THE pit of darkness, which we have to dread, is not that, into which Christ went down, and from which He ascended again; but it is the pit of selfishness, of hatred, of despair, upon the edge of which we are continually playing--gathering flowers, while the grim tyrant is watching us, and marking us for his prize--and from which only One, Mightier than the Prince of this world and the Prince of Darkness, can deliver us. Those, who are possessed with this idea, ought not to be less earnest than others, in their entreaty with men not to yield themselves to evil--not to admit it to parley with their hearts and understandings--not to tolerate its dominion. They should be much more earnest, just because their hope is so much stronger--because they are so sure that there is a Deliverer at hand, and that men are refusing that Deliverer, are choosing darkness rather than light, when they go in crooked courses. But this language must sound contradictory, if it is merely listened to with the outward ear. They must at the same moment speak of an Infinite Love, which is embracing us round, claiming us for its own, refusing to part with us; and of a self-will, which is resisting that Love, trying to do without it, and which may carry on the war for ever. They must tell men what the hardening of the heart consists in, how easily it increases in one and all of us, in spite of much knowledge, high professions, holy duties, holy ministries committed to us--in spite of the experience of sorrow, the sense of vanity in visible things, the conscience of wrong, the sight of excellence in others, and the admiration of it, the remembrance of dying beds, and of those who have shown us love and done us good. With all things about us seemingly biassing us to good, that mind may be forming in us which formed itself in Judas, while he was walking with, and listening to, the Son of God, and preaching His Kingdom to men. By proud thoughts, contempt of others, indignation at their contempt of us, self-pleasing, self-seeking, in common or in holy acts,--thus, without flagrant immoralities, or any loss of respect from our fellow-creatures, nay, most, perhaps, while we are studying to keep it,--may we be contracting a character, which defies the impressions of Love, which leads us to turn from the Holy One of Israel, and to wish that He should cease from us.
We have heard of holy and wise men, on their dying beds, being appalled by a sense of moral evil, and of that evil as their own, which they had never experienced before. Do not suppose they were haunted with thoughts of punishments, which God had appointed for them. An unloving act or thought has seemed to them, in that hour, more terrible than all penalties, which the most cruel imagination ever devised or inflicted. Selfishness has stood out before them, as the real essence of the Devil-nature; and the thought, how near it had been to them, how nearly they had succumbed to it, has given them an unspeakable shudder, when the hope of awaking up after God's likeness, and being satisfied with it, was becoming brightest.--Sermons on the Prayer Book, p.269.