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portion of meat in due season.” It were most sincerely to be wished, that the hearts and lives of men were such as to render reflections upon. human nature in general, and severe censures and reproofs of particular persons, altogether unnecessary—that the human soul were so vigorous and healthy as to stand in no need of the physician's aid. But dangerous, desperate diseases necessarily require strong, and sometimes disagreeable, medicines; and that is very ill-judged lenity which leads the physician to consult rather the taste than the safety of his patient. The parable I have now read speaks nothing but terror to the great bulk of mankind; for, alas ! how small a proportion even of professing christians do really bring forth fruit unto God: some contenting themselves with an empty lifeless profession; others with the bare name of christians; a great many openly disavowing all regard for religion, by living in direct contradiction to its precepts, committing every sort of iniquity with greediness, “ declaring their sin like Sodom, and hiding it
not;" and all, too little concerned to keep alive the genuine spirit and power of Christianity.
Some in this congregation will probably remember, that in discoursing formerly on this subject, in explication of the parable, we observed,
that by the owner of the vineyard was to be understood God himself, the great author and proprietor of the world, and all things therein; by the gardener, or dresser of the vineyard, is meant Jesus Christ, our gracious mediator and intercessor with the Father; and by the barren fig-tree, every hypocritical, careless, or wicked member of Christ's visible church. In the text we observed the following particulars: 1st. Man’sdegeneracy and worthlessness, represented by a barren tree cumbering the ground. 2. The goodness and forbearance of God toward sinners, in delaying the execution of his justice upon them, held forth under the notion of the owner of a vineyard's visiting year by year in expectation of fruit, a tree which persists in barrenness, and still suspending the destruction of it. 3. We see the justice and severity of God against the impenitent, in his at length coming to the awful resolution of utterly destroying the obstinately fruitless and unprofitable. And 4. The gracious intercession of our blessed Redeemer is figured by the gardener interceding with the owner in behalf of a favourite tree, of which, though hitherto unfruitful, he would fain, by proper culture, entertain good hopes. The first of these particulars we at that time fully considered ; namely, our degeneracy and worthlessness, which we observed, in general, arose from that universal corruption and depravity of our nature, which was the consequence of our fatal apostacy from God, whereby we became exposed to his wrath, and are wholly incapacitated to do what is acceptable in his sight, or in any respect to contribute to our own happiness: more particularly from the text we observed, that two characters seemed to be principally designed; by viewing a barren tree under two different aspects: 1st. As promising a crop, by exhibiting the previous signs of fruitfulness, emitting buds, leaves, and blossoms, which represents the character of the hypocrite, who" comes “ before God as his people cometh,”? occupies a place in the religious assembly of christians, puts on every form and appearance of religion, while he is at heart an utter stranger to the life and power of it.-And 2d. If we consider a barren tree, as one wholly dried up and withered, without so much as the appearance of fruit, upon which the influence of the elements makes no sort of impression; then the character designed is that of the careless, indolent, lifeless hearers of the gospel, who, under all the means of grace, remain hard and impenitent, indifferent and unconcerned: against such is the dreadful sentence in the text denounced. Having thus, for the sake of assisting your memories, and in order that we may see the subject at one view, briefly recapitulated what was formerly delivered, I now proceed to the second particular, namely, the goodness and forbearance of God toward sinners, in delaying the execution of his justice upon them : and this is illustrated in the
First place, in that patience which God exercises toward sinners, in the ordinary administration of human affairs. Justice, strict justice requires, that, upon the offence being committed, the offender should without delay be consigned over to punishment. And accordingly we find, that in order to vindicate the honour and majesty of God, infinite justice is concerned sometimes to punish daring acts of impiety immediately upon their commission, for the sake of public example, to set up now and then a monument of wrath for a terror to others; as in that flagrant and bold instance of defiance to almighty power committed by a company of rebellious Israelites, at the instigation of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, recorded in the book of Numbers, which was immediately punished by the earth's opening its mouth and swallowing them up alive and that other attack upon the divine Majesty, of which the sons of Aaron were guilty, in presenting God with an unhallowed offering with strange fire, which was likewise instantaneously punished by a consuming fire from the Lord, which devoured them, as it is related in the tenth chapter of Leviticus, from the beginning. These, with some others, stand upon record, as beacons to mankind to beware of like presumptuous acts of vice; but in general, the lenity of the divine government is such, that we frequently find the highest acts of mercy and goodness returned for the most daring provocations, and the most undaunted contempt of omnipotence; God pities, and allures by the tender bonds of mercy and love, even the wretch who dares openly and avowedly to trample upon his authority; yea, who has the hardiness, the insolence, to insult his sacred person and character. The profane swearer daily blasphemes the great and terrible name of God, and yet is not cut off with his oaths and execrations upon his tongue; he madly calls down eternal vengeance upon his own head, and yet God, instead of blasting with instant destruction, continues to offer him eternal life and happiness ;peither does he send the liar quick to hell, with his lie in his right hand, but still waiteth to be gracious, still addresses sinners of every denomination, “ Return unto me, and be ye saved, O sa Israel; thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is " thy help, Come now, and let us reason together;