Billeder på siden

to the state, and subservient to the ends of creation: this point enlarged on.

In the second place, experience in this case is considered. That worldly good and evil are not dispensed in proportion to the merits of men, appears indisputable: indeed the world has never been without complaints on this head. The righteous in all times have lamented their lot, and the wicked, seeing their own prosperity, have grown hardened and secure in their iniquity. To abate these presumptions on the one hand, and clamors on the other, has found work for the wise and good of all ages; but the truth of the case has never been disputed: and this may be safely left to every man's own judgment.

Lastly, it is inquired how far this experience is confirmed by what the Scripture teaches us to expect.

There are some passages of holy writ, which at first sight seem to promise more to the righteous in this life, than we have been able to find either reason or experience to justify. The Psalmist declares; I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread. But his son Solomon saw a different scene; just men, unto whom it happened according to the work of the wicked; and wicked men, to whom it happened according to the work of the righteous: so also it occurred in the days of our Saviour and his Apostles. But this passage in the Psalms relates not to our present purpose: it describes a general case of Providence over good men, in providing for them the neces saries of life, whilst they endeavor to serve God; but of a just reward for them in this world it says nothing: in that case we might expect to hear of crowns and sceptres given to them. As to this providential care of the righteous, our Saviour has given us great reason to expect it. Seek ye first, says he, the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you; and on his authority St. Paul tells us, that godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, &c.



Nay, farther, there is great reason to think that God often blesses the honest endeavors of the virtuous in this world: but then there is no appearance that the rules of justice are at all concerned in such dispensations; for the righteous often suffer; nay, under the gospel they are called to suffer: but on the point of rewards and punishments the parable of the tares in Mat. xiii. is decisive; the meaning of which our Saviour himself has expounded.

Thus reason, experience, and Scripture, all combine in teaching us not to look for the reward of our labors in this world, but to wait with patience for God's appointed time, when he will do righteously, and recompense to every man the things that he hath done. Concluding exhortation.



And let us not be weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

[ocr errors]

THE text, and other like passages of Scripture, are founded in this known truth, that God does not ordinarily dispense the rewards and punishments due to virtue and vice in this life; but that he has appointed another time and place, how far distant we know not, in which all accounts shall be set right, and every man receive according to his works. What force the objects of sense have on the minds of men, how far they outweigh the distant hopes of religion, is matter of daily experience. The world pays presently; but the language of religion is, we shall reap, if we faint not.' It may be thought perhaps, that it would have been better for the cause of religion, if the rewards of it had been immediate, and more nearly related to our senses; and the case being otherwise, proves in fact a great prejudice to virtue. But if we can take leave of our imaginations a little, and attend to reason, we shall see that this dispensation of Providence was ordained in wisdom. Were the case otherwise; were men to receive a due recompense of reward in this world for the good they do, there would be no reason why they should grow weary in well doing,' no cause for their fainting under the work, which would so abundantly and immediately repay all their labor and pains.

[ocr errors]

It is natural for men, when they have before their eyes flagrant instances of wickedness and impiety, to make a secret demand on God in their own hearts for justice against such notorious offenders. If their demands are not answered, (and they rarely are,) but the wicked continue to flourish, and the

good to suffer under their oppression; they, rightly judging that they were mistaken in their expectations, and not rightly judging where to charge the mistake, are apt to conclude that they have cleansed their hearts in vain,' and in vain have they washed their hands in innocency.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Whenever the hopes and expectations are raised beyond all probability of being answered in the event, they can yield nothing but uneasiness, anger, and indignation against the course of things in the world: and yet who is to blame? Not he that appointed this natural order, but he who understood it so little, as to expect from it what it was never intended to produce. Would you pity the husbandman, should you see him lamenting his misfortune, because he could not reap in spring, when all the world knows the time of harvest is not till summer? The case is the same in all other instances: if men anticipate the reward of their labor by the eagerness and impatience of their hopes, they will be disappointed indeed; but not because their labor is in vain, which in due time will bring its reward, but because their expectations are vain and unreasonable, and outrun the order of nature, which cannot be transgressed.

You see then of what consequence it is to us rightly to balance our expectations, and to adjust them to that natural course and order of things which Providence has established in the world. We may easily lose the fruit of our well-grounded hopes, by giving ourselves up to the delusion of false ones. If we grow sick of our work because our untimely wishes are disappointed, we shall forfeit the reward which patient continuance in welldoing would, in the natural course of things, bring with it. And this I take to be the foundation and ground of the Apostle's exhortation in the text, 'Let us not be weary in well doing : for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.'

It is no uncommon thing, I know, to press men to a virtuous behavior, in prospect of the rewards which such a behavior is intitled to in this world; and there is, as well experience as Scripture, to justify the so doing: for if peace and tranquillity of mind here, and hopes full of comfort with respect to hereafter, are ingredients in human happiness; and surely they are the greatest! these are to be had, and only to be had, from a

conscience void of offence towards God and towards man. But this argument is so little concerned with the external good and evil of the world, that it is applicable to men of all fortunes and conditions. Thus we preach to the prince, and thus we preach to the meanest of his subjects: one cannot enjoy his greatness, nor the other bear his distress, without those supports which innocence and virtue can only administer. The pleasures of life are a joyless fruition to a mind sick of guilt; and the evils of it are too sharp to be endured by a wounded spirit.

Thus far we tread safely in promising a present reward to virtue; we exceed not the order appointed by God, who, if he has given us some desires, which, in our present state of degeneracy, often prove temptations to iniquity, has given us also so much reason and understanding, that we cannot be wicked and happy in ourselves at the same time: how much farther than this we may go, shall presently be considered. But if men, when they hear of an happiness due as the reward of virtue in this life, will conceive hopes of obtaining honor, power, and riches from God in recompense of their obedience, they raise an expectation which was never yet generally answered, and, suppose, for very good reasons, never will; and whilst they pursue this shadow, they are in great danger of losing the substance, the real reward of obedience, which shall one day be bestowed on all who can be contented to wait for glory and immortality.


To clear this point will be well worth your attention. In order to it we must inquire what reason or authority we have to assert the interposition of Providence in the private affairs of men, with a view of proportioning to their virtue and vice proper rewards and punishments.

If we view the whole frame of the world, and consider the great laws of nature by which it is, and has for ages past been, preserved in order and beauty, we can no more question its being sustained by a constant and immediate influence of God's providence, than we can of its being at first brought into order by him. If we consider ourselves, and how we live, move, and have our being, it is evident that we are upheld every moment by the hand of God. I speak, and would be understood to mean, literally. If there be any thing in the compass of our

« ForrigeFortsæt »