« PreviousContinue »
wise, as will appear from considering the state of mind of a good and a wicked man in the following views. In the first place, let us suppose both the one and the other to be placed in circumstances of worldly prosperity, and we shall discover the former, from a sense of the favour and approbation of his Maker, and from a consciousness of the earnest desire he has ever felt to submit to his holy will in all things, and of the ardent zeal with which he has been ever actuated to promote his glory in the world; from a consciousness of this, I say, receiving and enjoying the, bounties of a gracious Providence, with that filial love and gratitude which give a relish to every enjoyment, with the delightful confidence that the happiness he enjoys is the gift of that God whom he has ever studied to serve, as an earnest of his love, and a pledge of much greater and better spiritual blessings in a future world; with what inexpressible joy will such an one observe all the dispensations of infinite wisdom calculated to produce and increase his satisfaction, and the Almighty himself as interested with all his glorious attributes and perfections to bless him and do him good. But what happiness can that man find in the midst of worldly enjoyments, who is conscious that his Maker is his enemy? that he stands continually exposed to the indignation of an Almighty adversary, whose justice is concerned to make him miserable? Wicked men, indeed, in the midst of worldly pleasures may, for a time, devise ways and means to stop the clamours of conscience, to drown its voice in the noise of mirth and intemperance; but there are seasons in which it will make itself heard, in spite of every effort to the contrary, and by those too whom their station sets above the fear of men ; and O how dreadful the thunder of its voice to that man who is in a state of enmity with God, who has the highest reason to apprehend that even his blessings are cursed ; that the omnipotence, the holiness, and the eternal equity of the divine nature breathe forth nothing but vengeance against him. How can such a reflection fail to embitter, to poison the cup of mirth and jollity, and throw a damp upon the gayest scenes of life? Of the many illustrations which might be adduced to this purpose, I shall content myself with singling out two; the one from sacred, the other from profane history, both in characters exalted to the highest stations in life, and thereby able to bid defiance to every check but that of their own consciences. The one is recorded in the book of Daniel: “ Belshazzar the king “ made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, " and drank wine before the thousand. Bclshazzar, while he tasted the wine, commanded to
bring the golden and silver vessels, which his “ father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the “ temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, “ and his princes, his wives, and his concubines,
might drink therein. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the tem
ple of the house of God, which was at Jerusa“ lem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, “ and his concubines, drank in them. They drank “ wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of sil“ ver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. “ In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's “ hand, and wrote over against the candlestick
upon the plaister of the wall of the king's pa“ lace; and the king saw the part of the hand “ that wrote. Then the king's countenance was “ changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so “ that the joints of his loins were loosed, and “ his knees smote one against another*.” Without staying to make any observations on this, I proceed to the other instance, which I shall relate in a very few words, and with it conclude the present discourse. One of the tyrants of Sicily, who had raised himself to supreme and absolute power, by all the arts of ambition and cruelty, had, at the same time, made himself master of immense treasure, which he as liberally bestowed on the purchase of every gratification of sense and appetite. Among the tribe of flatterers which never fail to attend greatness, however impious, one, in the midst of a splendid entertainment, began to extol the happiness which the tyrant, his master, enjoyed in the possession of whatever his heart could wish. Thy tyrant, to convince him of his mistake, proposed changing conditions with him for that night, and accordingly gave orders to prepare a most magnificent bed for his reception, in the noblest part of the palace. Evening being come, he is with great state laid upon it, a delicious banquet is served up, the finest concert of music is provided; and to crown all, beautiful young persons of both sexes are ordered to attend at table; in a word, nothing is omitted that could contribute to heighten the entertainment : when in the midst of this bliss, the happy man turning up his eyes to the top of the bed, on which he lay, observed a drawn sword hanging by a single hair, directly over his throat, which the tyrant had before hand ordered to be so placed. Immediately all the happiness with which he was so lately surrounded, vanished; he is no longer sensible of the richness of the repast, the magnificence of the furniture, the harmony of the mu
* Daniel v. 1-6.
sic, the beauty of his attendants, but earnestly begged to be delivered, at the expense of his greatness, from the danger which threatened him. Similar to this must be the situation of every wicked man, in whatever circumstances he is placed. Conscience, like a drawn dagger suspended over his head, will blast all his enjoyments; for “the wicked are like the troubled sea, “ which cannot rest, but whose waters cast up “ mire and dirt.” I should now proceed to consider the greater difference of situation betwixt the righteous and the wicked, arising from a good conscience in the one, and a troubled one in the other, when both are placed in circumstances of distress and adversity ; and lastly, when both are placed in the prospect of death; but this, with what remains of the subject, must be delayed till afterwards. May God give us grace to exercise ourselves to have “ a conscience void of « offence toward God and toward men,” that when we come to die, we may have this comfortable testimony that we have pleased God. Amen.