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WE have hitherto considered man as a miserable inhabitant of a wretched world. We have seen him surrounded by multitudes of wants : pur. sued by legions of distresses, maladies, and woes ; arrested by the king of terrors : cast into the grave; and shut up there, the loathsome prey of corruption and worms. Let us now consider him as a moral agent ; and by examining his disposition, character, and conduct, let us see whether he is wisely punished, according to the sentence of impartial justice; or wantonly tormented, at the caprice of arbitrary power.
We cannot help acknowledging, it is highly reasonable, first, that all intelligent creatures should love, reverence, and obey their Creator; because he is most eminently their Father, their Master, and their King : Secondly, that they should assist, sup.. port, and love each other, as fellow subjects, fellow servants, and children ofthe same universal parent: and thirdly, that they should preserve their souls and bodies in peace and purity ; by which means alone they can be happy in themselves, profitable to mang and acceptable to God. This is what we generally call natural religion, which is evidently founded upon eternal reason, the fitness of things, and the essential relation of persons.
The propriety of these sanctions is so self-evident that the Gentiles, who have not the written law, are a law unto themselves, and do (but alas ! how seldom and from what motives !) the things contained in the law, thus shewing that the work, the sum and substance of the law, though much blotted by the fall, is still written in their heart. Nor will it be érased thence in hell itself; for nothing but a sight of the equity of God's law, can clear his vindictive justice in the guilty breast, give a scorpion's sting to the worm that gnaws the stubborn offender, and arm his upbraiding conscience with a whip of biting serpents.
Since the moral law so strongly recommends itself to reason, let us see how universally it is observ. ed or broken ; So shall matter of fact decide, whether we are pure and upright, or polluted and depraved.
Those who reject the scriptures, universally agree that all have sinned, and that in many things we offend all. Hence it appears, that persons of various constitutions, ranks, and education; in all nations, religions, times, and places ; are born in such a state and with such a nature, that they infallibly commit many sins in thought, word or deed.
But one transgression would be sufficient, to render them obnoxious to God's displeasure, and to bring thein under the fearful curse of his broken law : For, even according to the statutes of this realm, a man, who once robs a traveller of a small sum of money, forfeits his life ; as well as the bloody highwayman, who for years barbarously murders all those whom he stops, and acumulates immense wealth by his repeated barbarities.
The reason is obvious: Both incur the penalty, of the law which forbids robbery; for both effectually
break it, though one does it oftner, and with far more aggravating circumstances than the other. So sure then as one robbery deserves the gallows, one sin deserves death : for the soul that sinneth, says God's law, and not the soul that committeth so many sins, of such or such an heinousness, it shall die. Hence it is, that the first sin of the first man was punished both with spiritual and bodily death, and with ten thousand other evils. The justice of this sanction will appear in a satisfactory light, if we consider the following remarks.
1. In our present natural state, we are such strangers to God's glory, and the spirituality of his law; and we are so used to drink the deadly poison of ini. quity like water, that we have no idea of the horror, which should sieze upon us, after a breach of the di. vine law. We are therefore as unfit judges of the atrociousness of sin, as lawless, hardened assassins, who shed human blood like water, are of the heinousness of murder.
2. As every wilful sin arises from a disregard of that sovereign authority, which is equally stamped upon all the commandments; it hath in it the principle and nature of all possible iniquity, that is, the disregard and contempt of the Almighty. . 3. There is no proper merit before God, in the longest and most exact course of obedience, but infinite demerit in one, even the least act of wilful disobedience. When we have done all that is commanded us,we are still unprofitable servants ; for the selfsufficient God has no more need of us, than a mighty monarch, of the vilest insects that creep in the dust beneath his feet ; And our best actions, strictly speaking, deserve absolutely nothing from our Creator and Preserver, because we owe him all we have, and are, and can possibly do. But if we transgress in one point, we ruin all our obedience, and expose ourselves to the just penalty of his broken law. The following example may illustrate this observation.
If a rich man gives a thousand meals to an indigent neighbour, he acts only as a man, he does nothing but his duty; and the judge allows him no teward. But if he gives him only one dose of poison, he aets as a murderer, and must die a shameful death : So greatly does one act of sin outweigh a thousand acts of obedience ! How exceedingly absurd then, is the common notion, that our good works counter-balance our bad ones! Add to this, that : 4 Guilt necessarily rises in proportion to the baseness of the offender, the greatness of the favours conferred upon him, and the dignity of the person offended. An insulting behaviour to a servant is a fault, to a magistrate it is a crime, to a king it is treason. And what is wilful sin, but an injury offered by an impotent rebel, to the infinitely powerful law-giver of the universe, to the kindest of benefactors, to the gracious Creator and preserver of men....an insult given to the supreme Majesty of heaven and earth, in whose glorious presence the dignity of the greatest potentates and arch-angels, as truly disappears as the splendour of the stars in the blaze of the meridian sun? Sin therefore flying into the face of such a law-giver, benefactor and monarch, has in it a kind of infinite demerit from its infinite object ; and rebellious, ungrateful, wretched man, who commits it a thousand times with a thousand aggravations, may, in the nervous language of our church, be said in some sense, to deserve a thousand hells if there were so many.
Our natural depravity manifests itself by constant omissions of duty, as much as by flagrant commissions of sin, and perhaps much more. Take one
instance out of many, that might be produced. Con· stant displays of preserving goodness, and presents,
undeservedly and uninterruptedly bestowed upon us, deserve a perpetual tribute of heart-felt gratitude : God demands it in his law; and conscience, his agent in our souls, declares, it ought in justice' to be paid.
But where shall we find a deist, properly conscious, of what he owes the supreme being, for his « creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life?” And where a christian duly sensible of “ God's inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ ?” A due sense of his ever multiplied mercies, would fill our souls with neverceasing wonder, and make our lips overflow with rap turous praise. The poet's language would suit our grateful sensations, and without exaggeration paint the just ardour of our transports.
Bound ev'ry heart, and ev'ry bosom burn.
Is not any thing short of this thankful frame of mind, a sin of omission, a degree of ingratitude, of which all are naturally guilty; and for which, it is to be feared, the best owe ten thousand talents both to divine goodness and justice ?
Throw only a few bones to a dog, and you win him : He follows you : Your word becomes his law : Upon the first motion of your hand he flies through land and water to execute your commands: Obedience is his delight, and your presence his paradise : He convinces you of it by all the demonstrations of joy, which he is capable of giving : And if he unhappily loses sight of you, he exerts all his sagacity to trace your footsteps ; nor will he rest, till he finds his benefactor again.
Shall a brute be so thankful to a man for some offals, while man himself is so full of ingratitude to God who created him, preserves his life from destruction,