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grace and favour 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 shown, 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 adınitted to partake so long of the “ comforts of life, and to be a spectator of the wis“ dom and goodness displayed in thy works. I thank “ thee that thou hast borne so long with my infirmi“ ties 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 salvation.” — 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
MATTH. xiii. 30.
Let both grow together until the harvest.
TIE 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? What 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 whom they consider as bad 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 withi the justice and wisdom of the Governour 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 de. signed 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 exercised is in hazard of becoming extinct in the human breast. If goodness constantly proceeded in a smooth and flowery pathi ; 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 indolence ? This dangerous calm must therefore be interrupted. The waters must be troubled, lest they should stagnate and putrefy. 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 prosper, that they may fulfil the high designs of Heaven. They are employed as instruments in the hand of God for the improvement of his servants. They are the rods with which he chastens the virtuous, in order to rouse them from a dangerous slumber; to form them for the day of adversity, and to teach them how to suffer honourably.