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honourable old persons, and learned men, descend to unequal beggary; to see him strike a stroke with his own hand in the conversion of Saul, and another quite contrary in the cutting off of Judas, must needs be some restraint to our judgments concerning the general state of those men who lie under the rod; but it proclaims an infinite uncertainty in the particulars, since we see contrary accidents happening to persons guilty of the same crime, or put in the same indispositions. God hath marked all great sins with some signal and express judgments, and hath transmitted the records of them, or represented them before our eyes; that is, hath done so in our age, or it hath been noted to have been done before: and that being sufficient to affright us from those crimes, God hath not thought it expedient to do the same things to all persons in the same cases, having to all persons produced instances and examples of fear by fewer accidents, sufficient to restrain us, but not enough to pass sentence upon the changes of Divine providence.
5. But sometimes God speaks plainer, and gives us notice what crimes he punishes in others, that we may the rather decline such rocks of offence. If the crime and the punishment be symbolical, and have proportion and correspondence of parts, the hand of God strikes the man, but holds up one finger to point at the sin. The death of the child of Bathsheba was a plain declaration, that the anger of God was upon David for the adulterous mixture. That blasphemer, whose tongue was presently struck with an ulcerous tumour, with his tongue declared the glories of God and his own shame. And it was not doubted but God, when he smote the lady of Dominicus Silvius, the duke of Venice, with a loathsome and unsavoury disease, did intend to chastise a remarkable vanity of hers in various and costly perfumes, which she affected in an unreasonable manner, and to very evil purposes. And that famous person, and of excellent learning, Giacchettus of Genevak, being by his wife found dead in the unlawful embraces of a stranger woman, who also died at the same instant, left an excellent example of God's anger upon the crime, and an evidence that he was then judged for his intemperate lust. Such are
Fulgos. lib. ix. c. 12.
all those punishments, which are natural consequents to a crime as dropsies, redness of eyes, dissolution of nerves, apoplexies', to continual drunkenness; to intemperate eating, short lives and sudden deaths; to lust, a caitive slavish disposition, and a foul diseased body; fire and sword, and depopulation of towns and villages, the consequents of ambition and unjust wars; poverty to prodigality; and all those judgments which happen upon cursings and horrid imprecations, when God is, under a curse, called to attest a lie, and to connive at impudence; or when the oppressed persons, in the bitterness of their souls, wish evil, and pray for vengeance on their oppressors; or that the church, upon just cause, inflicts spiritual censures, and "delivers unto Satan," or curses and declares the Divine sentence against sinners, as St. Peter against Ananias and Sapphira, and St. Paul against Elymas, and of old Moses against Pharaoh and his Egypt, (of this nature also was the plague of a withered hand inflicted upon Jeroboam, for stretching forth his hand to strike the prophet.) In these, and all such instances, the offspring is so like the parent, that it cannot easily be concealed. Sometime the crime is of that nature, that it cries aloud for vengeance, or is threatened with a special kind of punishment, which, by the observation and experience of the world, hath regularly happened to a certain sort of persons: such as are dissolutions of estates, the punishment of sacrilege; a descending curse upon posterity for four generations, specially threatened to the crime of idolatry; any plague whatsoever to oppression; untimely death to murder; an unthriving estate to the detention of tithes, or whatsoever is God's portion allotted for the services of religion; untimely and strange deaths to the persecutors of Christian religion: Nero killed himself; Domitian was killed by his servants; Maximinus and Decius were murdered, together with their children; Valerianus imprisoned, flayed, and slain with tortures, by Sapor, king of Persia; Diocletian perished by his own hand, and his house
I Pœna tamen præsens, cùm tu deponis amictum
Hinc subitæ mortes atque intestata senectus.—Juven. Sat. 1.
was burnt with the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, with fire from above; Antiochus, the president under Aurelian, while Agapetus was in his agony and sufferance of martyrdom, cried out of a flame within him, and died; Flaccus vomited out his entrails presently after he had caused Gregory, bishop of Spoleto, to be slain; and Dioscorus, the father of St. Barbara, accused and betrayed his daughter to the hangman's cruelty for being a Christian, and he died by the hand of God by fire from heaven. These are God's tokens, marks upon the body of infected persons, and declare the malignity of the disease, and bid us all beware of those determined crimes.
6. Thirdly: But then, in these and all other accidents, we must first observe from the cause to the effect, and then judge from the effect concerning the nature and the degree of the cause. We cannot conclude, This family is lessened, beggared, or extinct, therefore they are guilty of sacrilege: but thus, They are sacrilegious, and God hath blotted out their name from among the posterities, therefore this judgment was an express of God's anger against sacrilege: the judgment will not conclude a sin, but when a sin infers the judgment with a legible character and a prompt signification, not to understand God's choice is next to stupidity or carelessness. Arius was known to be a seditious, heretical, and dissembling person, and his entrails descended on the earth, when he went to cover his feet: it was very suspicious that this was the punishment of those sins, which were the worst in him but he that shall conclude Arius was an heretic or seditious, upon no other ground but because his bowels gushed out, begins imprudently, and proceeds uncharitably. But it is considerable, that men do not arise to great crimes on the sudden, but by degrees of carelessness to lesser impieties, and then to clamorous sins: and God is therefore said to punish great crimes, or actions of highest malignity,
Infelix plus mente cadens, lethumque peremptus
Quos par culpa ligat, qui majestatis honori
Poct. Christ. apud Baron. T. 3. ad ann. Christ. 336.
because they are commonly productions from the spirit of reprobation; they are the highest ascents, and suppose a body of sin. And therefore, although the judgment may be intended to punish all our sins, yet it is like the Syrian army; it kills all that are its enemies, but it hath a special commission" to fight against none but the king of Israel," because his death would be the dissolution of the body. And if God humbles a man for his great sin, that is, for those acts which combine and consummate all the rest, possibly the body of sin may separate, and be apt to be scattered and subdued by single acts and instruments of mortification: and therefore it is but reasonable, in our making use of God's judgments upon others, to think that God will rather strike at the greatest crimes; not only because they are in themselves of greatest malice and iniquity, but because they are the sum total of the rest, and, by being great progressions in the state of sin, suppose all the rest included; and we, by proportioning and observing the judgment to the highest, acknowledge the whole body of sin to lie under the curse, though the greatest only was named, and called upon with the voice of thunder. And yet, because it sometimes happens, that, upon the violence of a great and new occasion, some persons leap into such a sin, which, in the ordinary course of sinners, uses to be the effect of an habitual and growing state, then, if a judgment happens, it is clearly appropriate to that one great crime, which, as of itself it is equivalent to a vicious habit, and interrupts the acceptation of all its former contraries, so it meets with a curse, such as usually God chooses for the punishment of a whole body and state of sin. However, in making observation upon the expresses of God's anger, we must be careful that we reflect not with any bitterness or scorn upon the person of our calamitous brother, lest we make that to be an evil to him, which God intends for his benefit, if the judgment was medicinal; or that we increase the load, already great enough to sink him beneath his grave, if the judgment was intended for a final abscission.
7. Fourthly: But if the judgments descend upon ourselves, we are to take another course; not to inquire into particulars to find out the proportions, (for that can only be a design to part with just so much as we must needs,) but to
amend all that is amiss; for then only we can be secure to remove the Achan, when we keep nothing within us, or about us, that may provoke God to jealousy or wrath. And that is the proper product of holy fear, which God intended should be the first effect of all his judgments: and of this God is so careful, and yet so kind and provident, that fear might not be produced always at the expense of a great suffering, that God hath provided for us certain prologues of judgment, and keeps us waking with alarms, that so he might reconcile his mercies with our duties. Of this nature are epidemical diseases, not yet arrived at us, prodigious tempests, thunder and loud noises from heaven; and he that will not fear, when God speaks so loud, is not yet made soft with the impresses and perpetual droppings of religion. Venerable Bede reports of St. Chad", that if a great gust of wind suddenly arose, he presently made some holy ejaculation, to beg favour of God for all mankind, who might possibly be concerned in the effects of that wind; but, if a storm succeeded, he fell prostrate to the earth, and grew as violent in prayer as the storm was either at land or sea. But if God added thunder and lightning, he went to the church, and there spent all his time, during the tempest, in reciting litanies, psalms, and other holy prayers, till it pleased God to restore his favour, and to seem to forget his anger. And the good bishop added this reason; because these are the extensions and stretchings forth of God's hand, and yet he did not strike: but he that trembles not, when he sees God's arm held forth to strike us, understands neither God's mercies, nor his own danger; he neither knows what those horrors were, which the people saw from Mount Sinai, nor what the glories and amazement shall be at the great day of judgment. And if this religious man had seen Tullus Hostilius, the Roman king, and Anastasius, a Christian emperor, but a reputed heretic, struck dead with thunderbolts, and their own houses made their urns, to keep their ashes in; there could have been no posture humble enough, no prayers devout enough, no place holy enough, nothing sufficiently expressive of his fear, and his humility, and his adoration, and religion, to the almighty and infinite power,
» Hist. Gent. Anglor. lib. iii. c. 18.