Page images
PDF
EPUB

world upon the negligence of this or that part of men, answers no purpose of the parable, which is to justify the wisdom of Providence in permitting the fins of men to go unpunished for the present : but the justification does not arise from considering the causes of iniquity, but from considering the effect which immediate punishment would have. In the other way, now explained to you, this circumstance, that while men Nept the tares were fown, promotes the main end of the parable, and completes the justification of the providence of God: for this shews, that offences must needs come; they are not to be prevented without disturbing the very course of nature, without God's interposing miraculously to suspend the workings of second causes ; since all care exercised in an human way is too little, for even when men sleep, and Neep they must, the enemy will low his tares.

Since therefore the parable shews, that iniquity can neither be prevented, nor immediately punished, consistently with the wisdom and goodness of God, it shuts out every complaint, and forces us to acknowledge, that God is just in all his ways, and righteous in all his dealings with mankind.

The scope of the parable being thus accounted for, let us now proceed to consider the text more particularly ; which contains the reason, why God delays to punish the fins of men in this world, reserving them to the judgment which shall be hereafter. There are two ways in which we may consider the words of the text: First, as they regard the particular case in view, and account for the justice of God in fufpending his judgments.

Secondly, as they furnish us with a principle of reason and equity applicable to many other cases.

First, as they regard the particular case in view, and account for the justice of God in suspending his judgments. To see the full force of the reason in this respect, it is necessary to understand what sort of sinners are fpoken of: for this reason is not applicable to all cases, many finners are spared upon other accounts than this which is given us in the text. The finners intended in the text are spared merely on account of the righteous, that they may not be involved in the punishment due to the fins of others: but some finners are spared out of a mercy which regards themselves, in hopes of their amendment. Thus St. Paul has taught us, that the riches of God's goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, lead to repentance. The finners, who are represented by the tares in the text, are such of whose repentance and amendment there is no hope ; for tares, let them grow ever so long, will still be tares, they can never turn to wheat. And our Saviour has told us in the close of the parable, that these finners shall certainly be punished at the last; which cannot certainly be said of any but incorrigible finners, for he that repenteth, and forsaketh the evil of his way, shall

save his foul alive. The finners therefore being considered as incorrigible, there was no room to justify the delay of punishment froin any circumstances arising out of their own case. Even the mercy of God was ex

cluded in this circumstance ; for if the incorrigible finner be the object of mercy, no finner need fear punishment. Our Saviour therefore gives them up entirely, and justifies the wisdom and goodness of God in sparing them from other motives. The interests of good and bad men are so united in this world, there is such a connection between them in many respects, that no signal calamity can befal the wicked, but the righteous must have his share in it. It is out of mercy therefore to the righteous that God spares the wicked, lest, whilst he gathers up the tares, he should root out the wheat also. This was Abraham's plea when he interceded with the Lord for the men of Sodom, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? The reason of which plea was so strong, that had there been ten righteous persons in the city, the whole had been preserved from ruin. In public calamities it is evident that all must be sufferers without distinction: fire and sword, famine and pestilence, rage indifferently in the borders of the righteous and the finner, and sweep away one as well as the other. Thus far then the reason of the text most certainly extends, and shews us the great mercy of God in forbearing to appear against finners in such visible and exemplary punishments, which would destroy whole countries, and bring even upon the best of men the punishments due only to the worst.

But are there not, you will say, many ways of punishing men without including others in the calamity? Do not fevers, and many other distempers, carry off single persons without spreading farther? And would not these be proper messengers of Providence to single out desperate finners, in which case there would be no danger of involving the righteous in the punishment of the wicked ? And if the wicked are spared only for the fake of the righteous, why are they exempted from these punishments, in which the righteous have no concern or connection with them?

In answer to which, several things may be said: and, first, to him that asks the question, an answer may be returned by a like question ; How do you know but that the wicked are often and commonly thus punished ? and that the thing is done every day, which you complain of as never done? Wicked men die every day, and die in the way you speak of, some by fevers, fome by other distempers or accidents. Can you distinguish which of them fall in the common way of nature, and which are taken away by the secret judgments of God? Can you tell by the pulse when a fever is to be reckoned among the common accidents of life, and when to be ascribed to the vengeance

of God ? If not, how can you tell but that every hour may produce such instances, as you complain are very rare and scarce to be found, and the want of which you think so great an objection against an overruling Providence? As to outward appearance, the same casualties attend both the good and the bad ; but he has thought very little, who cannot see that the outward appearance is no rule to judge by in this case. Lazarus died, and the rich man died also: thus far there was no diftinction in their fate ; the lookers on could not say which was taken away in mercy, and which in judgment: but the very next scene cleared up all the

doubt, and shewed how terrible a judgment death was to the rich man, how great a mercy to the poor one : for the rich man died, and was tormented in hell ; the poor man died, and was carried to Abraham's bosom. It may therefore be true, that God does exercise many judgments on the wicked in this filent manner, though it is not in our power to point out the particular instances, or pronounce upon single persons, who are under judgments, and who not. Now the objection from the want of such punishments can have no more force, than the objector has certainty that there are no such punishments; and since there is no certainty in one, there can be no force in the other. - But, secondly, allow the matter of the objection to be true, that there are great numbers of wicked men ripe for destruction, who yet escape all these punishments, who live and flourish in the world, and at last die the common death of men, and, as far as we can judge, go down in peace to their graves : yet still, though this be allowed, the reasoning of the objection will not be good, because our Saviour's resolution of the general case extends to these instances also ; and the wicked are often exempted even from private judgment, that the righteous may not be overwhelmed in their ruin. For consider ; you see a great wicked man in a prosperous and flourishing condition, and

you

think his happy tranquillity a perpetual reproach to the providence of God: what would you have done? You would not have God rain fire and brimstone upon the city for the sake of this great offender, since many innocent persons would necessarily suf

« PreviousContinue »