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“ the beginning of wisdom;" fo the want of this fear may, with equal propriety, be styled the beginning of folly, or the introduction to a wicked and profligate life.
Having got thus far, he proceeds to call in question the omniscience of God, and to entertain some hope, that his iniquities may pass unobserved. Of such we read, Pf. lxiv. 5. “ They encourage themselves “ in an evil matter; they commune of lay“ ing fnares privily; they say, Who shall “ see us ?"-And Pf. x. 11. “ He hath said s in his heart, God hath forgotten : He “ hideth his face, He will never see it.” He begins to think that God taketh no notice of human affairs when vice passeth long unpunished; and thence he derives fresh courage, and perfifts in his career with growing intrepidity. Bean
At lengh he acquires the boldness to impugn the holiness of God, and to form an idea of him that suits the corrupt disposition of his own heart. He endeavours to persuade himself, that the reinorse he used to feel after the commission of fin, was purely owing to the prejudice of education, and .
the influence of some narrow principles instilled into his mind by his parents or tutors, before he was capable of judging for himself.
This step to a total degeneracy is strongly marked, Pfalm l. 21. where God faith, “ These things thou hast done, and I kept “ filence: thou thoughtest that I was alto“ gether such a one as thyself.” Because God kept silence, and did not utter his anger in speedy vengeance, the finner thought that he was altogether such a one as himself; that virtue and vice were fictitious names, framed by credulous or designing men ; that God made no difference between them, but was every whit as well pleased with the one as with the other. Dreadful abuse of the divine patience! and yet I am afraid it is too prevalent in our day: else whence these secret whisperings among some who pretend to think above the common rate, that their constitution inclines them to such and such gratifications ; which therefore cannot be criminal, seeing the Author of their being hath implanted these appetites in their frame, and of consequence D4 ..
must be held as consenting to the indulgence of them? When punishment is long fufpended, corruption too easily breeds such conceits as thefe ; and nothing but the rod, à sharp and sanctified rod, will fuffice to expel them. Thus many interpret a mere delay of punishment as a certain token that their conduct is approved of: and because God is not like man, weak and impotent to restrain his anger, hence they impiously conclude, that he doth certainly resemble him in another respect; I almost tremble to mention it, that he is a lover of impurity ;-náy, the very patron and author of fini
From such premises as thefe, the determined sinner, without much hesitation, will eagerly draw the fatal inference, that the administration of the divine government fhall always continue as it appears to his. darkened mind at present; and that God doth neither mark iniquity now, nor will enter into judgement with sinners for it afterwards. We find the Psalmist propofing a question, Ps. x. 13. “Wherefore doth the " wicked contemn God?” which he answers.
thus, “ He hath said in his heart, Thou « wilt not require it.” One of the most eminent faints under the old dispensation, (as we learn from the 73d Psalm), was almost carried off his feet, upon obferving the prosperity of the wicked, infomuch that he put the question, “ How doth God “ know, and is there knowledge in the Most “ High ?”—Nay, he came the length to say,
Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, « and washed my hands in innocence.” And if holy men, whose minds have been enlightened by the Spirit of God, are thus apt, for a season, to fufpect the wisdom and righteousness of his administration, surely it is not to be wondered at, that wicked men, “ whofe hearts are hardened through " the deceitfulness of sin,” should be so far deluded by temporal profperity, as to dream that justice fhall never awaken, and that fin shall always pass unpunished.
By a progress of this kind do finners arfive at the dreadful pitch of, wickedness spoken of in my text. When they observe, that sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed, they draw fuch false conclu
fions from it as those I have mentioned, till at length every band that should restrain them is broken asunder, and their hearts become fully set in them to do evil.
From this account of the matter, you will be able to judge for yourselves, how far you are advanced in the road to a total, I had almost called it an irrecoverable, degeneracy. If you have made a shift to filence conscience, or even to render it more unfeeling than formerly it hath been, you have taken one very wide and dangerous step. But as you love your own souls, oh! take not another. Beware of listening to any objections against the omniscience, the, boliness, or the justice of God : for if you do, in your present state of spiritual deadness, your case is more hazardous than I am able to describe ; you are not far from the defperate situation of those whose heart is fully set in them to do evil.
· And now, my dear friends, as it is an undeniable truth, that this abuse of the divine patience is too frequent in our day,