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III.' ON THE PROSPEROUS CONDITION
OF MEN IN THIS WORLD.
“ Fret not thyself because of the Ungodly,” is strongly inculcated; but it should seem, from many declarations of his own, as if the Royal Psalmist himself often stood in need of the wise advice which he here gives. Indeed it is not possible a good man should reflect without concern on the manifold mischiefs arising to the world at large from the wickedness of men ; nor on the terrible distresses it often occasions to the innocent and virtuous. And this concern will be proportionate to the zeal which men feel for the glory of God, and the welfare of their fellow-creatures. but when such zeal is not tempered by discretion, there is great danger lest the concern, increasing beyond its due proportion, should lessen the vigour of that virtuous principle from whence it arose, and terminate in dejection, distrust or despair.
“ Lo! these are the ungodly, these prosper in the world, and these have riches in possession : and I said, then have I cleansed my heart in vain, and washed
hands in innocency.” Such are the complaints of David himself. In
deed the whole Psalm from which this verse is taken, has a strong cast of melancholy mixed with a strong sense of religion. On contemplating the character of God, the Author's mind is elevated with devotion ; on contemplating the state of the world, it is sunk in despondency. And from the remarkable circumstance he relates of his continuing in this state of perplexity till he went into the sanctuary, it should seem as if somewhat more than his own experience and reflexion was necessary to extricate him from it. It is natural for all good men under the same circumstances to fall into the same false conclusions. Few, at least, are capable of resisting the first sudden and confused impressions, the first rash and foolish thoughts that are suggested by affliction. But if David had access to the sanctuary, so have Christians to the throne of grace. The Scriptures inform us that the great enemy of mankind makes use of these seasons to undermine the faith of those whom he despairs of subduing by more open attacks. Those whom he cannot incite to direct disobedience, he endeavours to inspire with diffidence and distrust. But this endeavour cannot succeed unless we are strangely wanting to ourselves, and neglect to secure those succours which are promised to all who act in sincerity. But as the Psalmist's objection may appear specious and plausible in the ears of some persons, let us allow it all the force of which it is capable. Now its utmost force and extent will best be seen by considering the number and nature of those advantages which are peculiar to bad men. Such then, it must be allowed, having no regard to honour, no scruples of conscience, no sense of religion to restrain them, will often be an overmatch for their virtuous opponents, whose ingenuity, candour, and sincerity, will but lay them the more open to injury. It must also be allowed, that many of the goods of life may be attained by unfair methods, which are frequently the shortest, and sometimes the only passage to success. The persons who employ them, if they can but escape or elude the laws, have no character to lose. Indeed, if the form of virtue would be of any use, they are not such bigots to their profession as to refuse to assume it: if the cloak of religion would cover their ill designs, or guard them from suspicion, they can borrow it for the present occasion, and throw it off again at their convenience. Truth they can adhere to in order to acquire reputation; and to create confidence, can observe a promise. But, to reckon up all the shifts and expedients, all the tricks and devices of worldly policy, would require a knowledge of the science, and an intimacy with its professors. God forbid that we should purchase information on such ignominious terms. To save such an expence, let us allow them all the advantages which ever happened to the most prosperous trader in iniquity. And it is true, to give the objection now before us a fair and cool examination, we must own, that the triumphs of the wicked on the success of their own projects and pursuits, are apt to alarm the honest and the upright. We see, that they are sometimes staggered at events of this kind, and confounded at arrangements so contrary to all their conceptions of the Divine Character. For when those who, on every interference, have basely sacrificed their duty to their desires, are observed to wear out their days in ease, honour, and affluence; while those who on such occasions have generously sacrificed their desires to their duty, are distinguished only by their sufferings; how shall the latter know that their obedience is accepted, that their fidelity is approved of; or that in any other period they shall experience a more favourable government, since they must always be subjects of the same unchangeable Governor?' Or how shall they be enabled to discover those rules by which it is probable happiness and misery will be dispensed hereafter, but by observing the measures in which they are dispensed at present? Tell us ingenuously, is it possible for human and for frail creatures, such as we are, to maintain an absolute indifference and unconcern with respect to the nearer and more immediate consequences of vice and virtue ? No, it is not possible. But the successes of the wicked and immoral, be they what they will, should not discourage you who are good and virtuous, because even the little that you know of the system of nature is sufficient to con-. vince you what are the intentions of its great Author; because both reason and revelation : assure you that the wicked shall not finally prevail; and because the ends of God's moral government plainly require that many of the consequences arising from virtue and vice should not be immediate. Observe, in the first place, the constitution of nature. Subject as men are to all the irregularities of appetite and passion, they are so much formed for the practice of virtue, as universally to approve such things as are agreeable to it, and to condemn the contrary even in themselves. Now this single circumstance, so exceedingly to the disadvantage of all bad men, is of infinite weight; for what is there which can compensate for the want of inward peace and serenity? These they cannot possess in the smallest degree, even supposing them to be ever so well secured against the stings of conscience. And who would envy them a security arising wholly from a brutish insensibility ? Or who can be sure how soon they may be roused, from that. state by some visible stroke of the Divine dis-, pleasure? If ever conscience should return to its post, and recover its authority (and if it does not, so much the worse for them), let others envy their condition, as they please ; for