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ing, as Solomon has here done, rather to give an account of it, and, by tracing back the evils to their first principles, to direct ourselves to the true remedy against them.
Let it here only be premised,—that the wickedness, either of the present or past times, whatever scandal and reproach it brings upon Christians, ought not, in reason, to reflect dishonor upon Christianity, which is so apparently well framed to make us good,-that there is not a greater paradox in nature,-than that so good a religion should be no better recommended by its professors.-Though this may seem a paradox,it is still, I say, no objection, though it has often been made use of against Christianity since, if the morals of men are not reformed, it is not owing to a defect in the revelation, but it is owing to the same causes which defeated all the use and intent of reason,-before revelation was given.— For, setting aside the obligations which a divine law lays upon us,-whoever considers the state and condition of human nature, and, upon this view, how much stronger the natural motives are to virtue than to vice, would expect to find the world much better than it is, or ever has been.-For, who would suppose the generality of mankind to betray so much folly, as to act against the common interest of their own kind, as every man does who yields to the temptation of what is wrong?-But, on the other side,-if men first look into the practice of the world, and there observe the strange prevalency of vice, and how willing men are to defend, as well as to commit it,-one would think they believed, that all discourses of virtue and honesty, were mere matter of speculation, for men to entertain some idle hours with; and say truly, that men seemed universally to be agreed in nothing but in speaking well and doing ill-But this casts no more dishonor upon rea
son, than it does upon revelation;-the truth of the case being this, that no motives have been great enough to restrain those from sin, who have secretly loved it, and only sought pretences for the practice of it. So that, if the light of the gos pel has not left a sufficient provision against the wickedness of the world,the true answer is, that there can be none.-It is sufficient that the excellency of Christianity, in doctrine and precepts, and its proper tendency to make us virtuous, as well as happy, is a strong evidence of its divine original:And these advantages it has, a bove any institution that ever was in the world:It gives the best directions, the best examples,the greatest encouragements, the best helps, and the greatest obligations to gratitude.-But, as religion was not to work upon men by way of force and natural necessity, but by moral persuasion,which sets good and evil before them ;-so, if men have power to do evil, or choose the good, and will abuse it, this cannot be avoided. Not only religion, but even reason itself, must necessarily imply a freedom of choice;-and all the beings in the world, which have it, were created free to stand or free to fall :-And therefore, men that will not be wrought upon by this way of address, must expect, and be contented to feel the stroke of that rod which is prepared for the back of fools, oft-times in this world, but undoubtedly in the next, from the hands of a righteous Governor, who will finally render to every man according to his works.
Because this sentence is not always executed speedily, is the wise man's account of the general licentiousness which prevailed through the race of mankind,-so early as his days;-and we may allow it a place, amongst the many other fatal causes of depravation in our own;-a few of which, I shall beg leave to add to this expli
cation of the wise man's; subjoining a few practical cautions in relation to each, as I go along.
To begin with Solomon's account in the text, -that because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil.
It seems somewhat hard to understand the consequence, why men should grow more desperately wicked, because GoD is merciful, and gives them space to repent;-this is no natural effect, nor does the wise man intend to insinuate, that the goodness and long-suffering of GoD is the cause of the wickedness of man, by a direct efficacy to harden sinners in their course. But the scope of his discourse is this,-Because a vicious man escapes at present, he is apt to draw false conclusions from it; and, from the delay of God's pun- . ishment in this life, either to conceive them at so remote a distance, or perhaps, so uncertain, that, though he has some doubtful misgivings of the future, yet he hopes, in the main, that his fears are greater than his danger;—and, from observing some of the worst of men both live and die, without any outward testimony of GOD'S wrath, draws from thence some flattering ground of encouragement for himself, and, with the wicked in the psalm, says in his heart, Tush, I shall never be cast down ;-there skall no harm happen unto me :-As if it were necessary, if God is to punish at all, that he must do it presently; which, by the way, would rather seem to bespeak the rage and fury of an incensed party, than the determination of a wise and patient judge, who respites punishment to another state, declaring, for the wisest reasons, this is not the time for it to take place in,—but that he has appointed a day for it, wherein he will judge the world in right. teousness, and makes such unalterable distinctions
betwixt the good and bad,-as to render his fu ture judgment a full vindication of his justice.
That mankind have ever made an ill use of this forbearance, is, and, I fear, will ever be, the case....and St. Peter, in his description of the scoffers in the latter days, who, he tells us, shall walk after their own lusts, (the worst of all cha,racters), he gives the same sad solution of what should be their unhappy encouragement; for that, they would say,... Where is the promise [where is the threatening, or declaration of, e epaggelia] of his coming? for, since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation,....that is, the world goes on in the same uninterrupted course, where all things fall alike to all, without any interposition from above, or any outward token of divine displeasure: Upon this ground, "Come ye," say they, as the prophet represents them, "I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant."
Now if you consider, you will find, that all this false way of reasoning, doth arise from that gross piece of self-flattery, that such do imagine God to be like themselves,....that is, as cruel and revengeful as they are ;....and they presently think, if a fellow-creature offended them at the rate that sinners are said to offend God, and they had as much power in their hands to punish and torture them, as he has, they would be sure to execute it speedily........but, because they see God does it not,....therefore, they conclude, that all the talk of God's anger against vice, and his future punishment of it,....is mere talk, calculated for the terror of old women and children..... Thus speak they peace to their souls when there is no peace; .....for though a sinner, (which the wise man adds by way of caution after the text),....for, though a
sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged upon the earth,....yet, sure I know, that it shall be well with them that fear God,....but shall not be well with the wicked. Upon which argument, the psalmist, speaking in the name of God, uses this remonstrance to one under this fatal mistake, which has misled thousands ;......... These things thou didst, and I kept silence....And it seems this silence was interpreted into consent; ....for, it follows....and thou thoughtest I was altogether such a one as thyself;....but the psalmist adds, how ill he took this at mens hands, and that they should not know the difference between the forbearance of sinners,....and his neglect of their sins;....but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thee..... Upon the whole of which, he bids them be better advised, and consider, lest, while they forget God, he pluck them away, and there be none to deliver them.........
Thus much for the first ground and cause which the text gives, why the hearts of the sons of men are so fully set in them to do evil ;....upon which, I have only one or two cautions to add..... That, in the first place, we frequently deceive ourselves in the calculation, that sentence shall not be speedily executed....By sad experience, vicious and debauched men find this matter to turn out very different in practice, from their expectations in theory;-God having so contrived the nature of things, throughout the whole system of moral duties, that every vice in some measure, should immediately revenge itself upon the doer ;-that falsehood and unfair dealing, ends in distrust and dishonor; -that drunkenness and debauchery, should weaken the thread of life, and cut it so short that the trangressor shall not live out half his days; that pride should be followed by mortifications,-extravagance by poverty and distress; -that the revengeful and malicious, should be