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which, all that I can say must have very little effect, and that is, who the wicked here spoken of are, who a re the persons against whom this threatening is denounced ?

Were I, in answer to this inquiry, to begin with describing those gross and flagitious crimes, which the natural conscience of every man abbors, I should only spend your time, and offend your ears to no purpose; for who is there in all the society of mankind, not to say in a Christian assembly, that will dispute the justice of this appellation, as applied to thieves and robbers, oppressors and murderers, blasphemers, false swearers, and open contemners of all laws, human and divine? I may safely presume on your assent, that characters such as these, so obpoxious even to human society, may properly be classed among the wicked, against whom the threatening of the text is denounced. I may even take it for granted, that the greater part of my audience will advance a step farther, and permit me to pass the same censure upon those who are guilty of the more prevailing sins of the present time, such as profane swearing, uncleanness, drunkenness, breach of the Lord's day, and habitual neglect of divine institutions. Thus far, I suppose, we are generally agreed. But if we consult the Scriptures, the only infallible rule of judging, we shall find that the term wicked is of a still more extensire sig. nification, and comprehends a great many characters besides those already named. Of this I cannot give you a more convincing proof, than by referring you to that plain and instructive parable of the talents, (Matt. xxv. 14.) There we read of one who digged in the earth, and bid his lord's money, and at his return digged it up again, and restored it to him in the same state he got it. In this, according to the general style of judging, there seems to be nothing culpable. The man, though not pro

fitably active, was at least harmless. He took nothing from his master's talent, neither did he put it to any bad use. But what character did his lord give him, when he came to call for his account? This you may read at the 26th verse. “ His lord said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant;" and, in conformity with this character, he pronounces on him this awful sentence, “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Hence it appears, that not only the gross and flagitious transgressors of God's law, but even the slothful and careless, who neglect to improve the talents committed to them, are reckoned among the wicked, by the infallible Judge, in conformity with that decisive sentence of the apostle James, 66 To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." This at once undermines the foundation upon which thousands of deluded mortals build all their hopes of the divine favour and acceptance. In vain, O misguided men, will you plead at the great day, even though ye could prove that plea, that ye abused no talent bestowed on you—that you did harm to none of all God's works. Was it for this negative purpose only, do you think, that your Maker gave you a place in his world? Was it for this only, that he conferred the ac. tive powers of your nature; that he gave you reason to preside over these powers; and his word to guide that reason? Was it for this only that he placed you in a situation where activity is necessary for your own happiness, and for the happiness of all around you? Is it pothing that your being as a chasm in creation, where infinite wisdom intended that nothing should be void, nothing cumbersome nor unprofitable? The tree that bears no fruit, as well as that whose fruit is pernicious, is cut down and cast into the fire. In like manner, if

your

lives have not been fruitful in the works of righteousness, if they have not exhibited positive evidences of love to God, and benevolence to men, your abstinence from gross transgressions will be of no avail. You will not indeed be ranked with those who proclaim their sins as Sodom; but yet you will be numbered with the wicked, and with them expelled for ever from the presence of the Lord.

But what shall we say of those who are not only harmless, but also good and useful members of buman society; decent in their conduct, upright in their deal. ings, beneficent and obliging to all around them? Of such persons we are certainly bound to speak and to think well. Where those good fruits appear, we ought to conclude, that the tree which produces them is good likewise. It is a bold and impious invasion of the divine prerogative to judge the hearts of others; and nothing can be more opposite to the spirit of Christianity, than to harbour any secret suspicion of men's inward tem. pers, when their conduct is proper, inoffensive, and useful.

But if the question be put in another shape, What ought these persons to think of themselves? the word of God obliges me to give another answer.

There we are taught to exercise a perpetual jealousy over ourselves, and to take no credit from particular acts of virtue, if our character be not entirely formed by those principles which it alone inspires. Of these, one of the most commanding is mentioned in the text itself. “It shall not be well with the wicked, because he feareth not before God." Were all the combinations of language to be studied, it would be impossible to devise an expression more significant than this, or more calculated to discriminate the steady and commanding motives of

virtue, from those which are ansound, accidental, and fluctuating

The openly profane fear not God at all. The unprofitable servant, who buries his talent in the ground, fears him as an austere master, and by that slavisb fear is restrained from making the proper improvement of it. The man who aspires only to decency, and outward propriety of conduct, is actuated by a fear which respects sometimes God, sometimes the reproofs of conscience, but most frequently the opinion of his fellow men. In contradistinction to all these partial and inadequate principles, the truly good man fears before God. He dreads him not as an enemy, but, conscious of his inspection at all times, he dreads every thing that would make this thought a terror to him. To this decisive test I must therefore lead you. Is the authority of God become the great consideration to which you bend all your sentiments and conduct? Have you been, led to renounce the maxims of the world, and the inclinations of nature, and to make the will of God the standard of all you do, regardless of present danger or advantage? Unless this be the habitual frame of your souls, all your seeming virtues are no better than dead works; ye are still in the bond of iniquity, and have every reason to tremble at the denunciation in the text: “ It shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall be prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he feareth not before God."

1st. It cannot be well with the wicked, because the consequences of their own conduct naturally involve misery. Independent of all the sanctions of the divine law, sin is in itself the destroyer of our happiness. There is so much slavery and distraction in obeying our corrupt passions, the consequences are so inconvenient and ruinous, that none ever followed such a course

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VOL. II.

without a secret consciousness of fatal mistake. To be happy, it is necessary that we be at peace with our selves. But how can the wicked have this peace? Their minds, torn by contending passions, are like the troubled sea, which cannot rest, whose waters cast op mire and dirt. They may indeed dethrone their reason, and trample on their conscience; but yet the voice of these de graded faculties will at times be heard, and even in their scenes of riot and frantic mirth, will, like the band-writing on the wall of Belshazzar's palace, embitter all their joys. Many sins are destructive of bodily health, as well as of peace of mind. This is confessedly the case with sensuality and intemperance. Others expose men to dreadful hazards, weary them with incessant toils, and at last plunge them in infamy and ruin. “ Come, say they, let us lay wait for blood; let us lurk privily for the innocent; let us swallow them up alive as the grave, and whole, as those that go down to the pit; we shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil.” But behold the issue of these criminal projects. “ They lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon the earth, that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment. They have sown vanity, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

2dly. It cannot be well with the wicked, because they are in a state of distance and alienation from God. The glorious attributes of his nature are to them objects

of terror and dismay, and the secret wish of their hearts is

, that there were no God. But there is a God, O sinner! a God who hateth wickedness, and who will destroy all the workers of iniquity. He hath bent his bow, made it ready; he hath also prepared for them the in.

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