There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.…
I. THE WRONG USE WHICH MEN ARE APT TO MAKE OF THE EXTRAORDINARY AND SIGNAL JUDGMENTS OF GOD UPON OTHERS; AND THAT IS, TO BE UNCHARITABLE AND CENSORIOUS TOWARDS OTHERS, WHICH IS COMMONLY CONSEQUENT UPON A GROSS AND STUPID NEGLECT OF OURSELVES. For men do not usually entertain and cherish this censorious humour for its own sake, but in order to some farther end; they are not so uncharitable merely out of spite and malice to others, but out of self-flattery and a fond affection to themselves. This makes them forward to represent others to all the disadvantage that may be, and to render them as bad as they can, that they themselves may appear less evil in their own eyes, and may have a colour to set off themselves by the comparison. It is the nature of guilt to flee from itself, and to use all possible art to hide and lessen it.
II. MORE PARTICULARLY CONSIDER SOME OF THE RASH CONCLUSIONS WHICH MEN ARE APT TO DRAW FROM THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD UPON OTHERS, WHETHER UPON PUBLIC SOCIETIES AND COMMUNITIES OF MEN, OR UPON PARTICULAR PERSONS.
1. It is rash, where there is no Divine revelation in the case, to be peremptory as to the particular sin or kind of it; so as to say, that for such a sin God sent such a judgment upon a particular person, or upon a company of men, unless the judgment be a natural effect and consequent of such a sin; as, if a drunken man die of a surfeit, or a lewd person of a disease that is the proper effect of such a vice, or if the punishment ordained by law for such a crime overtake the offender; in these and such-like cases, it is neither rash nor uncharitable to say, such a mischief befel a man for such a "fault; because such an evil is evidently the effect of such a sin: but in other cases, peremptorily to conclude is great rashness. Thus the heathens of old laid all those fearful judgments of God, which fell upon the Roman empire in the first ages of Christianity, upon the Christians, as if they had been sent by God on purpose to testify His displeasure against that new sect of religion. And thus every party deals with those that are opposite to them, out of a fond persuasion that God is like themselves, and that He cannot but hate those whom they hate, and punish those whom they would punish, if the sway and government of things were permitted to them.
2. It is rash, likewise, for any man, without revelation, to conclude peremptorily, that God must needs in His judgments only have respect to some late and fresh sins, which were newly committed; and that all His arrows are only levelled against those impieties of men which are now upon the stage, and in present view. This is rash and groundless; and men herein take a measure of God by themselves, and because they are mightily affected with the present, and sensible of a fresh provocation, and want to revenge themselves while the heat is upon them, therefore they think God must do so too. But there is nothing occasions more mistakes in the world about God and His providence than to bring Him to our standard, and to measure His thoughts by our thoughts, and the ways and methods of His providence by our ways. Justice in God is a wise, and calm, and steady principle, which, as to the time and circumstances of its exercise, is regulated by His wisdom.
3. It is rash to conclude from little circumstances of judgments, or some fanciful parallel betwixt the sin and the punishment, what sinners, and what persons in particular, God designed to punish by such a calamity. There is scarce anything betrays men more to rash and ungrounded censures and determinations concerning the judgments of God, than a superstitious observation of some little circumstances belonging to them, and a conceit of a seeming parallel between such a sin and such a judgment. In the beginning of the Reformation, when Zuinglius was slain in a battle by the papists, and his body burnt, his heart was found entire in the ashes; from whence (saith the historian) his enemies concluded the obdurateness of his heart; but his friends, the firmness and sincerity of it in the true religion. Both these censures seem to be built upon the same ground of fancy and imagination: but it is a wise and well-grounded observation which Thuanus, the historian (who was himself of the Roman communion), makes upon it — "Thus" (says he) "men's minds being prejudiced beforehand by love or hatred (as it commonly falls out in differences of religion), each party superstitiously interprets the little circumstances of every event in favour of itself." Everything hath two handles; and a good wit and a strong imagination may find something in every judgment, whereby he may, with some appearance of reason, turn the cause of the judgment upon his adversary. Fancy is an endless thing; and if we will go this way to work, then he that hath the best wit is like to be the best interpreter of God's judgments.
4. It is rash, likewise, to determine anything concerning the end and consequence of God's judgments.
5. And lastly, It is rashness to determine that those persons, or that part of the community upon which the judgments of God do particularly fall, are greater sinners than the rest who are untouched by it. And this is the very case our Saviour instanceth here in the text. And this brings me to the —
III. Third particular I proposed, which was to show HOW UNREASONABLE IT IS FOR MEN TO DRAW ANY SUCH UNCHARITABLE CONCLUSIONS FROM THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD UPON OTHERS, THAT THEY ARE GREATER SINNERS THAN OTHERS; AND LIKEWISE, HOW FOOLISH IT IS FROM HENCE TO TAKE ANY COMFORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT TO OURSELVES THAT BECAUSE WE ESCAPE THOSE CALAMITIES WHICH HAVE BEFALLEN OTHERS, THEREFORE WE ARE BETTER THAN THEY. Our Saviour vehemently denies that either of these conclusions can justly be made from the remarkable judgments of God which befall others and pass by us — "I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
1. It is very unreasonable for men to draw any such uncharitable conclusions concerning others, that because the judgments of God fall upon them, that therefore they are greater sinners than others. For —
(1) What do we know but that God may inflict those evils upon those particular persons for secret ends and reasons, only known to His own infinite wisdom, and fit to be concealed from us? What do we know but He may afflict such a person in a remarkable manner, purely in the use of His sovereignty, without any special respect to the sins of such a person as being greater than the sins of other men; but yet for some great end, very worthy of His wisdom and goodness?
(2) What do we know but that God may send these calamities upon some particular persons in mercy to the generality; and upon some particular places in a nation out of kindness to the whole? It is foolish likewise to take any comfort and encouragement to ourselves that, because we have escaped those sore judgments which have befallen others, therefore we are better than they are; for (as I have shown) these judgments do not necessarily import that those upon whom they fall are greater sinners, and that those who escape them are not so: but suppose it true, that they were greater sinners than we are, for any man from hence to take encouragement to himself to continue in sin, is as if, from the severe punishment which is inflicted upon a traitor, a man should encourage himself in felony; both these sorts of criminals are by the law in danger of death, only the circumstances of death are in one case more severe and terrible than in the other; but he that from hence encourageth himself in felony, reasons very ill, because he argues against his own life. The only prudent inference that can be made, is, not to come within the danger of the law, which punisheth all crimes, though not with equal severity. Thus I have done with the filet thing I propounded to speak to from these words, viz.: The wrong use which too many are apt to make of the signal and extraordinary judgments of God upon others. I proceed to the second thing I observed in the text, viz.: The right use we should make of the judgments of God upon others; and that is, to reflect upon our own sins, and to repent of them, lest a like or greater judgment overtake us. This our Saviour tells us in the next words, "But except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." I shall only draw an inference or two from what I have already discoursed upon these two heads.
1. Let us adore the judgments of God, and instead of searching into the particular reasons and ends of them, let us say with St. Paul (Romans 11:33).
2. Let us not be rash in our censures and determinations concerning the judgments of God upon others; let us not wade beyond our depth into the secrets of God: for "who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counsellor?"
Parallel VersesKJV: There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.