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intervened, during which they flourished in wealth and ease. They were now far from the scene of their crime; in a foreign land where they believed themselves utterly unBut known, and where they had done nothing to offend. conscience formed a connection between events, which, according to the ordinary apprehension of men, were entirely independent of each other. It made them recollect, that they, who once had been deaf to the supplications of a brother, were now left friendless and forlorn, imploring pity in vain from an unrelenting governor; and that they who had first conspired to kill their brother, and afterwards sold him for a slave, were themselves deprived of liberty, and threatened with an ignominious death.
How undeservedly soever these evils befel them on the part of men, they confessed them to be just on the part of Providence. They concluded the hour of retribution to be arrived; and in the person of the Governor of Egypt, they beheld the Ruler of the world calling them to account for Behold guilt. Therefore is this distress come upon us.
also his blood is required.
Similar sentiments, on like occasions, will be found not uncommon among mankind. Pious men, there is no doubt, are at all times disposed to look up to God, and to acknowledge his hand in every event of life. But what I now observe is, that where no habitual acknowledgment of God takes place; nay, where a daring contempt of his authority has prevailed, conscience, nevertheless, constrains men, in the day of their distress, to recognise God, under the most awful of all characters, the avenger of past guilt.
Herein the wisdom of God appears in such a light, as justly to claim our highest admiration. The ordinary course of his Providence is carried on by human means. He has settled a train of events, which proceed in a regular succession of causes and effects, without his appearing to interpose, or to act. But these, on proper occasions, are made to affect the human mind in the same manner as if he were beheld descending from his throne, to punish the sinner with his own hand. Were God to suspend the laws of Nature, on occasion of every great crime that was committed on earth, and to govern the world by frequent interpositions of a miraculous kind, the whole order of human affairs would be unhinged; no plans of action could be formed; and no scope would be given for the probation and trial of men. On the other hand, were the operation of second causes allowed to conceal a Divine hand totally from view, all sense of superior government would be lost; the world would seem to be void of God; the sinner would perceive nothing but chance and fortune in the distresses which he suffered. Whereas, by its being so ordered, that several incidents of life shall carry the same force and strike the mind with the same impression, as if they were supernatural interpositions, the fear of God is kept alive among men, and the order of human affairs is, at the same time, preserved unbroken. The sinner sees his distress to be the immediate effect of human violence or oppression; and is obliged, at the same moment, to consider it as a divine judgment. His conscience gives to an ordinary
misfortune all the edge and the sting of a visitation from Heaven.
From the train of thought which the text has suggested, several inferences naturally follow. But I shall confine myself to two, which claim your particular attention.
The first is, the clear evidence which the preceding observations afford, of a Divine government now exercised over mankind. This most important and awful of all truths, cannot be too often presented to our view, or too strongly impressed on our mind. To the imperfect conviction of it, which obtains in the world, must be ascribed, in a great measure, the prevalence of sin. Did men firmly believe that the Almighty Being who formed them, is carrying on a system of administration which will not leave guilt unpunished, it is impossible that they could remain so inattentive, as we often behold them, to their moral conduct. But the bulk of mankind are giddy and thoughtless. Struck by the superficial appearances of pleasure, which accompany licentiousness, they inquire no farther, and deliver themselves up to their senses and their passions. Whereas, were they to reflect, but for a moment, upon that view which has now been given of human nature, they might soon be satisfied that the moral government of God is no matter of doubtful discussion. It is a fact, no less obvious and incontestible, than the government exercised by those earthly rulers whom we behold with the ensigns of their office before our eyes. To govern, is to require a certain course of action, or to prescribe a law, and to enforce that law by a suitable distribution of rewards and
punishments. Now, God has not only invested conscience, as we have seen, with authority to promulgate, but endowed it also with power to enforce, his law. By placing inward approbation and peace on the side of virtue, he gave it the sanction of reward. But this was not enough. Pain is a more powerful principle than pleasure. To escape misery is a stronger motive for action than to obtain good. God, therefore, so framed human nature, that the painful sense of ill-desert should attend the commission of crimes; that this sense of ill-desert should necessarily produce the dread of punishment; and that this dread should so operate on the mind in the time of distress, as to make the sinner conceive Providence to be engaged against him, and to be concerned in inflicting the punishment which he suffers. All these impressions he hath stamped upon the heart with his own hand. He hath made them constituent parts of our frame; on purpose that, by the union of so many strong and pungent sentiments, he might enforce repentance and reformation, and publish to the human race his detestation of sin. Were he to speak to us from the clouds, his voice could not be more decisive. What we discern to be interwoven with the contexture of human nature, and to pervade the whole course of human affairs, carries an evidence not to be resisted. We might, with as much reason, doubt whether the sun was intended to enlighten the earth, or the rain to fertilize it; as whether he who has framed the human mind, intended to announce righteousness to mankind, as his law.
The second inference which I make from the foregoing discourse, respects the intimate connexion which those
operations of conscience have with the peculiar and distinguishing doctrines of the Gospel of Christ. They will be found to accord with them so remarkably, as to furnish an answer to some of those objections, which superficial reasoners are apt to raise against the Christian revelation. In particular, they coincide with that awful view which the Gospel gives us of the future consequences of guilt. If the sinner is now constrained by conscience to view the Almighty as pursuing him with evil for long-forgotten crimes, how naturally must he conclude, that, in a subsequent period of existence, the Divine administration will proceed upon the same plan, and complete what has been left imperfect here? If, during this life, which is only the time of trial, the displeasure of Providence at sin is displayed by tokens so manifest, what may be apprehended to follow, when justice, which, at present, only begins to be executed, shall be carried to its consummation ? What conscience forebodes, revelation verifies; assuring us that a day is appointed when God will render to every man according to his works; to them, who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, honor, and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness; indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doth evil; of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile. For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without the law, shall also perish without the law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law.
While the threatenings of conscience thus strengthen