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Psalm lxxiii. 12, 13.
Behold, these are the ungodly who prosper in the
world, they increase in riches. Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and
washed my hands in innocency.
HIS complaint of the Pfalmist's, con
cerning the promiscuous distribution of God's blessings to the just and the unjust, that the fun should shine without distinction upon the good and the bad,--and rains descend upon the righteous and unrighteous man, —is a subject that has afforded much matter for enquiry, and at one time or other has raised doubts to dishearten and perplex the minds of men.-If the sovereign Lord of all the earth does look on, whence so much disorder in the face of things ?—why is it permitted, that wise and good men should be left often a
prey to fo many miseries and distresses of life, ---whilst the guilty and foolish triumph in their offences, and even the tabernacles of robbers profper?
To this it is answered, -that therefore there is a future state of rewards and punishments to take place after this life,-wherein all these inequalities shall be made even, where the circumstances of every man's case shall be confidered, and where God shall be justified in all his ways, and every mouth shall be stopt.
If this was not so,-if the ungodly were to prosper in the world, and have riches in pofsellion,—and no distinction to be made hereafter,—to what purpose would it have been to have maintained our integrity?-Lo! then, , indeed, should I have cleansed my heart in vain, and walhed my hands in innocency.
It is farther said, and what is a more direct answer to the point,—that when God created man, that he might make him capable of receiving happiness at his hands hereafter,--he endowed him with liberty and freedom of choice, without which he could not have been a creature accountable for his actions ;--that
it is merely from the bad use he makes of these gifts,--that all those instances of irregularity do result, upon which the complaint is here grounded,—which could no ways be prevented, but by the total subversion of human liberty ;-that should God make bare his arm, and interpofe on every injustice that is committed,-mankind might be said to do what was right,—but, at the same time, to lose the merit of it, since they would act under force and neceflity, and not from the determinations of their own mind;—that, upon this fuppofition,-a man could with no more reason expect to go to heaven for acts of temperance, justice and humanity, than for the ordinary impulses of hunger and thirst, which nature directed ;—that God has dealt with man upon better terms ;-he hath firit endowed him with liberty and free-will;—he has set life and death, good and evil, before him ;—that he has given him faculties to find out what will be the confequences of either way of acting, and then left him to take which course his reason and direction shall point out. I shall desist from enlarging any further upon either of the foregoing arguments in vindication of God's providence, which are urged fo often with so much force and conviction, as to leave no room for a reasonable reply;since the miseries which befal the good, and the seeming happiness of the wicked, could not be otherwise in such a free state and condition as this is in which we are placed.
In all charges of this kind, we generally take two things for granted ;- ist, That in the instances we give, we know certainly the good from the bad ;-and, 2dly, The respective state of their enjoyments or sufferings.
I shall, therefore, in the remaining part of my discourse, take
up your time with a short enquiry into the difficulties of coming not only at the true characters of men,—but likewise of knowing either the degrees of their real happiness or misery in this life.
The first of these will teach us candour in our judgments of others; the second, to which I shall confine myfelf, will teach us humility in our reasonings upon the ways of God.
For though the miseries of the good, and
the prosperity of the wicked, are not in general to be denied ;—yet I shall endeavour to shew, that the particular instances we are apt to produce, when we cry out in the words of the Pfalmift, Lo! these are the ungodly,these profper, and are happy in the world ;I say, I shall endeavour to shew, that we are so ignorant of the articles of the charge,--and the evidence we go upon to make them good is so lame and defective,-as to be sufficient by itself to check all propensity to expostulate with God's providence, allowing there was no other
way of clearing up the matter reconcileably to his attributes.
And, first, - what certain and infallible marks have we of the goodness or badness of the bulk of mankind ?
If we trust to fame and reports, if they are good, how do we know but they may proceed from partial friendship or flattery? --when bad, from envy or malice, from ill-natured furmises and constructions of things?-and, on both sides, from small matters aggrandized through mistake,--and sometimes through the unskilful relation of even truth itfelf?-From