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moral evil; and it is expressly confirmed by our Saviour in the parable before us: in which when the servants of the householder express their surprise at finding tares among the wheat, and ask whence they came, his answer is, An enemy hath done this; and that enemy, our Lord informs
us, is the devil; that inveterate, implacable enemy (as the very name of Satan imports) of the human race, the original author of all our calamities, and at this moment the prime mover and great masterspring of all the wickedness and all the misery that now overwhelm the world.
To this account great objections have been made, and no small pains taken to confute, to expose,
and to ridicule it. But after all the wit and buffoonery which have been lavished opon it, it may safely. be aflirmed, and might easily be shown, that it stands on firmer ground, and is incumbered with fewer disliculties, than any other hypothesis that has been yet proposed.
But still, as I have already observed, there remains another very important question to be answered. Why is the wickedness of man, from whaterer source it springs, suffered
to pass unobserved and unpunished by the Judge of all the earth? Why is not the bold offender stopped short in his career of vice and iniquity ? Why is he permitted to go on triumphantly, without any obstacle to his wishes, to insult, oppress, and harass the virtuous and the good, without the least check or control, and, as it were, to brave the vengeance of the Almighty, and set at nought the great
Governor of the world? Why, in short, in the language of the parable, are the tares allowed to grow up unmolested with the wheat, to choke its vigour, and impede its growth? Why are they not plucked up instantly with an indignant hand, and thrown to the dunghill, or committed to the flames ?
This has been a most grievous “ stumbling stone, a rock of offence," not only to the unthinking crowd, but to men of serious thought and reflection in every age; and scarce any thing has more perplexed and disturbed the minds of the good, or given more encouragement or audacity to the bad, than the little notice that seems to be taken of the most enor-, mous crimes, and the little distinction 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
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 no misfortune like other folk; neither are they plagued like other men. And this is the causė, that they are so bolden with pride, and overwhelmed with cruelty. Their eyes swell with fatness, and they do even what they lust.
They They corrupt other, 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? LO, these are the ungodly. These prosper in the world, and these have riches in possession. And I said, then I have cleansed
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
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 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 hearts 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; but they are also sometimes punished in the most public and conspicuous manner. * Eccles. viii. 11.