Is it possible for any man to conceive of truths more fitted to arrest the attention and impress the heart than are those contained in this volume? It has been said that if a blank book had been put into our hands, and every one of us had been asked to put into it the promises we should like to find there, we could not have employed language so explicit, so expressive, and so suited to all our varied wants, as is here. And may I not say that no facts and declarations and appeals could be more fitted to rouse the conscience, and to regulate the life, than those we here find. Alas! however, with what affecting appropriateness may the Almighty say of Englishmen as of Israelites -- of persons living eighteen centuries after Christ's death, as of those living eight centuries before it -- "They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness."
This passage brings before us two parties. One is the speaker, the other the persons addressed. It states a fact respecting each. Let us look at these facts: --
I. "I remember," says Jehovah, "all their wickedness." What an idea does this statement furnish of the unlimited vastness of the Divine mind! For if He remembered all the evil deeds of all the Israelites, He remembered the evil deeds of all other persons. If He remembered all the evil deeds of all then living, He remembered all the evil deeds of all who ever had lived. And if He remembered all evil deeds, assuredly He remembered all good ones. The Scriptures declare this fact for the comfort of the righteous. What a cheering declaration to a good man is that found in Hebrews vi.10, "For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister." What a vast number of incidents are included in the space of but one year in the history of each one of us! What a still vaster number in the whole period of life! And when we think of the ten hundred millions of mankind now peopling our globe; when we add to these the almost countless millions that have departed, and realize the fact that every incident of every individual of them is remembered -- remembered as distinctly too as if one solitary incident were all that memory was charged with, what an idea is given us of the vastness of the Divine mind! What can we do but wonder and adore!
My text says much, but like many others, it means more than it says. How much of what Scripture intends to teach us shall we fail to learn, if we do not consider what is included and involved, as well as what is affirmed! This declaration imports three things. It imports --
1. That God observes all our wickedness. To remember a thing implies knowledge of it. This knowledge the Scriptures frequently declare the Divine Being to possess. They tell us that His eyes run to and fro the earth, beholding the evil and the good; that all things are naked and open to His eyes. They go further. They teach us that He is always present with us all, that there is no part of this earth, of the vast universe, from which He is ever absent. David expresses himself strikingly on this point -- "Whither shall I go from Thy spirit?" says he, "or wither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell (hades), behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee." Psalm cxxxix.7-12. How certainly therefore does God observe all our wickedness! Did we but constantly realize this fact what a restraining power it would exert over us when we are tempted to evil. A man left his cottage very early one morning taking with him a sack, and accompanied by his son, a little boy. That boy was a Sunday scholar, and little suspected his father's errand. After proceeding some distance the father entered a turnip field, and throwing down his sack, looked in this direction and in that to see whether any one was observing him. On discovering the father's object, the child said, "Father, there was one way you did not look." "Indeed," replied he, hastily; "which was that?" "You did not look upward," was the rejoinder, "and God is observing you." That was a word in season. The father's arm was paralyzed. He took up his sack and returned home. Remember, my friends, that the sleepless eye of the Omnipresent One is upon you. The man that goes forth at the still, dark, hour of midnight to plunder our habitations, how startled would he be if an inmate should noiselessly and suddenly present himself before him -- the servant that robs his master, the circulator of base coin, the man of fraud -- would these practise their misdeeds if they realized this truth: "Thou God seest me?" Would the slanderer, or backbiter, or hypocrite, indulge their habits if they realized this truth? Of what immense benefit would the realization of this truth be, both personally and socially!
2. When God says that He remembers all our wickedness, He means us to understand that He will exhibit it all. Why did He tell this people that He remembered all their wickedness? The Scriptures answer that question. They inform us that He intends to make use of the stores of which memory is possessed, and that He intends to make this use of them -- to hold them up to the gaze of the universe. They teach us that the conduct of every individual will be investigated and published. "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil." "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." Important purposes will he answered by this. A declaration will be made of the righteousness of God in condemning the ungodly. He will hold up to view the nature and extent of the requirements He made of us, their reasonableness and beneficialness we shall all acknowledge. He will then make known the innumerable acts of goodness He bestowed -- His forbearance to inflict punishment, and the various methods He employed to bring us to repentance. And by the side of all this He will exhibit our conduct toward Him -- our ingratitude, our disobedience, our perverseness. And with what enormity will these things then appear invested! So guilty will thy conduct then appear, O sinner, that thou wilt be constrained to exclaim: "Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shall be, because Thou hast judged thus." What an exhibition will he made on that day!
3. When God says that He remembers all our wickedness, He means us to understand that He will punish for it all, if it be not repented of. The maintenance of law and order in the universe require the Divine Being to display His abhorrence of transgression. And how can that abhorrence be suitably displayed otherwise than by punishment? And the punishment must be of a degree to represent the guiltiness of the conduct. It must be impartial, and be inflicted therefore on every transgressor. The rich man cannot buy exemption from it. The man of mighty intellect, or powerful eloquence, cannot persuade himself, not to say the righteous Judge, into the belief that he ought to be exempt. The man of good desires and pious resolutions, he who was born of praying parents, and often bowed his knees at the footstool of his Maker, but delayed to surrender his heart, cannot escape. No, my friends, the decree of the Almighty has gone forth, it is irreversible -- there is none more righteous, and none that will more certainly be fulfilled: "Though hand join in hand the wicked shall not be unpunished." "The wicked shall be driven away in his wickedness." "The wicked shall be turned into hell." What a mercy that we are not receiving our merited punishment at this moment! And why are we not? Because the God whom we have so shamefully and inexcusably resisted and provoked "is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Opportunity is afforded for repentance. He employs means to bring us to repentance. How good, how loving, God is! "God is love."
Can any of you still resist the strivings of his Spirit? "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?"
Christ has died that you might live, live with Him in His kingdom of glory for ever. He shed for you His precious blood. For you He now intercedes at the right hand of the Majesty on high. And if you come to Him, however guilty you are, truly sorry for your sins, and believe His own gracious declaration, that He came into the world to save sinners, to seek and to save that which was lost, He will pardon and bless you. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
God remembers all our wickedness. How much of it do you remember? How little of it do any of us remember! The past is to a large extent a vague and dim expanse. Many of you have climbed these noble hills, and as you stood on the summit, you observed that distinct as were the objects near, those remote were quite indistinct. It is but a few conspicuous objects you can discern at any considerable distance. Just so it is in reviewing our past lives. We can call to mind a few things. We can remember well -- ah, we cannot forget, we have often wished we could, an act of rebellion against our parents of which we were once guilty; of obstinacy toward a master; of ingratitude toward a benefactor; of dishonourableness toward a friend, or unkindness toward a neighbour. There are several sad deeds in the life of every one of us which we cannot forget, but how many which we have all forgot. The things we can remember are as the milestones to the weary traveller, far, far apart. Yes, we forget, but God does not. He remembers them all. There is not a single improper word we have ever uttered, not a wrong feeling we have cherished, not an ungodly deed we have done, not a duty we have neglected, but God knew it, will exhibit it, and if unrepented of, will punish for it. Hear it, ponder it, hide it in the depths of your heart, God remembers all our wickedness.
Having considered the import of the declaration as it regards Almighty God, we come now to consider --
II. The charge against the Israelites. They are not charged, you observe, with denying the truth the Divine Being affirms respecting Himself, or even with doubting it. They admitted it, believed it, but it was unpalatable to them, and therefore they put it away from their thoughts. What a melancholy exhibition of character was this! And yet does not this declaration hold true of greatly more than one-half of the population of this evangelized land? Does it not hold true of every drunkard? Could he spend his hard-earned money in that which stupifies his mind, injures his body, degrades his character, shortens his life, and destroys his soul; and besides all this, brings want and wretchedness on his family, and makes himself a scandal and reproach to humanity -- could any man yield himself to the power of intoxicating liquor that considered what is involved in such a course?
Does not this charge hold true of every sensualist? Could any man become the victim of degrading passions, could he consent to sacrifice the mental and moral part of his nature -- the man to the animal -- if he considered what was due to himself, to society, and to God?
Does not the charge hold true of the pleasure hunter? As a condiment, as a relaxation, pleasure seeking, if of the right sort, is not only allowable but commendable. He who gave life intended it to be a joy. To be always seeking after pleasure, however, exercises a dissipating and debilitating influence on the mind, and prevents the acquirement of true nobleness and worth of character. And would a creature, which is the highest workmanship of Infinite Excellence with which we are acquainted, yield himself to this, if given to the consideration of the fact the Almighty here states respecting himself?
To mention but one other class of character, does not the charge hold true of the fraudulent? Would a man rob his soul to enrich his pocket, would he narrow his heart to expand his purse, would he build up a character that is to endure for ever with such ill-tempered mortar as falsehood; would he be willing to encounter all the piercing looks and accusing words with which those he wronged will one day assail him, if he had taken his relationship to God, and man, and eternity, into consideration?
What incalculable mischief and misery this neglect of consideration has wrought in our world! Had our first parents considered the sad consequences that would ensue to themselves and their posterity, would they have plucked the forbidden fruit? Through what a long and mournful list of events that have happened from that day to this might I easily go, all of which would have been avoided if right consideration had been given! Every day during those six thousand years a multitude of such events have happened. Is there one of you but can recal deeds respecting which you say with bitterness of heart, I wish I had given it consideration -- I wish I had considered it more fully?
My young friends permit me to urge consideration upon you. Your welfare for both worlds is largely in your own keeping. You can secure it or destroy it. But to secure it, consideration is essential. If you don't addict yourselves to reflection you will be largely at the mercy of impulse, be enticed probably by evil companions, and get wrong perhaps in a thousand ways. Reluctant as you may feel at first to engage in it -- uninteresting as you may deem it, do not, as rational creatures, prefer the pleasing to the right and good. The young man of reflection is more respected, more valuable, and unspeakably more happy, than the frivolous and vain. If you forget all else I say, do not forget this -- it is the declaration of your loving Father in heaven, who wishes to welcome you there, but can welcome those only who yield to Him a filial love -- "I remember all their wickedness."