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hitherto been deaf to the voice of humanity and religion. And yet I trust, that the existence of this iniquitous trade is less a symptom of depravity, than the loud and general cry of the people of this country for its abolition is an argument that the mild spirit of Christianity is gaining more and more of an ascendancy; and that God's good work is tending to its consummation, by that gradual progress by which, from the very nature of the means employed, the business must be expected to proceed.
The means which God vouchsafes to employ for the perfect overthrow of the Devil's kingdom, are not such as he might be expected to put in use if his omnipotence alone were regarded; but they are such as are consistent with the free agency of man-such as are adapted to the nature of man as a rational and moral agent, and adapted to the justice and wisdom and mercy of God in his dealings with such a
God's power is unquestionably competent
to the instantaneous abolition of all moral evil, by the annihilation at a single stroke of the whole troop of rebellious angels and the whole race of sinful man, and the production of new creatures in their room. God's power is competent to the speedy abolition of moral evil, by the sudden execution of severe judgments on wicked nations or sinful individuals - by such examples of wrath immediately pursuing guilt as might act with a compulsive force upon those who saw them. But God "willeth not the death of the sinner, but that the sinner turn from his way and live;" and he seeks an obedience to his will founded less on fear than love. He abstains therefore from these summary, abrupt, coercive measures; and he employs no other means than the preaching of the gospel, that is, in effect, no other means than those of persuasion and argument, invitation and threatening. It is very obvious that ages must elapse before these means can produce their full effect, that the progress of the work will not only be gradual, but liable to temporary interruptions; insomuch, that it may seem at
times not only to stand still, but even to go backwards, as often as particular circumstances in the affairs of the world draw away the attention of men from the doctrines of the gospel, or rouse an extraordinary opposition of their passions to its precepts. Our Saviour in the text apprizes his apostles that this would be the case in the season of the Jewish war; and St. Paul has foretold an alarming increase of wickedness in the latter days. The use of these prophetic warnings is to guard the faithful against the scepticism which these unpromising appearances might be apt to produce; that instead of taking offence at the sin which remains as yet unextirpated, or even at an occasional growth and prevalence of iniquity, we may firmly rely on the promises of the prophetic word, and set ourselves to consider what may be done on our own part, and what God may expect that we should do, for the furtherance of his work and the removal of impediments.
This we are taught pretty clearly, though indirectly, in the words of the text; which, though they were uttered by our Saviour
with particular reference to the Jewish war, remind us of a general connexion between the" abounding of iniquity" and the decay of that principle by which alone the abounding of iniquity may be resisted: "Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold."
"The love of many" is understood by some expositors (by St. Chrysostom among the ancients and by Calvin among the moderns) of the mutual love of Christians for each other; -which indeed will be very apt to languish and die away when iniquity abounds and choaks it: But as this discourse of our Lord's is an express formal prophecy, and the style of prophecy prevails in every part of it, I am persuaded that love is to be taken in the same sense here which it manifestly bears in the Apocalyptic prophecies; where it denotes not brotherly love, but a much higher principle the root of brotherly love, and of all the Christian virtues the love of God and of Christ, or, which is much the same thing, a devout attachment of affection to the religion of Christ, and a zeal for its inte
rests. This will naturally decay under the discouragement of the abounding of iniquity; because many will grow indifferent about a religion which seems to have no permanent good effect. Whatever opinion they may retain in their own minds of its truth, they will think it of no consequence to be active in the support and propagation of it: Their love therefore will grow torpid and inactive.
Such will be the conduct of many; but since religion (by which I mean the Christian religion, for no other has a title to the name) is the only sure remedy against the growth of iniquity, the wise conduct would be the reverse of this. The more iniquity abounds, the more diligent it becomes the faithful to be in calling the attention of mankind to religious instruction; for sin never could abound if the attention of men were kept steadily fixed upon their eternal interests. Eternal happiness and eternal misery, the favour and the wrath of God, are things to which it is not in the nature of man to be indifferent, when he seriously thinks about them. The success therefore