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and falls into degradation and ruin. The silly follower of licentious pleasures finds in the loss of property and health, and the tormenting stings of a guilty conscience, the certain results of his short-lived gratifications. And offenders of a still more aggravated grade, while deriving from occasional success the most encouraging hopes of continued impunity, are arrested in their course, and made awfully responsible to the demands of retributive justice.
The history of the world supplies abundant illustration of these truths, in relation both to individual and to national crimes. How soon did the appointed punishment follow the transgression of our first parents! What instantaneous evidence of the justice of God overtook the first shedder of human blood! How awful and speedy the termination of the rebellious attempts of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and their wicked adherents! How sudden and dreadful the fate of Ananias and Sapphira ! The extinction of nearly the whole human race in a mighty deluge of waters; the raining of fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah; the entombing in a watery grave of Pharaoh and his host; the extermination of the idolatrous Canaanites ; the successive judgments upon the Israelites themselves for their rebellion and idolatry; and the present dispersed and degraded condition of that people; as well as numerous other events found in the annals of ancient and modern history, fully attest, that the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth, and will avenge with signal inflictions of his wrath the crimes both of individuals and of nations. Still, however, must we acknowledge, that, in numerous instances, the tares and the wheat are not only suffered to grow together, but the former are even permitted to choke and to destroy the latter. Why this is so, our finite faculties can never fully comprehend. Yet there are many considerations calculated to vindicate the ways of God to man. The text furnishes a very striking one, that of the danger likely to result from rooting up the tares ;-the rooting up the wheat also. The fabric of human society is composed of many parts mutually dependent upon each other. Take away some of the materials which compose it, and you endanger its safety, solidity, and permanence. The world not only consists of the evil and the good, but, in the ramifications of the social state, they are often so connected, that the immediate punishment of the guilty would inevitably involve that of the innocent. This sometimes necessarily occurs in the adjudication of criminals to the punishments prescribed by the laws of human society. The innocent wife of a guilty husband, the helpless children of a wicked parent, share the punishment of crimes in which they have had no part. May not the goodness of God withhold in some cases the merited punishment from such a consideration as this? In others may not the long suffering of Almighty God be extended for the benefit of the of fender himself; that time being afforded for repentance, he may return unto the Lord, who will have mercy upon him, and to our God, who will abundantly pardon?" In others, again, may we not be mistaken as to the measure or degree of unpunished criminality? Outward conduct is, of necessity, the criterion of our decision. But we can lay no claim to infalli
bility of judgment. Our decisions may be harsh or erroneous. be ignorant of many real palliations. We know not, even in instances of unquestionable error or crime, what Providence may have in store, either of mercy, or of judgment, for those who appear to us in the light of flagrant offenders against his laws. There are some particulars of daily observation, in which it is easy to discern how the providence of God produces good out of evil, and makes even the wrath of man to praise him, and benefit his creatures. If there were no victims of suffering, the requisite trials of human character could not be had. Where, in the absence of misfortune and of pain, would be the evidences of fidelity, of patience, and of fortitude? If the feelings of the heart were not excited by objects calling for the exercise of commiseration and relief, might not those virtues languish or become extinct in the breast? Activity in duty, humility of temper, submission to the divine will, and many other valuable properties of the mind, have been the product of vicissitudes of fortune, apparently the most discouraging and afflictive. Even the temporary triumphs of the wicked are often rods in the hands of an all-wise and affectionate Parent, whereby his children are aroused from sloth and inactivity. O how many can thankfully acknowledge, that their best instructions have been received in the school of adversity!
In short, while the existence of moral evil is a permanent and incontrovertible evidence of the wilful degeneracy of man, its direction to beneficial ends is equally decisive proof of the goodness of God. These, it is true, may at present be beyond the reach of our faculties; yet we may rest assured that "the Judge of the earth will do right." Without daring presumptuously to except against his moral government, let us look forward to that period to which our Savior has in this parable directed our attention, when "God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil;" when, the wise purposes of his providence having been answered, all mystery and darkness will be removed, and the final destiny of mortals be determined by a sentence which shall receive the plaudits of an assembled universe." Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory, honor, and peace to every man that worketh good."
II. But although the instruction to be derived from a due consideration of this parable may have the latitude already assigned it, in reference to the world generally, it was probably designed to apply more especially to the Church of God.
Christ could not have intended, surely, that his Church should be defiled and discredited by retaining in her communion openly profligate and dissolute offenders. Such "children of the wicked one" as should presumptuously associate themselves with his people, and yet manifest themselves to be "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" by profligacy and vice, it never could have been meant to tolerate within the bosom of his holy Church. The readiness with which such characters may be distinguished, would prevent all injurious mistakes, and their separation could be attended with no danger to the general body. On the contrary, the eradication of the most
noxious weeds from the neighborhood of useful plants cannot be more beneficial than the immediate excision from the communion of the Church of men of scandalous lives and conversation. But while the parable was not intended to prohibit such a salutary course of discipline as this, it is highly instructive in relation to the extent to which it may be carried. What intolerance and oppression have arisen from the abuse of ecclesiastical power! How many officious servants of the sanctuary, having fixed a standard of orthodoxy and practice according to their own peculiar views, have become the persecutors of others as sound as themselves in material points of doctrine, and as exemplary in the discharge of all the duties of life. Now the lesson taught by this parable is utterly hostile to such a course of conduct. It reminds us that in the Church of God on earth, "the evil are ever mingled with the good." Nominal Christians, hypocritical professors, specious pretenders to religion, are probably blended with the truly pious and sincere in every Christian society. This parable contains a manifest prophecy of the great Head of the Church, that such will continue to be the case to the end of time. The evil can never be entirely prevented. Wherever, therefore, fundamental error of doctrine is not propagated, or the cause of religion disgraced by a vicious course of life, any thing like severity of discipline is unbecoming and dangerous. A zeal well intended may produce the most mischievous effects.
Men may give but unsatisfactory evidences of piety, and exhibit but few of the graces of the Christian character, and on these points they may justly become the subjects of public or private admonition; and yet it may happen that in many instances of this sort, if we possessed a clearer insight into character, we should find much real goodness under an unpromising exterior. The same discernment might enable us to detect in others much secret vice, much unholy feeling, under apparently the most unblamable, nay the most attractive and admired course of external conduct. But it was never intended by Divine Providence to commit to fallible men a power which is from its very nature exclusively his own; and therefore their faculties, in the highest state of cultivation and improvement, are left incompetent to its safe and proper exercise. It is not permitted to root up the tares, lest, either through malice or mistake, the wheat be rooted up also.
A variety of causes may have restrained the Church from the exercise of severe discipline in cases where the interests of religion seemed to require it. In many of these cases, however, if the whole ground were surveyed, the complaint would vanish. But though it be just, imperfection in the administration of the system can be no objection to the system itself, which, even as established by the Savior, recognizes within the pale of the Christian communion the necessary toleration of some unworthy, nominal, hypocritical professors.
As this parable teaches a most instructive and imperative lesson of forbearance and moderation in the ministers of Christ, so it is calculated to correct a very improper course of sentiment in the private members of his Church. It is not unusual for Christians, actuated in some instances, it is hoped, by a holy zeal, but in others, it is feared, by a spirit of censoriousness, to sit in
judgment upon their brethren, and pronounce very unauthorized denunciations upon their characters and conduct. Such a practice has the unqualified disapprobation of our Savior in many parts of his invaluable instructions, and is obviously opposed to the principle of this parable, which apprises us of the great danger of assuming a province that is not ours, but belongs to Him who "will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart." To persons of the dispositions mentioned, we would address expostulations such as the Apostle did to some of a like character in his day. "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own Master he standeth or falleth. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ."
Equally opposed to the spirit of this parable, is that unhappy error of Christian professors, which leads them to separate from the communion of a religious society, because it tolerates, in their apprehension, some unworthy professors. Let such beware, lest the standard of duty which they have formed be not exactly that which the Holy Scriptures furnish. Let them reflect whether, in reference to the characters objected to, it be not at least possible that their judgment may be biassed or erroneous. And above all, let them be cautious, lest, by their unyielding and uncharitable conduct, they arraign the wisdom and goodness of God, who, no doubt for the wisest purposes, has apprised us, in the text, that the wheat and the tares, the righteous and the wicked, are to grow together, until, in the great harvest of the judgment day, He makes the awful separation.
Our Savior closed his explanation of this parable, by emphatically exclaiming, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." In the brief improvement with which we propose to conclude, let us also call on several descriptions of persons to hear the profitable instruction it affords.
1. Let vain speculators and philosophers hear. After all their attainments in human knowledge, how limited is their comprehension of the ways of God; how far beyond their reach the immense and complicated system by which his universe is governed. Let them not be hasty in condemning the arrangements of divine Providence, with the vast machinery and ultimate objects of which they are so little acquainted. Let them avoid presumptuous and rash speculations. Instead of daring to censure, let them silently acquiesce in events, which, though incomprehensible to them, they may be assured have originated in wisdom, are conducted in the most fit and proper manner, and will terminate in the happiest results.
In the final close of this terrestrial scene, and the full development of the ways of Providence, how mean and contemptible will all the vain objections of men appear! But until that period, "the Most High worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, and giveth not account of any of his matters."
2. Let self-deceivers hear. Let them not imagine that their being ranked in outward profession with "the children of the kingdom," constitutes them
of the happy number. Let them examine themselves as to the grounds of their religion. "Try your ownselves, prove your ownselves, whether ye be in the faith." They are perhaps trusting, as evidence of their religion, to transient feelings, or a punctilious attention to outward rites. Let them not build the superstructure of their hopes on such sandy foundations as these. Instead of fitful, inflamed affections, let them cultivate settled habits of piety. When availing themselves of the useful adjuncts of piety, religious rituals, let them recollect that there is "a form of godliness without the power," and that they may possess a name to live, whilst they are dead." In that day when He "whose fan is in his hand shall thoroughly purge his floor, he will gather his wheat only into the garner, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." God "requires truth in the inward parts." Although hypocrites may now mingle in communion with the truly pious and sincere, "the Lord knoweth their hearts;" and what will be "their hope when God taketh away their souls!"
3. Let the righteous hear. Let them not be offended, nor fret themselves, at the unavoidable mixture of good and bad in the church of Christ. It is a departure from the character that ought to distinguish his disciples, to indulge repining murmurs at what he has predicted as an accompaniment of his church to the end of the world; and it is a violation of his precepts, invidiously to judge the character of their brethren. James and John were once so inconsiderately jealous as to ask permission to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans, who refused to receive their Master. But "he rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of." Let us "judge nothing before the time." Without presumptuously deciding upon the claims of others, let us strive to approve ourselves to God." And even where the flagrancy of vice compels us to censure, let us not transform the just condemnation of sin into a personal hatred of the sinner. Whilst God withholds his judgments, forbearance on our part is an obvious duty. The solemn day of separation is not far distant. Until it arrives, let admonition and kind persuasion supply the place of vengeance. In the natural world there can be no transmutation of tares into wheat; but in the kingdom of grace a change impossible in nature is readily effected. Many of those who are already gathered into the granary of heaven; many of those who are now ripening for that glorious harvest that awaits them, were once noxious, unproductive tares or pestilential weeds. Christian charity, which "hopeth all things," should encourage the belief, that many nominal professors, and profligate offenders, whose hypocrisy or wickedness we now lament, may, by that "God who is rich in mercy," yet be "quickened in Christ, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
Finally;-let all who are now present, hear.
The great harvest announced in this parable involves the gathering in, or the eternal rejection, of the whole human race. The division will be but into two classes. Whether these be designated by the terms, wheat and chaff, wheat and tares, sheep and goats, wise and foolish virgins, persons clothed with, or destitute of, the wedding garment, there are but two classes. In