« PreviousContinue »
Section III. - Instances in which this Connexion is
I shall attempt to trace this connexion, as illustrated in the history of man as an individual, and also in his social capacity. Here we have evidence sufficient to convince us, not only that this connexion exists, but that every sin, whether indulged in the heart, or in the life, is followed by a punishment suited to its own peculiar character. While all sins have qualities in common, and have the same principle of rebellion against God as their origin, they differ in the circumstances of their commission, and in their degrees of aggravation : but they do not differ more from each other than their retributive awards are also different. Malice, envy, pride, covetousness, and ambition, though alike in the misery to which they lead, are in some respects different in their nature and respective consequences.
It is in this way that the iniquity of the men of the world, and the backslidings of the disciples of Christ, are made to chastise them, and are the means of deepening the practical conviction, that happiness is only to be retained by walking in all God's ordinances and commandments.
In the first place, there is a manifest connexion between the exercise of evil affections and misery. Sin has often the dominion in the heart, while there is nothing flagrant in the life; and the mind may be its undisturbed dwelling-place, when there is no apparent immorality in the conduct. But as it is hateful in every form and in every place to the eyes of a holy God, so is it in every place and in every form the ground of
deep crimination and of punishment. He who made us for the exalted purposes of his own glory, has rendered it impossible for us to indulge any wrathful passion, any selfish affection, any malignant feeling, without suffering a proportional privation of happiness; and, accordingly, the man who repines at the prosperity of another, or who wishes evil to another, disregards and loses the peace of his own soul. One unsubdued and sinful passion in Haman was enough to render useless to him all the wealth and honours with which Providence had surrounded him. “ All this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai sitting at the King's gate.” And in seeking the gratification of this evil feeling, he fell a victim to the righteous retribution of Providence. If the description of an inspired apostle of the state of mankind be just, the strictest and the most philosophical moralist will not hesitate to pronounce it to be a state of misery; for, if they are living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another, their condition of necessity must be that of suffering as well as of depravity.
In any situation, the man who yields to sinful feelings must be miserable. Though he may possess all outward means of happiness, the wealth, friendship, and reputation of the world, he wants that within which alone can constitute these external advantages, the elements of his enjoyment. Those around him may think him happy ; but they cannot see the soul, and are unable to observe the workings of an evil conscience and of evil passions. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. Even in the most fearless and thoughtless of them all there are secret
misgivings; there are present disquietudes of mind which they cannot suppress, and there are apprehensions of future judgments which no efforts can avert from them. Admitting that they are free from malignant passions towards others, still are they under the dominion of some affection, which, in its restless aim at gratification, destroys their peace, which effectually secludes from their heart all the feelings of love and devotion due to God and to the concerns of eternity. They are void of the faith which recognises His continual presence, and which exercises trust in the Providence that clothes the grass of the field, and feeds the fowls of the air ; they are destitute of the love that casteth out fear, and which draws away the heart towards objects the most awful and engaging: they are totally wanting in that submission to the divine will which would lead them to be contented with the things which they have, and to view all the events of their lot as under the direction of the wisdom that cannot err; and they are without any well-grounded hope in relation to that eternity which is so near them, and into which the changes of a day may usher them. What have they to make up for these privations ? They have their consciences as accusers, and some feeling of envy, or ambition, or malignity, or sensuality, or hatred to holiness, to agitate and torment them; they have His face against them whose word is pledged, that though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished; they have the denunciations of that law lying upon them, which tells them that none of its violations will pass with impunity: they have to bear all the trials of life with
out the consolations and the hope of religion; and they have to meet death, and all that is beyond it, apprehending that their portion is to be for ever with them who know not God, and who obey not the Gospel.
Are these the fruits which men reap from continuing in sin? Is it for rewards such as these that they employ all their wishes and efforts; that they live in neglect of God, of their souls, and eternity; that they bow down themselves, and serve the idols that cannot save them? What other rewards than these are they entitled to promise themselves ? Has not he said, whose word should be credited, that the soul that sinneth shall die,-that their sin shall find them out,that it shall be ill with the wicked, for the reward of his hands shall be given him, that though they dig into hell, thence shall his hand take them, and they climb up to heaven, thence will he bring them down, and that he will set his eyes on them for evil, and not for good. In what single instance are these, the sayings of the God of truth, not verified? Does not the constitution of nature, does not the order of that provi. dence which now begins the distinction between the righteous and the wicked,-a distinction which hereafter is to be complete and eternal, does not every dispensation of God to man, fully accord with the assertion so often and so awfully repeated, that sin shall find out the sinner, and that sin shall not go unpunished.
In the second place, the connexion between sin and suffering is seen in the union between evil actions and the retributive awards of divine justice. The history of mankind is full of examples illustrative of this
union. Disobedience to God in the case of our first parents was followed by an immediate manifestation of his displeasure. Besides the agony that accompanied the consciousness of guilt, they were excluded from the spot which the stores of divine goodness, and the enjoyment of the divine presence, had constituted a paradise. When, in a few generations after the fall, the depravity of mankind increased so as to cover the earth with violence and blood, and when every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually, the Lord opened the windows of heaven, and with an overflowing flood swept away the world of ungodly. When the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrha had deeply degraded our common nature, and had totally effaced from them the likeness of Him in whose image they had been created, their cities and themselves were condemned with an overthrow, and are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. The trials and sufferings of individuals, as well as nations, recorded in the sacred volume, were adapted as appropriate punishments to the sins of which they were guilty. If Abraham had discord and division in his family, were they not the natural desert,--the penal consequences of his impatience and unbelief. If Jacob was repeatedly deceived and imposed on, and had thus his afflictions multiplied, they were the due reward of that imposture and falsehood of which he to his venerable parent had himself been guilty. If Moses was kept out of the land of promise for words which he uttered in the warmth of passion, it was a just retribution for the fatal effects of his anger at a former period of his