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The Case of passing Judgment concerning Calamities
examined: what kind of Judgment on such Occasions is innocent and just ascertained; and the culpable extremes noted and censured.
The Second Sermon on this Subject.
LUKE xiii. 2, 3
And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Gali
laans were sinners above all the Galilæans, because they suffered
such things ? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. IN N a former discourse upon these words, after shewing the
occasion and the design of them, I proposed to treat of three particulars, as here follows:
1. To observe what kind of reflections may be just and proper when any calamities befall our neighbours. And here I intimated that we may reasonably think, or say, that the calamities come from God, and that they are sent on the account of sin; inasmuch as all men are sinners, and all visitations have respect to sin in one view or other; either to original or actual sin; either to past or present ; either to our own sins or the sins of others, or to both.
II. In the second place, I proposed to take notice of the extremes or excesses which many are apt to run into in judging their suffering neighbours, in loading the unfortunate beyond measure.
One is, the charging them with some particular sin or sins, and pretending to be positive and peremptory, that their afflictions were a judgment of God upon them on that special account. And here I endeavoured to shew the rashness, folly, and uncharitableness of thus judging others; since we have no warrant for doing it, nor can we do it, except in very rare and particular cases, with any truth or certainty.
The other excess which I mentioned, and barely mentioned, is the drawing uncharitable conclusions from greater sufferings to greater sins; as if they that are most afflicted must of consequence be the most guilty of any, or more guilty than those who escape. The folly and rashness of so judging is what I now intend to set forth at large, and then to proceed to a third particular; namely,
III. To point out the practical use and application of the whole.
The proposition then which I now design to go upon is this ; that however apt men may be to imagine that the greatest sufferers are the greatest sinners; yet there is really no evident reason for making any such inference, no truth or justice in drawing such a conclusion ; but that, generally, all such reasoning is precarious, false, groundless, and often very presumptuous, as it is ill-natured and uncharitable. Our blessed Lord's design in the text was chiefly to rectify this common mistake, and to correct that censorious humour. " Suppose ye,” says our Lord to the Jews, " that these Galilæans were sinners above all the “Galilæans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay:" for ye who have escaped, and have not suffered, as they have done, may notwithstanding be as great or greater sinners than they were : and therefore it is but just to intimate, by way of caution and warning to you, that, “ except ye repent, ye shall “all likewise perish.” Now, in order to shew that there is no just reason or consequence in arguing this way from sufferings to sins, from greater sufferings to greater sins, I shall proceed by several steps and degrees, as follows:
1. Let it be observed, that religious and righteous men are often grievously afflicted : in which case it is most evident, that, though they may and do deserve as great temporal afflictions as can be laid upon them; yet they do not deserve them more, nor 80 much, as those worse men that escape. God, for many wise reasons, may sometimes punish good men in this life, and spare
the ungodly. The sins of the former, being of a smaller size, may be purged away by temporal calamities; while the greater transgressions of the latter are reserved for an after reckoning, a more solemn and dismal account. Good men may retain blemishes, which want to be washed away in the baptism of afflictions: they may be appointed to pass through a purgatory in this life, (the only purgatory that we Protestants know of,) that so they may go away the inore refined and purified to a better.
Or God may sometimes serve the interest of his Church, and set forth the power of his grace, and the efficacy of the true religion, by the sufferings of good men ; which is the case of martyrs or confessors, who have been persecuted for righteousness sake: or he may see good to afflict them for a trial and proof of their sincerity and constancy; or to draw them more and more off from the world, and so much the nearer to himself, to improve their virtues, and to raise their devout affections ; that so arriving to a nobler height of perfection in this world, they may at length be qualified for the more glorious reward. It is very certain therefore, that we cannot reasonably infer from any man's afflictions, that he is worse than others; since, for any thing we know, he may be really better. It was very unjust and uncharitable in Job's three friends, to charge him with hypocrisy, and heinous but unknown crimes, on account only of the calamitous state they had found him in. Their groundless surmises were extremely provoking and grating to the good man in his troubles, and were more afflicting to him than his other sufferings. He had reason to say, as he did at that time, to them, “ Miserable comforters are ye allb.” For besides the ill-nature and ill manners of applying sharp rebukes, where the softest lenitives had been more proper, there was neither truth nor soberness in the reasonings they made use of. For who knows not that the dispensations of Divine Providence follow a different rule from what they supposed in the case before them; and that nothing is more noted or more certain in history or observation, than that calamities sometimes fall upon very good men ; and in public, general visitations, are often common both to good and bad ? Besides the instance of Job, there is another still plainer, and every way unexceptionable. You will apprehend I mean that of our blessed Saviour, who had no sin, but yet went through great variety of the most painful and ignominious sufferings. The Jews, who crucified him, laid hold of that afterwards, as a pretence for rejecting him. They would not believe that God should permit an innocent person to die in a manner so infamous. They made his sufferings an argument for charging him with guilt ; rashly concluding, that he lived not the life of a righteous man, since he died the death of a malefactor. They had forgot what many of the wisest and best of their ancestors, their own prophets, had suffered, of like kind before ; and what the same prophets had foretold of the afflicted state of the promised Messiah. However, from this instance we may plainly learn, that the greatest suffering may be consistent with the clearest innocence ; and that therefore we cannot safely conclude merely from sufferings, that any man is a sinner at all, much less that he is a greater sinner than others who escape. But,
b Job xvi. 2.
2. Suppose we certainly knew that any person who is under trouble, or who has remarkably suffered, and died by the hand of God, had been a wicked and ungodly man ; yet we cannot justly conclude that he was at all worse than many
who had not 80 suffered. For in some cases it may be an argument rather in his favour, to prove that he was not so bad as others: and in no case, as I conceive, will it prove him to have been worse than many who escape. Both these articles may be demonstrated in such a way, as may give reasonable satisfaction.
First, I observe, that in some cases the afflictions which a bad man suffers may be an argument in his favour, as affording a probable presumption that he is not so bad, but rather better, than those who escape. When God punishes sinners in this life, he either does it for the amendment of the sinner himself, by such afflictions as do not touch his life; or he does it for a terror and warning to other sinners, which may be compassed either way, either in cutting him off by an untimely end, or by lengthening out his life in pain and misery. Now, I say, when God punishes a sinner, in such a way as affects not his life, with a view to his amendment, (whether it be by extreme poverty or disgrace, or bodily hurts or diseases, or whatever else it be,) in these cases it may serve for an argument in his favour, to prove that he is somewhat better than many others that are spared. For God, who sees into the hearts of all men, may know what effect his visitation will have upon him ; and may therefore mercifully mark him out for sufferings, as foreseeing of what use they will be towards the bringing him to a sense of his sins, and to a serious repentance : whereas others, who are more hardened in their vices and follies, he may totally reject as past cure; and so may let them go on and prosper for a time, till death comes and brings them a summons to a higher and more dreadful visitation. From hence then it is evident, that such afflictions as are sent for the amendment of the sinner, are an argument, so far, in his favour, as to signify that he is not incurable; and are a token of God's kindness to him, more than to other sinners who are permitted to escape. Conformable to this reasoning is that passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews; “ Whom the Lord “ loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he “receiveth :” and, “ If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with
you as with sons:” and a little lower, “ But if ye be without “ chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, “ and not sons.” It is to the same purpose that our Lord himself speaks by the Evangelist St. John in the Revelations ; “ As many as I love, I rebuke and chastend." And there are other texts of Scripture, which I forbear to mention, declaring the same thing. Seeing therefore that afflictions, when intended for the amendment of a sinner, are really tokens of God's love, and indications of his favour towards them ; it is very manifest, that such afflictions are so far from proving them to be more guilty than other sinners who escape, that they rather prove the quite contrary; as intimating some remains, at least, of goodness in them, on which account they may be reasonably thought better men than those that are spared.
So much for the first case. I am next to shew that afflictions, whatever they be, do in no case whatever prove the man so visited to be worse than all others who are permitted to escape. Let us suppose (what perhaps is very rarely done) that a sinner falling under the just vengeance of God, and sealed up for destruction, is immediately punished by sudden death, or in some other more grievous way, not in order to his amendment, but for a terror and example, for others to take warning by. Let us consider now, whether even in this case the judgment so sent proves the man to have been a greater sinner than others that are spared. I humbly
c Heb. xii. 6, 7, 8.
d Rev. iii. 19.