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fect rectitude and goodness. He expresses a be nevolent care for the safety of his people, and a just concern, lest they should suffer by his mistake. He professes an integrity of heart in what he had done, and God approves the profession. He read ily obeys the divine command in restoring the woman he had taken; and while he reproves Abraham for the needless artifice which he had used, he gives back his wife uninjured, accepts his intercession for himself and his people, and, retaining no unsuita ble resentment, dismisses him with generous pres ents, and with full liberty to dwell in his territories.
Though it is not probable, that all the people: were equally virtuous with the prince, yet a sense of justice, and a regard to the common rights of mankind, evidently belonged to their general character. Abimelech appeals to Abraham, whether he had seen, since he had been in the country, any thing, which could be matter of complaint, or could require such deception as had been used: A braham: pretends nothing more, than a previous jealousy, that the fear of God was not in that place.
We see then, that to condemn sects or communities in the gross, to censure and reprobate men on mere suspicion,, to conclude that there can be no religion among those who enjoy not advantages. e qual to our own, is rash and unjustifiable. Where external advantages are less, internal assistances may, for aught we know, in some instances. be greater.
To suppose that they, who enjoy a standing Rev elation, should receive immediate discoveries from God, in the things of religion, would, indeed, be absurd for, on this supposition, the standing Rev. elation becomes, useless. God never communicates to men, in an immediate way, those things hich they may learn by means already in their hands.
Cornelius is favoured with a vision from heaven;
but this vision gives him no instruction in the way of salvation; it only directs him to send for an Apos. tle, who should teach him things, by which he might be saved. If we, who enjoy the gospel revelation, laying this aside, depend on discoveries of truth made to us in another manner, we are guilty of the greatest insult on the authority of God, and the highest affront to his goodness; and we judge ourselves unworthy of eternal life. Where God. has given means, he requires the use of them, as the condition of his favour.
But we cannot hence determine, but that God, by his good spirit, may so assist, direct, and enlighten the minds of some who enjoy not our external means, that they will make improvements in knowledge and virtue far beyond the exertions of simple nature. We see, in the instance under consideration, that a people, among whom Abraham imagined there was no knowledge or fear of God, were led to worthy conceptions of his character and government, and to a just regard for the rights of
Let us beware, lest some, who never have enjoyed means and advantages like ours, rise in the judgment against us, and condemn us by their superiour attainments in virtue. The Jews, who re jecting the instructions of heavenly wisdom, still' continued in their sins, our Saviour warns, that the men of Nineveh, who repented at the preaching of Jonas, and the queen of the south, who came from far to hear the wisdom of Solomon, will stand as witnesses against them at the last day.
Jesus often found, among Gentiles and Samaritans, those examples of faith, piety and goodness, which he found not among the Jews, the highly fa voured, and highly professing people of God.
Exemplary piety sometimes appears, where we should last have sought it: and the grossest instan
ces of vice are too often seen in men, whose education, advantages and profession, had given us quite different expectations. Many, who are last, shall be first; and the first shall be last. Let us not condemn others for their want of privileges, but beware, lest we be condemned for our abuse of them. How God will deal with those who enjoy not our light, it is not easy for us to decide. But how he will deal with us, if we walk not in the light, there remains no doubt.
III. The case, under consideration, teaches us that the indulgence of too bad an opinion of mankind, is of dangerous consequence to ourselves and others.
Had Abraham entertained a just opinion of the prince and people of Gerar; or taken pains to become acquainted with them, before he listened to the secret whispers of jealousy, he would have shunned so dangerous an artifice, as to disguise his relation to his wife, and would have prevented the mischiefs which ensued, and the still greater mischiefs which threatened his own family and the house of Abimelech. It was a special divine interposition, which averted consequences of the most serious nature.
Caution and circumspection in our intercourse with mankind, are always prudent, and may often be necessary. An implicit unguarded confidence, will expose us to many inconveniences, and may involve us in ruin. The advice which our Saviour gave his disciples, deserves attention in times less dangerous than those. Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Beware of men. Put not confidence in every one. Expose not yourselves to unnecessary dangers. But ever maintain your innocence. Injure no man; and then, as far as prudence can secure you, let no inan injure you.
But we must not carry our caution to a total distrust of mankind, nor treat them with such appar
ent jealousy, as would naturally provoke their resentment; neither ought we, in our concern for our own security, to pursue unwarrantable measures, or neglect the plain calls of duty.
By extreme caution, men often run into the mischiefs which they aim to avoid; and by excessive jealousy bring on themselves injuries, which were not before intended. By indulging too ill an opinion of those around them, they contract a sourness of temper, a reservedness of behaviour, an unsociableness of manners, which injure their own feelings, obstruct their usefulness, and disgust those with whom they converse. Good Elijah, in an evil day, met with so many obstructions and discouragements in his endeavours to reform the nation, that he gave over his labours, and retired to a cave. While he was there, indulging a gloomy imagination, he concluded that there was no piety in the land, and no safety for him. Lord," says he, "they have pulled down thine altars, and stain thy prophets, and I only am left, and they seek my life." But, What says the divine answer? "I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal."-"What dost thou here Elijah ?"
His ill opinion of the world first urged him into a cave; and, in this retirement, the gloom increased, until his jealousy condemned mankind without reserve.
While we mingle with the world, we should keep ourselves unspotted from it. But to shun the pollutions of it, we must not withdraw from all intercourse with it. The Christian is to keep himself from an untoward generation, and to be blame. less and harmless, and without rebuke in the midst of the ungodly and profane, holding forth the word of life, that others may be gained by his good con
IV. It is proper farther to remark, that, in the best men, there may be great infirmities and failings.
None is more celebrated than Abraham for the eminence of his piety, and the strength of his faith. He was strong in faith, giving glory to God. The greatness of his faith appeared, in his leaving his native land at the divine call, and going forth to sojourn in a strange country-in his steady observ. ance of the worship of God, in all places where he sojourned, in his pursuing the enemies who had conquered and plundered the country of Sodom, recovering from them the spoils which they had taken, and restoring them to the proper owners, in his reliance on the divine promise concerning his seed, at a time of life, when, according to the course of nature, no issue could be expected, in his obeying the painful command, to offer up that son in whom his seed was to be called; and in his reasoning from past experience that God was able to raise him from the dead, from whence he had already received him in a figure.
Could we imagine that such a man as this would, on any occasion, betray symptoms of timidity, or discover a distrust of God?-But this same patriarch, when he went to sojourn in Gerar, dared not own his relation to his wife, lest the men of the place should kill him for her sake. Where is now the faith and fortitude, which at other times, he discovered, when difficulties pressed, and dangers threatened him?-His faith now languished; his fear prevailed; and, in a time of imaginary dan. ger, he adopted a method of conduct which exposed him to the reproof of the very persons, who, he imagined, had not the fear of God.
Let him, who thinks that he stands, take heed lest he fall.
Even they whose faith is strong, must guard against the prevailing influence of fear, and call VOL. I. LI