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our eyes, where the inhabitants are altogether unstained, and the joys absolutely perfect; where, with one heart, and one voice, we shall celebrate the praises of Zion's King; ascribing glory and honour, dominion and power, to him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever. Amen.
Eccl. viii. 11.
Because sentence against an evil work is not executed
speedily; therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
THOUGH God had not favoured us with an explicit revelation of his will, yet that absolute perfection which Reason must attribute to the Supreme Being, would naturally lead us to conclude, that he cannot look
upon sin without the greatest abhorrence; and, in consequence thereof, that his impartial justice, and almighty power, will not always suffer that abominable thing which he hates to pass unpunished. Accordingly we find, that the conscience of man, till a long habit of sin. ning hath rendered it callous and insensible, gives a reluctant assent to the equity of such punishment, by that anguish which it raiseth in the sinner's mind upon the commission of any gross and heinous transgression. This made Judas to cry out after his vile treachery, “I have betrayed innocent blood." Nay, so powerfully
was his heart smitten with a sense of the demerit of his crime, that, despairing of pardon, he in a manner an. ticipated the sentence of condemnation, and became the executioner of divine justice, by laying violent hands upon himself. And the apostle Paul testifies concerning the Gentile world, that even they, by the light of Nature, and the dictates of unassisted Reason, “knew the judgment of God;" and universally acknowledged, with respect to many acts of atrocious wickedness. “ that they who committed such things were worthy of death."
But the sacred records have put this matter beyond all uncertainty. There “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men :” and a curse is denounced against every one, without exception, “ who contingeth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” So that a sentence is passed, and stands in force, against every evil work; and the words of Solomon, which I have chosen for the subject of the following dis. course, represent to us, on the one hand, the marvellous patience of God in suspending the execution of this righteous sentence; and, on the other hand, men's vile abuse of his unmerited goodness. Instead of being led to repentance, they grow bolder in sin; and “because sentence against their evil works is not speedily executed, therefore, their heart is fully set in them to do evil.
There is an awful emphasis in the last of these expressions: it denotes the extreme wickedness that sinners may arrive at; not only to commit sin when assaulted with violent temptations, but to make an habitual tradle of it; nay, to employ themselves in it with delight. Their heart is so fully set in them to do evil, that all their faculties bend that way. Thus we read of some “ who drink iniquity like water;" " who devise mis
chief upon their beds, and set themselves in a way that is not good; nay, who put themselves to incredible pains and hard labour, as it were, that they may exceed in wickedness: “ they weary themselves to commit iniqui. ty;" and "sin as with a cart-rope."
It must no doubt appear an incredible abuse of the divine goodness, to pervert that patience which should lead men to repentance, into an encouragement to sin more presumptuously; yet so it hath been in times past; and there is too just cause to complain, that it continues to be so still. Indeed, “when Goil's judgments are in the earth," the inhabitants thereof do sometimes " learn righteousness;" at least, so long as the rod lies heavy upon them, they may refrain from those sins wbich they imagine have subjected them to it; but no sooner is the rod laid aside, than they quickly relapse into their former course of living, agreeably to what the prophet Isaiah observes, “ Let favour be shewn to the wicked, yet he will not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the ma. jesty of the Lord.” What is written, (Luke xii. 45.) is too just a picture of the temper and practice of the bulk of mankind; “ they say in their heart, The Lord delayeth his coming; and thereupon presume to beat their fellowservants, and to eat, and drink, and to be drunken;" yea, not the foolish virgins only, but even the wise, are in danger of slumbering, while the bridegroom tarrieth, as we read, Matth. xxv. 5.
There is an unhappy tendency in our nature to forget God. The best find enough ado to overcome it; but the wicked give fall scope to it; and nothing but cbastise. ment, severe and present chastisement, will bring them the length eren of a feigned submission to God. Hence the observation is drawn, that times of adversity hare always been most friendly to religion; and they must know little of the history of the world in general, and of their own country in particular, who do not agree in this remark. National prosperity is certainly most desi. rable; we regard it as a blessing, we pray for the continuance of it; and it is our duty to do so: yet if we examine the annals of former times, and do not turn away our eyes from the real state of our own times, we shall be obliged to acknowledge, that a calm is often more hurtful than a storm, both to the church and people of God. True it is, that arts and sciences flourish, and a form of godliness may perhaps prevail; but, alas! the life and power of it decay apace; vices formerly unknown spring up like weeds in too rank a soil; even the best are apt to grow remiss and careless, wanton and secure.
What I apprehend to be most necessary upon this subject is, to inquire whence this unnatural abuse of the divine patience proceeds; and to detect some of those false reasonings by which sinners derive encou. ragement to do evil, from that very exercise of goodness which ought to produce the quite contrary effect.
Now the principal causes of this abuse, or the steps whereby sinners arrive at the amazing pitch of wickedness described in my text, seem to be these following.
The delay of punishment gradually weakens those impressions of fear, whereby the unpractised sinner is always alarmed at his entrance upon a wicked and flagitious course of life. No man becomes utterly profligate at once: conscience will remonstrate to the young transgressor; and the struggle is ofttimes sharp and long be. fore this deputy of the Supreme Judge can be wholly put to silence. It were superfluous to prove what every man feels, or at least must have felt, in some period of
his life. Depraved as we are, sins of a grosser kind are always committed with some reluctance at their first commencement, and followed with remorse and dread of punisbment; but when, after repeated acts of sin, the transgressor still finds himself safe, these painful feelinys abate by degrees; the man waxeth bolder day after day; and thus proceeds from evil to worse, till, like Job's war-horse, he at length “mocks at fear," and rusheth headlong in his wicked course without any restraint. This I take to be the leading abuse of divine patience; which paves the way to every subsequent step of departure from God, till the sinner arrive at the last stage of impiety, an heart fully set in him to do evil. For, as "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom;" so the want of this fear may, with equal propriety, be styled the beginning of folly, or the introduction into a wicked and profligate life.
Having got thus far, he proceeds to call in question the omniscience of God, and to entertain some hope that his iniquities may pass unobserved. Of such we read, (Psalm lxiv. 5.). “ They encourage themselves in an
6 evil matter; they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see us?” And, (Psalm x. 11.) “ He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten; He hideth his face, He will never see it.” He begins to think that God taketh no notice of human affairs when vice passeth long unpunished; and thence he derives fresh courage, and persists in his career with growing intrepidity.
At length he acquires the boldness to impugn the ho. liness of God, and to form an idea of him that suits the corrupt disposition of his own heart. He endeavours to persuade himself, that the remorse he used to feel after the commission of sin, was purely owing to the prejudice