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the chief rulers and governors of his church, are represented by the stewards of a great family, ver. 42Who then is that faithful and wife steward,' whom hit Lord shall make ruler over his houshold, to give them their portion of meat in due season? if he discharge his duty, blessed is he; but if he shall take occasion in h's Lord's absence to domineer over his fellow-servants, and riotoufly to waste his Lord's goods, his Lord, when he comes, will punish him after a more severe and exemplaiy manner.
And then follows the application of the whole, in the words of the text, And that servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. As if he had said, and well may such a servant deserve so severe a punishment, who having such a trust committed to him, and knowing his Lord's will so much better, yet does contrary to it; upon which our Saviour takes occasion to compare the fault and punishment of those who have greater advantages and opportunities of knowing their duty, with those who are ignorant of it; That servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to it, shall be beaten with many stripes: But he that knew not, but did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few strifes. And then he adds the reason and equity of this proceeding, . For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
The words in general do allude to that law of the Jews, mentioned Deut. xxv. 2. where the judge is required to see the malefactor punished according to his fault, by a certain number of stripes; in relation to which known law among the Jews, onr Saviour here fays, that those who knew their Lord's will, and did it not, should be beaten with many stripes: Hut those who knew it not,should be beaten with few stripes. So that there are two observations ly plainly before us in the words:
First, That the greater advantages and opportunities any man hath of knowing his duty, if he do it * • not, not, the greater will be his condemnation; the servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to it, shall be beaten with many stripes.
Secondly, That ignorance is a great excuse osmens faults, and will lessen their punishment, but he that knew not, but did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.
I shall begin with the latter of these first, because it will make way for the other, viz. That ignorance is a great excuse of mens faults, and will lessen their punishment; he that knew not, but did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.
For the clearing of this, it will be requisite to consider what ignorance it is which our Saviour here speaks of; and this is necessary to be enquired into, because it is certain that there is some sort of ignorance which doth wholly excuse and clear from all manner of guilt; and there is another fort, which doth either not at all, or very little extenuate the faults of men; so that it must be a third fort different from both these, which our Saviour here means.
First, There is an ignorance which doth wholly excuse and clear from all manner of guilt, and that is an absolute and invincible ignorance, when a person is wholly ignorant of the thing, which if he knew, he should be bound to do, but neither can nor could have helped it, that he i* ignorant of it; that is, he either had not the capacity, or wanted the means and opportunity of knowing it. In this case a person is in no fault if he dia not do what he never knew, nor could know to be his duty. For God measures the faults of men, by their wills, and if there be no defect there, there can be no guilt; for no man is guilty, but he that is conscious io himself that he would not do what he knew he ought to do, or would do what he knew he ought not to do : Now if a man be simply and invincibly ignorant of his duty, his neglect of it is altogether involuntary; for the will hath nothing to do, where the understanding doth not first direct. And this is the case of children
Vol. V. L 1 who who are not yet come to the use os reason; for though they may do that which is materially a fault, yet it is none in them, because by reason of their incapacity, they are at present invincibly ignorant of what they ought to do. And this is the cafe likewise of idiots, who are under a natural incapacity of knowledge, and so far as they are so, nothing that they do is imputed to them as a fault. The fame may be said of distracted persons, who are deprived either wholly, or at some times of the use of their understandings: so far, and so long as they are thus deprived, they are free from all guilt; and to persons who have the free and perfect use of their reason, no neglect of any duty is imputed, of which they are absolutely and invincibly ignorant. For instance, it is a duty incumbent upon all mankind, to believe in the Son of God, where he is sufficiently manifested and revealed to them; but those who never heard of him, nor had any opportunity of coming to the knowledge of him, shall not be condemned for this infidelity, because it is impossible they should believe on him of whom they never heard. They may indeed be condemned upon other accounts, for sinning against the' light of nature, and for not obeying the law which was written in their hearts; for what the Apostle fays of the revelation of the law, is as true of any other-revelation of God, as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned under the law,shall be judged by the law,Rom. ii. iz. In like manner, those who have sinned without the gospel, (that is, who never had the knowledge of it) shall not be condemned for any offence against that revelation which was never made to them, but for their violation of the law of nature; only they that have finned under the gospel, shall be judged by it.
Secondly, There is likewise another sort of ignorance, which either does not at all, or very little extenuate the faults of men, when men are not only ignorant, but chuse to be so; that is, when they wilfully neglect those means and opportunities of knowledge which are afforded to them; such as Job speaks of, Job xxi. 14. Who fay unto God, Depart
from us, for we desire not the knowledge os thy ways. And this sort of ignorance many among the Jews Were guilty of, when our Saviour came and preached to them, but they would not be instructed by him; the light came among them, but they liyved darkness: rather than light,as he himself says of them; and as he fays elsewhere of tire Pharisees, they resetted the council of God against themselves, they wilfully stiut their eyes against that light which offered itself to them; they would not see with their eyes, nor hear .with their ears, nor understand with their hearts, that they might be converted and healed. Now an ignorance in this degree wilful, can hardly be imagined to carry any excuse at all in it. He th«t knew not his Lord's will, because he would not know it, because he wilfully rejected the means of coming to the knowledge of it, deserves to be beaten with as many stripes as if he had known it; because he might have known it, and would not. He that will not take ncrtice of the King's proclamation, or will stop his ears when it is read, and afterwards offends against it, does equally deserve punishment with those who-have read it, and heard it, and disobeyed it; because he was as grofly faulty in not knowing it; and. there is no reason that any man's gross fault should be his excuse:
So that it is neither of these sorts of ignorance that our Saviour means, neither absolute and invincible ignorance, nor that which is grossly wilful and affected. For the first, men deserve not be beaten at allj because they cannot help it; for the latter, they deserve not to be excused, because they might have helped their ignorance, and would not;.
But our Saviour here speaks of such an ignorance as does in a good degree extenuate the fault, and yet not wholly excuse it; for he says of them, that they knew not their Lord's will, and yet that this igno« ranee did not wholly excuse them from blame, nor exempt them from punishment, but they should b^c beaten with sew flripes. In the
Third place then, there is an ignorance which is in some degree faulty, and yet does in a great measure excuse the faults which proceed from it; and this is when Liz men men are not absolutely ignorant os their duty, bu* only in comparison of others, who have a far more clear and distinct knowledge of it; and though they do not grossly and wilfullv neglect the means of further knowledge, yet perhaps they do not make the best use they might or the opportunities they have of knowing their duty better ; and therefore, in comparison of others who have far better means and advantages of knowing their Lord's will, they may be said not to know it, though they are not simply ignorant of it, but only have a more obscure and uncertain knowledge of it. Now this ignorance does in a great measure excuse such persons, and extenuate their crudes, in comparison of those who had a clearer and more perfect knowledge of their master's will ; and yet it does not free them from all guilt; because they did not live up to that degree of knowledge which they had ; and perhaps if they had used more care and industry, they might have known their Lord's will better. And this was the case of the Heathen, who, in comparison of those who enjoyed the light of the gospel, might be said not to nave known their Lord's will, though, as to many parts of their duty, they had some directions from natural light, and their consciences did urge them to many things by the obscure apprehensions and hopes of a future reward, and the fear of a future punishment. But this was but a very obscure and uncertain knowledge, in comparison of the clear light of the gospel, which hath discovered to us our duty so plainly by the laws and precepts of it, and hath presented us with such powerful motives and arguments to obedience in the promises and threatenings of it. And this likewise is the case of many Christians, who either through the natural slowness of their understandings, or "by the neglect of their parents and teachers, or other circumstances of their education, have had far less means and advantages of knowledge than others. God does not expect so much from those, as from others, to whom he hath given greater capacity, and advantages of knowledge; and when our Lord shall come to call his servants to an