Page images

case is wrong; for though it be just to punish all finners, yet to punish them immediately would destroy the very reason, which makes it just to punish them. It is just to punish them, that there may be a difference made between the good and the bad according to their deserts, that their punishment may be a discouragement to vice, an encouragement to virtue. Now our Lord Thews in this

parable, that the immediate punishment of the wicked would quite destroy these ends of justice ; for the righteous and the wicked, like the wheat and tares growing together in one field, are so mixed and united in interest in this world, that, as things stand, the wicked cannot be rooted out, but the righteous must suffer with them: consequently, the immediate destruction of the wicked, since it must inevitably fall upon the righteous also, would make no proper distinction between the good and the bad; could be no encouragement to virtue, for the virtuous would suffer ; could be no discouragement to vice, for vice would fare as well as virtue : and therefore it is not only reasonable to delay the punishment of the wicked, but even necessary to the obtaining the ends of justice, since they cannot be obtained in their immediate destruction.

This then is a full justification of God in his dealings with men ; and shews his justice, as well

mercy, in not executing wrath and vengeance as soon as finners are ripe for them. But if this be the height of justice in God, how is it not the height of injustice in men to deal with one another quite otherwise ? Temporal punishments, even those which are capital, are executed immediately; though often it happens that many innocents suffer in the punishment of one injurious person. The law does not consider who shall maintain the children, when it seizes the father's estate as forfeited; nor does justice relent for fear she should make a miserable widow, and many wretched orphans, by the severe blow which cuts off the guilty husband and father. Nay, farther; this very method of justice is ordained by God, and magistrates are not at liberty totally to suspend the execution of justice ; and how comes God to pursue one method of justice himself, and to prescribe another to his vicegerents ? The plain answer is, because the reason of these two cases is very different. The punishments of this world are not the final punishments of ini. quity; but are means ordained to secure virtue and morality, and to protect the innocent from immediate violence. Offences which disturb the peace of society, and the security of private persons, will not bear a delay of justice; for the end of justice, in this case, is to fecure peace : but this end can never be served by permitting thieves, and murderers, and rebels, to go unpunished; and though, whenever they suffer, many innocents may suffer with them, yet many more would suffer in their impunity; and this world would be scarcely habitable, were such crimes as these to wait for their punishment till another world succeeded this. Our Saviour's reasoning, when applied to this case, leads to another conclufion; that the righteous may not suffer, God delays the final punishment of the wicked; for the same reason, that the righteous may not suffer, he has commanded the magistrate }

as his

to cut off all the sons of violence, all disturbers of the public peace and quiet. And, in so doing, he has followed the same reason in both cases, namely, that the righteous may be preserved and protected : in one case, preserved from the violence of the wicked; in the other, from the contagion of their punishment. In a word, offences against men must be corrected and discouraged by present punishment, or else this world will be a scene of great woe and misery to the best men: violence will prevail, and the meek, far from inheriting the earth, will be rooted out of it. Offences against God, though of a deeper die, yet have not in them the same call for immediate vengeance : for God suffers not from the wickedness of men ; the ends of justice are best served by the delay, and his goodness is at present displayed in his forbearance; and his honour will foon be vindicated in a more public theatre than that of this present world, in the fight of all the dead, as well as of all the living.

[ocr errors]


Matthew xxvi. 41.

Watch and

pray, that ye enter not into temptation : the Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. FOR the better understanding of these words, I must desire you to reflect a little upon what occasion they were spoken, and in what circumstances our Saviour was, when he made this exhortation to his disciples. The time of his crucifixion was now near at hand, and he had foretold his disciples that they should all be offended because of him ; upon which St. Peter made a very forward profession of constancy, as did likewise all the disciples. But it does not appear that they clearly understood our Saviour, or were apprehensive that they should so foon lose their Master; if they had, they could not have been so supinely negligent and unconcerned for his welfare, as immediately to fall asleep, as we read they did. But our Saviour, as he had a different sense of what he was to undergo, so was he differently affected: he began to be sorrowful, and very heavy; and expressed himself to his difciples, that his foul was exceeding forrowful, even

« PreviousContinue »