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vants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before him. Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive ; and let thy widows trust in me.t
I HAVE thus shewn what the import is, and what the improvement should be, of the doctrine of the text, that our times are in the hand of God. It asserts a fact, the truth of which can be called in question by none; a fact which, whether persons have any sentiments of religion or not, is calculated to make a serious impression on every mind; especially at seasons when the revolution of years gives us warning that our duration on earth is measured, and advances toward its period. To persons who are religiously disposed, who study to improve life to its proper purposes, to do their duty towards God and man, and through the merits of their Redeemer to obtain grace and favor from Heaven, the doctrine of the text is still more important. Among them it tends to awaken impressions which are not only serious, but, as I have shewn, salutary and comforting to the heart. - Thankful that our times are in the hand of a sovereign, who is both wise and gracious, let us prepare ourselves to meet the approaching events of life with becoming resignation, and at the same time with manly constancy and firm trust in God. As long as it shall please him to continue our abode in the world, let us remain faithful to our duty; and when it shall please him to give the command for our removal hence, let us utter only this voice: “In thy hand, “ O my God, my times are. Thou art calling me away. Here “ I am ready to obey thy call, and at thy signal to go forth. I " thank thee that I have been admitted to partake so long of the “ comforts of life, and to be a spectator of the wisdom and good“ ness displayed in thy works. I thank thee that thou hast borne « so long with my infirmities and provocations; hast allowed me “ to look up to thy promises in the Gospel, and to hear the words “ of eternal life uttered by my great Redeemer. With gratitude, “ faith, and hope, I commit my soul to thee, Lord, now lettest thou " thy servant depart in peace; for mine eyes have seen thy sal* vation." -Such are the sentiments with which every pious and good man should conclude his life. Such indeed are the sentiments which he ought to carry through every part of life. With these may we begin, and with these conclude, every succeeding year which God shall think fit to add to our earthly existence.
ON THE MIXTURE OF BAD MEN WITH THE GOOD IN HUMAN
Let both grow together until the harvest.-MATTHEW, xiii. 38.
prophetical deser societies of Christians ositions, whom he ha
THE parable of which these words are a part, contains a prophetical description of the state of the church. Our Lord predicts that the societies of Christians were to be infected with persons of loose principles and bad dispositions, whom he likens to tares springing up among wheat. He intimates that there should arise some whose officious zeal would prompt the desire of exterminating immediately all such evil men; but that this were contrary to the designs of Providence, and to the spirit of Christianity; that a complete separation was indeed to be made at last between the good and the bad ; but that this separation was to be delayed till the end of the world, when, in the style of the parable, the tares should be entirely gathered out from among the wheat. Let both grow together until the harvest.
When we look around us, nothing is more conspicuous in the state of the world than that broad mixture of the religious and the impious, the virtuous and the wicked, which we find taking place in every society. Strong objections seem hence to arise against either the wisdom or goodness of Divine Providence; especially when we behold bad men not only tolerated in the world, but occasionally exalted in their circumstances, to the depression of the just. Why, it will be said, if a Supreme Being exist, and if his justice rule the universe, does he allow such infamous persons as the records of history often present, to have a place, and even to make a figure in his world ? Why sleeps the thunder idle in his hand, when it could so easily blast them?
that shall we think of one who, having the power of exterminating them always at his command, permits them to proceed without disturbance; nay, sometimes appears to look on them with complacency ? - It becomes highly worthy of our attention to consider what answer can be made to these objections; to inquire whether any reasons can be given that serve to justify this dispensation of Providence, in allowing a mixture of bad men to continue on the face of the earth until the end of time. This inquiry shall make the subject of the present discourse, together with such reflections as naturally arise from surveying the state of human affairs.
But, before entering directly on such inquiry, it may be proper to take notice, that in our estimation of who are the good, who are the bad, we are often in hazard of committing mistakes. The real characters of men are known only to God. They frequently depend on the secret and unseen parts of life. As in judging of themselves men are always partial, so in judging of others they often err, through the imperfect information which they have gathered, or the rash prejudices which they have formed. They are too apt to limit the character of virtue to those who agree with them in sentiment and belief; and to exaggerate the failings of those against whom they have conceived dislike, into great and unpardonable crimes. Were it left to the indiscreet zeal of some to extirpate from the earth all those whone they consider as had men, there is ground to apprehend that, instead of tares, the wheat would often be rooted out.–At the same time we readily admit the fact, as too manifest to be denied, that a multitude of gross and notorious sinners are now mixed with the followers of God and virtue. Let us proceed then to consider how far this is consistent with the justice and wisdom of the Governor of the world.
It is a principle in which all serious and reflecting persons have agreed, and which by many arguments is confirmed, that our present state on earth is designed to be a state of discipline and improvement, in order to fit human nature for a higher and better state which it is to attain hereafter. Now, this principle being once admitted, we say, that the mixture of virtue and vice which here prevails, is calculated to answer this purpose better than a more unmixed and perfect state of society would have done.
For. in the first place, the crimes of the wicked give occasion to the exercise of many excellent dispositions of heart among the righteous. They bring forth all the suffering virtues, which otherwise would have had no field; and by the exercise of which the human character is tried, and acquires some of its chief honours. Were there no bad men in the world to vex and distress the good, the good might appear in the light of harmless innocence; but could have no opportunity of displaying fidelity, magnanimity, patience, and fortitude. One half of virtue, and
not the least important half would be lost to the world. In our present imperfect state, any virtue which is never exercisert is in hazard of becoming extinct in the human breast If goodness constantly proceeded in a smooth and flowery path; if meeting with no adversary to oppose it, it were surrounded on every hand with acclamation and praise, is there no ground to dread that it might be corrupted by vanity, or might sink into indivience? This dangerous calm must therefore be interrupted. The waters must be troubled, lest they should stagnate and putrity: When you behold wicked men multiplying in number, and increasing in power, imagine not that Providence particularly favours them, No; they are suffered for a time to prosa per, that they may fulfill the high designs of Heaven. They are employed as instruments in the hand of God for the improvement of luis servants. They are the rods with which he chastens the virtuous, in orier to rouse them from a dangerous slumber; to form them for the day of adversity, and to teach them how to gutter honourably.
In the nent place, the mixture of the bad among the good serves not only to give exercise to the passive graces, but also, to improve the active powers and virtues of man. It inures the righteous to vigilance and exertion. It obliges them to stand forth, and to set their part with firmness and constancy in evil minutes. It gives occasion for their virtues to shine with conspienous lustre; and makes them appear as the lights of the world amidst surrounding darkness. Were it not for the dangers that **** from abounding iniquity, there would be no oportuniiy au courage to act, for wisdom to admonish, for caution to watch, por for faith to exert itself in overcoming the world. It is that mixture of dispositions which now takes place, that ren lers i! e theatre on which we aet so busy and stirring, and so much tits! for giving employment to every part of man's intelligent a, i moral nature.' It affords a complete field for the genuine disi of characters; and gives every man the opportunity to possit? forth, and show what he is. Were the tenor of human cou? altogether regular and uniform, interrupted by no follies vices, no cross dispositions and irregular passions, many oito active powers would find no exercise. Perhaps even our would languish, and become too still and insipid. Man is n' yet ripe for a paradise of innocence, and for the enjoyment o perfect and faultless society. As in the natural world, he is ..., made for perpetual spring and cloudless skies, but by the winus storm must be called to exert his abilities for procuring sheiter and defence; so in the moral world, the intermixture of bad men renders many an exertion necessary, which in a more perfect state of the world would fine no place, but which in the present state of trial is proper and useful. - The existence of
vice in the world assuredly testifies our present corruption; and, according to the degree of its prevalence, is always, more or less, the source of misery. It is a standing proof of the fall and degeneracy of man. But as long as that fallen state continues, the wisdom of Providence eminently appears in making the errors and frailties of the wicked subservient to the improvement of the just. Tares are for that reason suffered at present to grow up among the wheat.
THESE observations on the wisdom of Providence in this dispensation will be farther illustrated, by considering the useful instructions which we receive, or which at least every wise man may receive, from the follies and vices of those
whom we are obliged to live.
First, They furnish instruction concerning the snares and dangers against which we ought to be most on our guard. They put it thereby in our power to profit by the errors and misconduct of others. By observing from what small beginnings the greatest crimes have arisen ; observing how bad company has seduced this man from his original principles and habits; how a careless indulgence of pleasure has blinded and intoxicated that man; how the neglect of Divine institutions has, in another, gradually paved the way for open profligacy; much salutary instruction is conveyed to the virtuous. Tracing the dangerous and slippery paths by which so many have been insensibly betrayed into ruin, their views of human nature are enlarged; the sense of their own imbecility is strongly impressed upon them ; accompanied with the conviction of the necessity of a constant dependance on the grace and assistance of Heaven. All the crimes, which they behold disturbing society around them, serve as signals hung out to them, beacons planted in their view, to prevent their making shipwreck among those rocks on which others have split. It has been justly said, that not only from the advices of his friends, but from the reproaches of his enemies, a wise man may draw instruction. In the same manner, it is not only by the examples of good men, but likewise by those of the wicked, that an attentive mind may be confirmed in virtue.
Next, These examples of bad men, while they admonish the virtuous of the dangers against which they are apt to guard, are farther profitable by the views which they exhibit of the evil and the deformity of sin. Its odious nature never appears in so strong a light as when displayed in the crimes of the wicked. It is true that when vice is carried only to a certain degree, and disguised by plausible colours, it may pass unreproved, and even for a while seem popular in the world. But it is no less true that, when it becomes open and flagrant, and is deprived of the shadow of virtue, it never fails to incur general reproach, and