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Galilæans, (though what would be ordinarily termed a purely fortuitous or accidental misfortune, in incurring which they themselves were entirely passive,) was a judgment inflicted by God for sin.
That the opinion was current among the Jews of our Saviour's time, that evil of any kind of which men could be the sufferers, either in their persons or in any other way, apparently without their own concurrence, and apparently without even their own deserving, was still more or less judicial, more or less a proof and an instance of the displeasure of a moral Governor for the demerit of moral guilt, appears from a variety of passages in the Gospels. Our Lord's disciples inquired of him, with reference to the blind man, discovered at the entrance of the temple, John ix. 1, 2. whether he or his parents had been the sinners, that he was born into the world with such a natural infirmity. The Pharisees reproached the same person soon after, (verse 34,) with being altogether born in sins.
That there was some foundation too for the opinion, appears from much higher authority. St. Matthew applies to our Lord the prophecy of Isaiah, “He himself received our infirmities, and carried
our sicknesses e :” as fulfilled by his curing all manner of diseases and all manner of infirmities; which implies that such diseases and infirmities were penal, that is, judicially the consequences of sin; which Christ could have borne or carried, and made atonement for, only by bearing and making atonement for the guilt of the sins, which occasioned them. Our Saviour's language to the paralytic,
e Matt. viii. 17. Harm. P. j. 21.
whose cure is recorded by the three evangelists", and to the scribes, who charged him with blasphemy on the same occasion, distinctly implies that it was virtually the same thing to forgive sins, as to remove bodily infirmities. He said to the man whom he had cured of a thirty and eight years' infirmity, when he met with him after his cure in the temple, “ Behold, thou art become whole.
Sin no more, “ lest a worse thing happen to thee 8.”
And to prove, that this state of the case is not to be understood as absolutely confined to the Jews, even after our Saviour's time-St. Paul apprises the Corinthians, that among the other bad consequences of their undue and indecorous observance of the Lord's supper, God had visited them on that account with sundry dispensations of his penal providence; that many of them were sick, and some were even dead, who might otherwise have been well or alive. He. warns them that to make no distinction between the bread which denoted the Lord's body, and common bread—to eat and to drink the sacred elements unworthily, was to eat and to drink their own condemnation—and he tells them to judge themselves, that they might not be judged of the Lord.
Indeed, so long as the doctrine of a particular providence is admitted, everything which happens to God's moral creatures, in the course of life, must be resolved either into his appointment, or into his permission; and therefore, all the evils of which they may individually become the subjects, must be
f Matt. ix. 2–9: Mark ii. 1-14: Luke v. 17–28. Harm. P. ii. 27.
8 John v. 14. Harm. P. ii. l.
considered either personal punishments or personal trials. It is very desirable that each individual moral agent should accustom himself to take this view of all such temporal dispensations, as often as they fall to his own lot; in which case, he could scarcely fail to profit by them accordingly, whether they were intended for one of these purposes, or for the other; and if they were punishments, to acknowledge their justice, and to submit to them with patience and resignation, as no more than his due, on various accounts, of which his own conscience would best assure him—if they were trials, to recognise their benevolent intent, and to use them as they were designed, for the wholesome and necessary, though painful and disagreeable means of his growth in grace, and personal spiritual improvement. But the case is different with respect to such dispensations—when they are seen to fall to the lot of others. These too may be intended for similar purposes, and may fulfil their proper use with respect to their proper subjects. But it is not for us to pronounce upon the end and design of that particular dispensation, which specially concerns our neighbour. It is our duty to put the best construction on every thing which happens to another, that the nature of the event will admit of; and there can be no breach of charity at any time, in regarding the evil which may fall to his lot, as meant for his trial and improvement, rather than for his punishment or his reprobation. But there are some things of this sort, which can scarcely be considered as trials; and therefore which we seem at first sight, almost compelled to construe into judgments : such as where the direct effect of the dispensation on the proper subject of it, is apparently to deprive him of all power of profiting by it as a trial ; which seems to be the case with those dispensations of temporal evil, which are fatal at the time to their subjects: though, whether even in such extreme cases as these, they may not be intended for, and may not have the effect of trials, in some way or other, is more than we can undertake to say. There is a natural predisposition too, in the human mind, to think the worse of those who have suffered from temporal misfortune of any kind, on that very account; and to conclude too hastily from the first impression, that they have perhaps met with no more than they deserved. This feeling is very uncharitable ; and admitting even the premises on which the conclusion is mainly founded, that temporal evils are truly so many punishments for imputed guilt of some kind or other - still it must be as improper under the circumstances of the case, and as unbecoming in those who make it, as it is invidious and uncharitable in itself. It is not the business of one sinner to pass judgment on another; to think or to say that his neighbour has only met with his deserts, in coming to such and such an end, when he has reason to apprehend as much, or peradventure even more, on the very same account, for himself.
The tenor of our Saviour's observations, if we have explained them rightly, has a decided tendency to correct this disposition; and to inculcate a very different habit and turn of thought, from that which would lead to draw censorious and uncharitable inferences, upon the prima facie evidence of temporal misfortunes, as to the real moral deserts of the sufferers from them. The question how far such misfortunes are truly to be regarded in the light of judgments, we have seen that he leaves as it was, without pronouncing upon it either in the affirmative or in the negative. They may be punishments for the sins of the sufferers, or they may not; but even if they are, their proper use and application in any other way—is for the sake of warning and admonition to those who may observe, or may hear of them; not to furnish the grounds of uncharitable, and so far unjust, reflections on the sufferers, but to alarm the fears even of those, who have as yet escaped the same things, though by the danger of their own situation they are always obnoxious to them. If sin is liable to such consequences from the dispensations of God's moral providence, even in this life, who is there that by iminunity from the same kind of guilt, has no reason to apprehend the same kind of evil, as its punishment ? Considered as judgments, no one but God can be authorized to pronounce on such events, whether they have been deserved by their subjects, or not; considered as warnings, every one may still profit by them, and make them available to his own repentance and amendment.
MATERIAL CIRCUMSTANCES AND MORAL. The material circumstances of the parable, which constitutes the second part of the present discourse, are too few and simple to require much explanation; and conspire too distinctly to one and the same result, for their meaning to be mistaken h.
h It can scarcely be necessary to add any thing to the general argument upon the subject, premised in the Introduction, which