« AnteriorContinua »
imperfect nature, where we shall easily discover, that the small share of knowledge and power which men have when they are not under the guidance of this nobler perfection, only stain and corrupt that character which they were meant to adorn.
The strength and wisdom of the Almighty, had of themselves been sufficient to have made the universe, but it must be his justice alone, which could so long sustain and preserve it, as it is this which holds the due balance, presides over the powers of nature, and keeps together the various parts of the great structure in their proper harmony and proportion.
And the same invariable rules, which the Creator hath himself observed, did he propose also to his creatures; he hath commanded man to be just as he is just, and pure as he is pure; and the more effectually to persuade him to the imitation of his own divine conduct, he hath ordered that his happiness or misery shall totally depend upon it; he hath declared it as his fixed and unalterable decree, that as we behave towards each other, he will act towards us; or, as it is expressed in my text, that with the same measure that we mele witha!, it shall be measured unto us again.
But though the justice of God is so manifest, though it is so effential to his nature, that it is impossible to divest him of it; it is notwithstanding an attribute which from the unaccountable perverseness of human nature, even the good and pious have sometimes been weak enough to distrust
, and the evil very frequently wicked enough to call in question,
To vindicate, therefore, the ways of the Almighty towards his creatures, to direct the path of the wanderer, to fix the resolutions of the doubtful, and turn the hearts of the difobedient to the wisdom of the just; let us endeavour, as far as the light of reason can guide us in our inquiries, to defend the justice of God through some of its various operations, and to convince the unbeliever that it is diffused, like his mercy, throughout all his works.
And to this end it may not be improper to consider,
First, In what manner, and to what degree the divine justice is exerted in this life:
And secondly, What portion of it is reserved to fulfil the divine appointment in that which is to come.
And first then, with regard to that measure of the divine justice which is meted to us in this life, we may observe, that
As much as men generally repine at the unequal distribution of things, the good even here are the happiest, and the evil the most miserable, for virtue is in a great measure its own reward.
If health, honour, peace, reputation, and trust, are pleasures, they are picasures which the good man is feldom a stranger to. Health is the true and genuine offspring of temperance, and tranquillity the inseparable compa.. nion of innocence: the good man is always honoured, though not imitated, even by the most abandoned. Men will, in all their affairs, repose trust and confidence in those whose re
putation is unblemished, and their behaviour upright. Wisdom always repayeth her children. Length of days is in her right-hand, and in her left, riches and honour. Great peace have they', says the psalmist, that love thy law peace which pafseth all understanding; this peace which adds variety to wit, and grace to wisdom; that health of the soul which pours its enlivening influence over every faculty, heightens the bloom of youth, imparts cheerfulness to sickness and anguish, and gives vigour, smiles, and activity, even to age, poverty, and affliction.
But as virtue is said, and in many cases truly said, to be its own reward, so is vice also in some measure its own punishment. It is the character of Satan, who is the father of fin, that he is first the tempter and then the tormentor; and the features of his offspring bear the strongest resemblance to him. Many of our faults and follies carry with them their immediate and unavoidable consequences; they walk hand in hand, and the guilt is no sooner incurred, but it is succeeded by the reward. Thus, when intemperance walks forth to the banquet, fickness seldom fails to attend her steps, and to adminifter the wholesome draught of sorrow and repentance: when the haughty and self-sufficient man boasts of his imagined fuperiority, he generally meets with contempt and aversion: whilst the covetous man withholds his morsel from the poor, doth he not ftarve himself also? and whilft the angry and revengeful endeavours as much as lies in his
power to destroy the peace and tranquillity of others, does he not at the same time destroy his own?
But this manifestation of the divine justice is not, it seems, sufficient to stop the clamours of the discontented, and repress the pride of the insolent. The good (for so they call them. selves) are grieved to see the wicked in pro. sperity. Such is their impatience and indignation, that they will not wait to see the end; because the debt of the wicked is not immediately demanded, they are too apt to conclude them utterly discharged of it; and because the blow is suspended for a time, they say it will never fall upon them; 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; and yet were we as careful to observe the judgments of God, as we generally are to watch the faults of men, what fre. quent reasons should we meet with to adore his impartial justice, and the execution of it! Have we never seen those who were, in their youth, ungrateful to their parents, punished themselves by the disobedience of their children? Have we never seen the plentiful harvest of fraud and rapine blasted on a sud-len, and undeserved affluence and success, changed to penury and decay? Have we not sometimes feen the deceiver deceived, the contemptuous man funk into contempt, and the magnificent structures of the proud and haughty, drop down in a moment and moulder into ruin? Can we not all of us call to mind discoveries
of long-concealed guilt, such as no human means could detect, and such convictions of injured innocence, as nothing but the interposing hand of divine justice could ever have produced ?
One would indeed be inclined to think a few serious reflections on the judgments of God against the wicked, even in this life, would be sufficient to alarm and terrify those who had no belief in another; but if the meafures of divine justice, as it is exerted here, hath no effect on the thoughtleís and disobedient, let him reflect on what I proposed secondly to consider, namely, what portion of it is reserved to fulfil the divine appointment hereafter.
The unequal distribution of things in this world, is doubtless a very strong and powerful argument in favour of that which is to come: it is impossible that God, who is the fountain of perfection, should leave any thing imperfect; imperfect however must be his dit. pensation towards men, if that virtue which is here neglected, doth not meet with its reward, and that vice which is here successful, doth not inherit its deserved punishment hereafter; but in this point the holy Scriptures are fufficiently plain and explicit. God hath there promised that he will one day reward every inan according to his works, and that with the fame measure we mete withal, it shall be measured unto us again. How dreadful must be the apprehensions of the sinner, when he hears this folemn, this tremendous sentence pronounced against him! when at the last and