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conceive it does not. For when many sinners are equally guilty, it may suffice to punish a few only, for a warning to the rest : not because others do not deserve the like vengeance, but because God is willing to spare some, in order to bring them to repentance, if possible, by such terrible examples before their eyes : or if they take no warning, nor repent in time, the like judgments may overtake them also, even in this life ; or they are reserved for a much severer doom in a world to come. Thus does Almighty God, in his all-wise dispensations, temper his judgments and his mercies together. He does not cut off all, that, if possible, he may save some : he does not spare all, because none would then be brought to repentance; but wickedness would triumph uncontrolled, while no check is given to the most daring impieties.

But here, perhaps, you might ask, Why should such or such sinners be singled out for examples, rather than others, and refused the privilege of a longer time to repent in, if they were not greater and more grievous sinners than the rest? To which I answer :

First, Supposing them to have been all equally guilty, (which was indeed the supposition I have proceeded upon,) yet it might be necessary to cut off some, and some rather than all : and, in such a case, God might choose to single out such as he saw proper to animadvert upon, while his mercy is free to pass by others.

But further, it should be considered, that those who are spared, except they repent, are in a worse condition than those who have already suffered : their judgment is respited only, and deferred for a time, to fall the heavier at the last : so that though they have some favour shewn them, in being spared so long, they have the more to account for ; and, without repentance, will at length pay dear for their privilege.

But I must add, thirdly, that, supposing the offenders not to be equally guilty, yet God may, if he pleases, and very justly too, cut off the best first, and spare the worst, for two very plain reasons: one, because the best may sufficiently deserve it, and God may do as he pleases: the other, because that, if it were his constant method always to take vengeance upon the worst first, many would be thereby encouraged to go on in their sins, as long as they should imagine there were yet any men left alive more wicked than themselves. And now considering how apt most




are to judge favourably of themselves, and very hardly of others in comparison ; such a thought as that would be of very pernicious influence to many, would be a great encouragement to presumption, and a bar to amendment. Divine wisdom therefore has fixed no such certain rule as that of punishing the greatest offenders before others; but reserves to himself the liberty of taking vengeance upon offenders in general, whether more or less guilty. The result then of all is, that we cannot reasonably conclude, in any case whatever, that those who have suffered most were greater sinners than many others who have been spared.

The sum then of what I have been advancing upon the present argument is this: I have shewn that afflictions or calamities are often sent upon innocent and righteous men; and that therefore, in the general, there is no certain consequence to be drawn from greater sufferings to greater sins. I have further shewn, that when we are certain that the sufferers were or are wicked men ; yet, as their afflictions may be intended for their amendment, those very afflictions are an argument of their comparative innocency, and that they are not altogether so wicked or desperate as other sinners who are spared. I have further put the case, that their punishments are not intended for their amendment, but for their excision and utter destruction; and have shewn notwithstanding, that, even on that supposition, there will be no sufficient ground for believing or judging that they have been greater sinners than many others who have hitherto escaped. So that in all views, and upon all suppositions, it will be uncharitable and rash judging to condemn others as being sinners above all men, on account only of the sufferings they have run through in this world. It is a false rule of judging, which neither Scripture, nor reason, nor observation countenances ; but which ought to be corrected, or entirely laid aside for the iniquity there is in it, and because of the pernicious effects and influences flowing from it. For the very end and design which men have in judging so severely of others, is nothing else but to speak peace to themselves. They load the sufferers most unmercifully, only for fear of suspecting it should be their own turn to suffer next. They take all imaginable pains to distinguish themselves off, that they may have no concern in what befalls others, and may apprehend no danger to themselves from it. With these views they magnify the guilt of those that suffer to the utmost, and comfort themselves with flattering thoughts of their own comparative innocency. While they are thus minded, the judgments of God upon others they never apply to themselves : they throw them off as things foreign and of no concernment; looking upon them only as extraordinary occurrences to talk of, and to pass their verdict or their censure upon; and not as warnings sent from above, to call them off from their evil ways, and to lead them to repentance. Having seen what ill effects and abuses arise from this perverse humour of censuring the miserable, let us now proceed to the third and last particular, which is

III. To point out the true use and application of the whole; shewing what we are to think, and how it becomes us to behave, when any remarkable calamities come upon others.

1. In the first place, it will be right and just to look up to God, as the author and conductor of all occurrences; and to believe that no misfortune or disaster happens, but by his direction or permission; and that when he either directs or permits second causes to afflict any man, he does it for the ends of discipline, either to correct sins past, or to prevent future. Every affliction whatever has, directly or indirectly, some respect and reference to sin. Thus far the Jews themselves soberly reasoned in the case of the Galilæans, without rebuke from our Lord ; yea, with his tacit approbation. The Galilæans suffered at the hands of God, and suffered justly; for they were sinners, though not the greatest of sinners. And thus may we truly and safely judge of any person whatever, when visited by the afflicting hand of God.

2. The next step we are to advance to is, to consider that the Divine judgments or visitations are not sent on account only of the unhappy sufferers, but are intended as useful lessons or salutary warnings to the bystanders; to as many as see them, or hear of them, or otherwise observe them : so that we are not to think we have done what is sufficient upon those occasions, till we have duly considered how far our neighbour's calamity may be conceived to affect us, and what use and improvement we may draw out of it. It was in this article, chiefly, that the Jews were deficient with respect to the case of the Galilæans. They considered the thing as a piece of news, affording them matter for discourse and barren speculation ; but they took no care to apply or bring it home to themselves, by any self-reflections. The Galilæans (they would say) have felt the Divine vengeance; wicked wretches, most certainly, or else they had fared better. They were severely handled ; but God is just, and, without all question, they had their deserts. What a comfort is it to us, that we have been better men than they were, and so have come to no misfortune, as they have done! Such were the reasonings or reflections of the Jews on that occasion; never considering, that the judgment upon the Galilæans was a warning to them ; who, though they had not yet been fellowsufferers with them, were however no better than fellow-criminals. It became them not therefore to insult over the miserable, and to charge them beyond measure, when they ought rather to have spared them, and to have turned the satire and invective upon themseloes. When God's judgments are sent abroad, the inhabitants of the earth should learn righteousness, and be led to repentance. They should look upon them as matters of public and common concern, in which all, more or less, are interested, and have their use to make of them. We should never think that we have rightly and duly commented upon the Divine judgments that are before our eyes, till we have applied them in a proper manner to ourselves, and have made a suitable use and improvement of them.

3. Thirdly and lastly, to bring these general principles down to particular cases, we may next consider how to improve and turn to our use such special instances as we may happen to meet with. Suppose some calamities to fall upon righteous and good men, or whom we have reason to believe are such : the use we are to make of it is, to stand in awe, and to humble ourselves before God. For “ if judgment begin at the house of God," and “ if the righteous scarcely be saved,” (that is, preserved,) “ where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear o?"

If afflictions fall upon unrighteous and sinful men, yet judge not the more hardly of them upon tḥat account, but rather the contrary. Let it be an argument to us, that God has not yet. given them up as abandoned and desperate, while he keeps them under discipline, and, as it were, holds the rod over them. the same time be assured, that his chastising a few only, is intended as an example and warning to all, inasmuch as all are sinners, more or less : and be thankful for the opportunity now

1 Pet. iv, 17, 18.


given you, of learning instructions from the sufferings of other men, rather than from your own ; growing wiser and better by their misfortunes, and, as it were, at their expense ; and reaping the same benefit which they may do from it, but without their pain and uneasiness. If there be any way of averting God's judgments from our own doors, and rendering them in a manner unnecessary to us, it is to be done by regarding and reverencing them before they come at us, and by making the same use of them, while resting upon others only, as we should incline to do, when brought upon ourselves. Let the sight and sense of God's afflicting hand upon our fellow-criminals teach us humility and godly fear, and move us to repentance and good works. Instead of censuring and loading them, (which becomes us not, and can do us no good, but may do a great deal of harm,) let us rather choose to censure and correct our own lives, to humble ourselves before God, to look into our many sins and failings, and to amend the same with all due care and exactness, and as soon as possible. This is making a right use and improvement of God's visitations upon others, to his glory, and to our own happiness now and ever.

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