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النشر الإلكتروني

ON THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN, AS FOLLOWING CLOSE UPON ITS COMMISSION.

EZEKIEL XII. 27.

Son of man, behold, they of the house of Israel say, The vision that he seeth is for many days to come; and he prophesieth of times afar off?

It was with the indifference, discovered in the language just quoted, that the prophet Ezekiel was heard, when, as the immediate messenger of God, he announced to the Jewish people the approaching desolation and captivity coming upon them, as the punishment of their sins. It was indeed only temporal calamities, which this people had to fear;-the desolation of war, carried on with the ferocity which ancient manners allowed; their own destruction in the ruin of their country, or the protracted sufferings of captivity and exile; and each individual might regard it as possible, that these judgments of God would be deferred beyond the period of his life, and only fall upon his children. Still, there may appear at first sight something remarkable in the disposition of mind, with which the warnings of the prophet were received. But the same disposition exists at the present day, a similar negligence and carelessness respecting the present and future consequences of a sinful course. of life, and exists too in those, to whom, if there be any truth in religion, objects of fear are proposed, much more dreadful than any temporal calamities. There are men, who, without any settled disbelief of the moral government of God, or of those awful sanctions by which his laws are enforced, do yet give themselves up to a neglect of duty, yield easily to temptation, or harden themselves in the commission of bad actions; and this too, with but little apparent anxiety about the consequences of their conduct. They represent to themselves these consequences as remote, and, like other things future, uncertain and contingent; to be intercepted perhaps by repentance; or which it will be time enough to think about, and guard against, as they approach; and when their view is directed to what Christianity teaches of the rewards and punishments of another life, they turn away, as from a vision of many days to come, and a prophecy of times that are far off.

But we shall perceive the folly and danger of this state of mind, when we recollect that some part of the punishment of sin commonly begins with its commission, and that some of its consequences are felt in the present life; and when we, further, direct our attention to the connexion of this life with another, and to the punishment which awaits it there, and consider that this punishment, however delayed, cannot be very distant.

In the first place, then, the punishment of sin frequently commences in this life, and directly follows its commission. The moral infection, that may destroy the soul, is not only immediately received, but immediately discovers its virulence. The unalterable relations between guilt and misery, which exist under the moral government of God, do sometimes at once display themselves, and produce their effects. Though the present life be a state of discipline and not of retribution, yet even here, where the plan of providence is so imperfectly exhibited, that distinction between the good and the bad, which will be hereafter completed, is already commencing. The natural consequences of our actions here, though not sufficient as sanctions of the laws of God, are yet sufficient to give us warning of what may be expected hereafter, under the government of the same Being, by whom all things. here are appointed. Let us consider, then, some of the natural consequences of sin, and some of the punishments to which it is exposed in this world.

The first class of punishments, which may be mentioned, are those resulting from publick opinion, and the common feelings and sentiments of mankind. Good men are valued, loved, and respected; bad men are contemned, hated, and despised. It is true, that publick favour and applause are not very accurately apportioned to the merit of different characters. There are vices, in which there is something of heroism, daring, and spirit, that dazzle and impose upon the vulgar, which they wonder at and celebrate, and forget their mischief in their splendour. There are virtues of a certain class, such as humility, patience, and forbearance, whose value few know how to estimate, which make no claims upon applause, and are content if they escape insult and misrepresentation. Men's vices sometimes gain them followers and admirers; and their virtues sometimes expose them to hatred

and persecution; and not unfrequently, he who steadily pursues his duty, must expect to encounter the ill will of some, perhaps of many, of those around him. There are situa

tions, in which he who values most highly the praise of God, must relinquish the praise of men; and there are situations too, in which we know it will be a dishonour and a wo to a man, that all have spoken well of him. These things are true, yet these things do not constitute the common and ordinary course of events, but are only exceptions to it. In the common course of providence, and according to those natural feelings, which God has given us all, virtue meets with approbation, love, and praise; and vice finds a part of its punishment in disrepute, dislike, contempt, hatred, detestation and infamy. There are none, by whom the power of these sanctions is not felt; not even by those few individuals, who have almost lost the moral characteristicks of our nature; who are vicious without concealment or disguise; who in the worst of causes can hardily encounter what good men have sometimes shrunk from in the best; and of whose number, an individual, with talents equal to his vices, may now and then affect to brave the indignation of his fellow-men, by an assumption of misanthropy and scorn. These sanctions have

a constant influence upon our conduct. We insist upon them continually, and perhaps, much too frequently, in our moral discourses and instructions. We are too apt to do good ourselves, and to exhort others to do good, principally from a regard to the notice and applause of men. We are too apt to make the fear of men the principal motive in avoiding evil.

These sanctions make themselves felt by all classes of men. The voice of publick opinion is heard where the laws are silent. It inflicts sometimes its severest penalties on those, whom no other human infliction can reach. With almost every other punishment of guilt, disgrace is, in some degree or another connected, and aggravates its severity. To him, whom human laws make their victim, it is often far worse, than any punishment these laws directly impose; and to him, who is raised above human laws, or of whose crimes they take no cognizance, the brand, which infamy burns in upon the soul, and the lashes and stings of publick hatred, are often

as full of pain as any bodily suffering he might be made to endure. Publick sentiment does not sleep. It is watchful over its objects. Men cannot step aside far from those duties which it enforces, without encountering the censure of their fellow-creatures. The man, who seeks to acquire riches by dishonest arts, or unjust and cruel practices; the rich man, who thinks nothing of the means of usefulness he possesses, and employs no portion of his wealth in purposes of publick liberality or private charity; the man, who in some important station, without being accountable to any superior, neglects its duties; the profligate man of pleasure, who disregards the claims, and sports with the happiness of those with whom he is connected; the man of petty malignity, who habitually insults the feelings and disturbs the comfort of those about him; these, and persons of various other classes, find the world withdrawing itself from them and leaving them alone; or they meet with notice, which is worse than neglect. They meet with a thousand nameless expressions of disrespect, aversion and contempt, and many also of a character sufficiently definable. They find, that however bad they may fancy mankind to be, yet that men, generally speaking, have not much disposition to encourage or tolerate the vices of others. Vice, as far as it respects our fellow-creatures, consists in the causing suffering to others, not for their ultimate advantage, nor for the vindication of any right, but in the indulgence or for the gratification of our own selfish passions and appetites. Its very essence is the doing wrong to others in some shape or another. It is the invading and laying waste other men's happiness for the sake of plundering for ourselves. It is natural, therefore, that he, who by discovering a disposition to do this, has, as it were, declared war upon society, should find society at war with him, and ready to make him feel its resentment and its power.

The next class of punishments, to which bad men are exposed, inflicted like those last mentioned, by their fellowcreatures, are such as are appointed by human laws and institutions. It is true, that human laws extend only to a small part of what is morally wrong in the characters of men. They extend only to actions, and to but few, comparatively speaking, even of these. But still their effect is not incon

siderable, nor are those light evils which they inflict. Bodily pain, poverty, imprisonment, publick shame and death, are what they have directly in their power; and indirectly, as has been before said, they inflict infamy. The mark, which they set upon their object, no future good conduct can obliterate. He can hardly, if at all, regain any considerable degree of character and estimation. Indeed, so great is their effect, that some have been willing to attribute to them alone, the good order and peace of society. But this is not so. Government itself, unless it be a mere government of force and tyranny, a prison house for slaves, must, in order to be stable, and sufficient for its purpose, have for its foundation the moral, and consequently the religious principles, hopes and fears of the governed. Its own sanctions are not sufficient for its support.

The evils which human laws inflict, are as natural punishments of sin, and as evidently designed as such by God, as any other evils which, in the common course of his providence, follow its commission. God designed man to live in society; but society cannot exist without laws, nor these laws have effect without punishments. In so far then as God designed man for society, so far did he design those punishments without which society cannot exist.

The next consequences of a vicious course of life, which I shall mention, are the loss of fortune and health, and mental weakness, and degradation; the becoming what the world calls ruined, and what a Christian fears to be such, in a sense much more serious and awful. There are some vices, such as drunkenness and debauchery, of which these are, for the most part, the common and every day consequences; so that men wonder when they do not take place. Poverty, indeed, though the usual, is not the necessary consequence of intemperance and sensuality; and as to the other consequences mentioned, there are individuals, prudent in their vices, and regular in their excesses, who may succeed, or succeed at least for a considerable time, in avoiding even these; but such instances are exceptions to the common course of things. The world does not usually allow its vicious pleasures to be enjoyed at an easy purchase. Poverty, disease, pain, and disgrace are to be suffered in return; and these sufferings are sometimes exacted with dreadful severity. It is a mel

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