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evil and do good, let him seek peace and ensue it; but he says exactly the reverse of this ; “ For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile; let him eschew evil and do good, let him seek peace and ensue 'it.” The inspired author of our - Yt knew human nature too well to expect man would act without a motive, or that he could be persuaded to act to his own disadvantage, unless he were deceived.
The plain sense of the text points out the only means whereby a man can obtain what he most desires, and indeed all he desires. Every one wishes for happiness in life, and to see good days. This is what is constitutional with every individual of the human family. Will you not all bear me witness to this truth? Is there an individual, male or female, young or old, in this assembly, who has any desire to live a miserable, wretched life? Is there one whose heart does not most fervently desire to see good days ? You all assent most cordially to this. You are therefore, all the very persons addressed in our text, in which the only method, by which this desire of your heart can possibly be obtained, is most clearly laid down, and placed within the reach of the most limited capacity:
According to our text, it is an important fact; stated by the authority of heaven, that whoever will refrain their tongues from evil, and their lips that they speak no guile; whoever will shun evil and do good, seek peace and follow after it, shall see good days and enjoy life ; and according to this same passage, it is an equally momentous fact, declared by the same authority, that whoever disregards these means, and does not refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile; who does not shun to do evil, and neglects to do good, who neither seeks peace nor follows after it, must see evil days, and live a wretched, miserable life. This is the plain, uncontrovertible doctrine of our text, and according to this doctrine
we shall humbly attempt to improve it to the religious and moral advantage of this listening, and devotional audience.
In these labours the speaker will enjoy a peculiar satisfaction arising from a full conviction of the goodness of our heavenly Father towards his rational offspring, and the impartiality of that goodness, which are the essential attributes of the doctrine to which his labours are usually devoted. This felicity, however, will be mingled with an anxiety corresponding with a sense of his inability to do justice to a subject, which involves such an extensive interest as our religious and moral happiness in life. But there is one consideration calculated to give support in this undertaking, which is the devout attention with which you will assist the speaker, while he endeavours to bring before you the invaluable treasures which our heavenly Father has given us in the undeviating laws of moral virtue.
Having thus endeavoured to call your attention to the principle on which the doctrine of our text is founded, and having presented you with a general view of this doctrine, your public servant will solicit your attention to the contemplation of the doctrine which has been stated, as it stands opposed to what has for a long time been acknowledged as orthodox by our christian clergy, and churches. The sentiment to which we here allude contends that virtue is not rewarded, nor wickedness punished in this life, where they are acted, but that the reward of the former and the punishment of the latter are reserved to a future state, where ainple justice will be rendered to all, according to their works in this world. The numerous advocates of this opinion contend that there would appear a manifest injustice in the divine economy, if there were not a state of retribution in a future existence, where the divine administration shall make as much difference in the distribution of happiness and misery as there is in the moral characters of
men in this world, as such a difference is not regarded by the divine government here. Many are so sanguine on this subject, as to contend, that a contrary belief has a most direct tendency to evil, as thereby all the evil consequences of vice and immorality are denied, and the most flattering encouragements held out to the vicious. It seems reasonable to allow, that is the sins which are committed in this state are to be punished in a future world, they are not punished here; and also, that if good works in this world are to be recompensed in the next, they have not their reward here ; for if you pay a man for his labours in the town where they are performed, you would not expect to meet his demand in another place. And if a man be punished for a crime in the state where he commits it, he cannot, in justice, receive this punishment in an adjacent state.
It appears clear, that nothing could be stated more directly repugnant to the doctrine of our text than the orthodox opinion which we have now noticed. It reverses the subject entirely, and promises a happy life and good days to him, who refrains not his tongue from evil, nor his lips from speaking guile; who refuses not to do evil, but shuns the way of peace. Were it not for the blind infatuation and unaccountable stupidity, which thousands manifest on this subject, it would seem a waste of time to attempt to show, by any process of argument, the egregious error of this doctrine, which so directly opposes not only the passage now under consideration, the uniform testimony of scripture, but also every matter of fact in the whole world, and in the experience of every individual, in all ages, which has the least bearing on our subject. But such is the power of tradition, that the utmost patience is required to remove the scales from her eyes, to untie the knots by which she has fastened the minds of her votaries, and to remove the mighty mass of rubbish which composes her sanctuary, and to gather her hay, wood, and
stubble for the fire to which they are appointed.
Let us examine this subject a few moments, and endeavour to bring it into the light of reason and experience. If then a vicious life be productive of happiness and good days to the immoral, it follows of course, that vice and immorality are favourable to public peace, happiness and tranquillity; for nothing is more evident, than that individual and public felicity grow from the same causes. But are any so strangely bewildered as to suppose that the miseries and wretchedness of society are owing to its virtues, and that its happiness is derived from its vices ? No, surely, there is but one opinion on this question, when it is considered as a whole ; and yet the very individuals, who acknowledge that it is the wickedness of the people, which renders them miserable, and brings down the judgments of God upon them, still contend that it is not in this world that sin is punished, but the next state of man's existence.
Again ; It belongs to this inquiry to ask, what can be so much worse in the state of man's existence hereafter, than what his vices bring upon him here, that this should be considered no punishment, but that a just retribution ? It must be something worse than sin itself, for if sin were worse and more tormenting than the retribution which is supposed to be reserved for the future world, then the sinner will find relief by receiving this retribution ! But it is contended, that the wicked will continue to sin in the next state. Then why not find as much happiness there as here? If sin in this world be productive of happiness, why will it change its nature so much as to produce misery in the next? And, on the other hand, it belongs to this subject to ask, what the righteous have to expect in the other world, which is so much better than righteousness as to amount to a recompense for that, which gives them so much unhappiness here ? And why should we suppose that righteousness should produce misery in this world, but change its nature
in the next, and produce happiness? It furthermore belongs to this subject to inquire why our heavenly Father should, by an established law, constitute that sin, which is for our happiness in this world, and that righteousness, which is inimical to our felicity here? These queries serve to show the absurdity of this orthodox superstition, and to open our eyes to see that sin and misery are inseparably conjoined on the one hand as righteorisness and happiness are on the other.
If we pay the least regard to the testimony of the scriptures, we shall find that this denial of the punishment of sin, and the reward of righteousness in this state of existence, is in direct opposition to it. In all the writings of the great law-giver of Israel, there is not the most distant hint of any punishment for sin, or reward for well-doing beyond the present state ; but very particular and severe laws laid down for the punishment of crimes in this life. See Lev. xxiv. 13, &c. “And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp, and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him ; as well the stranger as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.' And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. And he that killeth a beast shall make it good ; beast for beast. And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour ; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him ; breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth ; as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it; and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death. Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger as for one