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DELAY OF PUNISHMENT THE CAUSE OF SIN.
ECCLESIASTES viii. II.
Because sentence against an evil work is not
executed speedily, therefore the beart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
When the punishments which are de- SERM.
XVII. nounced against impiety and vice are so alarmingly dreadful, it seems hard to conceive that any men should be found so inattentive to their own interest, as to venture to provoke them. The text informs us whence this arises; it tells us that this temerity and madness is owing to the
SERM. delay of justice, it is because the exaction XVII.
of the penalty does not immediately follow the commission of the crime, but that some uncertain space intervenes. —“ Because
sentence against an evil work is not exe“cuted speedily, therefore the heart of “the sons of men is fully set in them to “ do evil.”
It is the purpose of this discourse to set before you some of the conclusions that men draw from this delay of punishment, by which they encourage and harden themselves in their sins, and to shew the falsity of such conclusions—their folly and ingrațitude.
And first,—there are said to be some, who, on seeing the sinner uninterrupted in his wickedness for a long timę, conclude that there is no God, or, if there be one, that he takes no notice of what is doing upon earth; but as I am addressing a Christian congregation, I need not set myself to
answer this argument. You all allow that sERM.
XVII. there is a God, and that he is an exact observer of human affairs.
A second argument, by which some, who may have a small sense of religion in them, deceive themselves, is this; they think that, because sin goes unpunished for the present, it is not therefore so great an evil, nor so entirely offensive and provoking to God, as it is represented. But how absurd and ungrateful is this ! Because God does not take immediate vengeance on us, when we disobey his commands, we there. fore venture to set them at nought, and persuade ourselves that this disobedience is a matter of no importance. All kinds of sin, we allow, are strictly forbidden in our Bible, and heavy penalties denounced against them; but because these penalties do not instantly follow, we therefore foolishly doubt whether they will be exacted at all; because we experience the greatness of God's mercy
SERM. in affording us time for repentance, we XVII.
therefore presumptuously conclude against his justice and veracity. He hath soleninly sworn that the sinner who continues impenitent, and dies in his sins, shall not enter into his rest; and do we impiously imagine, because the execution of this tremendous threat is deferred for a short time, that the oath of the God of truth shall fail Can an impunity of thirty or forty years lead us to such an absurd conclusion as this ?-of thirty or forty years which are but as a grain of sand in comparison with the sea shore, but as a single moment in respect to eternity ! But still farther,—during this present life we are upon our trial, and till that is ended, it would scarce seem equitable that sentence should be passed; nor was it ever intended by God to distribute exact justice in this world.
You remember the parable of the tares mixed with the wheat: the servants of the
householder are in haste to root out and SERM.
XVII. destroy them ; but he interposes and prevents it:"Let them (says he) 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 into bundles to burn them; ." but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Our Saviour, at the request of his disciples, explained to them this parable; he told them that the field was the world, the wheat, the children of the kingdom, i. e. good people; the tares, the children of the wicked one, i. e. bad people: that this wicked one, who sowed them, was the devil ; that the harvest was the end of the world, and the reapers the angels : -" As “ therefore added he) the tares are ga" thered together and burned in the fire,
so shall it be in the end of the world. « The son of man shall send forth his “ angels, and they shall gather out of his