, and he makes his own apprehensions of it the rule by which he judges of God's. Thus, as in Deut. xxix. 19, “He blesses himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst."
In all this delusive train of reasoning one thing is obvious and remarkable: the sluggard thinks only about supply when the strait comes, and never about his present duty of improving his field, and cultivating his vineyard: the sinner thinks only of deliverance from hell, and by no means of the great duty of glorifying God in all his actions, living for him, and walking up and down in his name.
7. The slothful entails poverty on himself, and, sooner or later, if he lives, must be a burden on others. "Poverty cometh upon him as one that travaileth, and his want as an armed man.' On the other hand, the wise man assures us that "the hand of the diligent maketh rich," and adds, "the soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat." Poverty is the native effect of sloth, and when reduced to the lowest ebb, the slothful must be a burden on others, for " he that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster."
The spiritual sluggard in one sense can scarcely be poorer. In him dwelleth no good thing. But, in another sense, he is daily adding to his debt, and has nothing to pay. He is feeding on husks, or pining away, while the Lord's people are filled with the finest of the wheat, and under Christ's shadow are fed with his excellent fruits. Never was a happier contrast drawn between the precious enjoyments of the saints, in proving the means of grace, and the extreme penury of the slothful man neglecting every opportunity, than we have in Isa. lxv. 13, 14, "Therefore
thus saith the Lord God, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty: behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed. Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit." To the same purpose are the words of the wise man, Prov. xii. 7," The slothful man roasteth not that which he taketh in hunting, but the substance of a diligent man is precious." It must be recollected that the poverty which the sinner entails upon himself is not only distressing, but sinful, and an article of the curse. While temporal poverty ends with the natural life, it is far otherwise with the penury of the sinner: it accompanies him to death, and will sink him to the lowest hell, if he is not interested in the unsearchable riches of Christ. It will be an additional part of his sufferings too, that Christ took this, as well as every other part of the curse, upon him, that sinners might be delivered: for " though he was rich, yet for their sakes he became poor, that they through his poverty might be rich." And "he counsels us to buy of him gold tried in the fire, that we may be rich; and white raiment that we may be clothed."
The slothful is a burden on the Church. If he professes to take Christ's yoke upon him, he does not draw equally in it with others. Nay, he draws back; and does much to make others do the same. word, he may do much to prevent the blessing, and mar the success of ordinances; but nothing to draw