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SE TR MION IV.
THE DIFFERENT CONDITIONS OF THE WICKED AND THE RIGHTEO US CONSIDERED IN SEVERAL VIEWS.
PsALM czviii. 15.
The voice of joy and health is in the dwelling
WERE the principles of religion recommended to us only by the influence they must have on the happiness of human life, no wise man would hastily despise them. For, if human laws have their foundation, their security, in those principles; if the order and the harmony of society are preserved by them; if they enforce the virtues of temperance and good will, and produce both health of body and peace of mind; such effects are surely most interesting. But, in the first place, we should make it our enquiry whether religion is really capable of producing such effects, or whether she
does not owe all her amiable attributes to the partial praises of her own professors. . This enquiry we shall be able to prosecute most effectually, by comparing the opposite characters of the wicked and the righteous, by considering the lives of those who make religion their guide, and of those who are actuated by different principles. While we pursue the argument, it may be worth our while to take in the observations which the sacred writers have given us on this subject, not in order to borrow any evidence from their assertions, but, if possible, to illustrate and confirm their observations, by an appeal to experience, and by the testimony of facts. The wicked fleeth when no one pursues; but the righteous is as bold as a lion. Guilt and fear are inseparable. He who is conscious of a crime, if he is not dead to all sensibility, must be apprehensive either of punishment or disgrace; or, should he triumph undetected in the secresy of his villainy, he cannot fly the accusations of his own heart. Conscience will solicit him with the most unwelcome impertinence—with honest obstinacy will hold up the mirror to his conduct, alarm him with the future, and reproach him with the past. This is not an
imaginary picture: it is borrowed from the universal experience and acknowledgment of mankind. All agree that fear is the companion of vice; and the testimony of those who have happily returned to virtue is, in this case, indisputable. On the other hand, he who acts upon the principles of religion, lives and thinks at ease. He has nothing to apprehend either from punishment, or disgrace, from an injured neighbour, or an offended God. His boldness is not the triumph of daring guilt, not an affected confidence arising from the overthrow of truth and reflection, which can last only during the hour of riot, or the indolence of stupefaction—it is a steady and a lasting principle, supported by the testimonies of a conscience and of reason. A good man is, therefore, in no circumstances subject to any other fear than that reverence for his God which soothes him, while it awes; that delightful fear, which, founded in love and gratitude, knows no other anxiety, than what accompanies the agreeable desire to please, I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like the green bay; but he passed away, and, lo! he was not: I sought him, but he could not be found.—Yet have I never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed beg
ging their bread.
Such were the observations of the Psalmist, with respect to the temporal conditions of the wicked and the righteous. But here it may possibly be objected, that, under the Mosaical dispensation, temporal rewards and punishments were the principal sanctions of religion; and that these were necessarily more manifest, in proportion as the prospects of futurity were less certain: that the Jews, in general, looked upon the misfortunes and afflictions of the wicked to be the immediate effect of the divine judgments; and that it was, therefore, no wonder, if the writer of the Psalms let fall an observation which was the obvious consequence of a principle of faith. To these objections I will allow their full force without exception, or reply—I desire nothing more than an appeal to the experience of mankind, and to common observation, whether success is not naturally annexed to virtue, and whether misery and misfortune are not the moral consequences of vice, altogether exclusive of divine sanctions and interpositions.
Have not many of those, who by dishonest means have raised themselves to the eminence of power, fallen a sacrifice either to private treachery, or to public resentment? Can he, who owes his dignity to villainous combinations, secure any interest with the faithful, or with the homest? And, if not, is he not always liable to be subverted by the same wretches who contributed to raise him? Will they hazard themselves in the defence of a man, whom either the views of private interest, or a natural proneness to villainy alone excited them to raise 2 Nay, will they not even rejoice in the ruin, of such a man, not from the love of virtue, of their country, but from an innate principle of malignity? The history of the world furnishes us with numberless instances of this kind. On the contrary, a good man has the patronage of mankind for his support; and it has seldom been known, even amongst unenlightened nations, that he has not died in peace. It has rarely happened that he, who was eminently distinguished by his virtues, has been long distressed either by envy or oppression. Some instances, no doubt, there are, not only where the righteous have suffered promiscuously, with the wicked, but where the power of the latter has oppressed the former even to death. These are the inevitable consequences of moral evil, without the admission of which, freedom of will, and even the possibility of virtue, would be totally destroyed. But these afford no general proof G