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turn to wheat. And our Saviour has told us in the close of the parable, that these sinners shall certainly be punished at the last; which cannot certainly be said of any but incorrigible sinners, for he that repenteth, and forsaketh the evil of his way, shall save his soul alive.'
The sinners therefore being considered as incorrigible, there was no room to justify the delay of punishment from any circumstances arising out of their own case. Even the mercy of God was excluded in this circumstance; for if the incorrigible sinner be the object of mercy, no sinner need fear punishment. Our Saviour therefore gives them up intirely, 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 connexion 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 sinner, and sweep away one as well as the other. Thus far then the reason of the text most certainly extends, and shows us the great mercy of God in forbearing to appear against sinners in such visible and exemplary punishments, which would destroy whole countries, and bring even on the best of men the punishment 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 sinners, 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 sake of the righteous, why are they exempted from these punishments, in which the righteous have no concern or connexion 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, some 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 distinction 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 showed 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 silent manner, though it is not in our power to point out the particular instances, or pronounce on 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 florish 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 florishing 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 on the city for the sake of this great offender, since many innocent persons would necessarily suffer in the ruin ? No; but you would have God take him away suddenly by some secret and silent method; or you would have him punished in his fortune, and reduced to that poverty which his sins deserve. This, you think, would be very just and reasonable, and highly becoming the wisdom of God. But pray, has your wicked man no friends or relations, whose happiness depends on his prosperity? Has he no children who must beg with him when he falls into poverty and distress? There is no great man who is not related to others in some, if not in all these circumstances. If then you allow in general the equity of sparing the wicked for the sake of the righteous, you must consider their case over again, and answer these few questions: Are all the relations and dependents of this great sinner as wicked as himself? Is there not one good man the better for him? Are his children all reprobates? Or would you turn out a family of innocent children to seek their bread in the streets, rather than let the iniquity of the father go unpunished for a few years? Till you can answer these questions, you must not pretend to arraign the wisdom and goodness of God in sparing this offender; for you know not how many innocent, how many virtuous persons may be crushed in his fall; and when you can answer them, you shall have leave to judge, Now these considerations plainly show the equity and goodness of God in delaying the punishment of the wicked for the present, both with respect to the public calamities which the general corruption calls for, and with respect to the private punishments which the sins of particular men, if considered alone and by
themselves, do richly deserve. In both cases mercy triumphs over justice, and the guilty is preserved for the sake of the innocent; which is such an act of goodness as no man surely has reason to complain of. As to the justice of God, neither will that suffer in this account. The day is coming which will dissolve all the present relations between men, when every one will stand singly by himself to account for the good or evil he has done. In that day the wicked shall not escape, nor shall his punishment affect the righteous, but his iniquity shall be on his own head only. When the harvest comes,' the Master will order his servants to separate the tares from the wheat;' the one he will gather into his barns,' the other he will give up to be burnt with unquenchable fire.'
On the whole then, this method of God's dealing with the children of men is, in all its parts, without reproach. Even this complaint, which is so commonly made against the administration of Providence, that the wicked are permitted to live unpunished, is itself a great argument how little reason we have to complain, since it shows the lenity of the government we are under and surely it is our happiness, that we are more to seek in accounting for the justice of God than for his mercy. Were God to be as rigid in the execution of justice, as such complainers seem to require he should be, what should you or I get by it? What we get by his mercy we know, or ought to know, I am sure, if we understand ourselves, and our own condition and for sinners to upbraid God with want of justice against sinners, that is, against themselves, is a crime which carries with it so much folly, as I hope may in some measure excuse the insolence, since nothing else can. Were the case
to be altered, and God to appear as terrible in justice as he is wonderful in mercy, how much more should we be puzzled to account for his proceeding? As we see many now spared whom we account great sinners, we should then see many punished whom we esteem good men for all are not good who seem to be so. And how then should we be called on to justify the severity of God; a severity which, to our thinking, fell alike on the righteous and the unrighteous? for whatever way God takes, the thing must appear mysterious to us; for the faces and the hearts of men are often at variance, and we,
who can only judge by the outward show, should often be at a loss to discern the equity of his proceeding, who judges by the heart. Should God therefore proceed to punish all who deserve it, we should still have the same objection, that punishments and rewards were not equally administered; and since we must be in the dark, how much happier is it for us to be in such a case, where we think we see too little of the justice of God, than in a condition, where we should soon think we saw too little of his mercy? The advantage which our present situation affords is such a balance on the account, that we safely defy every bold objector, and enter into his reckoning without fear or danger; for in every step the goodness of God shines forth as bright as the sun at noon day; and let those call for his justice who are willing to abide the trial by it.
I observed to you that the argument in the text extends to one case only, to the justifying the wisdom and goodness of God in delaying the punishment of incorrigible sinners. It is true indeed, that if this case can be defended, all others may; and therefore this argument is by consequence a full defence of the providence of God, as it relates to the punishment of sinners: but as other cases have their particular reasons, give me leave to close this discourse with presenting to you a summary view of the case in its several circumstances.
That men are sinners is supposed in the objection against the justice of God for not punishing sin; and therefore, in strictness of reasoning, it belongs not to this question to account for the wisdom of God in permitting sin and yet this inquiry is so nearly allied to the present case, that our Lord in the parable has incidently cleared this point, While men slept, the enemy sowed his tares.' Such is the condition of human nature, such the state of the world, that no care or diligence can prevent the growth of vice: and as every body sees this to be the case, so it is confessed by those who demand a reason why God does not interpose to prevent iniquity; for as the question refers the preventing vice to the overruling power of God, so it supposes no other remedy to be sufficient to the evil. But what is it that they demand, who require that God should by his irresistible power prevent all evil? Nothing less than