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SERM. fluence, which the righteous have in v. heaven, to avert the uplifted stroke of
an avenging God; as we learn from the conference which he held with Abraham just before this terrible example was given; at the close of which the Almighty thus affirms, If I find in the City ten righteous men, I will not destroy it för ten's sakeh
And the same protecting care, which he showed for the righteous in their own persons and families, was extended over others, in wliom they had a remoter degree of interest. On the prayer of righteous Lot God was pleased to spare the small city of Zoar, which had been devoted to the same destruction with the guilty cities-around it. At the intercession of Aaron the plague was staid from among the children of Israel. For the sake of David the punishment of Judah was remitted to a distant
age: In all these cases indeed we behold a preternatural visitation of divine Providence. For a stated season God was pleased to deviate from his standing laws in his government of mankind. But having thus more expressly as
* Gen. xviii. 32.
The Tares among the Wheat.
145 serted to the Patriarchs and the People sERM. of Israel that principle of justice by which he rules the world, he does not judge it expedient to continue this miraculous interference to later times. And though in the ordinary course of his providence'he still carries on a secret process of retributive justice towards both the righteous and the wicked, yet in general we observe, that his sun impartially shines on the evil and on the good, his rain indifferently falls on the just and on the unjust '.
In the present state of things they are so intimately blended in society, that we cannot imagine how the wicked could be eradicated without injury to the righteous. As they are connected in the world by many ties of country and vicinity, relation and affection, what destroys the one class of men must of necessity affect the other also. If any of the judgements of God be sent abroad into the world, whether tempest or earthquake or famine or plague or fire or the sword, the righteous and the wicked are equally exposed to the same common suffering. And since the mer
i Matt. v. 45.
SERM. cies of God are more abundant than
his severities, hè spares the wicked for the present rather than involve the righteous in the punishment of their
In another respect this economy of Providence is useful to the righteous, as it puts them to a greater trial here, and thereby places them in a capacity to attain a greater recompence hereafter.
It puts them to a greater trial here in these two respects; by exposing them to a severer conflict with evil, and by giving them larger opportunities of doing good.
There cannot be a more arduous erercise of virtue than to be exposed to a conflict with prevailing wickedness. To be upright among the upright is no extraordinary praise. But to retain one's integrity in a country, which is involved in vice, to be true to God in an age, which is fallen into gross apostacy both of principle and practice, is an unquestionable proof of a truly religious man, A man of indifference in spiritual concerns will shrink from the test; he will not escape the contagion of vice; he will be ready to follow a multitude to
do evil. But a man conscientiously sERM. righteous will not scruple to submit to any inconvenience and to make any sacrifice, to keep himself unspotted from the world. Of this patient and heroic fortitude the sacred history supplies many memorable examples both among the Patriarchs and the Prophets. Thus Noah, Lot, and Daniel were assailed in their virtue by the prevailing characters of all around, being exposed to scorn and shame and even persecution for the sake of righteousness; yet they kept themselves pure and uncorrupted in a corrupt and abandoned age. As the gold which is seven times purified in the fire they passed through the fiery trial with an increase of lustre; they approved themselves more in the sight of God, and no doubt they would obtain a more eminent reward.
Again it puts them to a greater trial, by giving them larger opportunities of doing good. It not only brings their virtues to the test, but it also makes their virtues beneficial to the world, By their good conversation and exemplary practice they inculcate even on the wicked some sentiments of virtue and some dispositions to religion. In
serm. this respect the Patriarchs already men
tioned did not spare their exertions in behalf of a better conduct. Thus Noah was a Preacher of righteousness to a world of ungodly men: thus Lot remonstrated with his Fellow-citizens on their atrocious wickedness: thus Daniel shewed his disapprobation of undue compliances in the courts of Kings by an open worship of the true God, even when it involved him in danger and persecution. And if they were not so successful in reforming others as in keeping themselves incorrupt, the fault
was in the world around, who were be: come too hardened in wickedness to be
recovered by a solitary instance of true and undissembled virtue.
Yet the scriptures afford us some illustrious examples of the power of a virtuous energy in reforming a corrupt and irreligious world. When the Prophet Jonah preached to Nineveh, and announced that the judgements of God were then impending over them, and would in a little time overwhelm them, so powerful was his word, that there was an instant and universal humiliation and repentance from the greatest to the least, so as even to avert the punish