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III. At this solemn period the difference between the righteous and the wicked will be seen to be far greater than is commonly believed in the present world.
In this world the external appearance of the righteous and the wicked is often nearly the same. Evil men often labour with great pains to acquire reputation by assuming the character and conduct of the virtuous, and in many instances with success. Their vice is extensively concealed from the public eye, and not unfrequently from the eye of their friends. Judas was believed by his fellow apostles, not only to be a real, but an eminent Christian. When Christ predicted that one of the number should betray him, all his companions distrusted themselves rather than Judas, and every one said, "Lord, is it I? "Lord, is it I?"
Hypocrisy is, as is said by the great English poet, "The "only evil which walks unseen by all but the eye of God." No human optics can pierce through the thick covering spread by skilful hypocrisy, as a shroud of darkness, over its designs. No sagacity can trace the windings, the hidden paths, the insidious measures of this snaky agent.
Beyond this, in cases where no peculiar hypocrisy is excited or intended, there are innumerable causes of concealment and illusion which prevent us from knowing, in many respects, the real character of multitudes around us. The character even of neighbouring families, their peculiar interests, their internal pursuits, and the disposition of their several members manifested in their pursuits, are often chiefly unknown by us and widely mistaken. A servant who comes from another family to live in our own, will not unfrequently force upon us, however disposed to construe charitably, or indisposed to listen to the tale, various apprehensions concerning that family which we never entertained before. Not unfrequently we ourselves become members of such families. In such cases we find them, in some instances at least, to possess, in several respects, a character widely different from that which they had before exhibited, or we suspected.
Individuals also, even those with whom we live in habits of intimacy, often conceal from us much of their real character.
We sometimes love them long, and esteem them highly, and find afterwards that they had no claims either to be loved or esteemed. We trust those who, after long continued familiarity, deceive us. We respect those who ultimately become objects of our contempt. We befriend those who, after receiving from us a numerous train of kind offices, requite us with ingratitude. How often do we hear our fellow-men say, how often do we say ourselves, when some mean, base, dishonest action is rehearsed concerning a person of our acquaintance, some ungenerous exhibition of covetousness, some gross act of unkindness, some treachery to a friend, some sordid specimen of pride or ambition, " I am greatly disappointed in that "man. I could not have thought that he would be guilty of "such an action." The voice of Omniscience has declared, and it ought never to be forgotten by us, that "the heart," the heart of man, the heart of ourselves and of all others, "is deceitful "above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it ?"
From this hypocrisy, this concealment of character, springs that extensive jealousy which is entertained by mankind respecting each other. From being often deceived, we learn to distrust, and, ultimately, to distrust almost all men, even neighbours and friends, ministers and magistrates. From this cause the very best of our race, those who have given the most decisive proofs of integrity and piety, are still doubted by multitudes. Nay, it still remains a question with some whether there are any real Christians, any persons of genuine piety. Worldly men often deny the fact altogether, Even Christians are not unfrequently doubtful of their fellow Christians.
I readily acknowledge that mankind are unreasonably disposed to jealousy, and that jealousy is an unreasonable passion. Still it cannot be rationally believed, that if hypocrisy were unknown, and deceit unpractised, jealousy such as this would find a place in the human bosom.
It ought here to be added, that genuine Christianity, from its own nature, "vaunteth not herself, and is not puffed up.” Christianity, unaccompanied by foreign appendages, is always modest, unassuming, and self-denying. Boasting, we have long since been told, is excluded by the law of faith. The
kingdom of God in the heart cometh not with observation, and none are disposed to say concerning it, "Lo here," or "Lo "there." Hence the Christian, uninclined to make a display of his excellence, and more willing to be, than to seem, religious, rarely becomes an object of very favourable inspection to mankind, and not unfrequently sees his true character unknown, as well as unacknowledged. The hypocrite, at the same time, is always employed in soliciting for himself the character of a Christian. Hence, when a weak man, he makes a perpetual parade of his discoveries, his gifts, and his attainments. When a sagacious man, he discerns that this bold exhibition must disappoint itself, and resorts, therefore, to measures less exposed to scrutiny; and these are often so well devised, so specious, so like the humble, meek, and gentle character of Christianity, as to pass usually without suspicion.
But when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, these fetches and concealments, these pretences and resemblances will entirely vanish. The hypocrite, the merely decent professor of Christianity, will stand forth in all his native deformity, and will be seen as he is, a gross and dreadful sinner. His hypocrisy will only render him more guilty and more odious, more abominable in the sight of God, and more despicable in that of the virtuous universe.
At this time the meek and lowly Christian will appear more excellent and amiable by means of his former modest, self-denying deportment. He will now be acknowledged before the assembled universe as the friend of God and man, as the follower of Christ, as voluntarily consecrated to the great cause of truth and of righteousness. As such, Christ will not be ashamed to receive and confess him, and will, on the best grounds, welcome him to his arms, his kingdom, and his blessings; while at the same time, and with equal propriety, he will say to all those who have merely assumed the character, as a cloak for their sinister and base designs, "Depart, ye cursed, into ever"lasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Among the things which will pre-eminently contribute to make this separation clear and this contrast incalculably impressive this will be one; mankind, nay, the whole intelligent
universe, will be forced to see the immeasurable distance between truth and falsehood, holiness and sin. In the present world this difference is often denied, often considered as insignificant, and usually feebly felt, and dimly perceived.
Than these no opinions can be more groundless, false, and unhappy. Between the objects in question the difference is infinite. The love of truth and holiness on the one hand, and the love of falsehood and sin on the other, constitute the whole moral distinction between Gabriel and Satan, between Paul and Judas. Nay, the love of truth and holiness forms the whole moral beauty and greatness of Jehovah, and constitutes the boundless difference between his infinitely perfect character and that of a being equally powerful and immensely malevolent. Truth obeyed and holiness practised are the cause and the amount of the celestial glory. They form heaven, they create the angelic character, they will generate themselves throughout eternity, the endlessly progressive happiness of the intelligent universe. Falsehood obeyed and sin pursued would make the universe eternally miserable, and will in fact produce, to a great extent, the misery of hell. This immense difference will now be seen in a full, overwhelming light; and so different will appear the characters of the friends and the enemies of God. In the language of the Prophet Malachi,-Mankind will return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not. But a book of remembrance will be found for those who feared the Lord and thought upon his name. "And they shall be "mine," saith the Lord of Hosts, " in the day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his 66 own son that serveth him."
CONSIDERATIONS ON THE FINAL TRIAL,
ECCLES. XII. 14.
"For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil."
In the former part of this discourse, after explaining the text, I proposed to derive from the doctrine which it contains, several observations. Of these I mentioned the following:
I. How unprepared are we, in all probability, for the disclosure of our characters, indicated in this passage of Scrip
II. What a mighty change will, in consequence of this disclosure, be made in the state of men.
III. On the solemn day when this disclosure shall be made, the difference between the righteous and the wicked will be seen to be far greater than is commonly believed in the present world.
I will now proceed to finish the design with which I selected