Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

attention of mankind to better things,-pearls that will never be cast to the swine. The prosperity of the wicked, instead of obscuring, serves to demonstrate the existence of a special Providence, rendering it conspicuous in three important cases ; first, in the singular preservation of order, while the wicked seem to be so much encouraged, and have really so much in their power,—so much to employ against the virtuous, or to consume in the gratification of their own lusts ;-next, in the not less singular preservation of religion in the world, while it is, for the most part, attended with worldly disadvantages, and seems not to be visibly favoured by heaven ;—finally, in the perpetuation, defence, and extension of the church, while the ungodly have possessed the means of deforming its sacred institutions by worldly magnificence, or of warring against the worthiest of its members, and otherwise opposing it in various forms, nay have often been allowed to prosper in the very opposition they have managed against it.

The grand solution, however, must be sought, with Asaph again, in “ the sanctuary of God.” Thither we are directed even by reason, which suggests the absolute necessity of future retribution. Thither he was led by the Spirit, and he found that reason was not mistaken. “ Then,” says he, after he had long revolved the subject without feeling such relief as might give rest to his soul, “ Then I understood their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places ; thou castedst them down into destruction. As a dream when one awaketh, so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image," — their shade in the future world, or all the pomp of their empty pageantry in this ;—when thou shalt terminate as a dream the show of the present system of things, then thou wilt consign to contempt the idol of their worship, the former illusory appearance of favour in the power, honours, or wealth conferred upon them.

That image they themselves will despise, when, on awaking in the world of realities, they find it had only deceived them through life, and is now gone, vanished without leaving a trace behind, except in their tortured recollection of its former existence. Of the unprincipled

Of the unprincipled man “ who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day," we are told “ that in hell he lifted up his eyes," and was there reminded that “ his good things” had all been enjoyed in his “ lifetime.” Were the prosperity of the wicked always to exist with them, were it co-extensive with their being, or did it belong to a permanent system of things, some plausible argument might seem to lie against the equity, wisdom and goodness of the Deity; but it gives place to another state, where even the apparent obscuration of its glory by its present existence will find the proper compensation. Ps. Ixxiii. 12-20 ; xcii. 5-9. Luke xvi. 19-31.

VI.--INEQUALITY OF PUNISHMENT AND REWARD.

It ought not to be supposed that this is the very same withi the prosperity of the wicked and the afflictions of the righteous, An atheist may be inclined to class them together, but we have a right to mark the distinction and give the appropriate solu: tions. The prosperity of the wicked is not remunerative, for the atheist cannot prove that it has any

relation to their moral character, whatever occasional respect it may have to their services ; neither are the afflictions of the righteous penal. We will grant, however, that both the one and the other, or in general the scheme of dispensation under which they fall, interferes to a great extent with that equal distribution of reward and punishment, which might have been expected in the due application of the terms to the respective classes,-punishment to the wicked,—approbatory reward to the righteous. But in so far as this is the case, our previous solutions sufficiently account for the facts.

Much intricacy must necessarily belong to the government of a world of sinful creatures, under a system of forbearance, not exclusive of penal inflictions, but at the same time subservient to some great purpose of a higher and most merciful order. Would it be deemed presumption in the common people, who are not initiated into the secrets of an earthly cabinet, to condemn the measures pursued by the executive power as foolish or unjust, merely on the ground of appearances ? and ought we who know not often the relation of one event to another, much less the relations of all to the plan of Deity,ought we, especially without taking into view such parts of that plan as may have been disclosed by special communication, to sit in judgment on the ways of providence, and boldly censure or condemn, perhaps take occasion from what we do not understand to deny altogether that any such thing as a providence exists? Let us suppose, for an example, that the poor are oppressed, and God intends to relieve them; if he shall resort to such judgments as might reach and overthrow their oppressors, either anarchy must prevail, or some public calamity fall upon the country; and are not the poor likely in either case to be involved in greater sufferings ? Shall he, then,

to the

give fruitful seasons and crown successive years with his goodness ? though the largest share of the benefit, distributively considered, may

find its

way poor, it will first descend upon the already opulent oppressors, and in various ways redound to their advantage ; would it be fair to conclude, that by this prosperity God was rewarding them for oppression ? or even to suppose that the crime was overlooked as a thing of small moment, or of no consequence whatever, in his estimation ?

The principal difficulties under this head of unequal distribution, are, the frequent escape of criminals, the long delay of public or national retributions, and the very solution which the Scriptures give of the last,—the idea of God's visiting the iniquities of fathers upon their children. All proper ground of objection, however, must vanish, if it shall appear that civil institutions and temporal judgments, even with all the irregularity alleged, sufficiently answer the purpose of control, in a state of forbearance,—that the failures of the former and the frequent long suspension of the latter, are closely connected with the execution of the great purpose to which the state of forbearance is subservient, and that God has means of vindicating himself either in this or another state by personal retributions.

1. Civil government is evidently an excellent measure for suppressing the superfluity of naughtiness," and therefore, with this view, but no higher, worthy of a place in the plan of divine administration. It is accordingly styled in Scripture “ an ordinance of God;" and though not directly instituted by him, it seems in fact to have derived its origin from a certain notice of his will, which could not possibly be interpreted into a sanction of personal revenge: “ Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” (Gen. ix. 6.) By this species of government, human wisdom, vigilance, justice and power, were all to be enlisted on the side of the Deity, and made to contribute in their place to his present form of conducting the triumph over moral evil. But is it not evident from the nature of the means, that criminals will not always be detected, and that even when detected, they must frequently escape, owing to the want of such proof of their crimes as might be legally sustained ? and is it not better that many criminals should escape, by a rigid adherence to legal provisions, than that one innocent person should suffer ? Shall we conclude, however, that the object is defeated ? No: for notwithstanding its unavoidable defects, this mode of control may answer all its end in the divine economy, so long as the constituted authorities

а

do honour to their functions; and if, by the prevalence of moral evil, “ the foundations of the earth” shall themselves be displaced, God has a most effectual scheme for re-establishing the fabric, -in the reign of Messiah. To evince the necessity of resorting to this, it may be proper to permit some previous derangement, favourable of course to human crimes; and unless that necessity were evinced, how greatly might the glory of the Deity be obscured ! “the gods," who are only the children of the Highest,” might be deemed sufficient of themselves for the mighty work of “ bearing up the pillars of the world,”—a system of human invention might seem to be adequate to all the purposes of comfortable existence, and thus the idea of supreme control be lost in the efficacy of merely subordinate means; or should this not be the case, still the control of God, absolutely considered, that is, without relation to a Mediator and some ulterior gracious purpose, would seem to befriend the human race, and to provide for their happiness, contrary to its real character and necessary tendency.

2. As the Deity, in establishing a system of forbearance, had a grand purpose in view, the moral restoration of millions, place must be given for the accomplishment of that purpose, and this is plainly incompatible with the personal and ever speedy execution of judgment on flagrant transgressors. The triumph of grace, which is most conspicuous and illustrious in the conversion of such transgressors, would be entirely precluded ; their posterity, too, could never fall under its influence ; and either the human race would be greatly reduced, if not extirpated, or virtue and religion being wholly confined to one class, and descending among them from one generation to another, might seem to run in the blood, or be the effect of mere physical constitution. It will therefore be enough for the present vindication of the Deity, if he interpose occasionally by his judgments to testify his displeasure at the crimes which militate against the very state of forbearance itself, and if, after having rendered the prevalence of moral evil properly subservient to his grand purpose, he at one time or another before the conclusion of the present constitution of things, testify his indignation against the public systems of corruption which have arisen in the world. This we find is in fact the plan of his procedure. Crimes which militate against the very existence of a state of forbearance by tending to destroy the human race, have been stigmatized by awful signs of his wrath, as soon as they made their appearance, such as murder, in the case of Cain, on whom the Lord set a mark, and unnatural lusts, in that of the cities

of the plain, given up to the vengeance of fire. The crimes are left under the stigma önce set upon them for the admonition of the world, because the Deity could not be always interposing by similar judgments to suppress them. The same view may be taken of the flood ; “ there were giants in the earth,” lawless oppressors, the tyranny of the strong over the weak had gained the ascendency. In general, all the great judgments of Jehovah may be said to be directed against a state of things which, if allowed to prevail, would of itself put an end to forbearance, and the benignant purposes he has in view by it. At the same time, both the mode of inflicting judgments, and the periods for which they are reserved, will be found to be admirably adjusted to these purposes in the execution of his plan of triumph. When the wicked, such as Jeroboam, many of the kings even of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, and others, are spared, it is always for some end of conspicuous importance in that plan. And then, though the personal transgressors may escape, the crimes are not overlooked, even in regard to the vindication proper in the present state, since, according to Scripture, the judgment, sooner or later, descends on their posterity. But since this last solution of the difficulty seems itself to be very objectionable, let us inquire,

3. Into the equity of the divine procedure in visiting the iniquities of fathers on their children. In general the Scriptures are consistent, while they affirm that " all have sinned," so that the Deity is not to be viewed, in any instance, as punishing those who are entirely innocent. But it is alleged,

they are innocent of the crimes for which they suffer. The fathers have sinned, and the children bear their iniquity; the fathers have eaten the sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.” Let us

suppose them innocent in the sense stated, may not the fathers themselves be punished while they live, by either beholding or foreseeing the unhappiness of their children ? If they behold it, the blessing of “ seeing their children's children” is converted into a curse, since they are only preserved in life to see their sin visited upon them in the sufferings of their beloved offspring. “ God layeth up iniquity for his children : he rewardeth him, and he shall know it. His eyes shall see his destruction, (perhaps in the eventual cutting off of his seed,) he shall drink of the wrath of the Almighty.” Job xxi. 19, 20. Does there not seem to be a manifest reference to this in the second commandment, where God specifies “ the third and fourth generation,” the utmost that any individual can expect

« AnteriorContinuar »