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of education, and the influence of some narrow principles instilled into his mind by bis parents or tutors, before he was capable of judging for himself.
This step to a total degeneracy is strongly marked, (Psalm 1. 21.) where God saith, " These things thou hast done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was
; altogether such a one as thyself.” Because God kept silence, and did not utter his anger in speedy vengeance, the sinner thought that he was altogether such a one as himself; that virtue and vice were fictitious names, framed by credulous or designing men; that God made no difference between them, but was every whit as well pleased with the one as with the other. Dreadful abuse of the divine patience! and yet I am afraid it is too prevalent in our day; else whence these secret whisperings among some who pretend to think above the common rate, that their constitution inclines them to such and such gratifications; which, therefore, cannot be criminal, seeing the author of their being hath implanted these appetites in their frame, and of consequence must be held as consenting to the indulgence of them? When punishment is long suspended, corruption too easily breeds such conceits as these; and nothing but the rod, a sharp and sanctified rod, will suffice to expel them. Thus many interpret a mere delay of punishment as a certain token that their conduct is approved of; and because God is not like man, weak and impotent to restrain his anger, hence, they impiously conclude, that he doth cer. tainly resemble him in another respect; I almost tremble to mention it,—that he is a lover of impurity: nay, the very patron and author of sin.
From such premises as these, the determined sinner, without much hesitation, will eagerly draw the fatal inference, that the administration of the divine government
shall always continue as it appears to his darkened mind at present; and that God doth neither mark iniquity now, nor will enter into judgment with sinners for it afterwards. We find the Psalmist proposing a question, (Psalm x. 13.) “ Wherefore doth the wicked condemn God?" which he answers thus, “ He hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.” One of the most emi. nent saints under the old dispensation, (as we learn from the 730 Psalm) was almost carried off his feet, upon ob. serving the prosperity of the wicked, insomuch that he put the question, “ How doth God know, and is there knowledge in the Most High?” Nay, he came the length to say, “ Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence.” And if holy men, whose minds have been enlightened by the Spirit of God, are thus apt, for a season, to suspect the wisdom and righteousness of his administration, surely it is not to be wondered at, that wicked men, “ whose hearts are hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,” should be so far deluded by temporal prosperity, as to dream that justice shall never awaken, and that sin shall always pass unpunished.
By a progress of this kind do sinners arrive at the dreadful pitch of wickedness spoken of in my text. When they observe that sentence against an evil work: is not speedily executed, they draw such false conclu. sions from it as those I have mentioned, till at length every band that should restrain them is broken asunder, and their hearts become fully set in them to do evil.
From this account of the matter, you will be able to judge for yourselves, how far you are advanced in the road to a total, I had almost called it an irrecoverable, degeneracy. If you have made a shift to silence conscience, or even to render it more unfeeling than for
merly it hath been, you have taken one very wide and dangerous step. But as you love your own souls, oh! take not another. Beware of listening to any objections against the omniscience, the holiness, or the justice of God; for if you do, in your present state of spiritual deadness, your case is more bazardous than I am able to describe; you are not far from the desperate situation of those whose heart is fully set in them to do evil.
And now, my dear friends, as it is an undeniable truth, that this abuse of the Divine patience is too frequent in our day, let me beg your attention for a little, till I have set before you the folly and baseness of such conduct, and fatal consequences with which it must necessarily be attended. Consider, then,
1st. That to grow bolder in sin because you are not speedily punished, is most foolish; for unless you have assurance of a full indemnity, and that sentence against your evil works shall never be executed, your conduct is obviously absurd and irrational. You have long escaped through the patience and forbearance of God; but if you liave the remotest suspicion that judgment may one day overtake you; nay, if you are not absolutely certain that it never shall; upon what principle of sound reason can you be easy for one moment? You do not know but that already you have committed the last act of wickedness that God is to tolerate, and that the next transgression will bring down the fatal stroke, and plunge you into remediless ruin. You live by a mere act of grace; your fate depends upon a reprieve, which the Sovereign may protract or shorten at his pleasure; and how mad is it to presume upon so precarious a tenure ? Or if you have conceived any hope of escape, allow me to ask you, upon what ground is your hope built? It would need to be a strong foundation indeed and yet
that is to carry all the weight you are disposed to lay upon it. Have you any promise or declaration on the part of God, or any dictate of unprejudiced Reason, that saith you shall be safe? Produce your security that we may know it. If you have nothing more to say than that you hope to escape, because you wish it, alas! this is nothing to the purpose; for we read of some fools who say, or wish, in their heart there were no God; and yet a God there is, who will prove a consuming fire to them. You dare not say that sin never was punished; for all history, both sacred and profane, would contradict you; and it were easy to quote many examples of sinners who have escaped as long, perhaps longer than you, have been punished at last; so that unless you have something altogether peculiar to yourselves, some special indulgence which the world hath never yet heard of, your conduct betrays the height of madness, a degree of phrensy which no term of reproach can fully express.
2dly. It is no less base than foolish. Ingratitude is universally condemned, and branded with infamy. We reckon it the mark of a base, disingenuous spirit, to forget favours received, or even to neglect making a proper return, when the obliged party hath it in his power to do it: but if one shall injure bis benefactor, and render evil for good, such a person must become an object of universal contempt and detestation, and none will be found so hardy as to plead in his defence. And yet the abuse of divine patience, to which my text refers, is a species of baseness that exceeds ingratitude; and indeed no word is to be found in any language I know, that is of sufficient force to express its malignity, or to convey an adequate idea of its abominable nature. No man ever injured his benefactor because he was bis benefactor : VOL. I.
interfering interests, or selfish views, may cause unequal returns for benefits conferred; but in the case before us, there is something entirely different from this. Sinners not only injure, or rather attempt to injure, their greatest benefactor, the God in whom they live and move, by whose power and goodness they are supported every moment; but his goodness to them in times past, and the hope of its continuance, are the very things that embolden them to offend him; and “ because sentence against their evil work is not speedily executed, therefore their heart is fully set in them to do evil.” Devils may be capable of this, but guilty of it they are not ; their forlorn condition hath put it beyond their reach; the immediate execution of the doom they had incurred, afforded them no opportunity of trampling upon the mercy of God: so that, with regard to the act of sin, we plainly exceed them in this respect. O that men could be brought to view their conduct in its true light, I am sure they would loathe and abhor themselves on account of it. To burden God's patience because it is great; to load him with insults, because, out of pity to us, be is slow in resenting them; to harden our hearts by that very mercy which should dissolve and soften them; this is worse than devilish ; there is something in this so perverse, so monstrous, so unnatural, that one would be tempted to suspect, that some malicious slanderer of human nature had forged the accusation, were we pot all conscious of the truth of it, and more or less convicted of this horrid baseness by the testimony of our own consciences. These considerations, metbinks, should be sufficient to deter us from burdening the patience of God any more. But I have further to add, in the
3d place, That the consequences of this abuse shall, in the issue, be most fatal to the sinner himself. You