Imágenes de páginas

might easily be shown, that it stands on firmer ground, and is encumbered with fewer difficulties, than any other hypothesis that has been yet proposed.

But still, as I have already observed, there remains another very important question to be answered: Why is the wickedness of man, from whatever source it springs, suffered to pass unobserved and unpunished by the Judge of all the earth? Why is not the bold offender stopped short in his career of vice and iniquity? Why is he permitted to go on triumphantly, without any obstacle to his wishes, to insult, oppress, and harass the virtuous and the good, without the least check or control, and, as it were, to brave the vengeance of the Almighty, and set at nought the great Governor of the world? Why, in short, in the language of the parable, are the tares allowed to grow up unmolested with the wheat, to choke its vigour and impede its growth? Why are they not plucked up instantly with an indignant hand, and thrown to the dunghill, or committed to the flames?

This has been a most grievous "stumbling stone, a rock of offence," not only to the unthinking crowd, but to men of serious thought and reflection in every age; and scarce any thing has more perplexed and disturbed the minds of the good, or given more encouragement and audacity to the bad, than the little notice that seems to be taken of the most enormous crimes, and the little distinction that is apparently made between "the wheat and the tares, between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not."

The reflections, which these mysterious proceedings are apt to excite, even in the best and humblest of men, are most inimitably expressed by the royal psalmist in the seventy-third psalm, where you see all the different turns and workings of his mind laid open without disguise; and all the various ideas and sentiments, that successively took possession of his soul in the progress of his inquiry, described in the most natural and affecting manner. “Truly," says he, with that piety which constantly inspires him, "God is loving to Israel; even unto such as are of a clean heart nevertheless my feet were almost gone; my treadings had well nigh slipped. And why? I was grieved at the wicked: I do also see the ungodly in such prosperity. For they are in no peril

[ocr errors]

of death, but are lusty and strong. They come in no misfortune like other folk; neither are they plagued like other men. And this is the cause that they are so holden with pride, and overwhelmed with cruelty. Their eyes swell with fatness, and they do even what they lust. They corrupt other, and speak of wicked blasphemy: their talking is against the Most High. Tush! say they, how should God perceive it; is there knowledge in the Most High? Lo! these are the ungodly. These prosper in the world, and these have riches in possession. And I said, then I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.'

Sentiments such as these are, I believe, what many good men have found occasionally rising in their minds, on observing the prosperity of the worthless part of mankind. But never were they before so beautifully and so feelingly expressed as in this passage. These complaints, however, soon pass away with men of pious dispositions, and end in meek submission to the will of Heaven. But not so with the wicked and profane. By them the forbearance of Heaven towards sinners is sometimes perverted to the very worst purposes, and made use of as an argument to encourage and confirm them in the career of vice. This effect is well and accurately described in the book of Ecclesiastes: "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil*."

It was to obviate these fatal consequences, as well as to give support and consolation to the good, that our Lord delivered this parable of the tares and the wheat; which will enable us to solve the arduous question above mentioned, arising from the impunity and prosperity of the wicked, and to vindicate, in this instance, the ways of God to man.

But before I begin to state and explain the reasons of that forbearance and lenity towards sinners, which is so much objected to in the Divine administration of the world, I must take notice of one very material circumstance in the case, which is, that the evil complained of is greatly magnified, and represented to be much more generally prevalent than it really is. The fact is, that although punishment does not always overtake the

* Eccles. viii, 11.

[ocr errors]

wicked in this life, yet it falls upon them more frequently and heavily than we are aware of. They are often punished when we do not observe it; but they are also sometimes punished in the most public and conspicuous


The very first offence committed by man after the creation of the world was, as we know to our cost, followed by immediate and exemplary punishment. The next great criminal, Cain, was rendered a fugitive and a vagabond upon earth, and held up as an object of execration and abhorrence to mankind. When the whole earth was sunk in wickedness, it was overwhelmed by a deluge. The abominations of Sodom and Gomorrah were avenged by fire from heaven. The tyrant Pharaoh and his host were drowned in the Red Sea. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and their rebellious companions, were buried alive in the bowels of the earth. It was for their portentous wickedness and savage practices, that the Canaanite nations were exterminated by the Israelites; and it was for their idolatries, their licentiousness, and their rebellions against God, that the Israelites themselves were repeatedly driven into exile, reduced to slavery, and at length their city, their temple, and their whole civil polity, utterly destroyed, and themselves scattered and dispersed over every part of the known world, and everywhere treated with derision and contempt. It will be said, perhaps, that these were the consequences of the peculiar theocratic form of their government, under which the rewards and the punishments were temporal and immediate, and that they are not to be expected in the present state of human affairs. Still, however, they are proofs, and tremendous proofs, that God is not an inattentive and unconcerned spectator of human wickedness. But let us come to our own times, and to the fates and fortunes of individuals under our observation. Do we not continually see, that they, who indulge their passions without control, and give an unbounded loose to every corrupt propensity of their hearts, are sooner or later the victims of their own intemperance and licentiousness? Do they not madly sacrifice to the love of pleasure, and frequently within a very short space of time, their health, their fortune, their characters, their peace of mind, and that too completely and effectually, and beyond all hopes of recovery? The instances of this are many and dreadful, without taking into the account such flagrant crimes as

deliver men over into the hands of public justice. Now what is all this but the sentence of God speedily executed against evil works? It may be alleged, that these are only the natural consequences of wrong conduct, and not the immediate judicial inflictions of Heaven. But who is it, that has made these evils the natural consequences of vice? who but the great Author of nature? He hath purposely formed his world and his creature man in such a manner, that these penalties shall follow close upon wickedness, as a present mark of his abhorrence and detestation of it; and they fall on many offenders, both so speedily and so heavily, that, till second thoughts correct the first impression, it seems almost an impeachment of his goodness, that he inflicts them.

Still it must be confessed, that wickedness is sometimes triumphant; and so also does folly sometimes meet with success in the world; but it is true, notwithstanding, that it labours under great disadvantages; and immoral conduct under still greater. The natural tendency of sin is to misery. Accidents may now and then prevent this, but not generally; art and cunning may evade it, but not nearly so often as men imagine.

But supposing the guilty to escape for a time all sufferings, and, in consequence of it, to please themselves highly with the prudence of their choice; yet still punishment, though slow, may overtake them at last. The blindness of such men to consequences is quite astonishing. One man evades the penalties of human laws in a few instances, and therefore concludes he shall never be overtaken by them. Another preserves his reputation for a time, and thence imagines it to be perfectly secure. A third finds his health hold out a few years, and therefore has not the least suspicion, that what he is always undermining must fall at last.

Now each of these, may, if he pleases, applaud his own wisdom: but every one else must see his extreme stupidity and folly. In fact, whoever commits sin has swallowed poison, which from that moment begins to operate; at first, perhaps, by a pleasing intoxication; afterwards by slow and uncertain degrees; but still the disease is within, and is mortal; and, since it may every instant break out with fatal violence, it is a melancholy thing to see the person infected filled with a mad joy, which must end in heaviness and death.

Vice, especially of some sorts, affects to wear a smiling

countenance, and the days, that are spent in it, pass along for a time pleasantly enough; but little do the poor wretches, that are deluded by it, reflect what bitterness they are treasuring up for the rest of life, and how soon they may come to taste it in such consequences, as even the completest reformation, and the strictest care afterwards, will very imperfectly either prevent or


After all, however, it must be acknowledged, that there are numbers of worthless and profligate men, who go on for a considerable length of time, perhaps even to the end of their days, in a full tide of worldly prosperity, blessed with every thing that is thought most valuable in this life, wealth, power, rank, health, and strength, and enjoying all these advantages without interruption and alloy," coming in no misfortune like other folk, and not plagued or afflicted like other men."

These, it must be confessed, are strong symptoms of happiness, if we are to judge from appearances only. But does not every one know, that happiness depends infinitely less upon external circumstances, than on the internal comfort, content, and satisfaction of the mind? May I not appeal to every one here present, whether Some of the acutest sufferings, and the most exquisite joys he has experienced, are not those, which are confined to his own breast, which he enjoys in secrecy and in silence, in his retired and private moments, unobserved by the world, and independent of all exterior show? The heart only," says the wise man most truly, "knoweth its own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with its joy*." This, then, is the standard by which you must measure human happiness. You must not too hastily conclude, that prosperity is felicity. In order to know whether these men are truly what they seem to be, you must follow them into their retirements, into their closets, and their couches; and if you could then see the interior of their hearts, you would probably find them objects rather of pity than of envy. Whatever they may pretend, or whatever air of cheerfulness they may assume, it is utterly impossible, that they, whose sole object is to gratify their passions, without the least regard to the feelings of others; who are corrupting all around them by their conversation and

* Prov. xiv, 10.

« AnteriorContinuar »