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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 73d 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 of death, but are lusty and strong. They come in In O
mo 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 others 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 2 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
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 are 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 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; butthey are also sometimes punished in the
world, * Eccles. viii. 11.
most public and conspicuous manner. 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, 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 every where 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 uncon