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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 justify. Let us hear the Psalmist: "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.' How ! his son Solomon saw a different scene in his days; then there were just 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 disciples 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 endeavor to serve God, but of a just reward for them in this world it says nothing : • The seed of the righteous,' says the Psalmist, 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 seed should not beg their bread ;' we might expect to hear of crowns and sceptres 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 ye first,' says he, the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.' On 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 endeavors 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 Christ.' 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 florish together; and though men cease not to call on God for a distinction to be made between them, yet he, who seeth not as man sees, has otherwise determined. In this world he permits them to florish 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 labor 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 conclusion ; 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 sick 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 labor, however difficult here, shall not be in vain in the Lord : ‘for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.'
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XL.
MATTHEW, CHAP. XIII.-VERSE 29.
To understand this text we must look back to the 24th verse of the chapter. Take away the dress of the parable here delivered, and what our Saviour says amounts to this ; that there will always be in the world a mixture of good and bad men, which no care can prevent; and though men may and will imagine that the wicked ought immediately to be cut off by the hand of God, yet he judges otherwise, and delays his vengeance for wise reasons, reserving all to the great day of future retribution.
The view of this parable has in some parts been misapprehended. It is intended to represent the necessary condition of mankind, some being good and some bad, and to justify God in the delay of punishment. Hence it is going out of the way to consider the particular causes to which the sins of mankind may be ascribed; the question being, why are they not punished ? In the parable our Lord assigns only a general reason of the world's wickedness, an enemy hath done this. But some think they see another assigned in it, viz. the carelessness of public rulers and magistrates, intimated in the words, but while men slept, his enemy came,
&c. There is indeed no doubt but that the negligence of governors and magistrates, civil and ecclesiastical, may often be one cause of ignorance and wickedness : but that it is assigned in the parable cannot be proved: this shown by the expression while men slept, which is a time of natural refreshment; it is not said, while they played, or were idle : moreover the character of the husbandman agrees with this exposition ; for they betray no consciousness of guilt or negligence: they come with no excuses to their master, but with a question, that shows how little they mistrusted themselves : nor does the master charge them with any fault, but rather lays it at another door : on which they desire not to spare their own pains, but are eager to go at once to work, and root up the tares which they had discovered. In this he corrects their judgment, though he condemns not their diligence. In truth, one main view of the parable is to correct the zeal of those who cannot see the iniquity of the world without violent indignation ; and not being able to stop it or correct it, are apt to call on God to vindicate his own cause in the punishment of evil doers.
The men who have this zeal and warmth against iniquity, are not commonly idle negligent rulers, nor would our Saviour have painted them in such different colors in the compass of a short parable. Besides, the object of the parable plainly is to justify the wisdom of Providence in letting sin go unpunished for the present: the justification, however, does not arise from considering the causes of iniquity, but the effect which immediate punishment would have. In this view of the subject, the circumstance, that while men slept the tares were sown, promotes the main end of the parable, and completes the justification of God's providence: for this shows that offences must needs come : they are not to be prevented without disturbing the very course of nature, and miraculously suspending the operation of second causes. The scope of the parable being thus explained, the text is considered more particularly; which contains the reason why God delays to punish sin in this world, and reserves it for future judgment.
There are two ways in which the words of the text may be considered : I. as they regard the particular case in view, and account for the justice of God in suspending his judgments : II. as they furnish us with a principle of reason and equity applicable to many other cases. To see the full force of the first, it is necessary to understand what sort of sinners are spoken of: for this reason is not applicable to all; many sinners being spared on other accounts.
The sinners represented by the tares in the text are spared merely on account of the righteous : they are such as are incorrigible; and therefore there is no room to justify a delay of punishment from any circumstances arising out of their own case : our Saviour himself declares that they will be inevitably punished at last, 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, that no signal calamity can befal the wicked, but the righteous must have their share in it. It is therefore out of mercy to them that the wicked are spared : and this was Abraham's plea when he interceded for the men of Sodom. In public calamities it is very evident that all must be common sufferers. Thus far then the reason of the text certainly extends, and shows us the great mercy of God in forbearing to destroy sinners by such exemplary punishments as would involve whole communities in calamity.
But, it may be said, there are many ways of punishing sinners without including others; and if the wicked are spared only for the sake of the righteous, why are they exempted from these?
In answer to which several things may be said : and first, he that asks the question, may in return be asked, how he knows but that the wicked are often and commonly so punished ? can he distinguish such as fall in the common course of nature, from those who are cut of by the judgments of God ? It may therefore be true that God does exercise this retributive justice. But, secondly, allow the matter of the objection to be true, yet the reasoning will not be good ; because our Saviour's resolution of the general case extends to these instances also ;