Page images

turbing 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 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 to become the object either of contempt or of hatred. How often, for instance, have the greatest abilities which once drew esteem and admiration, sunk, in a short time, into the most humiliating degradation, merely through the ascendant which corrupted inclinations and low habits had acquired over their possessor? How often have the rising honours of the young been blasted, by their forsaking the path of honour on which they had once entered, for the blind and crooked tracks of depravity and folly? Such spectacles of the infamy of vice, such memorials of

the disgrace attending it, are permitted by Providence for general instruction; and assuredly are edifying to the world. It was necessary for moral improvement, that the beauty and excellence of virtue, and the deformity of vice, should be strongly impressed on every intelligent mind. This could never be done with so great advantage as by the striking contrasts of both, which are produced by the living examples of evil men intermixed with the good. It is in this mirror that we clearly contemplate how much the righteous is more excellent than his neighbour.

THE same purpose of important instruction is farther promoted by the instances of misery which the state of wicked men on earth affords. I admit that the worldly success which sometimes attends them may blind and seduce the unwary; but a little more reflection enables men to distinguish between apparent success and real happiness. The condition of worthless men, whatever splendour riches may throw around them, is easily discerned to be a restless and miserable one; and the misery which they suffer, to be derived from their vices. In that great corrupted crowd which surrounds us, what incessant bustle and stir, what agitation and tumult take place? What envy and jealousy of one another? How much bitterness of resentment do we behold among them; mutually deceiving and deceived; supplanting and supplanted; ever pursuing, but never satisfied? These are not matters of rare observation, or which require nice scrutiny to discover them. We need only open our eyes to behold the wicked tormented by their passions, and far removed from that sanc

tuary of calmness and tranquillity which is the abode of real happiness. Nay, when we appeal to bad men themselves, after they have run the whole round of vicious pleasures, we will often find them obliged to confess that the wretched result of their pursuits has been vanity and vexation of spirit; and that the happiest days they have enjoyed were in the times of innocence, before criminal desires and guilty passions had taken possession of their breasts. Such practical demonstrations as these, of the infelicity of sin, are yielded by the examples of evil doers, whom we see around us. By attending to their situation, the misery, as well as infamy, of guilt is realised, and rendered sensible to our apprehension.

THUS, upon a fair inquiry, you behold how the ways of God may, in this remarkable case, be justified to man. You behold what important ends are advanced, by permitting the tares at present to grow together with the wheat. The intermixture of evil men in human society serves to exercise the suffering graces and virtues of the good; by the diversity of characters among those with whom they have intercourse, it serves to bring forth and improve their active powers and virtues, and to enlarge the circle of useful occupations; it serves to instruct them in the temptations against which they are to guard, to reveal to them all the deformity of vice, and to make its miseries pass conspicuously before their eyes. When we consider them as actors on the theatre of the world, they are thereby improved in the part they have to perform. When we consider them as spectators of what is passing on that theatre, their minds

are thereby instructed; their views rectified and enlarged by the objects that are set before them.

FROM these important truths, several reflections no less important arise.

We are naturally taught, in the first place, never to be hasty in finding fault with any of the arrangements of Providence. The present permission of moral evil on the earth seemed, on the first view, to furnish a strong objection against either the wisdom or the goodness of the Author of nature. After beholding the useful purposes which are answered by that permission, how cautious should we be in advancing any of our rash speculations against his government and conduct! To our confined and humble station it belongs not to censure, but to submit, trust, and adore; satisfied that the farther we inquire, the rectitude of his ways will appear the more; thankful for the discoveries of them which have been imparted to us; and persuaded that, where our discoveries fail, it is not because there is no more wisdom or goodness to be seen, but because our present condition allows us not to see more.

In the second place, let us be taught with what eye we are to look upon those bad men whom we find around us in the world. Not surely with an eye of envy. Whatever prosperity they may seem to enjoy, they are still no more than tares, the weeds of the field; contemptible in the sight of God, tolerated by his providence for a while on account of the righteous, to whose improvement they are rendered subservient. The parable informs us that, in the end, they are to be gathered together and burnt. In this life only they

have their good things. But their prosperity is transitory. They are brought into desolation in a moment, and utterly consumed with terrours. As a dream when one awaketh, so, O God, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.*-When we consider their unhappy state, it becomes us to behold them with the eye of pity. Let us remember that, in the midst of their errours, they are by nature still our brethren. Let us not behave to them in the spirit of bitterness. Insult not their follies. Pride not yourselves on superiour virtue. Remember that, as bad men are mixed with the good, so, in the best men, vices are at present mixed with virtues. Your own character, good as you may esteem it, is not free from every evil taint; and in the characters of those whom you reprobate as vicious, there are always some good qualities mixed with the bad ones. Study, as far as you can, to reclaim and amend them; and if, in any degree, you have been profited by their failings, endeavour, in return, to profit them by good counsel and advice; by advice not administered with officious zeal, or self-conceited superiority, but with the tenderness of compassion and real friendship.

IN the third place, in whatever proportion the admixture of vice may seem to take place in the world, let us never despair of the prevalence of virtue on the whole. Let us not exaggerate, beyond measure, the quantity of vice that is found in the mixture. It is proper to observe, that in the parable now before us, after the owner of the field had sown his good seed, no reason is given us to think, that the

* Psalm lxxiii. 19, 20.

« PreviousContinue »