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When Hazael, in surprise, enquired into the cause of this sudden emotion, the Prophet plainly informs him of the crimes and barbarities which he foresaw that hereafter he should commit. The soul of Hazael abhorred, at this time, the thoughts of cruelty. Uncorrupted, as yet, by ambition or greatness, his indignation arose at being thought capable of such savage actions as the Prophet had mentioned ; and, with much warmth, he replies, But, what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? Elisha makes no return but to point out a remarkable change which was to take place in his condition; The Lord hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria. In course of time, all that had been predicted came to pass. Hazael ascended the throne; and ambition took possession of his heart. He smote the children of Israel in all their coasts. He oppressed them during all the days of king Jehoahaz* ; and from what is left on record of his actions, plainly appears to have proved what the Prophet foresaw him to-be, a man of violence, cruelty, and blood.
In this passage of history, an object is presented which deserves our serious attention. We behold a man who, in one state of life, could not look upon certain crimes without surprise and horrour, who knew so little of himself, as to believe it impossible for him ever to be concerned in committing them; that same man, by a change of condition, transformed in all his sentiments, and, as he rose in greatness, rising also in guilt; till at last he completed that whole character of iniquity which he once detested. Hence the following observations naturally arise. I. That to a mind not entirely corrupted, sentiments of abhorrence at guilt are natural. II. That, notwithstanding those sentiments, the mind may be brought under the dominion of the vices which it had most abhorred. III. That this unhappy revolution is frequently owing to a change of men's external circumstances and condition in the world. These observations are to make the subject of the present Discourse ; and will lead us to such a view of human nature, as, it is hoped, may be of general use.
* 2 Kings, xiii. 32.
I. SENTIMENTS of abhorrence at guilt are natural to the human mind. Hazael's reply to the Prophet, shows how strongly he felt them. Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? Is he, or can he ever be so base and wretched, as to perpetrate crimes which would render him unworthy of bearing the name of a man ? This is the voice of human nature, while it is not as yet hardened in iniquity. Some vices are indeed more odious to the mind than others. Providence has wisely pointed the sharpest edge of this natural aversion against the crimes which are of most pernicious and destructive nature ; such as treachery, oppression, and cruelty. But, in general, the distinction between moral good and evil is so strongly marked, as to stamp almost every «vice with the character of turpitude. Present to any man, even the most ignorant and untutored, an obvious instance of injustice, falsehood, or impiety; let him view it in a cool moment, when no passion blinds, and no interest warps him; and you will find that his mind immediately revolts against it, as shameful and base, nay, as deserving punishment. Hence, in reasoning on the characters of others, however men may mistake as to facts, yet they generally praise and blame according to the principles of sound morality.
With respect to their own character, a notorious partiality too generally misleads their judgment. But it is remarkable, that no sinner ever avows directly to himself, that he has been guilty of gross and downright iniquity. Even when engaged by his passions in the commission of the greatest crimes, he always palliates them to his own mind by some extenuation or apology, some pretended necessity, or some borrowed colour of innocence. Such
power, the undeniable dignity of virtue, and the acknowledged turpitude of vice, possesses over every human heart. These sentiments are the remaining impressions of that law, which was originally written on the mind of man. They are gleams of that light which once shone clear and strong within us; and which, though it be now greatly obscured, yet continues to shoot a feeble ray athwart the darkness of huinan nature. - But whatever sentiments of abhorrence at vice we may at any time entertain, we have no reason to build upon these a presumptuous confidence of our continuance in virtue. For the next instruction which the text suggests, is,
II. That such is man's iguorance of his own character, such the frailty of his nature, that he may one day become infamous for those very crimes which at present he holds in detestation. This observation is too well verified by the history of Hazael ; and a thousand other instances might be brought to confirm it. Though there is nothing which every person ought to know so thoroughly as his own heart, yet from the conduct of men it appears, that there is nothing with which they are less acquainted. Always more prone to flatter themselves than desirous to discover the truth, they trust to their being possessed of every virtue which has not been put to the trial; and reckon themselves secure against every vice to which they have not hitherto been tempted. As long as their duty hangs in speculation, it appears so plain, and so eligible, that they cannot doubt of performing it. The suspicion never enters their mind, that in the hour of speculation, and in the hour of practice, their sentiments may differ widely. Their present disposition they easily persuade themselves will ever continue the same; and yet that disposition is changing with circumstances every moment.
The man who glows with the warm feelings of devotion, imagines it impossible for him to lose that sense of the divine goodness which at present melts his heart. He whom his friend hath lately saved from ruin, is confident that, if some trying emergency shall put his gratitude to proof, he will rather die than abandon his benefactor. He who. lives happy and contented in frugal industry, wonders how any man can give himself up to dissolute plea
Were any of those persons informed by a superiour spirit, that the time was shortly to come when the one should prove an example of scandalous impiety, the other of treachery to his friend, and the third of all that extravagant luxury which disgraces a growing fortune ; each of them would testify as much surprise and abhorrence as Hazael did, upon hearing the predictions of the Prophet. Sincere they might very possibly be in their expres
sions of indignation : for hypocrisy is not always to be charged on men whose conduct is inconsistent. Hazael was in earnest, when he resented with such ardour the imputation of cruelty. The Apostle Peter was sincere, when he made the zealous profession, that though he should go to prison and to death with his Master, he would never deny him. They were sincere ; that is, they spoke from the fulness of their hearts, and from the warmth of the present moment; but they did not know themselves, as the events which followed plainly shewed. So false to its principles, too frequently is the heart of man; so weak is the foundation of human virtue; so much reason there is for what the Gospel perpetually inculcates concerning the necessity of distrusting ourselves, and depending on divine aid. Mortifying, I confess, is this view of human nature ; yet proper to be attended to by all, in order to escape the most fatal dangers. For, merely through unguarded conduct, and from the want of this prudent suspicion of their own weakness, how many, after the most promising beginnings, have gradually apostatized from every principle of virtue; until, at last, it has become as difficult for one to believe, that they ever had any love of goodness, as it would have been once to have persuaded themselves that they were to advance to such a height in wickedness!
In such cases as I have described, what has become,
may be enquired, of those sentiments of abhorrence at guilt which were once felt so strongly? Are they totally erased ? or, if in any degree they remain, how do such persons contrive to satisfy themselves in acting a part which their minds con