Page images

person could depend on suffering no present harm, yet he cannot fail of doing a great deal: and a man would not choose, that the chief traces, which he leaves behind him, to mark out his passage through life, should be so many injuries done his fellow-creatures. At least no one would venture upon this, till he were sure there is no superior inspector of his conduct. Now there cannot be certainty against religion: and there are such evidences for it, as must require more than a few slight cavils, or bold jests, to overturn them. A careful examination then it justly demands. And if upon such examination it prove true, as undoubtedly it will; remember it is a most serious truth, in which the foremost of mankind is equally concerned with the meanest. Therefore in a case of such moment, let no false shame, nor favourite passion prevail over you; but give your hearts early to the Lord that made you *. Lay the foundation of your lives here, on the firm ground of Christian faith; and build upon it whatever is just and good, worthy and noble, till the structure be complete in moral beauty. The world, into which you are entering, lies in wait with variety of temptations. Unfavourable sentiments of religion will soon be suggested to you; and all the snares of luxury,

false honour, and interest, spread in your way: which with most of your rank are too successful, and to many fatal. Happy the few, that in any part of life become sensible of their errors; and, with painful resolution, tread back the wrong steps, which they have taken ! But happiest of men is he, who, by an even course of right conduct, from the first, as far as human frailty permits, hath at once avoided the miseries of sin, the sorrows of repent

Ecclus. xxxix, 5.


ance, and the difficulties of virtue; who not only can think of his present state with composure, but reflect on his past behaviour with thankful approbation, and look forwards with unmixed joy to that important future hour, when he shall appear before God, and humbly offer to him a whole life spent in his service!




ISAIAH xxvi. 9.

When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabi

tants of the world will learn righteousness. The gracious and wise Creator of this universe continually upholds it by the word of his power*: and governs each part of it suitably to its nature. The motions of the inanimate world proceed entirely from him. The actions of intelligent beings are indeed their own. But as God foresees from eternity what every agent, in every possible situation, will do or intend; he must be able to influence, direct, and temper their conduct, by many ways that are conceivable, and doubtless by many more; so as not only to assist and protect persons in doing what is lawful and right t; but also to make even the worst of wretches, in the worst of their crimes, undesigning instruments of his righteous purposes. And it being evidently as worthy of him, as it is easy for him, to act thus; the reason of mankind hath ever disposed them to believe, what revelation hath fully confirmed, that a never failing Providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth 1. Whatever befalls us therefore, prosperous or adverse, * Heb. i. 3.

+ Ezek. xviii. 27. Collect for the eighth Sunday after Trinity,

being what our Maker judges and determines to be, on one account or another, fit and proper ; events of both sorts may justly be called his judgments. But as, through the wickedness of the world, he hath much oftener occasion to decree punishments, than rewards: this name generally denotes the severer exercises of his power; the sufferings, that he inflicts on men; or, in other words, that they bring upon themselves. For the strong connexion, which we experience, of our follies and sins with distress and misery, is one thing, that proceeds from the just judgment of God; from that order and course of things, which he hath established.

Amidst the vast variety of providential dispensations, some are, to human faculties, unfathomable depths. We can only see in them the awful exertion of his authority, who is Lord of all; and learn the important lesson, of humbling ourselves before him, and submitting meekly to his will; in firm expectation, that whatever may look disorderly and wrong at present, will prove in due time to be wisest and best. Other things there are, capable of affording further instruction : concerning which, however, it is easy for partiality, or inattention, to make dangerous mistakes. For the same events being often permitted to befall very different persons, for as different ends; whoever will judge according to the first appearance, will be far from judging righteous judgment.

But still multitudes of occurrences remain, which convey such obvious and clear informations and warnings, that Providence must intend we should apply them to our own benefit. For God doth not punish merely for the sake of punishment. Even his severities are the effects of goodness: and always directed to the advantage, either of those who feel them, or at least of others; that they may hear and fear, and do no more wickedness *. Looking back on the transactions of past ages, without a moral inten tion in doing it, is only gratifying an useless curiosity; or acquiring knowledge, full as likely to be ill used, as well. But it is a most serious and profitable employment, humbly to trace the footsteps of Infinite Wisdom, in the government, as well as creation, of the world; and think over the various scenes, and wonderful vicissitudes, of mortal affairs; in order to learn a true sense of our condition here, and right notions of behaving in it. All things, that have ever happened to men, have happened to them for ensanples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come t. And surely an awful admonition it is, to have, as it were, the history of our species lying open before us; and the whole experience of man, since man hath been, teaching and testifying to us, what a dreadful train of evils, personal, domestic, and national, every transgression of the laws of life is capable of drawing after it. Now as some of these facts gradually sink down into the abyss of time, and disappear; the wickedness of every generation is raising up others in their room; which, by the advantage of their nearness, we may observe more distinctly; and receive deeper impressions from them, because of the closer relation, which they bear to us.

* John vii. 24.

Among these, the dreadful deed of this day, and the calamities which preceded and followed it, set before our eyes a most peculiarly instructive example of divine judgments, brought down by a sinful peo* Deut. xiii. 11.

+ 1 Cor. x.


« PreviousContinue »