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That the greater part of mankind are under the influence of the contrary opinion, may be too justly inferred from their practice. How many have recourse to sinful pleasures to relieve their inward distress? What unlawful methods do others use for acquiring the perishing riches or honours of this world ? while, in order to evade sufferings for righteousness sake, thousands make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, through sinful compliances with the manners of the world, against the clear and deliberate conviction of their own minds. These things plainly shew, that the subject I have chosen is of the highest importance ; and if what may be said on it shall be so far blessed to any, as to render sin more odious, or affliction less formidable, I shall gain one of the noblest ends of my office, and we shall have reason to acknowledge, that our meeting together has been for the better and not for the worse.
In proof, then, of the general proposition, That there can be no greater folly than to choose sin rather than affliction, let it be observed,
I. That sin separates us from God, the only source of real felicity. That man is not sufficient to his own happiness, is a truth confirmed by the experience of all who have candidly attended to their own feelings. It is the consciousness of this insufficiency of the human mind for its own happiness, which makes men seek resour
ces from abroad ; which makes them fly to pleasures and amusements of various kinds, whose chief value consists in filling up the blanks of time, and diverting their uneasy reflections from their own internal poverty. But these are vain and deceitful refuges of lies. The want remains; and we bave found out only the means of putting away the sense of it for a time. God alone can be the source of real happiness to an immortal soul, an adequate supply to all its faculties, an inexhaustible subject to its understanding, an everlasting object to its affections.
Sin bereaves the soul of man of this its only portion. “ Behold,” saith the prophet, ,
« God's hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither is his ear heavy that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” Affliction, on the other hand, instead of separating the soul from God, is often the means of bringing it nearer to him. Let a man be ever so poor, diseased, reproached, persecuted, still if he hold fast his integrity, if he be a real saint, he is near and dear to God. The eyes of the Lord are upon him, and his ears are open to his cry. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about him, and a guard of angels wait to carry his departing spirit into Abraham's bosom. Whereas sin renders us loathsome in the eyes of God. He is angry with the wicked every
day; and even their prayers and sacrifices are an abomination to him. He hath bent his bow, and made it ready; he hath also prepared for him the instruments of death. God looks on them with abhorrence, and, when conscience is awake, they think of him with horror, and dare not come into his presence, knowing that he is a consuming fire to the workers of iniquity.
II. Affliction may not only consist with the love of a father, but may even be the fruit of it. « Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.-By this," saith the prophet Isaiah, speaking of affliction, “ shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit to take away sin.” David could say, “ It is good for me that I have been afflict. ed, that I might learn thy statutes.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I have kept thy word.” A good man may even glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him. But sin is always both evil in its own nature and pernicious in its effects. This contrast is very strikingly displayed by the apostle Paul. Of the one he speaks as a privilege, and a token for good to those who are exercised thereby.“ Unto you,"
saith be, (writing to the Philippians, i. 29.) is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” But what doth he say concerning the other, Romans vii. 24. “ O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?" If any had ever reason to complain of the burden of affliction, Paul had more~" in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.” But in the midst of these sufferings, we never bear him crying out, Who shall deliver me from this unremitting distress ? His inward corruption gave him greater pain than the evils of his outward condition ; and his capti. vity to the law of sin was worse to him than pri. sons, and tortures, and death.
III. Sın is evil whether we feel it or not, and worst when we are most insensible of it. To be past feeling, in this respect, is the greatest curse we can possibly bring on ourselves; and the most desperate condition in which a human creature can be placed before his everlasting doom be pronounced, is when God saith of him, as he did of Ephraim of old, “ He is joined to his idols, let him alone."
Affliction, on the other hand, though a bitter, is yet a salutary medicine ; and though no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterwards it yieldeth the
peaceable fruit of righteousness to them who are exercised thereby. Affliction is the discipline by which we are trained to glory, and honour, and virtue. If this world, indeed, were our only portion, there would be some reason, or at least some excuse, for choosing the pleasures of iniquity, rather than those sufferings which would imbitter the short period of our existence in it. But the greatest error we can possibly fall into, is that of taking it for the place of our rest. To cure this fatal mistake, God visits us with afflictions. They are his messengers sent to teach us our true condition, what this world is, a fleeting scene of vanity and illusions; and what we ourselves are in it, pilgrims and strangers, hastening to another land of perpetual abode.
IV. In affliction we are commonly passive, but always active in sin. The one is left to our choice; the other is not. When we suffer in the cause of virtue, we are in the hand of our most faithful and everlasting friend; but when we sin in order to avoid suffering, we commit ourselves into the hands of that malicious, cunning, and eternal enemy, who goeth about seeking whe he may destroy. Affliction only hurts the rody, but sin affects the health and well-being of that immortal principle, which is destine to survive the ruins of this earthly tabernacl, and to inhe