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Guilt is naturally attended with fear and suspicion; and the soul that is polluted with it, is in perpetual dread of a watchful that looks down upon it, and an almighty hand that is ready to punish it. And the least appearance of danger sounds the alarm, and all its sins throng forth, as if they were awakened by the surprising summons, Arise, ye dead, and come to judgement.'
We have a very remarkable instance of this sudden apprehension, this surprising fear, in the licentious Herod. This great wicked man feared the impartial John the Baptist, because he was a just man and a holy. But he feared him much more, when he had sacrificed the preacher of righteousness to the imperious demands of the wanton Herodias, and rashly permitted her to execute revenge upon him. When the fame of the blessed Jesus was spread abroad, for the mighty works that were done by him and his disciples, king Herod heard of him, and he said, that John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works did show forth themselves in him.' [Mark vi. 14.] Others pleased themselves with uncertain conjectures concerning him, saying, that it is Elias; or that it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. [Mark vi. 15.] But Herod could not but make a conclusion, that filled him with horror. It is John the Baptist whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead.' [Ver. 16.] Though he knew not of any resurrection, yet his guilt told him that he was actually risen; and he believed that he was come to proclaim his own innocence, and bring him to an account for his injustice and cruelty; and that therefore mighty works did show forth themselves in him' [ver. 14], to give testimony to the integrity of John, and discover the guilt of the murderer.
We see the consummation of misery in the treacherous Judas when he repented of his falsehood to his Lord, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.' [Matt. xxvii. 4.] They treated him with the utmost contempt, and said, ⚫ What is that to us? see thou to that;' and he was also despised by himself, and became the object of his own hatred and indignation; so that his soul chose strangling and death rather than his life.' [Job vii. 15.] And into this restless state the sin
ner will certainly fall, unless he makes haste to be reconciled to God. For all his arts will be ineffectual and unable to lull his conscience into a lasting security. The closest train of pleasures will have some interruption; the loudest noise of mirth will be silenced by the cries of guilt; and though he endeavour to strengthen himself in iniquity,' yet the number of his sins will not render him altogether insensible of fear: they will only heap up wrath against the day of wrath,' and the evils which he has multiplied against himself, will one day 'find him out.'
When the hour of calamity or sickness comes upon him, the sins of his youth will rise in judgement against him, and the black catalogue of vices which he endeavoured to erase or conceal, will appear in plain and indelible characters; when he casts up the account of his sins,' he shall be seized with fear and trembling, and his own iniquities shall convince him to his face' [Wisd. iv. 20.]: his conscience will constrain him to attend to her accusations, and will not permit the temples of his head to take any rest' [Psal. cxxxii. 4.]; he has no hopes in this life, no prospect of happiness in the other. His present condition is too grievous to be borne, and his expectation is full of misery. He has no stay or support, no anchor to hold him fast; but is driven about and tossed by the vio lence of a tempest which can never be stilled. He can never entertain the least thoughts of peace; but is at utter enmity with his reason, with his conscience, with his God.
And now what is the hope of the hypocrite though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul? Terrors take hold on him as waters; a tempest stealeth him away in the night. The east-wind carrieth him away, and he departeth; and, as a storm, hurleth him out of his place.' [Job xxvii. 8. 20, 21, 22.] For God casts upon him, and will not spare: he would fain flee out of his hand; but there is no escaping, for horrible is the end of the unrighteous.' [Wisd. iii. 19.] Which brings me to consider,
II. Secondly, the causes of their disquiet, or why there can be no peace to the wicked.'
II. 1. And the first and plainest cause of it, is a natural sense of the baseness and malignity of sin. We must necessarily trace it from this; for it could not so generally prevail, were it not essential to the nature of man, and were there not a real differ
ence between good and evil. In all nations and ages, fear and disquiet have been the inseparable companions of guilt; and no circumstances of life could be a sufficient guard against them. And God has made us liable to suffer the stings of conscience, that the wicked might not go unpunished in any state or condition; and though they should seem to prosper, yet they might have a secret worm to prey upon and consume all their enjoyments.
And this will always be the case, as long as reason has any authority in the world. For the mind of man is endued with a power of distinguishing between good and evil; and it does not form uncertain, arbitrary notions of things, but judges by a standing rule, and cannot easily depart from its regular judgement. When virtue and vice present themselves before it, it presently perceives that the one is repugnant, and the other agreeable to it; and the more it meditates upon them, so much the more it confirms its first dislike, and ratifies its just approbation; and it is not in the power of fancy or inclination to reverse the sentence. For the nature of things is not subservient to a wanton humour, or to be bent and turned by our unreasonable desires.
Hence it is, that the sinner has such a mighty contest with himself, before he can break through the restraints that are laid upon him. He cannot but know that he is acting to the prejudice of his reason, his reputation, and his interests, and must endure many throes and agonies, give a terrible shock to his nature, and overturn its beautiful order, before he can descend to the commission of a sin. He cannot entirely conquer his reluctance; for when he complies with the flattering temptation, he blushes at the thoughts of it, and yields with trembling knees, and a misgiving heart. Though he would imagine for a time that all is well, when the use of his reason is suspended, and his senses are wrapt up in the enjoyment of sinful pleasures, yet he cannot long enjoy the delusion. For nothing that is unnatural, can be lasting; and, notwithstanding all his endeavours, he must return to himself. And then with what disdain does he behold the loathsome object! With what reproaches does he accuse himself of folly! He discerns the baseness and deformity of sin; and can hardly bear to remember (and yet he must remember), that he is fallen from the dignity of a rational creature, and become more contemptible than the worm that crawleth upon the ground.
Though he labours often to reconcile himself to his great enemy, yet he cannot subdue his aversion, or prevail over his impartial thoughts; for they will sometimes exert themselves, and whensoever they do, his sin will be unable to stand the test of his serious consideration. Reason will find some sober intervals, in which it will call him to an account; some melancholy hours, in which it will reprove, upbraid, torment him. The heathen had this sense of things to give testimony against their sinful actions; and as they concluded that virtue should be chosen, were it considered only as its own reward, so they were fully convinced that vice was to be avoided, were there no other consequence of it but its immediate punishment. Their fabulous descriptions of a state of misery, and of whips, and scorpions, and furies, were derived from the real anguish which they felt within themselves, and from the severe lashes, the sharp stings, the restless indignation of their own minds.
And this judgement of sin has universally prevailed, and virtue recommended itself by its natural worth and excellence; and vice would have been condemned, had there been no law to condemn it.
II. 2. Another cause of the disquiet that attends a sinful state, is the expectation of a future judgement. For the privilege of reason, which renders us far more excellent than the inferior ranks of creatures, does also render us capable of giving an account of our actions: and as it is natural to conclude that we are the work of an all-wise Being, so it is reasonable to expect that he will call us to answer for the discharge or abuse of our great trust.
Every man has in himself a lively emblem of the manner of proceeding in the future examination, and an earnest of the sentence that will be pronounced. For we find a tribunal erected in our hearts, and a judge sitting upon it, and sum moning all our thoughts, words, and actions, to appear before it. We are brought to this careful review, though our wills strive against it: and we cannot but judge of them according to their different nature and qualities, though we would fain confound the distinction, and call evil good, and good evil."' When we do well, our conscience tells us, that we shall be ac cepted. When we do ill, it fails not to assure us, that sin lieth at the door and it whispers to us, that we should stand in awe of this bosom-witness and judge, because it 'bears not the
sword in vain; that it is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon them that do evil' [Rom. xiii. 4.]; and therefore it concerns us to pay a deference to it, because there is a higher court in which we must appear, a greater tribunal at which we must stand to give an account to a just and righteous God. This expectation of a judgement to come has frequently checked the daring sinner, and interrupted his mirth and jollity; and whilst he has been walking in the ways of his heart, and in the sight of his eyes,' he has been troubled with the ill-boding admonition, 'know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgement.' [Eccles. xi. 9.] And the bare possibility of it is enough to confound and distract even those, that will not believe any more.
Since, then, the wicked are like a troubled sea, when it cannot rest,' and their disquiet is the necessary consequence of sin; let us consider the folly of embracing it for the sake of any temptation. The pleasures that attend it, are imaginary and transient; 'And it is even, as when a hungry man dreameth, and behold he eateth; but he awaketh and his soul is empty or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and behold he drinketh; but he awaketh, and behold he is faint, and his soul has appetite.' [Isa. xxix. 8.] But the fear, the anxiety, the confusion, and remorse, that immediately follow it, are real and lasting. Can there then be any advantage or pleasure in sin, that will be a sufficient recompense for the loss of the peace of our minds? Were we to gain the highest honours, or the greatest riches, yet they could not render us unmindful of our misery. All the arts of the flatterer, and the loudest applause of the multitude, cannot raise the spirits of the man, that is condemned by himself. His own endeavours are as ineffectual to relieve him as those of others. For he sees through the mist which he would cast before his eyes, and loathes the absurdity of his own vain flattery. Though he tries to hide his iniquity in the deepest secresy, yet his troubled heart will cast up its mire and dirt. Though he sometimes seems to be falling into a little slumber, yet it only serves to heighten his misery, when he is surprised in it, and forced to awake: For there is no peace (saith my God) to the wicked.' And at the last day, when the sea, and death, and hell, shall give up their dead,' [Rev. xx. 13.] then shall all his iniquity come forth, and the innumerable multitude of his sins shall accuse him before the