Page images

ference; though in the fight of the world the end of both was taken to be misery. The same holds true with respect to private persons: God can correct them without breaking in upon the ordinary course of his providence. If a man wants to be bowed down by afflictions, fevers and agues, and all the tribe of diftempers, stand ready to obey the order of Providence: but there is no mark to know a fever fo fent from another, there is no appearance of the execution of judgment upon a person so visited; the physic may be sent, because it is wante but the hand that administers it does not appear.

Thus much is said to prevent mistakes: but tho forementioned reasons remain still in force against the expectations, which men are too apt to raise, of some immediate recompence to be bestowed on them by the interposition of Providence upon account of their virtue and goodness.

Let us now proceed to consider what experience teaches in this case. That good and evil are not dispensed in this life in proportion to the merits of men, appears so plainly to all men of sense and reason, that the fact, I think, has never been disputed. The world has never been without complaints upon this head. The righteous in all times have lamented their case; their hearts have been even ready to fail under the oppression of the ungodly. On the other side, the wicked, seeing their own prosperity, have been hardened, and grown secure in their iniquity, upon the foolish presumption, that God regarded not thein, nor their doings. To abate these presumptions on one hand, to

[ocr errors]


silence the fears and clamours on the other, has found work for good and wise men in all ages; yet none of them called in question the truth of the case, though all condemned the perverse use made on all fides of this administration of Providence. Because sentente, says the Preacher, against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the fons of men is fully set in them to do evil. That the

case was so, he acknowledges : For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them. All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good, and to the clean, and to the unclean ; to him that facrificeth, and to him that facrificeth not: as is the good, fo is the finner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. But this is indeed a very plain thing, and needs not to be insisted on; we may leave it to every man to judge for himself by what he can observe in the world, and he will soon find, that in fact God has not made this a place for distributing rewards or punishments, but that one event happeneth alike to all.

Lastly, Let us inquire how far this experience is confirmed by what the Scripture teaches us to expect.

There are some passages of holy writ, which at first hearing, and before they are duly weighed, may seem to promise more to the righteous in this life than we have been able to find either reason or experience to juftify. Let us hear the Psalmist: I have been young, and now am old ; yet have I not seen the righteous for

faken, nor his feed begging bread. How! his son Solomon saw a different scene in his days; then there were juf men unto whom it happened according to the work of the wicked. Again, there were wicked men to whom it happened according to the work of the righteous. In the days of our Saviour and his Apostles, there were some righteous in Israel who begged their bread by the way-side, and at the doors of the temple. Among these we find some, who had faith enough in the Son of God to be made whole of their infirmities : an evidence, I think, that they were not in a worse condition than others, because they were worse men. The truth is, that this passage in the Psalms relates not to our present purpose ; it describes a general case of providence over good men in providing them the necessaries of life, whilst they endeavour to serve God, but of a just reward for them in this world it says nothing: The feed of the righteous, says the Pfalmist, Shall not beg their bread. Take it literally, and make the most of it, it will bear no resemblance to a just reward for their goodness : for, if the righteous and the wicked were to be distinguished in this life by temporal prosperity and adversity, we might expect to hear of much better promises to the good than this, That their feed should not beg their bread; we might expect to hear of crowns and fceptres to be given them : but of this we hear nothing. As to the providential care of God over the righteous in supplying their natural wants, our Saviour has given us great reason to expect it: Seek first, says he, the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Upon


whose authority likewise St. Paul tells us, that godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. Nay, farther, there is great reason to think, that God often blesses the honest endeavours of the virtuous in this world : but then there is no appearance that the rules of justice are at all concerned in such dispensations ; for the righteous often suffer, nay, under the Gospel they are called to suffer ; for which reason the invitation to us is, To take up our cross, and follow Chrift. But, to come to the point of rewards and punishments, the parable of the tares in the thirteenth of St. Matthew is decisive. The meaning of which parable our Saviour has expounded: it represents to us the state of the world, in which the good and bad flourish together; and though men cease not to call upon God for a distinction to be made between them, yet he, who seeth not as man fees, has otherwise determined. In this world he permits them to flourish and live together ; but the time is coming, that great harvest of the world is approaching, when a full distinction shall be made ; when the wicked shall be cast into a furnace of fire, and the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Thus, you see, reason, experience, and scripture, all consenting to teach us not to look for the reward of our labour in this world, but to wait with patience God's appointed time, when the great Judge of the world will do righteously, and recompense to every man the things which he has done.

Let us look back then to the text, and take from thence the proper exhortation arising from this con

clufion ; Since we plainly see that this world is no place of rewards and punishments, let us not be so foolish as to look for our reward here, and be discouraged if we receive it not. If we raise in ourselves such idle expectations, and imagine that to be good is a certain way to be rich, great, or prosperous, we lay a foundation for great disappointments, and shall be in danger of growing fick of our work, when our hopes forsake us.

But if we look to the appointed time of reward, and give ourselves up contentedly to the providence of God in this world, and to that lot, be it what it will, which he has provided for us, our hopes will never fail ; we shall be steadfast and unmoveable, knowing that our labour, however difficult here, shall not be in vain in the Lord: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

« PreviousContinue »