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CHAPTER IV.

THE PROGRESSIVE MANNER AND SUCCESSIVE STEPS BY

WHICH MANY YOUNG MEN ARE LED ASTRAY.

If it is a melancholy fact, which the history of innumerable families can verify, that many young men, who leave home in every respect moral and respectable, become vicious, and end their course in profligacy and ruin, an inquiry presents itself concerning the steps which lead to this dreadful reverse of character and circumstances. It rarely, if ever, happens, that the heart throws off at once all the restraints of virtue, and plunges suddenly into the depths of vice. It is not by one vast stride that the moral youth passes from sober habits at home to those of an opposite nature abroad, but generally by slow and successive steps. The judgment and conscience would recoil from a temptation which proposed to him to become profligate at once; and if he ever be an adept in vice, he must be led on by insensible degrees, and by little and little make advances in the way of sin. ners, and the counsels of the ungodly. This is what is meant by the deceitfulness of sin.

What individual who ever attained to enormity of wickedness, foresaw, or conjectured the end of his career? When the messenger of Heaven disclosed to Hazael the Syrian, the darkness of his

future character, he indignantly exclaimed, “ Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this?" It was a burst of honest indignation. At that time he was incapable of the atrocities which it was foretold he should one day commit, and his whole nature rose in an expression of sincere abhorrence. He knew not the deceitfulness of his heart, nor the corrupting influence of ambition and power. He was led on by a gradual progress in his guilty career, till the events of his history surpassed in criminality the picture drawn by the prophet. Who that ever ended his days at the gallows, or in the felon's exile, would at one period of his life have thought it possible that he should ever be so hardened as to commit such crimes? Habit renders all things easy, even the most atrocious crimes; and habits of vice, like other habits, begin with acts, many of them little ones.

The most alarming view of sin therefore, and that which should excite the greatest dread, caution, and vigi. lance, is its progressive nature.

I have somewhere read of one who lived in the early ages of the Christian era, who, on being asked by a friend to accompany him to the amphitheatre, to witness the gladiatorial combats with wild beasts, expressed his abhorrence of the sport, and refused to witness a scene condemned alike by humanity and Christianity. Overcome at length, by the continued and pressing solicitation of his friend, whom he did not wish to disoblige, he consented to go; but determined that he would

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close his eyes as soon as he had taken his seat, and keep them closed during the whole time he was in the amphitheatre. At some particular display of strength and skill by one of the combatants, a loud shout of applause was raised by the spectators, when the Christian almost involuntarily opened his eyes: being once open, he found it difficult to close them again; he became interested in the fate of the gladiator, who was then engaged with a lion. He returned home professing to dislike, as his principles required him to do, these cruel games; but his imagination ever and anon reverted to the scenes he had unintentionally witnessed. He was again solicited by his friend to see the sport. He found less difficulty now than before in consenting. He went, sat with his eyes open, and enjoyed the spectacle; again and again he took his seat with the pagan crowd; till at length he became a constant attendant at the amphitheatre, abandoned his Christian profession, relapsed into idolatry, and left a fatal proof of the deceitfulness of sin.*

Thousands of facts to the same purport might be collected, if it were necessary, tending to illustrate the insidious manner in which the transgressor is led on, in his gradual descent into the gulf of ruin. Let us gather up the substance of the preceding chapters, and trace the wanderer

* See my book, entitled, The Christian Father's Present to his Children.

through his sinful course. Perhaps before he left his father's house he was not only strictly moral, but was the subject of religious impressions; convinced of sin, and an inquirer after salvation. He heard sermons with interest, kept holy the sabbath, and made conscience of secret prayer and reading the Scriptures. His conduct had awakened the hopes of his parents, and raised the expectations of his minister; but he was not decided ;

ihere had been no actual surrender of his heart to God, through faith, repentance, and the new birth. In this state of mind, he left home. Instead of taking alarm, as he should have done, at the dangers to which he was now about to be exposed, he went thoughtlessly to his new situation, and encountered its perils without due preparation. In his place he found little to encourage, perhaps something, or even much, to damp and discourage serious reflection. The preacher whose ministrations he attended was less impressive and exciting than the one he had left. The master whom he served, took little care of his spiritual welfare. Amidst these circumstances, his religious impressions were soon lost, and his concern speedily subsided. Still he could not at once give up the forms of devotion, and for awhile kept up the practice of private prayer, but having no separate room, he soon became ashamed to be seen falling upon his knees in the presence of gay or thoughtless companions, who slept in the same apartment, and who perhaps sneered at the prac

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tice. This is a temptation to which many are exposed, and it is one of the most successful in in. ducing young persons to give up the habit of prayer. He could not, however, quite relinquish a practice to which he had been accustomed from childhood, and occasionally he stole away to his room, and spent a few moments in devotion. This too in time was given up, and

prayer wholly discontinued. A great restraint was now removed, and a barrier thrown down.* The fear of God,

* As an illustration of the hardening effect of leaving off

prayer, where the habit had been previously maintained, I may give the confession of one who had known it by sad and awful experience. “It will be recollected," says the writer of "The Happy. Transformation,' o that when I left my paternal roof, I possessed some feelings of veneration for the great Author of my being, and had been trained up to fear his holy name. These feelings I carried with me to London, strengthened by the advice of niy father, and the pious example of my brother. I did not possess any proper knowledge of the relation in which I stood to God as a sinner, and my need of redeeming grace. All my religion consisted in a fear of drawing down God's displeasure, and an idea that it was my duty to pray to him morning and night. This I attended to for some time. At first I used to kneel unnoticed behind the bed; but by degrees I neglected this from shame and idleness, and used to mutter over my prayers in bed. Sometimes I dropped to sleep in the midst of them, and at other times never attempted to say them at all; and this course I contin

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