« הקודםהמשך »
minds are sometimes apt to fly out into excesses at their first outset, but afterwards, upon reflection, and with proper culture, rise up to the practice of the noblest virtues. And it is mercy worthy of God to exercise, and which men instead of censuring ought to admire and adore, ifhe chooses the milder, though slower methods, with those who are capable of being reformed by them. These sentiments cannot be better illustrated than by the example of St. Paul. That illustrious apostle was we know once, as he himself confesses, the chief of sinners, he was a fiery zealot, and a furious persecutor of the first Christians, breathing out continually threatening and slaughter against them, making havoc of the Church, entering into every house, and haling men and women to prison; and being, as he expresses it, exceedingly mad against them, he persecuted them unto strange cities, and when they were put to death, he gave his voice against them. In the eye of the Christian world then at that time, he must have been considered as one of the fittestobjects of divine vengeance, as a persecutor and a murderer, who ought to be cut off in an instant from the face of the earth.
But the great Discerner of Hearts thought otherwise. He saw that all.his cruelty, great as it undoubtedly was, arose, not from a disposition naturally savage and ferocious, but from ignorance, from early religious prejudices, from misguided zeal, from a firm persuasion that by these acts of severity against the first Christians he was doing God service. He saw that this same fervour of mind, this excess of zeal, properly informed and properly directed, would make him a most active and able advocate of that very cause which he had so violently opposed. Instead therefore of an extraordinary act of power to destroy him, he visibly interposed to save him. He was in a miraculous manner converted to the Christian faith, and became the principal instrument of diffusing it through the world. We see then what baneful effects would sometimes arise from the immediate punishment even of notorious delinquents. It would in this case have deprived the Christian world of the abilities, the eloquence, the indefatigable and successful exertions of this learned and intre~ pid apostle, whose conversion gave a strong additional evidence to the truth of the GosA A 2 . pel, pel, and who laid down his life for the religion he had embraced.
Yet notwithstanding all the reasons for sometimes delaying the punishment of guilt in the present world, it cannot be denied that there are some instances of prosperous wickedness, which cannot well be accounted for by any of them; and therefore, for a complete vindication of the moral government of God, we must have recourse to the concluding part of the parable, which will give us the fullest satisfaction on this interesting subject. To the question of the servants, whether they should gather up the tares from the midst of the wheat, the householder answerS, "Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up the wheat also. Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn." The harvest, our Lord tells us in his explanation, is the end of the world, at which awful period the Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall "gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do ini1 quity,
quity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear*."
Here then is the great master-key to the whole of this mysterious dispensation of Heaven. God, we see, has appointed a day when every deficiency in his administration shall be supplied, and every seeming disproportion and inequality shall be rectified-j-.
Even in this world it appears that wickedness is punished in some measure, and to a certain degree: and we have seen that the interests of virtue itself, among other considerations, require that it should not be instantly
* Matth. xiii. 41, 42, 43.
f " As the soul survives the dissolution of the body, (jsays the excellent Plutarch,) and exists after death, it is most probable that it will receive rewards and punishments in a future state; for it goes through a kind of contest during the present life, and when that is over, it will have its due recompence hereafter." 561. A.
How nearly does this approach to the doctrine of the Gospel which had been promulgated near one hundred years before Plutarch wrote. But thanks be to God, what this great man thought only probable, we have the happiness of knowing to be certain.
punished to the full extent of its deserts. God is perpetually showing, even in the present life, his different regard to right and wrong, by every such method as the constitution of the world which he has created admits; and therefore no sooner shall that world come to an end, and all obstacles to an equal administration of justice be taken out of the way, than he shall come to execute righteous judgment upon earth.
"He is not slack as men count slackness*," that is, negligent and remiss; he only waits for the proper season of doing all that hitherto remains undone. Human weakness indeed, by a small delay of punishing, may lose the power of doing it for ever. "But in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength -f." Human inconstancy may be vehement and passionate at first; then negligent and languid. The sense of an unworthy action that does not injure us, quickly wears out of our mind; and if we take no immediate notice of it, we shall possibly take none at all. But we must not think God to be such a one as ourselves. Eternity itself will make no change in his abhorrence of wicked* 2 Pet. iii. 9. f Isaiah xxvi. 4.