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If we approve the opportunity which God has offered us, to throw off error and superstition, and to receive Christ and his pure religion, we shall enter into life; and children after us, in room of inheriting from us, error and darkness, will bless their fathers and their mothers, who resolved to throw off the doctrine of despair, and to cspouse the hope of the gospel of God our Saviour.
Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the
wicked and the sinner.
Among the reasons for calling your attention at this time, to the consideration of this subject, the following
may be named :
i. This passage having been made the subject of one of our discourses on the 1st Sabbath of November last, a number, who heard the discourse at that time, have since requested that it might have a place among the lectures. And
2. This subject seems so nearly allied to our last, that it is thought advisable to place it next in course, that it may operate in some measure as a farther illustration of it.
Our text gives evident support to the following particular subjects:
1. There is righteousness in the earth.
These particulars may be said to be fully proved by the text; for there can be none righteous, unless there be righteousness, and there can be none wicked, unless there be wickedness; nor can righteousness be recompensed when there is none, nor can wickedness be recompensed where it does not exist.
The hearer's attention is now invited to an inquiry, which will be directed to ascertain how to make a proper distinction between the righteous and the wicked. The way in which this subject is generally held, supposes that there is one class of men who are exclusively righteous, and another class exclusively wicked. Hence we hear so much about two classes of mankind. Christian preachers and commentators have filled their sermons and their volumes with lengthy and intricate descriptions of these two classes of people. If we say any thing of the divine favor to all mankind, if we express the least hope that God will have compassion on all men, if we bring plain scripture to testify and say, " The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works,” we are severely rebuked by those who call themselves righteous, who tell us that the scriptures every where make two classes of people, the righteous and the wicked.
That the scriptures speak of two characters is freely acknowledged; but that they every where or even any where give support to the notion that one class of mankind is exclusively righteous, and another class exclusively wicked is by no means acknowledged.
It is worthy of special notice that the testimony of scripture agrees with matter of fact.
For instance, scripture says: “While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease. Now the matter of fact testified by the passage quoted, perfectly agrees with what we know by experience to be true. But should we find that the scriptures any where say, that while the earth remaineth there shall be a certain class of people, from generation to generation that shall be exclusively righteous, and another class exclusively wicked, could we say that this is evidently true ? could we say that these two classes have always been as distinguishable as seed time and harvest, as cold and heat, as summer and winter, and as day and night?
My friends look round you: do you know who these righteous are? Can you distinguish this righteous class
from the wicked class as easily as you can distinguish day from night? Who are they? Are they that company of meek, humble believers in Jesus, who pray as the divine Master taught them; “Our Father who art in heaven-forgive us our sins?" If they are not sinners why do they pray that their sins may be forgiven ?
On the other hand, who are the wicked? Are they that company of profane sailors, who appear so careless about religion ? But these men, of all grades of society, are acknowledged to be the most generous. They will impart to misery the last dollar of the scanty wages for which they have risked their lives on the uncertain deep, while the wealthy Christian, who goes to the sanctuary in splendor, with great circumspection, gives to poverty a shilling. But who are the wicked? Are they such as make no profession of religion, have subscribed to no creed, joined no church? But where are these men, and what are they about when their neighbors are sick, or are in want, or are in distress? Are they then carelessly loitering behind our high professors of religion, who are administering all needed assistance to the distressed ? Where are they when the devouring element turns women and children into the streets ? Do they idly fold their arms and look on, while the righteous put out the fire ? What do these wicked people do when their country is invaded by a plundering foe, and all that is dear to man lies at stake? Do they then sleep on beds of down, while the saints watch in the camp ? The fact is, if we are willing to acknowledge the truth, there is no class of people who are so righteous that there is no need of reformation; nor is there a class that is in no danger of growing worse.
We find the righteous and the wicked in the same individual. David
David says; "Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness.” And again he says; "The Lord rewardeth me according to my righteousness." But with what humility does he acknowledge his sin. He says;
“ Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my
transgression and my sin is ever before me.” Yes, in the same man, and at the same time we find the righteous and the wicked, " him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.” St. Paul says; “With the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”
The habit which professed Christians have so long indulged, of thinking and speaking of the wicked, as a class of people distinct from themselves is a proof of the depravity of their own deceived hearts. The publican, who dared not raise his eyes toward heaven, but smote his breast, saying. God be merciful to me a sinner, was rather justified than the Pharisee, who thanked God that he was not like other men.
The result of a candid examination of this particular subject may be represented by health and sickness. And as this representation is warranted by the declaration of the Saviour to those who thought they were righteous when they were not, it may be the more acceptable. Jesus said, “They that are whole need not the physician, but they that are sick.” Now health and sickness are so directly opposite, that there is no difficulty in distinguishing one from the other. But there are many cases where it would be difficult to determine which of two that are sick is the most
And we may further observe, that there is no such thing as a class of people who are exclusively healthy, nor a class that is exclusively sickly. Those, who to-day are in health, may be sick to-morrow; and those who are indisposed to-day may be restored and enjoy health to-morrow. Yes, and in the same person, and at the same time, we may find a degree of health and a degree of sickness. Degrees of health and sickness may increase or decrease, and the subjects may either recover, or decline and die.
Let us in the next place endeavor to ascertain the nature of the recompense which the divine economy awards to the righteous, and what it is designed for.
As we have seen that there are different degrees in righteousness, so we may expect to find that rewards are so varied as to correspond with these different