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a very perilous situation; which is abundantly described in the psalm from whence the text is taken. It is observed of them,
First, that they are all weak and mortal like ourselves that they shall soon be cut down like the grass and withered even as the green herb. We are all under one common sentence of death; and no man hath in this respect any pre-eminence above another. However great and powerful a sinner may be in his wickedness, he must be cut down and withered. When we lament our own mortality, we may lament his; and so long as we can lament his fate we shall be more patient towards his failings.
But the condition of his life, while it lasts, is not such as it may appear to be from some partial circumstances: it is unhappy and ensnaring, in its best estate. If we find a man's ill humour troublesome to us, we may be assured it is much more troublesome to himself. He who giveth light, must first be illuminated: he who troubleth others, must first be troubled himself. The sea is agitated by the wind, before the ship is tossed about and endangered by it;
so the people who disturb mankind are like the troubled sea, which can never rest, but casteth up mire and dirt, and defiles its own waves with the foulness of its own bottom.
The temporary success of a wicked man is a snare to him. His prosperity, while it lasts, is not a blessing, as to good men, but a temptation and a curse. Therefore it is said, in the book of Proverbs, the prosperity of fools shall destroy them*: it shall beget a blind confidence and presumption, which shall lead them on from one ruinous step to another. It shall furnish them with all the means and instruments of
* Prov. i. 32.
corruption, and bring them into captivity to the worst of passions: in which miserable condition, they may be so absurd as to be proud of themselves: but certainly they are no objects of envy to us. They may despise our lot; but we have all the reason in the world to pity them; and so long as we are under the influence of pity, we shall not be disturbed with anger.
We are farther to consider, that evil doers are not only mortal, but worse. The man who is executed is more miserable than he who dieth in the course of nature. Besides the evil of mortality, the evil of vengeance awaits a bad man and while he is whetting the weapon of malice, a sword of judgment, which he doth not see, is hanging over him, ready to drop upon his head. The eye of God is upon his ways, though not in his thoughts; and when the measure of his sins is filled up, he shall be rooted out. While he is counselling for himself, or against better men, the Lord, who sees what he is upon and that his day is coming, is represented as laughing his confidence to scorn: knowing, that instead of prevailing against the just, he is sharpening a sword which will be turned against himself, and go through his own heart." I myself," saith the Psalmist, "have seen the ungodly in great power, and flourish
ing like a green bay-tree. I went by and lo he "was gone; I sought him but his place could no "where be found." His power is at an end; he can trouble us no longer; he is gone, as if he had never been.
Such is the real lot of evil men, under the flattering appearances of their temporary successes: therefore, "grieve not thyself at him, whose way "doth prosper; against the man who doeth after
" evil counsels-wicked doers shall be rooted out; "and they that patiently abide the Lord, those shall " inherit the land."
From which words we learn, that our peace will be farther promoted by a consideration of the promises made to the godly: who have this assurance, that all things work together for good to them that love God; that the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous; not to secure them absolutely from trouble, but to exercise them therewith, and then to deliver them out of it. Some men seem to be sent into the world for the trial of others. They answer the end of winds and storms, which purge the atmosphere of its vapours; and by agitating the roots of trees and plants, make them grow the faster. Of such we are to remember, that as the weather is under God's direction, so are they under the restraints of his power. He permits them to go to certain lengths for purposes known to himself: but they can go no farther.
Enemies answer so many purposes, that they are in some degree necessary to every good man. The army stationed in an enemy's country is vigilant ; which, at home, where there is no danger, would be dissolute. So in private life, a man's enemies oblige him to live more prudently and virtuously; that no advantage may be given to those who will be glad to take it. His enemies may be farther necessary, for the punishment of his sins. When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh his enemies to be at peace with him. Whence the inference is natural; that his life may be less peaceable, because his ways want to be corrected. The conscience of David, in his troubles, put this interpretation upon the curses of Shimei. Thus may ill men be of use to drive us
• Prov. xvi. 7.
back to our duty, as wild beasts drive man from the woods and the forests into the safety of civil society. And if God, when such things happen, will be pleased to accept of the railings and reproaches of an enemy towards the pardon of our sins; we should be thankful for them. There would be no absurdity (and, supposing them to come from the impenitent, no want of charity) in praying for more of them.
There are virtues of forbearance and fortitude which cannot be called into action, but by the provocations of the injurious; and the more unjust they are, the less we ought to be offended: for here, we are to look unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; and to consider, how he endured the contradiction of sinners in his ministry; how pride, malice, avarice, and absurdity, were for ever working against him, to pervert his sayings, confound his reasonings, and turn the hearts of the people away from him. This we should think of, when our reasonings, however right and true, are neglected by the pride of false science, or overborne by the importunity and impudence of error. If, when we have laboured to do wisely, we are reported to have done foolishly; or to have done wrong, when we have done right, it must occasion a struggle in the passions; but a little patience will keep things from growing worse, and a little time may set them all to rights. Thus did our Blessed Master commit himself to the righteous judgment of God and we have a promise, that if we commit our way to him, he will "make our "righteousness as clear as the light, and our just deal
ing as the noon-day." Truth shall dispel the clouds which envy raises. The Priests and Rulers of the Jews prevailed for a time against Jesus Christ; but their imaginations were vain; he was soon settled on
the holy hill of Sion, and received the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. The lot of every pious man is after the same pattern. He may seem to fall, but he shall not be cast away, for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. The life of a Christian is a kind of paradox, in which apparent evil is real good. So the Apostle describes the state of himself and his fellow Christians, as of men who were living and dying at the same time, as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. We are impatient, till evil is removed; but if it is turned into good, that is better for us and the time of retribution will come, when all things that offend shall be cast out; all the seeming errors of the present time shall be rectified.
This consideration will be sufficient, if every other should fail us. It was this which supported the martyrs of Jesus Christ under all the scorn and cruelty of their Jewish and Heathen enemies. They had the earnest of their hope from the case of the first martyr Stephen; to whose eyes that prospect of glory was presented, which is prepared for all those who suffer for the sake of truth and righteousness.
2dly. When we have laid up these considerations in our minds, we must also be careful to follow such rules of prudence, as the Scripture hath given, and experience hath justified. Peace of mind is not a speculation, but a practical art; the result of proper information and prudent attention.
First then, it is necessary we should be possessed and penetrated by a true sense of our own unworthiness in the sight of God and man. When any person over-rates himself, he expects honours which are not due to him, and is disappointed and vexed if he does not receive them. The lunatic, who has