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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; ray, 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 with 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 designed 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
of expence which their pleasures occasion, accounts in a great measure for the fatal reverse that takes place in their character. It not only drains the sources whence the streams of beneficence should flow, but often obliges them to become oppressive and cruel to those whom it was their duty to have patronised and supported.
PURITY of heart and conduct must therefore be held fundamental to charity and love, as well as to general piety and virtue. The licentious, I know, are ready to imagine, that their occasional deeds of bounty and liberality will atone for many of their private disorders. But besides that such plans of compensation for vices, by some supposed virtues, are always fallacious, the licentious may be assured, that it is an appearance only of charity, not the reality of it, to which they can lay claim. For that great virtue consists not in occasional actions of humanity, in fits of kindness or compassion, to which bad men may be prompted by natural instinct; but in the steady and regular exercise of those good affections, and the discharge of those important duties towards others, for which the licentious are in a great measure disqualified. Their criminal propensities direct their inclinations to very different objects and pursuits ; and often determine them to sacrifice the just right of others, sometimes to sacrifice the peace and the reputation of the innocent, to the gratification of their passions. Such is the pernicious influence which the love of pleasure has on the good qualities of its devoted votaries. The impure heart is like the stagnant and putrefying lake which sends forth its poisonous exhalations to corrupt and wither every plant that grows on its banks.
lance and exertion. It obliges them to stand forth, and act their part with firmness and constancy in evil times. It gives occasion for their virtues to shine with conspicuous lustre; and makes them appear as the lights of the world amidst surrounding darkness. Were it not for the dangers that arise from abounding iniquity, there would be no opportunity for courage to act, for wisdom to admonish, for caution to watch, nor for faith to exert itself in overcoming the world. It is that mixture of dispositions which now takes place, that renders the theatre on which we act so busy and stirring, and so much fitted for giving employment to every part of man's intelligent and moral nature. It affords a complete field for the genuine display of characters; and gives every man the opportunity to come forth and show what he is. Were the tenour of human conduct altogether regular and uniform, interrupted by no follies and vices, no cross dispositions and irregular passions, many of our active powers would find no exercise. Perhaps even our life would languish, and become too still and insipid. Man is not yet ripe for a paradise of innocence, and for the enjoyment of a perfect and faultless society. As in the natural world, he is not made for perpetual spring and cloudless skies, but by the wintry storm must be called to exert his abilities for procuring shelter and defence; so in the moral world, the intermixture of bad men renders many an exertion necessary, which in a more perfect state of the world would find no place, but which in the present state of trial is proper and useful.—The existence of vice in the world assuredly testifies our present corruption; and, according to the degree of its
the means, of being serviceable to his brethren. Some important exertions, indeed, there are of charity, which have no connection with giving or bestowing. Candour, forgiveness, gentleness, and sympathy, are due to our brethren at all times, and in every situa tion of our own fortune. The poor have opportuni! ties for displaying these virtues, as well as the rich. They who have nothing to give can often afford relief to others, by imparting what they feel. But, as far as beneficence is included in charity, we ought always to remember, that justice must, in the first place, be held inviolably sacred.
The wisdom of Scripture remarkably appears, in the connection pointed out by the text, between charity and good conscience, or intégrity; a connection which I apprehend is often not attended to so much as it deserves. Among the frugal and industrious, great regard is commonly paid to justice. They will not defraud. They will not take any unlawful advantage in their dealings: And, satisfied with this degree of good conscience, they are strangers to that charity which is the end of the commandment. They are hard and unfeeling. They are rigid and severe in their demands. They know nothing of humanity, forgiveness or compassion. Among another class of men, who have been more liberally educated, and who are generally of a higher rank in life, justice is apt to be considered as a virtue less noble than charity; and which may, on some occasions, be dispensed with. They are humane, perhaps, and tender in their feelings. They are easy to their dependants. They can be liberal, even to profusion. While, at the same time, they are accumulating debts, which they know themselves unable to dis