« AnteriorContinua »
be a vindication of the divine conduct, with regard to the permission and continuation of evil in this life. When the householder's fervants desired that they might be employed iiz taking up the tares, he would not confent unto it, but said, Nay, kft whilft ye gather the taresz ye root up the wheat also
. In this world, fo interwoven are the inten rests, fo connected is the happiness, so dependent are the miseries of one man upon another, that it may be deemed impracticable even for Almighty power to discriminate and disunite them; or in other words, to chastise the vices of the bad, without involving the good also; the punishment of a guilty parent may heap undeserved forrows on the head of an innocent child; a worthy and faithful servant may be ruined by the fall of a wicked master; if the licentious and abandoned profligate is visited by sickness and forrow, he may bring poverty and distress on a whole sober and virtuous family. God therefore may, and frequently doth, withhold the vial of his wrath, and defer the execution of his righteous judgment, that he may not punish the innocent with the guilty, and whilft he gathereth the tares, root UP
the wheat also.
But that the gracious disposer of all things may be clear when he is judged, by the permission of evil, God hath moreover most wiset ly and benevolently produced good. How many are there amongst the distinguishing perfections of human nature, which owe if not their birth and existence, at least their growth,
strength, and power, to those misfortunes and afflictions which alone caused the exertion of them. How would the patience and piety of the perfecuted martyr ever have shone forth, but through the pride and cruelty of his oppressors! What opportunity could afflicted virtue find to shew her fortitude and perseverance, without the insults and inhumanity of successful vice! The frequent and impious violation of our holy religion, from the malicious attacks of infidels and free-thinkers, have opened a glorious field to the pious defenders of it, given them occasion to display their talents and abilities in the faireft light; talents which might for ever have lain hid, and abilities that never had become conspicuous, but from the iniquity and perverseness of their adversaries. "Thus doth the deformity of the tares reflect an additional beauty on the wheat, which appears more full and fair by being placed in the same field with them; and thus hath evil itself, by the providence of God, been productive of the greatest benefit and advantage to us.
But the wisdom and goodness of the Almighty, in this particular, will appear still more evident to us, when we come to confider, that in the general characters of men, good and evil are so blended together, that it is sometimes impossible to eradicate the one without destroying the other. "Virtues and vices, follies and perfections, are often so united in one person, that we cannot without difficulty determine him as the proper object of our love
and esteem, or of our hatred and aversion. It is highly incumbent on us, therefore, to be extremely cautious, left whilst we punish the faults of our fellow-creatures, we do an injury to their merit and virtue also. In the field of human nature, the tares are so intermingled with the wheat, that it requires the keenest and most judging eye to distinguish the nicest hand to separate and disunite them. How careful, for instance, should the parent be in the education of his children, left with the tares he root up the wheat also! Who shall say whether, in stopping the growth of apparent prodigality, he may not eradicate the noble feeds of charity and benevolence, and fill the garden with the pernicious weeds of avarice and self-love? whether by curbing with severity, the freedom and openness of youth, we may not destroy all its courage and spirit, and stain the ingenuous mind with cowardice and dissimulation? The suppression of anger and resentment hath not unfrequently been observed to introduce meanness and pufillanimity: thus may the mistaken husbandman impoverish that estate which he endeavoured by wrong means to improve, and with the tares root up the wheat also.
God, we may observe, my brethren, hath in this particular set an example unto men, and most indisputable it is, that he would not delegate or assign over a power unto them, which he seems himself unwilling to exercise; it would ill become us therefore to attempt it.. When weak and finful men take upon them the office of extirpating evil, what additional evils
do they always produce! How unable are they to distinguish the good wheat from the tares and weeds of the field! Can they know the secrets of the heart, or enter into the real defigns and intentions of their fellow-creatures? Whenever men have thus impiously assumed the authority; and invaded the prerogative of their Creator, how dreadful have been the consequences of it! Who can reflect without horror on the sad effects of bigotry and persecution? Or what shall we say to that church, which, in direct opposition to the great husbandman, under a pretence of gathering up the weeds of herefy and schism, hath rooted up
the faireit fheaves of innocence and virtue! But the last and most powerful vindication of God's knowledge and justice is still behind, sullicient of itself to stop the clamours, and put to filence the ignorance of foolish men. Omniscience alone is able to diftinguish, to separate, and to reward: the divine husband. man knows precisely at what time the division is to be made, when both the wheat and the tares are grown to maturity, when they cannot possibly be mistaken for, or confounded with each other. Let both, says he, grow together until the harvesi: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather up together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn: or, as our Saviour interprets it, The Son of man fhall send forih his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and shall casi them into a furnace of fire.---Then Mall the righteous
fhine forth as the fun in the kingdom of their Father.
This gracious declaratiou, from the mouth of infinite wisdom, at once removes the veil which ignorance had cast over the determinations of Providence, and opens to us a full and fair prospect of the divine justice. Thus every doubt is cleared, and every suspicion banished; all the miseries and misfortunes which the introduction and permission of evil brought on the good and virtuous in this world, are amply recompensed by his fuperior share of happiness in another. He is moreover indebted to those very sorrows, which he complained of, for that blessing which he is to enjoy, as they gave him opportunities of exerting those virtues which increased his reward. Whilst, on the other hand, the workers of iniquity, in proportion to their success in one state, are punished with more severity in the other: the longer the tares grow and flourish in the field, the easier are they rooted up, and with the fiercer flames will they burn.
To conclude, therefore: If we have any doubts or scruples concerning the ways of Providence, and the distribution of good and evil in this world, to the last and great day let us with all humility refer them, where every scruple will be satisfied, and every doubt removed. In the mean time let us patiently and piously submit to the divine dispensation: let us rest assured that the great Husbandman best knoweth how to cultivate and improve his own field, and doth not stand in need of our