TExt. — For I also withheld thee from sinning against me.

These words were spoken in a dream of the night by 6od to Abimelech, King of Gerar, when he had purposed to do a wicked action. It was a sin against a fellow-mortal, but God considered this, like all other sins, as committed against himself, and by threatening and setting forth the wickedness of the action prevented the act and said, ^* I also have withheld thee from sinning against me."

Abimelech is not the only person whom God in

some way or other withholds from sinning against

Him. There is a great deal of wickedness in the

... • • •

world, but greatly as iniquity abounds, there would be vastly more if God did not interpose and prevent

it — if he did not curb the lawless passions of men, did not take away the opportunity, did not awaken and alarm the conscience of men or in some way or other restrain them.

There is not one here, who, if God had left him entirely to himself, would not have been guilty ol piany sins and perhaps a whole life of sin*


I. To rivhat lengths men might go in sin, if it ivere not for GocTs withholding or re^ straining grace. 11. Haw God restrains them.

There is a great deal of sitr conceived,- flt^iight of, planned and purposed that is never executed. Suppose every evil thought, every linholy invagination; every- v^icked inclination, every sinful purpose you ever indulged in would have been carried out, to what lengths of wickedness would you have gone?

Call to mind those thoughts, inclinations, purposes — ^their heinousness, their abominations — and you must shudder at the thought to what they might have led youj and what but the restraining grace of God i>r^vented them? If you had been left to yourself^ where and what might you now be? Look around you and see the many wretched specimens of humanity, besotted and degraded, the human turned into the brute, yes, lowered beneath the brute. But for the restraining grace, you might^be as one of them.

OhI what is man with a* corrupt nature, a heart as depraved as his, not capable of? When placed in favorable circumstances, under strong temptations, cut loose froni all restraints, where may he land? The worst of characters that ever lived


never have committed half the crimes or gone to


such lengths of wickedness as they might have, had

God not restrained them; and God only knows what many of us would have done, if left unhindered to-carry out what was in our hearts to do. How many wicked, horrid thoughts have been entertained I how many impure imaginings, how many unchaste desires cherished! which make us tremble to think of and ashamed of ourselves, but which w^ere never carried out and which, if carried out, would have stamped us with infamy. And who has restrained us? Can any one assert that it was done by any natural, moral force or virtuous disposition in ourselves? No; for naturally we do not possess such a virtuous disposition or moral power. We must attribute it to God's withholding grace. Thus David on a certain occasion, when about to visit a certain person, who had greatly insulted him, with condign punishment, but was providentially prevented, exclaimed, " Blessed be the Lord, who hath kept his servant from evil." Thus • we have reason to bless Gpd for his restraining grace. If God did not restrain the ungodly and withhold them from running riot in wickedness, there would

scarcely, be any kort of living in society, the world would, as in Noah's day, be overrun with wickedness.


But how does God withhold men from sinning? N5t by any irresistible power or physical force; this would destroy man's free moral agency and make him a mere machine, not accountable for his actions. He does it by moral agencies, which appeal to his reason and understanding.

He restrains them by the provisions oj civil governments. The " powers that be " (i. e. the governments) are ordained of God. If it were not for civil government with its laws and the penalties annexed for the violations of law and offices, to inflict the punishments threatened against the transgressor, society could not possibly exist. The fear of these punishments holds many in check. 'Tis true, with all the restraints of law, the most flagrant crimes are committed; thefls, murders, incendiarisms, de5

frauding by wholesale continue to abound. But if this be so, what would the state of things be without the salutary restraints of law? The fear of detection and punishment deters many and keeps them in check, and this would more effectually be the case, if the laws were more strictly enforced; but there are so many technicalities, so many evasions of the requirements and penalties of the law; this, with the hope of escaping detection, emboldens many in crime; yet, with all this, the law exercises


a powerful restraint upon vice and iniquity. Now, as the powers that be are of God, we must admit that this is one way in which God withholds men from sin and iniquity.

Again, God restrains and withholds men from sin through the influence of social life. Unless very depraved, men are not regardless of the opinion of the community in which they live. Their

character, their credit, their business and standing in the community are at stake, and this naturally will exert some restraining influence. This influence will be greater or less in proportion to the moral and religious tone of the society in which we live. Society is to a great extent guilty before God for the iniquity that exists. If sin is winked at, ii persons guilty of improprieties and wickedness are flattered and welcome and their crimes palliated, they are held up and encouraged in sin.

Now, society was ordained and ihistituted by God, for mutual good — " He setteth the solitary in families.^' Psa. Ixviii. 6. If it were not for the restraints of social life, many would have torn loose from all restraints and run the founds of folly and vice.

Again, God withholds others by ^providential interference'^hy rendering them incapable Df c^rry^r


ing out their plans and purposes: Some one has laid out a wicked plan, formed a determination to commit a crime, but* God lays him upon a bed of sickness, or some accident befalls him. A certain desperado, with a number of associates, had determined to commit a daring robbery; they were to meet at an appointed time and place, but the cars failed in making their connection and thus. their design was frustrated. Another instance is- related of a man who had purposed to rob a revenue, collector; he lay in wait in a lonely woods, through which thecollector was accustomed to pass with a large sum, of money in his possession; but, strange to say, the collector by some unaccountable impulse, a certainforeboding of evil, was induced to take another roadand the deed could not be carried out. :Thus by thwarting their plans and taking, away the opportunity God withholds men from sin.

Again, God keeps men from sin hy the restraints of early religious trainings. This has a greater In* fluence than we are apt to imagine, but it enters: materially into God's plans and purposes. The div-8

ine plan is, "Train up a child in the way in which he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.'' We cannot too highly appreciate our early religious training, the instructions, advice of a. pious


father and mother, the prayers they offered for us, how in our childhood they led us to the house of God, how they taught us to reverence the Lord's day, how highly they taught us to prize the word ot God. These have made an impression not Kkely soon to be forgotten; and if, while they were yet living, we were afraid to do anything which we knew would give them pain, would we so disgrace their meniory as to do it since they are no more?

God exerts a restraining power through the church — ^by the preaching of the gospel, and all the moral and religious instrumentalities connected with it. Some undervalue the church and its influence upon the morals and life; others are ready to say, " To

what purpose isthis waste of money to build costly churches and maintain the ordinances of religion?" The same was said when the poor sinner, Magdalene, anointed the blessed Savior's head with costly ointment, although the Savior highly commended the act and said, " Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached (this deed made known) through the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman has done be told for a memorial of her" (proclaimed to her honor). But do you remember who it was that made the remark, "To What purpose is this waste? '' It was Judas, the traitor, who sold his Master for


thirty pieces of silver. And all who venture such an assertion, possess the same spirit and would sell their Master and their souls for gain.

What state of things woul4 we have, if there were no churches, no preaching of the gospel, just for a short time? We deplore the degeneracy of the

times, with all the churches with their spires pointing to heaven, putting us in mind of another world, where every one shall receive according, to that he hath done, whether it be good or evil? Echo answers, What?

God restrains men through the power of his grace upon their hearts. — ^In renewing and sanctifying the heart, in making new creatures of them and then controlling them by his Spirit and Word, they cease to do evil and learn to do good. None of U3 can conceive how much we owe to God's restraining grace. It it were not for this, what might we have been?

Lpok back and see how God providentially restrained us from sin — through the influence of social life, by the provisions of civil government, by early religious training, and through the church and its tefichings. For these let us thank God, and watch over the risings of temptations and keep our hearts with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.




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