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3. There is no reason to think that God will never be strict to punish iniquity, because of his present forbearance ; nor because of his declared readiness to forgive.
The Lord is long-suffering to us-ward, it is true ; and hence sinners may be apt to fatter themselves with hopes of final impunity, though they continue impenitent. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” But to be emboldened to sin, by God's keeping si. lence, is as hazardous, as it is abusive and ungrateful. Rom. ii. 4, 5, 6, “ Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering ; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance : But after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds."
As to God's declared readiness to forgive ; this is only on certain conditions. “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions ; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” But without re. pentance, and faith in Christ, it is as expressly declar. ed, there is no remission of sins. See Psal. Ixviii. 21, “ God shall wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalp of such an one as goeth on still in his trespasses.” Heb. ii. 2, 3, " For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of re. ward ; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ?" And chap. X. 26, 27, “ For if we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins ; but a certaing fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries."
By way of inference and improvement ;
1. From the preceding observations on this subject, it appears, that vindictive justice is an amiable divine attribute. A God unjust would be a God unkind. It is common to call some of the divine perfections amiable, and others awful : as if those alone deserved our love, while these demanded only our fear. But rightly understood, they are all amia. ble ; they are all awful: amiable to saints, and aw. ful to sinners. On the cross of Christ they were all harmoniously displayed, in their highest glory. “ Mercy and truth there met together; righteousness and peace kissed each other.” Indeed, mercy, truth, and justice, in the Supreme Governor of the world, it is evident, are equally essential parts of universal benevolence.
2. Hence we may learn how to account for it, that punishing justice is an attribute of God which mankind do not naturally love, and are very loath to believe. It must be owing to their own unrighteous. ness.
But all men profess to wish for just earthly rulers : and such a character as that of Job in the days of his power, who delivered the poor that cried, the fatherless, and him that had none to help him: who put on righteousness, and it clothed him; whose judge ment was a robe and a diadem : who searched out the cause which he knew not ; and broke the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teethSuch a character, when found in remote history, is universally admired. How then does it come to pass, that so many would fain believe the Supreme Ruler over all to be of a quite opposite character ?
This inconsistency, I think, is thus to be accounted for. Every man's conscience is on the side of justice; but every man is not upright in heart. Hence though a just judge, when far enough off, will
be admired by all ; yet, when too near, and considered as one with whom we have to do, many want to have him a greater friend to liberty. All wish to have strict justice done, in punishing their enemies, and the enemies of those for whom they have a particular friendship : but one that will punish them, or their friends, whenever they do amiss, is a character which the most cannot bear. Hence, though a God partially righteous, like themselves, would be very agreeable, yet not one altogether just. “ He that is upright in the way,” Solomon says, “is abomination to the wicked." And if this be a true proverb, we need not wonder that a fallen wicked world would not have the Judge of all the earth always do right.
3. From the things which have been said, it may be seen, why the christian religion does not allow of personal revenge, or of recompensing evil for evil.
It is not because making men suffer for their crimes is a thing wrong in itself ; provided it be done by proper authority, in due proportion, and for necessary good purposes.
But it is because bearing a grudge, or harboring malicious revenge, is never right. This is inconsistent with being the followers of Christ, who prayed for his murderers on his cross ; and inconsistent with being the children of God, who is good unto all. It is because men are neither competent nor impar. tial judges, of the recompence due for supposed injuries done them. We know not the hearts of men ; nor their words and actions, very often, except by uncertain information : and in our own case, when injured or affronted, we are exceedingly liable to misjudge, through selfishness and passion. Were every man to avenge himself for wrongs received, according to his own ideas and feelings, very wild work would be made in the execution of distributive justice. Lastly, we are forbidden this, because there is no occasion for ayenging ourselves with our own hands. Recourse may commonly be had to earthly tribunals, which are more impartial: and if evil doers escape punishment from men, except they repent, there is no way for them to escape the righteous judgment of God. Sooner or later, all who commit iniquity, will be made to know that it is an evil and bitter thing. Instead therefore of wishing to do men any evil, whatever they may have done to us; we ought rather to pray for them, that by experiencing only the necessary bitterness of repentance, they may escape the more terrible pains of eternal punishment.
4. We should make it our chief care and concern, while we judge and condemn others, that we ourselves do not fall under the righteous judgment of God. Let all be warned to flee from the wrath to come; and not to flatter themselves that they shall have peace, though they walk in the way of their hearts, and in the sight of their eyes. If the Bible be true, all such hopes are certainly vain. “ For," it is written, “the Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibcon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act. Now, therefore, be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong." Let sinners be exhorted, as the only way of safety, to flee for: refuge, and lay hold upon the hope set before us in the gospel. To repent, in this only space of repentance, and pray to God for parcloning mercy, through the blood of Jesus Christ his Son, which cleanseth from all sin. “ Seek ye the Lord, while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near.”
ON THE IMMUTABILITY OF GOD.
JOB XXIII. 13.
But he is in one mind, and who can turn him ? and what his
soul desireth, even that he doeth.
In this chapter. Job expresses his grief and vexation of spirit, in a very moving and pathetic man. ner. See ver. 2, “ Even to-day is my complaint bitter : my stroke is heavier than my groaning." And if we duly consider all the circumstances of his unhappy situation at this time, we shall not wonder that he was ready to sink in despondency, or that the patientest man should be brought at last thus bitterly to complain. For, under his complicated strokes of adversity, from the immediate hand of God, or from the permitted malignant agency of the grand adversary —under the sudden loss of all his substance, and of all his children, and the most distressing bodily pains, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet; he not only had no one on earth to console him, but not one, it seems, but what was against him, and ready to add to his affliction. His wife appeared rather to upbraid and insult him ; saying, “ Dost thou still retain thine integrity ? curse God, and die.” His three greatest and best friends, who came