Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

The contempt in which he holds those honours and that grandeur at which other men so eagerly grasp, effectually damps his ardour in the pursuit of them. He

possesses, in short, a nice sensibility of conscience and a scrupulous adherence to integrity which will not allow him to mingle in the bustle and intrigue of life: to conform himself to the maxims and opinions of the world, or go with the multitude to do evil. No wonder, then, that he is poor, neglected, and unsuccessful.

God's natural government would be incomplete, were it otherwise.

But still religion teaches us, that, bad men ought not to be happy, nor good men miserable; that, vice deserves farther punishment, and virtue a further reward, than they have a natural tendency to produce; and we think, that, if God's moral government were equitable, the wicked should not escape, nor the expectation of the just be cut off. But, in the first place, do you suppose, that, wicked men, however great or opulent, are really happy! No, my friends. The main pillar of one's happiness must be placed in his own breast, and if all is not right within, the vain show in which many men walk, the noise and splen

dour which surround them, will only create new sources of uneasiness. The face may wear the smile of joy, but underneath lurk care, anxiety and discontent.

Observe the conduct of those who live in the opulence and luxury of life, and whose merits, you think, do not entitle them to such elevation? Does it indicate the possession of happiness greater than what other men enjoy? They fly to business, to company, to amusement, in order to get rid of their own thoughts, and in quest of happiness to which, at home and in private, they seem to be strangers. Nay, frequently, after having been jaded in the ways of vice, tossed in the whirl of pleasure, and lost in dissipation of thought, life at length becomes insipid, its enjoyments tasteless, and existence itself a burden. This is the state of too many of the rich and great, in whatever way their riches and power have been obtained. But if they have been acquired by fraud, by rapine and by oppression, then they are unacquainted with that pure and exquisite pleasure which springs from a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man. Then there is a gall which embitters every feast, there is a poison which is mingled in every cup. Then

a

Conscience, who was not heard amidst the storm of passion, lifts up her voice, and speaks in terrour to the guilty soul. And wretched indeed must be the situation of that man who has no internal resource nor comfort; who is exposed to the stings and reproaches of his own mind : whose steps are ever haunted by the dæmon of remorse; whom guilt appals with awful anticipations of future punishment. What are poverty, and pain, and sickness to this ? A man may sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit, who can bear?

In the second place, though the justice of God be, undoubtedly, pledged for the punishment of the wicked, we can have no proof that it is pledged to inflict this punishment immediately upon the commission of the crime. In God's moral government, we have already observed, there is no connection between the crime and the punishment, but that of desert; and a thing's being deserved only proves, that, it shall certainly happen some time or other, without determining either the time or the manner of its happening. How then shall we pretend to say that it is unjust in God to delay the punishment of sinners even for a single moment? We ought not to limit

[blocks in formation]

the God of nature, or suppose that He whose dominions extend throughout all space, and whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, is obliged to make this world the scene of punishment, or that he is confined to the present life for its execution.

The punishment, then, even of the most notorious offenders, who in the judgment of all men are ripe for vengeance, may without injustice be delayed. But I go farther, and maintain that it must be delayed to a certain degree, without its being productive of the greatest injustice and disorder, without destroying the whole constitution of human affairs.

If God's moral government were to counteract his natural, if the execution of the

general laws of the universe were prevented or suspended in order to punish or reward individuals, there could be no certainty in human affairs; vice, disorder, and confusion would take place of that harmonious and uniform plan of things which now prevails. Men would not know how to act under so uncertain and changeable a government, because they could have no security that their actions would be attended with their due reward. Who would sow their fields, or plant their vineyards, if

[ocr errors]

they knew not whether they should reap the fruits thereof? Without doubt, wicked men are not entitled to happiness : but if they do not receive the natural reward of their labour and diligence what dreadful consequences would ensue? If the hand of the diligent did not make rich, if the exertion of our abilities did not ensure success, the very existence of this world would be at an end. Where would be that industry and action by which, as by a moving power, the whole machine of nature is carried forward ? Where would be the encouragement to cultivate and improve our faculties when idleness and dissipation would be equally advantageous with activity and labour? In short, the links which bind together society would be dissolved, and the world would soon go to ruin, disorder, and decay.

2. I proceed to observe, that, “ not to execute judgment speedily against an evil work” is consistent with the greatest wisdom. Though it be allowed, that, we cannot accuse God of injustice for delaying the punishment of sinners, provided it shall certainly happen some time or other, yet it may still be thought, upon a slight view, that his wisdom is not free from imputation, and that he has not wisely adapted

« ПредишнаНапред »