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man and a professor of christianity to give an example of piety, but I was also engaged to do it as a minister, as a magistrate, as a parent; yet in spite of all my unworthiness, God hath borne with me, and hath preserved me in this world, not only while prosperity was universal, but while calamities were almost general, while the sword was glutting itself with blood, while the destroying angel was exterminating on every side, as if he intended to make the whole world one vast grave! All this time God hath been showering his blessings upon me ! upon me the chief of sinners! me his declared enemy ! blessings that he promised to bestow as privileges on his favorites only! I dwelt in the secret place of the most High, I abode under the shadow of the Almighty, Psal. xci. 1.
I ask, my brethren, whether, if there be a state in which an intelligent creature ought to meditate and reflect, it be not the state of this sinner? If I prove then, that there are men in this state, who neither think nor reflect, because they confine their attention to the circle of present objects, abandon themselves wholly to sensuality, and give themselves up entirely to their constitutional vices; shall I not have proved that there are men, who like beasts, are indifferent to the riches of the forbearance and long-suffering of God ? Rom. ii. 4. But where shall we find such people? Shall we search for them in fabulous history, or look for them in ancient chronicles ? Shall we quote the relations of those travellers, who seem to aim less at instructing us by publishing true accounts, than at astonishing us by reporting uncommon events? Alas ! alas! my dear brethren, I fear I have been too confident, and had not sufficiently proportioned my strength to my courage, when I engaged at the beginning of this discourse to confront certain por
traits with the countenances of some of my hearers ..
But no, the truth ought not to suffer through the frailty of him whose office it is to publish it.
Tell us then, what distinguisheth the man from the beast, in that worshipper of Mammon, who, having spent his life in amassing and hoarding up wealth, in taxing the widow, the orphan, and the ward, to satiate his avarice; having defrauded the state, deceived his correspondents, and betrayed his tenderest friends ; having accumulated heaps upon heaps, and having only a few days respite, which Providence hath granted him for the repentance of his sins, and the restitution of his iniquitous gains; employs these last moments in offering incense to his idol
, spends his last breath in enlarging his income, in lessening his expences, and in endeavoring to gratify that insatiable desire of getting which gnaws and devours bim?
Tell us what distinguisheth the man from the beast, in that old debauchee, who thinks of nothing but voluptuousness; who to sensuality sacrificeth his time, his fortune, his reputation, his health, his soul, his salvation, along with all his pretensions to immortality; and who would willingly comprehend the whole of man in this definition, a being capable of wallowing in voluptuousness ?
Tell us what distinguisheth the man from the beast, in that man, who, not being able to bear the remorse of his own conscience, nor the idea of the vanity of this world, to which he is wholly devoted : drowns his reason in wine, gives himself up to all the excesses of drunkenness, exposeth himself to the danger of committing some bloody murder, or of perishing by some tragical death, of which we have too many melancholy examples; not only unfits himself for repenting now, but even renders
himself incapable of repenting at all? What is a penitent reconciliation to God? It includes, at least, reflection and thought, the laying down of principles and the deducing of consequences: but people of this kind, through their excessive intoxication, generally incapacitate themselves for inferring a consequence, or admitting a principle, and even for reflecting and thinking; as experience, experience superior to all our reasoning, hath many time shewn.
But is it necessary to reason in order to discover the injustice of this disposition? Do you really think God created you capable of reflection that you should never reflect ? Do you indeed believe God gave you so many fine faculties that you should make no use of these faculties? In a word, can you seriously think God made you men in order to enable you to live like beasts?
III. I said, in the third place, that the disposition, of which the wise man speaks in the text, sometimes proceeds from a principle of grave folly. So I call the principle of some philosophers, who imagine they find in the delay of the punishment of sinners, an invincible argument against the existence of God, at least, against the infinity of his perfections.
We do not mean, by a philosopher, that superficial trifler, who, not having the least notion of right reasoning, takes the liberty sometimes of pretending to reason, and, with an air of superiority, which might impose on us were we to be imposed on by a tone, saith, The learned maintain such an opinion: but I affirm the opposite opinion. Casuists advance such a maxim : but I lay down a very different maxim. Pastors hold such a system : but, for my part, I hold altogether another system. And who is he who talks in this decisive tone, and who alone pretends to contradict all our ministers, and all our learned men; the whole church, and the whole school? It is sometimes a man, whose whole science consists in the casting up of a sum. It is sometimes a man, who hath spent all his life in exercises, that have not the least relation to the subject which he so arrogantly decides; and who thinks, if I may be allowed to say so, that arguments are to be commanded as he commands a regiment of soldiers. In a word, they are men, for the most part, who know neither what a system, nor a maxim is. Let not such people imagine they are addressed as philosophers; for we cannot address them without repeating what hath been said in the preceding article, which is their proper place.
We mean, when we speak of men who despise the long-suffering of God as philosophers, people, who have taken as much pains to arrive at infidelity, as they ought to have taken to obtain the knowledge of the truth: who have studied as much to palliate error, as they ought to have studied to expose it: who have gone through as long a course of reading and meditation to deprave their hearts as they ought to have undertaken to preserve them from depravity. Among the sophisms, which they have adopted, that, which they have derived from the delay of the punishment of sinners, hath appeared the most tenable, and they have occupied it as their fort. Sophisms of this kind are not new, they have been repeated in all ages, and in every age there have been such as Celius, (this is the name of an ancient atheist) of whom a heathen poet saith, Celius says that there are no Gods, and that heaven is an uninhabited place ; and the chief reasons he assigns are these; he continued happy, and he had the prospect of continuing so, while he denied the existence of God.
As the persons, to whom we address this article, profess to reason, let us reason with them. And you, my brethren, endeavor to attend a few moments to our arguments. One chief cause of our erroneous notions of the perfections of God is the considering of them separately, and not in their admirable assortment and beautiful harmony. When we meditate on the goodness of God, we consider his goodness alone and not in harmony with his justice. When we meditate on his justice, we consider it in an abstract view, and without any relation to his goodness. And in the same manner we consider his wisdom, his power, and his other attributes.
This restriction of meditation (I think I may venture to call it so) is a source of sophistry. If we consider supreme justice in this manner, it will seem as if it ought to exterminate every sinner: and, on the contrary, if we consider supreme goodness in this manner, it will seem as if it ought to spare every sinner; to succour all the afflicted ; to prevent every degree of distress ; and to gratify every wish of every creature capable of wishing. We might observe the same of power, and of wisdom, and of every other perfection of God. But what shocking consequences would follow such views of the divine attributes! As we should never be able to prove such a justice, or such a goodness, as we have imagined, we should be obliged to infer, that God is not a Being supremely good ; that he is not a Being supremely just; and the same may be said of his other perfections.
Persons, who entertain such notions, not only sink the Supreme Being below the dignity of his own nature, but even below that of mankind.